Category Archives: Affirmation

Finding support in scripture for same-sex relationships.

Forget the false friends, listen to St Paul

I’m not fond of boiling complex theological issues down to single-verse soundbites. But there is one three-verse passage that I often think of. Galatians 3:26-28.

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor male nor female.

When Paul wrote those words, he wasn’t talking about some abstract future, he was talking about how things are when you are in Christ, how things are now.

With the words “neither Jew nor Gentile”, Paul reminds us that in Christ there are no racial differences. Any one of any race can take any role in the church. With the words “neither slave nor free” Paul reminds us that there is no distinction based on social class. Anyone, no matter what their background, can take any role in the church.

Could a Christian oppose a marriage because of the races of the people involved? No, Paul’s words forbid that, because there is neither Jew nor Gentile. Could a Christian oppose a marriage because of the social backgrounds of the people involved? No Paul’s word forbid that, because there is neither slave nor free.

Nor male nor female. There is so much in that simple phrase that modern Christians could learn from. But for now, if a Christian judges a marriage based on the sexes of the people involved, then they are going against the words of Paul.

When you are a gay Christian, you will encounter people that treat you differently because you are gay. Sometimes they are openly hostile to you. Other times they are more subtle. They will pretend to be your friend. “I accept you as a gay Christian,” they say. “I respect and affirm your relationship,” and this sounds good to you. “But,” they continue, “but, your relationship is not as good as an opposite-sex relationship. You must be content to be second class.” You are told you can be in a civil partnership, but not in a marriage, or you can get married, but not in church. Or there is some other way to make us feel less worthy.

When people, even people who identify as LGBT, say these things, they aren’t being our friends, no matter how welcoming they say they are. They are pushing us into second-class status, but they aren’t just pushing us into second-class status. They are denying the simple and plain teaching of the Bible. When false friends try to relegate us into second-class membership of the church, however hard it is, do not listen to them. Listen instead to the words that Paul wrote to the Galatians.

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

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Belfast Pride 2012

The Albert Clock at 6pm. Photo: Gerry Lynch.

Every evening from Sunday 29 July to Saturday 4 August, as the Albert Clock struck six, people gathered in St George’s Parish Church to spend 15 minutes with Christ. While there is nothing remarkable about people meeting in a church, what was significant was each of those 15 minute services was, like all of our Belfast Pride events, part of the Belfast Pride Festival. After they were over, many of the participants went on to other Belfast Pride events. Every evening we witnessed a simple fact: you can be Christian and gay.

Each evening, a different speaker lead the meditation.

Date Speaker Subject
Sunday 29 July Pádraig Ó Tuama Fear Not
Monday 30 July John O’Neill Pied Beauty
Tuesday 31 July Simon Henning Can we remember our lines?
Wednesday 1 August Michael Carchrie Campbell We must be content to go on like pilgrims.
Thursday 2 August Andrew McFarland Campbell All One in Christ
Friday 3 August Harriet Long Can we make space for God revealing himself?
Saturday 4 August Michael Carchrie Campbell The noble task of man, to pray and to love

The music before and after the service came mainly from Songs of Taizé – O Lord, Hear My Prayer & My Soul Is At Rest (Volume One).

Film: Love Free or Die

On Sunday 29 July we showed the film Love Free or Die, which is about Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Anglican Bishop.  Gene Robinson was shown to be brave, charismatic, and above all human.

The Parade Itself

People from Faith and Pride supporting the Belfast Pride parade. Photo: Phil O’Kane

Inspired by the events in Love Free or Die, on the day of the parade, we gathered outside St George’s Church, along with our friends from Changing Attitude Ireland, to support the Belfast Pride Parade, on both its outward and return journeys. It was a wonderful and humbling experience to get such a warm reception from the people on the parade.

Thanks

Michael and I could not have done all that we did without the help of several people, including Pádraig Ó TuamaJohn O’NeillSimon HenningHarriet Long, Father Brian Stewart, Pam Tilson, Many Mullin, and the Belfast Pride committee. Special thanks go to Mervyn Kingston and Richard O’Leary, who have broken much new ground for us, and who gave us many ideas for how we may give witness to a loving and inclusive Christianity.

And a Final Word

Can we make space for God revealing himself?

The small scripture passage in Matthew chapter 13 that is provoker of our thoughts and mediation this hour is a curious one. It is another example for me of the integrity of the gospel writers to include some of the flaws and complexities to Jesus’ reputation and ministry. What we find here is a an experience for Jesus, for his neighbours and family and his followers that cautions, hesitates and hinders his activities and words but also, I would suggest, enhances the incarnation and the gospel. In taking time to consider the interactions of divinity with dust in Christ as well as the people around him, we as followers and/or the curious can consider our own interactions as the incarnation and with the incarnation of Emmanuel- God with Us.

The first interaction the gospel writer reports is the locals amazement at Jesus’ teaching, knowledge and most likely his confidence. They are in no way ignoring or dismissive of his wisdom and powers. However in the second interaction they are very quick to strip back Jesus’ reputation to what they know- ‘this is who we say he is’ ‘this is who he is’ – a putting him in his place, a clipping of his wings, a containing of his power, potential and person. The third interaction is where these people ‘take offense’ – I like to imagine other words like ‘disgruntled’ ‘noses out of joint’ where he is not fulfilling the roles assigned or expected of him and undermining the family and community expectation of honour. Lastly we note Jesus’ response both in his statement that ‘a prophet is not without honour except in his own town or home’ and in the gospel writers observation that Jesus did not do many miracles here because of people’s ‘lack of faith’ – I understand the phrase ‘lack of faith’ here to describe an attitude and lack of receptivity and warmth to Christ’s words and actions.

What we are identifying here is the complexity of people in both the humanity of Christ and the humanity of the family and neighbours that Jesus grew up with. Despite Jesus’ radical teachings, actions and miracles he is unable to move these people to see a different side to him or a different revelation of him. Despite their amazement these people are unable to move past their original knowledge and understanding of who Jesus was and therefore is what an example of the ways that we can try to limit the potential of the incarnation in Christ and within us!

As this week of Pride activities closes may our minds, hearts, souls and bodies turn over the events, words and moments that have occurred this week. Where have we been challenged to look at things differently, remove old assumptions and knowledge and replace it with new revelations and amazements? Those people whom we had decided held certain views or would say certain things or in a certain way – have they surprised us? Can we make space for God revealing himself in them? As we are called to treat them as our neighbours have we learnt from them and nurtured them or should we consider the more we could have done? As we come to faith from an affirming perspective regarding sexuality and gender and liberation are there restrictions and limit we place on our theology, our worship and our divine encounters? What more can we do to recover the incarnation and allow Christ to work without being offended or harbouring a poor attitude to God’s movement.

Let us focus on the moments where we have experienced the incarnation in ourselves, in each other and in God – let us consider our bodies as bearers of divine image with all the complexity of human interaction as we walk tomorrow to show Pride as created beings seeking liberation and flourishment for all people.

Amen.

This is the text of the meditation given at 15 minutes with Christ on Friday 3 August 2012.

All One in Christ

My grandmother came from Glasgow. She moved, with her husband and children, to Belfast in the late 1930s. During World War Two, she was in Glasgow to visit her family. There was a barrage balloon, and during her visit my grandmother decided she wanted to see it. She went to the site of the balloon and couldnʼt find it anywhere. Eventually she asked a passer by where it was. He looked at her, somewhat confused, and said: “Youʼre staring right at it.”

The barrage balloon was enormous, and my grandmother was expecting something much smaller. It was so big she couldnʼt see it, until it was pointed out to her.

If you are looking for evidence that the Bible supports gay people, evidence that you can follow Christ and have a same-sex partner, then you can have a similar experience. You look for something small, maybe a brief aside in one of the shorter letters, or a reference to a gay couple somewhere in the Old Testament. In reality, there is a great big affirming barrage balloon floating in the middle of the New Testament. It is so big, so huge, so affirming that you can easily miss it. That affirmation comes from Paulʼs letter to the Galatians, chapter 3, verse 28.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female.

Looking at the first paring, what does “Neither Jew nor Gentile” mean? At first sight you might think that Paul was arguing that Christians should be racially and culturally homogenous, yet elsewhere, in 1st Corinthians chapter 7, Paul says “Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised.” He goes on to say “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping Godʼs commands is what counts. Each of you should remain in the situation you were in when God called you.” If  Paul was really arguing for cultural and racial homogeneity in Galatians, he wouldnʼt have said that in 1st Corinthians.

In the early church, including the church at Galatia, there was a division along the Jewish/Gentile lines. That was wrong, and Paul said that it should not be: neither Jew nor Gentile, you are all one in Christ. Yes, people were of different cultural and racial backgrounds, but those differences should not be divisions.

Lets consider a practical example. Suppose two couples approached a church to get married. In the first couple, both people are from the same cultural and racial background. No church would object to their relationship on those grounds. The second couple is mixed race. Would it be right for the church to object to their relationship? No, because as soon as you do that you go against what Galatians says. You say that in Christ there is Jew and there is Gentile, and we are not all one in Christ.

What about the second pairing: neither slave nor free? Once again, you might think that Paul is arguing for homogeneity here, but he isnʼt. Early Christians did come from different social backgrounds, but those social backgrounds were not to be a source of division and judgement within the church. In the words of James chapter 2, verses 1 to 4:

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose someone comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor person in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special atention to the one wearing fine clothes and say, “Hereʼs a good seat for you,” but say to the one who is poor, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

Consider this practical example. Once again, two couples approach a church. In the first couple, both people are from the same social background. No church would object to their relationship on those grounds. The second couple is different. One party comes from a comfortably-off background, grew up in a house with six bathrooms, and so on. The other party has lived all their life in a council house. Could any church object to their relationship? No, because as soon as you do that you go against what Galatians says. You say that in Christ there is slave and there is free, and we are not all one in Christ.

And so we come to the final pairing: neither male nor female. Suppose an opposite sex couple approaches the church to get married. Would anyone object on those grounds? Of course not. It happens all the time. But could the church – could a Christian – object to a same-sex couple? If you object to a same-sex couple, surely you are saying that there is male and there is female, and we are not all one in Christ?

To judge a relationship on racial or cultural grounds is racism, and that is forbidden by Galatians. To judge a relationship on the grounds of class or social background is snobbery, and that is forbidden by Galatians.

And to judge a relationship because it is a same-sex relationship is also forbidden by Galatians.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Those words are the great barrage balloon of affirmation, the great barrage balloon of defence. The race, class and gender of someoneʼs partner do not determine how a Christian should feel about their relationship.

This is the text of the meditation given at 15 minutes with Christ on Thursday 2 August 2012.

Can we remember our lines?

 

It’s always nice to get an explanation, especially when something is confusing. The Parables of Jesus are usually presented at face value with the responsibility for making sense of them resting with the hearer. In Matthew 13 it’s the only example we have of anyone asking for an explanation, and here Jesus obliges.

The explanation given reads like an ancient play – a Middle Eastern melodrama. The scene is set – the world is the stage, and on this stage are the righteous, the evil doers, devils and angels, and the burning of all the causes of sin and those who perpetuate them. Sounds great! Except………….it’s supposed to happen at the end of the age.

What about now!?

What about all the suffering that people are enduring now? And what about those who are inflicting that suffering on others? People can be so cruel, even unintentionally so.

Maybe the best we can say is that stuff will be dealt with…eventuality….at the final curtain….but until then we have to live with the reality, believing that it hasn’t gone unnoticed.

A recent report about homophobia in Northern Ireland doesn’t make very positive reading. During this Pride week homophobia, or at best distrust and suspicion, will be to the fore in many people’s minds as they watch the news reports of the events here. The reality for LGBT people in Northern Ireland is unfortunately a grim reality, and there’s no getting round that. So what should the response be from people of Faith?

I’d hope that for many Christian people they would make a ‘Jesus approach’ rather than have a ‘Church reaction’. Jesus was very good at meeting people, and accepting them, way before he asked them anything about their background – and certainly I don’t ever remember him asking people about their sex lives! ‘Zacheus…..come down from that tree, let me go with you to your house for something to eat, and while we’re there you can walk me through your bedroom gymnastics.’ I don’t think that was quite his style.

I love Gandhi, because for me Gandhi embodies the Spirit of Christ – he’s a modern reflection of Jesus in a loin cloth. In a speech to the Suppressed Classes Conference in 1921 he said,

I do want to attain Moksha (salvation, merging with God). I do not want to be reborn. But if I have to be reborn, I should be born an Untouchable so that I may share their sorrows, sufferings and the affronts levelled at them in order that I may endeavour to free myself and them from that miserable condition.

While we have faith that God will sort things out eventually, we still have a responsibility to do whatever we can to end the injustices and prejudices that pervade our society, and, sadly, infect our churches. And that will take time. But more than that, it will take courage. Courage from the LGBT community to restrain from the easy, aggressive retaliation that seems such a natural, justified response – and that’s not easy to do because it requires a level of graciousness beyond that which is expected from the average person. But I suppose it’s Grace that takes us beyond average. It also needs courage from the Churches – courage to stand up for, and stand with, LGBT people, no matter what the consequences. And believe me, there will be consequences. No-one likes change, especially those for whom issues are ‘settled’ and roles precisely defined. The opinion of the majority is more often than not a source of comfort, but as Irene Peters has said,

Anyone who thinks there is safety in numbers obviously hasn’t looked at the stock market pages recently.

And so the scene is set. The house lights go down and the stage lights come up. The actors are ready and standing on their marks. The drama is about to commence. Can we remember our lines!? Are we ready to each play our part to the utmost of our abilities!? And may God give each of us the Grace, that where we are wrong, may we be willing to change, and where we are right, may we be easy to live with.

Amen.

This is the text of the meditation given at 15 minutes with Christ on Tuesday 31 July 2012.

 

Pied Beauty

 

℣ Laudetur Jesus Christus
℟ In æternum! Amen.

Pied Beauty
Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

The prayefulness of this poem is obvious – The Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins is always bracketed together with the Cistercian Thomas Merton and Cardinal John Henry Newman as the Great Literary Priests in the English language. Well, the great literary Catholic priests. Let us not, especially in the home of our hosts, forget the many, considerably greater, literary contributions made by Anglican divines since Swift and John Donne.

If you know what to look for, however, there is a subtle framing to this verse. In schools run by Catholic religious orders, it is, to this day, traditional to address teachers both lay and clerical with Latin greetings in praise of God – the greeting I made before reading the poem, to which Michael was primed to respond, is the greeting used in schools of the Piarist Order, one of which I attended.

In Jesuit schools, it is additionally, customary to write at the head and the foot of assignments, exercises and examination papers a pair of mottoes – at the head,  Ad majorem Dei gloriam (To the greater glory of God), abbreviated to A.M.D.G., and Laus Deo semper (Praise be to God always), abbreviated to L.D.S, at the foot. Both of these have echoes in the first and last lines of the poem. “Glory be to god”, and “praise Him”.

Which not only sets this poem deeply in Hopkins’ own Jesuit spirituality, but makes it a setting-forth, even a miniature essay.

To the poet, it is difference, multiplicity, the breaking-up and the tension, that are the true glory of creation. Look particularly at the use of the word “counter” at the beginning of the second verse. – “All things counter, original, spare, strange” – Hopkins’s naturalistic, that is nature-based, view – well, he was a Victorian poet, he could not fail to be in love with Nature – finds the truest, deepest maniestation of God in the varied, the evolving, even in opposition. Hopkins strikes a slightly Eastern tone in his view of the world as the product of creative tension. I don’t know enough about the concepts of yin and yang to cite them here, but it is impossible not to see in this poem a hymn of praise for difference, even for spiritual conflict. As the poet here strikes a slightly Eastern tone, I am reminded of the Book of Wisdom, itself a bridge between traditional Jewish teaching and the Platonic culture of the Hellenists who would be so disparaged by St. Paul three centuries later. In its Eleventh Chapter, it says, “For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned. And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?”

The Kingdom of God is not, and will never be, a monoculture, any more than Creation is a fixed display in a glass vitrine, being calmly curated by a largely uninvolved God and a mute, subservient Humanity. Many people, as groups and as individuals, have had to fight for their own, full place in the community of belief. Hopkins, whom I think of as a warm, troubled slightly fragile Fr. Gerard, might point out to us that that fight itself is a manifestation of the blessed “counter-ness” within which the Glory of God is to be found, and for which He must be praised.

This is the text of the meditation given at 15 minutes with Christ on Monday 30 July 2012.

 

Fear Not

There are good reasons to be afraid.

A few years ago, I was walking from town to the Clonard area where I was living. It was late at night, and I had spent my money on a few pints with friends. I realised as I was leaving town that my mobile phone was out of battery. Never mind, I thought – I’ve walked this road hundreds of times.

As I was walking, and it was fairly deserted, I noticed a man on the other side of the road – he was kicking a fence. He looked distressed and angry. As I was looking at him, speeding along, he looked up and noticed me. He ran across the road and ran after me. I didn’t know whether to run or shout, or hit him, or what.

He grabbed my jacket, had his face in my face, and started yelling “give me one good reason not to hit you” he said over and over. His eyes were bright, his pupils were tiny. He was wearing a denim jacket and jeans.

Give me one good reason not to hit you, he said. Give me one good reason not to hit you. Let me repeat. There are good reasons to be afraid.

Where do you feel fear in your body? There are the shaking hands. There is the feeling that your stomach is turning over. There is a beating heart. There is a peculiar lightness in the chest. There is the realisation that your body has begun to operate differently. Whatever food your stomach has been digesting is now not being digested as your body channels energy and blood away from non-essential activities to essential ones – fright or flight. You can probably run faster, react quicker and bleed faster when you’re frightened.

If you search the biblical texts for “do not be afraid” you come up with a long list – 67 to be exact. And that is only one phrase – there are also phrases like “fear not” or “do not fear”, each saying the same thing. You are afraid. There might be a good rason to be afraid. But do not, in the face of the good reasons to be afraid, do not be afraid.1

The Hebrew word for fear “yare” 2 combines within it something fascinating – the sensation of being afraid as well as to revere. The word used in the Christian scriptures for fear, “phobeo3 is where the english word ‘phobia’ comes from. And this too, carries an implication both of alarm as well as reverence.

What is interesting in Irish is that the word “eagla” meaning fear, forms a part a phrase that means “just in case” the phrase is “ar eagla na heagla” – it literally translates “for fear of fear” or “on the fear of the fear”. The glorious power of fear, the level of reverence that certain fears evoke in us is one that the biblical text seeks to move us from. Don’t be so frightened of fear that you make of it a god.

When the man had his hand on my coat jacket and was telling me “give me one good reason not to hit you”, I had, in my mind at that particular time, a phrase from the theologian Walter Wink spinning round. He said that we should use powerlessness to expose the vulgarity of the abuse of powerfulness. So, frightened, petrified really, aware that I was slightly bigger than this guy, but he was so pumped up on god knows what, I said to him “you have frightened me”. He said “what?” I said “You have really frightened me, I am very afraid”. He stood back, and started falling apart.

What I think the biblical texts that tell us not to fear are doing are not telling us that there isn’t anything to be afraid of. There clearly is plenty to be afraid of. Rather, they are telling us that fear is not the god. When we are frightened, everything else becomes secondary – the digestion of our food, rational thought, our moral thoughts about using violence, we revert to tribalisms, us against them. We discover ourselves in a state of frenzy, and we have made of fear an arbitrary god who dictates reactive impulses with no integrity, moral code or love.

No wonder that the writer of the epistles of John wrote “in perfect love there is no fear”. The opposite of fear is not fearlessness, it is love. In love you can be afraid, but there is something deeper in love than there is in the hollowness of fear.

To open a biblical text a little, lets look at the text in John where Jesus has walked across the water to the disciples.

This scene takes place in direct relation to the scene before. Jesus and the disciples were on a hill, and Jesus asked the disciples how the people who were following, large crowds as a matter of fact, could be fed. As you may know he performed a miracle that came from the generosity of a small boy who had small loaves, small loaves of the cheap kind, barley, the first to be harvested, and while cheap it was nonetheless the loaf that would be offered in the religious rites. He brought loaves and fish and it was broken and it was enough. The disciples carried twelve baskets, a reminder of the story of their community – from the harrowing story of slavery in Egypt, from years wandering in the desert, here they are now, on the hillside that might even have green grass (Mk. 6:39) having a picnic that comes from the realisation that even the littlest among us, with the littlest offering of humble food can be a source of goodness. The people, understandably, want to make him king. Who wouldn’t? Having a king like this would have been a good thing. There was nothing to fear.

Jesus goes up to the top of the mountain to hide from those who wished to make him king, and when he came down, the disciples, who had been waiting for him, had had to set out in the dark night across the lake to get to the other side. There was a storm brewing. Presumably they could see little. Stormy nights usually have clouds so the moonlight and starlight was presumably not helping. Could they see their direction? Could they find their mooring? Could they even stop? John writes taht Jesus was seen, walking across the water, towards them. There are two levels of this. The second is that he was walking on the water, like Ruah hovering over the chaos of the waters. The first, however, is that they could see him at all. If they couldn’t see anything, how could they see him? Did he, like the awkward drama sketches of religious groups, have a glow, or white clothing? They wereafraid. They were in the middle of the water, in the middle of a storm, in the middle of the night and here was this picnicgod who had been so accessible earlier on being elusive and mysterious now, there was the mixture of fear and reverence. He said two things to him. He said “do not be afraid” and “it is I”.

In the midst of fear, perhaps we need to have someone to turn to. Not because we are not afraid. Not because there is nothing to fear, but because there is something about being with someone when we are afraid. Our faith calls us to not be afraid.

John O Donohue said that when he was afraid, he would put a chair in a room with him. He would look at the chair and he would say exactly, exactly, what he is afraid of. I am afraid of dying. I am afraid of my health diminishing. I am afraid of loosing this friendship. I am afraid of loosing my job. I am afraid of rejection from family when they find out I am gay. I am afraid I will be alone.

Do not be afraid sounds like a large ask for these enormous fears. What we are hearing from the biblical text is not that fear is groundless – after all, it only might be groundless, you will only probably be okay – but that we should not make fear a god. There is something in the integrity of naming our own story, of our own code, of having a way to live in fear, rather than being so frightened of fear that we have no code.

This is the text of the meditation given at 15 minutes with Christ on Sunday 29 July 2012.


1 Gen 15:1, Gen. 21:17, Gen. 26:24, Gen. 35:17, Gen. 43:23, Gen. 46:3, Gen. 50:19, Ex. 14:13, Ex. 20:20, Num. 21:34, Deut. 7:18, Josh. 10:25, Josh. 11:6, Ruth 3:11, 1Sam. 4:20, 1Sam. 12:20, 1Sam. 22:23, 1Sam. 23:17, 2Sam. 9:7, 2Sam. 13:28, 1Kings 17:13, 2Kings 1:15, 2Kings 6:16, 2Kings 19:6, 2Kings 25:24, 1Chr. 22:13, 1Chr. 28:20, 2Chr. 32:7, Neh. 4:14, Psa. 49:16, Prov. 3:25, Is. 10:24, Is. 37:6, Is. 41:10, Jer. 1:8, Jer. 10:5, Jer. 40:9, Jer. 42:11, Ezek. 2:6, Zech. 8:13, Zech. 8:15, Tob. 4:8, Tob. 4:21, Tob. 6:18, Tob. 12:17, Judith 11:1, 1Mac. 3:22, 2Esdr. 6:33, 2Esdr. 10:55, Matt. 1:20, Matt. 10:31, Matt. 14:27, Matt. 17:7, Matt. 28:5, Matt. 28:10, Mark 6:50, Luke 1:13. Luke 1:30, Luke 2:10, Luke 5:10, Luke 12:7, Luke 12:32, John 6:20, John 12:15, Acts 18:9, Acts 27:24, Rev. 1:17

2 yare; a primitive root; to fear; morally, to revere; caus. to frighten: — affright, be (make) afraid, dread(-ful), (put in) fear(-ful, -fully, -ing), (be had in) reverence(-end), x see, terrible (act, -ness, thing).

3 phobeo; to frighten, i.e. (passively) to be alarmed; by analogy, to be in awe of, i.e. revere: — be (+ sore) afraid, fear (exceedingly), reverence.

St George’s Welcome

I was at the Parish Church of Saint George in Belfast this morning and I was pleased to see copies of the parish welcome leaflet which is being launched on Thursday. The title of the leaflet is If someone in your family is gay or lesbian – what your church family can do to offer support. It is produced by Changing Attitude Ireland. The leaflet states:

Being welcomed and participating in their local faith community is the foundation of spiritual support that the Church offers to baptised persons who are gay and their families.

I’ve been going to St George’s a lot recently—and not just because Faith, Pride, and Chat is held there. It is a wonderfully welcoming church, even for people with a somewhat eclectic Christian background like me. The atmosphere in the church is summed up by 1 John 5:1, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is a child of God, and every one who loves the parent loves the child”, and John 15:12, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Both of those verses were in the readings at the Eucharist this morning.

Mephibosheth had Two Dads

Mephiboseth was the son of Jonathan.

Jonathan son of Saul had a son who was lame in both feet. He was five years old when the news about Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel. His nurse picked him up and fled, but as she hurried to leave, he fell and became disabled. His name was Mephibosheth. (2 Samuel 4:4, NIV)

After the turmoil surrounding David’s accession had calmed down, he asked “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” (2 Samuel 9:1). David was able to trace Mephibosheth and summoned him to court.

“Don’t be afraid,” David said to him, “for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.” (2 Samuel 9:7)

David showed kindness to Mephibosheth for Jonathan’s sake. Why would he do this? It was because of the covenant between David and Jonathan, as Jonathan mentioned in 1 Samuel 20:42:

Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the LORD, saying, ‘The LORD is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants forever.’” Then David left, and Jonathan went back to the town.

As I mentioned in my talk, the word “friendship” is one that is introduced by the translators of the NIV.

David and Jonathan’s families were united by the covenant between them. When Jonathan was killed, David took his son under his wing and treated him as his own son. Was this adoption? And did Mephibosheth have two dads?

Not Quite Adoption

No, this is not quite adoption in the sense that we know it in the modern world. By the time Mephibosheth was ‘adopted’ by David, he was old enough to have a son of his own (2 Samuel 9:12), and in the modern Western world by the time someone is old enough to have children of their own they are usually too old to be adopted.

However, David did look after Mephibosheth in a fatherly way, so I think it is safe to say that David was a father to him. Mephibosheth did have two dads.

Definitely Not Political

The real significance of David’s adoption of Mephibosheth, of course, is that it shows that David and Jonathan’s relationship was one based on love and partnership, not politics. Politically it was a foolish idea to have any of Saul’s heirs around, and on one occasion there were rumours that Mephiosheth was trying to usurp David (2 Samuel 16:3).

But if David and Jonathan formed a relationship based on love, a spousal-type relationship, then this makes perfect sense.  David looked after Jonathan’s sole surviving heir because Jonathan was his spouse, making Jonathan’s children his step children.

Jesus Had Two Dads…

… And he turned out just fine.

There is a phrase that has been doing the rounds in gay Christian circles for a while now: “Jesus had two dads, and he turned out just fine.” Is there any scriptural basis for this? Yes, of course there is. It is right there in Matthew chapter 1. Joseph’s role in Jesus life was so important that his lineage was traced through Joseph, not Mary. Joseph wasn’t merely some human caretaker, he was Jesus’ human father. At the same time, God was Jesus’ father in a much more literal sense than he is our father, so there is no doubt that, for mainstream Christians at least, Jesus did have two dads.

Does this have any relevance to the debate surrounding same-sex couples and adoption? Yes and no. Both of Jesus’ fathers were involved in their own way during his childhood, but it isn’t really a model for a same-sex couple raising a child. It is more like a father, mother, and step father all raising one child together. While that is a laudable thing, and not just because it is a reminder that not all successful families have the same nuclear structure, it isn’t the same as a same-sex couple raising a child.

But I can think of one person in the Bible who definitely had two dads. Can you guess who? Answer will be in the next blog post.

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