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The Bible speaks the Word of God, but it speaks it in the hearts of people who live in community and reflect upon Scripture within the full range of their human experiences: love, grace, sin, rejection, forgiveness, and acceptance. Pieces of Ease and Grace mines familiar Biblical stories from the perspective of gay and lesbian people, breaking open God’s acceptance for all. It is powerful reading for all believers.
The Hon Kristina Keneally, CEO Basketball Australia, former Premier of New South Wales, 2009–11.
This is a gentle book. It is not written in a hostile tone, with theological essays targeted at angry adversaries. Instead, it is a calm and loving book that explores a future world in which the Christian churches, in harmony with science and daily experience, reject an unbending insistence on universal, binary sexual identities. Instead, it explores diverse relationships be- tween loving human beings such as nowadays seem to be popping up everywhere before our very eyes. Drawing on biblical analysis and on the famous stories of Ruth and Naomi, David and Jonathan and Mary and Martha and more, it dares to explore the grace and truth of diverse human relationships as they are — not as others demand they must be. And the central message is: gays are not them; they are us.
The Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG, former Justice of the High Court of Australia, 1996–2009.
THE UNIVERSITY OF MELBOURNE TRINITY COLLEGE, SUNDAY, 12 MAY 2013, BOOK LAUNCH
Richard Treloar (daughter, Rachel ) Alan Cadwallader, Hon Michael Kirby and Meg Warner.
ALAN H. CADWALLADER (ED.)
PIECES OF EASE AND GRACE
(ATF THEOLOGY PRESS, ADELAIDE, 2013)
THE HON. MICHAEL KIRBY AC CMG
“Have I been dis-invited from performing the launch of this book at the Cathedral?”, I asked myself. Anglicans (my denomination of Christianity) do not generally do dis-invitation. They are far too well mannered. Like the English, from whose, sturdy, independent culture they sprang. They may not actually invite you across their threshold. But, if they do, they will usually stick to the invitation, come Hell or high water.
So I was intrigued to hear that the venue of the launch of Pieces of Ease and Grace had been shifted from the Chapter House of St Paul’s Cathedral in Melbourne to Trinity College. ‘Good Heavens!’ I thought to myself. Have I now been dis-invited even by the Anglicans? Grim times indeed for gays and the Church.
In 2011, at the Melbourne Chapter House, in the presence of the Dean Bishop Mark Burton, I launched an earlier book of ATF Theology Press to which Alan Cadwallader contributed, Five Uneasy Pieces: Essays on Scripture and Sexuality. So what’s the change? That earlier book was edited by Fr. Nigel Wright, an openly gay Anglican priest. Some words of mine on that occasion even gave the title to the present book. In Five Uneasy Pieces, I wrote a layman’s Introduction in which I declared that the chapters of that book were not really ‘uneasy pieces’ at all. Rather I regarded them ‘as full of ease and grace’. From those words, Alan Cadwallader and his colleagues took the signature for this new book.
So why had the Cathedral disinvited me from a second launch? Burrowing a little deeper, I found that the real reason was nothing more hostile than the fact that the launch had accidentally coincided with Mother’s Day: a festival of American invention that puts great demands upon churches and their meeting places. So a quieter, but more available, venue was found at Trinity College in the grounds of the University of Melbourne. I am happy to return to the college and I thank the Warden, Rev. Dr Andrew McGowan, for welcoming me again. I had the privilege of delivering the Barry Marshall Memorial Lecture at Trinity last year, in honour of one his predecessors.
If English politeness does not permit Anglicans to dis-invite, it does not seem to avail in the occasional non-invitation by others. After the Barry Marshall Lecture, I wrote to the Principal of Ridley College, with its somewhat different theological tradition, suggesting that it might be of interest if I were to come and speak to his theological students about the Christian life as experienced by a gay Anglican of the evangelical tradition observed at Ridley. So far no reply. Likewise, a suggestion that I wrote to Moore Theological College, in Sydney, has elicited no reply. This is surprising because I have visited Moore College before and was welcomed as a visitor and speaker. I share the evangelical and Protestant tradition of Moore College, because that is the tradition of the Sydney Diocese of the Anglican Church in which I was raised. As I said in my Barry Marshall Lecture, I am comfortably a Protestant Anglican. But I will not pursue that line of discourse for fear of outstaying this second welcome at Trinity which bends in the Anglo Catholic direction.
In a chapter on the ‘Salvos’ in my book A Private Life (Allen & Unwin 2011), the story is told of how I was once dis-invited by the Salvation Army in Sydney after they had invited me to speak at their Citadel. To their great credit, when I protested the dis-invitation was revoked. The Salvos reinstated the invitation in a compromise by which one of their leaders was made available to explain the received wisdom of the Church on homosexuality. In the event, it was a memorable, uplifting and harmonious encounter. I have since renewed my engagement with the Salvos, who do so many good works that they demand respect.
Not so flexible was the Roman Catholic Church. After I spoke at Newman College at the University of Melbourne a few years back, it came to my notice that the then Archbishop instructed that I was never to be invited again because of my expressed views on sexuality and Scripture. Recently, when I was asked to launch a book on liberal values in education in Sydney, written by scholars at a Catholic College there, I was told that the Principal of the College had directed that I be dis-invited. As I was. And another institution of the Roman Catholic Church apparently had difficulties with establishing a gay students’ society in a big tertiary body, despite boasting in its advertisements that it is “open to people of all faiths” and although it receives much public funding for its work. Speaking to one another about sexuality and religion is, it seems, difficult and painful for some and impossible for others. That is where this new book comes in.
The sources of the discomfort are an over literalistic interpretation of the so-called ‘clobber passages’ in the Bible. The ‘clobber passages’ are the very ones examined in Five Uneasy Pieces. They are the well known verses in Genesis on the sodomites; in Leviticus 18, on the holiness code; and in Romans 1, 26 and 1 Corinthians 6 with their lists of evildoers and in 1 Timothy 1, the rules for holy living. These are the supposed centrepieces for the People of the Book and sexuality and they have caused a continuing animosity toward GLBTI people world-wide. Generosity, love and a welcoming spirit is difficult for many Jews, Christians and Islamic believers as they view gays, lesbians and transsexuals with disdain and hostility.
Every gay person who has been raised in one of these religions, and who worries about the rejection, knows the ‘clobber passages’. The purpose of Five Uneasy Pieces was to turn the spotlight of careful theological analysis upon those passages to find what they are really getting at. The result was an extremely readable and popular book in which both Rev. Alan Cadwallader and Rev. Richard Treloar participated. The experience was to cause them now to take the debate a step further. Each of them has now contributed to this new book and Alan Cadwallader has replaced Nigel Wright as the editor of Pieces of Ease and Grace. In every sense, the new book is a pushing of the envelope from where it was left in the Uneasy Pieces.
Ten of the fourteen authors are revealed in Pieces of Ease and Grace to be ordained Anglican priests. Three derive from Melbourne, two come from Adelaide one is from Perth (Elizabeth Smith – whose introduction is aptly described as “Warming up for the Conversation”.) Three come from Brisbane (Gillian Moses, Marion Free and Ceri Wynne). A Preface is written by Professor Cynthia Kittredge of the United States, who is President of the Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars. The Foreword is written on this occasion by Peter Francis. Yet, there is not a single chapter from an Anglican theologian from the Sydney Diocese. Perhaps theologians from Sydney find it too difficult even to approach this subject, at least in the company of their co-religionists of different viewpoints. Perhaps they see Scripture through a different prism.
Of course, there are fine theologians and church historians in Sydney. It seems unlikely that they all hold to a single party line. I hope that in a third book in this series, one of them will take courage and remember the examples of the Church fathers who defended the English Church at its beginning. And that they will feel brave enough and strong enough to come forward and join in the conversation. In truth, it is the non-aggressive, calm and respectful dialogue offered in this new book that constitutes its most welcome and precious feature. This is an attempt to promote the kind respectful conversation, and the exploration and exchange of analysis and opinions, that Archbishop Rowan Williams urged as the way forward, at least for Anglican Christians on this topic.
The universal church of Jesus, organised on episcopal lines, includes the Roman, Orthodox and Anglican communions. There is still precious little dialogue in the Roman or Orthodox churches on sexuality, mainly because of a want of leadership and encouragement from the top. At least Anglicanism is reflecting, once again, the independent ethos of English history. It is conducting a dialogue. Pieces of Ease and Grace contributes notably to the dialogue. It is no accident that, earlier, it was Anglican Christianity that began the strong conversation about the role of women in traditional church organisations. Now it is about gays. Some observers who know more about those things than I have suggested that, in a curious way, the Anglican Church has been a kind of advance guard for conversations that the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches of Christianity cannot yet have. That is why this book has a larger audience than some of the authors may have suspected. Pope Leo X may have been wiser than he knew, in naming King Henry VIII “Defender of the Faith”. Those who would rescue the global episcopal churches are defending it.
I cannot remember a book with so many introductory chapters. First, there is an Editor’s Prologue by Alan Cadwallader recounting the overall objective: to repair the lack of a proper dialogue between Christian churches and their GLBT members. He sets out the challenge of reconciling two motives that should bind Christians together: The love of Scripture as the source and font of Faith and the love of all people who accept Jesus as Lord.
The Preface by Cynthia Kittredge, as could be expected, sets the analytical tone of the book: rooted in the Scriptures yet drawing strength from a ‘flesh and blood’ connection with the previously alienated and outcast. Getting to know GLBT people is the first step to understanding the ordinariness of their lives. Hostility cannot long survive in this new environment. It sets the mind searching for explanations and reconciliation.
Peter Francis starts his Foreword vividly with a marvellous passage that tells us that he wrote his contribution in his study at Gladstone Library, under a portrait of the great 19th century English statesman. W.E. Gladstone was, he points out, raised by his mother in the stern evangelical tradition of Christianity. But he himself, pronounced that “long long ago I have cast those weeds behind me”.
Then there is an Introduction by Elizabeth Smith, an Anglican priest in the Diocese of Perth. Warming the reader up for what is to follow, she urges us all “Please read on, if you come searching for glimpses of hope and life”. Notice the word “please”. Once again, English politeness and courtesy. This is not a book of denunciation and accusation. It is a hoping to bridge troubled waters and to promote quiet reflection. Perhaps adopting this approach will identify at least some common ground. Apart from everything else, this would seem, at face value, to be the approach proper to the global religion of reconciliation and love.
In Peter Francis’s Foreword there is a marvellous story from his childhood. He recounts how a new preacher came to his all male school chapel and much to the delight of the boys, preached about masturbation and urged his listeners not to feel too guilty about it, for it was just part of their growing up. The preacher went a step further and confronted the supposed Biblical source of animosity towards masturbation: the tale of Onan in chapter 38 of Genesis. Peter Francis suggests that, just as a modern reading is needed for Onan’s supposed vice – so universal amongst humans – so today new approaches are needed for the supposed divine condemnation of gays. Helpfully, Peter Francis quotes Bishop Edmund Browning, President of the Episcopal Church of the United States, in his farewell speech on his retirement:
“History tells us that biblical literalism was used to support both the practice of slavery and the denigration of women. We have moved past slavery and we are moving past the oppression of women. It is time to move past literalistic readings of the Bible to create prejudices against our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. Biblical literalism may be someone’s tradition, but it is not our tradition and it’s time we came home to our Anglican roots.”
The bulk of Pieces of Ease and Grace is made up of successive chapters addressing same-sex relationships portrayed elsewhere in the Bible. None of the authors suggests (how could they know?) that the relationships described involve a sexual or erotic component. Nevertheless, they assert that the love portrayed in the stones was real and vivid. They indicate biblical recognition of the variety of human love beyond traditional marriage. Thus the story of David and Jonathan is told by James Harding. The story of Esther’s ‘coming out’ is recounted by Richard Treloar. Alan Cadwallader recounts the tale of the Centurion and a Cannanite. The story of the eunuchs in Matthew 19:12 is described by Ceri Wynne. The story of Martha and Mary is recorded by Gillian Moses. Gillian Townsley describes Euodia and Syntyche. And Joan Riley reminds us of the great passage in 1 Corinthians 12 with its universal principle of inclusiveness.
If these biblical reflections do not have the power of the ‘clobber passages’, analysed in Five Uneasy Pieces, they demonstrate an arguable case concerning the variety of intense human love experiences recognised in the Bible. Heteronormative demands and insistence that all else than procreative heteronormality is a mere trivia, are hard to reconcile with modern but also with ancient human experience.
This new book is easy to read. It has an excellent Index of authors. As well, a blessing in particular for to those of the evangelical tradition, there is a very detailed Index to Scripture. This permits the reader to go directly to the Bible and to read the cited passages in context. On my way to launch this book, I delayed for a moment in the Trinity College Chapel: a 19th Century brick affair in which Gladstone would have felt completely at home. Curiosity got the better of me. Because of my Sydney Diocese origins, I read the passage of the Bible marked for reflection that day. It was the Book of Zechariah. The marker showed that it was open at Chapter 1. This recounts the wrath of the Lord, conveying the son of the Berechiah, in turn the son of Iddo, described as a prophet. According to the text, the Lord was sore displeased with Zechariah because of his fathers’ errors. Biblical literalism might suggest an interpretation of divine retribution beyond the offender unto the third generation. Such inherited alienage has certainly been known in our world. So what, I asked, was the significance of such a story today – especially for the people of the New Covenant? How could inherited guilt possibly be reconciled with the message of individual redemption, reconciliation and forgiveness? So literalism has its limits. None of us should read the Bible expecting that every phrase and every word will have immediate lessons for today, reading each phrase and word in isolation and literally.
The last word on this new book belongs to Peter Francis. In his Foreword, unpromisingly, he mentions a message on a fridge magnet: a verse of poetry by an American poet, Edwin Markum. Surely he will not give us American folksiness, I thought to myself. Especially writing from Wales and in the Gladstone Library with its many treasures he would surely find an uplifting passage from the great English poets and writers: say John Milton or John Bunyan. But I read on, as many will do in Pieces of Ease and Grace. Relationships, Peter Francis asserts, are perhaps the primary way of expanding the circle of our awareness of the world and of God’s plan within it. According to him ‘it is up to us and our relationships’ whether we embrace, or reject, the ever-expanding circles of knowledge and empathy. The fridge magnet tells us:
‘He drew a circle that shut me out –
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flought.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in.
This is what Pieces of Ease and Grace attempts to do. To draw a circle that brings into an important conversation people who are presently hostile, suspicious, uncertain or closed of mind. It is sorely needed, and should be read, in all circles of the Christian Church.