A Community of Radical Inclusion

A few weeks ago, I preached this sermon at my local church. There’s a story behind me asking – and receiving – permission to preach it, and another whole set of stories about the response from the church members – both good, bad and ugly. The senior pastor, Gary Rivas (also Methodist Bishop of Johannesburg), responded to the sermon the week after I preached it, and there’s a few stories there too. I won’t tell any of those stories now. I will just share the sermon with you. There are two versions as I preached it at our main campus and then at our local campus. I have also included my actual sermon notes, and a link to Gary’s response.

This sermon is about one of the most pressing issues facing the Christian church in our generation: how we treat LGBTI people. And it is a call to listen to God’s Word, which calls us to be a community of radical inclusion. Enjoy. And let me know what you think.

Sermon: A Community of Radical Inclusion:

YouTube link
Podcast: audio version available here

Bishop Gary Rivas’ Response:

YouTube Link

Continue reading A Community of Radical Inclusion

Missional Business Seminar, Johannesburg, 5 Nov 2016

This is your invitation to a vitally important seminar. Download a PDF brochure here, and share with your friends.

The world is changing. More Christians from developing nations are becoming interested in mission. We need more people on the mission field, coming from more diverse backgrounds and finding new methods of funding their work.

Come and join a seminar hosted by OMF International that will investigate some new models of missional business.

LEARN about…

  • NEW WAYS of doing and funding mission
  • INTEGRATING your entrepreneurial spirit and gifts with mission to the ends of the earth
  • GOD AT WORK in various parts of the world through Missional Business

Continue reading Missional Business Seminar, Johannesburg, 5 Nov 2016

I am a racist. But I do not want to be one.

CONTEXT: A few weeks ago, a young girl at a school in South Africa protested against the rules of her school by wearing a fairly sizeable Afro-style hair style. On the face of it, this doesn’t sound like much. But there are many reasons this became a flashpoint for discussion and debate.

  • Firstly, it happened in a South Africa that has just experienced a watershed election, where the balance of power is shifting in the whole of society – we’re trying to work out what it means to be South African, rather than post-apartheid South African.
  • Secondly, hair is an issue for black women. It just is. I have an adopted black daughter, and hair has been an issue in our home since she arrived. I have spent many hours with her at hair salons, and marvel at what African women must endure to do anything with their hair.
  • Thirdly, hair is more than a merely cosmetic issue – it is a political issue. All the way back in the days of slavery, hairstyles distinguished the house slaves (who had to straighten their hair or wear wigs) and field slaves. It was an apartheid test for race – if a pencil stayed in your hair, you were ‘black’. I kid you not – this was happening in South Africa in the 1970s and 80s.
  • Fourthly, our world is built with a hidden (but very much intentional and specifically constructive) white heteronormative bias. Most white people (especially white, straight males) do not even notice this. Like fish don’t know they’re swimming in water.

I recently posted a Facebook profile picture with a short statement of support for all the young black women who are standing against their schools’ hair policies. The responses I received to this indicated that many people do not understand the racism inherent in the very system itself. I realised I was one of those people. So, I wrote this:
Continue reading I am a racist. But I do not want to be one.

Sermon: The story of Esther

The story of Esther, the poor orphan girl who rises to be Queen of the greatest Empire on earth, is one of my favourites. Many years ago I told it to a youth group at a camp, and since then the dramatisation of the story has been one of my favourite sermons to share. I got the chance to do so last year at our church, and I’ve finally had some time to edit the various video feeds into a single video.

So, here is the story of Esther, preached at my home church. Enjoy.

How to know your version of Christianity is broken

Last week, a lone gunman attacked a gay club in Orlando, Florida. Fifty people were killed, making this modern America’s worst mass shooting tragedy. We may never know for sure what the gunman’s motives were, although we do know that he made calls to 911 and the police claiming to be influenced by ISIS. For the purposes of this post, though, his motives are irrelevant.

An outpouring of grief and condolences followed. But not by everyone. Some Christians used the massacre as an opportunity to further their agenda of hatred towards the LGBT community in the most extraordinary ways.

The highest profile of these is Pat Robertson, front man of the 700 Club TV show. He used his show to claim that liberal LGBT rights advocates have aligned themselves with radical Islamists and are now reaping what they have sowed. Robertson said that liberals are facing a dilemma because they love both LGBT equality and Islamic extremism, and that it is better for conservatives like himself not to get involved but to instead just watch the two groups kill each other. Watch the video for yourself if you don’t believe me. For further quotations where Roberston explains this “dilemma” in even more detail, see this article from Right Wing Watch.

Then, in a sermon so filled with hate that YouTube has since removed it for violating their policy on hate speech, Sacramento pastor Roger Jimenez of Verity Baptist Church said, “Are you sad that 50 pedophiles were killed today? Um no, I think that’s great! I think that helps society. I think Orlando, Florida is a little safer tonight…. I wish the government would round them all up, put them up against a wall, put a firing squad in front of them and blow their brains out…. The tragedy is that more of them didn’t die. The tragedy is — I’m kind of upset that he didn’t finish the job!”

Another pastor, Steven Anderson, from Faithful Word Baptist Church, Arizona, uploaded a video that is still available on Vimeo. It’s a horrific video in which he refers to LGBT people repeatedly as “sodomites”, “pedophiles” and “homos”.

Continue reading How to know your version of Christianity is broken

Part 15: David Gushee on Ending the Teaching of Contempt

This is an interlude in my ongoing series on Christians, the Bible and same sex marriage. One of the highest profile Christian scholars to come out in support of same sex marriage is Dr David Guthee, an ethicist and professor at Mercer University (see his personal website here). His book, “Changing our Mind” (2nd edition, 2015 – Amazon.co.uk) is a seminal work in Biblical analysis and social issues related to same sex marriage and the church.

Please do take the time to read the transcript or watch this video before continuing to the next section of this study.

On 8 November 2014, Dr Gushee was invited to address a conference organised by Matthew Vine and his Reformation Project. The hour long speech is simply superb. It is available on YouTube, and is available below. I have also created a transcript of the speech, based on Dr Gushee’s original notes which he added to his book’s second edition.

Transcript of David Gushee’s speech: Ending the Teaching of Contempt against the Church’s Sexual Minorities

Continue reading Part 15: David Gushee on Ending the Teaching of Contempt

The Bible and Same Sex Relationships, Part 14: Start here: A summary of the Bible’s verses against same sex marriage

Over the past few months on this blog, I have been focusing attention on the issue of Christianity and homosexuality. This is one of the defining issues for Christians right now, and an issue that I have been studying for over a decade. My analysis of the issue thus far has dealt with three key themes: (1) how we should interpret the Bible, (2) the Old Testament texts and (3) the New Testament texts that deal directly with the issue of homosexuality. Still to come in the next few months are discussions of (4) the indirect Biblical references and overall witness of the Christian Scriptures, (5) psychological and sociological issues, and (6) how the church should respond today. (See a full index of blog entries here.)

We’re roughly halfway through this work, and it might be a good time to pause and summarise.

I have also realised that the depth of my analysis may have actually had the opposite effect of what I intended. For some people who oppose the acceptance of homosexuality and same sex marriage, the detail of my analysis could suggest that it takes a complicated and convoluted exegesis to show that God is for gays. For those who support same sex marriage, the detail may have been confusing and suggest that it would be better to ignore the Bible.

Neither of these positions would be correct, so maybe a summary is in order at this point.

Finally, I think a summary is valuable, because I have also been re-reading Dr David Gushee’s superb book, “Changing Our Mind” (2nd edition, 2015). Gushee is one of the foremost Christian scholars of our age to “change his mind” and come out in support of same sex marriage (there are many of them, so he’s not an aberration in the system either). In a speech delivered on 8 November 2014 for “The Reformation Project” conference, he (I believe correctly) suggests:

“… it is best not to get too fixated on the six or seven big passages most commonly cited in the anti-gay teaching tradition. Because when change happened on [issues of Christian prejudice in the past], it wasn’t just about altering the reading of those texts, but changing the conversation to the more central themes and texts related to following the way of Jesus. Thus: We must change the conversation to what it means to live in the way Jesus taught us…. [citing] texts like the Golden Rule, the Double Love Command, the Good Samaritan, and the saying about being our brother’s keepers. They highlighted broader biblical themes like the sacred worth of every person, and our obligation as Christians to be compassionate, merciful, and just.”

This positive approach will be a focus of the second half of this study.

You could, therefore, use this summary as a starting point, only dipping backwards when you want to get more detail, and working from here forwards to the most compelling arguments in favour of God and same sex marriage.

Continue reading The Bible and Same Sex Relationships, Part 14: Start here: A summary of the Bible’s verses against same sex marriage

Even if you believe being gay is sinful, you can’t support James Dobson or Franklin Graham’s views

On 19 January, Dr James Dobson interviewed Franklin Graham on his Family Talk Radio Show. You can listen to the show here – and you really only need to listen to first two minutes to hear my complaint.

I know that many of my friends and family don’t agree with my view on homosexuality. But even if you believe that homosexuality is a sin, you cannot support Dr Dobson and Dr Graham’s views. And you should definitely speak out against their views. You cannot remain silent in the face of homophobia and fear-mongering. I am being serious about this statement – the church cannot be seen to either hate or fear gays, nor can it be seen to exclude homosexuals from churches.

Here is what Franklin Graham said:

    “We have allowed the Enemy to come into our churches. I was talking to some Christians and they were talking about how they invited these gay children to come into their home and to come into the church and that they were wanting to influence them. And I thought to myself, they’re not going to influence those kids; those kids are going to influence those parent’s children.

    “What happens is we think we can fight by smiling and being real nice and loving. We have to understand who the Enemy is and what he wants to do. He wants to devour our homes. He wants to devour this nation and we have to be so careful who we let our kids hang out with. We have to be so careful who we let into the churches. You have immoral people who get into the churches and it begins to affect the others in the church and it is dangerous. So, I am going to encourage the church to take a stand for Christ, and for righteousness. … “

Is he serious?

Does Franklin Graham think his Gospel is so weak that having gay children attend his church would undermine the faith of the Christians who are already there? Did he really mean to say that church is a club for saved saints, and that sinners should not be allowed to attend? Is he genuinely concerned that homosexuals and their “lifestyle” are more powerful than his gospel and his God?

Continue reading Even if you believe being gay is sinful, you can’t support James Dobson or Franklin Graham’s views

The Bible and Same Sex Relationships, Part 13: Other Interpretations of Romans 1


  • We have dealt with Romans 1 thoroughly, but there is one final set of ideas to consider. These come from largely evangelical theologians, who take the Bible seriously as God’s Word, but nevertheless have real concerns about the traditional interpretation of Romans 1. There are seven ways to interpret Romans 1 that do justice to the text, but show that Paul would not be against same sex marriage today:
    1. Paul was a man of his times, and must be understood as such.
    2. Paul is concerned about idolatry, and especially about Cybele, Rhea and the Earth Goddess. And same gender exploitative sexual activity is an effect of idolatry, not a cause.
    3. Paul did not know about loving homosexual relationships or a homosexual orientation as we understand it today. His concern was about abusive and excessive sexuality. He also did not have the scientific understanding we have today of homosexual orientation.
    4. Paul’s issue, in Romans and his other letters, is specifically with pederasty, and not with homosexuality in general.
    5. Paul was wrong. Just plain wrong.
    6. Paul was concerned about Heterosexuals engaging in homoerotic acts, not people born with a homosexual orientation.
    7. Paul is quoting someone else in Romans 1, and will refute this view in Romans 2. From the literary context, it is possible that Romans 1:18-32 is actually a well-known discourse against Gentiles taken from Jewish writings, or at least a well recognised list of sins the Jews accused Gentiles of committing, that Paul pulls into his letter.
  • There are enough valid interpretative options for Romans 1 that we need to be very careful to not just continue applying the traditional interpretation. You can support same sex marriage without giving up the Bible.

  • We have spent a lot of time in the book of Romans in this study. For many Christians, Romans 1 is the key passage against same gender sexual activity, so we need to cover it thoroughly. In the last three posts, I believe I have clearly shown that we misinterpret Romans if we believe that we can use it today to argue against same sex marriages. A summary of the key points is:

    • Paul is not giving instructions about loving, same gender sexual partners – he is talking about abusive and excessive sexuality, including and specifically temple and cultic prostitution.
    • Paul is not giving general instructions about what is and is not appropriate sexual activity. He is addressing Jewish cultural preferences which stated that any sexual activity that was not capable of producing children was considered shameful and unnatural. Paul tells the Jews to change their attitudes.
    • Paul is not really concerned about sexual issues in Romans 1 – his main concern, which is evidenced by the flow of the whole letter, is the divide between Jews and Gentiles in Rome. The sins listed in Romans 1 are used to show that “all have sinned”. But Paul also points out that some things people think are sinful are just cultural preferences. The issue of homosexuality is similar to that of circumcision for Paul: a cultural preference that should not be used to judge fellow Christians.
    • Romans 1 cannot be understood alone – Romans 2 and the rest of the letter make it clear that Paul is using homosexuality as a set up for the Jewish readers, and will go on to show them the error of their thinking. Homosexuality is not a sin. The Jewish disgust for homosexuality was a cultural preference, as was the Gentile disgust of circumcision and Jewish eating issues. Paul tells both Jewish and Gentile Christians to stop judging each other.

    If you haven’t read the detailed explanations behind those highly summarised points yet, please follow the links above.

    In this last section on Romans 1, I want to shift focus and look at a few additional ways in which some revisionist interpreters have approached Paul’s writings. There are varying degrees of revisionists. Some simply abandon the Bible and say it’s no longer relevant. But others believe that we can retain our belief that the Bible is God’s Word and remains relevant, while still at the same time acknowledging that we need to change (revise) our understanding of certain parts of it. We’ve seen many examples of this over the course of this study already, so there should be no conceptual problem with looking at alternative interpretations and evaluating each on its merits.

    Continue reading The Bible and Same Sex Relationships, Part 13: Other Interpretations of Romans 1

    Graeme Codrington's musings on a new kind of Christianity