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January 24, 2013

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Jane Henderson

Hi Neil, this material looks really good and I wish I could have been there to listen to the debate. If I may, I'd like to humbly offer a couple of observations. In doing so, I am aware that they are picking up on things I disagree with and I don't want that to take away from the fact that I think the material as a whole is very good and useful. With that in mind...

1. Your comments that marriage between man and woman is ideal, raises all kinds of issues. If someone has chosen to be single does this mean they are disobeying God? What about Jesus - he never married yet was the perfect human so what does this say about both Jesus and marriage? You also cite Paul's preference that marriage be a second choice which is inconsistent with your statements derived from Genesis. At its extreme if you follow the genesis line you end up with the Mormon view that only the best part of heaven is accessed by those who are married.

2. I am uncomfortable with your statements on identity. It seems to me that rather than being a peripheral issue as implied in your notes, it is actually the fundamental issue underlying all the others. If you believe that being gay is part of someone's identity (which includes both nature and nurture) then it cannot possibly be sin. If you believe it is a choice then you can take a view that gay people have chosen a lifestyle and behaviour and therefore this could be sinful.
Two things to say on this;
(A) whilst most anti- gay people prefer the behaviour theory, virtually all gay people themselves state that they are made that way and that it is beyond just identity but also includes it. Many have been persecuted, and even committed suicide because of their orientation. If it were a choice, many say, they would choose not to be gay. It seems to me that particular parts of the Christian community have formed views without ever really talking to a gay person and even choosing to ignore psychologists who ( with few exceptions) do not regard same sex orientation as a choice. This for me leaves no place for interpretation of the bible in the light of reason and experience. If we go down this route we might as well all become creationists and state that dinosaur bones were planted to test our faith!

(B) your comment that someone who declares their identity as anything other than a child of God is committing idolatry shocks me. I think there are lots of parallels in terms of identity with black theology where black identity is absolutely key but i dont hear anyone claiming a black person's black identity is idolatrous. I don't understand why being a child of God precludes my identity as a white woman, a mother, one half of a married couple, etc. God made me a mother. I will always be a mother, it is part of my identity, I will never cease to be a mother and I don't see that it is idolatrous to hold this as a key part of my identity. We need to be very careful when interpreting scripture on behalf of previously oppressed groups, that we don't assume they have the same feelings and emotions about the same things we do. I know you understand this about women and I think that understanding needs to be extended to gay people.

And finally, just a point I picked up from Andrew Marin's excellent book 'Love is an orientation' - apparently, and I haven't tested this for myself, gay people don't like being referred to as homosexuals, they prefer the term gay. Much like the move from 'coloured' to black, we should respect the label a community gives itself.

Phew, hope that wasn't too preachy! I really welcome this debate as I think for too long the gay community have been ignored by mainstream Christians and I believe God is calling us to inclusion. Ultimately for me, Jesus said 'Love The Lord your God with all your heart.... And love your neighbour as yourself.' He did not say, 'judge everyone who comes through your door and decide whether you think they are fit to come into a relationship with me'!

Neil Brighton

Thanks for the comments Jane. I think I'd rather let most of your comments stand without response from me; which seems a better way to encourage debate. But a few thoughts:

1. I've tried to use the words 'God's plan' in Gen 1 & 2, or refer to the 'norm' rather than the ideal. If there is a ref to ideal that is bad proof reading on my part. My point is that marriage (one woman /one man) is the norm. But something that is the norm isn't necesarily normative. Given this, I'm not sure there is an inconsistency between a God planned norm for marriage, a kingdom preference for singleness (though nuanced by questions of eschatological expectation) and dealing with creation realities.

2. Clearly gender is an important part of our human make up but, theologically, anyone whose identity is defined from self rather than from relationship with their creator is by definition idolatry. Our relation with God, which is what defines us, trumps all other relationships. My identity is as a left handed, white, male but these things (which are all important to me) are secondary not primary. And to make them primary is to twist what it means to be human. It seems to me that this perspective is important to a discussion of human sexuality but by reducing it to three lines I have perhaps over simplified the point.

3. I've not read Marin's book but if he is right I'd be entirely happy to change the language and consistently use the term 'gay'; though I guess this might arise from a desire to be understood as people first and foremost, where there sexuality is one attribute of it.

David Bunce

Hi Neil,

I think it's a really good resource too, and I think it's fantasticly useful in encouraging churches in reflections. Just some of my thoughts about it:

1) I think really importantly for a Baptist reflection comes on the role of the state/church definitions of marriage. I think it is entirely right that the state should define marriage according to the values of a liberal state, and so I have no problem with same-sex marriage being legalised and strongly supported. This then also makes space for a prophetic, subversive Christian witness of marriage as something different.

Christian theology of marriage (cross-centred, covenantal, sacrificial, life-long) is already so different to state ideas of marriage, and has been for decades, that I think a clear break is in everyone's interests, so we can begin to reclaim a theology of marriage that is clearly distinct. (Steve Holmes argues something similar in http://shoredfragments.wordpress.com/2011/12/13/catholic-bishops-baptist-pastors-and-same-sex-marriage/ and I think from memory some of Stanley Hauerwas' ethical essays follow similar lines of thought)

2) On the subject of gender, I was reading yesterday an interesting (if provocative) essay ['Dancing in the Spirit', Elizabeth Stuart in The Way Forward, Ed. Timothy Bradshaw, (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1997) which was looking at the idea of identity as being crucially socially and historically defined - ie we can't have access to an a-historical version of 'me' other than the fact that I am a white English middle-class educated male. She links that in with the concept of the Incarnation, where Jesus was historically incarnate in specific historic circumstances and in doing so, God takes historically concrete identity into the divine being.

Now I've some problems with her constructive theology (especially her Trinitarian theology!) but I think it's at least helpful in the way that it picks up with a lot of feminist/queer constructions of gender and engages theologically with where a lot of secular reflection is at. Also, I think the fact that identity is also historically and contextually rooted is an important one when thinking anthropologically, even if as Baptists we would then want to subsume this to some degree into a eschatological account of identity as taking part in the life of the Risen one. I'm not convinced that the latter theological reading of identity necessarily comes at the expense of the former concreteness.

3) I've also read this and heard Marin say this before [re:gay vs. homosexual), but I've also read other commentators and homosexual theologians argue the opposite (some of whom come from UK contexts), expressing the view that sometimes the gay movement has become an emblem of a political aggressiveness they don't necessarily want to self-identify with. I guess, like many things of identity, it depends on the individual/context/culture and it's best just to ask!

They're my initial responses! Hope they provide useful food for wider thought.

Neil Brighton

Thanks David, I've read Steve's thoughts and if I had written a more academic piece would have quoted and acknowledged the role his blog had in shaping this. I agree we really need some reflection on a baptistic theology of marriage and our relationship with the state.

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