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Archdeacon Linney on Homosexuality

In a recent address, Gordon Linney, Archdeacon of Dublin called for the government of the Republic of Ireland to 'enact legislation to allow gay people to have registered stable relationships with all the benefits and rights' that married people enjoy. Though he was at pains to point out that such same-sex couplings should not be called marriage, nevertheless his support for such relationships effectively ignores and undermines the biblical and traditional Christian understanding of marriage. Though the Archdeacon recognizes that Scripture 'leaves us in no doubt of it disapproval' for such same-sex couplings, his approach was simply to dismiss Scripture as the final word on the matter.

He begins with a serious misapplication of John 16:12. In its context Christ promises the Holy Spirit to his immediate disciples to lead them into all the truth concerning him so that they could authoratively proclaim the Gospel of Christ to the world. But Archdeacon Linney, paying no heed to its context, views it as a charter for the modern church to say anything it wants on God's behalf. If this means coming to conclusions that are contrary to Scripture, then Archdeacon Linney and many like him seem unashamedly unafraid to do so. After all, he argues, there are many things in Scripture we no longer accept or do, such as selling our daughters into slavery or putting people to death for working on the Sabbath. But such an approach betrays a horrifying lack of biblical and Christological interpretation of the Scriptures.

Nowhere in the Bible is there a theological justification for slavery. The existence of slavery in Israel and in New Testament days reflects the reality of the times and not the mind of God. The Old Testament Law not only made provisions for the humane treatment of people who had been reduced to slavery by war or poverty, but it quite clearly condemns the kidnapping of human beings for slavery (Exodus 21:16). In the New Testament, there is again no affirmation of slavery and indeed Paul encouraged Christian masters and slaves to allow freedom (Philemon; 1 Corinthians 7:21). Whilst there is no social programme in the NT for emancipation, the seeds of the abolition of the slave trade, brought about in the British Empire by the efforts of evangelicals such as William Wilberforce, are clearly understood to be there in the NT (Galatians 3:28). When we examine the OT and NT texts on slavery, we simply do not find it being promoted. Therefore the argument that we have ignored the Bible's teaching on slavery and by analogy, we can therefore ignore its teaching on homosexuality, is simply a non-starter.

As regards the rest of the OT laws that we now no longer follow, the Archdeacon should surely know that it is because Christ is the fulfilment of the Law. In regard to the food Laws, we have the direct word of Christ that there are now no longer such things as clean and unclean foods (Mark 7:18-19). We no longer sacrifice animals on altars because the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross remains forever definitive to deal with human sinfulness (Hebrews 10:18). We are not governed by the civil laws of Israel for that was only a shadow of the Kingdom of God, whereas God has now written his laws in our hearts. In summary, the argument that we no longer follow OT Law and therefore we need no longer follow OT and NT teaching on the sinfulness of homosexuality is quite silly, for it ignores the obvious fact that we interpret the OT through the Gospel of Christ. As evangelicals, the OT is indispensable, written as it is for our learning, declaring to us the beginning of the Gospel, the holiness of God, the nature of sin, the need for atonement, as well as foreshadowing and declaring Christ and his salvation.

Despite the attempt by Archdeacon Linney to show that traditions change over time, there has never been a tradition in the church of the acceptance of homosexuality. Certainly, there has been much hypocrisy in the history of the Church, not least in the Church of Ireland, as the Bishops in their Pastoral Statement in September 2003 admitted, when they stated that there have often been actively 'gay' clergy ministering in the Church. The most worrying aspect of the Archdeacon's argument concerning traditions is that he sets the Spirit of God against the Word of God, as if the two are in direct competition with each other. He displays no knowledge that the Word of God is the work of the Spirit of God, which means that if the Spirit teaches us through his Word that homosexuality is wrong, then it would be quite contradictory for that same Spirit to tell us now that it is right. The Spirit works today through the Word and not against it as the Archdeacon's arguments would lead us to believe.

Of course, the Archdeacon is quite right to remind us that there are other things that God's people should be speaking about in the world. The problem with this is that 'two wrongs don't make a right!' Failing to comment on other evils doesn't invalidate criticisms concerning the sinfulness of homosexuality. Evangelical Christians are not 'picking on' homosexual people as if they were the only sinners in the world. Quite apart from the fact that the aggressiveness of homosexual activists within the church has focused attention on homosexuality, evangelicals are among the first to assert God's holy love for the homosexual person. They are people of infinite worth and value - all sinners are! That's why Christ died for sinners! Homosexual people are not sinners apart from the rest of sinful humanity. And like the rest of us, they are called to leave their sinful lifestyle behind, lift up the cross and follow Jesus Christ in the lifestyle that honours him. The homosexual lifestyle, as the Bible plainly teaches, is not a Christ endorsed lifestyle. It is totally the opposite, and should be abandoned for the new life of Christ.

In conclusion, whilst the Archdeacon is obviously sincere, his interpretation of Scripture is very worrying. It is appalling to think that a senior cleric should interpret Scripture in such a way as to effectively dismiss it as having any relevance for our thinking about homosexuality. If we take this approach to Scripture there is no subject upon which we cannot reverse the opinion of Scripture. If there are no moral absolutes in this area, why should we believe there are any elsewhere? What's to stop us constructing a Christian religion for ourselves where there are no constraints upon us in any area? Why for example would adultery remain wrong? Why would stealing remain wrong and wouldn't it be quite acceptable to become liars and cheats in order to advance the Kingdom of God as we see it? The Christian response that the Archdeacon confesses he is still searching for lies within a proper interpretation of the Word of God. One can only hope that the Archdeacon and those clergy and bishops who think like him, will rediscover the authority of God's Word as the final word on all matters concerning what is and what is not pleasing and acceptable to Almighty God.

13th March 2004

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