Monday, 21 November 2011

A Place to Talk Update

First of all, thank you to all who you who responded by posting here, or on facebook or (more often) by email; I appreciate your responses.

I was putting the possibility of a dialogue/forum ‘out there’ by way of testing the water. Is there a need? Are people wanting an opportunity for dialogue? Could this be a worthwhile venture if we can admit to uncertainties and be open in our dialogue?

Along with some of you who have responded in one form or another, I do believe that there is a need for open and honest dialogue on this issue… and most certainly on other issues too.

Some of you said that you thought I was ‘brave’. I did not feel that at all. As someone who is not gay, who is theologically orthodox, who owes much to and still affirms a great deal of my evangelical heritage and yet who currently ministers in a congregation who seem happy for me to raise these issues without concern or argument (whatever views individuals may take) made me feel that I was in the safest of places to help facilitate discussion.

I was wrong.

So here is my conclusion after careful consideration of the responses I have had, and especially those which for whatever reason were not publically made, but privately offered by email or via personal contact.

Many of you have said (in effect) ‘go for it David!’. Thank you. I appreciate your support. I would not have posted this if I had not been approached by several colleagues, the majority of whom would self-identify as ‘evangelical’, asking if I would facilitate some kind of forum as they were a) unsure that they still took the traditionalist line on this issue and b) were themselves a little wary of putting their heads above the parapet.

The odd thing is that only a few of these people have made any response to my blog (although I sent the link by email to several). I suspect I understand why. But as the aim was to see if there was a ‘market’ for this kind of forum, I feel I must conclude that there is little scope of such dialogue. And this makes me very sad.

There were those who suggested that this was not the ‘big issue’ and should not be considered as such. I totally agree (which is why – in my blog – the words ‘big issue’ are in inverted commas!) However, from the private approaches and responses I have had I realise it IS a big issue for many... a big issue for gay evangelicals who are afraid to ‘come out’ and a big issue for those who feel they still belong to the evangelical ‘tribe’ and yet question the received wisdom on this particular matter. For them the ‘issue’ is very big indeed. I suspect I would not have been approached by them, had that not been the case. So, while I agree that it OUGHT not be the ‘big issue’, clearly for many it is, and I think those who suggest that I should not get involved in this because it is not the ‘big issue’ are failing to understand what a big issue it actually is for a very large number of people; those who are gay and evangelical and who are afraid, and those who are evangelical and questioning and are confused. My recent experience suggests to me that this is far from a small number, and for them the issue is a very big one indeed.

Others have suggested that I am in a very small minority if I have not yet come to a firm conclusion on this issue. All I can say is that this is entirely contrary to my experience over the last few years. But (and here we get to the heart of the matter) I think that the majority of those who have not made up their minds are afraid to say so. It is safe to do so in private conversation and email exchanges. But – it seems – not so safe to do so in public.

This goes back to some of my previous blogs in which I have noted that I may have been effectively ‘de-tribed’ simply on the strength of my view on this issue (although my views are yet to be settled!) In recent months I have been told more than once that I am a ‘liberal’, which was a surprise to me! I suspect that it is simply on the basis of this issue that such views have been expressed.

So this brings me to the other comments I have received… all of them by email. There have been many affirming emails, and many emails wishing to enter into discussion and explore the issues. But I have been shocked and surprised by the angry and vitriolic emails. I honestly did not think we were still at that stage. And I did not expect such a reaction from within the Church of Scotland.

Having been in receipt of such comments and messages I now understand more fully than ever before why it is that a) my gay sisters and brothers feel so vulnerable in the church at present – and especially those who may have regarded themselves as in some sense ‘evangelical’ and b) why my evangelical friends who are asking questions about what they really believe on this issue are so afraid to put their heads above the parapet.

I am hanging onto the hope and belief that what I have experienced is but a very small and unrepresentative minority of folks and I KNOW that most of my traditionalist friends who may puzzle over my present views and uncertainty are yet full of grace in their comments and arguments. My experience of other comments has served to increase my respect for you guys (and many of you have been good at constantly commenting in public for which I am grateful). I hope you know who you are… I love you!

But in general terms this whole experience has been bruising.

I had hoped that there would be a significant number of those who had personally approached me who might have felt able to respond to the blog (even via the privacy of email)… only a few did. I had not bargained for the responses I did get, and I am not sure I am up for that kind of comment on an ongoing basis.

To those who do not believe this remains a ‘big issue’, let me say that my experience of this last 10 days is that it most certainly is… sad though that may be.

To those who felt unable to respond to my blog but for whom this remains a defining moment, I understand both your present situation and your fear of openly responding... let’s at least keep the door open.

To those who were encouraging, my heartfelt thanks. I would hope that we might yet manage a conversation that would allow for gracious engagement across viewpoints etc. I am genuinely sad that – for me – this does not after all seem like the time.

To those who would have wished to be part of a conversation… it may yet still be possible. I have not finally walked away from this. But it has not been an easy few days.

Meanwhile, I am going to start blogging on other matters…

Sunday, 13 November 2011

A Place to Talk?

Something has happened over these last few days. Or, rather, a series of things have happened.

The first was that a reader of my occasional blogs got in touch and asked to meet. I had not been aware that he had been a reader of my blogs, but he wanted to chat about the ‘big issue’ (yes that big issue... gay relationships and the ministry and so on). And so we met and chatted. Both of us acknowledged that we came from backgrounds that were ‘evangelical’. We further acknowledged that we remained doctrinally ‘orthodox’, affirming without hesitation ‘the Word of God as contained in the scriptures of the Old and New Testament as the supreme rule of faith and life’ and affirming the creeds of the church. And yet, on the current big issue… well, we no longer find ourselves firmly in the ‘traditionalist’ camp.

Then on Sunday past one of the members of St Cuthbert’s said ‘You have not blogged recently’. Once again, I had not been aware that she read my blogs. But it spurred me on to re-engage with my blogging!

Finally, a few evenings ago, it was suggested by someone I know well and who has many connections throughout the church that if I were to think of providing a forum for discussion on the issue then it might be helpful. I am not sure I know all that lies behind this comment. I suspect that something had happened to prompt the observation. I can only guess. But perhaps all these incidents suggest that the time has come to do something.

So everyone, here goes…

… I have absolutely no interest in forming yet another pressure group or any association of people who simply wish to promote or reaffirm a pre-existing and fixed view on the question of the ordination of openly gay folks.

But what I would be willing to help facilitate is a forum / conversation / exploration with those who would not instinctively self-identify as theologically ‘liberal’ or ‘progressive’, who take a high view of the authority of Scripture, affirm the faith once held by the apostles and enshrined in the catholic creeds, and yet who remain unsure about the ‘traditionalist’ views on THIS issue as espoused by those with whom they might normally otherwise agree. This would be a conversation which might include folks who take ‘traditionalist’ or ‘revisionist’ views on the ‘big issue’ but who are open to exploring with others and to changing their view, and who therefore wish to open up a debate with others in a context of (on the one hand) openness and genuine exploration and (on the other hand) Biblical integrity and creedal orthodoxy.

I realise that the preceding paragraph is extremely convoluted. But I hope you understand why and ‘get my drift’!

Let me know if you think this might be worthwhile. Ignore it (or tell me!) if you think it is a bad idea.... which it may be!