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



Summary

  • 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

    A Fan’s Best of Christmas Music Lists

    I collect Christmas music. I have been doing so since I was a teenager, and it’s become something of an obsession. I now have over 250 albums of Christmas music, spanning every musical genre and era.

    Choosing the best of the albums and songs is not an easy task – and obviously highly subjective. But I guess I am as qualified as anyone to do so. Here then are my “best of” lists of Christmas music:

    The lists were last updated on 1 January 2016 – you will see this is an unfinished task. I’ll come back to this later in 2016 (I normally do a Christmas in July), but please do add your comments below anyway – I will see them.

    To get into these lists the songs and albums need something distinctive, they are musically excellent (even if I song particularly like the style), they must not be cheesy (so, no Boney M then), and they must capture the Christmas spirit (festive or reflective). I also favoured variety (so that my top ten albums didn’t dominate the individual songs list too much). The final criteria is that I included not just popular musicians, but Christian artists and worship albums as well – it is Christ-mas, after all.

    These lists are going to be updated regularly, and change as I get suggestions and come across new songs and albums (and get slapped down for my initial choices). I’d love to hear your suggestions for these lists, and any songs or albums you think are better than the ones in my lists below.

    Please remember that it’s actually impossible to create a “best of” list of Christmas songs. It’s actually better to be clear on what musical styles you prefer, and then get the best Christmas album in those styles. It’s also a good idea to select the best version of each Christmas song you like. That’s what I’ve done below, knowing full well there is not one chance that any list of “best Christmas songs” will ever be satisfactory. There are just too many musical genres competing for attention.

    So, add your voice below.

    Xmas Baubles
    Continue reading A Fan’s Best of Christmas Music Lists

    The Bible and Same Sex Relationships, Part 12: What Romans 1 is Really All About



    Summary

    • As we have seen, Paul’s purpose in the letter to the Romans is to encourage Jewish and Gentile Christians to be more accepting of each other, and to be careful not to judge each other based on issues that are merely cultural preferences or in built bias.
    • The purpose of Romans 1:16-32 is to outline a typical Jewish critique of Gentiles, with a progression from abandoning God and turning to idolatry, which leads to socially unacceptable behaviour, which slides downwards to sinful, wicked actions and eventually ends in complete moral collapse.
    • Romans 1 cannot be understood without Romans 2, where there is a radical shift from the third to the second person (from “them” and “they” to “you”), and a direct and specific command not to judge others on the basis of the content in chapter 1. This is a central theme of the letter, and from the context of the whole letter it’s clear that Romans 1 cannot and should not be used to condemn homosexual activity.
    • Similar writings that would have been well-known at the time of Paul’s letter help to strengthen this view that Paul is using Romans 1 to highlight the faulty thinking of the Jewish Christians in Rome.
    • Even so, the flow of this passage is clearly framed in the context of idolatry, cultic temple practices and Roman pagan activities in which same-gender sexual activity played a major part, and does not apply to loving, lifelong homosexual relationships today.
    • To add to this reading of Romans 1, it is vital to remember that the “sin of homosexuality” – if it is a sin at all – is only in the sexual activity itself. Those opposed to homosexuality can only be opposed to the actual sexual activity, rather than to any “orientation”, feelings of love, and even lifelong commitments of companionship and fidelity. Knowing this, when we read Romans 1 it’s obvious to see that Paul is concerned about sexual activities that are excessive and out of control. He’s not talking about loving, faithful gay relationships.


    This is the third part of this series that looks at Romans 1 (Read the first section here, and the second here). This part of Paul’s letter to the church at Rome is the most significant set of verses used to oppose homosexuality, and so it’s worth spending some time on. Thus far, I’ve shown three problems with the traditional reading:

    1. A plain reading of the text makes it clear that Paul is talking about people who are filled with lust, sexually out of control and who are descending into moral bankruptcy. This is not relevant to God-fearing, loving gay couples.
    2. There are sins – evil and wicked actions – listed in Romans 1. But there are also certain activities that Paul calls “culturally unacceptable” – these are not wicked actions and God is not opposed to them. In Romans 2, Paul will talk about circumcision in this way, and he’ll return to this theme over and over again in this letter, using many different examples, including observance of holy days and food sacrificed at the temples. In Romans 1, he talks about male homosexuality and women who have sex for pleasure alone (“unnatural sex” in the Jewish worldview), and says that some Christians find these socially unacceptable. But they are not evil or sinful. Do not call anything unclean, when God has not called it unclean.
    3. The purpose of Romans 1 is Romans 2 – you cannot read the first without the second. It is clear when you do so that Paul’s main point is that we should NOT judge other people on the basis of the actions he listed in Romans 1.

    I want to go even further in this part of the series and summarise all the points I’ve made so far by showing you that Paul has a progression in mind: These people have abandoned God, and started worshipping idols. As God abandons them to this, they slip into a lifestyle that spirals ever downward until it is characterised by “no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy” (verse 31). The progression, as we will see below, is from socially unacceptable behaviour to morally wrong actions, to complete loss of humanity. Paul is going to show the Jewish readers that they have a similar progression of issues that other people could point to as signs of them not being committed to God enough. This completely changes how we should read the verses on homosexuality, and makes the most sense of Romans 2, and, in fact, the whole letter. I will then show again – at the risk of repeating myself too much – the importance of Romans 2 (and the rest of the letter) to understanding how we interpret Romans 1. This is a vital key to identifying how we have so badly misinterpreted Romans 1 for so long.

    What the sin actually is

    Before we do this, though, I want to talk to those of you who still believe that God is opposed to homosexuality. Assuming you are right for just a moment, it’s still important to ask what this might mean. What part of “being homosexual” is actually sinful?
    Continue reading The Bible and Same Sex Relationships, Part 12: What Romans 1 is Really All About

    Is same sex marriage Biblical – a debate [Video]

    On 9 October 2015, I participated in a formal public debate with Dr James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries. It was organised by TruthWalk, and the venue provided by Gracepoint church. Dr White is an accomplished debater and professional apologist (see his ministry website here), and took the traditional position against homosexuality and same sex marriage.

    I took the affirming position, attempting to put in debate format the work I have been doing on this blog over the past few months.

    The purpose of the debate, in this format, was to put forward the for and against views in as dispassionate a way as possible, so that each position could be given fair treatment, and the observer could understand the logic of each. I believe we achieved this, and that the debate was fair.

    The full debate has now been uploaded on VEOH.com and is available below or on that site. The introduction has been slightly edited for length, but the debate itself is presented unedited and in full.


    Watch Is Same Sex Marriage Biblical – A Debate between Graeme Codrington and James White

    Additional Comments

    This was my first debate, and as such, if I could do it again now, I’d change a few things. In particular, these three:

    Continue reading Is same sex marriage Biblical – a debate [Video]

    Graeme Codrington's musings on a new kind of Christianity