Actions speak louder than words

Yesterday (9th January) I spent the day being interviewed and discussing my position on the Sexual Orientation Regulations. Last night, I quietly slipped down to Westminster to watch what was happening at a rally organised by the Lawyers Christian Fellowship and others to coincide with a debate taking place in the House of Lords around an amendment intrdouced by Lord Morrow. Had it been supported, the Amendment would have meant that the SOR’s, introduced in Ireland on Jan1 would not have been introduced across the rest of the UK in April without the addition of a ‘conscience clause’.

I want to comment on both the defeat of the amendment in the Lords (by a whacking majority of 3-1) and on the tenor of the discussion and demonstration yesterday.

Firstly, the defeat should not be feared by Christians. There will be more said on the actually SOR’s here in the course of the day, but they fit firmly within the context of wider legislation around equality, diversity and the provision of goods and services. Exemptions and protections have already been won, and those interested in the actual facts of the SOR’s should endeavour to read through the detail of the legislation and debate around it rather than the interpretation of the legislation as presented by groups such as the LCF.

The church’s distinctiveness, identity, ethos and values are not threatened by this piece of legislation. Instead, we should see this as an opportunity to engage positively, compassionately and graciously with others. Sexuality is not the means by which we should define people. It is part of what makes a person, but it is not the sum total of their personhood. Whether someone is gay or straight does not change the inherent biblical principle that they are made in the image of God. We respect that image in all people and are committed to serving. That does not mean that we endorse lifestyle choices or agree with decisions, but we respect personhood. To love a human being means to offer them shelter. not to offer them shelter with conditions. No doubt those who opposed the SORS will continue their fight – and will describe last nights decision as a step in the wrong direction, an eradication of our Christian foundations etc. I disagree. Last night’s decision recognises the rights and obligations of people in Britain to be non-discriminatory and fair. It might just have been a moment of liberty and freedom rather than a nail in the coffin. The challenge for me as a Christian is to understand the legislation and to work out how we engage with those who are different, serving unconditionally but remaining true to the values and example of Christ. That might be hard – but a relevant and credible gospel and church must begin with three fundamental commitments. Faithfulness to God, unconditional love and service of others and a willingness to speak the truth in love out of a relationship of trust, respect and humility.

Secondly, the demonstration itself. About three thousand people turned up – about halfthat expected. Many of those protesting are my brothers and sisters in Christ  and I have an obligation to love and serve and respect them also. I am committed to doing that. I acknowledge your right to protest, I understand your passion on this issue, and I share your concerns around distinctiveness and Christian values. However, I disagree with your methodology. In what way was it Christ like? Young children involved in a protest they could not possibly understand. Chants which at times sounded threatening intermingled with hymns and songs of praise. Political figures from Northern Ireland inciting strong anti-gay sentiment by their words and their actions. Banners which linked homosexulaity to child abuse? Aggresive accusations levelled at me and others. Confrontational dialogue with a few people who were there to exercise their right to demonstrate. Leaders of the demonstration donning orange jumpsuits to make politcal and press headlines out of the inhumane treatment of inmates at Guantanamo Bay. And all of this in the name of Christians and in the name of God?

If judgement and challenge are important for us as Christians, then according to both Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel and Paul in the book of Corinthians, we must be careful to hold one another accountable. So I ask the organisers and the demonstrators last night, as your brother, to think again about the message and methodology of their actions. They did not represent me, they did not represent the vast majority of people in the church, and they cannot claim to be the Christian voice on this issue because there is no such thing as one Christian voice on this issue.

Be careful of planks of wood before you point out pieces of sawdust

22 comments

  1. Mr Duncan
    Thank you so much for the compassion and good sense demonstrated by your response to this issue. Surely the way of grace, respect and constructive dialogue is the only way forward.

  2. Thank you Malcolm for stating what appears to me to be the Christian position so clearly, and for challenging those who wish to identify the Christian faith with bigotry. The love and compassion of Jesus must also be proclaimed – and proclaimed with love and compassion, and in deeds as much as in words.

  3. Thanks you so much for offering a voice of reasonable explanantion to this mine field. As a simple bloke trying to walk with Jesus in this world it is so helpful to be guided by your wisdom. It is easy for us Christians to be drawn into debates on issues that we do not fully understand by simply being reactors. Thank you for helping me understand the real issues and guiding me towards the path of compassion.

  4. You have for me summed up what I would see as a truly Christian response to the issue. This is very refreshing to find, given the hype that is given to more extreme views in some branches of the church.

  5. Thank you all for your comments and support. The discussion continues and I will be doing interviews on Radio Four on Sunday morning between 8am and 9am and across twelve BBC regional stations betweeb 7am and 9am
    Please feel free to point people to the blog and post my statement on yours or forward it – the more people hear a reasonable voice the better

  6. Dear Malcolm,
    I would just like to comment on a few things you have said so far. For instance:
    “The church’s distinctiveness, identity, ethos and values are not threatened by this piece of legislation.”
    Whilst this is true, the church’s duty to witness effectively to others is being threatened. If the church and christians are forced to support people to commit sin, then their whole witness to the holy God we serve is threatened.
    “That does not mean that we endorse lifestyle choices or agree with decisions, but we respect personhood.”
    The introduction of SOR’s means that some christians will be forced to endorse the lifestyle choices. If a christian hotelier has to rent a double bed room to a lesbian couple, that is endorsement of their lifestyle choice.
    “To love a human being means to offer them shelter. not to offer them shelter with conditions.”
    This appears to be an argument designed to bring emotion in on your side. Nobody is suggesting that homosexuals and lesbians should be refused shelter. All they are saying is that if you they wish to purchase shelter in a christian’s establishment, the christian will not assist them in committing acts that are offensive to God whilst they are in that shelter. Are you suggesting that this is wrong?
    “The challenge for me as a Christian is to understand the legislation and to work out how we engage with those who are different, serving unconditionally but remaining true to the values and example of Christ.”
    I agree that it is very hard to remain true to the values and example of the Christ who dared to speak out openly and shame the woman at the well in regards to her sexual affairs, whilst so obviously revealing His love for her. It is equally hard to have the courage to say to those caught committing sexual sin, ‘go and sin no more’ as Christ did to the woman caught committing adultery. It is even harder to follow His example in daring to overturn the tables of those who were abusing God’s temple by their sin.
    It would be much easier to accept the SOR’s as they are now, so that we no longer have a choice as to whether we follow Christ’s example. It would be much easier to gain the trust of those merchants in the temple by walking up and purchasing goods of them, helping and supporting them in their sin.
    Much easier, but wrong.
    “a relevant and credible gospel and church must begin with three fundamental commitments. Faithfulness to God, unconditional love and service of others and a willingness to speak the truth in love out of a relationship of trust, respect and humility.”
    I agree totally, but I would suggest that you are allowing the second commitment to move into first place, and that love of others is becoming more important than faithfulness to God.
    And I would finish by suggesting that you cannot gain trust by lowering ourselves to other peoples level and remaining there. Trust is gained by stooping to that level and raising them up to a level as high or higher than the one we are on.

  7. Well done , Malcolm!
    Thank you for high-lighting the issue of “Christian homophobia”.
    So far almost all the “Christian” reaction to proposed SORs, identify a singular problem in 1 specific area, but miss a crucial, general issue.
    (Thinks ……… The SOR’s will cover all sexualities, so it is strange that none have asked about the same problem involving unmarried hetrosexuals?)
    A far as sin is concerned – including extra-marital sex – Jesus (& scripture) seem fairly unequivocal – “Neither do I condemn you AND go & sin no more”!
    However, the crucial – & potentially far more damaging – threat to faith-based social action, which seems to have escaped all comment si that the SOR Consultation Document clear says that faith-based organisations, delivering open-access services for the Public Sector, will have to adopt equal-oportunity, open access EMPLOYMENT policies.
    So faith-based groups – who traditionally employ members of (or at least those in sympathy with) their fundamental ethos & practice – will be excluded from Public Sector contracts for being who they are.
    In the Christian context, every time a Church social action project employs a non-Christian, the potential for communicating the Gospel is diminished & soon lost.
    Much more thought needed, methinks?!
    Brian Craven
    St Helens
    Merseyside

  8. Dear Malcom,
    I was surprised to read your descrition of the rally. I was there and it seemed a very peaceful rally from where I was standing. In fact of all of the articles I read about the rally, yours appeared the lest respectful, and gave the smallest estimate of attendees. I do urge you to report the facts more fairly in future.
    Thanks
    Duncan

  9. I for one wish to apologise for the attacks and descent to personal comments/attacks on the above post. Obviously some people still have problems with loving and accepting their brethren.
    Having said that, I would ask a question of Faithworks and yourself Malcolm. As I understand it, it was originally set up to be the interface between the government and the churches. The purpose being to allow the churches to do the work in a christian fashion without being controlled by the government, and thus allowing christians to keep their differences and independence in this work.
    Is it possible that faithworks has become so involved that it has extended beyond this into actually carrying out the work itself and receiving money from the government for doing so?
    If this is so, would you be straying into the dangerous ground warned about by Christ of trying to serve two masters?

  10. Steve and Arthur
    Thanks for your comments and taking the time to post them. Steve, my view, as I have expressed repeatedly, is that homosexuality should be viewed within the Christian context of sexuality. My view of this issue is that God designed sexual practise to be best within the context of a marriage of lifelong commitment between a man and a woman. All sexuality activity must be viewed with that in mind. I don’t see homosexuality as any greater an issue of conscience than adultery, sex outside of marriage or a whole raft of other issues of ethics and conscience.
    Arthur, thank you for your comments, but I would ask you to ensure that you remain Christlike in what you say and how you say it.
    Steve, Faithworks has a wide spread of members who will not all hold the same view on sexuality. That being said, the nuanced point we are trying to make is that the SOR’s do not necessarily threaten freedom of conscience. We wills eek to equip and enable Churches to engage in this issue without losing their distinctive identity.
    Faithworks exists to empower churches to work unconditionally in serving their community, to engage positively and confidently with others and to build strong partnerships. In all of this we are committed to clear Christian distinctiveness and Christ like behaviour and attitudes. In terms of funding, very little of our funding flows from Government and the vast majority of our funding comes from donations and paid for services. My salary is entriely paid out of donations and paid for services.
    Thank you again

  11. I agree again wth you about homosexuality only being one small part of the possible list of sexual sins. And that it is no greater an issue than those you mention.
    One place that I think it differs in our culture is that those committing adultery, sex outside marriage etc. have not got together and formed a powerful group that lobbies and fights on their behalf as homosexuals have done.
    It is a group that will always be opposed to the church until the church loses touch with God altogether and says that homosexual practice is not sin. Hopefully, that will not happen.
    Incidentally, I do not know of many churches that support adultery or sex outside of marriage anyway or that do not preach against these things at least occasionally. So saying that the Church treats these differently is not really true, it is just that due to press coverage, and a lot of other things, homosexuality does become the one most mentioned.
    May I be so bold as to point out that saying:
    “That being said, the nuanced point we are trying to make is that the SOR’s do not necessarily threaten freedom of conscience. We will seek to equip and enable Churches to engage in this issue without losing their distinctive identity.”
    is a little bit different to saying “We welcome the SORS as an attempt to ensure that goods and services are delivered inclusively and in non-discriminatory ways.”
    Would it be an idea to publish a further statement to the christian press to clarify this? At the moment, Faithworks position has been taken as one of full support for the SORS as they stand now. It would probably make a big difference to christians if they know it is a qualified support that you give rather than full support.

  12. Steve
    Our position on the SOR’s hasn’t changed. We will endeavour to support churches as they seek to honour God in all that they do and deliver an inclusive, non-discriminatory service.
    Thanks again

  13. I pray that you don’t end up regretting your position, especially in light of the doubts about SORS that you have shown on here Malcolm.

  14. Hi Malcolm,
    I have ben reading this blog with interest and it is quite informative. I am a little disappointed that you have not answered some of the specific questions and from your own writings I must say I would not have taken you as an evangelical.
    You equate homosexuality with adultery and whilst both are sins, homosexuality is a totally unnatural practice. An organ designed as a waste tract was never created as a means of sexual fulfilment and is when you think of it actually, rather disgusting. Homosexuals need help to wrestle with these problems and I think rather than helping their cause you have indeed greatly hindered it. Could I be so bold as to suggest you take a few days off for reflection and then come back and answer the questions put to you on specific points. Personally I would like to see how you answer them. If you cannot answer them then people would hold you in high esteem if you were to retract or apolgise for the views you have spread all over the media.
    Very best wishes to you in Christ’s service
    Ken

  15. Ken
    With respect, I have answered the questions posed, stand by the views I have expressed and would be happy to answer any further questions you might have. Thanks for the comment, and God bless you in all you seek to do for Him.
    Malcolm

  16. Hi Malcolm,
    Maybe there is something defective about my monitor but I can’t find your answers to some of the questions posed by others.
    For example, do you believe God destroyed the cities of S & G because of homosexuality?
    Do you think we should use Jesus words of go thy way and sin no more to homosexuals?
    You may well have the answer to these and I would find it helpful to guage your response.
    I am not trying to be difficult, but I would like answers to these questions as well. I hope I am not creating a problem in asking for clarification, but there is so much to learn about this whole issue,
    Sincerely and with every good wish, Ken

  17. Ken
    I am more than happy to answer those quesions, as best I can! I just am not able to personally keep track of what is a very stimulating discussion across several posts, so thank you for articulating the key questions.
    I think the issue of Sodom and Gomorrah was one of rebellion to God and his purposes and plans. The whole exchange between Abraham and God as he pleaded for the cities and then the bizarre exchange between Lot and the messengers (angels I think) also have to be considered. That being said, the lustful and aggressive homosexuality of the men in the cities was certainly a major factor in the story. The angels seem to be theer to destroy the city because of this manifestation of rebellion and sinfulness. So my direct answer to you is that God destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because of their persistent sinfulness which was most clearly exhibited in their agressive, lustful sexuality expressed in the almost gang rape mentality of a frenzied homosexual mob. The challenge is to apply the whole context properly to other people and situations. I’m not sure I could apply Sodom and Gomorrah to ‘homsexuality’ full stop but recognise that this is what you think and whilst I’m not sure I can agree with you, I understand how you have reached the conclusion. I’d want to explore that further in thought and reflection.
    Your question about Jesus using the phrase ‘go and sin no more’ is different. I think I have made it clear on several postings, comments and so on that I have a conservative view of sexuality. I do think that Jesus challenges wrong behaviour – he does it with me every day! I also think that he would challenge us all about our sexual activity as and when it strays outside of a lifelong commitment in marriage as defined by the Scriptures. Having said that, we need to bear in mind that Jesus says nothing about homosexuality whatsoever. My view on this issue is shaped by the wider context of the NT and the OT and other biblical writers. But we must at least acknnowledge that there is a silence from Jesus on this issue and ask why. Other biblical authors may fill that silence, but His silence is a challenge.
    My point is that His service of others was never predicated upon their behaviour. He retained the ability to love, serve and challenge all at the same time. (I did comment very fully on this on the blog somewhere, just not sure where now!) The SOR’s do not prevent you or me from issuing such a challenge to those with whom we have relationship and who trust us enough to hear us. I think we too often try to confront peoples’ choices and lifestyles as a pre-requisite for serving them. It is that with which I disagree. I hope that makes sense? I must serve all people unconditionally. Full stop.
    When I have a relationship of trust and respect with them I am permitted and able to speak into their lives – but that is not a condition for my love and service of them.
    Ken, I think there are vast unaswered questions around this whole issue. Faithworks does not have one view across the movement on the issue of sexuality at all. The SOR’s are about rights and responsibilities though, not just about sexuality per se.
    There is a grown up, loving and uncomfortable debate and discussion for the Christian church to have on this whole issue. I am trying to contribute on view and ensure that the public and government are aware that there are alternative views of Christians on this issue.
    I am choosing to believe that those contributing to the dialogue here are open to one another, committed to honest dialogue and willing to be challenged and changed. I am grateful for the discussion taking place on the blog – and welcome and comment which is offered in love and in the way and example of Jesus, so thank you for taking the time to engage in the discussion with me.
    There is a wider question around how we as Christians read and apply the teaching of the Bible, but that is for anothe blog posting I think! There are some key issues at stake here, but none are more important than our commitments to each other to speak the truth in love and our need to listen to one another and then engage with the world in a Christlike and gracious way.
    Cheers and let me know what you think – I need help in navigating these issues as much as anyone else.
    Praying for you

  18. Malcolm,
    “But we must at least acknnowledge that there is a silence from Jesus on this issue and ask why. Other biblical authors may fill that silence, but His silence is a challenge.”
    I’m not sure that this is really a challenge. Jesus spoke into a society that rather than being irreligious had too much religion. The law instead of leading to God, had become their God.
    In the countries around Israel, homosexual and lesbian acts were a problem, they could even be used in worship to false gods. But for Israel, this was clearly condemned by God. The likely reason for Jesus not saying anything on this subject is simply that it almost never happened in the country. As a result of sin, adultery did happen, but due to history and culture, homosexuality and lesbianism were simply not an issue.
    The reason why God spoke on this issue through others is simply that those others were speaking to people in societies where this was an issue, and so needed dealing with.

  19. Thanks for your comments on this Steve. Do you think that the invasion of first century Palestine with Roman occupation and presence would have presented the same kind of sexual activity as Rome or do you think they (the Romans) would have operated in a kind of sub-culture away from the eyes and experience of first century Jews?
    Have you read anything around the idea that ‘homosexuality and lesbianism’ wasn’t an evidenced problem in first century Israel? I’d love to explore that conviction a little more annd read around it a bit more.
    Thanks

  20. The Fordham site has an interesting article on the subject:
    ftp://ftp.lehigh.edu/pub/listserv/ioudaios-l/Articles/msseed/
    There is also this one:
    http://www.lookstein.org/retrieve.php?ID=-4061196
    Just as with everything else, there are two sides interpreting it differently (generally orthodox and liberal:
    http://bubba.ucc.okstate.edu/osu_orgs/glbca/docs/sodom.html
    And lastly, this one gives an overview but no cited sources for the information.
    http://www.infopt.demon.co.uk/homopho1.htm
    As far as i know, the first written source suggesting that homosexuality may not be as bad as originally thought did not appear until Maimonides around 1150 CE (and I don’t have a copy of his writings), and from then on, the practice seems to have spread.

  21. As for the Roman question, from the brief bit of history I have done on this, it is likely that for the first hundred years or so, Rome would have been very careful about this. Israel from 63 BCE onwards was a client kingdom of Rome where the ruler was native, but under the control of Rome. We know that in this situation, Rome did not usually deliberately upset the people in these kingdoms, as long as they remained fairly peaceful and provided Rome with what it needed. Things changed with the Jewish revolts of 50 CE onwards when most of Israel came under direct Roman administration. In that situation, they were much more open, and would not have been as bothered about upsetting people.

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