Bill Bingham listens for the Word
‘Let us listen to the Word of God as it is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament.’ For many years I listened to this pronouncement from the pulpits of Presbyterian churches across Scotland. This declaration was traditionally followed by a reading of reverence and solemnity.
One memorable Sunday morning a young minister in my Kirk altered the wording slightly and declared, ‘Let us listen for the Word of God…’ An almost imperturbable and very subtle change, but, for me, a significant turning point in my personal spiritual development. Later it transpired that this minister was gay, and this information was discovered by a national newspaper which decided to ‘expose’ our young clergyman. He was then subjected to the printed cruelties of the Scottish press and its reporters. Our church was subsequently besieged in a frenzied need to deliver the ‘news’ of this discovery to the public at large. Oh what a juicy story – the press had a field day.
To my horror, instead of supporting our young minister, my congregation turned against him and forced his resignation from the Presbyterian church. I then promptly resigned my own membership of the Church of Scotland. That was thirty years ago. I subsequently started to attend Quaker Meetings and was uplifted to discover the degree of tolerance I found there, although, let us be honest, it took time for some Friends to get there. Joseph Lister was ‘outed’ from the Society for marrying a member of the Anglican church.
All of this unsettling ‘religious’ experience happened long ago, but since then the Word of God has become much more clear to me than ever it was in my association with John Knox’s distorted version of Christianity. Knox himself was a follower of John Calvin and was not a deliverer of the new wine once spoken of by the Christ figure. Knox’s ‘monstrous regiment of women’ utterance, for example, reveals a dreadful attitude towards the opposite sex. Such misogynistic views of course are still propagated within some religious communities, often with cruel and disastrous consequences.
So what is the ‘Word’? The Word is of course ‘Love’ and it was revealed in the teachings of an itinerant Jewish rabbi. His ‘new wine’ can never be held in the old wineskins of the past. Our human sexuality, just like our IQ and skin colour, is not a matter of choice. ‘The hairs of your head have all been counted’, which, to my mind, is simply another way of saying that you are of extreme value and worth in the sight of God just as you are!
In his Waiting for the Last Bus, Richard Holloway notes that many us, having given up burnings, stonings and beheadings, now use our daily newspapers to denounce ‘sinners’ and damage the lives of those whose life-experience we fail to understand. The press often acts as judge and jury without knowing all the facts. ‘Remove the beam from thine own eye’? Jesus was a wise man who saw quite clearly that he was surrounded by hypocrisy.
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