Tuesday, February 05, 2013

people are people

Today the House of Commons debates the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. A Conservative Government is promoting equal marriage rights for gay couples. It will pass; of that there is no doubt. Many Conservative MPS will vote against it; of that there is also no doubt.

Christians carry different attitudes towards the Bill. Evangelical Christians at that. Lots of people I know are very much in favour; some I know are very much against. The Fulcrum website carries lots of articles reasoning against the change - this one, by my old friend Andrew Goddard, is fairly typical.

I am resolutely in favour.

Fundamentally, people are people. Throughout the Gospels Jesus establishes this base-line truth. And to do so he drives coach and horses through the accepted understanding of who and what is acceptable or unacceptable, sinful or clean. Take the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15. It's all very well having an attitude that Jesus welcomes sinners, but requires them to repent - in this story the disciples murmur at the woman's presence and want rid of her because she is sinful. What makes her so? That she is Canaanite. That she is a woman. At the end of the story, she has worshipped Jesus, received her daughter's healing, and gone on her way. But she's still Canaanite. Still a woman. So what was acceptable? Or sinful?

In Matthew 8, the centurion begs Jesus to heal his dying servant. Luke uses a fairly standard slave word, and Matthew changes it, which allows some to see in this passage a very rare reference to homosexuality in the Gospels. The servant is the centurion's 'boy'. And Jesus heals him. Now stop for a moment - which is worse: Jesus making a gentile occupying soldier acceptable & then healing a slave so he can carry on being an object in a household used at its owner's whim, saying 'slavery is fine - I'll return you to that state'; or Jesus making a gentile occupying soldier acceptable & then healing a loved person so he can return to being loved and to loving in a gay relationship? Which is acceptable? Which is sinful? Where are our boundaries?

At the end of that passage, Jesus comments: "I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." A warning, I think, to help us stop and understand how he is working, and how he sees people.

Of course, I understand that for many the road to equality is a hard one because the Scripture makes marriage purely for a man and a woman. That's what Jesus says in Matthew 19.5; a man leaves his father and mother for his wife. Man. Wife. Simples.

But the same people then, in preaching, and even in translating, do an interesting thing with all sorts of places in the New Testament - especially St Paul. Let me give a classic example from Romans 12:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship.

I might want to think about the accuracy of 'spiritual' as a translation, but my point is there are two additional words here that aren't in the original. "And sisters". That's the interesting thing. It seems to me to be close to being a contradiction to their attitude to Matthew 19.

I guess the question is one of intent.

Does the Scripture include or exclude? Well, here in Romans 12, and all over the place, we find the Scripture includes. The word 'brothers' is typical of an address to a crowd and therefore to all people - St Paul did not intend his great peroration to be for men alone.

That much is clear.

And I might ask if Jesus, in Matthew 19, was intentionally excluding gay people, or if he was in fact rather setting out the normative pattern of relationships. Leaving. Cleaving. Faithfulness. It's interesting that the context of these remarks is not an attack on homosexuality (how they are so often used now) but questions on divorce, and that Jesus is pushing people to value faithfulness and personhood - the personhood of both members of a marriage. God made the woman too - don't throw her away! It's a cry for equality, not a demand for exclusion!
Let's push that cry for equality further. Even the maligned tax collectors turn out to be people in the New Testament, a concept Jesus' contemporaries would find almost impossible to comprehend. Turncoats, quislings, sinners beyond redemption, selling their own people - God's people - to the gentile invader.

Yet Matthew is called to follow Jesus. And Zaccheus gets a home visit. And before you can say - there you go, they repented, so they were welcome; sinners need to repent - I want to ask: what did Zaccheus do after the encounter of Luke 19? Open a fair trade stall at the back of synagogue? Jack in his job and work for Oxfam? Perhaps we can get guidance from John the Baptist - he was always very hard line on these issues. Here's what he says in Luke 3:

Tax collectors also came to be baptized. "Teacher," they asked, "what should we do?"
"Don't collect any more than you are required to," he told them.

Stay in your jobs, says the Baptist in the wilderness, but do them fairly. It's not sinful to be a tax collector, it's acceptable. You are OK.


People are people.

When we establish and promote a morality that makes some people less, we have to be really very sure that this is what Jesus would do. I am struggling to find very many examples of Jesus pushing people down. I struggle with the line that Fulcrum takes, though I respect the integrity behind it, and have had some lovely conversations with Andrew & others. I struggle because whilst I appreciate that there is absolutely no desire to be homophobic or to make gay people less, the result of a theology that says - "there is absolutley a place for you, as long as you can jump through these hoops that we could never manage to jump through and are really glad we don't have to" - is that people are discriminated against. Saying "you are welcome but must always be celibate" doesn't feel like being made welcome to very many people.

And if I am going to make a mistake, it is that I will make people too equal. Because it is what I see Jesus doing. So I support what the Government are doing today. It's long overdue. I wish it every success.

When God touches me, I feel too equal. How can I not want it for everyone?


Newfred said...

Thank you!

Phil Groom said...

Amen, brother, and thank you from me too.