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Pride 2017 – The Canaanite Woman: Challenging Jesus, the Church and Society.

Today was Chesterfield Pride and as with the last couple of years The Order of the Black Sheep had a service to celebrate pride before going to join in. The service was based on the following reading from Matthew 15.

The Faith of a Canaanite Woman 

21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David,have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.”And her daughter was healed at that moment.

This is a difficult reading and one that I would usually shy away from. It’s really difficult for us to hear of Jesus turning someone away – never mind calling her a dog. However maybe there is a reading that offers some redemption to this passage.

I really love that it is a woman that has the audacity to challenge Jesus in this way. A woman who dares to say this isn’t right, I have value.

There are two things that I dislike about this interaction the first is that it is said to have happened at all, but maybe there is a reason that this is recorded for us. The second is that when she challenges Jesus she asks for the crumbs from the floor – rather than to be included in the feast. Maybe the remark was more cutting than we are inclined to read it, maybe the whole interaction isn’t recorded and this is all that got captured, or maybe she was just so desperate that all she could find herself doing was to beg – even for the crumbs. In challenging Jesus she changes him and is given her right to be included, he tells her that she has great faith.

And what great faith LGBT+ people who are still part of a church that so often has denied us even the crumbs from the floor must have. A church that we have to challenge in order to change it and be included in the feast. These changes are slowly happening but we cannot stop challenging the Church in this way until we have full inclusion.

Likewise society does not just give LGBT+ people our rights but we have to challenge it so that it will change – starting at Stonewall. And Pride should continue in this tradition of challenging society, demanding not just for the scraps from the floor but for our place at the feast, where all belong.

This week will mark the 50th anniversary since the first step of decriminalising homosexuality in the UK, but we still have further to go both here and throughout the world. Pride should be a celebration of everything that we have achieved but it should also be a protests that continues to challenge society until all have been given thier rightful place at the table.


Pride Service 2016

The Order of the Black Sheep logo, rainbow pride

Here’s the talk from this year’s Order of the Black Sheep Chesterfield Pride service held at The Crooked Spire (St Mary and all saints) on the 24th July. The reading was Luke 11:1-3.

In today’s reading, which we have just heard, Jesus is teaching the disciples how to pray. I’d like to explore a little what I think prayer is and what that means for those of us who are lgbt/queer or allies. At the Godly Mayhem conference a couple of years ago George Elerick said that prayer is “revolutionary discourse that leads to material change”. In other words, prayer is that which has a positive impact on the world around us. We can take this to mean that we pray and what we ask for will be done – after all Jesus says in this reading that everyone who asks will receive – for everyone who knocks the door will open.

Now I don’t know about you but not everything I have prayed for has happened, despite this promise from Jesus. So I think we need to take a look at this again and I’d like to look at two of the outworkings of this that I see in the world.

Firstly Jesus’ instructs the disciples to pray “Your kingdom come on earth as in heaven” in the Lord’s Prayer. Elsewhere Jesus says that the “Kingdom of God is within you”. I don’t think that the prayer for the kingdom to come to earth is so much a prayer for God to force the kingdom to come but is a prayer that causes the kingdom to come through us. You may have heard it said that “prayer doesn’t change God, it changes me” or another example – the Pope recently saying “First you pray for the hungry, then you feed them – that’s the way prayer works”. I believe that one of the main purposes of prayer is for it to work in us, to make us more holy – for it to be “revolutionary discourse that that leads to material change” in ourselves and then, therefor, the world by our actions. If we ask with the right heart, the door will open for us to be the change that we wish to see.

I also believe that there are corporate acts of prayer – those that we do together. I believe that Pride is a corporate act of prayer. It is a revolutionary discourse that has lead to material change. The Stonewall Riots, which Pride commemorates, lead to the gay rights movement and has materially changed the world for LGBT people. However when at first we knocked we were ignored. Rights are not won easily – even today, as we saw in the video; there is still a fight to be won. Jesus knew that simply asking a first time wouldn’t always be enough for change to come about and tells us in today’s reading that we will meet those who do not want to change the world for the better for us but that persistence will win. The door may not open the first time that you knock it, but if you keep knocking – keep asking, keep praying, are persistent with your revolutionary discourse then change will come. Our personal and corporate prayer must continue to bring material change to the world, we must continue knocking whether for LGBT rights, women’s rights, BEM (Black and Ethnic Minority) rights, disability rights and every other fight for rights that still needs to exist in our world today – To stand together in solidarity and create material change. Our prayers may look different, for some it may be words said alone, for some it may be art, for others it may be a corporate act – a protest or march, signing a petition etc but together, whatever they look like, if we keep knocking our prayers will lead to material change and a better world for us all to live in.

Pride must keep knocking.

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill commons debate: The Christians that spoke in favour.

Yesterday the House of Commons had the second reading of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill along with a debate. The vote passed with a large majority and it will now go to be ammended by the House of Commons before being passed to the House of Lords and so on before, hopefully, becoming law. Much has been heard of the Christians in parliament who in the weeks leading up to the vote who went on to speak and vote against the bill but watching the debate yesterday there were also those who spoke and voted in favour, but this isn’t covered so readily in the media so I thought I would outline the Christian support for the bill in the House of Commons. All quotes from the debate are taken from the They Work For You transcript available here.

Toby Perkins Labour MP for Chesterfield:

As a Christian, I see Christianity as a tremendously generous religion. As I have said previously, I think that Jesus Christ led the way on promoting equalities. There are any number of stories in the Bible that make it absolutely clear that Jesus stuck up for groups that had been oppressed over the years. As a Christian, I feel entirely comfortable voting in favour of this Bill. As someone who got married at the famous Crooked Spire church in Chesterfield, I do not think that my marriage will be besmirched or undermined in any way by the fact that gay people in the future might also be able to say that they are married.

See the whole of Toby’s speech here.

Stephen Doughty Labour MP for Cardiff South and Penarth:

Although it is of great personal regret to me that my Church currently does not permit same-sex marriage, what is exemplified in that quote—as, indeed, it is in the rest of the Bill—is that it will not be forced to do so under the proposed legislation. There could not be a more respectful and appropriate compromise. Let me be clear: I will argue and pray for my Church to change its mind from within, but that is fundamentally a theological decision for my Church. The Bill is about not compulsion but permission—permission for the state to offer the legal institution of marriage to all those who request it, and permission for religious organisations to do the same should they so wish.

The whole speech is available here.

Susan Elan Jones Labour MP for Clwyd South:

Let me explain my main reason for wanting to speak in this debate. As a straight woman of the Christian faith, I cannot believe it is right that I could be married in a church—and also that people of no faith whatever could be married in a church—yet believers who are lesbian and gay are shunned by the civil laws of the land on this issue, and even denominations that freely wish to marry them are barred from performing one of the most fundamental sacramental and pastoral duties. Do Members honestly believe that we should say to a Quaker couple whose meeting house wishes to perform a religious ceremony that they should be unable to have that, or that we should say the same to reformed or liberal Jews or to Unitarians? What about the United Reformed Church, which brought in religious ceremonies for civil partnerships last year? That Church was created from non-conformist traditions whose adherents were once barred from standing for office in this place and barred from our universities, and whose burial rites were not permitted in our parish churchyards. Do Members seriously believe that, in the 21st century, we should be denying religious freedom to those faith groups again?

The whole of Susan’s speech is here

Jonathan Reynolds Labour MP for Stalybridge and Hyde:

Having listened carefully to the representations I have received from constituents on both sides of the debate, I will vote for equal marriage today. I will do so because I am a Christian, not in spite of it.

I have just taken this small part of Jonathan’s speech as I couldn’t just select on part to include here you can read the whole speech that he gave here.

David Lammy Labour MP for Tottenham

 The Jesus I know was born a refugee, illegitimate, with a death warrant on his name, and in a barn among animals. He would stand up for minorities. That is why it is right for those of religious conviction to vote for this Bill.

David Lammy’s speech was very passionate, one of the best speeches in favour during the debate. Again I have only inclded a couple of lines as choosing just one part of his speech isn’t really possible. I suggest watching the whole speech here. However, if you would prefer to read it you can find his speech (split as he gave way to another member here and here.

Eric Ollerenshaw Conservative MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood.

I equate this debate with what happened to divorce law in the previous century. Interestingly, in all this talk about marriage always being the same and its continued popularity, no one seems to have mentioned the loosening of the divorce laws. As I said, I am a Roman Catholic, and in that faith divorce is treated differently, but nobody, to my knowledge, has ever challenged the right of a Roman Catholic priest or, indeed, an Anglican to refuse to marry a divorced couple. It has never actually happened, and that is how I see this issue. I approach it with principles based on the reciprocity that exists in any democratic society between minorities and our protection of their rights. I believe that the Bill strikes the right balance.

Other Members mentioned civil partnerships. Mr Lammy went slightly over the top and historically I think he was incorrect. It was not Rosa Parks to begin with. The principle of separate but equal was defined as wrong by the Supreme Court in Brown v. Topeka Education Board in 1959—if my history teaching is still there. Nevertheless, he was right about it being different. All we are asking for in the Bill, principally, is civil marriage. The majority of existing civil marriages are between divorcees, so the Roman Catholic Church does not recognise them anyway, and that is fine; it is permitted—and it will be permitted to keep its particular beliefs in this case as well.

Some faiths—this is where the theology gets complicated—and Christian groups actually want to carry out these marriages. I thought that was what I came here to do—to protect those freedoms and retain that balance. As I said, that is the principle I work on: a reciprocity between minorities in respect of their beliefs and right to carry on with their lifestyle as they wish, provided it does not interfere with that of others. I do not see how the Bill creates any problems with that or will prevent me in future from defending the Plymouth Brethrens, the Jewish faith, my own Church’s faith or the Muslim faith.

It’s great to see that a Catholic (who appears to theologically be against same sex marriage) speaking in favour of the bill, happy with the provisions in place to protect those who cannot consciously offer marriage to same sex couples. The full speech is here.

Mark Menzies Conservative MP for Fylde.

I am a Catholic and religious freedoms are very important to me, as is my religion, but so too are equality and tolerance. I think that the Bill protects both those things. I came here to abstain, but I have listened to the debate like I have listened to no other, and it is now my intention not to abstain, but to support the Bill .

This was the whole of Mark’s speech but you can see it here if you wish to.

The only way that I had of identifying Christians who spoke in favour of the bill was to look for those who called themselves a Christian or a Catholic during their speech so there may be others that I have missed. It is great to see the Christian support for this bill in the house and the passionate, well thought speeches that they made. The bill, with it’s protection, increases religious freedom as it allows those of us who would want to to offer religious same sex marriage without forcing anyone who doesn’t want to to do so and I am personally very pleased that the vote passed in favour of the bill last night.

Finding God where he shouldn’t be.

I’ve come to realise that I really love finding God where (some say) he shouldn’t be. I wonder, sometimes, if he is easier to spot there than where we expect him to be, easier to discern what is God and what is present due to out expectation of finding God in a certain place.

In John 4 Jesus meets a Samaritan woman. A Jew shouldn’t have been there, mixing with a Samaritan and, especially, not alone with a woman of such disrepute in her own community – having to collect water during the hottest part of the day to avoid meeting other people there. Yet here is God, in flesh, where many would say God shouldn’t be, ministering to a woman the majority of Jews would have rejected.

Mark 2 records “While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Again we find God where other’s say God shouldn’t be – questioned by the Pharisees as to why he eats with “tax collectors and sinners”.

At Jesus’ death on the cross the temple veil rips in two – no longer is God constrained to the Sanctum Sanctorum (most holy place of the temple, sectioned off with a veil) but exists among the people, sending the Spirit at pentecost. There is no longer a special sacred space, the spirit is present, spreading through the whole earth bringing the sacred with it – even where some would say it shouldn’t be.

When St Paul travels to Athens in Acts he finds many idols and alters to different gods but one, in particular, takes his interest – the Alter to the Unknown God. Paul speaks to the people and says you may not know whom it is that you worship at this altar but I do and I will tell you about that God. God was already there, where God shouldn’t be, working among the people of Athens, they didn’t know God and yet they built God an alter. Similarly at his meeting with the Samaritan woman Jesus tells her “You Samaritans worship what you do not know;we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.” Again God was already there, the Samaritans just didn’t know it. This can be called prevenient grace, God at work in places and people who may not even acknowledge the existence of God.

I spent the other weekend at Bloodstock festival, helping to run the welfare tent through The Order of the Black Sheep. A Heavy Metal festival is quite an interesting place for a Christian to be  – surrounded by Christian symbology and ritual, but most of it inverted and used in an attempt to be sacrilegious. There is no pretending that (in general) the Heavy Metal community are pro christian, many outwardly reject it. And yet walking around I found a sense of God being present and even at work through unsuspecting people. For instance, the act I was most looking forward to seeing was Machine Head, a band clearly critical of Christianity and wider belief in God and yet I find their song Darkness Within to be really powerfully spiritual, it has helped me through a more difficult patch in my faith. There is a great honesty to the song. God,  preveniently, working through people. Who knows whether that grace will ever by convened, but God was there at a Heavy Metal festival and I was able to worship, in the middle of a crowd of metal fans, to a song that has helped me spiritually.

Likewise, in working with the LGBT community through “I’m Sorry a Different Kind of Christian Presence“, I have been able to find and see God in places and in people that many may say he shouldn’t be. If the above was one of my more powerful spiritual moments this summer the other was joining Life at the Centre  for a service on site at Nottingham Pride.

In meeting many non Christian LGBT people at Pride events, it is not possible to deny that the image of God is within them. Greg Boyd provided a great response for this on Twitter in July.

If you are unable to find God somewhere, in a place that some, or even you, may say he shouldn’t be – try looking just that little bit harder. Perhaps, sometimes, we are too busy spotting the things that are not of God to notice the things that are. Once we have we are able to join God in what God is already doing.

By Their Fruit You Will Know Them.

In his anual presidential address to Synod John McIntyre, Bishop of Gippsland, Australia spoke about those with sam sex attraction within the church. I thought I’d share a few exerpts that I find particularly helpful. A full article can be found on Changing Attitude’s website.

It is a simple Biblical truth that has caused me to move to a new place in my understanding of the place of same-sex attracted people in the life of the church. That truth is revealed in the words of Jesus, who says in the Sermon on the Mount, “a bad tree cannot bear good fruit” and “by their fruit you will know them” (Matthew 7.18,20). I have come to know and acknowledge that the fruit of their works makes clear that God has been and is at work in and through gay and lesbian people, who for years have been a part of our church, in both lay and ordained ministries.

You might well ask why it took me so long to acknowledge this simple truth. I think it was the correctness of religious law that blinded me to this truth, a truth that is known only in the experience of grace.[…]

It is a salutary experience to be reminded that at one and the same time no-one is worthy and all are worthy for ministry[…]

Only in light of reflection on God’s Word did I finally come to understand. Despite what I or others may believe is their worthiness, the fruit of the works of many gay and lesbian people has brought God’s blessing to me and to many other people, both in and beyond the church. That is the measure of their worthiness to minister in the name of Jesus Christ in the life of the church, and in the community in the name of the church. That indicates their place in the life of God’s people.[…]

For too long we have asked same-sex attracted people to wait outside the church, or at most in its wings, while we decide the basis on which they can be a part of the church’s life. The thought seems to have been that when we have decided (and we certainly don’t seem to be in too much of a hurry to do this) we will invite gay and lesbian people into the church on our terms; that is, if they still want to be a part of us. I do not believe this is a particularly godly way in which to go.[…]

Whatever we believe about same sex attraction and active relationships we can surely see that the fruit of many LGBT Christians is good. That they show something of God to those around them and to the world. “By their fruit you will know them”. The Church should not stand in the way of LGBT people being able to be ministers, to ignore their fruit and take away the possibility of them fulfilling God’s calling on their lives. I remember reading an article by someone taking about Jeffery John, after the allegations that he was blocked from becoming Bishop because of his sexuality. The person writing who knew Jeffery, whilst struggling to reconcile Jeffery’s sexuality with Christian ministry, came to this conclusion and that the fruit of Jeffery John was nothing but Godly, whatever his sexuality. And surely this is what matters.

Related posts: Orientation and Ministry, St Paul on Equality

Finding the people of peace & wiping the dust from our feet.

 “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’  If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you.  Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.

 “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you.  Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.’  But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town”

Last Saturday I, along with others, went to Sheffield Pride under the name “I’m Sorry: A Different Kind of Christian Presence” with the aim of showing love to a community, perhaps, more used to a presence of condemnation and even hate from Christians. You can find out more about us and what we did at our website here. I, obviously, knew that it would be considered controversial by some and that we may face issues somewhere along the line. I didn’t, however, particularly expect it to happen so quickly or to come from people that we knew – I was naive. To cut a long story short I have been able to read this week that I am a cancer spreading through the church and lost a friend – all because I wanted to go show love to people. It has been a week that has taught me a lot about finding people of peace and removing the dust from my feet.

The people of peace have definitely been the LGBT community at Sheffield Pride, we took our message of peace and it was returned to us. We had a great day, some great conversations and we were accepted and thanked for being there & our message. We were not welcomed by some Christians. To the point of the loss of long held friendships. It came as a complete surprise to me having hardly engaged in any of the debate that had broken out. My only real crime* was to state how saddened I was by the things that I was able to read about myself and later point out my anger over some more things that were being said about us; untrue accusations being made about close friends and the term “unchristian” being branded about – just the kind of thing likely to upset me. There was no return of peace there. There is no point dwelling on these things. We did what we did, we believe we did the right thing and what has happened as a result is unfortunate. It wasn’t done in order to cause trouble but to show love.  What I realised was that it was time to wipe the dust from my feet. I think that Jesus told the disciples to do this in order for them to be able to move on to the next town in search of their people of peace. Not everyone is going to welcome us but this isn’t something to take personally and in, literally or metaphorically, wiping the dust from our feet we are able to put this behind us and get on with the task in hand. To show peace and love to those who do welcome us and to build the Kingdom of God on Earth, as it is in Heaven.

This isn’t meant as an attack on anyone or to fan the flames of disagreement (this is unlikely now that certain people have removed me from social networking). It is just meant to be a lesson and an example of finding our people of peace & dusting ourselves down when we don’t. Just because we do not find someone to be a person of peace to us personally does not mean that they are not person of peace to someone else.

*For the purpose of complete transparency I did point out to someone else that they seemed unable to take what they gave out on Facebook having complained about negative comments that they had received on their own postings. I had no further engagement in any debate other then as laid out in this post.

St Paul on Equality

A friend shared this on Facebook. As I looked from left to right and came to rest on human and I couldn’t help but think “yeah that’s it”. The only identity that matters is that of being a human being and we should treat one another as so. We should be blind to these other identities that allow us to treat one another differently and purely see the human, the person, in front of us to treat all as equals. As I thought about our identity being reduced to same thing for everyone, I thought of  Paul writing in Galatians:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith,  for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

For Paul the Kingdom of God is about loosing these differences that divide us, that separate us from one another. As we bring and become the kingdom these identities are no longer important, we are able to be one in Christ. As we become a person of the kingdom of God we no longer see these worldly identities when dealing with people we see a brother, a sister, someone who matters and whom God loves.

If there is neither male nor female then how can there be a male or a female minister/priest/bishop there can only be a minister/priest/bishop whom God has called, their gender is immaterial. When we no longer see male or female but purely people to be loved how can there be right and wrong relationships, surely there are just relationships between human beings that love one another.

I am not saying that our identities as people are not important and shouldn’t be respected – because they are and should be. But I am saying that as we meet and interact with people if we are being Godly we only see a person whom God loves standing in front of us and not their worldly identities.