Under His Eye






I haven’t had a heap of work lately so I did a binge watch of the Handmaids Tale over the last few days, a novel I had never got around to reading, but a very good mini series and chilling in its implications.

If you haven’t read / seen then it’s the story of a dystopian future where the vast majority of women are infertile and those who are able to bear children get rounded up against their will, to be ‘handmaids’ to the elite class, so that the species will survive.

How could this happen?

A conversation between three of the senior leaders explains it. Just use biblical justification (Rachel and Leah) and while the women (and wives even) might not like it, once the Bible is involved who can argue?

So ‘handmaids’ are assigned to various homes and the ‘ceremony’ is performed after the reading of a passage of scripture which allows these (apparently) deeply religious people find a way to reconcile their own inner desires with what they know to be wrong and evil.

I’m reminded of that other movie, The Book of Eli, where Denzel Washington protects an unknown book with his life. Eventually the nature of the book is revealed – a KJV Bible – because whoever gets the book gets the power. More correctly would be whoever gets to interpret the book gets the power.

Thankfully that will never happen in real life…

As if…

I’m no fan of 60 Minutes as quality journalism, but Sunday night’s show exposing the sexual abuse within a particular independent Baptist Church, (thankfully it was mentioned several times that this is not our mob) was a contemporary example of the Bible being used to justify a man’s own sexual desires and subsequent evil actions. The abuse suffered by the wife was tolerated for so long because she was caught in a system of belief that validated her husband’s evil behaviour. ‘It was in the Bible’ that she needed to submit and obey so she really had no choice… So she felt.

The recent ABC studies released on domestic violence in Christian families seems to have touched a nerve in two ways. Some of those suffering have finally been given a hearing and an opportunity to break free of ‘biblically justified abuse’ (an oxymoron) while others within the church have gone on the defensive, hitting back at the research methodology and the clarity of the findings. This is completely disingenuous at a time when we need to repent rather than justify. If all that is heard by those willing to tell their stories is that they are ‘invalid on a technicality’ then we have simply become modern day Pharisees.

The Handmaids Tale is no far fetched sci-fi fable. It is an all too real possibility if we continue to allow men to get away with using the Bible / or any other religious text – as a justification for evil behaviour.

To be clear, I’m talking about using the Bible to manipulate your wife into doing something she does not want to do, or using the Bible to justify behaviour that would otherwise be considered wrong and liable to prosecution, even using the Bible to justify any self centred, self serving actions that hurt another. Of course you can step back from the line of ‘abuse’ and still be emotionally abusive and psychologically destructive, which is just as much of a problem.

As men the cards are usually stacked in our favour and the dominant readings of scripture for many years, giving men control and power, have allowed for the possibility of destructive outworkings of those interpretations.

I don’t think its as simple as ‘complementarians are bad and egalitarians are good’. It’s possible to be an egalitarian arsehole and a complementarian gentleman.

Its more to do with how we see Jesus and submit to him in our own lives. Because he isn’t cool with this stuff.


Changing Our Minds (Back Again)

Well Eugene… You really caused a stir, ‘changing your mind’, only to not really change it at all.

All suspicion aside, if you were ever in doubt that this is the litmus test of orthodoxy in 2017 then this is a clear indicator. Get the ‘gay thing’ wrong and you’re history – no matter who you are.

I doubt Petersen has much interest in the actual ‘debate’ outside of dealing with real human beings – which is possibly why his initial response felt simple, clear, and affirming. He’s a pastor. But when it comes to the flip side of the conversation – the theological argey bargey, he realised he is still conservative. That’s my interpretation of what may have happened. I doubt the removal of his books by various stores would actually sway a person with real integrity. He answered some questions in one state of mind and then as he reflected and had push back he decided to change positions. I’ve done this plenty of times in conversation, on FB and on blogs, but my name is not Petersen and I don’t have his influence, so no one really cares.

But the hostility he experienced for the short time he ‘switched’ means this can never be an open and genuine conversation because too much is at stake.

Anybody wanna get ‘Petersened?’. Ummmmm… No thanks…

A couple of years ago I took off on holidays to Bali with 5 books, three advocating for an affirming approach to homosexual relationships and two of the conservative view. I wanted to really dig into this stuff and explore it – openly – to the point where I was prepared to come home and quit leading our church if it came to that (because I don’t think I could hold a progressive view and keep leading the same church – we aren’t ‘there’)

And as I read the books I felt myself warming to the tone and language of the progressive writers (Gushee, Venn Brown and Brownson), and I felt the pain they expressed both for themselves and for those who find themselves gay and struggling. And then, as I read the books by the conservative authors (names forgotten) I felt a harshness and theological wankerishness that made me want to distance myself from them. I really disliked the matter of fact approach that seemed to exude no pastoral compassion whatsoever.
But at the end of the day I just couldn’t see the progressive argument clearly in scripture. I read and listened, discussed and explored and some more, but it just didn’t gel with me.

Theologically I found myself still conservative. And in fact last week when I had to speak from Romans 1:18-32, the more I read the passage depicting the downward spiral of morality as people moved progressively (no pun intended) away from God, the more I became convinced of the conservative position – theologically…

But it leaves me with the pastoral dilemma. How to respond to gay folks, Christian or not in this time?

I really feel stumped by this as one who is unashamedly conservative theologically.

A friend posted on FB recently looking for a church in Perth fully accepting of gay Christians and I wanted to say ‘hey we could be those people’, because I’d like to be… But truth is we are not – and I am not.

And then I hear a phrase like ‘welcoming but not affirming’ to describe churches and I feel it reads like an oxymoron. Who will feel genuinely welcome while being unaffirmed in their sexual identity? I don’t think we can go that route and not think it will backfire.

Is it more honest to say ‘gay folks not welcome here’?..

But I really don’t want to say that either – (not because it’s a cultural faux past), but because that’s not even close to what I feel in my heart.

Perhaps Bill Loader’s approach is best – summarised, he would say ‘the Bible is clearly against homosexual relationships, but we are now in the 21st C so we need to ditch those teachings and accept that our new context requires new thinking’.

I find that argument more compelling than the re-interpretations that just haven’t been at all convincing in my opinion. My fairly ‘high’ view of the Bible prevents me from taking that route.

That said after 53 years of evangelicalism indoctrination maybe I am simply incapable of any fresh reading of scripture. Or maybe I am tied by my pastoral role and need of income to being unable to even conceive of a way other than the one I have always held.

I have no doubt those are real factors in my own processing of the question.

Then some would suggest that if we accept Jesus as the ultimate revelation of God and read all scripture ‘through him’ then he would surely be far more gracious, accepting and embracing than the conservative view seems to allow us to be, suggesting that maybe we need to go back and re-read the biblical text again. Jesus certainly wouldn’t behave like so much of evangelicalism in this regard.

My hunch is that somewhere between 10 and 50 years time this will be a non-issue – like divorce is today. Divorce was once in league with the ‘unforgivable sin’, (40-50 years back) but now it is accepted as inevitable and unfortunate, but generally not disqualifying in any way. I remember the days when divorcees couldn’t attend church, take communion, teach Sunday school and certainly not serve on leadership teams or as pastors.

I sense culture will move us (as the church) to acceptance of gay relationships as normative and that gay folks will be part of our churches just as straight folks are. I imagine it will happen incrementally, and maybe one day young people will look on us in our older years, perplexed at our curious and somewhat disturbing views on sexuality… that is, if we still hold them… because we are not immune to these forces either.

So – people have often asked me for my view on this subject and I have hesitated to give it, initially because I hadn’t done serious reading & reflection and then ironically because I had done the reading and reflection. Reaching a position of stability in my thinking only served to create new challenges and issues that I am still unable to resolve adequately.

I don’t know why some folks have known nothing other than a gay sexual orientation.

I don’t know how we help gay folks find faith and acceptance in Christian community.

And yet if someone walked into my church tomorrow I know my instinctive response would be to welcome them, hear their story and try to help them find a place of belonging… Aint that conflicted?…

So maybe Eugene felt a bit of that stuff going on over the last few days. Maybe he will change his mind again. Maybe I will too…

Either way let’s be a lot more gracious with one another as we try to process with integrity a theological, pastoral and cultural issue that currently seems to be bringing us undone in ugly ways.

If there is a greater and more significant ‘cosmic spiritual conflict’ going on – and our battle is not against flesh and blood then surely we have to see that in this time we are getting brought undone by our enemy as we attack one another and ‘fight for the truth’, meanwhile leaving all manner of carnage in our wake.