a never failing stream
I’ve just arrived in Atlanta, Georgia. I’m not sure what I’ll do today, but I think I may go down to the Centre for Civil and Human Rights.
Civil Rights theology has a lot to say for those of us engaged in LGBT+ theology. There comes a point when a minority community starts reading the Bible with different eyes. Instead of being told we are excluded, different, not worthy of the ordinary things that others get by token of ‘tradition’ or ‘privilege’, we start to read every verse and ask -
“Why not us too?”
If lepers are worthy of Jesus’ time and healing, why not us too? If a Samaritan woman gets living water, why not us too? If you all get faith the size of a mustard seed and it moves mountains, why not us too?
You see, traditionally, we are told there are six or seven verses in the Bible that are about gay people; and they all say that what gay people do is bad. But that’s just a nonsense, because why aren’t all the other verses about gay people too? Why are just the things that bear no relation to my life (I honestly have never worshipped idols and never had sex in a foreign temple, I swear) the times the Bible talks about me? No - all the verses matter. All the verses are about gay people because all the verses are about people.
And suddenly stories of renewal and hope and life and freedom gain a power and a life and a force that is mighty. Every time Jesus speaks, it is dynamite that blows the status quo apart. This is civil rights theology. And it works for LGBT+ people too.
A group of Church of England Bishops wrote a letter this week, wanting to tie down the future and make it look like the past, and they totally fail to see this. They fail to see that people like Vicky Beeching and Jayne Ozanne with their amazing biographies are getting people to see that real LGBT+ people are real Christians with the real Jesus in their lives, and wanting to stay that way. They fail to see that my book, The Possibility of Difference, isn’t a hotchpotch of wishy-washy do-goodisms but the result of years of Bible work from someone whose life is committed to living by the Scripture.
They fail to see that LGBT+ folk aren’t out there, needing to be evangelised or in here, needing to be managed a bit, we are the Church of God. Every bit as much as anyone else. And we are starting to ask -
Why not us too?
Dear bishops, I’m afraid the days when we were prepared to be silent when you talked about us are gone; I’m afraid the days when we were impressed when you told us what the Scriptures said about us are past; I’m afraid the times when you got to pick and choose which bits of the past were re-hashed into an acceptable narrative to present a story you thought worth telling are way, way behind us; I’m afraid we are now smiling kindly at you when you write long letters with words like ‘unchangeable’ in them.
Unchangeable. Well, we have discovered that it is God’s love which is unchangeable. And it is for us. We have discovered that St Paul is amazing. And he writes for us as he destroys the barriers between all kinds of people. And we are discovering that picking out a few verses and telling us that these are the story that applies to gay people is biblically illiterate. Now biblical illiteracy may be fine if you're a certain kind of evangelical Bishop, but we want higher standards. It’s not your teaching that’s hard to take - it is your presumption, your attitude, your failure to understand that none of us who calls Jesus ‘Lord’ sits in the cheap seats in the Kingdom of God.
What do we learn from civil rights theology? We learn that this won’t be easy. But that God is good -
For justice will flow like a mighty river and righteousness like a never-failing stream.