I have been pondering family relationships recently, the expectations and the strains that exist within what are often set against a complex background, which can defy the rosy happy picture of family life often pushed forward by TV adverts, and cultural/ peer expectations. I mentioned this at Easter, when people around me were expecting me to be spending time with family, when for all kinds of reasons I spent it alone, and for me that was okay! My own family relationships are complex, my parents divorced when I was 12, and my mum remarried relocating my sister and I when I was 14, it hurts to admit that I spent most of my teenage years trying to fit in and looing for love, the fact that I felt that I didn’t ever achieve either may be telling. Marriage brought other tensions, and it wasn’t easy, and when I say that many are surprised because that is not what they saw, it’s amazing what stays behind closed doors, often due to external expectations! Difficulties and strains can be painful and cause complications, sometimes conversations can be hard, and sometimes we simply have to agree to disagree and live with the brokenness. I am now divorced, there are many reasons behind that, and having moved past the blame game I can say it was best for all concerned, and nothing is perfect. Families disagree, families come in all shapes and sizes, there is no ideal relationship, and rarely a completely perfect happily ever-after story!
I was thinking about all of this when I was reading some of the comments made on Sheffield Cathedral’s Twitter post regarding the prayer vigil held at the same time as the Franklin Graham rally . Many of them very critical, some of them downright abusive and nasty. The reason, well two groups of the Christian family are disagreeing with one another, one sees Graham’s message as a message of hope, another sees his message as a message of exclusion, intolerance and even of hate. Graham has openly spoken out against the LGBTQI+ community, approves of conversion therapy, has strong views on immigration, and supports the gun lobby. He says he preaches a gospel of love, but a delve beneath some of the acceptable sounding words he offers you find a different message. That of course is my view, on what I have seen, heard and investigated.
Alongside the vigil in Sheffield Cathedral a group of protestors gathered outside of Sheffield arena, they wanted to show a different and inclusive message to the people going in to listen to Graham, and to preach a gospel of inclusion and love, a comment on a Facebook post about this protest was made by one individual saying that the protestors were wrong, because Christians should not be divided against other Christians, and making this public in the arena car-park was counter productive. In that thread people began quoting Bible verses at one another, entirely unhelpful in many ways because it is easy to take one verse out of context, which is exactly what the protestors say that Graham and others do with the clobber texts, the talk highlighted is worth listening to if you haven’t heard of them, I am not going to unpack all of that now. What I want to talk about is the protest, was it right?
Was it right, well cards on the table, I love that Sheffield Cathedral held a prayer vigil, and I supported the protestors in the car park, not with my presence but with online prayers of my own. Why? Well partly because I identify as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community ( maybe it is a bit clearer why my marriage failed- though it is much more complex than that), but I also take a pattern from Jesus himself, whose opposition to the rigid teaching of the Pharisees, Sadducees and the religious elite who surrounded them was often outspoken and demonstrable in the way he not only drew the excluded to him, but also in the way that he challenged their teaching! In the Sermon on the Mount, ( the link is to Matthew 5, keep reading through to Chapter 7) he turns some of the rigid thinking upside down, not only should we not murder, but we should not harbour hateful thoughts, in place of an eye for an eye he offers the subversive act of turning the other cheek, he warns against outward shows of piety and prayer, and repeats the phrase “You have heard it said…. but I say to you…..” on more than one occasion. He also warns us about removing the log from our own eye before offering to remove the speck from our siblings eye!
Jesus is the one who challenged the rules of the day by healing the man with the withered hand in the synagogue on the Sabbath, challenging the shocked leaders with the question; “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep!” they were not too happy to have their hypocrisy exposed, Jesus is the one who has mercy on the woman caught in adultery and dragged before him by a baying hoard hungry for a stoning by challenging the crowd that only the one who is without sin can cast the first stone, he sent her on her way without condemning her! Jesus is the one who commended the faith of the woman who had been bleeding for 7 years, the law says she should not go out in public, he set her free, healed and seen!
The whole trajectory of the gospel is to include the excluded, the life of Jesus revealed a more expansive and loving God than many of the struggling Old Testament Texts affirming wars and violence in the name of God, as humankind grapples to work out it’s relationship with the one who named ALL of creation good!
Do I believe that Jesus would have opposed the gun lobby in the U.S.A? Yes I do, his call to non-violence and its evidence on the cross is clear there.
Do I believe that Jesus would have welcomed the stranger and the refugee? Yes I do, his affirmation of the marginalised and the excluded, his words about finding him in the prisoner and the outcast make that clear, as do Old Testament instructions regarding the treatment of foreigners and refugees, and against the exploitation of them.
Do I believe that Jesus would have welcomed members of the LGBTQIA+ community without demanding that they change the essence of who they are, which is far more than anything about sexual desire, but of course also includes that! Do I have evidence from the gospel that he did so, well no, but neither is there evidence to the contrary. The texts so often weaponised against LGBTQIA+ people are often misinterpreted and taken out of context, while other commands that surround them are ignored. This video is well worth watching, showing that the word homosexual was not included in the Bible until 1946!
So, I disagree with Franklin Graham and his supporters, I read the Bible differently from him and his followers, and any others who read Scripture in the same way that he does. I am a Christian and I disagree with him! We are both a part of the body of Christ, I would like to deny that, but I cannot deny it, there will be those I disagree with vehemently, and those I disagree with from time to time, sadly Graham falls in the former group for me, and I suspect I do for him. I lament the brokenness of the body of Christ as much as I lament the brokenness in my family, but I refuse to cover it up and be silent, and while I am not going to air the whole of my family story in public (we will work through it), I will speak up against what I hear as hate speech, I would also enter into open and honest, respectful debate, something we in the Methodist Church have attempted over the last few years ( though it began many decades before), but to say we have come to complete agreement and do not bear the scars of the process would be wrong!
So what is the way forward, I truly do not know, I pray for love and unity in the church, the church I am sure that the Spirit groans within and Jesus weeps over just as he wept over Jerusalem. I pray for the glorious diversity in which God’s creation is shown to be celebrated by all, and that includes the diversity of humankind, with our differing skin tones, eye patterns, finger prints, heights, loves, passions, values, spiritualities, genders and sexualities. I hold out the hope of Revelation 21, that one day there will be no more sickness, sighing or pain, but I don’t expect the perfection of the new creation will be anything but wonderfully and gloriously diverse. I will pray for love, justice, mercy and healing, and if that means writing a blog, or lifting a placard to tell those who have been excluded that, they are in fact included then I will continue to do so!
As the wonderful prayer in the Wee Worship Book ( Iona ) says:
“…. on our own we could never discover that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither male nor female.
ALL ARE ONE IN CHRIST, AND FOR THIS WE PRAISE YOU! “
All are one in Christ, perhaps that is the most challenging part of all!