Hand written letter to Ghanian Christian who wrote who wrote in December 2003 after I had a letter in the Church Times.
Thank you for your letter and taking an interest in my comments in the Church Times. The issue regarding Bishop Gene Robinson in the US and indeed a similar situation in the UK just before is fairly simple. For a very long time now people have been ordained priests and bishops, either knowingly or unknowingly, who are gay. Long after toleration has increased for people of different sexualities, churches start to catch up - churches rarely lead in matters of sexuality due to associations of sex with guilt in Christianity. So what was done dishonestly becomes honest. Now the Archbishop of Canterbury is in print with views that are includisve of homosexual people in positions of clerical authority, but since becoming Archbishop he has been active in preventing a gay man becoming Bishop of Reading and in criticising the US Episcopal Church. So someone who has positive private opinions prefers duplicity and dishonesty because of what he calls "the job".
I doubt that I am the right person for correspondence if you intend to be more a committed Christian. My concept of religion is very different. For me, religion is a series of questions rather than a guidance. I do not see the Bible as a supreme document in perhaps the way you do. If you take for example the above matter of homosexuality. The Hebrew Bible has all sorts of general restrictions and preventions, many of which are now ignored, and rightly so (and some preserved, much by Judaism of course). To therefore select out homosexuality as a supreme sort of transgression is clearly that - selection. Compare this, for example, with divorce, which churches have had to come to terms with, and about which even Jesus spoke harshly. However, at every single point of both the Hebrew Bible and New Testament it is impossible to be other than selective. Theology today is both critical as well as taking from the Bible, for example feminist theology, which, in taking women as equal to men, has to be critical of large (very large) areas of the Bible. Some say that Paul was anti-women, but if we take say Timorthy and Titus to be written by others, and insertions put by others elsewhere to be consistent with the early church, then I think Paul is rather an attractive figure. He was very troubled, but when he broke with rabbinical judaism he became very egalitarian. Lydia, a woman, was the first evangelist and church leader, so clearly he wasn't gainst women in leadership; he fully welcomed gentiles, and was clearly the primary person in taking the Jesus message to Jews to others, albeit in a revised form. Paul thought the very soon to come Kingdom of God was for more people than that tribe of Israel. Actually I am one of those who thinks Jesus thought this would come very soon too - I know people show (for example the Jesus of history movement as in the Jesus Seminar) that this was a later view of Paul and an earlier view of John the Baptist, but for me it makes no sense unless Jesus also had what is called an inter-testament belief in the soon coming real physical transormation of Israel. people had to drop their bad ways and prepare. Now I think jesus was wrong about this, and that makes him a tragic hero. The tragedy is that he preached against duplicity and power and oppression, and against bad living. Whereas many saw wealth a sign of God's approval, and poverty with disease as a sign of God's disapproval (indeed people died they thought not because people grew old but because of the weight of sin - that's why Jesus was said to live on, because he was sinless, according to beliefs that we no longer actually share, in that we know people die because they biologically wear out). What Jesus said was rich people should and could live a better life but do not, whereas the poor needed healing to be prepared. He was a healer and people went to him, and healed them in preparation for the coming kingdom. Well the world did not change, except for new technologies and worldly powers, and a church that grew instead, and other faiths to add to those already around, of which (at the end of the Silk and Spice routes) Palestine would have been aware (particularly Zoroastrian and Buddhist faiths - the former is hugely influential on the Pharisees' belief in resurrection and which provided the language for the early church on jesus' continued presence; it is said some of Jesus' teachings echo Buddhist beliefs, unseen in Judaism elsewhere, but I think this is coincidence, probably).
Again selection takes place with the resurrection texts. The Luke one is the most fascinating for me. Two people do not recognise him but there is a summary of Jesus' place in the prophetic line and place in Israel. The point made, he is recognised: thus they *see*, i.e. they get the point. Then he disappears. He simply appears unrecognised as a eucharist, then the point made that this is celebrated again after the text of the last supper, he is recognised and then disappears again. This recognition-disappearance looks like a literary device to me, in other words it is the early church saying about Jesus' place giving authority to church views and activities before it and going ahead.
And of course it is the case that people think things are in the Bible that are not. There is no doctrine of the Trinity in the Bible. There are terms the Trinity uses, and it can be argued they were starting on the road towards the Trinity, but it is not there.
So the point is I have a different view of the Bible, which many call liberal. My argument however is that those who are called fundamentalist, or who have a "literal" view of the Bible, have not a literal view. They select too.
To me, the label 'Christian' is not particularly important. Looking for a way forward, correcting oneself particularly with social behaviour, is more important. It is very difficult but searching for some integrity is important. I don't think a God would want a member of a believing tribe but would look for ethical achievements or at least trying. My own approach is to have something of a Buddhist understanding of how faith works - well a Western version - and something of ethical, critical, Christian content.
As for personal biography, I had no church contact in childhood but when 21 mixed with ex-school people sometimes at the local Methodists. I was agnostic, like a firend there. I started putting this group into what became my Ph.D in Sociology (or religion) as well as an evangelical group. I didn't believe much of what they were saying but did read theology for the Ph.D. Here I started to connect with Christian views, and although I attended as an outsider in a Bahai group, I was confirmed into the Church of England, at the University Chaplaincy. However, although soon I was in the Fellowship of Vocation considering ordained ministry, I found myself on the margin of the Church. Now, when I went to a Bahai meeting to ask some very critical questions, this meeting was in the Unitarian Church in Hull. This is a liberal church. I transferred my ministry seeking there, after a long and awkward and slow transfer. I still went along to many C of E gatherings. I went to Unitarian College in Manchester, but the local churches were traditional Unitarians and my position was out of keeping. It didn't help me, let's say, and after a year I was asked to leave. From then on I've had a difficult relationship with Unitarians - that was 1989-90. Now I'm just about out of contact except with one part via email. After college I had a good time with the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (they're not near where I now live) and had sporadic contacts with the Church of England. The local C of E church does not appeal and I go only occasionally. Well I am like 95% of the British population or 90% if we consider those of other faiths.
So, again, I'm hardly the right person for guiding you. The problem of the Western Church and the African Church (less so South Africa) is that there is a different culture. There is still a lot of superstition around in the West, and even the supernatural, but in Europe the churches are in steep decline. America (USA) is different because of the need for places to meet in an individualist society and where churches were never associated with a ruling elite. Movement towards secularisation took place inside USA churches and otuside European ones (in terms of the population). First the urban working class and then the middle class stopped going. For some time now I have been one of the few by being involved, and even reading theology (in 1998 I successfully completed MA degree in Theological Understanding of Contemporary Society, adding to my Ph.D and ordinary degree). How I go on with church or religious contact I really do not know. There is a lot in me, so to speak, but the Unitarian period seems to be crippled and over. The Church of England now is in a complete mess. Like many I hoped that the new Archbishop might take the Church of England in a more grown up direction - people were bound to break away anyway. Instead he has become scared. As I've indicated at the start of my letter, he has done the opposite, and has continued all the duplicity and dishonesty that can no longer be accepted. I think in a year or so he will have to come down on one side or the other, but which is not yet clear. So we shall see.
Thank you very much for writing to me. If you are able to see an Internet connected computer then my website is http://www.pluralist.co.uk. Recently (last year) I qualified as a Religious Education teacher (but have no job yet in it) and so there is even more about religion on the website.