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Equal Marriage Discussion in the Belfast Telegraph

Faith and Pride

I have had a letter on equal marriage published in the Belfast Telegraph. The letter was shortened a bit for publication. The original is below.

Dear Sir,

With reference to Cynthia Campbell’s letter about same-sex laws (Letters, February 12), I would simply like to say that, as a practising Christian who takes God seriously and so believes the Bible’s teaching and prophesies and guidelines, I have to adhere to what it says about homosexuality as much as to any other subject.

So, as marriage is ordained by God in the first place and as being not for procreation but for companionship (Genesis 2:18), then you might consider that anything suggested by man as being a marriage does actually make it one as long as it meets this criterion. Christians who believe that marriage is about procreation should take note that procreation is not mentioned until after the Fall.

As the founder…

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Fencing Around the Gospel

I started learning to drive recently, and I am really enjoying it. There is something magical about controlling 1,500kg of steel with a tiny amount of pressure from my hands and feet. So magical, in fact, that it is very easy to accidentally use a little too much pressure on the right foot, and without even realising it, break the speed limit. So what do I do? When I’m driving, I usually aim to go slightly below the speed limit – say 28 mph in a 30 zone. That way, when I inevitably make a mistake and go too fast, I am still within the speed limit (and, at the same time, I’m not going so slowly that I cause problems for other drivers).  This additional personal constraint means I don’t break the speed limit.

This is not dissimilar to  chumra, a prohibition or obligation in Jewish practice that exceeds the bare requirements of Jewish law. This is also known as building a “fence around the Torah”. You know what the commandments of God are, and where you think you might be prone to breaking them, you put in additional restrictions to help you keep God’s commandments. This is a good idea, as long as you know the difference between your fence and God’s commandments.

People have been building fences like these for thousands of years. In fact, the first fence in the Bible can be found in Genesis Chapter 3. The first recorded commandment of God is in Genesis 2:16-17:

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”(NIV)

Eve repeats the commandment in Genesis 3:2-3:

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”(NIV)

Adam and Eve were not to eat from the tree, but Eve had built a fence around that commandment: she said that it was forbidden to touch the tree. Now, I think it was quite sensible to decide that the tree should not be touched. After all, if you don’t allow yourself to even touch the tree, then you are avoiding some situations where you might be tempted to eat from it. The problem is, Eve forgot that the no touching rule was a human rule, not a commandment of God. It was, as Mark 7:7 would say,  “teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” (KJV)

Living as a Christian is not the same as living under the Law of Moses. We don’t have lists of commandments that we must follow. Nonetheless, there are ways that Christians ought to behave, and many of us build our own “fences around the Gospel”. The trouble is, it is very easy to forget that our fences are only our fences. Someone else may need a completely different fence. I know Christians who refuse to do any work on a Sunday, regarding it as the Lord’s day. That is fine for them. It works for them, but Christians don’t have to take this attitude. As long as we remember the “no work on a Sunday” rule is a personal fence, then nobody is teaching for doctrine the commandments of men.

There is another fence that many Christians put around the gospel, but they don’t realise it. Matthew 19:4-6:

 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”(NIV)

Someone recently said to me, using this passage as proof, “God made only one plan for human sexuality: one man and one woman in a covenantal marriage relationship for life.” Nobody could read that passage and think that God somehow disapproved of one man and one woman in a lifelong married relationship, but it is a fence around the Gospel to say that is the only way to live, and it is teaching for doctrines the commandments of men to say that God says this is the only way to live. Paul actively discourages marriage in 1 Corinthians 7, but we don’t even have to leave Matthew 19 to find out that not everybody can live in that way, “but only those to whom it has been given.” (Matthew 19:11, NIV)

When a Christian takes the teaching of Matthew 19 and decides that they are one of those to “whom it has been given” and they will lead their lives accordingly, then that is a good thing. They have built themselves a little fence around the Gospel. When the same Christian decides that their fence should apply to everybody then it ceases to be a fence, and it becomes “teaching for doctrine the commandments of men.” That is a sin that is as serious as the one that Eve committed, all the way back in Genesis.

My Favourite Translation of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10

My favourite translation of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 is from The Message.

Don’t you realize that this is not the way to live? Unjust people who don’t care about God will not be joining in his kingdom. Those who use and abuse each other, use and abuse sex, use and abuse the earth and everything in it, don’t qualify as citizens in God’s kingdom.

Translating the vice lists in Paul’s letters is hard. Even if we know exactly what a particular word means in the context of the 1st Century (and we often don’t) it isn’t clear how to understand a 1st Century sin in a 21st Century context. For practical purposes, the vice lists shouldn’t be understood as lists of specific prohibitions, but rather as general guidelines on how to behave. I think The Message translates this vice list perfectly. It covers the general meanings of the terms, and it is in harmony with the types of behaviour that mean we do qualify as citizens in God’s kingdom.

My Least Favourite Translation of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10

I think my least favourite translation of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 is the New King James translation:

 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.

Neither homosexuals nor sodomites will inherit the kingdom of God?  I’m not sure I know what the difference between a homosexual and a sodomite is…

For more about the translation of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, see Same-Sex Relationships: 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy, and Same-Sex Relationships: 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy Revisited.

Why I’m Not Going to See Ender’s Game

A few years ago I read the novel Ender’s Game. It is a good, if somewhat odd, book about a child soldier in the year 2070.

There is a movie based on the book, which is currently on general release in the UK. I’m not going to see the movie.

Why? Because Orson Scott Card, the author of Ender’s Game, is a homophobe. He isn’t just a run-of-the-mill homophobe either. He’s quite an extreme one. Up until recently he was on the board of the National Organisation for Marriage, a US body that opposes same-sex marriage, and he has said that same-sex marriage marks the end of democracy in America.

Even though it turns out that the money that Orson Scott Card will make from the film will not be affected by the number of people who see the film, I’m still not going to see it. My reasons for not seeing the film are not primarily economic. I don’t want to see the film because I don’t want to be associated with Orson Scott Card and his deeply offensive views, even indirectly by seeing a film based on one of his books.

 

Andrew McFarland Campbell’s Very Short Guide to Debunking The Six Traditional Clobber Passages

There are six passages traditionally used to say you can’t be gay and Christian: Genesis 19, Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13, Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, and 1 Timothy 1:9-10.

Genesis 19 is about gang rape. Anyone who says this has anything to say about consensual relationships has bigger problems than Biblical interpretation.

Leviticus is part of the Law of Moses, which is not binding on Christians. In any case the verses use an obscure Hebrew idiom that is rather unclear (as can been seen in the KJV translation).

Romans 1 26 and 27 does speak about same-sex relationships in a negative light, but then again verses 25 and 25 speak about opposite-sex relationships in an equally negative light. Nobody believes that Romans 1 teaches you can’t be straight and Christian.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:9-10 use an obscure Greek word, arsenokoites, which is also used to refer to heterosexual sin. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 also uses the word malakos, which is not a sexual term. If these passages were supposed to be about same-sex relationships, the writer could have used a lot of other, more common, terms.

The Man I Want to be When I Grow Up

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In 2009, I decided to get involved with running Belfast Pride, so I showed up at their AGM. I was sitting in my seat, looking round me, waiting for the meeting to begin. I looked up and saw I was being stared at, by an eccentric older gentleman, who was peering over his glasses at me. He quickly moved on and peered at the next person in the row. He shuffled over to another seat and sat down.

That was the first time I met PA Maglochlainn.

At the AGM I stood for election and duly became a committee member, and through the committee I came to know PA. He would often fall asleep during committee meetings, and then suddenly, when a relevant question was asked, he would wake up and make an insightful observation that showed he had been listening to everything that was said, even if he were resting his eyes.

Cast your mind back 20, 25 years. Imagine that you are a young gay man in Northern Ireland. You have just been arrested for doing something innocuous, something that wouldn’t be a problem if you were straight. The charges won’t stick, but you still need to defend yourself. Who do you call? Or maybe you are the subject of homophobic abuse at home, or in the office. Who will help you? The answer, for so many people, was PA. If you were in trouble, you picked up the phone and you called him.

When somebody is old and they die, there is a terrible tendency to remember the old person, and not the person that they were. PA, when he was younger, was a remarkable man. But here’s the thing. PA, when he was older was still a remarkable man. Nowadays (partly thanks to PA’s work) gay men don’t have to fear arrest, but we still face trouble because of who we are. When that trouble came, who did you call? Even in 2012, at the end of his life, when there were many other people and agencies you could call, you could still pick up the phone and call PA.

It is a truism to say that a funeral is a celebration of someone’s life, but when you look back at what PA achieved, when you think about the people he helped, you can’t help but be joyful that he lived. He touched so many lives in so many positive ways.

Tonight I get to go home to the house that I share with my husband. I get to do that because of the work that PA did. All across Northern Ireland, thousands of LGBT people’s candles burn brighter because of him.

This entry was posted on 15 November, 2012, in Gay. 1 Comment