It is time for the Church to lead the way…
I read yesterday that the CEO of Apple, Tim Cook, came out as gay. It was suggested that this announcement would shake the foundations of our world more than most things we have heard in the last few years. That, as the Huffington Post reported, his action would irrevocably change the American corporate landscape and force the country to examine its perception of homosexuality.
It makes me feel sad that in the 21st century an announcement like this has the power to “change the landscape”. That we still see people battling the stigma of their sexuality, as though this is the thing that makes or breaks them. In the Uniting Church we are still having debates over the legitimacy of gay marriage, and whether we should support it. Really!!! Isn’t it time to move on and accept that humanity comes in all shades of the rainbow, and what matters most is love? Love in all it fullness, whether it is between two men, two women or a man and a woman.
The problem many in the church have is that they are stuck with an interpretation from the bible that says the opposite. They cling to 2 or 3 passages that talk about homosexuality being bad, yet they forget the hundreds of passages that talk about love and compassion.
Emeritus Professor Bill loader is a New Testament Scholar and internationally recognised as a leader in understanding the context in which the bible, and particularly the New Testament was written. He has spent 5 years exploring sexuality in both Old and New Testament times, and the way people in the ancient world understood it, both individually and as a community. Now you may think that is boring, but if we are to bring the gospel message alive today, and bring a new vision of what it is to be human we also need to understand our own tradition and the cultural political and social influences that were present when the scriptures were written. Loader’s work has profound implications in terms of the churches response to same sex marriage and gay and lesbian rights.
What is refreshing about Professor Loader is that he does not shy away from what the bible says about homosexuality, pointing out the distance between ourselves in the 21st century and those in the ancient world. The biblical writers assumed human beings could only be male or female, and that sex belonged between male and female and only in marriage for the producing of children. As Loader says, anything else was deemed a perversion.
Unlike the ancient writers however, we affirm that homosexuality does exist in nature, including amongst humans, we affirm that there are people who feel that this is the path for them, and part of the reason is biology and we affirm that we do not marry just to have children. We also marry for love, for companionship and for intimacy. As with many other things times have changed and our knowledge of how the world works has greatly increased.
We can see our relation to gay and lesbian people in the same light as other issues in which there has been a contradiction between what the bible may say and what we, living at another time and another culture, accept. We cannot forget that these writers also assumed the world was flat, that the world would end soon, that demons caused sickness, that women should and could not exercise leadership and that slaves should stay slaves.
We have seen the abolition of slavery and the pursuit of equal rights for women and minority races as the realisation of the divine purpose in life. Now we are talking about the rights of homosexual people. So we have to weigh up what we hear in the bible about homosexuality and what we hear in the rest of the bible about love, compassion and inclusion. As Professor Loader says, human beings are to be valued and loved, whatever their race, gender, religion, culture, or sexual orientation. It is a core value derived from God`s love embodied in Christ and affirmed as the fruit of the spirit. It is a call for the dignity and liberty of all human beings
The church must not change with the fashion or be at the whim of the current culture, but rather it must look to Jesus and to the heart of the gospel to find the way of the future. We know Jesus himself overturned many earlier statements of scripture or customs of the day in the name of compassion. He welcomed the stranger and the outcast, not to condemn them but to love them. This is what we are called to do.
So where do we go from here? Hopefully as people of faith we will open our minds and our hearts, exploring the boundaries of faith and life with our fellow travellers without applying rules that do not fit. And as Jesus` followers, remove barriers, respect people, and love one another.
This ideal is reflected in a song put out last year, called Same Love. Modern music can quite often say very profound things about life, things that reach into our hearts and touch us deeply. This is one of those songs…
For video of the song, please go to http://www.youtube.com and search for Same Love.
It is time for the church to lead the way, not be shown the way..