Towards a Church without Standards

arnie-levin-user-name-and-password-new-yorker-cartoonWhen I was at school we were introduced to the art or science of debate. I thought that this would be good. I could argue for what I believed and wanted. Instead we discovered that we were told whether we were to argue for or against the motion. It was a good discipline and a good lesson. I often discovered that the act of preparing and delivering an argument changed my mind.

Why, someone asked me a decade or so ago, was I so keen on LGBT rights in the church since I am not LGB or T (I had never heard of Q or I then). The answer was that I was not fighting and arguing and preaching and praying and working towards LGBTQI rights. I was arguing for something less specific and something more fundamental and theologically essential.

The truth about the church only came to me when I was already committed to working for the inclusion of my fellow human beings who happen to be LGBTQI. I owe my understanding of the nature and function of the church to my tiny part in this battle.

I thought at first that I was arguing on behalf of others but I was wrong. I thought therefore for a while that this was a selfless fight in which I had no personal interest. But I recognised quite quickly that I was arguing on behalf of everyone including myself.

I realised that I am as welcome in the church as the person who is least welcome. I am only included if no-one is excluded.  An organisation which will exclude anyone will be prepared when the need is there to exclude absolutely anyone. In such an organisation or church everything becomes conditional. Every welcome is conditional. Such an organisation is incapable of grace or love. It cannot ever be authentic church.

Those who say that the decision of the Church of Scotland to extend equality of opportunity when it comes to ordination to people in same-sex and opposite sex marriage means that it has dropped its standards are absolutely correct. This is the beginning of the end. But it is the beginning of the end of conditional welcome. It is not so much the lowering of the standards as the removal of the barricades.

My prayer is that we do not even think of imagining that this is the end. This is a process. It is not an inevitable process. It still requires effort or it will become selfish and self-interested. The church which is bolstered and encouraged by our L and G  friends needs not only to reach out to the BTQ and I friends but to everyone who is excluded and reviled as an enemy or outsider.

And that includes those of other faiths. The rest of the intelligent world is right to mock the religious world for its disagreement and fighting. One group of irrational control freaks fighting another group of irrational control freaks would be funny if children and women and men didn’t suffer and die in their thousands because of it.

Conditional welcome and acceptance only benefits the few in control and at the centre. Everyone else sees through it. Unconditional welcome (e.g., turning the other cheek, loving those who persecute you, loving your enemies) will be the death of the church as we know it.

And quite right too because such a group would not be indistinguishable from the world but indistinguishable from Jesus.

Silence as a Prelude to Preaching


Therefore at such a time the prudent person keeps silent, for it is an evil time.  (Amos 5:13)

I think Amos’s words are wise. The prudent person, the wise person, does keep quiet most of the time. Let others do the speaking. Let others share their wisdom. Learn from them. If necessary let silence be a tactic and let them make fools of themselves. There are many reasons to remain silent. Not many of them are bad. Continue reading

Communion, A Sometimes Violent Grounding


On Sunday 5 June 2016 I will be leading a celebration of the Sacrament of Communion. My own Sacramental theology is in a state of flux. I do not know where metaphor begins and ends. I am confused by the semantics of the whole thing. My experience is that something very profound happens within me and to me and that this is more than a mere suggestive symbolism and that the sign does in some mysterious way embody the reality to which it points. Continue reading

The Prophet who Lunched


Jesus is the minister’s best teacher but not if the minister wishes to learn time management. Jesus was a waster.

Jesus wasted time. He squandered it. That was one of his things. He lived long before watches but the sun will have moved across the sky on many a day when Jesus does not appear to have done much. He made that into an art. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John tell us little but the little we learn teaches us that here was a man who could tell a story, enjoy and upset a dinner party, and generally gather with friends and strangers. Continue reading