Tag Archives: Alan’s Blog

What is your Ministry?

We are currently in the middle of a Stewardship campaign, and this Sunday we are looking at people’s ministries.  Most would not recognise what they do as a ministry, and there are still pockets where it is thought that “ministry is what the vicar does”.  We are also a church with lots of needs (or opportunities), however, we do not believe in focusing on “filling the jobs”; yes there are a few jobs which need to be done, but in the vast majority of cases if there is no one to do them and they cease it isn’t the end of the church!

Instead, we want to encourage people to discover their ministries and to take part in them – even if they are things we aren’t currently doing.  The theology behind this is that God has given the church certain gifts, and surely they are for using, and not for suppressing in the name of a need for people to do something else.  If God wanted us doing something else then surely he would have given us the resources to do it?

There are a lot of books and tests out there looking at identifying your ministry, most I have found are quite Charismatic.  However, if that isn’t your cup of tea there are still some interesting ideas that can be taken from them.  One, “What you do best in the body of Christ“, suggests that you look at yourself in three dimensions:

Your spiritual gifts

These are the different roles that are referred to in the New Testament:

And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues.

There are of course sub roles within these, but the question is, which has God given you?

Your personal style

This is related to many of the secular tests that there are; eg Myers Briggs.  This tells you what your preferences are (not your abilities) (see here for a test).  We find it easier to work with our preferences, but can work in other areas too.

Your Passion

This is something that you feel strongly about – it is not necessarily something you are good at; for example you may have a passion for children’s work, but can’t handle being with them!  That is OK.  If administration is your thing you could administer a children’s club of some kind.

By looking at all three of your gift areas it should be possible to identify something which is your specific ministry, your specific calling.  The challenge then is to find time to go and fulfil it!

Alan

Is Gay Sex a Sin – Reason

So far I have looked at the Bible and not found any reason to object to gay sex in and of itself (as with any activity it may be sinful depending on the other circumstances), I have looked at values and found them of limited help, and in my initial list of ways of looking at this I tackled Tradition.  That leaves Consequences and Reason from that initial list.

I tend to dislike consequences as they are so difficult to predict.  However, I think it would be true to say that Gay Sex has been going on for rather a long time, so any attempt to blame the changes in society on it are doomed to failure; attempts to discuss the health impacts on the participants lead us to the health impact of other behaviours (eg smoking); and in fact it is difficult to define gay sex other than as activity between people of the same gender, as straight couples can, and some do, engage in the same behaviours.

So on to reason.

One of the arguments against gay sex is that it is not within the context of marriage (note: this is not about the activity, but the context), and yet those who object to gay sex in this way will often want to deny same sex marriage.  Why?  (I know the argument that if the behaviour is sinful then institutionalising it is bad – but that doesn’t define the behaviour as sinful).

Another is that being gay is a choice, and consequently it is sinful because if we are all made in God’s image then acting outside of that is sinful (not sure where the argument that God is straight comes from though).  However, without the argument of God’s sexuality the argument falls.  Despite this there have been debates about whether there is a “gay gene“, with the existence being used to argue that if God made gay people gay then it is OK; but why is God restricted to making people by genetics?

Finally, the only difference between gay sex and straight sex is that straight sex can lead to pregnancy (at least in theory).  Roman Catholic theology requires that each conjugal act be open to conception, and this argument would appear to clinch it – except I don’t hear many priests condemning contraception in the same terms as they will condemn gay sex, and any church which allows contraception immediately loses this argument!

Alan

 

Is Gay Sex a Sin – Values

This is a continuation of my exploration of this issue, started here.  In previous posts I have looked at the Bible and at Sin, and today wish to look to values.

Probably the biggest cause of the difference in opinion between Christians on this topic and any other is whether God is a God of judgement, or of love and forgiveness.  I have written elsewhere about how our underlying values can affect our decisions, and the difference between the two can cause an enormous gulf between resulting outcomes.  (As an aside, somehow we need to walk the tightrope between the two).  However, this is not quite what it seems, as whether God is judgemental or loving only affects our view if we think that the behaviour in question is wrong.  If there is nothing wrong with the behaviour then it is irrelevant whether God is loving or judgemental!

This doesn’t then help us answer the question above.  Back to the drawing board.

Alan

Is Gay Sex a Sin? – What is Sin

So I have already dived straight in to look at what the Bible says – but if we are going to ask whether gay sex is a sin we need to look at what the definition of sin is.

An immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law.

This is perhaps the most common understanding, but within Christianity there is also a sense of sin as a falling short, and we have all fallen short, we are all sinners.  However, this can be overcome by repentance.

There then become two arguments – is gay sex a sin, and if it is why is it different to other sins.  This whole series is an attempt to look at the first of the questions, and starts from the premise that in and of itself it isn’t (although as with straight married sex there can be times when it is sinful, depending on the surrounding attitudes).

So why do those who see gay sex as a sin see it as different from other sins?  My understanding of this is that it is because they see a lack of repentance.  Of course if you do not see it as a sin there is no need for repentance.  This can be evidenced in the Roman Catholic Church where, as I understand it, marriage after divorce shows a lack of repentance, as it shows no intent to reform.  Perhaps that is why those against gay sex also tend to be against gay marriage.

We are back to is gay sex a sin – I have already tackled a Biblical view, and will go on to look at others in later posts.

Alan

Is Gay Sex a Sin – The Bible

In the previous post I looked at what I thought; I am now going to start a series of posts looking at why.  In this one I will look at the Bible.

There are thought to be eight main passages which have been taken to condemn gay sex, these are sometimes known as “clobber texts”.  There is lots of material out there on these, for example this, and this.

There are also two Greenbelt talks by James Alison on the topic: here and here.

There are obviously other interpretations of these passages, but it rather depends how you choose to interpret the Bible.

To give a couple of examples:

You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.
Leviticus 18:22.

When Lesley was quoted this in debate she asked whether it meant that she should be a lesbian!  If you want to read the Bible taking the plain meaning of the words then that is what it appears to say.  Of course, people will argue that in the culture of the time only men were being addressed, but then you are no longer using the plain meaning.

If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination;
Leviticus 20:13a

This verse of course would appear to resolve the problem (note though, that the plain meaning does not forbid lesbianism); however, if you read the second half of the verse

they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.

I hear very few people suggesting that this should be carried out, and surely the plain meaning of a sentence should be all or nothing?

The other argument against gay sex would be that all sex outside marriage is forbidden – however, what is the definition of marriage?  The nature of marriage has changed over the years; in Biblical times Jewish marriage didn’t involve the religious leaders; and in our theology lectures we were taught that the couple are the ministers of the marriage, we are there to legally register it and to call God’s blessing upon it.  We were also asked when we thought a couple got married: when they first had sex, when they first promised each other that they would be a couple or when they got the certificate?  The previous two links would allow a number of different answers to that – however, if the couple are the ministers of the marriage then it is possible for a gay couple to be married.

So what do you think?

Alan

Is Gay Sex a sin?

Yesterday I read this blog post, and it really set me thinking.  My initial reaction was “no”, but so much lies behind that that I think it will take me several blog posts to unpack it all.  I then moved on to “it depends”, which is where I am at present.

If you believe that our beliefs come from Scripture, Tradition and Reason, with Experience as either a fourth leg, and if you accept that morality has thee main sources, Rules, Consequences and Values, then there are a variety of ways to reach an answer on this.

If you believe in Sola Scriptura and Biblical Literalism then you are also likely to give rules precedence, and interpreting the Bible literally will answer “yes”.

If you believe primarily in tradition you too are likely to give rules precedence and will probably answer “yes” (although traditions can change – take divorce as an example).  The reason that I write probably is that in medieval times there was a form of service to join together two men!

If, like me you, give reason good space, and are more inclined to look to Values or Consequences then the answer is more complicated, and there could well be people on either side of the debate (after all consequences are hard to predict, and different values can be drawn from the Bible).

To avoid drawing ire from at least one side of the debate, the reason that I say “it depends” is not because I think in and of itself gay sex is a sin, but because I think many things can be a sin, depending on circumstances – but that is a whole other blog post!

Alan

13 May 2017 – Article edited to change title from “Is Gay Marriage a Sin?” – I was  responding to an article which asked the question which is now the title and inexplicably wrote something else!

 

Atheism!

Yesterday we had a Bishop’s Study Day with John Lennox.  The topic was understanding the New Atheists (and why they are wrong!).  In the introduction they were compared to a tsunami, whose initial fury has passed, but which has left behind a changed landscape in which we have to minister.

I thought that he made some very good points about the flaws in some of the New Atheist arguments, but felt that when he tried to propose arguments that proved the existence of God they too were flawed.  But then, I believe in epistemic distance, and the impossibility of proving* the existence of God!

He showed that materialism fails when you look at something like writing – you cannot use materialism to show why the symbols mean what they mean.

He also showed that there are two answers to the question: “Why did the kettle boil?”  One is a scientific description of how heat boils water, and what happens; the other “because I wanted a cup of coffee”!  Science and religion are not answering the same question.

He pointed out that very often the New Atheists use poor science and/or poor logic; “Do not accept anything that can’t be proven by science” cannot be proven by science!

However, it was when he got on to trying to prove that Christianity and science were more compatible than atheism and science that I felt his logic was lacking.  The idea was based on the fact that science is developed by the brain, and if evolution is right then the brain is the result of a random process – he then asks people if they would accept results from a computer that was developed by a random process and when they say “no” asks why they trust the brain.  Whereas, if the brain is created by a creator then you would expect it to work.  Earlier he had criticised the New Atheists for making seemingly correct statements which people would agree with, but which led to atheism (I have forgotten the example :().  I feel that here he is making the same mistake.  If we accept that we cannot prove* anything, then it is a case of looking for evidence.  If a computer was developed using the same processes as evolution why would you not accept it?  (In some ways it is, think about how many computers have been developed over the years, and how many have died out – let alone those that never made it to market?).

Yes, we can point out the flaws in others arguments, but the only argument for faith that I have found is the evidence from scripture, tradition, reason and experience, and for me epistemic distance means that experience is the most significant of these, but also the one which is least amenable to proving it to anyone else!

* When talking about proving he explained that only in mathematics can you prove anything.  In all other contexts you can only provide evidence which may be wrong!  However, in this piece I shall refer to proving!!

Election – Archbishops letter

The Archbishops have written a letter (pdf) to “The Parishes and Chaplaincies of the Church of England”.  I read it yesterday morning and really struggled to get through it, losing the will to live several times, and not really getting what they were driving at.  I have just put it through Word to get a Flesch–Kincaid readability score.  It scores 40.5/13.9, which means that it is harder to read than philosophers!  Do they want us to read what they are writing?

Of those who have spent more time than me trying to understand it, at least some are unimpressed with the content.

Personally, I find this post simpler to understand and more theological – but also more controversial as it takes a more partisan line.

Perhaps the difficulty for the Archbishops is that Christians can legitimately support many different parties, so they feel the need to be even handed – but surely there are Christian values which might determine our approach, which they could draw attention to?  Last election they published a longer document (pdf) that attempted to do just this.  Why not this time?

Alan

Can we divorce policy from values?

Donald Trump’s “America first” approach to the world means decoupling US foreign policy from values such as human rights and freedom.

When I first read the above I couldn’t believe my eyes.  I still struggle with it.  Can we really say they some things are our values and then purposely do things opposed to them?  Of course, most of us do, but I don’t think we do it as a matter of policy.

When I wrote about ethics I gave three ways in which we can make ethical decisions; rules, consequences and values.  It would appear that America don’t take much notice of rules as recent bombings have been “legally questionable“; if foreign policy is decoupled from values such as freedom (a key American value one would think) that means they are not driven by values.  This means that US foreign policy is driven by consequences – but what consequences?

What are the consequences of telling the world that you don’t value human rights and freedom highly enough to base your foreign policy on them?

I fear that the consequences that are driving the foreign policy are short term results – just as foreign policy on Iraq and Afghanistan have been.

Am I being unrealistic in expecting foreign policy (not just American) to be based on values rather than short term outcomes?

Alan