Day 4: Praise and criticism

I went to Leamington Peace Festival this afternoon – and got lost on the way. Today’s a non-walking day, and the walk should have taken about 15 or 20 minutes from my friends’ flat. This doesn’t bode well for successfully making the remaining 124 miles without at some point going in the wrong direction.

It’s good to have a day off walking (after 36 miles over the last three days), and especially nice to stay with my friends Emma and Peter in Leamington. They are not only great company but are being persistently hospitable and caring. Emma just turned down my offer of help with the washing up, encouraging me to take the time to write my blog (I’ll try not to take this as a slur on my washing-up abilities).

The day’s been busier than I’d expected. I got up for an interview with BBC Coventry & Warwickshire at 8.00am, and spent much of the morning replying to comments on my blog that had built up over the last few days. On the one hand, many of the comments contain praise and encouragement (which I really appreciate and find helpful, although I feel undeserving of much of the praise). On the other hand, there are aggressively critical comments, often making inaccurate assumptions about my beliefs. Politely critical comments are in short supply. Reading comments that alternate between high praise and outraged insults is a rather weird experience.

Another suprise awaited me at the Leamington Peace Festival, when I went to talk to people at a stall run by Coventry and Warwickshire Friend, an LGBT helpline. One of them had heard me on Radio 4 this morning, and they began to ask me about my pilgrimage. A couple standing nearby said that they had also heard of it and expressed their support. I was rather taken aback; the walk has already received far more publicity than I expected.

The couple, Sophie and Nina, shared their mixed experiences of church attitudes to their sexuality. Sophie belongs to a Methodist church in Leamington and I was really pleased to hear that the church has been supportive of her relationship with Nina. In contrast, Nina, who is Italian, spoke of the hostility of the Roman Catholic Church to same-sex relationships, and we discussed the situation of Catholics who take a different view.

I’m looking forward to accompanying Emma and Peter to their church, St Mark’s, this evening. And – despite not walking today – I’m already looking forward to an early night afterwards. The three days’ walking so far is still affecting me.

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4 comments so far

  1. Philip Cole on

    Symon

    I have followed the background to your walk of repentance and, on the Ekklesia site, I saw that ‘Politely critical comments are in short supply’. So I thought that I would (hopefully) oblige you with one.

    I write to you to be honest feeling a certain amount of affinity towards you. Although I am older than you (51) and an evangelical and charismatic Christian, I have worked as an activist in the past (World Development Movement 1986-88). From a distance, I have great admiration for your campaigning work in CAAT. I live and work as a development economist in South Africa, where the arms deal and its corruption caused tremendous damage to our new democracy. As a Christian who is socially conservative and economically radical, we probably agree on many issues in the latter area.

    I also have seen from the Ekklesia site that you grew up in Daventry, as did I, although I lived in Braunston where my parents still live. Assuming that you went to school there, I wonder whether you went to the awful William Parker School (Daventry School in my day) or the even worse Southbrook. My school experiences have influenced the rest of my life, both in my politics and in my realisation of human fallibility.

    And, like you, I have experienced homosexual attraction, although my response was and is different to yours. I must always be careful not to overstate my case. My actual same sex experience was only limited to the first time I had sex at the age of 12, although I experienced same-sex attraction (SSA) on a number of occasions at different points in my teenage and young adult life. I also have never self-identified as gay and was very clear that I was experiencing SSA, even at the time when that attraction was at its most intense

    I did however have a period of very intense SSA in the aftermath of a very painful break-up with a girlfriend and a couple of teenage crushes on guys. At the most, my sexual orientation was mildly bisexual. But at the same time, my adult experience of SSA was very intense and my response to it was determined my belief that homoseuxal behaviour was a sin. Full healing for me came a little later but, again, the key issue was one of identity – my identity in Christ and who he says I am rather than what my desires tell me I am.

    This has started a major theme in my spirituality on the discovery and development of our identity in Christ as the key to addressing the challenge of homosexual desire as a Christian. With the focus on Christ and what he says about our identity, the issue of homosexual desire and practice becomes eventually incidental – our desire becomes more to obey God than to follow our desires. This was exactly my experience – I was able to resist, combat and turn away from SSA when it was at its most intense, primarily because of what I believed, that homosexual practice is both sinful and not God’s desire for us as His people.

    This experience has coloured my approach to life – that beliefs are the most important part of who we are, our actions follow from our beliefs rather than the post-modern emphasis on experience determining so much of ‘who we are’.

    I am support your walk against homophobia on the basis that Christians should not discriminate against gay people in the provision of goods and services, in employment and access to promotion. And in love and respect for the person – far too often Christians have responded to gay people in fear and judgementalism that has caused deep hurt.

    But I do not believe that the orthodox Christian belief that homosexual behaviour is a sin, a belief that I hold, is ‘homophobic’. My experience, the testimony of many others and the research support the view that sexuality, although complex, is not innate to ‘who we are’. While we certainly don’t choose to have same-sex desire, we do have a choice in how to respond. We are not defined by our sexual orientation or desires but rather should respond within the boundaries that scripture gives us. And God as a loving and merciful Father will give us the grace to either change or to withstand temptation.

  2. David in Chippy on

    The problem is, as I see it Philip, that Scripture is actually silent about committed, same sex relationships. All of the New Testament passages that are used to condemn such relationships have to do with temple prostitution and the only Old Testament passage, which is repeated in the context of the same book, is about cultural laws that no one feels obliged to keep in the 21st century – other than to proscribe homosexual acts by others, Indeed, the New Testament tells us that those very laws have been superseded in Christ.

    I used to think as you do but, like Symon, I have repented of my old way of thinking and living.
    .

    • Philip Cole on

      Thanks for the reply, David. I disagree with you that ‘Scripture is actually silent about committed, same sex relationships’. I know of and understand the argument that the key verses are to do with temple prostitution but I am not persuaded by it. For a good series of articles on how liberal theology has either nisread the context or, in some cases, ascribed readings to the texts that are simply not supported anywhere else in scripture or in other Ancient World literature go to http://www.peter-ould.net/2009/06/29/sexuality-and-slavery-part-one/ and follow all five articles through (warning: some are long!)

      With respect, the New Testament does not tell us that ‘those very laws have been superseded in Christ’ but tells us that Christ is the fulfilment of the law. So we must seek to understand what is Christ’s view of same-sex behaviour. While it is true that Christ said nothing directly about homosexuality, I have argued elsewhere as follows that he maintained a consistently conservative sexual ethic that was even stricter than the Jews of the day, who certainly did not approve of homosexuality!

      – He set even stricter conditions for divorce than the Jews allowed at that time, allowing divorce only in the case of adultery. (see
      http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew%2019:8-9&version=ESV)
      – He repeated the orthodox Jewish view of marriage as being only between a man and woman. (see http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew%2019:4-6&version=ESV)
      – He taught and modelled that great compassion, love and a non-judgemental attitude is needed in dealing with sexual sin, when he met the woman caught in adultery (see http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John%208:3-11&version=ESV)
      – He maintained that even while we have compassion sexual sin is important and we should ‘go and sin no more’. (see http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John%208:11&version=ESV)
      Jesus therefore set a high standard of sexual behaviour and integrity beyond the customs of the Jews of his time. As Jewish teaching from the Old Testament prohibited homosexual behaviour and his teaching on sexual behaviour more strict, an orthodox biblical reading supports the continued prohibition of homosexual acts. As the first port of call for interpretation of scripture is its consistency with the rest of scripture itself, this interpretation is reinforced by the New Testament prohibitions of homosexual activity.

      • David in Chippy on

        Liberal theology is not alone in a more tolerant understanding Philip, and doubtless there are websites reflecting all manner of interpretations and understandings.

        And I understand that there is some doubt about the identity of the centurion’s servant in Matt 8 and; Luke 7. There is a contention that the “servant” was in fact a male lover.

        On one level of course, the Bible says nothing about “homosexuality” because the word itself (along with heterosexuality) came out of 19th century emergent psychology. I think that care needs to be taken of 20th century translations that use the word.


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