While some of what is said here is indeed true, sadly too many leaders of Bishop David’s stature do not mention, that Not only did Jesus accept those the rulers of the day did not, but He also said, “go and sin no more”.  There is so little of the transforming power of the Good News of Jesus mentioned today – we have become little more than a politically correct blessing service for the social services of the day!

The Tragedy of what Christians do in the Name of Christ –

A Christmas Reflection By Bishop David Russell

The birth of Jesus is a time when we focus on the meaning and message of his life. Christians believe that God came to us in Jesus to bring a message of new life and hope in situations of darkness (inhumanity) – “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome the light” (what is good, humane and just). We proclaim a God who is merciful and loving, who did not reject but rather embraced lepers and those ‘outside the Law’. Jesus is their friend.

It therefore comes as a terrible irony when Christians not only fall short in witnessing to this example of Jesus, but over and above this, actually feed cruel and rejecting attitudes in the very name of Jesus – often quoting from sacred texts. We are all familiar with the long years of the demeaning and destructive apartheid policies, and the way its ideology and practice were supported in the name of the Christian faith. We are also familiar with the horrendous history of anti-semitism so often underpinned and justified in the name of Christ.

Similarly, we are familiar with the way in which persons of gay and lesbian orientation have been dehumanised and cruelly rejected down the ages in the name of Jesus and his Gospel. Right now the Ugandan Parliament is about to pass a draconian “Anti-Homosexuality Law”. As in many countries around the world same-sex behaviour is already illegal, but zealous MPs in Uganda want to make the law even more severe. Those persons who continue to live in a faithful same-sex partnership, for example, will become liable for the death sentence. (We are not simply talking here about promiscuous behaviour, gay or straight). The legislation goes further to a bizarre degree: those family members and friends who fail to report such behaviour, also become liable for stiff prison sentences. The harsh and rejecting attitudes are by no means confined to the present extremes in the Ugandan Parliament. Historically, have not the churches fed such attitudes in significant ways through their traditions of biblical interpretation?

One of the great theologians of the last century, Karl Ranher, writing in the 80s, reflected prophetically: “Three hundred years ago people in our part of the world burned witches…Today this mass frenzy no longer exists in the Church – yet do we know for certain that there aren’t other forms of mass frenzy in which the Church is naively colluding? Among those who took part in the frenzy back then, there were holy, learned and devout folk of good will who failed to see how much their actions contradicted the gospel of Jesus……My God, have mercy upon us poor, narrow-minded, sinful fools, on us who form the body of Your Church.” (p149 ‘Karl Rahner Spiritual Writings’).

Rahner’s word is deeply relevant to what we are reflecting on here.

Is this treatment of gay and lesbian persons really what Jesus is calling for? What an unbelievable thought. Yet there are churches and Christian groupings around the world committed to supporting such harsh laws. The secular world rightly looks on aghast at what is done in the name of the Good News – the teaching of Jesus. Has not something gone seriously wrong with the way certain churches are applying Scripture to these issues? Do not certain approaches and ways of interpreting Scripture need to be revisited? We certainly need to reflect again, and more deeply.

We can find some clue in turning to the Apostle Peter in his dilemma – when he was taken totally out of his depth, by events – by what the Spirit was doing with Cornelius, and within himself. “You yourselves know very well that a Jew is not allowed by his religion to visit or associate with Gentiles. But God has shown me…” (Book of Acts 10 &11), and we follow this amazing unfolding of a radical shift in the Tradition and in their understanding of the teachings and requirements of Scripture.

It is time we recognised that the Spirit has been, and is, touching the lives of gay and lesbian Christians. They (many in stable partnerships, and active members of their congregations) are saying: “We are here”. Can we as fellow Christians in the Body, really say: “We don’t accept the way you are”? Is this really what the Lord is saying? Must they be rejected and disciplined for believing that they experience the peace of God and his blessing of their partnerships of faithful commitment?

In his dialogue with the pharisees, as presented in the Gospels, Jesus questioned their assumptions about “by what authority” (by what ‘right’) he acted. The ecclesiastical authorities of his day were frustrated and angered by his emphasis on human dignity, pastoral sensitivity and need, as criteria for assessing whether some action was ‘of God’ or not. It would seem that their understanding of ‘what the Law required’ was being challenged by Jesus in terms of some very basic human values. We would say: values that reflect the character and heart of God.

At this time as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, let us reflect on the tragedy of the wrongs we have done in his Name. May it be a time in which we rededicate ourselves to follow Jesus in befriending those who have been marginalized and rejected, leaving no one outside the embrace of his love.

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