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Andy Long Bass Player

Four/Five/Six Strings & The Truth

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My book list to start off 2017

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I’ve got a bookshelf near my bed and I generally buy more books than I’ve got time to read. At the start of the year I sorted out this pile that led reading, once I’ve finished the three or four that I’m already reading at the same time.

Looking at the titles I guess this is a clear indication of the way my spiritual life has been going for several years now.  My Christian faith has always been important to me, but in recent years has become much more liberal and progressive and I find myself reading authors like those above.

Peter Enns books ‘The Sin Of Certainty’, ‘The Evolution Of Adam’ and ‘The Bible Tells Me So’ have been a welcome refuge for me so I’m looking forward to ‘Inspiration And Incarnation’.

I recently finished ‘Falling Upward’ by Richard Rohr and have just bought ‘The Divine Dance’ an examination of the nature of God from his uniquely mystical stance.

There are a couple of C.S. Lewis books in there which  my nephew bought for me in Hay On Wye. I’ve read much of Lewis’ work before and will enjoy revisiting these.

The books on sexuality and gender are of interest because of the passion that I have to see all people welcomed into the body of Christ. Inclusion and equality are Christlike traits that we need to pursue.  Equal marriage is only one of the issues that the church needs to address in this area, but it’s a big one.

No doubt more titles will be added soon and some of these books will still be on the pile next year, but I’m getting there.

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Thoughts on Abigail Austen’s documentary

This week my wife and I watched Abigail Austen’s Channel 4 documentary ‘My Trans American Road Trip’, an hour-long journey into some disturbing territory.

The primary focus of the documentary was the controversial ‘bathroom bill’ that has been passed into legislation in certain parts of the USA. The law states that transgender people, when out and about in public buildings, are only allowed to use a public toilet for the gender that they were born with. It is a tragic abuse of the human rights of a group of people who have suffered prejudice and harassment from all avenues during their whole of their lives.

The bill has caused huge amounts of controversy across America and has become a key factor in the current electoral atmosphere, with both leading parties having much to say on the subject.

If you don’t already know, Abigail Austen is a transgender journalist, the first British army officer to undergo full gender reassignment. During the show she interviewed many outspoken proponents of the bill, graciously trying to understand their point of view, whilst challenging their preconceptions. She visited churches, businesses and was even interviewed on a radio chat show.

At this stage let me reiterate the fact that I’m a Christian, I’ve been involved with the church for the whole of my life, ‘became’ a Christian (in the sense that many Christians would understand) aged eighteen (1982) and was baptized in 1985. My wife has been a Christian for even longer than me and we wrote this post together.

Unlike much of the Christian church, we passionately believe in the human rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people to equality, inclusion, equal marriage, equal employment and the freedom to live without fear. We also sincerely believe that this is a Christ-like approach; Jesus is all about inclusion, love and compassion.

As such it appalled us to see the hatred and fear that was being expressed during this broadcast by so much of evangelical, conservative, right wing America. Pulpit thumping preachers shouting about the evils of transgender people and exhorting their congregation to punish their children physically if they expressed homosexual tendencies, Christian businessmen pontificating about how ‘God cannot compromise himself’ and using such vague statements to reinforce their standpoint of prejudice. Christian parents feeling the need to ‘guard’ the doors of public lavatories whilst their children are using them, just in case a transgender person tries to use them at the same time with the motive of accessing and sexually abusing the child. Thus assuming that transgender people are sexual predators. Surely if a transgender lady were to use a male toilet they would be in serious danger of being sexually abused themselves.

All of this behaviour is extremely frustrating to us. We are part of a group that is campaigning for equal marriage in churches in the UK, and there is still much opposition to that move.

We grew up in the Baptist tradition, which encourages its members to study the scriptures personally and prayerfully in context, where disagreement takes place we should seek to respect the others point of view, however the extremist point of view expressed by these supposedly Christian people is well beyond the pale.

It is exactly for reasons like this that I cannot apply the label ‘evangelical’ or ‘conservative’ to my Christianity. These words carry so much negative baggage with them. This is not true Christianity; the hand of Jesus reaches out and offers unconditional love. A fundamentalist approach is dangerous; it breeds contempt, segregation and a superiority complex. It lacks love, peace and understanding and in no way reflects the real ethos of Jesus.

Thank God for the progressive Christian movement, with all its flaws, uncertainties, doubts and scrabbling for direction, we are at least seeking positive ways forward based on a more inclusive understanding of the world.

If you want to watch Abigail’s documentary it’s at

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/my-trans-american-road-trip

Be warned you may find the ideals and attitudes of the church leaders represented upsetting. We do not want you, or anyone to believe these people represent the real Jesus or us as Christians. They claim that LGBT people will be judged and condemned, we truly believe anyone who preaches this prejudice and poison is not representative of the Bible or Jesus.

Your comments welcome below, I welcome all input, but please don’t tell me I’m going to Hell, because I’m getting sick of being told that all the time!

 

The Baptist Union and Same Sex Marriage

For a few years now I have been concerned with equal rights and inclusivity for LGBT people in the church. I was very happy to see the legalisation of same sex marriage in the UK in 2014 and since that time I have been actively interested in pursuing the acceptance of the LGBT community in churches, and the willingness of churches to register for same sex marriage and put right the prejudices that have been practiced for centuries.

I’ve spent most of my life as part of the Baptist church in the UK. For the most part a traditional denomination that holds quite conservative views on the matter. There are a small number of Baptist churches in the UK that have chosen to register their premises for same sex marriage, and a slightly larger number that would call themselves ‘inclusive’ in the sense that they welcome LGBT people as equal and active members of the church and embrace their sexuality as a natural and God-given part of their individuality.

It’s been hard work for me to be a part of the Baptist church with the views that I hold. In our own church there are some others who share my views, some who certainly don’t and a lot of people floating about in the middle somewhere. I’ve had a few disagreements with the leadership at the church over this issue and for the last few years have felt very uncomfortable there. I’ve wanted to leave on several occassions but have stuck around most of the time for the sake of friendships and because my wife didn’t want to move to a new church and start again.

On the subject of same sex marriage, the position of the Baptist Union of Great Britain in recent years could be summed up like this:

1. They hold to what they call a “Biblical Understanding” of marriage as a union between one man and one woman and call Baptists to live in the light of it.

2. As Baptist churches are governed by their individual church meeting and not by the Union itself, any Baptist church whose members vote in favour of registering the premises for same sex marriage is free to do so, with the understanding that the union itself holds to the principle as shown above.

3. Similarly any minister who wishes to do so, may carry out same sex marriage in accordance with the wishes of their church ‘where their conscience permits, without breach of disciplinary guidelines.’ (that is genuinely what they have published)

4. However, any Baptist minister who enters into a same sex marriage as a partner themselves will be deemed to subject to discipline as this is considered ‘conduct unbecoming for a minister’. If you want to see how seriously they take this, take a look at the list of other offences considered ‘unbecoming conduct’. You can find it on page 13 of the Ministerial Recognition Rules published in June 2015. 

I have been hoping that in light of recent conversations at Baptist Assembly and taking into account the 2013 legislation that the Baptist church would begin to take a more progressive line. However a statement issued in March 2016 appears to negate any immediate hope of that.

The Council statement reaffirms the commitment to the “Biblical Position” as outlined previously. Whilst the tension of diversity of opinions is recognised the statement goes on to ‘humbly urge churches who are considering conducting same sex marriages to refrain from doing so out of mutual respect’.

I failed to see the humility in this statement, in fact I was furious when I read it. It seems to be a giant leap backwards rather than even a small step forwards.  It is wrapped up in nicety but reading betwen the lines I can’t find any hope in it at all. The statement calls for affirming churches to act out of mutual respect, but no such respect is being shown to them in return.

It has left me wondering whether I can continue to be a part of the Baptist movement at all. In all good conscience, can I support an organisation that I believe is acting unjustly towards people who have historically been marginalised and have only recently started to achieve respect and equality. Surely we should be holding out a welcoming and inclusive hand to all.

I hope that I can stay at my local church and continue to be an advocate for equality, it’s difficult and I’m not someone who makes dramatic gestures or shouts his mouth off in the church meeting. I just hope to be a quiet and consistent voice for progress.

Andy

Affirming Baptists day in Pontypridd

Jackie and I spent a very useful and informative day with some of the members of Affirming Baptists today. The day was hosted by St. David’s Uniting Church in Pontypridd and, although it was a small gathering, we enjoyed the day and made some new friends.

Affirming Baptists is an organisation that seeks to promote the acceptance of same-sex marriages and relationships within the Baptist denomination. They seek open and respectful discussion with those members of the denomination who may disagree with their views and are seeking ways in which the denomination can move forwards on the issue.

It may seem strange in our world today, but much of the church is still not ready to accept the LGBT community into full communion. This is a subject that has been at the top of my agenda for several years now and I have campaigned for full inclusion and equality for our LGBT family. I simply cannot accept a faith which excludes people based on their gender identity.

Today’s gathering was a time to share stories and experiences. We heard about some missional works that were taking place at Bloomsbury Baptist Church in London. Two gay couples shared their experiences within the church and a local pastor talked about their church’s decision to register for same sex marriage.

A small bookstall was held at the event, and the authors of several of the books were present. I picked up some interesting books; ‘Let The Bible Be Itself’ by Ray Vincent and ‘Good As New’ and ‘The Gay Disciple’ by John Henson.

The day was closed with a short devotion from Jeremy Marks of Post Courage. We came away encouraged and refreshed.

 

 

 

Accepting Evangelicals and Two:23

Accepting Evangelicals and Two:23

 On Saturday 30th November, My wife and I were thrilled to be able to attend two important events in London. These were the AGM of Accepting Evangelicals, followed by a meeting of the Two:23 Network.

 These two Christian organisations are working really hard to promote inclusion and equality for LGBT people within all denominations of the church. These are hot topics for the church as a whole and the cause of a lot of debate and division in recent years, so it is encouraging to find Christian organisations that are forward-thinking and, as AE say on their website “who believe the time has come to move towards the acceptance of faithful, loving same-sex partnerships at every level of church life, and the development of a positive Christian ethic for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.”

Accepting Evangelicals

 Accepting Evangelicals who held their AGM at the Oasis Centre Waterloo hosted the morning session. This group will shortly be celebrating its tenth anniversary and now has a membership of over 600 people. Around fifty delegates gathered for the meeting, which opened with a worship session. We reviewed some of the important steps that have happened recently, both in legislation and in church practice.  More and more established Christian leaders are openly voicing their support for gay marriage and LGBT issues, most recently these have included Steve Chalke, Rob Bell, Jim Wallis and Desmond Tutu.

Christian organisations such as Exodus and Courage, that formerly offered counseling programmes that would reputedly ‘help’ people to embrace heterosexuality, have, in recent times, realized the profound error of the methods employed and the tremendous damage that has been caused to people’s lives and these groups have either closed their doors apologetically or else admitted their errors and changed their direction radically.

 At the close of the morning session the organisation’s founder, Rev. Benny Hazelhurst, interviewed Elaine Sommers. Elaine is a transgender Christian and she shared with us many of the difficulties she has faced in the church and how she found a place where she was truly welcome.

two23The group shared lunch and we then travelled over to St. Mary Aldermary in Central London for the Two:23 meeting where Steve Chalke would be speaking.  This was a much larger gathering, which attracted several hundred people.

 

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Steve initially took part in an interview in which he discussed his recent paper “A Matter Of Integrity” and the reaction to that paper from all sides of the church, he discussed the ways in which the paper had affected the work of the Oasis Trust and explained the reasons why he believed it was a vital step to voice his support for the LGBT community. He followed this with a short talk, discussing how to read the Bible as a whole rather than taking individual verses out of context and using them indiscriminately as ammunition to shoot down those whose viewpoint differs from their own, pointing out that we can all be guilty of doing this wherever we stand. Steve encouraged us, instead of arguing over differing ideas, to work together to reach out to the whole world, regardless of race or religion and bring to them the example of Jesus in our words and actions.

 Both these sessions can be listened to on the talks page at two23.net, along with several other talks by guest speakers from the past couple of years.

 For us, as active supporters of this community of people within the church, this was an inspiring and thought-provoking day. Many Christians still struggle with these issues and we have had several heated debates with friends who are sticking to their traditional, conservative ideals. However, as Steve Chalke said, the sandcastle of resistance is being washed away, so I look forward to a future within the church where all people are included in equality and encouraged to be true to themselves in their own identity without fear of condemnation and where all committed relationships are treated with equal respect and sanctity.

 

 

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