Please take time to read this rather long invite to the above meeting. It is a long letter because I have taken time to think about how to communicate on this sensitive issue. I hope you will take time to read and come to the event. I hope you will also accept and respond in the spirit I have written to you.
As an organisation Signpost International has wrestled with how to respond to the worldwide debate within the church on the issue of human sexuality. As a Christian Community dedicated to expressing our faith through eliminating violence, poverty and injustice and establishing Shalom we found that we are not immune from this issue. Signpost International is made up of a group of Christians who have different perspectives on this issue. Our different church partners around the world also see this issue in different ways. We have found for instance that in Uganda where evangelical Christian are calling for the death penalty for gay people we have had tried to challenge that extreme view and been cast in the ‘liberal’ role. Equally we have found ourselves cast in a more ‘conservative’ role when faced with abusive behaviour. The board of trustees have concerns that by even raising the issue we may be courting controversy and stirring up feelings that are unhelpful and yet feel that there are real issues that need to be explored in a wider context. So with prayerful concern Signpost has partnered with the Episcopal Church to host an evening with Peggy and Tony Campolo.
The evening will explore two peoples different views on human sexuality and the bible. How as a married couple they fundamentally disagree on what the bible teaches and how they have managed to live as a happily married couple. They will tell their story
Stories are sacred, and at this event we will try to treat them as such.
As the Director of Signpost International my wife and I have sat across the room as a young woman, looking down at her hands, told us her story….complete with the difficult parts…. each word chosen with the kind of care and courage that made me recognise that moment as a precious gift. It was a gift because it cost her something—vulnerability, painful memories, the possibility of rejection. And it was a gift because it honoured us to know we were trusted with something so valuable, so fragile, and so personal.
Stories faithfully and bravely told are sacred gifts, and in this evening, we will treat Tony and Peggy’s story with gentleness and respect. There will opportunity to hear others stories, the stories from both sides of the issue. When people tell their stories, whether we agree or not, we will be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. This is not an evening for those that want to win, or force their point; nor is it intended to change anyone’s stance. It is intended to be a safe place where we can meet and elevate the discussion from what is currently seen as the acceptable medium of cultural engagement—the polarising back-and-forth, win-lose rhetoric in which no one wins; because when Christians talk about sexuality we tend to revert to sides or stance. As in, we take other people’s stories and make them about us: where we stand on “issues” like homosexuality and premarital sex. Perhaps we do this because we are frightened by the complexity of sexuality, a complexity that does not lend itself to the comfortable categories that assure us that we’re right, that we’re “in,” that we’re safe, that we’re talking about “other” people from “other” places in “other” communities.
We have been advised by some people not to go here so why do it.
In some ways we have felt trapped by fear. When faced with fundamentalist Christians in Africa calling for the death penalty for homosexual people dare we speak out as a more moderate voice, when friends and colleagues dare to share the secrets they have been hiding how do we walk with them.
So, at its heart, this meeting is not about stance, but about people. Homosexuality is not a mere “issue.” Singleness is not a mere “issue.” Marriage is not a mere “issue.” As any mother of a gay child or survivor of sexual abuse will tell you, when we talk about sexuality, we are talking about real people, real bodies, real families, real lives. To forget this is to subject our fellow human beings, created in the image of God, to a sort of theological objectification that robs them of their humanity and renders their stories, their experience, their backgrounds, their spirituality, their relationships, their struggles, and their joys down into something I can either “affirm” or “condemn,” something that is either “pure” or “defiled.” Yes, we are called to “test the spirits,” to think critically, to make judgment calls, and at times to call out sin, but above all, we are called to love. And love does not objectify. It is not rude or self-seeking. It does not delight in evil, but rejoices in the truth. And without love, our discussions and debates and polemics are just clanging cymbals that hurt the ears of God.
And so, as we listen to one another’s stories, we must quiet ourselves. We must listen. We must love. We must take off our shoes. For we are on sacred ground.
Scripture is sacred, and we will treat is as such.
This means recognizing our own biases and presuppositions when it comes to interpretation, educating ourselves about the culture and context in which the Bible was written and assembled, and resisting the universal tendency to conform the Bible into a weapon or an idol of our own making. Taking the Bible seriously, means accepting it on its own terms, living in its tensions and confronting those texts we don’t like or understand and sitting with them for a while, perhaps even a lifetime. It means respecting the Bible enough to wrestle with it.
That an ancient collection of history, poetry, letters, laws, prophecies, proverbs, and stories might have something important—indeed, sacred—to say about sexuality may seem like foolishness to many, but we are as committed as ever to the notion that Scripture is inspired by God, and useful for teaching, correcting, and training, so that the people of God are equipped for the good works we are called to share with the world.
And so, as part of the meeting, we will be discussing what the Bible says about sexuality, looking at the “big picture” as well as the particular texts that tend to spark debate.
We do not intend for these discussions around Scripture to stand in contrast to the stories we share, but rather to complement them. After all, the Bible is mostly stories, and even the letters and laws we tend to read as dry directives themselves arose from the context of a story.
Sexuality is sacred, and we will treat it as such.
How is sexuality sacred?
Well, we are not entirely sure, to be honest. That’s something we will be exploring together as part of the meetings
We are however sure that preserving the sacredness of sexuality means speaking about it with reverence, respect, and truth (and with some humour now and then too, as I’m convinced that our ability to laugh at ourselves has a direct correlation to our ability to spot the idols in our lives). It may also be true that preserving the sacredness of sexuality means giving up control, relinquishing power, and leaving space for mystery.
Perhaps the hardest part of recognizing the sacredness of sexuality is acknowledging the fact that we will not master it, that we won’t ever be able to “get it right”—not exactly. As Christians we make the most beautiful things ugly when we try to systematize a mystery. I suspect this is why much of what the Bible has to say about sexuality is said with poetry.
So please come ready to listen and if you would like to ask a question please write it down and hand it to a steward on the night. We will only take question written and handed in so as to ensure that the space we create remains a safe place for people to share.
Tony and Peggy Campolo – A dialogue: 12th September 2013- 7:30 p.m. St Pauls Cathedral, Dundee
There is no charge for the event but a retiring collection will be taken to cover the costs of the event.
Please let your congregation know about this event. Everyone is welcome. I look forward to seeing you there,