Thursday, May 07, 2009

Why I Need to Still Go To Church

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
Yesterday I was reminiscing about myself on the day after the last Westminster General Election. Well with news coverage over recent days I've also been reminiscing about a different day from 2005, the day of my Parliamentary Candidates Development Day.

Looking at that group of four potential approved candidates now they included the PPC for the target West Coast seat Katy Gordon PPC for Glasgow North, the 'go to' Lib Dem blogger for many in the MacBloggosphere in myself and the minister of the moment Rev Scott Rennie. The group of four on that day was a group not backward in coming forward, some would think quite a feisty bunch, but the least 'feisty' of the lot would probably have been Scott.*

Basically a eruption of criticism has blown up about Scott's sexuality which has been known publicly for some years because he has been called democratically, and that decision upheld democratically, to a new charge, Queen's Cross Church, in Aberdeen. Let's get the democracy of the decision clear Presbyterians require a 2/3rds majority of the communicant voting members of a church to call a new minister to become their pastor; Scott comfortably acquired 86%. The Aberdeenshire Presbytary which is the group of all Ministers in that area then ratified that decision in January by 60 votes to 24. In both cases to have such levels of support any politician would be happy. So why is the issue still up in the air and unclear?

I know that Caron, Lallands Peat Warrior and MacNumpty have all written excellent pieces from different standpoints and I recommend once you get to the end of this piece to go and read them all. But I feel able to add a little something different to the story because apart from that day I share a lot in common with Scott.

Like him I was raised in what was at the time a conservative Presbyterian Church, indeed my father was an Elder and Boys Brigade Captain. Like him after coming to my own faith and being settled in it I had to come to terms with my own sexuality. Like him I also had major struggles coming to terms with that while in a very active role of serving God, him during his pastoral role in Brechin me during my stint as a missionary. However, unlike Scott my victory in personally finally overcoming that struggle hasn't led afterwards to such media glare when I later moved to a different job in the same 'industry'.

Caron in her post pointed out that Scott said that gay Christians could feel isolated from both communities -sometimes the Church couldn't handle people being gay, but also some elements of the gay community couldn't handle Christianity. This is not only true of the community but often of the inned struggle within the Christian themself. I know I struggled with that issue myself from my mid teens through to my late 20s over a decade, so I don't expect the Church to totally come to terms with things overnight. Although they have had 2000 or so years to get to grips with these issues. Caron mentioned her friends in the Christian Union at University changing her attitudes because of their attitudes to her gay friends. Of the over 6 years I spent on committees in my first three years of University it was the CU I spent most time on committee, so you can imagine the struggle I was having.

All of these people saw a certain element of me. Each new committee had to write encouraging things they found about each other in a sort of Chinese whisper sheet, my were always very deeply thought out and far from twee or predictable and I hold a lot of their comments dear. But very few got to see or hear of the full struggle. Indeed I don't think I would have expressed it to them or other close Christian friends with quite this amount of candour back then. When I finally came out to my parents which I thought would be all the harder because of all the Christian faith and experience between the three of us I was dreading the day. In the end the words passed my lip in a matter of fact sort of way and after one maybe two questions there was acceptance, love and understanding in just the Christian way that Jesus himself would I'm certain have shown.

Those Christians who believe in predestination believe that our paths are mapped out by God before we are even born: whether we become a Christian and how we will live are predetermined. These people are possibly some of the most literal believers of the bible and most homophobic element of the church. Yet by their very adherence to that stance they are found wanting on the issue of gay Christians. They cannot judge on someone's personal confession and salvation through grace. Indeed the fact that it is grace by which we are saved is a whole other theological ball game.

On the other hand you have those who believe our salvation is through free will. Good sound liberal bunch. Yet even they acknowledge that someone cannot chose their sexuality. One of the churches I worked with employed an open gay, though celibate, man. Others have youth leaders who have had sex before marriage, elders who have cheated on their wives etc. One thing does hold dear, all Christians should be accepted as an sinner saved by grace. And who are we to judge which Levitican abomination is allowed to be done away with over another.

Pass me the prawn cocktail in your polyester/cotton Sunday best over your cotton and lycra underwear even if you and your wife haven't maintained your proscribed time apart sexually following her period and let Scott Rennie, his partner David, his ex-wife and daughter get on with their life.

Don't be Pharisees when it comes to ranking the laws as you see fit.

The only way for gay Christians to gain acceptance in the Church is to keep turning up and in the gay community to not deny our faith. Let's get one thing clear Scott Rennie is an excellent Pastor the people of Queen's Cross congregation don't care about anything much beyond that, just like his church in Brechin before that. People like him show that Christ accepts us as we are, time for the Church to be a little more Christ like.

My dear friend Caron called her post on this subject "Why I no longer go to church" I hope I have put out at least part of the counterpoint from an insider's perspective.

Update: There is now a Facebook group in Support of Scott Rennie, please join it.

Update 2: I have just read the comments about this story on the Pink News article. Sadly it confirms the paradox that gay Christian's face. I've posted this response there.

It was very said reading some of the comments on here as a gay community we have fought for inclusion for so long. However, someone from our community who is different in this case a Christian, and a minister to boot, who has come to terms with that position and is 'proud' to be both is getting knocked back by some.

For Scott, like myself, it is a paradox that as a gay Christian we are often not accepted by the Church and also not accepted by the gay community. Those who are out as gay Christians have if my experience is anything to go on come through a lot of hard times not just from the respective communities but from ourselves.

If anyone in any other profession was in danger of being dismissed because of his sexuality we would all be united and up in arms standing with them. But even though he is one of us in an organistaion that in many ways needs to change its view of us we don't give the same support. The chruch needs changing on its views on sexuality the best way for that to be done is from the inside.

*For the record all four were approved, though the one who now is seen as a little bit of new media expert in certain fields in the Scottish Party was told he needed a little bit more media training. (Best not tell Clifton Terrace or Cowley Street I might lose some street cred and/or access)


Caron said...

Thanks for sharing that very personal and moving account. Now I have to go to the GP with tears in my eyes. Will have a more thorough read later.

Matthew Huntbach said...

And who are we to judge which Levitican abomination is allowed to be done away with over another.
These issues are discussed in detail in the New Testament. Anyone who says "it says this in Leviticus" simply cannot have read their Bible. They have picked bits out, yes, but not properly read it and absorbed its full message. As you say, from the Presbyterian background, we are justified by faith alone. Romans is very explicitly about the rejection of the idea that we are justified by keeping to ritual laws.

From my background, I would also point to the section in Acts on Peter's dream. The answer to the question is that the Church meets together, and Peter as its spokesman announces its conclusion.

Jesus, of course, is recorded as saying nothing at all about homosexuality. One might have supposed that had God wanted it to be taken as an important issue, he would have done.

Paul Walter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul Walter said...

A thunderously great post. I particular treasure these lines:

"People like him show that Christ accepts us as we are, time for the Church to be a little more Christ like."

"In the end the words passed my lip in a matter of fact sort of way and after one maybe two questions there was acceptance, love and understanding in just the Christian way that Jesus himself would I'm certain have shown."

subrosa said...

I suppose my comment will be thought as libertarian but my question is what has happened to the theory that the person is the best one for the job?

Why should it matter about sexuality? When I was an employer I didn't ask someone's sexuality so why does it have to be declared these days?

Being a hetrosexual may make me see the problem as being a small one but it's obviously not to someone who is gay.

As you say Stephen, let the 'antis' do their anti thing and we'll all get on with our lives. Where the church is concerned there will always be those who think their interpretation of the scriptures is the correct one and they'll always be screaming away on the periphery just like they are on any moral subject with which they disagree.

Must rush, will read your post again later.

Caron said...

Read it again, more tears. Very powerfully put and some of the paradoxes of the debate clearly explained.

I guess it would be easier for gay Christians to be in the church if people like me hadn't walked away - at the time, I didn't realise there was anyone going through that sort of struggle and, now, I've gone beyond that part of my life.

I hope that some of the debate on this issue in the blogosphere will inspire - I think that there has been exceptional quality of posting and coming together.

Graham said...

Dear Stephen,

Without wanting to get into the argument surrounding Mr Rennie, I must call you to task about your version of what happens about electing a minister of a congregation.

I wrote about this on my own blog last night and ask you have a look and by all means comment.

One final thing though about Jesus. The idea today is that he was "all about love and acceptance" is difficult to garnish from the Scriptures. Jesus more than any other character in the entire Bible talks about Hell and the consequences of not taking up thy cross and following him.

In the Gospels, Jesus frequently rebukes people for both their attitude and lifestyle. Don't get me wrong, Jesus is the opposite of doom and gloom as through His sacrificial death on the cross shows more love and grace than anyone else on this earth, before or since.


Graham said...

Just spotted it looks like I was quoting from your blog which I wasn't. It was more of a general theme expressed in your post and elsewhere.

Apologies for that.

Stephen Glenn said...

Graham you do right on you blog that the vote by the congregation is then validated at Presbytery level. You are also right that this goes through on the nod generally. However, it is a different Presbytery that of Lochcarron and Skye that has approached the General Assembly not on the specifics of this call but on a general matter of Principle.

The following extract:

We stand thus to publicly affirm our love, honour and deep respect for all our Christian brothers and sisters who wrestle painfully with homosexual temptation but fight faithfully to live lives of purity, following Christ Jesus as his true disciples. We assure them of all pastoral support, care and mutual encouragement as they, along with us, ‘strive…for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.’ (Hebrews 12:14)If applied equitably to all temptations would leave all our churches empty. Or at least be excluding pastoral support, care and mutual encouragement for all who fail to fight faithfully to live lives of purity. It is circumventing grace and cherry picking the bible.

annegourlay said...

beautifully articulated personal experience.


Niklas said...

An excellent post. But one of the paragraphs seems to be missing half of a sentence - the last one and a bit sentences currently read: "The Aberdeenshire Presbytary which is the group of all Ministers in that area then ratified that decision in January by 60 votes to 24. In both cases to have such levels of support any politician would be happy. So why is the"

Only a small quibble!

Emmask said...

The Bible contains six admonishments to homosexuals and 362 admonishments to heterosexuals. That doesn't mean that God doesn't love heterosexuals. It's just that they need more supervision.”
Lynn Lavner

Ok perhaps a little flippant - HOWEVER as a single parent who has been a youth leader and preached in church what makes me different from those whose sexuality challenges church ideals? Very little; it is obvious to me that the whole issue of sex and sexuality are obviously, FAR more important to the church than any other aspect of human life. Because the people of the church have made it so.

And the Lord saw what he had made. And it was good.

Stephen Glenn said...

Hardly flippant Emma but an interesting observation, and so very, very you to find/know it.

I guess I really must find an excuse to come down to Lockerbie....heck forget an excuse I'll pick up a couple of bottles of red and come down sometime. :)


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