"… but could you be wrong?"

I’ve received the following comment from Steven in Northern Ireland. It was posted at the end of the long debate about the Gene Robinson announcement. I thought it was worth putting in a new post and keeping the comments separate.

Dear Kelvin

I would like to compliment you on the quality of the debate within your blog. Most people who post here seem to do so with respect for the views of others.

I am a presbyterian from Portadown in Northern Ireland (boo hiss) but do not have a church background and only became a Christian in my early/mid 20s. I stumbled upon your site via Bishop David’s blog.

I am not sure were I stand on the whole same sex debate within the Anglican communion. My gut (which may be wrong) feeling is that homosexuality may not be God’s choice for human relationships.

What I want to know is, do you think that you could be wrong in your (apparent) feeling that same sex unions are of equal value in the eyes of God? Do you, for example, consider them to be as legitimate an expression of love as marriage between a man and a woman?

If you accept you could be wrong how does that affect your attitude to the debate?

Bishop Gene does not seem to feel he could be wrong and as such his attitude, from my very limited knowledge of same, can appear to be rather triumphalist, i.e., lacking humility.

If anything we are ALL called to humility and the tone of some of the debate (on both sides) is often anything but.

Thanks and keep up the excellent work in providing this useful forum for debate.

Steven

Thanks for this Steven. It is a very thoughtful comment and most welcome. All presbyterians are welcome here.

I do accept that there is every possiblity that I might be wrong. Furthermore, I’d say that the only thing that I’m 100% certain about is that I’m not absolutely right!

The main reason that I feel fairly comfortable saying this is that I’ve already changed my mind about quite a lot of things in this debate at one time or another already. When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I would have self-identified as an Evangelical and held views on relationships and human sexuality that were [then] predictable. Those views changed whilst I was studying theology.

I’ve continued to change too. At one time, I would have said that I did not think that gay marriage or civil partnerships were important and that gay people should probably resist them. I think I was wrong about that. I had no idea what an impact that civil partnerships would make to the views of the general population and now I’d say that as much as possible, gay and straight people should be treated as similarly as they can be, by state and church and individuals.

As to whether Gene Robinson is triumphalist, I can’t say that I found him to be so on the one occassion that we met. I agree that the tone of debate can be very offputting and I’m pleased that you’ve found it to be better on here.

Of course, the tone of debate is set by the standard of those who comment.  Lots of us who blog and comment around the Scottish Episcopal Church do so under our own names, and I think that helps. There is a core of people who tend to know one another offline as well as online.

Once upon a time, I would have explained a blog to people as being like an online diary. Then I started to say, “blogging is performance” and I still think that is true. However, I’ve now started to say that a blog is a community and can build community. The internet is about people, and I’m glad I’ve known and witnessed that all along.

Comments

  1. Steven,

    I’m sure Kelvin will respond directly, but in the mean time…

    Christianity begins with a group of people who were willing to believe they were wrong. Ideas about God that had served the Israelites well for generation were re-examined and revised in light of what people experienced of God in Christ. As Christianity evolved, there was both continuity with the past and real difference.

    That has continued to be the case.

    So I think every Christian has to be prepared to believe that something they believe in good faith, that they think is of God, may not be the whole truth of God. The thing they hold dear may need to be let go, so that we can worship God and not idols.

    But — and this may seem to be in absolute contradiction — Christianity also calls us to proclaim the good news; to speak the truth of God as it comes to us (through scripture, tradition, reason — and let us join our Methodist sisters– experience). So, that means we are called to stand in a place of vulnerability: proclaiming the truth as best we can, staking our very lives on it, yet knowing that none of us fully understands and can articulate the mystery of God.

    I haven’t seen triumphalism in +Gene’s approach. Just a man who has been called to a difficult task who speaks what he believes to be true with confidence. Aspects of his biography might suggest that that confidence comes after years of testing the question ‘am I wrong about this? Is it really possible that God wants me to be free?’. And that is a process we all have to go through, one way or another.

    As for the relative worth of different types of relationship — I’m not sure there’s a real game there to play. Love is absolute. We can succeed in loving, or we can fail, and in most relationships we do both; but in so far as Love succeeds, it cannot then be divided into degrees of worth. It is all of God.

  2. Elizabeth says:

    Kimberly – this is an eloquent expression of the tension we live in as God’s creatures. I especially appreciate what you’ve said here about love and worth. I’ve been thinking about this sort of thing recently in anticipation of a wedding I’m going to be part of this summer and this is really helpful.

  3. Rosemary says:

    Excellent post Kimberly. Yes, there is always an element of doubt. For me, there is always a tiny rational voice questioning everything. Really – everything! How I work, what at, how I spend my money, the existence of God, even. I question, and some views, I change – some I come back to with new definition – and sometimes that is a more conservative definition, and sometimes a less. These days, I have more belief in miracles, and in the virgin birth.

    In that same way, I have re-visited the idea that two men or two women may find the best way to grow in love in the way God wills in a relationship which is physically consummated. I have re-visited it, but so far always come away with the same answer that I found when I was just becoming adolescent and beginning to understand from the inside that powerful ‘urge to merge’. The answer being that it is the will of God for some people.

    Relativism? Not really. The church has never held that marriage is the will of God for all people, or that the opposite, celibacy, is always the will of God for all. It has accepted that God calls people to explore the path of love on different trajectories. Equal value? Who knows! All married people were single once. Were their relationships of equal value as single people with friends? Are those who are abandoned by errant spouses in a place, in a relationship, less valued by God? Are those single by reasons of health, or choice, or self denial? And are happy marriages more valued by him that sad ones? It is an impossible question. How various the will of God can be for one individual – and by implication, how very much more various for a whole community.

    I do think it is possible to mistake the confidence of a truth prayed and lived for triumphalism. It ain’t necessarily so.

  4. Marion Conn says:

    Hi Steven, I was on the Waterstones bookstore online ordering site this afternoon. They were advertising +Gene Robinson’s book. The foreword has been written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and you can read this online. May I suggest that you read this, it might help you hear from a truly great man, and christian on Bishop Gene.

  5. My gut (which may be wrong) feeling is that homosexuality may not be God’s choice for human relationships.
    We might have gut feelings about all sorts of things that may not seem to us to be God’s choice, but I’m more and more sure that we can’t be sure! Would it be God’s choice for, say, a longed-for child to suffer from cerebral palsy? One thing I am sure of is that trying to put love first in relationships and in the way we approach others is what God wants of us. Not that it’s always easy …

  6. Kelvin,

    I am new to your blog and want to thank you for your words. I too have changed my mind on many things out there in the world. I used to think thre were absolutes but no so much anymore. I also appreciate your words on blogging that it is a community. I agree and I am trying to do that as well, and I blog under my own name as well.

    Blessings,

    Fr. Peter

  7. asphodeline says:

    I enjoy the good-natured debate here to and I’ve only just now realised that I don’t respond with my “real” name but my own blog name – I shall change that.

    Blogging is very much a community and we have the same tensions and fallings out and so on as any other group of people. It is also as important a support to many individuals as anything you will find offline.

    I agree with Steven’s comment of “what if….” because I’ve often thought that either of my own Christian faith and of other issues such as same sex relationships or women bishops etc. etc. I think doubts are good because it means we have the ability and proprensity to listen to other view points and sometimes this helps us to our own conclusions too.

  8. julio says:

    Hi Steven -

    You raised the same point as I did on the “Announcement” post – albeit more eloquently – which perhaps explains why you have had a response when I didn’t.

    Debates between Christians should, in my view, be conducted differently from secular debates.

    Most importantly, the participants should not behave as if any acknowledgement of their own fallibility would be perceived as weakness and therefore avoided at all costs and replaced with self righteous certainty.

    The reality is that both sides in the debate must be aware of the complexity and difficutly of the issue and the difficulty of discerning God’s will.

    The lack of humility in the debate ON BOTH SIDES is in my view, unattractive, unChristian and deeply damaging to the Church as a whole.

  9. Sorry that you felt that the people commenting ignored you, Julio. I mistook your last exclamation mark to mean ‘statement made’ rather than ‘please respond’.

    I am sure that you are right that there has been some unattractive behaviour on all sides of the debate — as is almost inevitable in a debate that involves so many thousands of people. But I have also seen humble, prayerful response from people on all ‘sides’ of the issues. The trouble is, the quiet peaceful types are far less likely to be picked up by the media, nor indeed by Google, which prefers the rapidly rising ratings of a hotly contested post.

  10. Steven says:

    Thanks to Kelvin and all the others who were good enough to reply to my post. I was particularly challenged by what Kimberly had to say.

    I wish to respond briefly to a number of points made and I hope that my comments are taken as I intend them, i.e., in the spirit of humility that has thus far characterised this exchange.

    I accept what Kimberly so eloquently says about the inherent tensions within the Christian life. I also accept much of what she says about love. That we can succeed in loving or we can fail and that we often do both, frequenly at the same time! I also accept that many committed gay and lesbian couples love each other very much. That makes this issue so very very difficult.

    The question that comes to mind is, “Does God approve of all sincere love relationships because he is, after all, love in His very essence?” I am not so sure. Say, for example, my marriage was in serious trouble and I began to confide in a work colleague. I fall in love with her. I did not love my wife any more. My feelings are sincere and beyond simple lust. Is it right for me to leave my wife to be with the woman I love. What does God call me to do in that circumstance?

    I know the analogy is far from perfect but sometimes God may say “No” to love, no matter how sincere, if He does not recognise the “validity” (an awful word, I know) of that relationship.

    In response to what Rosemary said (“The church has never held that marriage is the will of God for all people, or that the opposite, celibacy, is always the will of God for all.”) I would only add that the church has never, until recently, and only in parts, recognised the legitimacy of same sex relationships. On the contrary, scripture and tradition have always concluded that same sex relationships are not part of God’s will for His people. The Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches still maintain a unified rejection of same sex relationships at present.

    I would of course appreciate all comments on the points made here. In addition, being a novice blogger and not much of a theologian either, I would also ask for comment on two arguments against same sex partnerships as fully valid expressions of Christian love:

    1. The place of Scripture in the debate, especially those portions that deal in purely negative terms with same sex attraction.

    2. The issue of natural complimentarity. This is perhaps a simple argument and I would love to know what the other side of the coin is. It is just the old Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve (!) argument…

    Again I do not wish to cause offence to anyone, least of all those who are in same sex relationships. I am blogging here to try and understand.

    Thanks again for the kind way my post was received.

    Yours

    PS, for those interested I have resurrected my old blog site, so please feel free to come with me on my journey…

    I also think, for what it is worth, that we need to be careful we do not continue this obcession with sex too far. As your own John Sentanamu said recently Jesus really is weeping in the street.

  11. Steven

    Thank you for your questions, they are most welcome. I’ll try to post an answer in the next couple of days when I have the time to do justice to your comments.

    Welcome back to the blogsphere.

  12. Ali G says:

    Response to Stephen
    It is said God loves all his creatures.It is usually those that fear what is different to themselves that hate.Eg the catholic and prodestant conflicts,you need to get out of that town more,people are people.God loves us all.

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