Be Careful of Our Language and Our Motivation

There is a huge hullabaloo over the sexual orientation regulations at the moment, and I think Christians need to be very careful about what we say, how we say it and the motivation that causes us to speak in the first place. Faithworks position is quite different from a number of other Christian organisations and we have today issued a press release warning of the dangers of the current position of many on the right wing of this discussion. The link to the full press release is www.faithworks.info/pressreleases and I would encourage you to take a look and let us know what you think. Whatever happened to grace, love, compassion and honesty? Sometimes we are guilty of double standards – this might be one of those times.

10 comments

  1. Thank you, Malcolm! That truly needed saying – I do hope, what with the report in Ekklesia and so forth, that it is as widely read as possible. It breaks my heart that so many people who would just a few years ago have been wearing a WWJD wristband are so willing to speak and act in ways that Jesus patently never did during his time on Earth.
    “Christians are called to follow Jesus’ example, and he says remarkably little about sexuality in scripture. Rather, he treats all people he comes across with love and acceptance, and does not refuse his service to anyone, even if he does not agree with their lifestyle.” [from the Faithworks press release linked above]
    Absolutely! How can we read accounts like that of our Lord’s conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well (Jn 4.7ff) and not take that on board?

  2. Well said, Malcolm – I, too, hope that this thoughtful article is read widely.
    It breaks my heart to see the huge number of comments on various discusion forums, which see Christian reaction to SOR as another example of a religon which causes more harm than good.

  3. Thank you for your comments. The inherent importance of human dignity and unconditional service need to be remembered. Because of the pugilistic and compartmentalised views of many Christians, we end up with an ‘I am right and you are wrong’ approach to almost every issue! There is not one single Christian view on the SOR’s – there are very few things on which there is a single Christian view!
    I am amazed at the strength of feeling that can be articulated about this issue whilst Christians do not demonstrate and wave banners quite so willingly about child poverty, poor housing, discrimination, lack of decent asylum policy, foreign policy, taxation, defence budgets or any one of a number of other things.
    Role on the collapse of Christendom and the church taking up the role that we should never have sold ourselves out for. We have no power, we have no rights, we have no privileges, we should place ourselves at the bottom of the pile as the servants of other people and trust that such compassion will evoke a response. That is faith and trust and love in action.
    Is a gay person less human than me? Is a muslim less human than me? Do I have to agree with them to love them? Surely loving someone with an agenda isn’t loving them?
    My longing is for the church to apply a consistent ethic of life and human dignity. Perhaps we should reserve our judgments for those within the church – and remember that our vision is often impaired by pieces of wood fashioned from our stakes of prejudice

  4. Surely from our own personal experience of loving relationships as children, parents, friends, wives and husbands shows us that true love demands moments of opposition and challenge to those who we love which may culminate in some very hard decisions and actions. Likewise with homosexuals. It is perfectly possible to love and include a homosexual but refuse to, for example, allow church premises to be used for a civil partnership celebration on the grounds that such a partnership damages the person and society and travesties the symbolism of human marriage as a vehicle of intense creative force that allows human beings to imitate God in complimentarity, creativity and the relationship between Christ and the Church. If you believe these things about marriage, things such as civil partnerships and homosexuality in general are profoundly shocking. It should be possible for Christians at least to recognise this without accusing their fellow Christians of being obsessive, prudish and generally psychologically unhinged.
    It is also not difficult to see why many Christians are wanting to take action about this as opposed to other issues, in fact it’s naive to suggest otherwise. Firstly, this is a radical social innovation that is being proposed in two senses. One on the level of morality and one on the level of the rights of individuals to do what they see fit with their own property. Unfortunately, most of the other issues you mention that you suggest Christians should be more concerned about have been problems that have been around for a considerable time. Secondly, but related, the political democratic system dictates that this is a specific issue that people feel they can do something about. Jim Wallis argues that Christians should have a consistent ‘life ethic’ that includes equal affront to poverty in the developing world as it does to abortion. The answer to this is that the democratic system elects representatives to enact laws within defined borders and for a defined polity. Other countries are governed by other governments so there is a limit to what can be achieved concerning poverty in the developing world. Issues like abortion or this current bill are issues which many Christians quite sensibly feel that they can have a direct impact upon. To oppose this bill is not so hypocritical or irrational as you suggest but rather has an element of practicality about it.
    Finally, the rejection of Christendom and the idea that Christians should not have power or influence in society is wrong on two points. Firstly, it disregards the huge positive impact of the identity of ‘Christian’ that has been adopted by kings, ministers, generals, reformers, bishops and legislators throughout the course of the history of western Europe (and elsewhere). The Church itself assumed power at the end of the Roman Empire and into the Middle Ages because there was no other temporal power capable of assuming and maintaining that power. It was a service to society because it provided a large measure of stability, security and prosperity. Secondly, ultimately I believe power, like money, is neutral. It is not imbued in it’s essence with anything inherently morally wrong. All power comes from God and he delegates power to whom he will on earth. Power, like money, comes with a heavy responsibility to be used for the good of many not just for the individual or institution to enjoy. It seems to me that it is not so much who has power but what they do with it that counts, indeed it follows that someone HAS to have power because a ‘power vacuum’ is bad for the majority. To that end the Church and Christians in government acting explicitly as Christians in general have an excellent (I would say, without offering any objective evidence, the best!) record in how power was used. Sure, there were terrible errors and the exercise of power in human affairs by human beings will always be extremely messy. But I don’t think Christians or the Church should ever shrink from exercising whatever power or influence they have been given for the good of society. In fact, not to would be a criminal abdication of a vital responsibility.

  5. Chris
    I agree with the points that you raise – excellently articulated and have a hunch that there is little that would differentiate us. However, I think I would articulate the concerns I have in this way – and in reverse order of how you raise them.
    Power – I agree wholeheartedly with the end of your argument. However the question of office bearers or bearers of responsibility exercising the power that they have in a Christlike way is exactly the point that I am making. I don’t agree that Christians have exercised that power better than others always – George Bush in the US being a recent example and I would argue that many non-Christians have used power in a godly and Christlike way – Ghandi, Mandela, Atlee for example. You have actually also argued from a model of Christendom which I do not think is the right place to start. I welcome the collapse of Christendom and see it as a new dwn for the Christian church in terms of witness and work. I do agree that power in and of itself is neutral though, and think you make the point very well. I just don’t think the institution of the church – and its emergence in a Constantian model is the start of Christendom – should seek and hold on to political power. We should use the power we have wisely.
    Secondly, I think Christians should engage in shaping policy and in debate and dialogue – indeed I am a strong advocate of that. It is what Faithworks does a lot. However, it is the method and way in which we engage that needs to be monitored. We must recognise our responsibilities as citizens in a diverse society and shy away from claiming special privieleges for us because of our Christian conviction. That does not mean we should abdicate our responsibility – far from it. We should make our views known in the public square and engage in robust debate – but we should always do so with gentleness and love, being ready to explain to people what we believe and why we believe it. The tone of this debate has not always reflected that. I also agree that we should be free to voice our concerns around traditional moral issues, including sexuality and the ‘consistent lfie ethic’. You make that point well. Yet at the same time I disagree with the idea of not campaigning or working on certain issues because they are ‘too far away’ or ‘too long established’ or more historic. That is way too dichotomous for me and it negates the absolute soveriegnity and mnipresence of God. I also think it creates an unfiar set of of skewed preferences. I guess we all suffer from preconceptions and preferences though – I know I do and your comments are a helpful reminder to ensure balance. That is the point I want to make – a balanced and consistent set of ethics and values that shape a wider engagement in society and what is best for us.
    Lastly, I wholeheartedly agree that within the context of loving relationships rebuke and challenge is right and correct and good and proper. That is the whole point – such challenge and dialogue must spring from relationship. I am not suggesting we simply endorse behaviour. Instead I think we must serve, engage and love others as Jesus would. That also involves at the appropriate moment saying no. The SOR’s will allow for that position to be taken.
    The validity and importance of Civil PArtnerships has been attacked by Christian groups because they understand them as a threat to marriage. I disagree. Firstly, they are not marriage in law. Secondly I believe that the legal and human rights of couples should be protected whatever their gender. I think civil partnerships offer protection in law to people who did not have that legal protection before. That strikes me as compassionate and in no way incongruous with my beliefs and convictions around Christian marriage.
    Really great posting, Chris and thank you for taking the time to write it and contribute. More sensible, balanced and thoughtful dialogue like this would give this whole discussion a completely different tenor

  6. Hello Malcolm,
    A good reply and it’s always interesting and challenging to hear your perspective. There are a couple of points I’d like to pick up on and, following your lead, I too will take them in reverse order!
    Loving relationships/Civil Partnerships
    I think it’s naïve to think that because civil partnerships are not legally a marriage that they are not considered as such by many of those undertaking them and society at large. This is as much a factor of the change in attitudes to marriage, its permanency and sanctity, in general as it is to changes in the treatment of homosexuality in particular. But right there is the argument that civil partnerships undermine marriage; because they are a part and a reinforcement of a much deeper undermining of the importance and status of marriage. It is clear also that the media and public at large regard them at least as a type of marriage and not just about property and pension rights when one partner dies, hence the morning suits, champagne, parties and pictures in the press; when have you ever known any married couple to celebrate the making of a will, which is essentially what a civil partnership is according to the letter of the law?! The coming together of two people is what is celebrated not the settling of property and legacies at death.
    That’s one reason why I have difficulties in your idea that SOR’s will facilitate a relationship with homosexuals that will form a context for Christians to challenge and rebuke in love. If we take the example of a church being forced to allow its premises to be used for a civil partnership celebration (if this is not the case with the legislation, please correct me), how can you challenge someone on their lifestyle in that context? Would it not sound absurd to say one week, ‘It’s fine for you to celebrate your chosen lifestyle?’ and then the next to say, ‘Actually I think it’s not good that you continue to have that lifestyle.’? How is that consistent, credible or even compassionate? Unless, of course, you don’t think an active homosexual lifestyle is a sin which is a different argument entirely.
    Tone of the debate
    I agree that the tone of Christians’ contribution in this and other debates can be crass and grates more than a little. Too much of it sounds like a desire to speak out for the sake of it but not engage or build relationship or invite dialogue. Incidentally, the homosexual community has its own share of such zealots. I think in terms of the issue of strident Christian opposition it too often comes I suspect from a desire to satisfy they own spiritual needs i.e. speaking in such a way is more about making themselves feel right with God and righteous in their own eyes and not a genuine attempt to reach out to others to actually make the case for an alternative. However, it cuts both ways. On the other hand, it sometimes seems that Faithworks’ and others contributions conversely seem rather too concerned not to offend the sensibilities of what might be called (by me at any rate!) the secular left which, I might add, holds considerable influence in the media and government. I know you’d dispute this but all I’m saying is that sometimes this is how it seems and we are talking here about the tone rather than the substance. Needless to say, when you talk of the need to remedy the ‘lack of decent asylum policy, foreign policy, taxation, defence budgets…’ and put up Ghandi, Mandela and Atlee as ‘Christ-like’ examples, it’s quite clear where you’re coming from politically. However, I know which of the two I prefer; with the self-righteous the poison runs to the very soul!
    Power/Christendom
    As to power and the exercise of it by Christians, my point in saying that Christians have exercised power on the whole better than others is in a broader and deeper sense than you concede. It is that practicing or even nominal Christians have exercised power influenced and imbued with the principles of the Gospel, whether consciously or sub-consciously, to create a society and civilization that, for all it’s obvious past faults and present failings, has been more of a force for good rather than ill not just for itself but for much of mankind. I know that will not sit well with a lot of people but I believe the rejection of affection and confidence in our culture, a rejection of what is one’s own, part of one’s identity, came from a rejection in the first place of belief in the God of the Bible. Thus, I am trying to make the link between a Christian culture and blessing (which includes power), and between rejection of that culture and rejection of God. In my view, we should reanimate our confidence in the validity of our culture in the spirit of Acts 17: 26-27:
    ‘From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.’ As a culture and a country I would love us to explore what that last sentence really means for us. I believe we did, haltingly, in the past.
    Your list of alternative issues of importance (post 1) and examples of ‘Christ-like’ heroes shows a preference for what I might provocatively call the sacred causes and demi-gods of the secular left. You have probably guessed I do not share such a preference. But I would say further about the institutions of Church and state that a traditional perspective from the conservative, ‘sensible’ right views institutions and customs as repositories of accumulated wisdom that need to be preserved and protected because of the belief that as human beings are flawed and prone to greed, arrogance and inhumanity, a dynamic, evolving status quo is likely to be the best way forward rather than radical and rapid upheavals aimed at establishing utopias that tend to invite equally rapid but reactive upheavals. This, in essence, is why I cannot share your enthusiasm for the collapse of Christendom. I care less for utopian visions, whether secular or Christian, simply because I think they are not attainable in this world and they cause more pain than joy in the attempting of them. I believe in heaven, I believe in building the Kingdom of Heaven on earth but I do not believe in a heaven on earth.

  7. Thanks Chris. Great stuff. A few (briefer!) comments to keep us talking.
    1. You may just assume wrong about my political leanings – there are examples of very clear political conervatives with a Christian commitment. Shaftesbury, some elements of Churchill’s exercise of power, Pitt the Younger and Pitt the elder and across the pond some elements of Reagan’s administration and those of George Bush senior were both positive and constructive. I don’t think the conservative right are more Christian than the progressive left – I think both sides of politics have Christians who are passionate about their faith and making a difference in the world. I think you’d agree with that?
    2. I don’t think Christ -likeness is restricted to Christians. There are many people who are not Christians, who demonstrate Christ’s attitudes. That will not indicate their obedience to Christ, but rather their sense of justice and rightness as received from the one true God – who is the Father of all good gifts. By the same token I do not think all those who use and claim the name Christian are Christlike. One would hope that we all were, but experience and reality tells me we aren’t.
    3. I think by anad large the church and Christian values have created better societies and communities – but only in so far as we have been true to the person and work of Jesus and the direction and moral code of Scripture. But we have also been guilty of excess, exploitation and unfair treatment of others – from the Christians who defended slavery, to those who endorsed racism with notions such as the mark of Cain as being black. Whilst I celebrate most of our past and present contribution to the world, I do not celebrate it all. I think we need more humility than that.
    4. You are right about the gay lobby and the vociferous elements in it. But that can’t justify inappropriate behaviour by those of us who follow Jesus (and some gay people would tell you they too follow Jesus and are ashamed of the ardent voices in their camp)Two wrongs do not make a right. We must be accountable for our own actions and attitudes and speak the truth in love.
    5. Some of the points you have made on civil partnerships are really challenging and I want to have a think about them then come back.
    Thanks so much for all of this – really thought provoking, refreshing and challenging.
    By the way – I do not have an over realised eschatology either and believe that my job in building the Kingdom is to be part of the vanguard who live in the promise that God is building his Kingdom through us and will consumate it with Christ’s return. But if ultimately the Kingdom of Heaven is not established on the earth by God’s people and firmly established forever through the return of the reigning Christ, then where exactly do you think the bible teaches you will spend eternity and where is the redemption of the whole cosmos?

  8. My first attempt at a reply got lost, so here goes another although it will have to be brief.
    1. It’s a bit like accusing the BBC of a left-wing bias; everyone knows it has one but no one expects them to admit it because they are journalists who are meant to be neutral. Faithworks likewise is meant to be neutral, in fact I would say IS neutral, and yet it is plainly obvious from the events I’ve attended and not just from your recent postings that those in and around the Faithworks movement are politically of the left and it does show. This is fine, in fact maybe even expected but it is also something I think the movement needs to think about form time to time.
    2. I’m just a bit uncomfortable with bestowing the epithet ‘Christ-like’ around to easily whether on politicians from the left or the right. Politics is always messy; Christ gets things right absolutely, humans never do and some of the consequences of the actions of the three people you site bear witness to the fact.
    3. Humility about one’s own culture is absolutely vital and is clear in the text from Acts. However, your citing of Christians support for slavery makes my point. Why is support for slavery remembered today over and above the fact that this country, via the efforts of a true Christian, was the first country (in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, America etc.) to abolish it. Surely that is the more remarkable event worthy of note given the wider context?
    4. Agreed. It is very disappointing to me that certain Christian groups have taken on the garb of a single issue group with a victim mentality and feel this entitles them to the sort of offensive direct action and inflammatory words we have witnessed.
    5. As to eschatology, you’re the theologian not me!
    Thanks again for taking the time to reply.

  9. I have read many of the comments on your press release. Whilst I am not equpped to give such detailed answers as some are able,I, like I guess many other Christians wish to say that we do not agree with your point of view. Yes I agree with much that you say about negative protest etc, but in the end the question boils down to how strongly we feel about the moral issue. Whether true or not your press release gives the impression you are almost prepared to condone it. You make little comment about how you would cope if asked to be involved in a same sex blessing.
    In some ways I am sad that your position will perhaps do more harm for Faithworks than good. Whilst very many homesexuals will be pleased, many Christians will feel it is a further watering down of the faith. I realise this is no reason for speaking out on what you believe to be right..but as I say I am just sad that it will not help your organisation of which I have been a strong supporter for many years.

  10. George
    Thanks for the posting. The SOR’s do not involve Churches being forced or obliged to conduct same sex blessings. Nor do they apply to homosexuality being taught in the curriculum. Nor do they force me to adopt a view contrary to my faith conscience – that is protected by article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
    Thank you for taking the time to post your comment. I think you are more than able and entitled to a full engagement in the conversation and think you are probably much more theologically aware than you give yourself credit for – and I welcome your views.
    The Faithworks movement has a wide spread membership – some of whom will have one view of this issue, and others the opposite – they are entitled to their views and I respect Christ in them and want to honour that – whatever their conclusions might be on this issue. Our unity springs from our commitment to serving people unconditionally in Christ’s name and in a clearly Christian way – which is why I made the decision to speak out.
    As far as my own position goes, I am an evangelical who views sexual ethics from a conservative position. I believe Scripture teaches that in a perfect world, sex should be confined to a momongamous relationship of public and lifelong commitment between a man and a woman. Others have, and are entitled to, a different view. I have not, and would not, carry out a blessing of a same sex union.
    The SOR’s in no way threaten that view.
    Hope that helps

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