Today the Anglican Church of Canada remembers William Wilberforce, evangelical politician, who for many years led the fight against slavery in the British parliament. He died on this date in 1833.
Wilberforce loved the Bible. And yet the Bible nowhere explicitly condemns slavery; in fact, it regulates it. When the struggle against slavery came to the USA a few decades later, many Christians argued against the abolitionists and claimed they were going against God’s order as revealed in the Bible. But the abolitionists took their cue from big picture texts, the texts that proclaimed that all people are made in God’s image, and that in Christ there is no slave or free.
We rejoice in the accomplishments of abolitionists like Wilberforce, but we must also recognize that the fight against slavery is far from over. Human trafficking is alive and well around the world. And girls are forcibly recruited into prostitution under our noses, likely in this very city.
When we fight against slavery today, very few Christians will accuse us of rejecting the authority of the Bible (which regulates slavery rather than condemning it). What you might call a ‘revisionist’ interpretation of the Bible has now become the norm on this issue.
The same cannot be said, however, for the way we treat LGBTQ+ people. At the Lambeth conference today, a group of Global South bishops is calling on all ‘orthodox’ bishops to condemn equal marriage for LGBTQ+ people and to refuse to take communion with gay partnered bishops from the western world. They claim that in order to be united, we must agree on the truth of the Bible.
I will not repeat here the long and painstaking way in which many biblical scholars have researched this subject and come to a different conclusion than these so-called ‘orthodox’ bishops. Two excellent resources along these lines are Karen R. Keen’s ‘Scripture, Ethics, and the Possibility of Same-Sex Relationships’ and David Runcorn’s ‘Love Means Love’.
I will simply say that it is a simplistic fallacy to pretend that orthodox Christians are united in their understanding of the Bible. To give the most obvious example: for the first three centuries of Christianity, the vast majority believed that participation in war was forbidden to Christians. The ‘just war’ theory didn’t arrive until after the Roman Empire co-opted Christianity in the fourth century. And again: wherever the lending of money at interest is mentioned in the Bible it is condemned. But we have made it the foundation of our economic system, and every conservative Christian with a retirement savings plan is funding it through the lending out of money at interest. And we’re not even getting close to literal obedience to sayings of Jesus like ‘So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions’ (Luke 14.33).
Likewise, to claim (as these so-called ‘orthodox’ bishops do) that *the* Biblical position on marriage is one man and one woman for life ignores huge parts of the Bible. Almost all the Old Testament saints had more than one wife. Israelite soldiers are given explicit permission in the Torah to take female captives in war and use them as secondary wives. In fact, the so-called ‘controlling text’ in Genesis 2 (‘Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh’) is conspicuous mainly because the rest of the Hebrew scriptures mainly seem to ignore it!
I have nothing but admiration for LGBTQ+ Christian friends who continue to participate in the life of a church that has slapped them in the face and rejected them so many times. Some of them are my Facebook friends, and I want to say to them all: thank you for inspiring me to be a better follower of Jesus! (You know who you are!) At the same time, I fully understand those who have chosen to withdraw for their own self-preservation; my friends, if I were in your shoes, I don’t know if I would have had the strength to stay.
This is a long winded way of saying what I said earlier in a much shorter post: I completely reject the false claims of these so-called ‘orthodox’ bishops at Lambeth, and I stand with those who continue to welcome LGBTQ+ people into full participation in the life of the church, including marriage and ordination.
P.S. Many will know that this was not always my view. It took me a couple of decades to come to it. Whenever I write a post like this, well-meaning conservative friends send me lists of books to read. I find it amusing that they think I haven’t already read them. I know the arguments well; I used to make them myself. If you disagree with me, that’s fine, but please respect me enough to believe I’ve thought, prayed and read about this for a long time.
That’s it. Peace to you all.