Living Hermeneutically about Homosexuality (thanks to Steve Chalke)

Pink Primrose

I didn’t have a photo that seemed particularly appropriate to this item, so here’s a pink New Forest Primrose currently flowering against the odds in my garden.

About ten years ago my husband and I were delighted to become Godparents to the child of some old college friends, and co-Godparent with their close friend who happens to be a lesbian Christian.  We had no problem with this, but I’m ashamed to say it wasn’t something I particularly advertised among my Christian friends back at home in our reasonably evangelical church.

There, at about the same era of our lives, I heard at least one sermon deliberately advertised as and preached against homosexuality. I still have the notes that went with it somewhere on file upstairs. I couldn’t agree with it, but somehow felt unable to argue against it, through lack of knowledge and lack of nerve.

Recently I mentioned on Facebook Sara Miles’ autobiographical ‘Take this bread’ as being ministry changing. A friend rang me some days later having bought and read the book. She commented that she kept expecting Sara to deny her lesbian sexuality as she came to understand more about Christ, and that this was one of the things she had found most challenging about the book, because it didn’t happen. I realised that this simply hadn’t been an issue for me, I was far more interested in the challenge of the hospitality of the Eucharist and Baptism! That’s for another day, but it showed me that perhaps I ought to share more openly what I think about homosexual relationships and how I hold my views as having integrity with my Christian faith.

Now seems an appropriate moment for asking forgiveness of my few homosexual acquaintances for my silence, but I admit I only do so, because someone else has done the hard work of expressing their thinking on the subject, far more eloquently and comprehensively than I would. Suddenly I don’t feel so alone, and can unashamedly and lazily quote them.

First, I came across this quite balanced article around New Year from the Independent ‘Evangelicals who say being gay is OK’.

Then, this week, even better, was Steve Chalke’s excellent article ‘A Matter of Integrity’ which talks about responding hermeneutically ‘in thoughtful conformity to Christ’ to the matter of homosexuality and particularly homosexual relationships. I probably ought to find something to argue with him over, but I’m afraid I’ve failed. I’m either that bad, or he’s that good, you decide.

I have always disliked inconsistency, especially in myself, so hiding what I think hasn’t always been as comfortable as it might be. Before my BAP I was advised to work out what I thought about the ministry of homosexuals and homosexual relationships, in case I got quizzed on what I thought. I wasn’t, but the preparation was still useful.

Possibly Steve Chalke would see my thinking as a twisted exegesis, but looking back at my notes, my studies suggested that Leviticus 18 seems to be about not unthinkingly copying the behaviours of those people live among and keeping the purity of our relationship with God. Leviticus 20 asked people not to defile the sanctuary of God with any inappropriate behaviour, and I noted today we wouldn’t condone the death of anyone for the offences mentioned. In the New Testament, the use of the word translated ‘perverts’ in 1 Tim 1:10 comes from a Greek word the meaning of which is unclear, whilst there was a commonly used word for gay men that Paul hadn’t used (I can’t blog the Greek, sorry). Paul’s teaching here is directed at the goal of being pure in heart, of good conscience and sincere faith (1 Tim 1:15) which is what I was trying to work through to in this context!

So to have Steve Chalke articulate where his study (which includes these passages among others) has brought him to on this issue, has been very helpful. It has also finally made clear to me the difference between Biblical exegesis and hermeneutics – the former is just one tool among others for speaking about and living out the latter. Hermeneutics is basically what Sara Miles grapples with in her book, as in the midst of unexpectedly eating Christ she tries to grapple with what it means to try and live out God’s hospitality.

If doing hermeneutics means  looking at the Biblical revelation of the nature of Christ, in a way that ‘encompasses verbal and non-verbal communication of the wider culture’ then and now, then that’s what I see myself called to do now, and in the future as a priest. Sharing truths that might challenge others in their faith, is going to have to be part of the deal. I might not like the arguments that result from this, but that’s the next challenge I have to live with I guess.

So, there’s me then, coming out all hermeneutical and proud of it.

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About Rachel Hartland

Church of England Ordinand, child of God, daughter of the New Forest, wife and mother.
This entry was posted in life, ministry, theology - how God fits in and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to Living Hermeneutically about Homosexuality (thanks to Steve Chalke)

  1. Rachel, I know very well where you are coming from.
    Since I reposted Steve Chalke’s article on FB, I’ve had several responses from people I know very well in my own evangelical constituency who are very unhappy that I have (a) reposted it and (b) endorsed it so positively. Many of these are from Uganda. You will know only too well the church context & background in which I worked in Uganda, and the whole tenor of the national approach to homosexuality there. So I’m not surprised, but quite disappointed at the vigour of some of the comments. Perhaps the most disturbing perspective was from a ‘friend’ and currently working as a missionary in a southern African country, who tells me that I am “as damned as if you were a homosexual yourself” for propagating such “heresy”. Wow!
    I still have to live with the fact that because I am happy to bear the label of ‘evangelical’, it is assumed that this is equivalent to conservative & fundamentalist! I.e. that I MUST be a creationist, against women leadership & teaching in the church and – relevant to this issue – anti-homosexual marriage (if not actually anti-gay).
    So with Steve Chalke’s publication of this piece I finally feel that – as far as homosexuality is concerned – I have a a really helpful foundation from which I can discuss these issues with my own core, traditional ‘constituency’. (I already have plenty of fine foundational material for the other 2 areas!)
    So I’ve stood up and said so. Like you, I feel Steve Chalke has done us all a real service – not so much for the hermeneutical tools he has used and the exegetical conclusions he has reached; but because he has done it in the context of integrity, consistency and inclusion.

  2. ramtopsrac says:

    Thank you so much Simon for your encouragement. This post was partly written with the intention of posting it on Facebook (which I will in a minute), and coming clean with some people with whom this may be less than popular. I just feel bad that it’s taken me so long to admit what I’ve always understood, and that it’s take one man’s bravery within the evangelical context to give me ‘permission’ to do so. But we are all weak vessels, and still God uses us.

    One friend has pointed out to me privately, that I still don’t actually say what comes out of this hermeneutic for me, so to make it absolutely clear, here goes:

    My efforts to ‘conform to Christ’ lead me to understand that a homosexual is no more a sinner than someone who is heterosexual – all are loved inclusively and equally by God. They should not be excluded from any form of ministry to which they are recognised as being called to by God, as I believe should also be the case for women. Life-long, loving commitments made between homosexuals should be as celebrated as any other life-long commitment. If those concerned chose to do that as Christians, they should be encouraged to publicly receive and share God’s blessing in that relationship, in the eyes of both church and community, without stigma being attached to anyone who supports or enables this. That is no different to the Christian marriage I enjoy with my husband, so lets call it marriage, and not put rules around it that stop people from living out their love of Christ with integrity.

  3. minidvr says:

    Thanks for an honest appraisal of where you stand. I must admit that I hadn’t done any biblical exegesis or hermeneutics, I just started at the point of natural justice (if there is such a thing).

    When I joined the Army in the 1960′s homosexuality was against military law as well as being against the law of the land. Homophobia hadn’t been defined in the way it has today, but the reality was that anyone who was ‘found out’ for being gay, faced imprisonment at the worst and losing their job at the least. We conformed to what was legal, we didn’t bother to analyse why some people were different, in fact it never really passed through our thoughts until someone we knew was penalised for their sexuality. And we often couldn’t understand how we hadn’t know, as they had concealed it so well.

    When you look back in retrospect, you see how much pain they must have gone through, living a lie. Having to conform because to be different was illegal – nowadays, it seems hard to conceive that up to the late 1990′s Gay people were still being persecuted in the armed forces, despite the liberalisation in the world outside.

    The watershed for me was when I read about the cases being taken to the ECHR by some courageous people who had been sacked from the military. They had lost their livelihood and been labelled deviant by a culture of intolerance and deliberate discrimination.

    They won their case and I found that they actually made sense. After that, the MOD was forced to change it’s policies and to allow Gay people to serve without discrimination. It was a revelation in culture and I was sent on an Equality and Diversity advisor’s course at University – this opened my eyes further to the whole business of prejudice and deliberate or otherwise discrimination. It led to an examination of conscience which has stayed alive with me ever since about those inner prejudices and attitudes which might not be expressed orally, but are evident from our actions towards or treatment of others.

    When I became a Christian, the thing that struck me was the two greatest commandments. We are directed by Jesus to obey them, and I accepted that whole heartedly. The end being that I can’t see that loving our neighbour as ourselves involves discriminating against them.

    Steve Chalk has done the church a service, not just evangelicals.

    • ramtopsrac says:

      Thanks for sharing Ernie, much appreciated.

      I believe Steve Chalke has done the church a service, if it’s willing to hear him. I just pray more of us can work this through not just from the viewpoint of natural justice, but also in the way he has talked about the pastoral issues too. Sadly there is a lot of past hurt, like you’ve given examples of, and the church locally and nationally has got a lot of work to do to even start to heal peoples wounds, or just their perception of those that share the Christian faith. Mind you, there’s sadly plenty of other issues where that is true as well!

  4. ramtopsrac says:

    Excellent brief article and illustration here http://vernacularcurate.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/them-gays.html raised my awareness of the Fulcrum article refuting Steve Chalke’s arguements, here http://www.fulcrum-anglican.org.uk/page.cfm?ID=774 I actually find it too depressing to finishing reading, but there reference is there for anyone who wants to follow through.

  5. Dani says:

    Thank you so much for this blog post.

    I’ve been googling ‘response to Steve Chalke’ and nearly every other blog I have come across has been full of hate towards both Steve Chalke and the LGB community.

    As a gay young person involved in the Church, it’s so good to know there are a few people out there that wouldn’t think there is something terribly wrong with me! (No one in my Church knows I’m gay, for obvious reasons!)

    So again, thank you for being so brave and posting this; to me, your writing on the subject has just as much importance as Steve Chalke’s.

  6. dorothy726 says:

    well done Rachel. Needed saying and you said it. :)

  7. Pingback: “…a Baptist minister who lives with same-sex attraction…” #evangelical #lgbt #wtf | dropsafe

  8. RosalindR says:

    Thank you for this blog -post, Rachel – and to all those who have commented with such integrity and candour. It’s really helpful to hear/rd real conversations about this topic. I think we really are reaching the point where those of us who believe that homosexuals are created in God’s image just as much as anyone else are wiling to say so and act on this. It seems that Steve Chalke has done for the Evangelical wing of the church what Jeffrey John did for the Catholic wing twenty years ago when he published “Permanent, Faithful, Stable”, also arguing for the recognition and celebration by the church of gay relationships that conformed to the values of a Christian heterosexual marriage; and by dong so helped to give a model to gay people that allows true flourishing. it’s interesting that Steve Chalke comes to a very similar conclusion. And Jeffrey John is an excellent and very clear biblical scholar – he goes into the biblical arguments as well as others so this too is a booklet worth getting hold of.
    I think this is going to need saying quite a lot!

  9. E says:

    Your post was very helpful to me. I’ve been trying to get my head round this issue for many years and being on the liberal side of the fence. I had been feeling guilty about not having a problem with homosexuality in the church. It’s a topic that keeps coming up in home group and I’ve been struggling to know how to explain my reasons against someone who has a very conservative view. Your post and the pointing to Steve Chalke really helped.

    In Church today when asked to discuss the way in which we develop and learn as Christians one of my comments to J was by reading Rac’s blog. You may not be a full blown vicar yet but I still get a good helping of teaching via your blog and I appreciate your thought out posts. Thank you.

  10. ramtopsrac says:

    Thank you Rosalind and Em, for your encouragement as much as anything. This blog post has been something I shouldn’t have been focusing on – unrelated (directly) to my current foci of study, and so it could be perceived as a distraction or time waste. But it’s was something I needed to sort out in my head, and state clearly for my own integrity and piece of mind. As such, it has proved the most encouraging thing I’ve done in weeks. It is humbling to know my ramblings and struggles continue to occasionally help others. Thank you for saying so, it really helps me to keep studying, and to keep blogging sporadically!

  11. dorothy726 says:

    Surely, Rachel, if it’s been something you need to sort for your own integrity and peace of mind then it’s in no way a distraction or time waste. I should imagine your training is stretching you a huge amount and needing/being able to think outside the strict study parameters is part of the process. Your blogs are coherent and thought-provoking.

    • ramtopsrac says:

      Yes, well, I was always good at mis-placed guilt, and I am honestly not focussing on my studies as well as I should. Thanks though, point taken.

      • dorothy726 says:

        ah – I bet you’re not as good at misplaced guilt as I am… :D in fact only half an hour ago…. nuff said! :) how far through your training are you?

      • ramtopsrac says:

        I’m in the first of two years, mixed-mode (part-time with extra bits) because I completed training as a Reader only just over 3 years ago, so only get two years funding. Thank you for your interest and support.

  12. C3 says:

    First, I still haven’t looked up exegesis or hermeneutics. But, I am sure that there are a large number of practising Christians who do not condemn homosexuality and, in fact, embrace their friends and loved ones independent of their sexuality. I personally know of this in at least 4 countries. The reality is that it takes a long time for change to happen, We saw that recently with the confusion in the C of E in allowing women to become bishops. The traditionalists in the lay section rallied people actively to delay what many feel will be an inevitable change. Gender discrimination, racial discrimination and, in some places, class discrimination still exist but those behaviours continue to weaken. Thankfully.

    One of the saddest moments of my life was learning that a friend died estranged from his family as he had openly recognised his sexuality and had chosen a same sex partner. It was their loss and had nothing to do with religious teachings. Another couple, practising Catholics, adopted a young person in a similar situation who is now reconciled as an adult with most of the family, thankfully.

    Good people are good people. Period.

    • ramtopsrac says:

      Thanks C3, your stories match so many others that I’ve heard.

      As I tried to explain to someone else earlier: Hermeneutics is basically just the interpretation of scripture in it’s original context and current application. Exegesis is more specifically the study of the words of Scripture themselves, including their original language and sentence structure if you are either a Greek/Hebrew scholar, or can use a commentary by someone who is (which is me all over!)

  13. Andrew Galloway says:

    Rachel, I don’t know enough about Theology to enter into the discussion really, but I think your writing is great! Keep it up!

  14. This is lovely ! And also the responses from Martin and others.

    I feel moved by your openess and generosity of spirit– even down to a pink primrose !

    As a gay man I thank you for this vital witness. All I would caution is, perhaps, don’t stick your neck out too far until ordained and even have parson’s freehold or security. I say this as the church authorities can be two-faced and vindictive and cowardly in equal measure.

    But maybe things have changed – be cautious ! I was ordained in 1970s and now retired, my partner, now of 40 years on August 18th have had a very ahrd time in the C of E — and the liberals cannot be trusted either – believe me !

    I don’t mean to sound negative but what Martin quoted is very relevant, it seems to me.

  15. oh dear – I meant of course my partner and I. have had a tough time. I left f/t ministry after 111 years and we settled down to our family life together, left in peace by ‘ the Church.’

    PS I think you’ll find gay people prefer gay / lesbian and not really ‘homosexual’. Hope not nit-picky :)

    • ramtopsrac says:

      Thank you for your comments Luca, and be as picky as you like. I can’t begin to imagine the difficulties that you had to live with in ministry, but what I am pretty sure of is that you were able to make a real difference to people’s lives, despite whatever suffering the church authorities may have subjected you to.

      My lesbian friend said ‘gay men’ and ‘lesbian’ were the individual terms, and I tried to use them, but probably lapsed into the typical hetero way of grouping everyone else together as homosexual in error at some points. My husband (a secondary school biology teacher) tends to use the acronym LGBT, but we are aware of inter-sex and many other self-descriptors and groupings.

      Thank you for taking the time to comment. I wonder whether there will be unforeseen repercussions to my post, but I know I’m not following this calling for the money or preferment, especially as I’m currently a self-supporting, assistant priest candidate ;-)

      May God bless you and your partner in your retirement. Pax.

  16. For those that want to reflect a little more on the responses to Steve Chalke’s original piece and the struggle that many (of us) Evangelicals have with what has come to be called the “traditional Evangelical” approach see Gillan’s blog post and comments (including from +Alan Wilson) at http://godandpoliticsuk.org/2013/01/21/being-gay-steve-chalke-and-where-the-church-has-got-it-wrong/

  17. elfringham says:

    Reblogged this on An elf in Volvo land.

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