Live with difference or face destruction churches warned
Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI) has published a book of essays entitled "Growing into God".
The collection explores the call to grow into God's image and likeness. The essays lay out different view points side by side.
Two essays on the Bible and gay people both written by Evangelicals, namely Dr David Hilborn and the Revd Canon Michael Williams come to very different conclusions.
This disagreement does not surprise the Revd Dr Alastair Hunter, one of the contributors to the book and a minister of the Church of Scotland.
At the launch he spoke of the importance of allowing different Church communities to interpret the text in their own setting but warned that this meant that each community must be prepared to co-exist with other Christian communities which thought very differently.
The Revd Jean Mayland, Co-ordinating Secretary for Church Life at CTBI said: 'The Churches will never agree on biblical interpretation and we have to reconcile ourselves to that, otherwise the Church will destroy itself.'
One common thread does, however, run through the essays and through the presentations at the launch, namely that the image of God into which we are called to grow is the image of a God who is strong but compassionate and one who makes himself vulnerable in order to bring everyone into an inclusive community.
The Revd Dr Stephen Wright, Anglican priest and Director of the College of Preachers made this point strongly saying that his research into the image of God found in the New Testament had led him not to an image of an all powerful conquering emperor but to one of suffering, vulnerability and death.
Professor Mary Grey, D.J.James Professor of Pastoral Theology at the University of Wales, Lampeter said that the strength of the book was to have the voices of people who have been marginalized by the body of the Church. The Church's life is lived out as the suffering broken Body of Christ between suffering and hope. Christ as imago Dei is the living dynamic presence of passion for justice.
Some of the essays are written by people who have been made to feel less than made in the image of God and excluded from the Church.
'Learn to love first rather than judge first,' writes the Revd Colin Coward in his chapter headed 'What do I want to say to the Churches about my God-given sexuality?' He is an Anglican priest who is Director of Changing Attitude and he said the Bible had been used to marginalize lesbian and gay Christians as it was claimed that the Bible taught that gay sexual activity was sinful.
He commented on the positive actions of government and said that eventually the Church will catch up, discovering that what it justified on the basis of biblical teaching is no longer tenable.
The Revd Lorraine Dixon, a Church Army Sister of the Anglican Church agreed that biblical interpretation could be used as a tool of oppression. However 'black women have reread the Bible as a text of liberation.' She writes 'Reading Scripture challenges us not to lose hope; the present situation does not define what is possible for God.'
Dr Donald Macaskill, formerly Vice-Principal of the Scottish Churches Open College and now Head of Training and Leadership at Scottish Human Services Trust also attacked the failings of the Church.
He said: 'The degree to which a community excludes people is a measure to which it is made in the image of God. The Church, therefore, cannot be said to be made in the image of God.'
Speaking from a different angle the Revd Dr Mary Seller, Professor of Developmental Genetics, Division of Medical and Molecular Genetics at Guy's Hospital, told those gathered at the launch of people reacting with horror against new techniques like research into medical genetics or infertility.
'But Christ himself often did astonishing things and flouted convention to do so if compassion decreed. I believe that scientists should "play God" in certain respects.'