Our post last week received mixed response, it’s fair to say. Some were impressed by the passion, the force of the language and the raw emotion that lay beyond it all. Some were deeply offended, unimpressed by the swearing and confused as to what we were trying to say. Firstly, we would like to say a heartfelt thank you to all those who liked, commented or privately messaged us.
As Soho Gathering is deeply rooted in fellowship, we took the comments we had received to our time together last Thursday (13th August) and asked for the group to feedback, respond and agree or counter with them. This process of journeying together, seeking accountability and discerning God in community is at the crux of all we are trying to achieve and we would like to take the opportunity to share some of these thoughts with you today.
Perhaps the main criticism we received was related to the tone of voice and the choice of language in our piece responding to an article published in The Telegraph last week (for reference you can find that blog here: https://sohogathering.org/2015/08/12/time-to-turn-some-tables/). Yes, it was angry. Yes, it was brash and loud and, to be frank, rude. But we believe that the noisy, the uncontrolled and the painful to hear belong to our faith just as much as the well thought out, the rehearsed and the accommodating. Just as Scripture is filled with dozens of examples of people patiently enduring the storm, there are also times where we read lament, of cries of anger and of pain – thinking particularly of the Psalms and Job here, amongst others. We believe that we are quick to judge those who succumb to an impassioned emotional outburst and forget that raw feeling of discontent and anger have just as much a place in our walk with God as feelings of praise, happiness and joy. Pastorally this raises many questions – how should we respond to expressions of this kind of emotion? How would you react if you knew of someone who felt angry, hurt, betrayed, judged and beaten down time and time again by the Church?
A handful of others reflected upon the piece by rightfully challenging us on the nature of Christ’s call. We wrote that we do not believe that Christ offers ultimatums and attempts to threaten or coerce us into forsaking ourselves to follow him, and we stand by that. We do agree that Christ asks us to make sacrifices of ourselves, to count the cost and follow him but we do not believe that the inherent sexuality of someone is something that anyone has the ability to forsake. Whilst we are called to self-denial and at times this does include a life of celibacy and a denial of a person’s sexual nature, we believe that this is a specific calling that heterosexual and homosexual people alike can be called to and that an individual’s sexual identity does not mandate the call to celibacy. We believe that in demanding Jeremy Timm to choose between his partner and his ministry, the Archbishop of York was not asking Jeremy to count the cost and follow Christ, but rather to deny a part of himself that has the Godly potential to be just as beautiful, sustaining and fulfilling as any heteronormative relationship. We say again: some are called by God, not man, to count the cost and pursue a life of singleness and celibacy – but we believe that this is not a demand for all people who identify themselves differently to heteronormative society (whether this is lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or asexual).
A concern we noted was our apparent desire to avoid the “clobber passages”. Perhaps we should clarify: we are open to Godly, transparent and reasoned discussion regarding Scripture. We hold Scripture in high regard and sincerely believe that it is one of the ways in which God has revealed himself to humanity. We are not, however, interested in closed debate in which certain passages of Scripture are waved as swords to intimidate and quieten discussion. We believe in a God who continues to reveal Himself today as He did over the centuries that the Scriptures were written and that through both that Divine revelation and reason we can continue to see and experience God in powerful ways. We are not interested in proof-texting and do not wish to be drawn into an ongoing exchange of Bible verses, but we are passionate about wrestling with Scripture as we continue to journey to an understanding of who, what, how and why God is and therefore, what does that mean for His people?
Finally, there has been some understandable criticism around aspects of the language we used to describe our approach to the work of Soho Gathering. I refer not to the swearing, which I have already addressed, but instead words such as “nuanced”. We make no excuses for ourselves but wish to remind everyone again that this sharing of thoughts and feelings through text is not a perfect medium and sometimes our language, or even understanding of that language falls short. We would point out that this was one blog, and when we speak about “nuanced” we refer to our whole being as Soho Gathering. This one impassioned response is not all we have to say on the matter of human sexuality but is part of a whole number of blogs, talks we have been invited to speak at, symposiums we have collaborated in, and our weekly meetings. We have been, and continue to be, controlled, political and polite; this anger is one part of that bigger picture. By speaking of nuance, we were asking those who were willing, to join us in the “doing”. It was an invitation seeking out those who wished to participate in the conversation to do so actively and to offer their thoughts, insights and reflections so that the conversation itself might become affected, challenged and altered by the input of others. In the same way that listening to a piece of music can become nuanced by the social setting of the listeners, we believe that the conversation regarding human sexuality can become nuanced by the input of those participating and the world in which we find ourselves today.
Discussions around human sexuality will remain divisive for years to come. It is our intent and hope that we can facilitate these conversations in a way which is friendly, (most importantly, Godly) but with an honesty that makes space for pain and anger. We value all of your input and look forward to journeying with you further and so please do continue to talk to us, ask us what we mean and we will continue to do our upmost to respond.