Posted below are the Digging Deeper pages that complement the Facing the Issues reflections given by Rev Canon Andrew Evans and posted on our website: stmichaelswithstmarkpreston.co.uk
Facing the Issues #1 TUMBLING STATUES
During the summer of 2020 demonstrations in support of the Black Lives Matter movement raised the issue of how we as a society remember people and events from the past which in modern eyes are now controversial. The key to this was the toppling of the statue to Edward Coulston and its unceremonious dumping in Bristol harbour.
Andrew introduces the reflection with memories of seeing Coulston’s memorial in All Saint’s church, the home of the Bristol Diocesan Board of Education.
Can you think of other people who have been memorialised by statues who might be considered to be controversial? Cecil Rhodes is remembered by a statue at Oriel College in Oxford, home to the ‘Rhodes scholars.’ He was an imperialist who named a country after himself, ‘Rhodesia’, modern day Zimbabwe. Or Air Vice Marshal ‘Bomber’ Harris, whose statue outside St. Clement le Dane in London is frequently covered in red paint because of his policy of the saturation bombing of civilian areas of Germany during world war two. Or, even, Britain’s first woman Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, who remains a divisive figure in modern politics and whose home town of Grantham is wracked by debate at the moment. What is your view of these or other people who might be considered controversial?
How we ‘remember’ and ‘memorialise’ is therefore important. In Hebrew, the word ‘zebek’ means remembrance/memory and in both the Old Testament and New there is a call to remember how God’s grace and action had lasting effect.
You can read the story of the Passover remembered in Exodus 13. v 2-10.
You can read the story of the Last Supper in the gospel of Luke 22 v.1-2, 7-20.
You can read the story of the woman who pours oil upon Jesus here in Matthew 26 v.6-13
So, as Christians we are actually called to remember what God’s grace has done for the good of the world.
What then are the issues we face here? You can dig deeper:
You may like to listen to David Olosuga, historian and broadcaster discuss the toppling of the statue and its significance on Desert Island Discs on BBC Sounds.
Slavery was an accepted part of life in Jesus’ day. What was extraordinary was that enslaved people were welcomed and seen as equals before God as members of the Early Church. Read again Paul’s letter to Philemon.
Find out more about modern slavery: www.antislavery.org
Context is vitally important. The National Trust got into hot water by highlighting the fact that 93 of its homes have direct links to the slave trade. You can read the report by searching for: Colonialism and historic slavery report | National Trust.
FACING THE ISSUES: DIGGING DEEPER #2
Be the light. Reflections for Holocaust Memorial Day 2021
Holocaust Memorial Day is held each year on 27<sup>th</sup> January. This was the day in 1945 when units of the Russian army came upon the largest of the Nazi death camps in occupied Poland; at Auschwitz, a place which has come to be synonymous with the planned mass murder of European Jews.
The policy of genocide pursued by the Nazi government in Germany had seen the murder of an estimated six million Jewish men, women and children along with the systematic killing of hundreds of thousands of people with special needs, Romany’s, homosexuals, political opponents and Jehovah Witnesses.
The word ‘genocide’ was first coined in 1944 by combining the Greek word for people or race (geno) with the Latin word meaning ‘to kill’. It was accepted as the definition for the systematic and planned destruction of an entire group of people by the United Nations in 1948.
The term was applied retrospectively to what happened to the Armenian people during and after the First World War in Turkey and in more recent years in regard of events in Rwanda in 1994 when in just 100 days over 800,000 minority Tutsi people were killed by the Hutu’s. Just this week there have been discussions whether it should be applied to the Uighur Muslim community in China.
The word ‘holocaust’ is used these days to recall this mass murder of the Jewish peoples of Europe. It is a Greek word meaning ‘sacrifice by fire’. Jewish people, however, tend to refer to these events as the ‘Shoah’ which is the Hebrew word for ‘catastrophe.’
The concept of a ‘concentration camp’ was first so-called and developed by the British authorities during the South African Boer War of 1899 – 1901 when some 115,000 Boer women and children, and 20,000 African peoples, were ‘concentrated’ in camps. Due to neglect, disease and little compassion some 48,000 of Boer descent died of which 22,000 were children, and some 20,000 died of black African descent.
Anti-semitism was a phrase coined in France in the 1870’s and this distrust, dislike and even hatred of Jewish people has very deep roots in European history and culture, not least in the profession of the Christian faith. That may shock you.
The writers of the New Testament were Jews themselves, in Paul’s case a Pharisee. As the ‘Christians’ began to separate more and more from the practices of Judaism, over such things as circumcision and strict dietary laws, splits emerged which later became so bitter that persecution began, and martyrdoms, like St. Stephen. Paul, after all, was on the road to Damascus to seize the Christians living there. Christians gathered away from the temple and synagogue in ‘churches’. And the bitterness felt between the two was reflected in both the Gospels, the book of Acts and the Letters.
The first country to expel the Jews was England in 1290.Over time other European countries followed suit and as Christopher Columbus sailed from harbour for his expedition to find a new route to India in 1492 he had to navigate through a myriad of small craft carrying Spanish Jews into exile. The Nazis insisted that Jews identify themselves with yellow Stars of David sewn upon their clothes. This was not an innovation. Jews had first been expected to do this by the Lateran Council of Rome in 1215.
One of the worse massacres took place in York in 1190 and you might like to read more here: The Massacre of the Jews at Clifford's Tower | English Heritage (english-heritage.org.uk)
For a better understanding of the roots of anti-semitism in the New Testament you may like to read the following:
Matthew 23. Matthew 27.26, 1 Thessalonians 12.16, John 8.44, Revelation 2.9
Here we see the origins of the charge of deicide (the killing of the Son of God) made against the Jews as a people. The curse that John says they called down upon themselves is the basis of the so called ‘blood-libel’, further developed in the Middle Ages with the charge that Jews killed Christian children so their blood may be used in the preparation of matza bread for the seder at Passover. The charge of deicide was not revoked by the Roman Catholic Church until the Second Vatican Council in 1967.
In recent years there have been charges of anti Semitism and Islamophobia within our political parties, bound up with tensions in modern society and national and international politics. It is sobering that over half of British Jews recently surveyed said they do not wear openly symbols of their faith for fear of verbal or physical attack.
On 19 January, in the House of Lords, the Government defeated an amendment being debated that a ‘genocide’ clause be added to a potential trade bill with China in relation to its treatment of the Uighur peoples.
You may like to explore these issues further with these online resources:
Link to UK Holocaust Memorial Day Trust information and details: Holocaust Memorial Day Trust | Be the light in the darkness (hmd.org.uk)
To further explore Yad Vashem go to yadvashem.org
The Auschwitz Album The Auschwitz Album (yadvashem.org)
This is a series of photographs which charts the arrival of people off the trains to the time they wait to go, unbeknown, to the gas chambers. They are haunting images.
You might like to discuss Holocaust Memorial Day with older children. To help set the context the story of Anne Frank is particularly powerful. The Anne Frank Education Trust has excellent resources at annefrank.org.uk
Facing the Issues #3 The Prince and the Pauper
· Factoid: The world’s richest ten individuals are £400billion more wealthy since the Covid 19 pandemic began.
· 31% of children aged 0-15 in PRESTON, some 6214 young people, are living in households defined to be below the ‘poverty line’. (Source House of Commons Library).
Being poor is an endemic situation for millions of people throughout the world, and inherent in many of the communities in our own country. For the world’s very poorest, living on around the equivalent of a US dollar a day (about 0.73 pence in pounds) is a struggle for daily survival.
In the UK poverty is defined as earning less than 60% of the average income. Last year according to the Office of National Statistics the average income was £30,800. That places the ‘poverty line’ at an income of £23,280. However, it has been estimated that the income of a single parent with two children is £10,140 (195.00 a week).
The average family in the UK spends £2417 on an annual holiday, the equivalent of more than 20% of the income of the poorest.
Poverty is actually much more than a low and insufficient income. A larger issue is one of inequality which shows itself in educational advantage, health, housing, employment and wages and life expectancy.
Inequality varies according to age, gender, ethnic origin, and region within the UK.
You may like to learn more about levels of poverty in the UK from the following websites:
Joseph Rowntree Foundation www.jrf.org.uk
The bible is soaked in the call for justice and care and compassion for the poor in society. You might like to read the following:
The story of Ruth. ‘Disaster strikes women when their spouses die’.
The prophet Amos: 5. 21-24 Raging against inequality.
Luke1.46-55 ‘The Magnificat’
Matthew 5. 1-9 ‘The Beatitudes’
Matthew 25. 31-46 ‘When you do it for the least of these….’
Acts 4. 32-37 ‘The Believers share their possessions’.
Poverty and inequality is a very complex subject. Writing recently Simon Jenkins said “emotional rhetoric is rarely a good agency for reform – answers can only lie in details.’ And it is in the political arena that those details are discussed and acted upon. Our Christian response is to be on top of the detail, to understand the scriptural call to justice, and to be the voice for the powerless.
Facing the Issues: Digging Deeper #4
A Moral Climate
For nearly three hundred years, since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and all the changes that ushered in, humanity has been pumping carbon into the atmosphere. This has had a profound effect on the ecosystem of Earth and the bill is about to be presented in terms of climate change.
In the narrative of the Creation story, humans were given ‘dominion’ over the world. The word comes from a Latin root ‘dominar’ from which we also get the word ‘domination’ meaning to control or tower over. The interpretation of this scripture has in the past sometimes led the Church to be less than careful with the natural world, exploiting rather than conserving it. You can read the scripture for yourself in Genesis Chapter 1 (especially v29).
For God, creation was ‘good’ and He takes pleasure in it. In Colossians 1v16 we see that creation was ‘through and for him’ and in Revelation 4 the elders sing God’s praise because he created all things for his pleasure. While humanity may have ‘domination’, we ought not to forget that the ongoing creational processes of the world are God’s.
The Psalmists continued that praise of creation. You may like to read Psalm 104, and read God’s answer to Job’s challenge in Job 38 with its stunning images and poetical language.
The patron saint of ecology is St. Francis whose story of his love of the created order is profound and was very much out of step with his times.
You can read his biography here:
Later this year the Government is hosting an international summit in Glasgow to further discuss the profound impact of climate change and how without immediate action to prevent the average world temperature raising by 1.5C potentially cataclysmic events will be triggered.
You may like to find out some more about climate change here:
If you are interested in the impact that climate change will have on the poorest communities, and especially on the lives of women and children this website provides excellent resources:
In his vlog Andrew talks about the small things we can do which can have a big impact. You might like to read the article to which he refers to here:
And the full Chatham House report here:
Try not to be overwhelmed by the sheer size and scope of the climate crisis. It doesn’t have to be as bad as predicted but we are called (and I use that word purposefully) to respond
Digging Deeper Facing the Issues #5
Same sex, different love?
Over the last several years the Church of England has been examining the very differing views that Christians have over questions of identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage. By their nature, such discussions can give rise to very strong views on both sides. The issues of gender identity are covered here, of sexual orientation and biblical references further below.
During 2021 parishes, deaneries and dioceses are asked to give consideration to the national discussion document called Living in Love and Faith.
Under the Premiership of David Cameron in 2014 the then Coalition government passed legislation to legalise same-sex relationships under the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act. You may like to read a fact sheet published by the Government at the time here: 140423_M_SSC_Act_factsheet__web_version_.pdf (publishing.service.gov.uk) It is made clear that such marriages are considered to be ‘Civil’ and not ‘religious’ in character and that faith communities must decide on an individual basis as whether or not to allow the conduct of same-sex marriages by its ministers and on its premises. It is this which has led to the current debate.
Living in Love and Faith is a wider consideration of gender, sexuality and marriage, however. The report considers the issues of those who consider they have a binary gender, or are transgender and how this is expressed in day to day life in modern society. It examines fundamental questions of how we define ourselves as human beings, how we relate to each other with different experiences of gender and sexuality and the role of living in faith in a Christian community.
You can view a short introduction to the themes of the report here: Introducing Living in Love and Faith - YouTube
You can download and read the whole report here: Living in Love and Faith | The Church of England
St. Michael’s is by tradition a Liberal Catholic church and is aligned to the Inclusive Church movement. This means we have a more open and questioning view of scripture. This does not mean that we do not respect or take scripture seriously but we do use reason to challenge and re-evaluate the Bible for our modern times. (The Anglican Church would say it is built upon the pillars of Scripture, Tradition and Reason). As a Christian community we hope to welcome people from all experiences to play a full part in the life of our church. You can read more about this on our website or here on ‘A church near you’ (postcode PR2 1AJ).
You can learn more about Inclusive Church and what it says about sexuality here: Sexuality – Inclusive Church (inclusive-church.org) Sexuality – Inclusive Church (inclusive-church.org)
February is LGBT+ History month and you can find more details here: - LGBT+ History Month (lgbtplushistorymonth.co.uk)
As the issue of the role of women in the Church, and whether or not they might scripturally or by tradition act as priests was divisive, so too, sadly, is the consideration of human sexuality, gender and identity which is also a topic of ‘hot debate’.
The views of Conservative Evangelicals in the Church of England are broadly represented by the Church of England Evangelical Council which is chaired by Bishop Julian, our diocesan bishop. You can read a report of his comments following the publication of Living in Love and Faith here: Evangelicals turn to ‘alternative solutions’ if changes to doctrine on sexuality are made (churchtimes.co.uk) Bishop Julian wrote subsequently to all members of clergy in the diocese reemphasising his role as a symbol of unity in the Church..
The view of Conservative Evangelicals more widely is represented in a document produced by the Evangelical Alliance (member churches of which are not all Church of England but Baptist and Independent) which you can read here: Transformed.pdf (eauk.org)
An outline of Biblical texts are noted below:
What does the Bible say about same-sex relationships?
The biblical texts:
Genesis 19. 1-14, Leviticus. 18. 22; 20.13, Deuteronomy 23.17-18, Romans 1.24-27, 1 Corinthians 6.9-10, 1 Timothy 1.10
Brief synopsis of each text:
Genesis: The key verse is v5 where the men of Sodom, thinking the angels are mortals wish to ‘know’ them. To’ know’ is usually interpreted as to ‘have sexual union’. Some scholars argue that this passage can be interpreted as a gang rape or equally is part of a wider condemnation of the society of Sodom which was seen to be moving away from God (see Is. 1.10, 3.9 (injustice), Jeremiah 23.4 (irresponsible acts) Ezekiel 16.49 sin of pride, excessive food and indifference to the needy. The scholarly consensus is that this passage refers to gang rape rather than consensual relationship.
Leviticus: This book aims at teaching the people of Israel to live as a holy nation. This is therefore a comprehensive guide to every aspect of national life. The two references are specific in their condemnation and the scholarly consensus is that this is the case. However, some, while not arguing with the texts, question why the texts are condemnatory. e.g. is the condemnation about ritual sexual acts, which are seen to be idolatrous. Some argue that the whole of Leviticus 18 is about building stable family life, and therefore the condemnation is really about the sterility of the act and consequential loss of semen. Masturbation would be similarly condemned.
Deuteronomy: The function of this book was, like Leviticus, to set the seal upon fidelity to the law before the people of Israel entered the Promised Land. V. 17-18 is a condemnation of cultic prostitution. In the Authorised Version the Greek word quades is translated as ‘dog’ and in the RSV as ‘sodomite’. There are six other references to such people in the OT (Deut. 23.17, 1 Kings 14.24, 15.12, 22.46, 2 Kings 23.7 Job 36.14). The scholarly consensus is that these texts condem all male prostitution not just homosexual prostitution.
Note there is no reference to lesbianism in the OT. What is clear is that the Early Church, when faced with lesbianism in the Hellenistic culture, saw the prohibitions of Leviticus as pertaining to women also.
Romans: This is a complex letter and in it Paul sets out his attempt at giving his full understanding of the good news of Jesus Christ for all people. The gentile world had turned away from God and worshipped idols. They gave up God to a whole list of sins including sexual immorality. Those who had given themselves up to this paganism had turned away from the natural order. The scholarly consensus is that this is the correct reading of this text. Early commentators have read the reference to ‘unnatural’ acts to include anal intercourse or women taking the ‘superior’ position during the sexual act. It is now taken that Paul was referring to lesbianism.
1 Corinthians: The context of this text is Paul’s warning to the members of the Church about taking each other to court to settle disputes. As an example of ‘unrighteousness’ Paul condemns in the RSV translation ‘sexual perverts’. Traditionally this was seen as homosexual activity. However, more recent interpretations of the Greek words malakoi and arsenokitai do not refer specifically to homosexuality at all but to male prostitution including pedestary. There is no word in Greek or Hebrew for homosexual activity. Rather the words refer to ‘passive partners’, often young boys. Paul seems to be making a reference to the holiness code of Leviticus and is reapplying traditional OT condemnation to the Church of Corinth.
1 Timothy: In this context the church is again troubled by false teachers. In the NSRV the word ‘sodomites’ is in fact the Greek arsenokitai as in 1 Corinthians. Some have argued that verses 8-10 are a development of the second half of the Ten Commandments. ‘ It is clear that what was forbidden under the old code is also forbidden under the new.’
Some reference on the position of Jesus
Jesus reached out to those who were morally unacceptable and ritually unclean ( Matt. 9.9-13)
Mark 5.25-34, he was prepared to subordinate Jewish law to human need ( Mark 2.23 – 3.6) and when asked to summarize the Law he emphasised the commandment of love. ( Mark 12.28-34).
It may be interpreted that Jesus did implicitly reject homosexuality in Mark 7.21 where ‘fornication’ was taken to understand to refer to all things prohibited in Levitical law including bestiality, incest and adultery.
Homosexuality: ‘The presence of a predominant and persistent psychosexual attraction towards members of the same sex’.
Gays and Lesbians: A preferred term in modern culture being seen as less ‘clinical’ and not purveying the ‘narrow genital focus’ in the definition of a person. ref. ‘Gay icon’, ‘Gay bar’ etc.
Orientation: ‘The best that can be said is that little is understood conclusively about the genesis of either homosexual or heterosexual orientation.
Four theological positions:
Rejecting-punitive: Homosexuality is unconditionally rejected, either in orientation or in its general expressions. There is a punitive attitude toward lesbians and gay men. Such arguments rest upon literal non contexual interpretations of passages of scripture and are usually buttressed by cultural stereotypes of homosexual people.
Rejecting-nonpunitive: Homosexual acts are condemned as unnatural, idolatrous and a violation of God’s creative intent. A distinction is made between acts and orientation. Aquinas argued that sexual intercourse without the intent of generation was a sin against nature. (nb on this rests the Catholic argument against contraception). Orientation is not condemned but understood as essentially flawed. The person of homosexual orientation is therefore someone, who in the light of God’s mercy, should be treated compassionately and in need of the Church’s ministry. In extremes this has led to so called ‘conversion therapies’ or ‘pray-the-gay-away’, an action explicitly forbidden by the Church of England.
Qualified acceptance: Stance as before, in that homosexual activity is against God’s created order. However, understanding that orientation is fixed in an early age and the desire should be sublimated. If this is not possible then sexual activity should take place only with a mognonomous relationship.
Full acceptance: Sexual orientation is a given and not therefore a matter of personal choice. Homosexual acts are elevated to the same status as heterosexual acts. This flows from elements of C17th Protestant theology which saw sexuality as unitive i.e all sexual acts ought to be evaluated by their relational qualities. Does the relationship enhance human fulfilment, faithfulness, mutuality, genuine intimacy and communion?
The position of the House of Bishop’s in Issues in Human Sexuality (1991) was then one of ‘qualified acceptance’. However, those who were openly and practicing gays were not to be ordained. This situation has changed although it continues to be the case that gay clergy are expected to be celibate. The Church of England now recognizes clergy in Civil Partnership but not who have married.
You can read the story of one such case here: