I read this poignant interview with Vaughan Roberts, who has been the widely respected Rector of Oxford’s most conservative evangelical church, St. Ebbe’s since 1991, and felt saddened.
Roberts discloses his continuing personal battle with same sex attraction, though refuses to identify himself as homosexual…
To quote, “if we have turned to Christ, we are new creations, redeemed from slavery to sin through our union with Christ in his death and raised with him by the Spirit to a new life of holiness, while we wait for a glorious future in his presence when he returns. These awesome realities define me.”
He has remained celibate and single. “Evangelicals say that clergy should uphold the Bible’s teaching that sex is only for heterosexual marriage in their teaching and lifestyle, both of which I do.”
And Vaughan reports that he remains “faithful to the Bible’s teaching that the only right context for sexual intercourse is in a marriage between a man and a woman.”
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Roberts, as far as I can tell from my own reading of the Bible, is quite correct in his statement in this interview, “The Bible presents only two alternatives: heterosexual marriage or celibacy.”
But… but… but… Are we worshipping Christ or the Bible?
What is the Bible? I believe it is divinely inspired. I believe it is trustworthy and true. I believe it is wise. I believe it is beautiful. I believe we can know God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit through its words. I believe reading and obeying it can lead us to the heights of the joy, wisdom and holiness which it’s possible to reach this side of eternity.
But I believe other things too. I believe—well, know—the Bible is a historical document. It is both a product of its times, and has eternal wisdom just as Jesus was both a first century Jew who celebrated the Passover; worshipped at the synagogue, and a radiant, transcendent person with wisdom and blessing for all men of all times.
As our understanding of the Bible evolves, we continually decide which statements were for all time, and which were written to the men and women of their time. We no longer believe slaves should submit to their masters; instead we work for their freedom. We—well, many of us—no longer believe women should remain silent in church. Instead, ashamed that the church should lag behind the world in justice, fairness and equality, we work for the ordination of women as bishops.
And as our understanding of psychosexuality evolves, we no longer believe that people choose their sexual attractions. For socio-biological reasons not fully understood, some are attracted to their own gender, and completely unattracted by the other. Changing this innate orientation is increasingly understood to be difficult, near-impossible, and psychologically dangerous. The 30,000 member British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy recently announced that it was unethical to try to.
As Vaughan Roberts sums it up in this interview, “A small proportion of people, including Christians, find that they remain exclusively attracted to the same sex as they grow into mature adulthood. God has the power to change their orientation, but he hasn’t promised to and that has not been my experience. Research suggests that complete change from exclusively homosexual desires to exclusively heterosexual ones is very rare.”
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Is same-sex marriage a sin? Will it cut married gay people off from the grace, mercy and fellowship of God?
David was known as a man after God’s own heart. He had multiple wives, multiple concubines, lust driving him to adultery and murder. Yet he plumbed the depths of an intimate relationship with God so thoroughly that just reading his Psalms is a prayer.
Many (most?) of the heroes of the faith in the Bible fell short of the glory of God sexually—think of Abraham with his wives and concubines, or Jacob or Solomon.
But that did not cut them off from an intimate relationship with God–from seeing God in the flesh as Abraham did in his theophany in Gen:18, or Jacob’s vision of heaven and earth connected with angels ascending and descending between them, or Solomon’s dream-theophany in which God promises him wealth, honour, long life, and wisdom in the bargain.
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I’ve lived in Oxford, England, for ten years now, and I think its best churches, with the best worship and preaching, are its evangelical ones. I have never met or heard of an openly gay person in them, and—I may be wrong—doubt they would be welcome except as potential “conversion”-fodder.
And that is a shame. We cannot make Christ a heterosexual preserve. He came for all men.
And equally, I believe we should not, cannot make marriage a heterosexual preserve.
Marriage, when it works, is a uniquely wonderful relationship, a mixture of all C.S. Lewis’s Four Loves—of Storge or affection, Philia, or friendship, Agape or unselfish love and Eros, sexual or erotic love.
I am, and always have been, heterosexual, and believe I always will be–but to be honest, if I were single, and if I were to feel this powerful draw to another woman, a mixture of storge, philia, agape and eros, I strongly doubt it would be sin to live with her. I doubt Christ would frown on it.
If people harassed my conscience with the seven verses in the Bible which, as Vaughan Roberts says, disapprove of homosexuality, I would cast myself on the mercy of Christ and in Martin Luther’s phrase, Sin Boldly. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, sin boldly, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. [Letter 99.13, To Philipp Melanchthon, 1 August 1521.]
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Promiscuity is sin; it is idolatry, among other things—seeking pleasure or escape in things other than God, and in a way which is harmful both to yourself and your partner.
But can a loving committed same-sex relationship be sin? As you see, I was repeatedly pressed on this point in the comments section when I wrote about the Chick-fil-A controversy, and appealed to Christians to define themselves by what they were for, not what they were against.
But perhaps, sin is not mathematical. Our human courts recognize this when they hand out different punishments for the same crime—a lighter sentence to the abused spouse who stabs the persecutor in madness and self-defence than to the spouse who cold-bloodedly poisons her spouse for the insurance money and legacy. An abusive, dysfunctional family background is taken into account in sentencing.
So too, there is no impermeable algorithm for sin; a Divine Judge who sees our hearts and our weaknesses decides. And “just and true are all his ways.” And when we are in his hands, we are in good hands, for he was known as “the friend of sinners.” He noticed, approvingly, the prostitutes and tax collectors storming into the Kingdom ahead of the righteous ones (Matt 21:31).
He will look at the people involved, not the letter of the law just as our best human judges too. He will not be bound by the letter of the Bible, he will look at our circumstances and our hearts.
If I were gay, I would not choose a lifetime of solitude and grimacing and bearing it, because of those seven verses which condemn homosexuality. I would trust the mercy and goodness and understanding of the Jesus revealed in the gospels who made me exactly as I was, formed and fashioned me in my mother’s womb.
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Would a homosexual who made a decision to live, in a monogramous, committed and sexual relationship, be welcome in an evangelical church just as he was?
Not in any evangelical church I have worshipped in. And some of these churches have had splendid worship and inspiring preaching.
Perhaps this is the greatest injustice we evangelicals have done to the homosexual community—we have denied them full participation in the Christian community.
But Christ is Lord of all. He is too great a treasure to be for heterosexuals only. The very thought would appall him, he who of all men was the most inclusive, who was always seeking the least, the last, the lost, the outcast, the sinner….
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Oh, the immense relief with which Luther realized that the Catholicism he had been taught was limited. With what relief he turned to Christ!