learning curve

This Saturday, there is an open invitation to the congregation(s) to come to the rectory to talk about sexuality and the church.  This comes after discussions that whirled around Lambeth, and the realisation that far more people were wanting to talk about the church’s understanding of homosexuality than I had anticipated.

We’ve spoken before about ‘the current tensions in the Anglican Communion’ (I am so tired of that phrase), but it was focused on church structures rather than understandings of sexuality.  So, today, I am trying to plan the workshop and develop a few small handouts.

It’s hard, isn’t it?

I sat down to map out the areas we might need to touch on, and quickly wrote down (in no particular order):

  1. understandings of homosexuality
  2. misunderstandings
  3. is gender constructed?
  4. biblical criticism:  how do we interpret?
  5. bible as rule book or record of relationship?
  6. is revelation ongoing?  / role of Spirit
  7. how do we determine what is culturally bound?
  8. theologies of the body
  9. sex, faithfulness, marriage
  10. celibacy
  11. sexuality, identity, relationships
  12. role of liberation theology

The goal, of course, is that the people who come do most of the talking/ thinking, and I just help to build scaffolding.  And all this has to happen in about 90 minutes.

Preparing this sends me back to questions I have asked before:  is it possible to ‘start’ with homosexuality or do you need to go right back through the early discussions on gender and liberation?

If there were one thing you would hope everyone would understand by the end of such a conversation, what would it be?

26 thoughts on “learning curve”

  1. I, for one, am particularly interested in #5 (which has repercussions in ##6,7), and a fair bit interested in #12. I have my current leanings towards `record’ completely away from `rulebook’, but would be hard-pressed to think of a reason why (except as a consequence of reading about redactive criticism, seeing just how much is in the authors’ hands, perhaps).

    Will look forward to your followup thoughts, certainly 🙂

  2. Thanks, Tim. One reason for not reading it as a ‘rule book’ would be that scripture includes far too many genres to be any one thing. (though I suppose you could apply that to ‘relationship’ too)

    Just in case anyone is wondering, the ‘one thing’ doesn’t have to refer to my initial list (though it can, of course).

  3. You know me, any dialogue is a good dialogue. I love the word: scaffolding. One thing I would hope everyone would understand by the end of the conversation? That one doesn’t have to have the answers, just trust God and keep talking.

  4. What I would hope everyone would [begin to]understand

    how that discussion translates into a positive contextual outworking that is the mission of the church…

    with the proviso that the framework is loose-enough to allow for on-going revelation.

  5. If as a historian I might speak to 7 – the first thing I would ask is ‘Was the cultural situation of this command markedly different from what is happening here and now, and if so, how?’ St Paul’s obsession with vegetables makes no sense, if you don’t know that meat was the by product of sacrifice to idols.

    In the course of a hopelessly wandering sermon last Sunday I held forth on how Roman male heads of household viewed their slave’s bodies – how it was about impossible for a slave to deny a master the right to sex, and how for Romans homosexuality implied an older man and a young boy. In any discussion on the NT prohibitions of homosexuality I would hope this was something which could be understood.

    Other things I would hope might be understood (and as a straight person I say this with as much humility as I can)

    That it is, as a friend put it, ‘As much about whose toothbrush is next to mine in the bathroom, as about who I roger senseless.’

    That one of the most hurtful things one can say to somebody who loves a gay or lesbian is ‘We could cure them’ – no thanks, I want my son and my friends to be the person they are now. Their sexuality is part of that, and not just a matter of who is in their bed. It is part of the whole identity.

  6. To try to answer your first question, Kimberly, I think it may be helpful to start by going back to basics, and building the scaffolding around concepts of human rights. Since human beings are by definition sexual beings (and we are, however much some people might try to make us think otherwise), then it follows that each individual has (a) the right to sexual fulfilment; (b) the right to privacy in his/her sexual life and relationships; (c) the right not to be silenced, marginalised, or discriminated against.

    Like all rights, of course, the right to sexual fulfilment has to be exercised in a way which does not infringe other people’s rights. And, like all rights, it can be surrendered for sufficient reason, as in the case of those who embrace a life of celibacy.

    I suppose that really answers your second question, too. The thing I would like people to take away from the conversation is the deep conviction that each person’s sexual behaviour is a natural expression of their humanity, and the rights that flow from that, provided that there is equal respect for other’s rights.

  7. Naturally, and increasingly since Latin (and Greek) were axed from the syllabus, people struggle to get into a Graeco Romano mind set. Not merely does one find oneself explaining a world where Greek was the lingua franca, and the government was Roman. They see the love that did so often exist between husband and wife, and miss with the enforced marriage of girls, and, to a lesser extent, boys as well. The fact that a father really did have the right of life and death over his newly born child is also strange, as is the idea of some Christian growth coming from Christians compassionately picking up discarded new born children. The all-prevailing anxiety of that world that the new generation might not be created, and the endless attempts to push up the birth rate are strange to us, though the use of the veil in Islam has given us some insight i to how challenging the sometimes unveiled women of the churches really were. Hardest is the concept of homosexual unions being between a man and a boy, so that the man was not made less masculine, and the boy learned from his lover. We are used n to the Games, but not the fact that a man owned his slaves, and could command their bodies as he chose. Adultery? How can it be when I own the body?

  8. Do we have the right to fufillment – at least on our personally preferred terms? We have in Christ the promise of fulfillment (which is not the same thing). Fufillment in God’s terms may be very different from that which we have imaginged or desired. I have long wondered if the demand for fufillment in having a relationship with AN Other is what everyone is promised or guaranteed. To say it is leaves out the possiblity of deep fufillment through a celibate lifestyle which may not be our first choice but which may be our vocation. I agree with Eamonn that voluntary surrender may lead to this but wonder if the expectation of meeting Mr or Ms Right may close minds to the possiblity of the celibate life too easily?

  9. Yes, we do, Dougal. I carefully avoided using ‘satisfaction’ in order to make precisely the point that I see fulfilment as following our God-given vocation: which may be to marriage, partnership, or celibacy. Our ‘personally preferred terms’, indeed, may be the working-out of God’s purpose for us. It’s certainly true, though, that in our culture celibacy is too easily dismissed as a meaningful choice.

  10. It might be more helpful to think of homosexual partnerships as being, for some, God’s vocation, and his way of calling them to growth.

  11. Hi Kimberly, When my hubby did a 2 hour session on Homosexuality for our church during lent (his PhD is related etc) people seemed to also have a need for understanding the churches position and the implications of that position on the lives of gay Christians (both in ministry and not). I like the scaffolding and framework ideas though- but I think it very much depends on your congregation as to wether that will work- I think anyway. Here it worked well to outline 2 positions held commonly- locate the ‘church line’ in reference to those positions and then help people to see how people might be genuinely Christian in their positions- highlighting the issues they face. The group here then began to philosophize around the issues and the discussion broadenned out and has continued in other contexts.

    But I add this as a CoE perspective with a ‘church line’ that does cause many issues. I am not sure on any official position the Scottish Episcopal church has!

    I think I’d like people to come out with the understanding that in a Christian context the issue is not a straight forward one. No matter what people on either side of the debate say no worked out position on homosexuality does not rely on a lot of interpretation of difficult to understand scriptural passages and cultural backgrounds applying them to modern settings which look very different and any of those interpretive choices can and have been questioned. I’d like people to come away with less certainty that they know the answer and a respect for people of other opinions.

  12. thanks, knittingvicar. The ‘points and alignment’ approach may well find it’s way into Saturday.

    As for not not being aware of any official position in the Scottish Episcopal Church — a lot of people have worked quite hard to make that so. However, there was a statement a number of years back which says that ‘it has never been a bar to ordination’ for a gay person to have a partner.

    You must take that in the same spirit as ‘there has never been an authorized rite of blessing.’ So, blessing happen, though there is no liturgy. Gay people have found life in the church difficult even though there was no official ‘bar’. It depends on where you are and who the bishop is.

  13. I’m with Eamonn here in that I think that thinking about human rights has got to be part of the conversation.

    The thing is, once you admit that, it is very hard to go along with the idea that we should respect people of different opinions if the different opinions that they are advocating violate other people’s human rights.

  14. I think there is quite a lot of mileage in the concept of sexuality as vocation. That draws it away from the contentions of behaviour whichis/isn’t in line with biblical directions etc and into seeing it as a gift which can be used well or not as the case may be. Like any vocation it can be welcome or resisted and like vocation it may express itself differently as life goes on. Celibacy may be the call for a time, relationship for another. Although that may cause problems with a “line” that says stable permanent faithful ok, serial monogamy wrong.

  15. Thanks for letting me now the Scottish Episcopal Position- I think that position is actually more helpful…in some ways. But then having no official and confident statement probably causes issues itself- demonstrated in the difficulties experienced by gay people.

    Re human rights:-
    I agree it’s difficult to respect people whom we may feel are violating ‘human rights’ but my concern is to discuss things in a way that does not exclude one position as inadequate- even if individuals come to this conclusion by the end of a session(as they will). The thing I remember is that although I may disagree them doing so myself- people on both sides of the argument can us the language of human rights.

    I also think that although human rights language can be illuminating as to where liberals are coming from it’s not at all illuminating as to where conservatives are coming from because they only use the language defensively- so if you frame a debate in that way- you begin in a position that limits your understanding of both sides of the argument.

    I’ll be interested to hear how it goes Kimberly!

  16. If any contributor to this thread thinks that human and civil rights in this area can be taken for granted, see the item on the Thinking Anglicans website, ‘California Proposition Eight’

  17. I’m coming rather late to this debate, and probably too late to be useful, but here’s my two cents anyway! It’s an impressive list Kimberley, I’ll be very interested to hear how the workshop goes.

    I agree with the general drift of comments here about the importance of human rights. And I do think that starting with feminism and liberation theologies is useful. What would I want people to understand? Well, I think discussion about the way the bible is understood is always helpful and also an understanding of how folk in the SEC use scripture, reason and tradition (etc) to arrive at ways to live and be church and understand the world. I think that understanding the way people have done things in the past helps us understand change and that the way we do things now isn’t ‘the way things have always been done’ or ‘the way things are’ but simply ‘the way things are now for some people’. Anyway, that’s a bit of a ramble, not sure how much sense it makes!

  18. Kimberly
    sorry haven’t been able to give my usual tuppence worth – am currently away. I know that the discussion you have with the congregation is a confidential thing – but it would be interesting to know what the general mood is. I am away at inclusivity: Equality and diversity conferences at the moment – and everyone is being incredibly nice (because we all – ie the participants- think that there are issues to deal with) but what about the folk who wouldn’t come to such events?
    Hope all well 🙂

  19. Thanks Vicky. I will try to offer some reflections on the meeting without breaching confidentiality.

    But given that on Tuesday, I had three properly theological posts running round my head and still haven’t had time to write any of them, I cannot promise. (The missing blog posts, by the way, are on liturgy-as-healing; mourning, loss of dreams and imaginary orchestras; and big bang day. Any preference, should I ever get round to writing one up?)

    As for tomorrow’s meeting, I took my usual approach and asked you all for information. As the meeting draws near, what I suspect I actually need is your prayers that I will find a way to support open conversation at whatever level it needs to happen, when some of that conversation may be far from where I wish it would be.

  20. ‘loss of dreams and imaginary orchestras’ sounds very interesting Kimberly.

    I hope and pray that tomorrow is truly open and that you all find the tools and space you need to listen and speak to one another.

  21. Loss of dreams and imaginary orchestras, and then healing-as-liturgy please!! I’ve been thinking about liturgy alot recently (hard not to with servers training day this morning!) and am intrigued to hear your thoughts on how liturgy is (or might be) healing.

  22. Yes – ditto Elizabeth. I’m very curious about loss of dreams and imaginary orchestras but would love to hear what you have to say about liturgy-as-healing. Any chance of both?

    Really hope today went well – was thinking of you as I was at the Edinburgh Diocese post-Lambeth conference where we were obviously touching on similar issues.

  23. Dreams and mourning attract me. And feedback from this discussion … if only things had been otherwise I’d have been there.

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