THE TONY CROSS COLUMN
Article No. 181
The authority of scripture
I read in a blog somewhere today that ‘the Episcopalian Church in the USA has abandoned the authority of scripture.’ We simply have to stamp out this lie. It is a subject on which the average man or woman may feel incompetent to judge - although they surmise that homosexuality, having been ruled out in previous generations, must have been forbidden in scripture. So they are predisposed to believe that the statement that gay Christians have abandoned the bible as their authority might be true. It isn’t true! What is the position?
Lets put it down simply in black and white: gay Christians regard the bible as their authority in exactly the same way as other Christians look to the bible.
Can we put it any clearer than that?
The bible remains in the same authoritative position for all Christians - gay or otherwise - that it has always occupied. Being Christian and gay does not mean abandoning the bible. Nor does it mean ‘cherry picking’ the bible - looking for those texts that you think support your beliefs and avoiding those texts that seem to be contrary. That is another accusation thrown at gay Christians - and it is equally wrong.
So what attitude do gay Christians have towards the bible - and especially towards those parts of the bible that are used by opponents to suggest that homosexuality is unacceptable in this day and age for a Christian ?
In order to answer that question it is first necessary to look at how a gay Christian approaches the bible., They do of course look at it from the standpoint of their own experience. That is what all Christians do. You cannot divorce your view of the bible from your own experience. However, they do not look at it as a book of rules or instructions. They believe that the approach of seeing the bible as a rule book went out of the window the moment Jesus started telling his disciples that they should not be as the Scribes and Pharisees.
So gay Christians see the bible through the lens of their own experience. That is very important because their experience has brought them up against reality with a bang! They have found that they are saddled in their life with their own nature. They may like being gay or they may hate being gay. Whichever way it is - they still cannot alter the way they are. They may try to act against their nature (which is gay) - but that is a sad way to live their life.
So when gay people come to the bible they come as ordinary people who are gay - something they cannot eradicate. Of course it would be perfectly possible for them to go away to a monastery somewhere and isolate themselves from the world and try to overcome their gay feelings. They may then succeed in suppressing their gay nature - at least for a time - but they cannot alter how they are inside, no matter how hard they try. They will still have the gay cast of character/personality/psyche - or whatever term you wish to use.
So gay people come to the bible knowing that their gayness is not a deliberate sinful choice on their part. They are gay and the sooner they accept the fact the better they will be able to deal with life and follow what they believe to be the right way of living. They read and see the bible with that experience of being gay rooted in them.
This is important. Contrast it to a Christian who believes that homosexuality is evil and, perhaps, even demonic. Who believes that it can and should be resisted in the name of Christ. Who believes that it is perfectly possible to eradicate gay feelings and attitudes. Who believes above all that gay people need to repent - because they have made wrong choices. Of course such a Christian will cast around for evidence from the bible to convince the gay person that they are being misled, and that they are going down the wrong street. In fact it is perfectly understandable that they will look for verses to prove their case. There are only a limited number of verses that can be pressed into service for this cause and they are handicapped because Jesus never said anything at all about homosexuality!
So here we have this gay Christian who knows - beyond any doubt - that he is gay - that he has ‘gay tendencies’. How does he approach the bible?
Well, obviously, if he is a Christians he holds a high view of the bible. It is not only important in his life - it is vital. How else can he know the mind of Christ? Of course the Holy Spirit guides and leads him just as he does every Christian - but it is in the bible that we learn of Christ and his life and his teaching. It is in the bible that we learn how Christ viewed morality and by what principles he wanted his disciples to live. It is from the bible that we learn the pitfalls and the joys of the Christian way. So there is no doubt at all that the bible plays as big a part in the gay Christian’s life as it does in the life of every other Christian.
‘Ah!’ says the fundamentalist or evangelical Christian - ‘but what about the authority of the bible? Does your gay Christian believe that the bible is true?’
So here we come to the nub of the conflict. The gay Christian values the bible in the same way that other Christians value the bible. The difference between the fundamentalist Christian and the gay Christian lies in the different attitude taken towards how we follow what we find in the bible. The fundamentalist believes the bible is ‘true’ and has to be followed strictly. But the gay Christian believes that the bible is ‘true’ - but also believes that it is a mistake to try to follow the bible literally. That statement needs some explanation. The gay Christian believes the bible contains the words of God - that it is inspired by the Holy Spirit. But he does not believe that he is meant to slavishly follow all the instructions from Genesis to Revelations! Instead he picks and chooses what he follows.
‘Well then’ says the fundamentalist - ‘the gay Christians cherry picks what he wants to believe!’ “No” is the answer! The gay Christians is bound by the bible to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ - and so he assesses everything that came before Jesus in the light of what Jesus taught. In that task he is helped by all the other writings in the New Testament - the letters of Paul and the rest. He is also guided and led by the Holy Spirit on whom he relies moment by moment, as does every other Christian. In addition to that he looks back at how Christians have thought and behaved in the past two thousand years. In all of this reading and assessment the gay Christian uses his own reasoning powers and his intellect - as does every other Christian - including the fundamentalist!
And that is the point - every human being that lives has to come to decisions about what he believes and why. It is absurd to suggest that the fundamentalist does not also choose what to emphasise from the Old Testament - and what to ignore! He may have a literal approach, but he still chooses what he prioritises. He still has to decide what is still relevant three thousand years after the manuscripts were first written, and what may have been right then but is no longer right in today’s world.
So let us turn to the positive. The gay Christian is in exactly the same position as every other Christian who rejects the literalistic approach to scripture. He believes that the bible is our authority. Without it where would any of us be? He believes that it is essential to give high priority to the reported words of Jesus. He lays great importance on how the followers of ‘The Way’ - the way of Jesus - acted in the early days of Christianity - as the books of the New Testament reveal. He does not attempt to run his life by rules - whether from the Old Testament or the New! He attempts to lead a life of love as exemplified by Jesus. He attempts to apply the law of love to every aspect of his life. He attempts to deal lovingly with his ‘enemies’ - a category that is eliminated when we follow Christ. He tries to follow the way of love.
The American Church has not jettisoned the bible in deciding to allow gay ordinations of bishops and to allow the blessing of same sex partnerships. They have not abandoned the basic principles behind what is written in the bible. They have not turned their backs on tradition or on reason. All they have done is to apply the teachings of Jesus to life today. Science has given us its best opinion - and that is that being gay is normal, natural and totally acceptable. To ignore that new insight into the nature of human sexuality and the nature of human life would be to refuse to accept truth. It would be a turning from reason and reality.
If it is true - as the scientists say it is - then there are many millions of people up and down the land who are gay and that many of them would be far better off living with someone of their own sex (or on his own) than trying to be heterosexual with someone of the opposite sex. The gay Christian believes that has to be taken into account. Looking at the teachings of Christ we can see immediately that he would want us to help those same sex couples to live together in harmony. If they want to mirror marriage then why should they not? Are they to be denied the fullness of a life of commitment exclusively to another person? Are they to be denied the opportunity to love and serve another human being in a close relationship? Partnership is not marriage - it cannot be (in my opinion) because marriage normally produces biological offspring who are of their own flesh. But partnership fulfils the marriage ideal in every other way.
So I support partnerships for same sex couples. And I firmly believe that the quicker the churches climb on board and start to offer blessings for partnerships the better. What a tragedy that, at the very time when gay people really want to be allied to the church, the official rule should be that no blessing can be given because some Christians on the other side of the world (and here!) object.
The quicker we all see that for ever trying to appease those who have difficulty accepting new understanding of truth is a mistake the better for all concerned! Of course gay Christians have not abandoned the bible - nor are they cherry picking in the way often suggested by fundamentalists and evangelicals. They are trying - just like all the other Christians - to follow Christ in a rapidly changing and complex world. We all need the help of the Holy Spirit in that!