Thanks to John Richardson for giving me the link to this article in the Guardian by Gene Robinson, the controversial gay Bishop of New Hampshire, who last month “entered into a civil union with his longtime partner”, becoming “a June bride”.
I can’t help wondering whether John’s reaction to this article is more to its author than to its content. In fact there is very little to object to in its content, beyond the rather trivial objection to the wording “God’s self”, popular in some circles to avoid using specifically masculine pronouns for God.
Now I suppose John’s reaction to Gene is based on these sentiments:
My conservative brothers and sisters seem to argue that God revealed everything to us in scripture. …
Isn’t God – the living God – constantly making God’s self and God’s will more perfectly known to the church over time?
I can understand someone like John reacting against this kind of statement, especially from Gene and because he is already presupposing where Gene is going next. But it is in fact standard evangelical theology that God continues to reveal things to his people, such as his will for their lives, individually and as a church, and what he wants preachers to preach about Sunday by Sunday. Only the most hardline cessationists would deny that God guides his servants and his church today.
Of course the evangelical position is that such guidance will always be within the limits imposed by Scripture. And I would agree. But does Gene Robinson disagree? I’m not sure. His point is surely more that such guidance will sometimes take us beyond traditional interpretations of Scripture:
God, of course, was not and is not changing – but our ability to apprehend and comprehend God’s will for us is. Through the leading of the Holy Spirit, the church was led to permit eating things proscribed by Leviticus, to oppose slavery (after centuries of using scripture to defend it), and to permit and bless remarriage after divorce (despite Jesus’ calling it adultery).
Even on this last point, I would argue, even if Gene doesn’t, that this is a matter of reinterpreting the Scriputres concerning exactly what Jesus was calling adultery.
The real controversy of course comes here:
And now, by the leading of that same Spirit, we are beginning to welcome those who have heretofore been marginalised or excluded altogether: people of colour, women, the physically challenged, and God’s children who happen to be gay.
But note what he says in this last phrase, and what he does not say. He clearly believes that there are people who “happen to be gay” in the sense of having an inner homosexual orientation. There are certainly people who believe this of themselves. And Gene is saying that such people should be welcomed rather than marginalised. He is referring to people as they are or understand themselves to be, not to what they do. On this basis, I fully agree!
There is of course a point on which I would disagree with Gene. I would hold that the church should not unconditionally welcome those who persist in sexual intercourse outside a monogamous heterosexual marriage – a matter of what people do rather than who they are. Presumably Gene would disagree. But that is an issue which he does not even mention in this article.
So I can fully endorse Gene’s next paragraph:
This is the God I know in my life – who loves me, interacts with me, teaches and summons me closer and closer to God’s truth. This God is alive and well and active in the church – not locked up in scripture 2,000 years ago, having said everything that needed to be said, but rather still interacting with us, calling us to love one another as he loves us. It is the brilliance of Anglicanism that we first and foremost read scripture, and then interpret it in light of church tradition and human reason. No one of us alone can be trusted to such a process because, left to our own devices, we recast God’s will in our own image. But in the community of the church, together we are able to discern God’s will for us – and sometimes that may mean reinterpreting and even changing old understandings of things thought settled long ago.