Thursday, 30 June 2016
EGGS publishes resource for shared conversations
The Evangelical Group of the General Synod, EGGS, has issued this document to its members and friends ahead of the shared conversations scheduled to start on 10 July.
As it says:
This resource is offered to EGGS members and friends in order to help us engage in formal/informal discussions which might arise as part of/around the Shared Conversations in York.
The ideas/opinions/statements expressed (in bold) are amongst those that members might hear articulated and which we believe can (and need) to be responded to. The thoughts/responses offered are a resource from the (elected members of) the Committee to help reflection on the likely issues and questions. They do not necessarily reflect the view of all EGGS members or friends.
The document contains 14 questions and suggested answers. Do read it all carefully.
PS at the present time, the website of EGGS appears to be down.
Posted by Simon Sarmiento on
Thursday, 30 June 2016 at 10:34am BST
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Church of England
The Shared Conversations call for honest, personal engagement with a topic that for at least some of the participants has deeply personal implications. I feel they are going to be at best useless and at worst personally damaging if they are to be held with people who do not engage any deeper than reciting ready-made answers prepared for them by others.
The process should be about listening, not lecturing.
The theological arguments for and against have already been flogged to death.
The key challenge is: how can we love one another and co-exist with one another, in a diversity of opinions and beliefs about human sexuality.
The challenge is the search for grace, not the winning of arguments.
The EGGS document makes some pertinent points, even though I disagree with their conclusions.
I agree, for example, with their analysis that scripture fundamentally restricts sex to marriage only, and presents marriage as between a man and a woman (as you would culturally expect it to). In addition, there is only condemnation of man-man sex in the scriptures, presenting it as unnatural, as well as contravening the 'locus' within which sex is allowed by God (as I've just mentioned).
They also write: "It is worth noting that a number of recognised scholars who support same sex relationships agree that the Bible clearly presents what we now regard as the orthodox/traditional sexual ethic (eg Walter Wink, Dan O.Via, William Loader, Bernadette J. Brooten and Diarmaid MacCulloch) – their rejection of its clear teaching is based on their view of the nature/status of scripture and not on any doubt about its clarity or orthodoxy."
I agree with this.
I believe the key issue is not 'what the Bible says' but 'what authority does the Bible have, and how contextually and provisionally should it be read, and can it ever be wrong?'
And responding to that last question... yes, the Bible has demonstrably been wrong, in some of its claims, about Noah, the Ark, all the animals, and about Adam's lack of ancestors etc. There are precedents for the Bible getting things wrong... and that should not dismay us, because it was written by fallible humans, from inside the integrity of their own experience and knowledge.
However, the real theological divide - I'd argue - is over 'how we read the Bible' and 'whether it is fallible'.
These divides create huge fault lines in subordinate theological opinions, and in the end what we need is not resolution of the insurmountable divide in opinion, but opening up (through prayer, the Spirit, listening) to the grace to love each other, and know our communion is only, ever, in God who knows all truth.
The alternative is schism.
I agree with Christine that these sorts of talking points are not helpful. But for the sake of interest, it appears to me that many of the talking points are addressed to other evangelicals. I think it is significant that the document acknowledges diversity of opinion among evangelicals over acceptance of gay people and gender diversity.
The reality is that this will only ever be an 'issue' until the child of an evangelical family comes out. It becomes very difficult to split hairs when the welfare of someone close to you is at stake. Let us pray for lots more young evangelical folk to come out, and to do so boldly and in faith.
What a shallow pool of water this "resource" provides! It reminds me of the Monty Python "contradiction" sketch -- as if assertion of a contrary is a reasonable argument.
Just to cite two particularly weak points: The question on the supposed biblical institution of marriage is particularly poor, from a factual standpoint. Hebrew biblical law allowed men to have multiple wives and concubines, and for married men to frequent prostitutes without incurring any guilt. The Levirate Law mandated polygamy in a specific circumstance. On the reading of the "Galatians progression" (as some see it, moving towards more liberal understandings of slaves, women, and gay and lesbian folk) Hebrew biblical law not only approved of slavery but mandated it. (This gets lost in translations that use "may" instead of "shall" in Lev 25:44).
I do hope that people will stand up to such shallow efforts at simple answers to complex questions!
Ah, there are the ancient Greeks again - "Some have suggested that faithful same sex relationships were not known in (pre) biblical times and therefore the bible is silent on this matter. This is not true: such relationships are acknowledged by Plato and others, and it is likely that Alexander the Great was in a same sex relationship with Hephaestion, as was Pausanius with poet Agathon". I really don't understand why people elide '(pre) biblical times' and classical/Hellenistic Greece and, as I've said elsewhere, I am baffled by the way some Christians assume we can just map the categories of one culture on to another (my elsewhere is https://sharedconversations.wordpress.com/2016/06/03/the-greeks-didnt-have-a-word-for-it/ )
Brother Tobias' posting above exposes the problem with reading the bible as a magic book - a practice with which I parted company after my first Intro NT and OT courses in the early 70s.
Going further, the reading this document puts forth shows that evangelicals still have not come to terms with the vast cultural gulf between our time and a pre-literate Bronze Age culture. However, the examples of the necessity of doing so are so numerous as to be uncountable
Going even further, adhering to their anti-scientific worldview allows evangelicals not only to ignore the natural sciences, thus believing literally in the Genesis accounts of creation; it also, obviously allows evangelicals to ignore what the behavioral and social sciences have taught us about sexuality in the last century and a half.
I would only add that reducing the Word of God to any written text in anybody's so-called holy book is courting idolatry as well as blasphemy.
The tone of this contribution is most welcome in its openness and generosity, and in many places I agree with its convictions and presentations about the Christian faith while disagreeing with its conclusions. It is both curious and disappointing that the paper's own logic breaks down at several points: the insistence on the centrality of male / female gender, while citing Galatians 3:28 as a rejection of the slave / free distinction; the failure to mention polygamy in the OT context; and perhaps most notably, the extraordinary claim in section 13 that Jesus was celibate, a claim that has no basis (one way or the other) in scripture.
I agree with Susannah's conclusion when she says, "The EGGS document makes some pertinent points, even though I disagree with their conclusions."
In fact I agree with pretty much all of it apart from how they read Scripture. I think they are reading verses out of context, and for me the context is the whole Bible. I actually find it reassuring that evangelicals agree with so much of my thinking - I find it quite validating.
Jesus taught us to judge a tree by the fruit it bears and homophobia causes misery and heartache. Applying that basic test, the evangelical resistance to same sex marriage must be wrong.
"It is the case that a number of (well known) individual evangelicals have changed their convictions regarding sexual ethics in recent years," the group says. "However, the significant issue is not that they have changed their convictions, but whether they have been right to do so." [EGGS paper]
If only those "(well known) individual evangelicals" had considered, before changing their convictions, whether they would be right to do so! /s
I mean seriously, couldn't EGGS just have said "You're wrong, we're right, neener-neener-neener" and saved any further ink?
"God loves everyone, each of us and all of us equally. However, we are all fallen -and none of us is the
way God originally intended us to be, in all sorts of ways. Therefore, we cannot simply look at the way
we are now as a reliable guide to the way God originally intended us to be."
How wonderful. As a heterosexual man I am delighted that EGGS see my journey to god-like fulfillment involving 'becoming gay'.
Unless I've misunderstood and they were assuming that God originally intended us all to be heterosexual. But that would be the definition of prejudice.
The doctrine of original sin is a most unfortunate invention. Of course, it was convenient for empire and church. It is spiritually a weapon of mass destruction that should never have seen the light of day, let alone be leading the church.
Jesus said nothing about original sin and it is utterly absent from the OT, ask any rabbi.
We are all created in the image of God, and yes, it gets distorted, but we are originally good and God said Creation is good. Yes, we hurt one another because of our own hurts.
We are not the Church of Augustine, we are the Church of Jesus Christ. The doctrine of original sin needs to be swept away into the dustbin of history, and never again wielded against anyone, LGBTQI or otherwise.
Cynthia, I strongly believe in sin and judgment. And I see judgment as an aspect of the fire of God's love. However, I too have grave reservations about the concept of 'original sin'. I see sin and selfishness as inherent aspects of humanity, but by no means the whole of who we are.
Paul takes the Genesis narrative - with its proposal that death came into the world with the first sin, and humanity became blighted - and identifies Eve's sin as the first one that started it all off. These days, scientists will strongly argue that all the evidence points to there being countless generations before this mythical Eve, in the sense that (contrary to the Bible) humanity has ancestors, going further and further back in time, and evolving from other animals.
It's quite bizarre that Paul argues the case for male headship from the mythical first sin of a mythical woman, in a construct that is contradicted by science.
Sin, selfishness, and survival however are very real and damaging. And we need God's judgment, God's love, God's touch, God's healing and forgiveness.
It is not, though, the whole picture of who a human being is - and to give it such primal and dominant status in theology is (in my view) a distortion, because it overshadows all the unseen kindnesses and acts of sacrifice and love that humans do, from day to day.
Cynthia, I believe Paul's ideas and theological constructs are fallible, with profound insights but also perhaps a human desire to systematise. He justifies male headship by resort to mythical sins of a mythical woman. Augustine builds on this. Rather a masculine desire to control.
Indeed, made in the beautiful image of God, I believe it is fair to say that actually we are born with original beauty and divinely modelled capacities for love and grace.
To me, in eternal terms, that makes absolute sense. We possess souls. We have eternal life as well as this transient life of a few decades. And in eternity we believe God calls us into the wholeness of life in community with the Holy Trinity, itself an eternal community of beauty and love.
Of course, eternity is something and/or somewhere beyond time. It is a state of consciousness and being at a deeper level of existence. We can only grope at what that means. But in the sense that it's outside time - what people call 'forever' - I believe one could argue that our eternal nature and being and identity is beyond the boundaries of time: in short, that it is as logical to understand our souls as 'coming from' as 'going to', and the way we conjecture our nature in heaven with God is not simply something 'in the future' but rather something beyond time, and as much before as after, if anyone insists on talking temporally.
What I'm proposing is that - in eternal terms, which are God's terms - perhaps our souls and being have always been fundamentally beautiful and in communion with God, from everlasting to everlasting, but somehow purged or intensified by our little lives on earth. If we are 'going to heaven' (or to new earth - take your theological pick), and if heaven is the eternal state of deeper reality with God... then if that is our eternal default, then even in the times before we were born on earth... we are there.
I believe in original beauty, and the terrible beauty of earth, and the dreadful harm of sin, to ourselves and others, as we gasp for the healing and wholeness of God, and our natural state of being, and our longing for the beautiful country that we are ever coming home to, when we open our hearts time and again, to God.
On sin, the most helpful definition I've read is Francis Spufford's one in his excellent book 'Unapologetic' - sin is the human propensity to fuck things up.
If we are all sinners and none can be expected to know what's best, why do these men feel that I should buy into their argument that *they* know best, when they are clearly every bit as fallible and ignorant as the rest? This, too, is the argument against sola scriptura - it was written and compiled by men in this fallen world they so deplore, so how, regardless of inspiration, can it be regarded as somehow *above* that fallen world and stand as the final arbiter of sound teaching? It seems a dodge by people who want power, to me, and, when coupled with the bits they conveniently dispose of, to their own benefit, it looks like bigoted hypocrisy.