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THE TONY CROSS COLUMN

Article No. 160

There’s bound to be some fighting along the way

A review of Bishop Gene Robinson's new book

My copy of Gene Robinson’s new book ‘In the eye of the storm’ arrived this week and I have just finished it. So far I have not read any reviews of this book — so perhaps this is the moment to put onto paper my own views, before they are contaminated by reading other reviews! And I am sure there will be many other reviews — for and against! For this Christian is indeed in the eye of the storm and deserves our prayers as does the Archbishop of Canterbury at this testing time.

I think it is a good book — readable and moving.

It is also a timely book, of course, because we stand on the cusp of Lambeth, 2008. This conference is looked to by Christians from all round the world because we are surely moving steadily forward to a resolution of the disagreements between different members of the Anglican Communion. The hope of the Archbishop and others is that the Covenant — proposed by the Windsor Report — will be the way forward and out of the present impasse. Other are strongly opposed to a covenant for various reasons — perhaps mainly because it is suggested that it should have teeth in the form of provision to eject any national church that does not stay in line with the majority. That certainly is my view — a covenant with exclusionary powers would, I think, be contrary to the Anglican spirit and would be in my opinion not the Biblical way to go.

However — that is a different issue and not one discussed in the book.

So the book is timely in view of forthcoming events in July of this year — perhaps some Anglicans need to get a copy into the hands of their bishops and their wives before they leave to participate in the Conference!

Besides being a timely book, it is also a challenging book. In a number of the short chapters it makes the reader face issues in a way that perhaps they have not done in the past. Simple truths are outlined and illustrations are given from the lives of ordinary people. A number of times I felt a sense that the Holy Spirit was showing me the inner meaning of the sentences as I read them — the way all of us who are Christians experience when the Holy Spirit explains and lights up truth to our hearts.

It is also a very moving book. A number of times I put the book down to think through what I had been reading — and a number of the stories touched me deeply. This will be true especially for gay people — they will have experienced themselves many of the situations outlined in the book.

In particular Gene Robinson mentions a group of gay young men that he visited in Hong Kong. The group meets in secret because of the oppression that surrounds their every day lives. He was met on a street corner and led by someone to their secret meeting place. In the meeting he talked and shared with them and worshipped with them. After the service Gene Robinson looked for the young man who had led the spirited music but he seemed to have disappeared! He was directed to an alcove and there he found the young man crying. He asked him whether he was all right, and the young man replied that he’d had such a palpable and powerful experience of the Holy Spirit that he had been overcome with tears. Illustrations like that ring true to one’s own experience as a Christian gay man among a group of Christian gay people.

This is also a book to return to. One cursory reading — which is all I have been able to do in the time — is not enough. There is much material to think about, pray about, brood on. Here are deep issues, carefully set out. The book may appear bright and breezy to some — and it can be read at that level — but there is ample material for deeper reflection and I think there will be very few who will not find themselves drawn to reconsider some aspect of their beliefs and ideas about what God wants of us — gay or straight — in this world.

This is a book to inspire. Parallels are drawn between the gay movement and the freedom movement in Africa and with the fight for the right place of women in a man’s world. Perhaps, most importantly, the book insists that in any long trek there are bound to be advances and retreats, ups and downs. The whole point being that we should never give up on the journey. Above all, perhaps, we should never refuse to join another Christian, who loves the Lord Jesus Christ, at the Communion table. Gene Robinson rightly focuses on a retreat from the communion table as indicative of something badly wrong in our Christianity — wrong with our love for Christ. If we love Christ, how can we not love Christ in other Christians?

This is also a book to lend. Not perhaps to just anyone. Not to those Christians who are adamant in their homophobia — little any of us can do will change the way they see the present problems. But certainly a book to lend to the many millions of Christians who are still ‘in the middle’ — that is, those Christians who are perplexed by the whole idea of gay and lesbian people being acceptable after all these centuries of exclusion. People who sit on pews and are open minded, but have had no opportunity to talk about these matters as yet. There are many millions of them out there! Not least in Britain!

I think there are two main reasons why there has been so little discussion about these matters. The first is that there is still — especially in the older section of the population — an element of reserve about talking about sexuality and homosexuality. That does not apply perhaps with the younger generation — but the vast majority of the congregations of Anglican churches in this country are not at the younger end of the scale!

The second reason why there has been so little real discussion about these matters is that people would really like to talk with a gay Christian. And they are thin on the ground — not because there are few of them, but because they are hidden. Many exercise a ‘don’t ask — don’t tell’ policy — or even a straight ‘don’t tell’ attitude! That is very understandable, given the rampant homophobia, but it does make it difficult for the ordinary Christian in the pews to talk matters over with a gay Christian!

So this is a book to lend — for it provides the perfect introduction for someone who is rather at sea about the whole business. It may lead to a situation where the person you lend it to suggests you discuss with them.

Finally, I think this is a book to keep. Why? Because it is an historic book. It is a testament by a courageous and humble Christian. Of course it will be deemed inadequate by all those for whom doctrine has prime place. For those for whom doctrine is all important and for whom, if the bible says it, then they believe it in unquestioning obedience. They will point to all the places where the book fails to conform to their view of scripture. The will belittle its conversational approach and think it heretical in parts. But such people would not be persuaded by anything that a gay Bishop writes!

Homosexuality has come to dominate the international debate but, for a gay person, homosexuality is much more than the physical sex it appears to signify to so many. This book shows a gay man with wide Christian commitment and convictions for whom the physical side homosexuality is only one tiny part of his whole humanity which is offered to God in his service.

Keep this book and when you are saddened by events during or after the Lambeth Conference — the delays, the contradictions, the turning away from, the setbacks — then pick it up again and dip into it to catch the fresh thoughts of a man who has been held at peace in the eye of the storm these last months and years. A man who refuses to walk away from his central certainty that Christ died for all people everywhere. Take courage again from the fact that as Christians we can see the hand of God in events that seem completely against his purposes as we understand them. Take heart that God is in control of his world and that all things are working for good to those who love him.

Buy a copy for yourself — and one for lending out. Perhaps a copy for your Bishop’s wife? The Bishop will probably have his own copy, but if not then he will no doubt read his wife’s copy!

Tony Cross

April 2008


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