Amazing Love: Theology for understanding Discipleship, Sexuality and Mission
Andrew Davison, DLT 2016, 114pp pbk
This book has been with me over the past few weeks and my reading of it has been shaped by a number of events and experiences. First I attended a celebration of 35 years of a LGBTI support group that had been running in Southampton. It was a rich mixture of looking backwards and forwards in relation to inclusivity and equality. It was particularly important to be reminded of the long struggle that many LGBTI people have had in relation both of coming to terms with their identity but also especially some recognition and affirmation by church and society. Sometimes it is very important for theology to listen carefully to the marginalised and those whose voices have struggled to be heard and understood.
As I write (November 2016) Anglican bishops are gathering for ongoing conversations about sexuality within the Church of England. This meeting is set against ongoing serious concerns about discipline in these matters expressed by the group GAFCON. You can read more about the debates via the Thinking Anglican website (www.thinkinganglicans.org.uk)
This is a carefully written book. It is reflective, open, biblically and theologically informed with a real desire to see the church as a place of wisdom and openness to all human beings. Amazing Love has been written by Davison, in collaboration with Duncan Dormer, Ruth Harley, Rosie Harper, Elizabeth Phillips, Jeff Phillips, Simon Sarmiento, Jane Shaw and Alan Wilson. Mark Russell provides an illuminating and insightful preface.
The question that should continue to perplex us is this: how are we to resolve the seemingly impossibly irreconcilable views amongst Christians on the subject of human sexuality. The debate some conversations have become toxic in their intensity. There is an obvious struggle for power and a deep distrust of voices and perspectives that differ or contradict one’s own. Put another way how progressive can Christianity afford to be? How are we to understand the growth in those churches that continue to base their moral teaching on what might be described as a Conservative and scriptural base? How are we to belong together and live together with such diversity and contestation?
The authors of Amazing Love offer a balanced and moderate discussion of some of these issues and questions in a real desire to hold a common ground where all can participate and belong. However there is a political dimension to this short text as the book is part of the wider programme of LGBTI Mission, whose goals are same-sex marriage in churches, and full access to all in such marriages. The need for change is “urgent”, it says. “Dragging our feet is neither sensible, nor ethical.”
I have recommended this book to a number of people who are both confused and distressed by this ongoing debate. It handles the question of the relationship between theology and science with care and reflectiveness. It points to a more intelligent handling of Scripture as the basis for our moral decision-making. Scripture needs to be interpreted in the light of our understanding of humankind, personality and sexual orientation. We need also, the book argues, to see how Christian moral thinking has changed. We see a picture of Christianity here as an unfolding and developing framework of truth. For example on slavery: “It took time — far too much time — for Christians to connect their understanding of the good news with their views on slavery.”
The authors are not unsympathetic to the way in which people argue around difference. We are reminded that many of the loudest voices constantly argue in a one-dimensional way. We need both Scripture and experience to engage dialogically in order to provide a firm foundation upon which sustainable Christian community can be built.
The most persuasive and perhaps even heartbreaking chapter is the final one which focuses on mission. We are reminded that equality and diversity are normative values in all public contexts apart from the Church. We are losing whole generations of young people who believe that the church is not only irrelevant but dangerous in its prejudice and exclusion. This damage is potentially irreparable. It is no wonder that there is so much hurt and pain around! Fundamentalist extremism is bedding itself within the public imagination and religion runs the risk of being part of such a negative picture.
And so the debate continues in this book is a genuinely helpful contribution to the literature.