Speaking the Truth In Love email Andrew



Speaking the Truth In Love

by Andrew Goddard
I'm an oddity at Bridges-Across in that, as far as I know, I'm the only British based person involved. I'm 30 years old, with two young children, and my wife, Elisabeth, and I are recently ordained priests in the Church of England who job-share a curacy in parishes on the edge of Witney, Oxfordshire.

As an evangelical Christian I try to make the Bible my supreme authority in matters of faith and conduct and my understanding of the Bible's teaching makes me side B in Bridges Across terms.

If I were to trace my journey I guess the first time I remember anything to do with homosexuality is when I was a teenager. The associate minister at my traditional evangelical presbyterian church in Scotland - a single, sensitive man - pleaded guilty to "an act of gross indecency" with another man in a London club. All I remember is my father telling me, one morning as I walked to school, that this had been announced at the church prayer meeting the previous evening and it would probably be in the papers that day. I only know that my parents (also side B) wrote to him to give him encouragement and support, that he was devestated by the whole event, and that he never reappeared in the church and soon resigned his post. It was all rather mysterious and sad at the time but, sadly, I didn't pursue the matter any further.

At university, the Christian Union in which I was involved faced some hostility for its side B views but I never really had to face the issue directly. However, shortly after we married, a friend who was training for ordination told us that he was gay. I remember that he was nervous about how we'd react as he'd told hardly anyone else and probably knew we were side B. We both just naturally felt that this should in no way change our relationship with him - he remained a dear friend and his being gay (even were he at some point to enter a relationship with someone) wouldn't change that.

As I was pursuing research in Christian ethics I did a fair amount of reading round the whole subject. As a result of my thesis work on Jacques Ellul I also corresponded with and had the pleasure of meeting Tom Hanks, director of "Other Sheep" ministry to sexual minorities. This combination of academic study and personal contacts had two effects. I came to question some popular side B biblical exegesis (eg the focus on Sodom) but became more and more convinced that the Christian tradition was right in its understanding that Scripture treated all homosexual practice as a sin. I could therefore only conclude that side A represented a false step and a radical departure from Christian truth. Nevertheless, greater exposure to both sides of the divide and the real life experience of gay Christians increasingly meant that part of me wished that, as with the issue of women's ordination, someone could convince me that I was simply reading the Bible wrong. Certainly I didn't like the preoccupation some side B-ers had with the subject and the tone of their comments.

At theological college our personal tutor was Michael Vasey who, as an evangelical, was working on a book on homosexuality ("Strangers and Friends") which caused quite a stur for its side A, "pro-gay" analysis. Reading that excellent book and talking with Michael made me realise that there was much more to the whole issue than "Is homosexual practice right or wrong ?" which is how I'd tended to address the whole subject beforehand. The issue caused major tensions at college not only because of Michael but because the college was found to be placing ordinands with a gay clergyman who had a partner, despite the Church of England officially disapproving of such a relationship among the clergy. It was a major learning experience and, although I would probably reach roughly the same conclusions now as I did then I hope I might now express myself better than I did at times.

Around this time there also appeared "The Saint Andrew's Day Statement" ( one of whose main authors - Oliver O'Donovan - had been my thesis supervisor. This moderate side B statement, further discussions with Oliver (probably the most intelligent man I've ever met), and continued reading and reflection taught me that the whole issue was much more complex than you would think given the way it's handled in most church and media debates.

Then, last October, not long after I got onto the internet properly, I was looking for information on Christianity and Homosexuality and discovered Bridges Across. It was about to start the Faith discussion list and so I've been on Faith from the start and have at times subscribed to both Journeys and Policy digests.

What have I learned from Bridges Across ? Well, I find it really hard to put into words.

I'm still pretty much as convinced of side B as when I started. But then I don't see Bridges Across as seeking to "convert" anyone from one side to the other. In fact, the importance of the "which side" question is steadily decreasing as everyone just becomes a fellow "bridger".

I've learnt an enormous amount from everyone on all "sides" and from all sorts of backgrounds and can, I hope, see things through others' eyes more than I did before.

I've become even more aware that this cannot be merely an "academic" discussion on the morality of certain sexual behaviour. I now know that to treat it as such - which I fear that I did for some time and perhaps sometimes still do - is deeply insulting and wounding.

I've got to know gay, lesbian and side A people whom I greatly respect and, where they are Christians, whose faith and desire to be faithful disciples of Christ I cannot deny.

I've become increasingly sensitive to the ignorance and caricature of gay and lesbian people which I was guilty of in the past and which still pervades much of my environment.

As I've thought about what makes Bridges Across so important I reckon it is that we are trying to follow Paul's commands in Ephesians chapter 4:

I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace... Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
What is amazing is the extent to which in our virtual community we have managed to do this - a sure sign of God's presence with us. My great hope and prayer is that the church of Christ as a whole can, in all its discussions on this painful and divisive subject, act in the same spirit. That, whether side A or side B, everyone will always try to speak the truth to others but to do so in love, that they will be humble, gentle and patient, and that we will all seek to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

Andrew J. Goddard 
27 Newland Mill 

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text © 1998 Andrew Goddard

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