by Jayne Ozanne, Editor of ViaMedia and Director of the Ozanne Foundation
As a young keen evangelical I was frequently taught to present the case for Christ’s divinity by following in the footsteps of CS Lewis (and several others) by making the “Lunatic, Liar or Lord” argument. It was a logical argument based on the fact that Christ claimed himself that He was the Son of God who could forgive sins and so could never be accepted as “just” a good moral leader. The argument went that he was too wise to be mad, too good to be bad and therefore had to be telling the truth.
I liked the logic, and still do – it has a courtroom simplicity to it.
It strikes me that the same type of argument – but obviously with different alternatives – ought to be applied to our evangelical friends who are determined to keep stating that they are the only ones who take Scripture seriously, and who believe the rest of us are “giving in to the culture of the day” (whilst they themselves ironically hold on to a cultural view of scripture and sexuality which is from about a hundred years ago!).
We saw it stated once again in the letter from 11 evangelical bishops last week, penned by Bishop Julian Henderson. He was interviewed about his reasons for writing it by Edward Stourton on BBC R4 Sunday programme, who started by putting to him that the letter had “nothing new” about it.
Indeed, on the surface of it, the letter appears to reiterate the traditional position of the fact that “sex is for marriage and marriage is for straights”. Never mind the serious mental health problems and desperate loneliness this causes LGBTI+ Christians – evidently we are all called to make sacrifices and follow the path of the Cross, and this is just our “bad luck”. (As an aside, this is precisely what pushes so many young vulnerable LGBTI teenagers into conversion therapy – they have to find a way out). Of course, there is also the argument that “this is what the Church has taught for 2000 years” so it must be right!
Interestingly a closer look at the final paragraphs of the letter reveals some relatively new points – that new structures need discussing in order to enable people to live together in “unity and faith”. A hint of a new form of semi-schism, just enough to mark people’s cards and sound a warning.
I wonder if I am the only one who is getting tired of their stubborn refusal to admit that there are others who hold Scripture just as dear as they do, but have come to a different reading of it? Likewise their constant rendition that “the Church is capitulating to culture” rather than the admission that people are rightly concerned about the harm and damage this teaching does. What is more, their understanding of ‘radical Christian inclusion” is to just ‘stand firm’ – which is directly at odds with what the Archbishops have called for.
It seems we are doomed to be in this Ground Hog Day of hearing small groups of mostly men of a certain age claim they speak for “most Christians”, despite all the statistical research to the contrary.
So I have found myself asking “why do they constantly keep to this line?”
There seem to be only three logical possibilities:
(i) that they have either not heard or understood the fact that there are others who in all conscience believe that Holy Scripture can be read differently, and that their teaching is doing immeasurable harm.
(ii) that they do not respect those who have a different understanding of Scripture, and therefore feel able to blank their differing views because they do not believe they are Christian views, and that those who suffer do so because of their sinful desires
(iii) that they are stubbornly sticking to their point of view because to do otherwise would mean having to admit that they are wrong and they would then need to recognise the immense damage they have inflicted on so many under their care.
I am open to other interpretations – which hopefully people will make in the comments below.
Let’s be honest, though. I cannot believe that they have not heard or understood the arguments being made. Even Bishop Julian himself admitted that he had written the letter because he was concerned “how strong the voice for change” had become.
I also find it hard to believe that they cannot care about the pastoral carnage they are creating, and the many lives that have been severely traumatised – like my own – because of their teaching. These are sincere pastorally astute Christians, who I know want to serve the Lord with all their hearts and minds. They normally show great respect to people in one-on-one conversations, and so I find it hard that they have written off their evangelical colleagues with whom they disagree as ‘non-Christian’.
That leaves my third option – which may sound harsh, but is it true?
It is a question that only they know the answer to….but it is worth reflecting on.
This follows on from a three-part series by other Affirming Evangelicals.
Part 1 is by Rt Revd David Gillett, former Principal of Trinity College, Bristol (1989-99) and former Bishop of Bolton
Part 2 is by Rt Revd David Atkinson, former lecturer at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford and former Bishop of Thetford
Part 3 is by the Revd David Runcorn, former lecturer at Trinity College, Bristol