Last Saturday, on one of those remarkably beautiful days we get, I was delighted to sit with representatives from a couple of other churches in town at a table in Rotary Park. We were there as part of the Cranbrook PRIDE celebration and for three hours we talked with people, listening to them, sharing with them our sense of a God whose essence is love and who welcomes all people, regardless of race, age, gender, wealth, size, or sexual orientation.
The most remarkable thing about the day for me was those people who came to our table and told us how important it was that we were there. They were glad to see a spiritual presence which doesn’t judge or condemn but welcomes all people as valued and valuable children of God. My heart swelled with gratitude at those words.
Half a world away on the same day, a momentous referendum was being held in Ireland, where some 62 per cent of the people of Ireland voted to change the Irish constitution to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry.
That is cause for celebration. There is already far too much vengeance and violence in our world against those who are different. The outcome of this referendum points to a new possibility of living together with compassion. It was heartening to see a fairly conservative society accept that gay rights are human rights, and that all people should have these rights as a matter of course.
The vote means that a marriage between two people of the same sex will have the same status under the Irish constitution as a marriage between a man and a woman. Gay and lesbian couples will be recognized as a family and be entitled to constitutional protection for families.
Civil partnerships for same–sex couples have been legal in Ireland since 2010. It gave couples legal protection, but that protection could be taken away by the government. That has all changed now, since the Irish constitution can only be changed by a public referendum. These rights can only be removed by another popular vote.
I was heartened to hear Diarmuid Martin, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Dublin and one of Ireland’s most senior Roman Catholic clerics, say that the “Church in Ireland needs to reconnect with young people. We [the Church] have to stop and take a reality check, not move into a denial of the realities.”
It signals a new openness on the part of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland. It’s the same kind of openness which we have seen in the way Pope Francis has conducted himself ever since his election.
I recognize that there are people who disagree with me. Particularly, I recognize that there are faithful Christians for whom this is the wrong step to take. Many of them live by the slogan, “The Bible says it; I believe it; that settles it!”
Unfortunately, it’s not quite that easy. The reality is that there is not a single person on earth who lives entirely by what the Bible says. Not a single one of us!
We don’t stone our children when they curse us (Leviticus 20:9). Some of us eat our meat medium rare, or rare, which clearly violates the command not to eat the blood of any creature (Leviticus 17:14). Most of us don’t worry if we shop on the Sabbath (which, of course, is Saturday in the Old Testament). We no longer keep slaves, even though the Bible condones it. We don’t prevent handicapped people from coming to church or approaching God, even though the Bible forbids it (Leviticus 21:17–21). The list goes on and on.
The reality is that none of us follows the Bible literally. Not a single one of us.
There are some, however, who take a very few verses from the Bible out of context and use them as battering rams against gay and lesbian people. They believe homosexuality is wrong; they believe it is unnatural, and so they will use anything they can find to condemn the LGBTQ community.
Let me suggest that the heart of Biblical teaching is found in these simple words: Love God with all that you are. Love your neighbour as yourself. I think that God is always doing something new in the world, creating and recreating, making life more whole, more joyful, more just.
To love our neighbour doesn’t mean we always have to agree with each other. But it does mean that we have to treat each other with respect, compassion and grace. It is time, as Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said, for the church to stop and take a reality check. It is time for us to reach out in love to all people.
Yme Woensdregt is Pastor at Christ Church Anglican in Cranbrook