Friday, 7 February 2014

Moderator-Elect calls for gay Presbyterians to be celibate

I had rather a full day yesterday and was unable to blog about my comments to one of the first public utterances of the Moderator-Elect of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the Rev. Dr. Michael Barry. Rather shockingly within a day of his election he focused not on social justice, poverty or mission but appears to have spoken strongly on the issues face LGBT people within his flock. As one of those Presbyterians who has been driven from his family's church because of attitudes, assumptions and failure to listen I feel I have to speak out.

While I didn't blog about this yesterday I did find time to post a comment on the Belfast Telegraph news story.

So the next Moderator can only read as far as the first part of verse 7 of First Corinthians 7. If he reads the rest of the verse he will see that even Paul says that not everyone has the gift. I'm sure that Mrs Berry is evidence that he himself does not have the gift he is saying that all LGBT Presbyterians must possess.

However, I have one question for him. In verse nine after Paul talks about celibacy he goes on to say:

"But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion."

therefore why is so opposed to gay people finding the right person for them, to be able to love them and not burn with the passion that Paul warns us is actually worse than trying to remain celibate when we don't have the gift? 

Let me explain further.

The Moderator-Elect was quoting the church line from their pastoral guidelines:

"We welcome all people into the Church, but we would have a problem with those who are involved in a gay relationship because we believe the Bible teaches that is against the word of God.
"We would encourage people who are gay to live a celibate life."

Now the only passage of the scripture that talks about celibacy comes in 1 Corinthians 7.

 Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.
Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

Verses 5-9

This is a bit of context of where that call comes from. First it was so that all believers could devote themselves to prayer. But Paul realised that Satan would be able to tempt man from that because of their lack of self control. Somehow the Moderator-Elect, himself a married man with two daughters, clearly lacked the self control to devote himself to prayer in this way.

But next note that Paul called celibacy a gift and something that not everyone would or could possess. Yet the Moderator-Elect not only thinks that gay Presbyterians will have more self control that he himself has to pray, but also will all be granted the gift of celibacy.

There is a warning from Paul at the end of that passage and it is to those that cannot control themselves. That warning is that rather than lose control you should marry rather than burn with passion. So my question to the Dr Barry in my comments above.

When asked about conversion courses, like the one recently held in Ballynahinch Baptist Church he said:

"Personally, I am not convinced that that is possible.

"I think the whole origin of where gayness comes from is still up for debate and I would be a bit concerned at being dogmatic one way or the other.

"Certainly we'd want to help people who are having difficulties with their sexuality to live in such a way that is honouring to God."

Now apart from some of the language of the above such as "origin of where gayness comes from" this is a wishy washy non-statement. Personally I no longer have any difficulty with my sexuality, the problems I had were when the church, the Presbyterian Church, told me in my youth that what I felt was wrong. However, when I accepted that "I was wonderfully made" just like any Christian, and in the verses above that I realised that if I lacked self control I should find someone to settle down with. I want to live within my sexuality in a way that is honouring to God, just the way I see that happening differs from the hierarchy of the Church I was raised in.

Also there seems to be a lack of acceptance that a gay person actually may be celibate when they come towards the church. My personal experience was that it was assumed that I was sexually active at the time that I sought to rejoin after returning from Scotland. This was not the case, I was an advocate for equal marriage, but I didn't want that forced upon a faith group that didn't want to carry them out. Of course that doesn't mean that I don't ask questions of the PCI, I'm allowed to, while they may have driven me out I still consider it somewhat my church.

I do have one final comment to make about Dr Barry's comments. It actually comes from section 3.6 of the Pastoral Guidelines mentioned above:

When we condemn homosexual practice in isolation or single it out as somehow worse than other sexual practices outside of heterosexual marriage then we demonstrate homophobic attitudes.

Sadly on his first utterances as Moderator-Elect he appears to have singled out homosexual practice in isolation. Has he therefore demonstrated homophobic attitudes?

The document listed a need to change:

11.1 Within our church there is the need for both repentance and greater understanding. This calls for education, careful listening and discussion. 
11.2 Likewise there is the need for those who have same sex attractions to grasp that it is not easy for those who wish to be genuinely caring yet maintain Biblical integrity without giving the impression that in doing so they are rejecting the person. 
11.3 In every way it is easier to stand at the side of the road, or in the pulpit, or 'on air' and shout condemnation. But it does not win hearts or minds. And it certainly does not show the pastoral care of Jesus Christ.It may be uncomfortable for some, but it is better to sit down and talk - but listen first.
I have yet to hear of any such process taking place within the PCI. Nor have I yet heard of any of the seven recommendations that came out of those Pastoral Guidelines being implemented. 

What I would do is call upon Dr Barry to carry out such a listening exercise, I would be happy to be involved in such an enterprise. It has been seven years since the Pastoral Guidelines were published and I for one (and I know of others from within) who feel that the PCI are not listening.

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