Draft 1 – Just putting it out there. I’ll finish this soon.
For many years there has been growing criticism of the phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin”. On one level, there is nothing wrong with the statement, the standard of the requirement to love even our enemies is universal. It doesn’t matter what a person or group of people has done to us as individuals or a community, we are to love them. This is a constant battle and not a natural reaction; but one we are to continually work at. This is part of the Gospel. Hand in hand with this, the Bible makes clear that there is objective truth – there is a morality that is universal and that certain actions, attitudes and behaviours are “sinful”. Sin is the great barrier in a relationship between mankind and the Creator God. That is Biblical Truth, but it is not the Gospel.
The Gospel is the Good News – the awesome solution, the other side of the coin to the dark and hopeless picture of a broken relationship between God and humanity. The Gospel tells us that God himself has arranged for a bridging of the gap; a restoration of the broken relationship that is free, and available to all. In fact, this restoration will bring about a greater, closer and more intense relationship than existed between mankind and God in the first place. Not only that, but it will involve not only humanity and God, but all of Creation. The crowning glory of this Gospel is that the bridge isn’t just planned by God, it is God Himself that has bridged the Gap.
This Restoration of relationship is achieved by God and is free. It is not dependent on anything an individual or community can do. Instead it is achieved only by the finished work of Jesus in his life, death and resurrection, deliverd through faith to the individual. This glorious restoration does not mean sin is irrelevant, quite the opposite. In the cost of the Restoration, the ultimate price is paid – the humiliation, death and sacrifice of God’s Son – so that the recipients do not have a price to pay to qualify for the Restoration. However, there is a cost to discipleship – to following. That is not salvific, but it is responsive and requires obedience. It is both a natural outflowing from the new relationship and evidence of that relationship. It impacts the relationship, but neither starts it nor finishes it.
And here the great battlefield of Christianity lies. Indeed, its the most crucial battle. The natural heart of humanity in terms of ‘religion’ dictates that acceptance/atonement/relationship with God, is achieved through our hard work. A system of trade offs. We sin and so therefore we perform x, y, and/or z “good-work” to gain the pleasure of the Deity. “Love the sinner, hate the sin” trades on that understanding. It is the Law.
OK so I’ve been hugely remiss over the last few months. I’ve got a stack of started and unfinished posts in my drafts box. I need to learn brevity – but I wouldn’t hold my breath. I’m working on a couple of things so hope to get them on soon.
Today is the 1 year Anniversary of the General Assembly debate on the Aberdeen Case, where the Rev Scott Rennie was permitted to take up the Call to the Congregation of Queen’s Cross, Aberdeen. In honour of this, I repost (the most popular entry) my experience from that night.
I think this is one of the only pages in the blogosphere that hasn’t mentioned the internal conflict currently raging in post-election Iran! I know many Iranians; it is a beautiful and dignified country, where her people are much more open than the ruling class and western media would allow you to think. Justice is universal – there is a right and a wrong. Election tampering is wrong and hopefully, if this has taken place – as it seems likely – this will be sorted so that the voice of the people are heard.
Saturday saw the State strengthen its response to the demonstrators, using live rounds, tear gas and riot police to break up crowds. Both sides seem determined not to give in, so pressure continues to build.
I was reading Daniel Finkelstein’s Opinion piece in Wednesdays ‘The Times’ – read the article in full here – and was struck by his description of Mr Mousavi, the “runner up” in the recent elections and the new darling of the reformists/moderates in Iran. Discussing the general desire for liberty and democracy throughout the world he goes on to say:
“The clue lies in a single, almost heartbreaking, detail, tucked inside the reports of Iran’s presidential election. Mir Hossein Mousavi – the dry, bureaucratic insider who became the unlikely hero of the reformist protestors – is not a charismatic man. But he did one truly eloquent thing. He held hands with his wife in public. He held his wife’s hand. In public. It makes you weep for a society in which this seems daring. But it turns out that for millions of people it was the hopeful sign they had been awaiting. It was a tiny crack in the dam. It was light in the darkness, a small battery torch of light, but light all the same.”
Iran follows a form of Islam where open displays of affection even between husband and wife is not allowed. Indeed, part of the campaign against him during the election was because his wife was involved in campaigning – first time ever a presidential candidate’s wife has campaigned.
Now I don’t want to make any comparison between life in the UK and Iran. In the UK we have freedom which is not experienced by most in Iran. The current demonstrations and the Government crack down is a dangerous situation that has already cost some lives and many beaten and imprisoned.
However, I think Finkelstein put it beautifully – “He held hands with his wife in public. He held his wife’s hand. In public. It makes you weep for a society in which this seems daring.” The only time I have held my partner’s hand in public was on a Pride march, where there was “safety” in numbers. We do not sit in the cinema holding hands, like the couples around us. Walking down the street, we do not hold hands as much as I want – and need – to. No holding hands over the table sitting in a restaurant for us. It makes you weep for a society in which this seems daring. Indeed it does.
Let me tell you about another time I held my partner’s hand in public. Sitting in the public gallery of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland on the Saturday evening of the Aberdeen case. Of course the circumstances are well known, and read my blog of it here. The Gallery was full. I was struck that there were 4 gay ministers sitting in close proximity. We hadn’t planned it, or organised it. But all 4 of us were sitting there with our partners, to see where the Church of Scotland stood on people like us in ministry.
At one point, my partner reached out and took my hand, and kept hold of it for the next 4 hours of the debate, that ended with the Presbytery’s decision being upheld and Assembly agreeing that Scott should be inducted to a new congregation that had called him. Now, it wasn’t obvious. It wasn’t showy. The people on either side of us and those in front could see if they looked, but it would be unlikely anyone else did. It wasn’t a political statement. It was a gesture of love and support from my partner during what was a traumatic time for all LGBT people in the Church of Scotland.
Holding hands. Its a simple thing with profound significance. However it is for me – and millions of other LGBT folk – still a “daring” thing. I hope that it will become less daring for a man to hold his wife’s hand in public in Iran. I pray it will become less daring – no – become acceptable, common-place for all LGBT people to hold their partner’s hand in public here (and everywhere else including Iran!!).
He held my hand in public.
Oh dear – the last time I blogged was Christmas, and now it’s Easter!! For all my protestations of being a Reformed guy who doesn’t adhere to the Church calendar, it looks like my blogging does! OK so its all tongue in cheek.
The last few months have been fairly hectic. I’ve thought of something to blog often, but clearly, never got round to it. So hopefully this is me back for a while before my next break!
I hope 2010 has been good to everyone, whoever and wherever you are. Certainly, for many of us, the gleam of the new year has worn off and for some, the fears of 2010 have delivered more faithfully than the hopes offered. We’ve seen, heard and read of some sickening events – whether it be the Haitian Earthquake, the Chilean Earthquake – one so severe it actually altered the planet’s position in space and the ensuing Tsunami, which was thankfully mild by comparison to the Boxing Day Tsunami following Chile’s last big quake.
The continuing war in Afghanistan, and the high level of Insurgency in Iraq have continued to catch the headlines as the death tolls – both of civillians and combatants – continue to rise relentlessly.
The global economic crisis has ruined more communities and wrecked more lives in the opening months of 2010, with unemployment, reposession and debt continuing to rise.
There have been massacres in Nigeria and now in the Democratic Republic of the Congo under the savage ‘Lord’s Resistance Army’.
So 2010, the start of a new decade in a young milennium is shaping up to be pretty much the same as the ones that have come before. I guess one of the differences is, our confidence seems pretty low. So its a good thing to remember that “In the year that…” all these things have already happened, that “I saw the Lord seated on the throne, high and lifted up” – that in spite of all the terrors, God is still in control. If that wasn’t the case, it would truly be a scary thing. I don’t have any other answers other than the belief that we have a Living God who cares about the universe and about individuals and who is in control of it all – even in this scarred and fallen world.
Merry Christmas! I must confess this is the first year I’ve ever celebrated Christmas fully. My first Nativity play in Church, my first Christmas Day service, the first time I’ve had Advent Candles lit; the first time I’ve sang Carols each Sunday. I have been to a few Watchnight Services before, but always in a sense as a spectator.
My old Church did not celebrate Christmas, or indeed any of the Church Calendar. In fact, though people are shocked, Scotland didn’t celebrate Christmas until recently. It was in the mid-1950s that Scotland took December 25th as a public holiday. Up until then it was a normal day. As a consequence of the Oxford Movement (which was an Anglican one) impacting the Church of Scotland slowly Christmas Trees began to appear in church buildings, even a certain element of liturgy and slowly Advent, Watchnight Services and special Christmas services. Much to the bemusement of the nation. Now people are shocked with the idea that some Christians don’t celebrate Christmas.
I remember people saying to me around this time “My, this is your busy period isn’t it?” To which I’d usually smile, but say to myself “not really! Its pretty much business as usual!” Nowadays, the only denominations in Scotland that do not officially celebrate Christmas are: The Free Church of Scotland, The Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, the Associated Presbyterian Churches and the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing). Additionally some Independent congregations (some Reformed Baptists and the like) may not either. The largest of these denominations – the Free Church (my old denomination) – however is the most lax in its observation of the old way. The vast majority of Free Kirkers will celebrate Christmas at home, identically to anyone else. Trees, presents, carols even. Most APC would as well. Among the FCC there would be many for whom Christmas is a family holiday. Amongst the FPs however, it would be extremely rare for much observation even in the home for such a holiday. Instead, traditionally New Year would be a bigger holiday. Presents would traditionally be exchanged either on the 26th or New Years Day and to my knowledge that would be commonly observed today. Nigh universally amongst the FPs, Christmas Cards are not exchanged – certainly not with a ‘Christian’ message and instead New Year cards are given. This would be common amongst the FCC as well, though I have received Christmas Cards even from FCC ministers before so its obviously more mixed. Amongst the APC and Free Church most would send Christmas cards, though I remember having to be careful to give the right type of card to the appropriate people!
Recently I was asked why this is all is?! First, it is nothing to do with a disbelief in the Virgin Birth or the birth accounts in the Gospels. All four denominations – and their spiritual forefathers before them – held to a strict understanding of the veracity of the literal, historical, miraculous virgin birth and Gospel accounts. Ironically, some who now are the most ardent celebrants of Christmas in the Church do doubt or plain disbelieve the truth of the accounts. So, it needs to be made clear that non-observance of Christmas as a religious feast/festival, does not deny the truth of the event, nor its significance.
Instead, it is a fundamental disagreement over the whole ‘Church Calendar’ at all. Christmas, Easter, Saints Days, etc. were all put out at the Reformation. Feasts and Festivals of the Dark Ages were abolished. Instead the Reformers understood that there was only one ‘Feast Day’ to be kept by the Christian Church – that established at Creation and reconstituted with the Resurrection – the Second Creation – of Jesus: the Lord’s Day, Christian Sabbath, first day of the Week. The only celebration commanded in the New Testament, the only act of remembrance was the Lord’s death and not his birth. Thus the Feast commanded is the Lord’s Supper, Communion or the Eucharist. Thus, though the Birth is crucial in terms of prophetic fulfillment, establishing how the Second Person of the Trinity took on human flesh and explaining how the Atonement could be accomplished, and how it impacts us today in fellowship with the Creator God, there is little discussion of the Birth outside the Gospel narratives. No indication that the Early Church celebrated it in an organised form. The fact that we have no immutable indication of the time of year Jesus was born (but almost certainly not December 25th – more probably June or July), nor what year (again, almost certainly not or 1AD!) indicates that it is not a commanded part of the Church’s life. Depending on your view of the Regulative Principle (that we only do what God explicity commands in worship and avoid not only what he forbids but anything he has not commanded) all of these facts will determine your importance of celebrating Christmas as a religious event.
There is another side to it all however – the issue of evangelism and unity. People are more aware of Jesus at Christmas than at any other time of the year. Everyone (almost) is happy to hear carols telling the story (with varying degrees of accuracy) and, given it is a ‘warm’ and friendly time of year the whole story makes people feel good. This is a huge problem as well as a huge opportunity – but I’ll ignore the problem side just now! It’s a good opportunity for the Church to buy into society’s acceptance of Jesus at this time. To point out the reality of the story, the importance and the implications of the story for them and us all today. To guide people to Jesus who grew up and who makes claims on who they are and how they stand in relation to him. Its a great opportunity to speak God and his activity in the world into the terrors and horrors of our planet – ‘God is there and is not silent’. Its also for me a good opportunity to share in the outward, visible unity of the Church. We regard the Virgin Birth as a fundamental doctrine, acknowledged in all the Creeds. It is one of the few points of unity for the major branches of the Christian Church – even if all the branches don’t celebrate Christmas Day on the 25th of December, which isnt that important – and therefore is an opportunity for us to share fellowship and worship together. This happens too infrequently. The fellowship and opportunity of Christmas should be used to share the Gospel together and the importance of it in our expression as one Body, one Baptism, one Spirit, one Faith – and as a step towards the unity Jesus prayed for in the High Priestly prayer (John 17) and that will be finally, perfectly achieved in Glory.
So, with all its issues and problems, I am happy to say: Merry Christmas – Emmanuel, God with us.
Well here in Scotland the Noughties have fallen away, never to be seen again, and we’ve entered 2010 (or the nameless decade – the Teens?! Not yet surely!) Its a reflective time and I hope to post more reflections later. However, I want to share one of the writings that has impacted me most in the last decade, though I’ve known it for longer. It was written back in the fulcrum of the Reformation in Geneva by Jean (John) Calvin. He’s often condemned by those who do not understand him of causing much of what is wrong in modern Scottish culture and beyond, the remnants of a certain dourness. He’s decried for an academic, cold and unforgiving religion. However, while Calvin has many flaws, it is clear that his theology is academic and intellectual, but also personal, warm and intense. He penned the following himself and I think it is one of the greatest paragraphs ever written:
“Faith believes that God is real; hope awaits for the moment when he will demonstrate his reality. Faith believes that God is our father; hope believes that he will always behave as a father towards us. Faith believes that we have been given eternal life; hope awaits the day when it will be revealed. Faith …is the founation upon which hope rests; hope nourishes and shelters faith.” (Genevan Catechism)
“…just for this moment, let me say again, thank you, and thanks be to our loving, surprising God.” Mary Douglas Glasspool
On December 5th, Rev Mary Douglas Glasspool was elected Bishop Suffragan to the Diocese of Los Angeles at their 114th annual convention. 3 Bishops were elected in The Episcopal Church last week, the controversial aspect of this one is that Mary is an openly gay woman in a relationship. Ordained for almost 30 years and currently ministering in Maryland, Rev Douglas Glasspool will be the second openly gay Bishop elected in TEC – the first being Bishop Gene Robinson in 2003.
Before the appointment can procede, the majority of Bishops and diocesan Standing Committees need to approve her being made a Bishop. This will happen within the next 120 days, and if accepted, her installation will take place on May 15th 2010.
Yet again, TEC is leading the call of Christ for the Good News to include all people, both male and female, rich and poor, gay and straight, black and white. Personally, as a Presbyterian, I do not believe that magisterial Bishops are part of the order of the New Testament Church, and therefore cannot understand that LGBT folks are allowed to be Priests but not Bishops, but thats another debate. I confess to not knowing the Bishop-Elect’s theological position, but I welcome the fact that she has been elected in an open and honest way, and wish TEC God’s richest and fullest blessing as she continues down a path of declaring God’s love, grace and mercy to ALL people. I pray that the voices decrying this move, both within TEC and from other parts of the Anglican Communion would stop and think about Grace and listening to the Spirit, as Peter and the other Apostles had to do in relation to the inclusive inclusion of the Gentiles without additional requirements.
For a close up view, and a very thoughtful analysis of the issues surrounding Rev Mary Douglas Glasspool’s election read my friend Scott Gunn’s blog here
The Christian Think Tank Ekklesia has launched an online Petition against Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill. This follows the World Day of Prayer on 17th November to pray against the proposed Bill.
Please seriously consider adding your name to the Petition here.
Sadly, the Archbishop of York, Rev John Sentamu has made it clear he refuses to comment – or condemn – the Bill. There is silence from the Palace of Lambeth. Meanwhile, on the 15th November, the Executive Council of the Anglican Church of Canada unanimously condemned the Bill. The number of Christian voices raised against the Bill is growing. Evangelical Anglican group Fulcrum has voiced concern, regarding the proposed legislation as “fatally flawed from a Christian perspective” Given the place of the Anglican Church in Uganda, it is essential that Anglicans across the world make clear they do not support the proposed legislation. Rowan Williams can not afford to maintain silence against the proposed – and indeed, existing – discrimination and persecution of human rights in Uganda.
My good friend Davis Mac-Iyalla is an Anglican Christian from Nigeria. He had to flee Nigeria for his life and has come to the UK. Why? Because he is Gay.
When we sent an Open Letter to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in May, Davis joined in on behalf of Changing Attitudes Nigeria.
The Guardian Newspaper published an Open Letter from Davis to the Primates of the Anglican Community in reference to the action of some in Uganda and the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. The Anglican Primates in the West have been spectacularly, shockingly and inexcusably silent. It isn’t surprising that the African Primates have been silent – but that in and of itself should highlight the true cost of the ‘gay debate’ within the Church.
The letter follows:
To the Archbishop of Canterbury and primates of the Anglican Communion,
I am writing to you to call on the Church of England and the wider Anglican community to condemn Uganda’s proposed anti-homosexuality bill, which will make gay relations between disabled people and those under 18 a capital offence. “Carnal knowledge against the order of nature” – as homosexuality is termed in Ugandan law – is already punishable with life imprisonment. However, if passed, the new bill will widen the scope, including promoting homosexuality, aiding and abetting homosexuality and keeping a house “for purposes of homosexuality”. This means that the relatives and friends of gay couples could face execution if they allow them to stay in their homes.
The anti-homosexuality legislation proposed and enacted in Uganda and many other former British colonies has caused misery for many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people, many of whom are forced to flee their countries due to this persecution. Religion is often cited as a justification for state and non-state violence against LGBT people. As a gay refugee from Nigeria who has faced this persecution, I am well aware of the misery LGBT people can go through in Africa. As a practising Anglican Christian, I believe it is crucial that the Anglican Communion unites to prevent the killing of people on the grounds of sexuality.
I would like to remind you that the Lambeth Resolution 10 in 1978 recognised the need for pastoral concern for those who are homosexual. Resolution I.10 from 1998 commits the communion “to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ.” It also condemned the “irrational fear” of homosexuality and called on the communion to assure homosexual people that “they are loved by God.”
Legislation of the kind proposed in Uganda is based on irrational hatred and a desire to entrench the stigmatisation of LGBT people. There is no place for love, understanding or acceptance in such laws. As such, the Church of England has a duty to condemn the anti-homosexuality legislation and put pressure on those MPs who support such laws. Whatever the divisions within the communion about homosexuality as a moral issue, Anglicans should unite in condemnation of violent persecution and discrimination of LGBT people whoever and wherever they are, particularly when it is carried out in the name of Jesus Christ.
This poem/hymn was written by Robert Murray McCheyne, minister of St. Peter’s Church, Dundee until his death in 1843. One of the greatest ministers Scotland has ever produced (which is saying something), McCheyne used one of the great watchwords of the Reformation in this poem. Jehovah Tsidkenu is one of the Names for God in the Hebrew Bible and translates as ‘God [is] our Righteousness’. It helpfully reminds us that we have no righteousness of our own – that we can do nothing to please/attract God. But that, knowing this, God himself gifts and clothes us with his very own righteousness – in Christ – and so we know security, and relationship with God as his children. Awesome.
The poem is a profound and beautiful faith story, testimony of grace in his life. Praise God this Grace is free and offered to all and everyone. We don’t have to be good, or clever, interested. Its the same offer to straights, the poor, lesbians, rich folks, bisexual, black, white, gay, Asian etc. There is nothing that disqualifies us. Its free. If you’ve never tested it before – go on, find out for yourself. If you have, remind yourself it is all of Him and not of you. Remember the freedom and joy that gives us.
I once was a stranger to grace and to God,
I knew not my danger, and felt not my load;
Though friends spoke in rapture of Christ on the tree,
Jehovah Tsidkenu was nothing to me.
I oft read with pleasure, to sooth or engage,
Isaiah’s wild measure and John’s simple page;
But e’en when they pictured the blood sprinkled tree
Jehovah Tsidkenu seemed nothing to me.
Like tears from the daughters of Zion that roll,
I wept when the waters went over His soul;
Yet thought not that my sins had nailed to the tree
Jehovah Tsidkenu ’twas nothing to me.
When free grace awoke me, by light from on high,
Then legal fears shook me, I trembled to die;
No refuge, no safety in self could I see
Jehovah Tsidkenu my Saviour must be.
My terrors all vanished before the sweet name;
My guilty fears banished, with boldness I came
To drink at the fountain, life giving and free
Jehovah Tsidkenu is all things to me.
Jehovah Tsidkenu! my treasure and boast,
Jehovah Tsidkenu! I ne’er can be lost;
In thee I shall conquer by flood and by field,
My cable, my anchor, my breast-plate and shield!
Even treading the valley, the shadow of death,
This watchword shall rally my faltering breath;
For while from life’s fever my God sets me free,
Jehovah Tsidkenu, my death song shall be.