Monday, 25 October 2010

Terry Wynn - Pelvic piousness

Terry Wynn, a Methodist local preacher and former MEP writes: 

When, as a former MEP, I used to chair the European Parliament’s monthly Prayer Breakfast I soon learned that it’s hard to dislike someone who you pray with. I learned to accept differences of opinion amongst friends and colleagues of other political persuasions without falling out with them. So when I recently spoke at a men’s breakfast at my own church, I stressed that what I was about to say may not be to everyone’s liking but hoped that we could discuss such issues openly. We did and the response was quite enlightening. The subject was how the Church judges homosexual people.

I had recently been to New Zealand and the USA and between them I have come away strengthened by a line of preaching that I have been doing for some time. That is, the message of inclusiveness within our churches.

During HOPE 2008, the German/South African evangelist, Suzette Hattingh, led a week long series of events in Wigan. Of all her activities, two things became etched in my mind. She spoke about Christians not being judgemental, because Jesus wasn’t. Jesus would accommodate anybody, the woman at the well, the Roman officer, Samaritans, Tax collectors, prostitutes. In fact the ones he did have a go at were the Pharisees, as in Luke 11 v 46 where he criticises them for loading people with burdens they can hardly carry. That is the laws of the Old Testament that made such ritual demands.

The second thing was she said that Christianity is not about Religion, but about having a personal relationship with Jesus.

How does The Methodist Church measure up to these two statements?

Too many people outside the church, have been given the impression that the Gospel is all about “Big Brother is watching you” and he’s gonna get you. If you ever watch the religious channels on TV, and, in the UK, there are loads of them; too often the message is all about sin and God’s retribution. Theirs is the God of the Old Testament, the God of power, law, judgement, hell-fire and damnation, with God ready to zap you at any time.


As Steve Chalke says, “What kind of message is that for the single mum trying to bring up her kids with little resources? What type of hope is that for the kids on our streets, some who have only known a life of abuse at the hands of those they thought they could trust? What kind of liberation does that offer the lonely, the redundant, the homeless, the forgotten, the cheated, the vulnerable or the countless individuals, young and old, who suffer from an acute sense of failure, or lack of self-esteem? What kind of good news is that for humanity as a whole? What often passes for the Gospel might lead to a faith to die by, but offers little hope to live by.” I would add, what kind of love does that offer people who are gay?

The worst part is, it’s hardly the message of Jesus when he said: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour." (Luke 4:17-19 )

In today’s world the church doesn’t get publicity for all the good works it does. The Roman Catholic Church will be forever remembered for the cases of abuse in Ireland and the USA and indeed throughout the world, and quite rightly so. Few will write that just about in every slum in the world you will invariably find Catholic nuns and priests working with the poorest.

The established church is its own worst enemy. The things that make the headlines, and appear to be the main concern and focus of the church are issues such as women priests or women bishops, celibacy, contraception, gay issues, abortion or stem cell research. The established church is hung up on pelvic issues. That is all the outside world seems to hear about. 


Last year the Pope proclaimed that homosexuality is the biggest threat to the future of humanity – an even greater threat than climate change or wars or starvation or overpopulation or the running out of energy sources or religious fanaticism.  Why? – Because he says gay couples don’t have children and, if everyone chose to be gay, this could lead to humanity dying out.  Well, apart from the facts that gays are a small percentage of the population and they don’t choose to become gay, they don’t have any fewer children than celibate priests do.  Is this really the prime message of the Catholic Church in the 21st century?  Is that the best hope it can offer to a world in desperate need of the message of love?  Why should modern generations want to get involved in what they consider to be hypocrisy and bigotry? 

When a U.S. Evangelical research group – the Barna group – recently asked a large sample of non-Christian young people in their 20s which words best described Christians, they were taken back by the responses.  91% felt that Christians were “anti-homosexual”; 87% thought they were “judgmental” and 85% “hypocritical”.  What shocked them even more was that, when they asked young church attendees the same question, the same three adjectives came out on top.  80% agreed with the anti-gay label, 52% said Christianity is judgmental, and 47% declared it hypocritical.  And these are our own young Christians. 

According to the summary of the study:
“Non-Christians and Christians explained that beyond their recognition that Christians oppose homosexuality, they believe that Christians show excessive contempt and unloving attitudes towards gays and lesbians. One of the most frequent criticisms of young Christians was that they believe the church has made homosexuality a “bigger sin” than anything else.”

But the biggest surprise of all for the researchers was the extent to which respondents -  one in four non-Christians – said, without being prompted in any way, that modern-day Christianity no longer looked like Jesus.  So these young non-Christians who had such very little regard for the church had a great regard for Jesus.  Ten years ago, when a very similar survey was carried out by the same research group, the vast majority of non-Christians under 30 had generally favorable views of Christianity.  Now, that figure is just 16%.  When asked specifically about Evangelicals, the number is even worse: only 3% of these non-Christians have positive associations with Evangelicals.  


Thankfully the Methodist church doesn’t concentrate on pelvic issues. But how inclusive are we?

When I was in Washington recently, I went to Foundry United Methodist Church. An old type of building, as broad as it was long, (and it was long). It had pews, an organ and a robed choir. It had hymns that were sung to tunes you didn’t know. Yet given all this I thought it was brilliant because of the message they preached. The sermon was “Jesus and Poverty”, one of a series of based on the Economics of Jesus. But it wasn’t only that, it was the way they welcomed everyone. They believe in the full inclusion of all people and are part of the Reconciling Congregation Movement.

Within their statement of purpose they say

As we journey toward reconciliation with all, we proclaim this statement of welcome to all, including our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters: God loves you and we love you, we affirm you, and accept you, we treasure you. We welcome you.

At the same time, we recognize that there remain differences of opinion among us on issues relating to sexuality. We do not seek to erase our differences, but to journey together in faith toward greater understanding and mutual respect.

In becoming a Reconciling Congregation we believe that we are being reconciled to God and to one another.

I found it so refreshing and the reason is that I have become so fed up of the intolerance shown towards Gay people by so many Christians. 


In 1993 Rev Stephen B Dawes wrote a booklet entitled “Why Bible-Believing Methodists shouldn’t eat Black Pudding”. It was to get some common sense into the debate about taking the Bible literally. If we did we take it literally we wouldn’t eat pork, shellfish, shrimps and a load of other things. We’d also stone people to death for a range of things from cursing your parents to gathering sticks on the Sabbath, from blasphemy to loss of virginity, from adultery to homosexuality.

When I gave my talk it was interesting that it was the usual suspects (good friends I have to say), those who take the Bible literally, who were the ones to stress that the Bible says homosexuality is an abomination and that it is not necessarily a genetic condition, (by the way, Jesus says in  Matt. 19 11-12, when talking about marriage “For some are incapable of marriage from birth”).
 Jesus gave us two great commandments and didn’t say we should keep these Old Testament laws that burden the people. When the adulterous woman was brought to him, he didn’t say “stone her”, when he was challenged that his disciples were picking ears of corn on the Sabbath, he didn’t say “stone them to death”.

In his first letter  to the Corinthians, Paul says women should be silent in church. He also says men shouldn’t have long hair but women should. And while Leviticus calls for homosexuals to be stoned to death, Jesus never gives a mention to it. Paul certainly does and you can understand why to some extent. In the Greek world in which Paul travelled, promiscuity was rife. But had Paul known then what we know now about our genetic make-up would he have been more understanding?


He has a go at homosexuality in Romans and in 1Corinthians 6. Here he says “the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God”.  But amongst his list of those who are “wicked” are not only Gay people but “adulterers, thieves, the greedy and drunkards.” That would limit us all somewhat.
The question is why do we signal out gay people when God has made them the way they are?
Is an adult Gay person in some way sinful because of his or her sexuality? Most would, I assume, say no as long as they are celibate. Then what are they supposed to do with all that sexual energy that God gives us? Men,  know what it’s like. How many of us could remain celibate if we were born that way?

And what do we make of Jesus’ statement in Luke 16 when he says “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

Do we agree with that? The beauty of the Methodist church is that divorcees can get married in our churches. People are given a second chance.

Why do we pick and choose the texts that suit us?

A couple of weeks ago I was sent a link to a European Christian website. As I opened it the first thing I say was “10 reasons why homosexual couples should not adopt.” I found this interesting because I’m on the Board of Trustees of Action for Children. When this issue raised its head some time ago the Catholic Church was up in arms.


The attitude of  Action for Children, who are experts in adoption, is, “whatever is best for the child.” 

David Kinnaman, Barna Group president and author of the book, UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity commented: "When Jesus pursued people, he was much more critical of pride and much more critical of spiritual arrogance than he was of people who were sinful. And today's Christians, if you spend enough time looking at their attitudes and actions, really are not like Jesus when it comes to that."
Rick Warren, best-selling author of The Purpose-Driven Life and pastor of the massive Saddleback Church in California reflected that: "For some time now, the hands and feet of the body of Christ have been amputated, and we've been pretty much reduced to a big mouth.  We talk more than we do. It's time to reattach the limbs and let the church be the church in the 21st century."  He hoped that the church will become "known more by what it is for than what it is against.”

I would love to see our churches being as inclusive as that Church in Washington. When it was HOPE 2008, the promotional DVD that preceded events had Joel Edwards from the Evangelical Alliance saying, “Too often the church is seen as one million wagging, condemnatory fingers. We want it to be seen as two million welcoming, open arms.” 
What do you want?
At the end of my talk I was amazed (why? I’m not sure) at the vast number of men who came to me afterwards to congratulate me on what I had said. Others spoke of having Gay children or brothers and the hurtful things that clergy and fellow Christians had said to them. We need more advocates for the persecuted, not to be seen as persecutors ourselves.


Felonious Monk said...

If we are going to use scripture, let's use it accurately. What Jesus said was that some were eunuchs (in the Greek) from birth. Are we saying that gays are eunuchs?

The OT laws that burden the people were the ritual laws excessively applied and NOT the moral law. Jesus tightened some of them up - including the one on adultery.

The woman caught in adultery was a political trap - and - someone was missing for the case to be proved beyond doubt. He also said,"Go and sin no more".

Just three examples of the many errors of logic and exegesis in this article. However, this is what we expect when someone tries to justify sin.

It is not good to encourage a form of behaviour that is spiritually and physically destructive.

When people say that the Church is not like Jesus, I wnat to know what they think Jesus is like and how often they read their Bibles.

Finally, we are not supposed to pick and choose texts. Therefore, we cannot ignore what Paul or Jesus says when we do not agree with it. We need the whole counsel of God. Something clearly missing here.

Rev Tony B said...

"If we are going to use scripture, let's use it accurately. What Jesus said was that some were eunuchs (in the Greek) from birth."

Well, to be accurate, that's what Matthew (in Greek) said what Jesus said (in Aramaic). There is no way of knowing precisely what Jesus said in Aramaic. We can reconstruct from the Greek, but that's conjecture. We have no way of knowing what the Aramaic term translated into Greek as 'eunuch' might have included figurately - and it probably did have figurative uses, because that's one of the ways in which Hebrew and Aramaic worked.

'Picking and choosing texts' seems to me to be one of those phrases. Like someone who rejected advice I gave him on the grounds that it was just 'a load of theology' - one of his friends told him that 'a load of theology' was his code-word for 'biblical teaching I don't want to hear.' We all pick and choose texts, because that's how the Bible works. The question is whether the texts are read against their context, or chosen because they reinforce what we already think.

Felonious Monk said...

Rev Tony B, Matthew as a levite and a tax-collector was an educated man with tax-collector's shorthand (Q?). We have to trust that under the guidance of the Holy Spirit , he did not misrepresent Jesus. We cannot assume that Jesus , from Galilee of the Gentiles (greeks) spoke Aramaic. He could have spoken Greek - or even both. Not to mention Latin. As a carpenter/builder there would have been a lot of work for Joseph&Son in nearby Sephoris.

The Bible does NOT work by picking and choosing texts. There are rules, as you clearly know.They are linguistic, historical contextual, logical and, most importantly, if God is the ultimate author, the interpretation of scripture with scripture.

"Blind unbelief is sure to err and scan His work in vain. God is his own interpreter and He will make it plain".

Which is not to suggest that you, or others, do not believe; but it does question the extent of belief. I do not like to let scripture judge me, but my salvation does not lie in letting me judge scripture.

Rev Tony B said...

There is no evidence at all that shorthand existed in those days. Q is not Matthew's notes of Jesus' teachings, it is a variable collection of sources (if indeed it exists at all - it's all very hypothetical). Jesus probably did know some Greek (no evidence at all for Latin, and significantly no evidence for any visit to Sepphoris - a noticeable silence in the Gospel traditions), but there is sufficient evidence of an Aramaic substratum to the Gospel traditions that it is pretty certain he preached in Aramaic.

Like you, I believe in the authority of scripture. And yes, I do know about the rules by which it can be interpreted. Appealing to Matthew being 'inspired' may be a nice doctrinal point, but in this context it sidesteps the evidence. I don't think you have answered my point about the range of possible meanings in what Jesus actually said.

Peter M said...

This bit stuck out to me:

He has a go at homosexuality in Romans and in 1Corinthians 6. Here he says “the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God”. But amongst his list of those who are “wicked” are not only Gay people but “adulterers, thieves, the greedy and drunkards.” That would limit us all somewhat.The question is why do we signal out gay people when God has made them the way they are?Is an adult Gay person in some way sinful because of his or her sexuality?

But what the Terry Wynn forgot to say is that Jesus also tells people to "go and sin no more".

Is it true that God makes people gay? And is Paul referring to homosexual orientation or homosexual acts? These big questions were conveniently avoided.

If I was a kleptomaniac, a compulsive thief, should I be able to say "God made me this way, I'll be stealing for the rest of my life". Of course not, and we wouldn't expect the church to endorse such a view. So why do we take a different line with homosexuality?

I would agree that the church has a PR problem and is seen as judgemental.

But the love of Jesus is a love that calls us to repentance, to become more like Him, not to continue in our sinful state.

So the church needs to proclaim not just the unconditional love and acceptance of Jesus, but also His call to live a life of holiness, because that is God's desire for His people. Balancing these two is not an easy task.