An asylum seeking family had been given a televison. The family asked those who were helping them to take it away. They were not happy having in their home the things which were being broadcast. They found a huge amount of it indecent and immoral, showing people treating as normal forms of relationship which they didn’t want their children to think were acceptable. It can be that only when someone from outside our culture looks in and expresses surprise that we even notice what our society is assuming to be normal.
Many people say the Bible and Christian tradition has always taught that homosexual relationships are immoral; Christian people in the future will be astonished that some people today were so influenced by liberal society that some even considered blessing same sex unions or ordaining people in same sex partnerships.
Many people say that homosexuality is simply the God-given orientation of their lives and that faithful same sex partnerships are as much an appropriate and fruitful expression of love, commitment and self giving as marriage is for the majority whose orientation is heterosexual; Christian people in the future will be astonished that some people today were so influenced by a literal approach to the Bible that they condemned such things.
They look from outside at each other’s assumptions with as much surprise as our asylum seeking family looked at what our television dramas regard as normal. It is not just that they think the other side has got the balance of the argument wrong. It is that they are deeply shocked by what they see of the totally different culture which the other people occupy.
There is a culture which assumes an agenda of equality; being asked to hold back from acting on their emerging conviction that faithful homosexual activity is acceptable and moral is like being asked to hold back from acting on their conviction that slavery is wrong and women are equal. There is a culture where Moslem neighbours regard Christianity as degenerate and false; being associated in any way with those who act on their emerging conviction is to them like being openly exposed as sexually degenerate themselves.
This is a highly edited version of my attempt five years ago to help puzzled local Christians understand a little better those with whom they instinctively disagreed. There is a danger for those who use the Bible unmediated by any modern understanding; they are almost required to attribute illness to possession by demons. There is a danger for those who use modern understanding unmediated by the Bible; they are almost required to accept anything an individual finds fulfilling. Walking the tightrope between the two is no less dangerous.
This morning I have two print outs on my desk.
One is the statement yesterday from the Global Anglican Futures Conference (Gafcon). It treats those who are open to a fresh understanding of homosexuality as ‘compromised churches’ with ‘a false gospel’ and ‘overt heterodoxy’. The Gafcon movement will succeed in engineering a future for Anglicanism which keeps them out of Communion with such people. It anticipates the future church celebrating this principled realignment.
The other happens to be the previous week’s New Scientist. It reports more research unavailable to the Bible writers and the early church: ‘the most compelling evidence yet that being gay or straight is down to biology... in gay people, key structures of the brain governing emotion, mood anxiety and aggression resemble those in straight people of the opposite sex’. This growing body of evidence will succeed in shaping a world which will look back on the Gafcon statement with as much incredulity as people today look back on the church’s rejection of new insights from those of Galileo to those of Darwin.
The picture is of a single church wall at St George’s, Bradley where the original stonework is almost undetectable among the many bodges, improvements and repairs.