The Uniting Church in Australia has spent close on 40 years in often acrimonious debate over the place of LGBTI people in the Uniting Church. I was an often less than charitable participant in this debate; I understood that if the church ultimately decided to reject LGBTI people, there was no place in it for me as a minister. The anti-LGBTI stance seemed to correlate with an approach to biblical interpretation, and with a social conservatism, which I found personally destructive. It seemed to me that if LGBTI folk were driven out it would not be long before an invitation was also issued to the likes of me. So this section of One Man's Web, which dates from the early nineties, is not only so out of date as to be an embarrassment, but is strident and unhelpful. I have archived most of the material.
I have two observations: The first is that LGBTIQ people are overwhelmingly normal decent and flawed human beings like the rest of us. The idea that God thinks less of them, or loves them less, is a measure of our own lack of love. It is our projection of our own petty hates and fears.
The second observation is that Uniting Church, and the Methodist Church in which I grew up, seems always to have had an issue over which to disagree: alcohol, the place of women, the balance between evangelism and social justice, hymns v. choruses, "baptism in the spirit," the authority of Scripture... the list goes on.
My appreciation of this second observation was given a sharp jolt at the final meeting of the Presbytery of South Australia, where we were asked to decide whether to request the Assembly to reconsider its decision on same sex marriage.
From that experience, I conclude that homophobia is indeed real. But it is not the LGBTI person we are really frightened about. That is a camouflage for the real fear; we use LGBTI people to hide from our fear that perhaps God does not really love us and might abandon us. The article to which I am linking you, was written in response to that meeting and my experience of it. All our differences, the ones we really fight over, come down, in the end, to the fear that God might abandon me. So we seek to guarantee grace.
It's a long post, but one of the more important posts on this website. An excerpt from What just happened?:
One more cycle
For as long as I have been able to understand such things, I have seen a divide through the churches which nurtured me, and through the Uniting Church for whom I am a minister. It has variously been over the status of the bible, an emphasis on justice vs. an emphasis on evangelism, the degree to which women may hold authority on an equal footing to men, the inclusion of LGBTIQ folk, questions about whose race and culture is normative for the church and, now, in this latest cycle, who may marry whom.
But none of these issues have been the issue, not even the issue of biblical authority and interpretation, even though that has often been a central point of contention within other issues. All of these issues have simply been the current or most recent occasion for an argument, and for an anxiety, about something deeper.
I call this argument the tension between living under Babylon or living under Grace. It could called choosing between the Empire of Babylon and what Jesus called the Kingdom of God, which is the realm of grace as opposed to the slavery of Babylon. I will sketch out this tension in the next few pages and then unpack the notion of Babylon in more detail.
The Deeper Issue: Babylon or Grace?
We have been involved in an ongoing search and struggle for grace. Grace is that gift and presence of God which we experience as a settled peace and contentment within all the fear and anxiety of life. It is a "but anyway" sense of something which underpins us even though circumstance threatens to undo us. And even as circumstance does undo us.
Grace is Israel's discovery in exile that the creation is good, (Genesis 1: and God saw that it was good, vv 4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 24, 31) and that God is for us. Grace is the fact, which we are sometimes blessed to experience, that we are not hated by God, are not an inconvenience to God, but are the desire of God's heart, and the apple of God's eye. But, like Israel in exile, we live within a Babylonian culture, by which I mean that we have inherited Babylon's fear of the gods who hated them, and for whom they were created as slaves. It is a rare thing for us to live fully within the truth that God is Love. (1 John 4:8)
Not only have we been searching for grace, but underlying our cyclical Uniting Church arguments has been an attempt to guarantee grace. Our struggles with each other have been a search for the power and authority to know objectively— to know for sure— that "we are saved." We preach that "by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God," (Eph 2:8) but our human frailty can never quite believe this, much less live with the reality that a gift does not have guarantees, but is… a grace we must trust! Grace flickers in and out of focus. We glimpse grace, and then fear that we will lose sight of it in all the noise and contradiction of the world. We glimpse grace and then fear God will withdraw it from us.
A part of the guarantee I seek in such a place is that my description and my experience is accepted as the correct one. For my glimpse of grace is too fragile to bear the truth of your glimpse of another aspect of the same God beyond all gods.
Until we cease seeking to humanly guarantee grace, and until we cease seeking to win the argument— whatever it is over this time— all sides of the argument will finally only add to whatever problem we have this time, and there will be no solution, only another temporary victory.
This is important to understand. We are all formed in Babylon. Therefore, all sides live and argue in the mould of Babylon, even if they happen to be objectively correct (at the moment) about whatever the argument happens to be.
This means that to win on the floor of Synod is to win nothing. It serves only to confirm my prejudice and to diminish you, (or the reverse...) until next time because, to win is the mindset of Babylon. In seeking to win— in seeking to guarantee grace for ourselves— we allow Babylon to hold us in a repetitive cycle of violence which never ends. If we listened to ourselves at Presbytery and at Synod we know that no one wanted to do violence, yet most of us felt violence. We could not help ourselves.
This is a place of pathos and pain: How will I know my glimpse of God is true if you do not agree with me? If you will agree with me, I will know I am right. So I work to persuade you. I seek the power to enforce your agreement, and if you won't agree, I will make you invisible in some way, so that you don't threaten my picture of the world where, at last, I have begun to find some peace and security.
Psalm 133 says
How very good and pleasant it is
when kindred live together in unity! ...
For there the Lord ordained his blessing,
life for evermore.
Is not this a true word? And is it not incredibly difficult to achieve? In fact, I don't think we can achieve such a unity in any healthy way. Unity is given to us at times. It is an occasional discovery. Part of our training in grace seems to be learning to stick around each other even though we feel no blessing of unity! But my desperation for certainty and safety is such that I am driven to achieve unity. I make it my god, my idol. I need to make it happen so that my deep fear of not belonging, and my deep fear of being driven out, will cease. Or, at least, be controlled a little.
For if I do not win the argument and persuade you to agree with me, God might disappear; grace might not be real...
Continue here: What just happened?