labels that shouldn’t stick

One of the things that happened in yesterday’s General Assembly debate on the report of the Special Commission on Same-Sex Relationships and Ministry was some new labels.

‘traditionalists’ and ‘revisionists’ now seem to be the labels of choice.

These are interesting labels for a number of reasons.

I wonder how they make sense in a church whose ‘motto’ is ‘always reforming’?  Which ‘traditions’ and ‘revisions’ are we talking about?  The traditions of the reformation?  The traditions of the Old or New Testament?  The traditions of a denomination?

As a denomination the Church of Scotland has moved away from a number of ‘traditional’ views.  Slavery, the role of women, the enforcement of the Sabbath, stools at the front of churches used to ridicule ‘sinners’, music in church, access to communion…  I wonder how many people would agree or disagree with each of those?  And what label would we apply?

I think we need to be very careful about which labels we embrace and about what claims those label make for different points of view.  The use of labels creates difference.  It forces people to take sides.

I noticed today in Assembly a ‘traditionalist’ and a ‘revisionist’ agreeing wholeheartedly with each other about climate change.

Labels at the very least simplistic and at worst divisive in an area that doesn’t need any help to cause division.  The reality of the debate around sexuality is that opinion exists on a spectrum and I suspect that there are many more people in the middle that at the ends.

I’ve already said that I’m not fluent in Greek and Hebrew.  We rely on others to help us interpret, to understand and to explore.  There are a variety of views on, and understandings of, scripture.  Is it the role of our ministers to tell us what they think?  Or is it their role to help us to understand the range of opinion?

The thing that concerns me most in this and any other theological discussion is the degree of certainty exhibited.  Jesus said things that those closest to him didn’t understand.  God continues to reveal His purpose for the world.  We claim to seek the will of God.  In many ways this discussion reminds me of the crusaders who would make a point and assert ‘God wills it!’.  It’s hard to argue with God.  But of course that’s not what is happening now… is it?

Surely our understanding of God is at the very least provisional as it has been throughout history (as shown in the Bible).  I wonder if ‘always reforming’ is the ‘tradition’ we are talking about?

12 thoughts on “labels that shouldn’t stick”

  1. Now who’s using labels… the examples of the church ‘moving’ are exactly the ones that were used in the debate for changing the Kirk’s position. Can we try some new ones please ? If I seem ungracious it’s because I am upset and not a little pained by the whole process.
    As for your two questions ‘Is it the role of our ministers to tell us what they think? Or is it their role to help us to understand the range of opinion?’, I would hazard that the answer to both questions is yes.

  2. David, I was using those examples to show that ‘tradition’ and ‘revision’ are relative not to defend one position or another. The labels in my view are simplistic and unhelpful as they don’t paint the broad range of thought and opinion.

    There are many examples of how our understading of God has changed and developed. Isn’t that what happens in any relationship? I’m just wondering out loud about how that process of continual reformation, of deepening relationship, works.

    It’s been said that a man marries a woman and spends the rest of their marriage trying to keep her from changing while a woman marries a man and spends the rest of their marriage trying to change him into the man she wants him to be.

    I wonder if we do either of these things in our relationship with God? I’m sure that at times I have done both.

  3. I will be the first to agree that our understanding of God has developed and changed over the years. That is plain from the Bible in any case. The way the Spirit seems to work with Scripture (for me) is to highlight passages that matter for the day and age. For example, the slavery issue would never have occurred to the early church, and yet Philemon is a letter where Paul is asking his friend to look upon Onesimus (a slave) as a brother and not as a servant.
    Where it comes to gay clergy, the issue is the status of Scripture within the decision making of the church. It has to decide whether general principles add up to more of a case than specific instructions. Much is made of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus not only endorses the Law, but tightens it up so that even thinking about breaking the law is the same as actually doing it.
    I would agree with you that labels are simplistic, but it is a way of looking at the arguments, such as they are. I note that the Scotsman referred to the revisionists as ‘progressives’, and thus they state which side of the debate they are on.
    My concern in this argument is really a question of who, or what, is setting the agenda of the church. Is it Scripture, or is it a secularist inclusive agenda ? I also have to bear in mind the work of the Spirit which may be telling me to change my view, however, why would the Spirit go against the Bible ? Such a contradiction should not happen.

  4. Just a quick thought. Isn’t Peter’s vision in Acts an example of that change happening? I realise it’s obviously in the bible but it took a while for the other apostles to get on board with Peter. Just a thought. Like you I’m trying hard to work out why I think what I think.

  5. That passage does give pause for thought, alongside the fact that Peter and Paul had a big falling out !! We need several Barnabas people I think…

  6. Zam and I have been challenging ‘traditionalist’ at every opportunity. The fundamental traditions of Christianity are love for neighbour, treating others the way you would like them to treat you etc. You can’t claim the bogus prestige of ‘traditional’ Christianity unless signs of radical welcome are clearly evident.

  7. Peter’s vision in Acts is a call to go out and preach the risen Christ to ALL, not just the chosen few. That passage was raised during the debate itself, and I didn’t see the relevence to the matter in hand then.
    The current problem within the Kirk relates to leadership, and 1 Timothy 3, Titus etc provide clear guidelines on appointments (if my memory serves me well).

    I think David’s comment on 25th May at 7.56am sums it up for me.

    It has been desperately hard week 🙁

  8. Some might see Peter’s vision as God casting aside the purity laws. If that was the case that would make it relevent. Surely this discussion is because there is not clarity. Both ‘sides’ may claim there is clarity but the very existence of the debate would suggest there is not.

    I’m interested to hear the Commission’s report. Although the deliverence suggest a ‘trajectory’ it does not stipulate an outcome. The commission is free to report that there are no grounds for supporting ordination of LGBT people. I hope that it doesn’t do that but I’m keen to hear all of the arguments.

  9. Hi Deborah and thank you for your comment about my post. I would share your interpretation of Peter’s vision. There is something in Stewart’s view too, but I had always taken it to be a challenge to Peter’s Jewish centred mission, that he had to broaden his outlook in terms of who the Gospel was to be taken to.
    I a dark moment I could view David C’s mission to challenge trads at every opportunity as something of a witch hunt and not helpful. You can be welcoming with condoning what a person does.
    Like Stewart, I think I’m going to wait for the Commission’s Report but pray for a different outcome to the one Stewrat is hoping for.

  10. You’re welcome. It’s the chance to have conversations like these that encourages me to keep blogging. It’s good to talk!

  11. I should correct a typo in my last but one post. You can be welcoming without condoning what a person does…

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