Nous -'knack' in scouse? Nous: Greek 'mind' some use? Nous: we -French- oui? Oooh. Life -don't talk to me about life: me with this pain down the diodes in my left side ... Here's not-nearly-random-enough loggings of what feeds my promiscuous curiosity. Your pay-off is some useful[?] links and provocative thoughts but also more insight than you may care on my thought-processes.

31 January 2013

Consider it possible you may be mistaken -about sexuality

I've been trying to see whether a discussion can take place via Twitter. By 'discussion' I'm thinking not just a bit of merry banter reaffirming each others' cameraderie over the great goal you've just seen, but rather trying to engage across some very different opinions in a topic that raises heat but often little light. I think I'm coming to the conclusion that this isn't a good way to conduct such dialogues -at least not as the exclusive medium.

 To be fair I embarked on this without thinking it through; to be frank I was a bit annoyed at some responses to Steve Chalke's coming out as a pro-gay Evangelical. Not least because despite his being fairly careful to argue 'evangelically' there were detracting comments which mostly didn't really engage with whether he might have a point, but rather went about bolstering the boundaries of a supposed orthodoxy based on misrepresentations, often, of his orthodoxy.

The phrase going through my mind in all of this is some words of Oliver Cromwell to the Kirk's general assembly in 1650
you have censured others, and established yourselves "upon the Word of God." Is it therefore infallibly agreeable to the Word of God, all that you I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ think it possible you may be mistaken.
Another thing going round my head is the thought that it's all very well having an infallible Bible, but unless you have infallible interpretation, it may not do you any good. The problem for a lot of the responses I've seen is an implicit assumption that our interpretation is straightforwardly right. I'm shocked to be reminded how much everyday readers of the Bible are unaware of their own hermeneutical biases and what a lot of questionable assumptions are smuggled into their (our) handling of Scripture. Many of us need constantly to be reminded of how our own cultural starting points lead us astray. Anyway, as with so many things in Christian living, learning humility is no bad thing, and it seems to me that Cromwell was counselling interpretive humility and charity. I'd say that interpretive charity (to name  further virtue) involves considering not only that we might be wrong but that others may well have good intentions, helpful insights and a genuine relationship with God (which does, I know, go counter to the evangelical typical propensity for salvific suspicion).

Anyway, perhaps some examples of attempted dialogue with some comments may help. I've removed names and aliases to take too much personal 'ad hominem' stuff out of it; I want to focus on the arguments, rhetorical strategies and my responses to them, rather than people.

So here's one snippet of exchange (which did have interweavings from other interlocutors which I've left out at this point.
TweetIs 2 Timothy 4:3 a description of the heretical Steve Chalke
me: No
 Tweet: 2 Timothy 4:3 seems a fair description of the heretical Steve Chalke
me: Only if you've already decided SteveChalke is wrong. What if 2T4.3 means homophobes find teachers to suit prejudice?
Tweetto answer your rather odd question, that would be in contention with the whole body of scripture. Steve Chalke is out of line
Meout o line re received understanding -which could be wrong: how are received u'standings supposed to be questioned? cf slavery.
Tweet: God's word is immutable. You cannot conflate slavery with sexual perversion. And in any case scripture never affirms either.
Me: Scripture affirms slavery and Xns defended it Biblically. Conflatn only at level of Xns reviewing understand'g of Bible's messg
Commentary: Of course, to describe SC as someone who is false teacher giving an audience what they want to hear (to confirm their ungodly living) presupposes that he is wrong. The irritating thing about this is the way that it seems to evade dealing with the issues raised in terms that Evangelicals are supposed to be strong on -arguing from (and about) scripture. This is apparently replaced instead with a simple dismissal without any attempt to engage SC's arguments on their own merits. It looks like it has been met with, well, prejudice: 'SC has articulated a view that doesn't agree with mine/ours: he must be a false teacher'. Actually, there's a tad more by implication: 'SC is only doing this to curry favour with (presumably) liberal secularists and the gay lobby.' ("He loves them more than us")

What my remark about homophobes is getting at is that the possibility of suiting itching ears cuts both ways. It could, in principle, apply to teachers who preach to people who are against faithful homophile relationships and find in scripture a way to scratch that anti-gay itch and shy away from any exegesis or reflection that might question that. It's quite clear that there are enormous pressures to continue to pander to the itching ears of the anti-gay crowd -if you don't, you'll get 'cast out' like they're attempting to do to SC "if you don't continue to produce interpretations that impossibilise gay relationships, we'll oust you from our club -don't bother us with the facts". I suspect my interlocutor hasn't really taken account of how hard it might be to feel constrained to take a position that earns the opprobrium of the constituency that has been ones home and sourced ones co-workers for so long: it is more likely that SC would find he would naturally want to produce an interpretation that doesn't upset his constituency: Evangelicals.

The point is that the 2 Tim passage is too much a wax-nose in a case like this. Both sides can accuse the other of pandering to the itching ears. If someone is going to make that accusation, they need to be prepared to engage in the dialogue properly and not just, so to say, throw bricks over the wall.

Okay, another bit of the interleaving dialogue, a different tweeter.
I'm assuming you're not familiar with the bible?*** is right, looks more like eisegises than exegesis 
Me: I sus I'm more familiar wi Bible than u. Eisegesis = part o what  is q'ning. Engage with issues not psn 
 And then another snippet raising a similar issue:
You're clearly liberal I've no desire to debate with one who holds their own ideals above scripture
Me: Y're wrong: not liberal; interested in what scripture actually says vs received opinion. My ideals formed by scripture first.    
This is quite a disturbing rhetorical move. But first a quick vent of my outrage: 'not familiar with the Bible'? -I'm constantly finding that fellow evangelicals are lamentably ignorant both of contents and hermeneutical strategies. So if my reply sounds a little 'haughty' it was perhaps more in the vein (I hope) of Paul's 'boasting' which was strategically deployed in order to defend important insights and not to give his opponents' arguments a free-pass. The point is I'm well-acquainted with scripture and well-used to handling it in theological debate and in fact I've spent a lot of time, thought, effort and argument in relating my ideas to scripture and in trying to understand scripture whole and letting it speak into cultural (even church-cultural) norming. "As to evangelical 'righteousness', faultless ...".

Okay, I'll admit it: I've taught theology at secondary school and Higher Education level as well as from the pulpit -though I know that for my interlocutors this may count for little. I know this because I'm an evangelical and have shared the formation in suspicion towards those suspected of unsoundness (and if you follow up that link, I can affirm the things that the author classes as not being liberal theologically): it's a catch 22 situation; you can never prove your bona fides as long as you ever question any received interpretations or doctrines -even if you do so on biblical grounds.

Anyway, back to 'disturbing': it's just that typical Evangelical ploy (I know: to my shame, I've used it myself in the past, when I was keen to demonstrate my Soundness) that when someone says something outside of what we're used to, we tend to assume they must be liberals or ignorant of scripture. Problem is: sometimes scripture is actually more challenging than we're prepared to hear: it's 'liberal' sometimes. Sometimes scripture even seems 'ignorant' of itself...

So, moving on. There was another theme that emerged in conversation.
Me: out o line re received understanding -which could be wrong: how are received u'standings supposed to be questioned? cf slavery.
ResponseGod's word is immutable. You cannot conflate slavery with sexual perversion. And in any case scripture never affirms either.
Another respondant: God tolerated slavery as He tolerates divorce, but he speaks clearly against perverted same sex sex.
Me: Scripture affirms slavery and Xns defended it Biblically. Conflatn only at level of Xns reviewing understand'g of Bible's messg
Me: point is: Xns convincedly defended slavery from Bible -took  -alikes to reconsider. mutatis mutandi.
The point about slavery seemed to be confusing -I thought that it was clear that this was about a change of how the Bible was read and used in relation to a social-ethical issue. But I don't think people got that at all. I think this reveals one of the difficulties of doing this via Twitter: a helpful point can't be just 140 characters sometimes.

The point I was /am trying to make is basically that when the slave trade and the institution of slavery was challenged in Britain and beyond in the 1700's (and a bit before too) it was challenged by Christians (evangelicals prominent among them) on Christian theological grounds. But their argument was not straight forwardly Scriptural in the sense that there is no clear text to support their position. On the contrary much of the Bible is slavery-friendly in terms of specific texts. The NT has many passages where either slavery is unquestioned and some where it is merely limited but by being the subject of instructions on how to be a good slave or a good slave-master, is accepted even affirmed after a fashion. Thus there were many Christians -Evangelicals among them- who argued that slavery is acceptable (provided it is humanely done).  The Hebrew Bible similarly makes provision for slavery and even, in a sense, recommends it (providing for people to sell themselves and even to extend a period of servitude).

This left Evangelicals and other Christians with an eye to the Bible arguing a more nuanced position. Basically the kind of argument that has to be made against slavery in order to get it banned with the support of Evangelicals is that scriptural acceptance of slavery is an accommodation to the  unthinkableness of changing rapidly something that was endemic, widespread and finely-woven into the fabric of economic life. The unthinkableness was reinforced by examples in scripture and life of relatively benign slavery. Thus they argued that slavery is accepted in scripture merely 'tactically', that is: it's not as God's best but it can be accommodated as something to be put up with and mitigated where possible.

However, this is not an argument against slavery, it is for the acceptance of slavery. Something more is needed to tip over into campaigning against it. For this one has to argue that the 'camels' of scripture rather than its 'gnats' are counter-slavery; the big themes and main ideas lead towards removing slavery when the opportunity presents itself. These big themes are things like an equality of human beings before God, love of neighbour as oneself (on the whole, who wants to be a slave? So ...), the brotherhood of Christians such that in Christ there is neither 'slave nor free'. This latter theme comes up in Philemon and Paul's advice to Philemon concerning a runaway slave points quite clearly in the direction that the Christian thing to do is not to enslave fellow believers. And then not just fellow-believers: how can love of neighbour justify enslaving anyone?

The analogy I'm trying to make is that the issue of faithful, committed homophile relationships might similarly require us to recognise that the texts apparently pointing to not accepting such relationships may be cultural accommodations (or even outrightly not applicable when you check out the detail). But also the point would be that the sidelining of some texts in favour of more weighty themes is not unknown and in the case of slavery has become so unproblematic that it's hard for many contemporary Christians to conceive of Christians justifying slavery from scripture. Yet once upon a time it was 'obvious' to most Christians that slavery is fine (provided you do it nicely).

Christians can and do change our minds quite considerably about interpretations of scripture.

Now that isn't an argument in itself for accepting homophile relationships. It's an argument for being open to the possibility that this might be a 'slavery' moment and that obvious, 'natural' interpretations that we've inherited 'might be mistaken'.

I happen to think that Steve Chalke has articulated several reasons why we should look again (see my earlier posts). The task now is to weigh those reasons, not simply to cling fast to inherited reasons. They could be mistaken. It's certainly not a time to go around dismissively refusing to engage such reasons in their own terms and disrespecting people who disagree with us. Not least because the way that many Evagelicals are behaving at the moment is failing to commend them to a wider world. The world can't say 'see how these Christians love one another' because what they are seeing is 'see how these Christians slag one another off and hate people who are different through no fault of their own'. I can't see how positioning ourselves like that in the public eye can serve the gospel.
1 John 4:16 should figure more highly in our thinking and acting.

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