Happy, Clappy, Not very Savvy

A piece by Jerome Taylor in the Independent today makes one of the usual mistakes when discussing homosexuality and the Church, namely to think that if a person does one thing right that means that everything in their life must be right.

Benny HazlehurstLike Jeremy Marks, Reverend Hazlehurst spent much of his life fervently convinced that homosexuality was wrong. And his conversion is no less dramatic. Sitting in a café in Dorchester, where he now works as a prison chaplain, he charts his dramatic volte face.

Born into a relatively liberal high Anglican family, he became evangelical in his teens and decided to enter the church. Throughout theological college and his early working life he remained convinced that the scriptures insisted all forms of homosexuality were sinful. The discovery that friends and colleagues were gay confused him. He could see so much of the good they did, but every time he returned to the Bible – principally two verses in Leviticus and four verses in the New Testament  – he saw what he felt was a clear cut theological position.

Over time he began to describe himself as an affirming evangelical – someone who tolerates and welcomes homosexuals but nonetheless believes scripture clearly forbids same sex relationships. Then in early 2003 he had a revelation – one that came from the depths of personal tragedy.

One April morning his wife Mel was struck down by an articulated lorry while cycling near their home in South London. She survived but for months it looked like Mel would remain in a coma and even when she looked like she might just pull through she was hit by an infection. Rev Hazlehurst’s faith was shaken and, he says, he might have lost it altogether were in not for one man: the now Dean of St Albans Jeffrey John.

At that exact time Jeffrey John – one of the few senior Anglicans to be open about being in a same sex-relationship – was made the Bishop of Reading. The reaction from the conservative evangelicals was swift and brutal. John was vilified and condemned as a sinner who could not possibly be a leader. Some even threatened to split the Anglican Church in two if his appointment was continued. Eventually the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams pushed for Jeffrey John to back down and he reluctantly resigned his post.

“Two months after the accident it looked like Mel was dying and I was in pieces,” Rev Hazlehurst explained. “Jeffrey was there for me at that time, even though that was exactly the same time he couldn’t go home at night because of all the press camped out on his lawn and he was being torn apart by one half the Church.”

He added: “It felt like to me that the fruit of his life was so profound and he was being Christ to me in such a profound way that I needed to go back to the Bible and re-examine what it said. It didn’t feel right that God said this person was being sinful. And when I went back the blinkers were gone, I suddenly saw things in a new way.”

Well that’s interesting. Break down the story though and we see clearly what the problem with it is. Firstly, Hazlehurst describes himself as affirming before 2003 because he “welcomed and tolerated homosexuals”, so on that basis we’re all pretty much affirming. Then his great conversion came because someone was nice to him.

Look, I’m not saying Jeffrey John was anything but superb in how he helped Benny, but the simple truth of the matter is that Christians who are fruitful in many areas still sin and their fruitfulness in those other areas doesn’t suddenly validate their sin. I’m a pretty decent chap and you’ll find lots of people who will tell you how marvellously pastoral I am. At the same time speak to my family and they’ll tell you that I can be a selfish, angry, lazy person at the best of times. Does the fact that I’ve helped so many people and done so much for charity (don’t like to talk about it) mean that my selfish, lazy moments are actually OK and even good?

It’s a ridiculous way of arguing – “this person was nice to me so therefore every aspect of their life must be OK”. Come on, let’s not be so silly. We all know that one virtuous aspect of our life does not mitigate a sinful behaviour. There is absolutely no contradiction in saying that Jeffrey John was a superb pastor in this instance (even if he’s a lousy biblical preacher) and yet he is both seriously wrong on the issue of sexual behaviour and he is unrepentant for previous sin. But let’s not say that because he does kind and generous things that must mean that all his choices are correct.

Thankfully, Jerome’s piece eventually moves onto actual theology, but then once again like all these pieces we get blanket statements with no support.

The Old Testament, for example, tends to condemn homosexuality as a  form of cultic or temple prostitution while Paul’s writings in the New Testament on same sex relationships are aimed at a Roman audience, one which encouraged same sex relationships outside of marriage for largely pleasurable reasons.

Oh good grief. What nonsense. There is nothing in the Old Testament passages on the subject which has any reference to cultic or temple prostitution. Nothing. If Jerome Taylor (or Hazlehurst or Bakker) want to suggest otherwise then give me chapter and verse. I’ve got my critical Hebrew text open on my desk so we can do the verses one by one. Where are the references to prostitution or cultic behaviour? There aren’t any – they are imposed on the text with no evidence whatsoever.

As for the New Testament verses, we’ve done those to death on this site but in case you’re in any doubt try here, here, here, here and here (for starters). It can be easily demonstrated that the claims made above that those verses are “aimed at a Roman audience, one which encouraged same sex relationships outside of marriage for largely pleasurable reasons” are way too bold, sometimes fabricated and also internally inconsistent.

But the best is yet to come.

“There is nothing in the Bible which condemns consensual, loving, committed gay relationships,” concludes Rev Hazlehurst.

True, but there’s also nothing in the Bible that explicitly condemns consensual, loving, committed incestuous relationships (and if you think that such a thing doesn’t exist you really must get out more). Does that mean they’re OK?

No, didn’t think so. Tortuous logic once again.

Put all that aside and it’s an interesting piece on how some Evangelicals are changing their minds on the subject. What’s even more interesting though are the number of evangelicals who are quite happy to admit to same-sex attractions and yet don’t buy into this shallow theology. Did you know an interesting fact? True Freedom Trust has *way* more members then groups like Changing Attitude. On top of that, increasingly more and more leaders in the Evangelical Church who are homosexual are willing to stand up and say that despite their sexual attractions they don’t follow the revisionist way of thinking and instead experience fulfilled lives letting God be God and trying to follow his desires for their lives.

Now, let’s wait for Jerome Taylor to do that piece…

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  • cerebusboy

    Well, one could say that (how much one wants to add a “+”!) Jeffrey John’s kind, pastoral behaviour does indicate that the gays aren’t all busy with the supposed ‘gay lifestyle’ of fisting randoms and taking drugs. If certain conservatives (hello Jill! ;-)) didn’t invoke such pernicious stereotypes then it would not be significant when the behaviour of actual gay people negates them. As analogy, I’d imagine many an abstract anti-semite might find actual encounters with Jewish people a good stereotype-destroyer.

    But, yes, of course it’s silly indeed to deduce overarching theological conclusions on homosexuality and the bible from Jeffrey’s fine behaviour!

    • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

      This is a very good point. When presented with negative stereotypes compared with real people’s lives, no wonder many naive people can’t then make the proper theological judgements when those who should have been discipling and educating them are seen to be deluded at best and lying at worst.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Homfray/510980099 Mike Homfray

        But that’s because you have a very particular way of looking at theology – liberals value experience just as much as tradition or scripture. You don’t, but that’s purely your (conservative evangelical) opinion.
        As it happens, I tend to think the Bible is condemnatory, and that’s why I stopped being a Christian, because I came to the conclusion that Christianity was simply wrong. I’m glad to have reached that conclusion, because it makes sense to me, but I still know many who retain a faith and have reached a very different conclusion to you.

        • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

          But if experience trumps Scripture, why bother making a (poor) Biblical argument?

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Homfray/510980099 Mike Homfray

            I don’t disagree! I find evangelical Christianity both wrong and unattractive and think a simple explanation of the Bible being a flawed human construction and so full of mistakes and cultural assumptions is more the case. In fact, many liberals believe this anyway, I certainly did when I was a liberal High Churchman!

            I do think that there are many people who are from evangelical backgrounds, but have actually become liberals over the years – but still feel an affinity to evangelicalism even though theologically, they don’t really see things from an evangelical perspective any more.

          • cerebusboy

            well, surely one could argue that Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience can be thought of as X-Factor judges, and it’s better to get the thumbs-up from three or four rather than just one?
            ;)

            • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

              The first three certainly, but not in a manner that contradicts. That’s classic Anglicanism (via Hooker), not the modern “take your pick” approach (which would have Hooker turning in his grave).

              • cerebusboy

                Perhaps, but surely most modern evangelicals would concede that what Hooker proposed was a model, and that it’s perfectly licit to revise a model? Yer SDGers would surely say that the original model is, like the liberal four-legged stool, potentially dilutionary!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Homfray/510980099 Mike Homfray

    Sounds to me that he changed his mind and did this because of personal experiences. To me that sounds like absolute common-sense, but then I don’t believe in the idea of ‘revealed religious truth’ in the way an evangelical would.
    And having known people in True Freedom Trust, their membership is far lower that Changing Attitude – not that its at all relevant. Compared to the very large and ever growing number of people who feel able to be openly gay or lesbian, the number of those who want to repress their sexuality for religious reasons is absolutely tiny

  • http://philgroom.wordpress.com/ Phil Groom

    Way to go, Peter: shout ‘em down! Because that’s what this sounds like: angry post-gay doesn’t like what he’s reading…

    • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

      Who’s the one shouting Phil?

  • David Morris

    I’m glad you covered this article. It was quite poor, but it did remind me of something by Daryl Hart (Not shall, but when, did the fundamentalists win), in that it seems that it’s not acceptable to disagree anymore. In fact, someone’s degree of acceptability is determined by whether they agree with the right social stances (this works in all kinds of ways). NT Wright said something similar, when he argued that we don’t live in an amoral age….

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