Monthly Archives: May 2009

Too many people under the Chuppah

In Jewish thought, the coming together of bride and groom is akin to God taking the Jewish people to himself in the Exodus.  When a Jewish couple are married under a prayer shawl, it is symbolic of the people of God being brought to God under the Shekinah, the presence of God.  The 10 commandments are like the Jewish Ketubah, the written agreement of what is being agreed to here.  This is whty the first two commandments are about the banning of other lovers.

What is striking though is that the consummation of the marriage happens with only the bride and groom under the Ketubah.  There is no one else to be there. This is a symbol of trust between the bride and groom.  If too many people know what is happening, then there is a limit to how much trust there can be, how many others can be let in.  Instead, we need a place that only we know about.

And when we live in a culture which drags sex out from under the Chuppah, we take away the power.  A culture that 

shows it,

films it

examines it

comments on it

analyses it

And then wonders why everyone has lost interest.

The mystery is killed when there are too many people under the Chuppah.

Bell ends by the telling the story of having a prayer shawl placed up in his Church, and inviting people to come and stand under it, and feel the presence of God over their relationship.  Often the woman dragged the man, but it would be the man who ended up crying, and people found their relationships radically changed, with new levels of respect between them.

On silence

Note the Church and Society report from Friday:

The task of communicating a gospel perspective on public issues is always a huge challenge in a world of instant news agendas.  It is particularly challenging to offer a coherent and reflective sense of discernment about what the theological first principles are on a given issue when most sections of the media thrive on 20 second soundbites, celebrity opinon-makers and the voracious desire for controversy as a method of making profits out of the task of reporting the news. 

Some things we are best to be quiet about.  Not forever.  Just for a time.  It’s not easy, but it might be doing us good.

This is the kind of thing that Rowan Williams was saying on Wednesday when he confessed to a “strong Quaker surge which comes upon me” during the wordier manifestations of ­Anglicanism. He added: “A church that took God seriously would be moving in and out of silence like that a lot more than we seem to be doing.”

It’s something that Bonhoeffer alluded to here:

“Often we combat our evil thoughts most effectively if we absolutely refuse to allow them to be expressed in words… It must be a decisive rule of every Christian fellowship that each individual is prohibited from saying much that occurs to him.” 




Top Assembly Moments

That’s me back now.  I have been trying to think of my top moments from a week that has affected me far more than I had imagined.  There is something curiously transforming about ascending that Mound each day, being thrown together with a group of folk you would never have chosen for yourself, the whole intention being that their opinions will rub against yours, and that through that, somehow the Church will be richer.

At lot of the best moments were over coffee, Chinese or on the Glasgow-Edinburgh train.  But on the floor of Assembly it was:

5. Speaking with my Dad – this was when I moved the motion on growing Churches.  I couldn’t understand why the moderator called Mr. Glover to speak after the motion had already passed. It turned out it was my Dad lending some support from the balcony (it’s at about 3 mins here)

4. The Youth Reps – a particular thrill was Andrew Rooney (from Flemington) and William McIntosh (from Cambuslang Parish) speaking on behalf of the youth assembly.  It’s at about 4 mins, also in the same place.

3. Walk In My Shoes – a movie based on stories from the Poverty Truth Commission

2. Desmond Tutuinspirational from a man who embodied the hard won truths of which he spoke

1. And I have asked George Whyte to second this motion Jim Stewart made the speech which felt like it allowed folk like me to come back in to the Assembly.  In asking for a two year moratorium on the ordination of ministers in same-sex relationships, he turned to the affirmational wing of the Church and said “I know this is big, but I am asking you to help me.” 

I had heard that Jim might be making the speech.  I didn’t know that George Whyte, Presbytery Clerk of Edinburgh and the man who moved the motion which upheld Scott Rennie’s appointment, was going to second Jim’s motion.  Some have suggested that it was a cop-out, that it won’t change anything in the long run.  I am still hoping that what we were witnessing was pure grace.  The best kind of grace.  The kind you don’t see coming.





When laughter ruins the script

This was a story from Bill Hewitt this morning.

There was once a drama teacher in school, who was devoted to the betterment of her pupils.  She poured all her abilities and energy into teaching them.  She decided to produce a school show at the end of one particular year.

She casted the parts, she spent long hours in rehearsal, going over lines, going over moves, directing the pupils into playing the characters.

On the night of the play, the first half went particularly well, but at the start of the second half, one of the actors, one of the leads, forgot his lines.  As he froze on the stage, the audience hadn’t quite realised, but the actors and crew in the wings knew something had gone wrong.  Then from nowhere, the actor said the first words that came into his head “fiddlesticks, I think I’ll have some fish fingers.”

The audience burst into laughter at the strangeness of the line.

And the actor enjoyed the sound of the laughter.  So through the rest of the evening, he would simply add lines to the script, enjoying the audience reaction, none of the other actors knew what he was going to say, the sense of the play was lost, but the audience did laugh.

At the end of the play, the audience cheered, they had enjoyed their evening.  But in the wings was the drama teacher, tears noticeable down her cheeks.  The audience had laughed, but the play had been lost.

For Hewitt this was a story about the pain that is caused when we depart from the script.  I also wondered about a laughter fillied speech the previous day at the Assembly.  The moderator I don’t think intended any connection, but for me, it was difficult for the link not to be made.

Love and Sex

The sex theme has two ideas behind it – permanence and difference.

The idea is that you when two become one, God joins.  And what God joins shouldn’t be seperated.  That’s the permanence part. 

The second idea is that sex represents the maleness and femaleness of God (Genesis 1:27, and something that Jesus alludes to in Matthew 19).  That’s the difference idea.

The reason that Paul gets so bothered about same-sex in Romans 1 is that it no longer points to God.  It doesn’t have enough difference.

The end of Romans 1 is about people no longer pointing to God.  They no longer worship the creator, but the creation.  We distort our relationship with creation, so it somehow becomes god.  That’s the problem in Romans 1 – people are having sex that doesn’t point to God.  

Most of the time the love theme and the sex theme are in harmony with each other.  This is no surprise.  They have the same composer.

But what happens when they pull in opposite directions?

That’s what this whole discussion is about.

The first answer is that love always wins.  It’s the theme that trumps all other themes.   So when a relationship has broken down, when people are harming each other by being together, then the love theme says “split”.  The sex theme says “let no man cast asunder”.  But the love theme wins, because it’s the bigger theme.

There’s an American writer called Lehmann who says that rules are like buoys that mark out the swimming area off a beach.  You would be a fool to swim outside the area – it’s unsafe, there are currents that we don’t understand, and we could drown.  It’s the same way with rules.  Don’t swm outside the buoys.

But sometimes you have to go outside the buoys.  Sometimes there might be a shark that has broken into the swimming area, or a slick of oil.  Then you swim out the buoys, but you only do it when existence has become so disordered, when what once was safe has become poison, only in dangerous places do you swim outside the buoys.

Divorce is a bit like that.  Sometimes you have to swim outside the permanence buoys.  You do it, because the love theme is played with louder notes.  Sometimes the demand for permanence has to make way to love (love being the opposite of harm).

The Bible seems to go along with that.  That’s why divorce is almost always spoken against, but very occasionally, in odd circumstances, when there is a shark in the water (in Matthew 19 the shark is called “sexual immorality”), it is allowed.

The Bible might yield on the permanence part of the sex theme.  It yields very reluctantly and very occasionally.  Jesus’ strong words on divorce suggest that for him, the themes of love and sex were not often in conflict.

But the Bible  never yields on the question of difference.

All the texts – Genesis, Leviticus, Romans, Jude, Matthew, 1 Corinthians, 1 Timothy.  They all point the same way.  They are all somehow about the difference theme.  And they always say the same thing.  The difference thing stays.  Sex must always point to God.  It needs to be male and female, because God is male and female.

But what about the love theme.  Why did the Bible never let the love theme play louder than the difference theme.  It did with permanence.  Why not with difference?

The first possible answer is that the Bible never knew that love and difference could pull apart.  The Bible didn’t know what we now know: that same-sex could also be love.  The Bible only knew about pagan orgies.  It had never seen Tom Hanks in Philadelphia.

The second answer is that the Bible did know something like this.  It did know that gay men and women could make commitments to each other, but it still stayed firm.  It still insisted that the sex theme shouldn’t yield to the love theme. 

It couldn’t yield because love and sex were never were in fact pulling each other apart.   They are always in harmony.  Though a thing calls itself “love” and looks like love, perhaps it isn’t always love.  Our ears are not sensitive enough to all the notes.  Love is a bigger mystery than we can fathom.

We don’t always know best what love is.  Sometimes the folk inside the relationship have a better idea.  Sometimes they are blinded, and the folk outside spot something that folk inside can’t see or don’t want to know.

So what’s it like here, when lesbian and gay people talk about being in love?

Is it like two parents who were distraught when their 19 year old daughter got married, but twenty years down the line, eventually coming to see in their son-in-law what their daughter had always known, they gladly concede that they were wrong?

Or is it like a wedding where the couple make speeches and vows about love, but one or two discerning friends have been concerned by a flaw at the heart of the relationship, they hear love, but fear that something in future is going to unravel with painful consequences?

Which is it?

That’s what we need time to answer: to ask if we really have understood love. 

We need time to let the love theme and the sex theme run alongside each other.  To see if there is ever dissonance between them.  If there is dissonance then love must always win (as Smedes argues here).

We need to ask if celibacy is always the best option, or if sometimes the love theme demands that difference is not insisted upon.  Do we sometimes have to swim outside the buoys, or on this do we, like the texts of the Bible, always swim within them.  If the sex is same, can it really be love?

Do the grand Biblical themes of Love and Sex ever pull in opposite directions?

That, I think, is the question.


Tending the garden

 Tutu said that when his people were struggling against that “horrible system of apartheid” (you don’t just refer to it as apartheid when you have lived through it), they luxuriated in the support of people from around the world.  “That people were willing to engage with us, to enable us to turn the wilderness into a burgeoning garden of freedom… we asked you to help us, and you did, and I am here to say thank you, thank you.”

He had a magic wand that turned us into South Africans, and then asked his fellow South Africans to give God a round of applause, he then waved his wand again so that he could return us to our usual shy shelves.

There were two other things.  The one was the way that when Jesus was lifted up, he would call “all, all, all ” to himself.  Not just many but “all”

Bin Laden and Bush

Lesibian and Gay

“All, all, all, all, ” to himself.

The end was a poignant moving whimper.  The most powerful whimper I have ever heard.

It was, said Tutu, the voice of God, when he saw that but a tiny fraction of the amount spent on defence could be used to give clean water to a child, affordable health care to communities

And God says “Help me, help me, help me, help me”

Angels Unawares

It has been a week of angelic visitation – often on the Glasgow-Edinburgh train.  This morning is was one of my best friends in the Church, who had some great ideas for our congregation’s development, and also another guy whom I had never met before.

There were the guys at the Chinese buffet last night, talking about how we can go on a journey on the next two years (until the McPake coalition appears)

Then there was Desmond Tutu and I’m about to write that one up.

Then there were the guys at the computer area just now, working out how we can have a conversation with ourselves, and generate a generous orthodoxy within the Church.  That also was the guy who said that we as evangelicals have to work to keep those who are more extreme than us in the Church, and the person I start with is my wife.

There were a couple of other gems – Martin Johnstone gave me a quote about Church growth which came through Anne Morrissey “no one wants to join an anxious organisation”

And a wee thing in the middle of a debate yesterday, when someone told the story of visitors arriving in a Church who came from Asia.  They had arrived in Church and had been asked to move because they were sat in someone else’s pew.  He had had to convince them that this wasn’t racism, but happened to white people in our Churches as well.  Another commissioner got up and said that he had a policy about this in his Church.  If he ever hears in his Church that someone says “that’s my pew” and asks another to move, then the pew goes.

Minister boasts of pre-marital sex

How did we end up talking about sex in the middle of a report which was about singleness?

The debate happened because the report on singleness offered two positions about whether folk should have sex before they are married – traditional and “revisionist”.  One commissioner asked that the report be noted, but that no-one be asked to engage with it.  It contained, for him, views which were unbiblical.

That was when another minister, keen to avoid a debate about sex which was “embarassed, furtive and fumbling” spoke about an early talk he had received (when single) about finding a wife.  The talk had been embarassing, saying that the minister wasn’t just looking for a “bit of fluff”, not just a wife, but a minister’s wife.  The minister was anxious contrast this with the fun of meeting his wife, and then he announced, nay proclaimed, “and we had sex before we were married.”  Half the hall was in stiches, the other half a bit more sombre (later one minister asked “but what would it have been like if you hadn’t ended up getting married?”)

It then felt that we were going to have a set of exchanges where ministers got up to confess whether or not they had had sex before they were married.  Fortunately we never got too far down that line. 

My favourite contribution was from a youth delegate who noted that we were not being asked to agree with the report, but engage with it “and this is precisely what we need”.  There has been much talk of dialogue over coffee this week.  “Can we have coffee about this as well please” asked the delegate.

Just moved a motion

I’ve just had the nerve wracking experience of moving a motion to the report of Mission and Discipleship.  It was inspired a conversation with one of our local undertakers during Holy Week who mentioned that he was joining the Church on Easter Sunday, along with 10 others.  I have to confess that my joy at this was not unadulterated.  We ministers are not good at hearing the success stories of other ministers.  However I wrote to the minister concerned and found out that that Church had had 19 new members in previous year.

So my motion was that the Church “conduct a study of congregations with unusually high growth and report its findins to the wider Church”.  I have read a lot about American Churches which are growing, a little about English Churches that are growing, and would like to read more about Scottish Churches that are growing.

I had an odd moment when the moderator then asked “Mr Glover” to speak to the motion.  I couldn’t understand why I was being asked to speak to my own motion, only to discover that this was my Dad speaking in support.  It was a nice moment – the baton hopefully being passed on.

Some new house rules

We have all agreed not to speak to the press about the ordination of ministers in same-sex relationships.  Thus, I have to announce that I am no longer available for television and radio, the newspaper column will have to be rescinded.

There was an attempt to get blogs brought into this, but it failed for the lack of decent wording.  However, it’s important to keep to the spirit of our self-imposed silence.

So here’s the new house rules:

1. No more articles on the appointment of ministers in same-sex relationships

2. No more articles about the Aberdeen case


1. We are reporting an announcement from the official committees of the Church

2. We are reporting a public announcement from the McPake Commission

I will still put up articles about same-sex relationships in general, these will be characterised by generosity of tone, and attempt to report and discuss rather than offer definitive opinion (there a few questions in the comments I would like to turn to).

There will be no attacks on other members of the Church, or on their pronouncements.  Comments that contain such attacks will be removed.

Finally, a few folk noticed that I tried to get to a microphone in the debate but was silenced.  One was self-imposed (my point was answered) and on the other occasion I was too late before the moderator moved on.