25.1.14

Watson, Goddard and Runcorn midrash

Perhaps with a Midrashic approach, truth will emerge as the church listens.The interplay of various viewpoints will lead to a deeper understanding. As the church seeks to explore what we mean by covenanted relationship, the first we might pursue would be one with God and community through the voices that are now asking to be heard. People like Watson, Runcorn and Goddard midrash with a difference of emphases, as the church inhabits the listening process. 



John Watson helpfully describes over at Fulcrum how, 'Scripture does have a view on what it means to be human and sexual and as Christians we must turn to it to see what it says. However in saying that Scripture does have a view on being human and on sexuality is different to saying it has only one view and for ever it will remain.'

He looks at how 'Out of the relational God a relation being is created.' We are God's image (the imago dei) – we image, imitate and transform; we pray that we become more conformed to God's character.

The 'adam' or ground creature is that original community of two in one – made in the image of God. John Watson moves quite quickly to the image of Christ the bridegroom and the Church, the bride of Christ. Whilst he cautions jumping too far ahead, he does just that, but with integrity, expresses his viewpoint that because of such imagery he finds little to defend same-sex partnership from a biblical point of view.

Regarding St Paul's warning to the Romans, that we all too soon swap worship of the creator, for worship of the created, John Watson is unsure about whether the prohibitions condemn alternatives to heterosexuality, rather they prohibit any unmeasured, uncontrolled desire in which idolatry has become apparent. I would want to extend his thinking here a little further. Surely all our sexual expressions need to be brought before a Holy God and the heterosexual community must take a long look at its own practices and perculiarities and work out how and when desire honours God and how and when it does not. He does reference, though, the need for nuance: 'If one sees the difference between uncontrolled sex and homosexual faithful relationships then the understanding will be more nuanced.' He doesn't suggest yet what some of those grey shades might be.

John Watson, influenced by theologians like Paul Ricoeur, concludes that a midrashic approach to the scriptural puzzle might be our best way forward.

'The hermeneutic that is as much about discourse as well as the text, which in the end becomes the text for us, is something that I think holds out a possible way forward. In that discourse we must hold out the potential for all of us to change.'

Andrew Goddard and Don Horrocks' 'Resources for church leaders: Biblical and pastoral responses to homosexuality,' gives a right emphasis on what they describe as the 'surprising twist in Paul’s reasoning,' where God's response to our tendency toward idolatry is to 'give people up' to their lusts. God literally, as Mark Bonnington has described, takes his 'hands off' so that, as the proverbs warn, we literally fall into the very pits that we have dug. In our pastoral response to one another, I suggest that we counsel one another in such ways that the loving hands of God might be rediscovered again, so that explorations can happen openly through prayer and debate as to the ways in which, as whole people, our lives can maximally pursue the fellowship of God rather than our independence from him.

Goddard and Horrocks quote Horrocks who said in 2010 that,

'In the case of homosexuality, the church has not understood its reading of the Bible to require development because here... there is a consistent negative witness throughout the Bible. A major danger today is that claims of being led by the Spirit to change the teaching of the Bible can very easily disguise attempts to accommodate the Christian gospel to the spirit of the age. There is no authority given to human beings to change the plain truth of Scripture.'

Such a declaration, in the light of Runcorn's approach to the question of our right sexuality, seems now too black and white, too neat and not open enough to the complexities that the church is working a response towards.

Where Goddard and Horrocks conclude that their conservative approach to sexuality is that of the majority of Christians and Jews, John Watson would probably argue that his midrashic approach might in fact be the more authentic.

Runcorn too describes how 'The Scriptures must be translated, read and understood, and their meaning grasped through a continuing process of interpretation...' Those practising such an approach and because of it, an openness to stable faithful sexual expressions amongst those of the same gender, are described as 'Including Evangelicals' and so differentiated from 'conservative evangelicals.' Runcorn's is a journey in community which is 'of constant discovery, re-discovery and renewal.' It is midrashic.

In contrast to Goddard's tendency to offer what he believes is a plain reading of the text, Including Evangelicals like Runcorn persuasively acknowledge our tendency to assume 'that what the Bible teaches on any issue can be determined by simply reading a Bible text or verse as if that is proof...' Scholars are now quick to admit that it is fool-hardy to think that 'we are ‘reading the text, straight’, and that if somebody disagrees with us it must be because they, unlike we ourselves, are secretly using ‘presuppositions’ of this or that sort.'

To begin his analysis Runcorn starts by questioning the 'bi-focused structure assumptions' that we have brought to scripture. He is quick to wonder whether this is too reductive: 'There is only marriage on offer.' I am not sure whether such a reduction can be implied. Perhaps to jump from a simplistic binary to the sense that this is to be applied everywhere, presupposes too much. Runcorn concludes that rather than the outward binary complementarity, what is being celebrated, in the first human union, is the satisfaction (albeit temporary) of how 'Human beings are created with a life searching/life fulfilling longing and need for loving relationship and community.' He doesn't believe that our analysis of Genesis leaves the option of prohibiting homosexuality open to us.

About the Romans passage that John Watson explores, Runcorn processes with an emphasis that many revisionists have cited. He looks at the nature question and begins to articulate an approach that might regard our sexuality as ontological, as something of our substance and identity. '...We need to be very clear in what way at all this passage applies to Christians today who find themselves homosexual by ‘nature’ who confess Christ as Lord, repent of their sins and renounce evil; who are faithful and chaste in their relationships; and who seek blessing upon their same sex partnership and their shared discipleship in the way of Christ.' I believe that there is much work to be done in this area and it does seem to throw the Church into something of a fundamental – it is here that we must begin to look more carefully at our theology of the fall and all that this entails for our human relating and our attitudes towards one another.

Runcorn suggests we apply the Gamaliel test and heed Peter's vision of God's command to be an including community and to not venture before God our own list of what might constitute the unclean. His is a call for radical hospitality, it is this that God is highlighting as an ethical requirement in that difficult story of Sodom. We are to 'imitate the master [this] is a way of knowing Torah,' Burridge insists that a Christian approach to ethical questions must be centred on Jesus’s life and will always be asking, ‘What kind of community' is the outcome of his words? Such a community, Runcorn concludes would be one that is marked by 'unexpected welcome, healing and scandalous inclusion...without preconditions.' 


It seems that once again, what is really being determined here is not only how we live out the ethical requirements of a life before God, but what fundamentally we mean by terms such as the 'authority of scripture' and evangelical.

Bibliography

Evangelicals, Scripture and same sex relationships – an ‘Including Evangelical’ perspective The Revd David Runcorn

Resources for church leaders: Biblical and pastoral responses to homosexuality , 2012 Evangelical Alliance

John Watson at Fulcrum has written A response to David Runcorn’s appendix to the Pilling Report.

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