I offer this in the context of the Pilling Report and the House of Bishops’ Pastoral Guidelines.
I offer these words as healing and love for all who have been and are being wounded by the failure of the Christian Churches to understand the life and teaching of Jesus and that it is Jesus we follow and Jesus who reveals God’s unconditional love, not other Biblical writers, texts and sources.
I offer these words to my friends and colleagues here in the UK and other Western countries and to my friends in Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya and all African countries where LGBTI people are denigrated and abused.
I offer these words to bishops and those responsible for Church of England teaching and doctrine, because all of us wander from the path and adopt ideas and attitudes which are not Christ-like.
They represent Changing Attitude England’s experience and practice.
They come from Jesus, An Historical Approximation by Jose A Pagola. Pagola is Spanish, born in 1937, a Catholic priest who has dedicated his life to Biblical studies and Christology and has done research on the historical Jesus for more than 30 years. In the book he reconstructs the historical Jesus with a scholarly exegetical and theological approach (so says the book jacket).
I have lightly edited his words from pages 308 to 313 of the book:
God is good. Jesus is entranced by God’s goodness. Jesus grasps his unfathomable mystery as a mystery of goodness. He does not base that on any text from the sacred Scriptures. For him it is a primordial, unarguable, self-evident fact. God is a good Presence which blesses all life. The Father’s loving care, almost always mysterious and hidden, is present and all-encompassing in the life of every creature.
Jesus understands the ultimate reality of God, the mystery we cannot think through or imagine, as his goodness and salvation. God is good to him and to all God’s sons and daughters. People are the most important thing for God, much more important than sacrifices or the Sabbath. God only wants what is good for them. Nothing should be used against people, especially not religion.
This good Father is a God close by. His goodness is already breaking into the world, in the form of compassion. Jesus lives by this loving closeness of God with amazing simplicity and spontaneity. God is close and accessible to everyone. Anyone can have a direct and immediate relationship with him in the secrecy of their hearts.
This God is good to everyone. Jesus’ faith in the universal goodness of God surprises everyone. For centuries they have heard something different. They often talk about God’s love and tenderness, but that love has to be earned.
The God of the prodigal son and the welcoming father is not the guardian of the law, watching the sins of his children, who gives everyone their just deserts and only forgives those who have scrupulously met his conditions. This is the God of forgiveness and life; we can come into his presence without humiliation or self-degradation. He demands nothing of the son. All he asks of him is to trust his father. When we understand God as the absolute power who rules and imposes himself by the force of his law, we have a religion based on harshness, merits and punishment. When we experience God as goodness and mercy, we have a religion based on trust. God does not terrify us with his power and majesty; he seduces us with goodness and closeness.
Jesus cannot think about God without thinking about his plan to transform the world. He never distinguishes between God and his reign. He does not contemplate God enclosed in his own world, isolated from people’s problems; he is committed to humanizing life. Thus for Jesus the best place to begin to understand God is not at worship, but wherever he is making his reign of justice a reality among human beings. Jesus understands God in the midst of life, as an accepting presence for the excluded ones, as a healing power for the sick, as gratuitous forgiveness for the guilty, as hope for those who have been defeated by life.
This God is a God of change. His reign is a powerful force of transformation. His presence among human beings is inflammatory, provocative, challenging: it pulls them towards conversion. God is not a conservative force, but a call for change: <The Kingdom of God has come near; repent [change your way of thinking and acting], and believe in the good news> (Mark 1.15). It is not time to be passive. We must begin building a new earth, the way he wants it. Everything must be turned toward a more human life, beginning with those whose life is no life. God wants those who weep to laugh, those who are hungry to eat; he wants everyone to live.
What human beings want is to live, and to live well. And what God wants is to turn that wish into reality. The better people live, the better reality is made of God’s reign. For Jesus, God’s will is not at all mysterious: it is abundant life for everyone.
That is why God is always on the side of human beings and against evil, suffering, oppression and death. Jesus accepts God as a power that seeks only the good, stands against whatever is evil and painful for human beings, and thereby seeks to liberate human life from evil.
Therefore Jesus also takes the side of the excluded ones. He cannot do otherwise. The God he knows is a God whose heart’s desire is a world of wholeness. There must be no people of status, contemptuous of the undesirables; no holy people condemning sinners; no strong people abusing the weak; no men forcing women into submission. God does not bless abuse and discrimination, but equality and solidarity; he does not exclude or excommunicate, but embraces and accepts. Instead of John’s <baptism>, the symbolic act of a community awaiting God in an attitude of penitence and purification, Jesus offers his <open table> to sinners, undesirables, and excluded ones as a symbol of a community accepting the reign of the Father.
A religion that works against life is a false religion; no divine law is unchangeable if it harms people who are already so vulnerable. When a religious law harms people and plunges them into despair, it loses its authority; it does not come from the God of life.
The Father cannot be monopolized by a pious elite, or by a priestly class controlling religion. God doesn’t give anyone special status over others; he doesn’t give anyone religious power over the people, but rather the power and authority to do good. Jesus always acts that way; not by authoritarian imposition, but by healing power. He does not instill fear in people but frees them from the fears instilled by religion; he nurtures freedom, not enslavement; he calls people to God’s mercy, not to the law; he inspires love, not resentment.
Changing Attitude is celebrating the gifts of God’s absolutely fabulous people, in God’s unconditional, infinite, transforming love, at the Unadulterated Love event on Saturday 1 March 2014 from 11.00 to 16.00 at St Sepulchre’s Holborn. Please join us and many other gifted people of God. Tickets can be bought here.