The same-sex blessings debate, at grass rootsGillian W and Tony Copple
Meeting 6 April 2006
Gillian and Tony met for two hours for a serious discussion about some aspects of the debate which are seldom voiced. The notes below were written subsequent to the discussion, and agreed by both of us. They may include words which were not actually said. Some parts of the discussion have been switched chronologically to make the written version flow more sensibly. A strong attempt has been made faithfully and without bias to preserve the key subject matter.
Tony is concerned that the tail (ECUSA and ACC) is trying to wag the dog (Worldwide Anglican Communion), and being unsuccessful, is doing what they want to do anyway, causing huge concern by the majority.
Gillian responded that Jesus didn’t bring his concerns to a democratically elected governing body of the church – he went ahead and threw out the moneychangers. He told the religious leaders that he was going to heal on the Sabbath if someone needed healing. The issue before us today affects the lifelong wellbeing of millions many of whom are dedicated believers. She also pointed out that opposition to slavery and racial prejudice was originally undertaken by small groups in opposition to the larger communion.
Tony said that this issue was far more fundamental than others that have arisen. He said that the march of liberalization was eroding beliefs that many have held since childhood, and that the “Living the Questions” course [as a product of the Jesus Seminar] was a platform for many of the liberal issues that are unacceptable to conservatives. As an example he quoted Marcus Borg’s statement that nobody now believes in the virgin birth [or by implication other miracles and supernatural elements of our faith].
Gillian said that she disagreed with Borg on this and many other points and that without the supernatural, Christianity becomes a philosophy acceptable to atheists. (Tony fully agrees on this point). She saw the “Living the Questions” course as a place where people could feel free to question their faith, just like the apostle Thomas did, to struggle with the questions they were having and not be afraid of them.
Course attenders would be stimulated by discussion to make up their own minds about the truth of statements made. She feels that our faith should be more like a trampoline than a glass floor; a place where we can bounce back rather than cracking.
Tony said that course members could not help being influenced by statements by “experts” and that major damage was being done by the course. He was particularly worried that young people could be introduced to “Christianity” through the course. He said that he felt his faith in some of the essentials was reduced by the course. The very idea that someone calling themselves Christian could doubt the miracles was like a kidney punch to his faith.
Gillian quoted the parable of the talents – that God gives us our brains and then expects us to use them, not to bury them in the sand. We are capable of thinking for ourselves, of questioning and growing in our faith. We do not need to be protected. We grow when we encounter foreign ideas, just as the people in the Bible did.
Gillian pointed out that Peter had been shown important lessons, prior to his with Cornelius in the book of Acts, that convinced him that his previous attitudes towards food and the gentiles were wrong, and Paul had led the movement against the need for circumcision. God does not make anything unclean, and both Peter and Paul needed to learn this lesson because it was a change from what they’d been taught before.
Tony said that while God does not make unclean people or things, the existence of pedophiles and murderers shows that unclean things arise. We would not think of condoning their acts because they were created and loved by God. In the case of homosexual acts, these are of an order of magnitude more concerning that any controversial matters that we have been faced with before such as the ordination of women and the justification of slavery.
He drew an analogy of the space shuttle docking with the space station, its nose cone seeking out and entering the female docking port. He said that the designers had made it that way for good reason. If a shuttle captain attempted to dock in another part of the space station not designed for the purpose, the result would be grinding metal, injury and “sickness” to both main structures, and heartache by the designers that their design had been misused and abused. He said that our great designer, God, had created us male and female and given us body shapes that were obviously suited to one method of sexual union, and that other methods gave rise to injury, illness and heartache by God in watching his design being prostituted.
Gillian said that the analogy should be more of a space station with two docking ports for entry, front and back, with space ships assigned to use either one according to their ‘great designer.’ There was therefore no damage in using either.
Gillian felt that God had deliberately created two orifices to facilitate enjoyment by people who were the products of God’s infinite variety. (She said that one study had shown that 68% of straight evangelical Christians enjoyed anal sex - though she thought this figure was a bit high). She said that studies show that the incidence of physical illness as a result of homosexual relations was no greater than for heterosexual relations, and that any mental illness and stress was the result of being ostracised by the straight population. Tony strongly questioned her statistics, saying that the figures on sickness arising from homosexual lifestyles were very serious. Gillian questioned the source of his figures and talked about the need to look at the scientific validity of the studies quoted.
Gillian felt that there is a wealth of biblical support for the progressive attitudes towards homosexuality, and questioned why traditionalists don’t speak from the Bible more often, since they claim it is inerrant. She finds it fascinating that the so-called liberals are more inclined to speak from the Bible than the traditionalists. She was surprised there were no Bible passages quoted in the recent statement by seven Ottawa priests. Tony’s attitude is that the case against homosexuality in both the old and new testaments is so obviously presented and well known that quoting the texts is superfluous.
Gillian pointed out that looking only at those passages out of context does not advance the discussion at all. The Bible is about far more than just six passages in isolation. Why aren’t the other passages such as 1 John 4:7 and all its implications for the debate ever discussed?
Tony said that while he has no problem with supporting and loving homosexuals as we are called to (love everybody), he found the depiction of homosexual acts (eg men kissing in a newspaper picture) revolted him, and that the very idea of homosexual anal intercourse made him feel sick. He got somewhat animated in relating his feelings and Gillian told him his whole demeanor had become most unpleasant. He felt that such emotions might stem from childhood teaching, just has he had been taught to dislike Jews and Roman Catholics, but that his negative feelings about homosexual acts had never abated, unlike any animosity to Jews and Catholics.
Gillian insisted that familiarity and regular exposure to such things would make them fully acceptable. Tony countered that the last thing he could stomach was such regular exposure and that nothing would make him view Brokeback Mountain. Gillian said that the movie would convince him both of the naturalness of the relationships and also the pain caused by bigoted bystanders.
Gillian also pointed out that the gospel compels us to overcome our personal distaste in order to follow Jesus’ rule of love. She gave the example of the good Samaritan. The priest and the Levite both passed the disgusting-looking person by, even crossing the road to avoid him. It was only an outcast, the Samaritan, who stopped to help him.
We are called to overcome our personal revulsion so that we can love our neighbour as ourselves. As long as we allow ourselves to think someone, or their acts, are disgusting, we allow ourselves to treat them as if they were lesser in God’s eyes and this is not acceptable to Jesus. That is why he told this parable (Luke 10: 25-37).
Gillian said that as a biblical scholar she was disappointed that conservatives failed to back up their position with scholarly research, and offered some of the well known interpretations of the six passages that put them in the correct context, such as Paul’s objections being towards temple prostitutes. She was very indignant about the Bible passages discussing practices that we would now think horrific, such as having concubines, the rape and mutilation of women, etc. She felt that we must understand the Bible as, yes, God speaking to us, but through the medium of human beings, who are always imperfect, which means that the writers of the Bible were not able perfectly to capture the message of God. This means that we must use the Bible not as a literally true rule book, but as a history, as a guide, as a tool for helping us as we discern what God is saying.
She believes God would have wept at what was sometimes written in his name, yet he never forsook the writers. (Such ideas are discussed in the first of the “Living the Questions” sessions and are in great contrast to the Alpha course’s concept of the Bible.)
Gillian also believes we cannot forget Jesus’ promise to the disciples that the Holy Spirit would come to keep teaching us (John 14: 15-25). God did not stop talking to us 2000 years ago. He is with us still, still teaching us, still leading us into new things, just as he also promised in Isaiah 43: 18-19.
Tony asked Gillian what she thought of the Alpha course. She said that Alpha projects the Bible as a rule book that should not be questioned, and as such promotes the glass floor concept – that its teachings are inflexible, and do not accommodate variations in interpretation, despite the teachings of history that there has always been an evolution in interpretation.
Tony asked Gillian if the Alpha approach or the “Living the Questions” approach was more effective in front line evangelism – winning souls for Christ. Gillian replied that She preferred to see people develop a mature faith as opposed to what she ends up feeling is a fragile one based on what really doesn’t work as a rule book. She also prefers to see people develop a faith based on Jesus’ radically inclusive love – since this is the man who ate with tax-collectors and prostitutes instead of the religious authorities of his day.
Tony commented that Alpha had had a profound effect on deepening of his own faith and understanding, and was bringing hundreds of thousands to faith, while he doubted the potential of “Living the Questions” as evangelism.
Gillian replied that it is a new program yet so we’ll have to wait and see. Meanwhile, her form of evangelism is to live her faith and share it with others through caring for them. Humanitarian support of marginalized peoples throughout the world is a more active witness, for her, than just preaching.
Footnote: On 20 June 2007 Gillian and Tony discussed these issues again, this time on the CBC Radio 1 program Ottawa Morning, hosted by Kathleen Petty. This was during the Canadian Anglican Synod, three days before that body would vote on same-sex blessings.