Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Churches Against Jesus

It is depressing when a church takes a stand against Jesus, against the Bible, and against common courtesy and hospitality. Yet that is exactly what Caversham Baptist Church did a couple of Sundays ago.

The Bible tells a story of Jesus going to have dinner with a guy named Simon, an important religious man. While Jesus was there a 'sinful woman' comes along and washes and anoints his feet. Simon sneers at her, and by association at Jesus. So whose side does Jesus take: the righteous Bible-believing man, in his position of strength, or the sinful woman, in her position of weakness? Jesus, of course, sides with the weaker, with the sinful, scorned woman. He does this a lot in the Gospels: sides with the bullied against the bullies, and with the scorned against the proud.

I was reminded of this story the Sunday before last, when someone plugged an anti-gay petition at the end of the morning service at Caversham Baptist Church. The petition is from a group calling itself C4M, Campaign for Marriage, and says "I support the legal definition of marriage which is the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. I oppose any attempt to redefine it."

It sounds fairly innocuous, except for the context that the government is currently considering whether to legalise 'gay marriage'. So this looks like a petition aimed at homosexuality; this is confirmed by looking more deeply at C4M. Their website is rather reticent about their background, but a few seconds googling shows that they are controlled by a group calling themselves 'The Christian Institute', an anti-gay pressure group.

In the UK (and around the world) homophobic hate crime is on the rise, it seems, whilst suicides as a result of homophobic bullying continue to be reported. Yet some churches still ignore this reality, and continue to condone, even encourage, such behaviour by their continued attacks on homosexuality, on gay people, and on equal rights for all, regardless of sexuality. Too many churches are standing with the bullies; Jesus, as ever, stands with the bullied. Caversham Baptist Church, amongst too many other so-called 'evangelical' churches, stands against Jesus.

It's not even as if the petition is Biblical: the Bible clearly contradicts such a restrictive definition of marriage. Actually Scripture nowhere provides a clear definition of what marriage is, although with a bit of reading between the lines one can combine part of chapter 19 of Matthew's Gospel with part of Genesis chapter 1 to deduce that in the beginning, before the Fall, the plan was that a man and a woman should be united into 'one flesh'. After the Fall, when people's 'hearts are hard', there is more flexibility and other arrangements can be recognised as 'marriage' - see the divorce rules in Deuteronomy, for example, and the sad story of Jacob, Leah and Rachel. These arrangements may not be recommended by the Bible, but they are recognised. The petition, in seeking to restrict legal recognition of marriage, goes way beyond the Bible, in a way that is directly contradicted by the Scriptures.

Finally, consider what it would have been like for a gay visitor to Caversham Baptist Church that morning. To hear songs and sermon about God's grace and care then, like a slap in the face, to hear that many (most) of the churchgoers there support gay-bashing and oppose gay people having equal rights under civil law. What sort of hospitality is that? What sort of witness?

Irrespective of what people think the Bible says about homosexuality, irrespective of their prejudices about what civil marriage is about, I find it deeply disturbing that a church body can think it appropriate to promote a petition like this, and even more disturbing that so many of the churchgoers actually signed it. It is no wonder that the church is becoming increasingly marginalised in the UK, and increasingly seen as a social club for the intolerant.

How did we come to this; how did the Pharisees win?

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