LGBT and the Christian Story (Part 2) – Might drama make for a better evangelical story?

A few weeks ago I penned a piece that began with Peter Oulds assertion that ‘Evangelicals need a better story’  in regard to how situations of LGBT are dealt with, and the piece ended with my own story of growing up evangelical, and the predominant silence on the issue, a silence which meant that as a young person I had no way of assessing the few perspectives floating around that were predominately negative, and where the churches were represented as being guilty of committing spiritual abuse against individuals. If you want to read that piece it is here: ‘On LGBT and growing up Evangelical- the Silence’

This is the follow up, and tries to respond to Peters original question. One key motivation for me in regard to this piece, is that I was in conversation with a young person recently, and in asking them about ‘difficult issues that they face’ they said ‘well i have my spiritual beliefs over here, and my personal ones here, I go the Pride march locally as I want to support it and am for it, but its as if i have to hide being a christian, or keep my spiritual beliefs separate’. I paraphrase a little. But isnt it a shame that this was how a young person in a local church, growing up evangelical, dealt with what they saw were a divergence of beliefs and values? A better story for them would bring coherence. And i realise coherence isnt everything. But it might help young people growing up evangelical today. Amongst other things.

So, If there needs to be a better Evangelical story ;  Might that story need to be a bigger one? If the only evangelical story in town is to denigrate those who stand with pride marches as having a cartoon faith, and creating an either/or argument, then Peter is desperately right. The tone of the debate continues to sound nasty, and it is evangelicals playing the doom drums.

Where the conversations have been about Vicky Beechings book ‘Undivided’ which is getting alot of positive and dismissive comments.

But if I am brutally honest, when the battle lines are drawn in this debate both lived experience and good humanity become sidelined to bit part players in the great theological conversation. The lived experience, personal ministry and horrific experiences of oppression in the church do have to be wrestled with, are valid, dont mishear me.

If the lines are drawn as ‘lived experience’ vs ‘what the bible says’ then the rut might be stuck in for a while. The tools in what seems a battle have barely move on since i was a teenager. To be evangelical is to still believe in the Bible, yet no evangelical believes in the whole bible anyway, all is culturally appropriated. Thats still not, quite the point.

Yes it has taken 1000 words of preamble, and so this might be the first of a number of posts, but in terms of a framework for using the Bible, and also exploring inclusion, acceptance and participation in the faith – does a Theodrammatic framework help?

Of course, in thinking like this, we have to ask whether we want to find a way that accepting a theological premise that offers acceptance and inclusion with the LGBT community is what we want – if this isnt what is wanted, then no premise will have any affect anyway – because the heels are already dug in and no fancy 2000 word blog is going to change that. But if you humour me a little, and want to work with me to think about a better evangelical story, then read on…

How the Bible is used – is a question that doesnt as often get asked as ‘what does the Bible say’ , neither ‘what is the role of the Bible’ in this or any debate- and this may well be where thinking about Theodrama might also be helpful, in not just providing us with a better story, but also a way of understanding how the bible is to be used.

And one key aspect at stake is the use of the Bible, which, according to the critical piece above is phrased as having no need for interpretation, for only a literal one will do. How the text of the Bible is used is undoubtedly an issue. An issue that isnt picked up on by Ian Paul in this piece, but he does helpful highlight the potential factionary nature of the debates.

but moving on…

Can there be an evangelical story that is the different one that Peter Ould is trying to find?

I am wanting to believe there is.

I wonder whether the limitations described by Peter in his piece on ‘The Christian story’ are also related to the notion that ‘Story’ itself has limitations as a descriptor, its something I have talked about before here in this piece: ‘Does a 3 way Drama help?’ and I suggested that the limited nature of story is that it restricts the participative nature of God in the current story of humanity. It can feel as though what is described is as if the separate story of man and God only connects at certain points. And I am not sure thats Biblically or theologically accurate.

I wonder whether Theodrama helps to create a better story? Where it is not Story, but Drama that is the descriptor, and metaphor that is used to describe the Christian narrative, mission, expectation and purpose.

There will be references to Theodrama at the bottom of this piece, if you want to read further, but for the content of this piece I will try and keep things as fairly simple as possible. Thats if you’re not lost already, please try and bear with me on this.

In thinking about Drama, Balthasars original descriptions evoked Shakespeare (all the worlds a stage) and also Greek Philosophy, in which theatrical language was used to describe the human condition and place in the world. What Balthasar did with it, in 5 volumes was to suggest that the field of Theatre was both underused and devalued by the church, and that it had much to offer that had been sidelined. In particular Balthasar focussed on the nature of the relationships that occur between the script, the author, the playwright, the director, the audience and also the actors on the stage. Principally describing that the actor has both the freedom to perform on the stage, with knowledge of previous performances, the written script, (thats been tailored from the original piece of literature), their relationship with the author, relationship with the director – and also that their performance is being realised on a stage in front of the audience. I think we can get this in terms of a metaphor for the Christian life, in which the human responds in freedom to the author, director, audience, fellow performers and tries to act in a way that brings the audience closer in awareness to the script. (Wells 2004, p49, and Von Balthasar, Theodrammatic 1, The Prolegamma). Shannon Craigo Snell (amongst others) have alligned the various aspects of a theatrical performance to that of the Christian drama, with, the world being the stage, God the director/producer, and performer, and humans/christians as also actors on the worlds stage.

As with this analogy, different methods of theatre in your mind make give this metaphor variety. If you have improvised or interactive theatre, then audience participation and improvisation is high (as is the skill of the actor to incorporate massive disruption and divergence), the more bourgeoisie theatre with clearer boundaries (except when the audience is involved in a panto scene) permeates a different image of what performance is expected. Boals descriptions of Theatre for the Oppressed are helpful here, and I have not done theatre studies. But there’s a glimpse here on how Theatre has possibilities for a metaphor, especially as interactive and improvised theatre suggests that drama as Wells suggests celebrates and embraces an open and social future in a time to be explored. Theology in the Drama engages with time in its openness. (Wells 2004, p50)

A number of people have written further, using the metaphor of theatre as a way of bringing together free will, the creator/creature relationship, the answerability of Man to God, (Balthasar), the church (Nicholas Healy, Craigo-Snell, Wesley Vander Lugt), Trinity (Balthasar/Vanhoozer) calling and salvation (Vanhoozer, Balthasar), Ethics (Samuel Wells) and maybe as importantly for the discussion about the christian story, The bible itself (Craigo-snell, Balthasar, Vanhoozer, Wells, Vander Lugt, Trevor Hart)

Imagine for a moment that the Drama is the descriptor for the Biblical narrative and not story. And so, in that dramatic imagination, think about the historic and present timeline of the Biblical action, whilst there is a bit of a small dispute (and its not worth a discussion) on how many acts there are to play in the drama, for me its easier to think of the framework as five acts of God, four that have happened, and one that is in the future. These being

  1. Creation,
  2. Covenant,
  3. Christ,
  4. Church, and
  5. The Consummation

Hopefully, this still feels evangelical. The Bible contains reference to all of these in the canonical text, and what this time line also does, as Samuel Wells describes, is that it put us is in our place  – being in act 4 of 5 – and thinking about this is below. God is at work in all 5 of the ‘acts’, they are the acts of God that permeate through the Biblical text and these key moments. Though in this description Wells described adequately the chronology of the Biblical narrative, it is laking reference to the Biblical themes, and an alternative is suggested by Vander Lugt who presents it as:

  1. Formation (creation)
  2. Deformation (Fall)
  3. Transformation emerged (Isreal)
  4. Transformation Embodied (Jesus)
  5. Transformation Empowered (church)
  6. Re-formation (new creation)

This carries with it something of the impetus of our current situation. For, as people in the ‘church’ act of the drama, our prime role is of having been empowered to witness, empowered to sustain the faith, empowered in christlikeness and empowered to cultivate and make disciples. And transformation is expansive enough to include other salvific acts such as reconciliation, ransom, adoption, victory, liberation and justification..

This post is not about a theological understanding of LGBT per se, It is meant to be a way of re thinking the Christian story, to drama, and Gods Drama (Theodrama) that might ensure that the Evangelical Christian story, does itself have a better and i hazard a though, more accurate story.

So, for the remainder of this already length piece Ill focus on the question – If there is such a thing as a 5 part Theodrama – what part in this metaphorical drama does the Bible play? And as a result, what is the Bible for, especially given that literal uses of texts (albeit subjectively used) are often weaponised in an LGBT theology-off.

Within the Theodrama, it might be that the Bible is easily determined as the script. But not so fast. For the script of the Bible rarely corresponds to current events, neither do the current actors regimentally act it out. Indeed, the whole theatrical methaphor might itself be under threat in the questioning of whether the Bible is a script or not (Vander Lugt, 2014, 92-93) Although there are many compelling reasons for suggesting the bible as the script, Vander Lugt suggests that it is better to think of the Bible as  a Transcript and a Pre-script. Vanhoozer himself deviated from his original thinking on the bible as a script between Drama of Doctrine (2005), and Faith Speaking Understanding (2014).

With the Bible as a transcript, Vander Lugt paints a picture of God (the playwright) who has a comprehensive view of the whole drama, but guides certain writers in transcribing a long series of improvised performances in interaction with his own performance. Not all is recorded, only those which are events, interactions and notes that contribute to a cohesive story (the OT), and this theme continues by the disciples who improvise with earlier performances and then interact with God playing a lead role (Jesus), and then following this the playwright includes letter from assistant directors ( peter, john, Paul)  to their companies who provide creative ways of performing  in various situations guided by the producer (Holy Spirit), and all these become adapted for future performances, and some even include how the play will end – so actors are required to reincorporate by memory what is transcribed while pre-incorporating with hope and imagination elements from the ending. (A slight rephrasing of Vander Lugt, 2014, p94)

Actors therefore have freedom to improvise within the structure provided by the playwright, protagonist and producer, with God also involved in the ongoing, immediate and present – as he is and was always (it was only written down afterwards) . Scripture may not be a script, but a transcript of what was that serves as a pre script for ongoing fitting and appropriate performances in the future.

I cannot continue this piece any further. It will get longer than the Bible itself.

What I hope that thinking of the Christian story as Theodrama does is bring expansiveness of thought to the concept of the biblical narrative, using theatrical language that has this potential, and uses terms that many people who are adept at film/theatre or music fields can understand. It might be accused of over complicating what for decades evangelicals have harped on about making faith simple. The christian religion as Max Harris describes is a religion of the stage, and not just a religion of the book (Harris, Theatre and imagination) . This is not the place to discuss what it might mean to ‘perform’ the text in an improvised way, and neither is it the place to think about passages that are used in the heat of the LGBT text warfare.

In conclusion, The Bible is a central aspect of Gods own performances by which he reveals to us the theodrama and invites us to be participants in it. The Spirit speaks to, and with ongoing performers who respond to the directions and who are capable of fitting performances. Scripture records particular performances that taken individually and collectively provide a trustworthy transcripts of the theodrama and prescripts for continued participation in the theodrama today. Simple… ?  So what does this mean for the christian story? Its a drama where transformation is the impetus and we are improvisers empowered to perform it, in the everyday of now and tomorrow.

Conceived as a drama that requires participation, Theodrama is a drama that has a transcript written and has elements, themes and examples that form a prescript for todays performances- which are to be improvised in the current context, with the actors freedom, creativity and ongoing responsiveness to, as Vanhoozer describes, the Holy Author in the midst. What does this mean for inclusion, for participation in the drama- well its then a matter of who God speaks to and calls, who is directed and prompted, its a drama of participation in the mission and kingdom that requires Christlikeness and childlike responsiveness to obedience to that call. Is gender important? or transgender important – maybe thats for part 3…

Its Theodrama – with God still speaking and acting in the very present – its more that an old old story – but a present that has ongoing participation, responsiveness, action and transformation as its directives. Its a drama yet to be performed. How do we play the next scene? Is it love that compels or judgement?

To many young people- including the friend of mine – drama might bring coherancy, and expansion, to christian beliefs that remain evangelical, in its overall framework, provide insight into how we are participating in Gods drama that is in need of attentive and fitting performances that take into account the script beforehand, as well as the current context, trinity and the theodrama itself, the drama of Gods covenantal love for the world.

 

References

Augusto Boal, Theatre of the Oppressed, 3rd edition 2005

Kevin Vanhoozer, Drama of Doctrine 2005, Remythologing Theology 2010, Faith Speaking Understanding 2014

Shannon Craigo-Snell Command performance, rethinking performance interpretation in the context of divine discourse, modern theology, (16/4, 2000) pp 475-94

Samuel Wells, Improvisation, 2004

Wesley Vander Lugt, Living Theodrama, 2014

Hans urs von Baltasar, Theodrammatique 1-5, 1980

 

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LGBT and the Christian story (Part 1) -On growing up evangelical and the damaging silence

The short term prompt for this post is Peter Oulds piece in Christianity today, in which the title reads ‘why evangelicals need a better story’ which you can read for yourself here , it is a response to the conversations from a variety of high profile publications from prominent christians who profess to identify as LGBT,  his published piece includes the lines:

And this is something the evangelical church simply fails to do time and time again. Even today with so many gay conservatives being open about their sexuality, it is incredibly hard to stand up and say ‘I’m gay’ in the middle of an evangelical church teaching traditional orthodox theology. There is still too much suspicion, too much assumption. There is the fear about how you’ll be received, whether you’ll still be able to do the ministries that you were involved in. It’s getting better in many places, but it’s still a problem and needs to be addressed. You see the problem in the way that the tragic suicide of Lizzie Lowe (which might have been avoided if the church in question had taught clearly from the front that being gay was not in and of itself sinful) is currently being weaponised by liberals as a tool to promote revisionist teaching.

This is the point. The reason why Vicky Beeching couldn’t continue her ministry wasn’t because she came out, it was because she came out and accompanied it with a particular theological position. When Beeching chooses a title like Undivided she is actually playing a very clever game, because revisionists want to so conflate orientation and activity that in society’s (and the church’s) inability to divide them we find ourselves defending both because there is no other possibility.

And I think he is right, I think a different story needs to be found within evangelicalism, one that is more expansive, and takes maybe more into account. That will feature in part 2 of this two part series. This first piece is on the silence of the story, or shall i say the silence of the LGBT position within the story, that I and i think a whole load of people experienced growing up evangelical in the 1970,80s and 90’s.

Yet in the interests of self disclosure, I have begun to reflect on my own personal journey in thinking, believing and opinionating about the issue of gender inclusion and the church, or more so, gender inclusion and the evangelical church.

Questions that I ask myself have been like – when did i hear anything about LGBT as a young christian?  Where did i get information? when did i think or realise even that people could be ‘gay’?

In terms of my story, it was a post brethren evangelical church that I grew up in. One in which had a relative position of strength, at the time, it had built its own building locally and was becoming influential locally. But growing up, conversations about gender inclusion and sexuality were fairly low down on the list of regular sermon topics, or youth group chat, and all a bright eyed teenager like myself really had the tools to deal with it was to ‘look at what the bible said’ . Even Steve Chalke in his ‘lessons in love’ videos which we watched in youth group,  didnt mention that Boys and Boys could be in a relationship. So, when dangerously right wing Ken Ham and his creationist brigade turned up, and talked about Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve, and the literal reading of creation, i kind of wished i hadnt but, i kind of lapped it up. After all, it felt like, or i wasnt encouraged to, critically think about what was being said and the perspective being offered, at 15 I thought that being compliant with a perspective was what was required, what was needed to be accepted in the church. Only the compliant survived, or so I thought.

Teachers at school were bullied for being gay. I dont think i joined in at the time, i hope i didnt. I might even have thought that they were evil for being gay. forgive me.

In early 1994, a trip to see the film ‘Philadelphia’ and being moved to tears, even as a 15 year old caused me to think about gender, and relationships, and how this seems to be at odds with an evangelical faith that i knew of. Or at least scenes in it where the church  is represented by those who protest against someone, who may have life/death decisions to make. Whos side would i be on?

I have my A level English department to thank for pushing this further.

I had to read ‘Oranges are not the only fruit’ by Jeanette Winterson, as one of the key texts in the A level course. It famously tells of the powerful story that was based on her own experiences of awakening sexuality, lesbian attraction and how this was met with the full fury of a ultra conservative Pentecostal church. Where deliverance and prayer was being enforced whilst the young Jeanette was being pinned down on a chair to receive healing and the removal of demons. It seemed like the worse crime in this story was of spiritual abuse, and childhood neglect.

These children have fallen fowl of their lusts’ – said the preacher to the girls (including Jeanette sitting in the pews)

These children are full of demons’ 

and as the girls protested verabally

Listen to Satans voice’  (Oranges are not the only fruit, 1991, p102)

Could I ask about this story in church, should I- did I – no. The stories stayed separate. Two competing messages were going through my head, the adherence to evangelical beliefs and a story that seemed to ignore, or not engage with homosexual identity, relationships and faith – and on the other hand a growing awakening of the oppression in society and in the church against those who professed to be. And brothers and sisters within a faith who caused damage to others. Call me naive, but that was what i was exposed to and culturally grew up in. Honestly, that two of my relatives were in a same-sex relationship actually was never said to me, just implied.

I could have dismissed the experiences of Jeanette this at the time written it off in class as something that representing the 1960’s or 1970’s. But, unaware to the real world of my A level english class, , there was something of a movement of spiritual renewal happening in churches in the UK at that time. And healing and demon possession removal was back in vogue with the various ‘blessings’ that were being caught, shared and distributed around. So, the practices of ‘Oranges are not the only fruit’ were back in vogue. But we’re they coupled with a greater compassion? Ill get to that a bit later. What certainly wasnt happening was conversations about homosexuality and faith. For me they were happening, at least a little bit in school, in A level English. Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit

Though what i will say at this point was that conversations about same sex relationships were tentatively explored, though fairly quickly shut down at conference Q&A’s at Soul Survivor, the one i went to in 1996, and not much mention of it as a conversation at any of the youth meetings i ever went to at spring harvest, on 5 occasions as a teenager (again dont judge me) .

I might not be alone in some of this. That sense of growing up evangelical, I have talked about before, trying to cling on to it or find a way of leaving it that doesnt damage faith, what I hadnt necessarily thought about is how an evangelical upbringing, in the 1980’s/90’s provided little in the way of tools, discussions or conversations around human sexuality, and, as a teenager, I was picking up snippets from a whole host of directions, without the building blocks or frame work, or even culture to meaningfully work through these things. It was a subject of too much cloak and dagger. To complicated to try and establish a perspective, to easy to ignore. A subject given the silent treatment. Left for the young person to work it out.

An example of where I was was as follows. Between 1996-1997 I was a team leader of a team of 4 on the Oasis Frontline teams, and sent to the north east, Hartlepool, to work in a team of four in a church doing childrens and youthwork for a year, if anyone wants to know with what i did with 2 years savings from retail work, thats what i did, spent it all on a gap year scheme in the north east, anyway, part of the deal was to undergo training, and this occured above a christian bookshop, the now closed Bridge books and music. I guess this is where i also discovered a love for learning through reading, as many of the sale books ended up on my bookshelf. And, having lived through and now being in what I would have said was the back end then of the renewal movement, I was keen to read more into it, or even to learn of its originators and the theology behind it. So, one of the books I read at the time was ‘Power Healing’ by John Wimber.

Everyone sort of knew who John Wimber was at the time. And if i was to go into Christian Ministry, at this time, knowing about Healing and Renewal seemed to be not a bad way to spend a few quid and give it a read on my next long train journey home. Tell you the truth at the time, it did open my eyes. At the time, only 19, i was sort of impressed by use of the Bible, and the stories in the book, and felt that Wimber talked about something that wasnt really what had been happening in the UK, its as if the movement had shifted from its original intentions.

At the time I probably thought that this section in the piece was fair game. On demon oppression, the following was stated;

‘The presence of one of more of these symptoms indicates the possibility though not the necessity that the person is demonised; contorted physical reactions, addictions to drugs or alcohol, compulsions such as lust, pornography, homosexuality, masturbation, stealing,  murder, lying, suicide, eating disorders’ (Wimber, Power Healing, 1985, p136-137) 

In a way this backed up what I had seen in Oranges. So i didnt question it.

Also it backed up some of the talk about deliverance and the Holy Spirit that had been evoked in the previous 5 years in the UK. Spiritual renewal was back in vogue, and it stemmed with Wimber, and others via Vineyard. Nothing about this caused a reaction to me then. I was part of the evangelical bubble, and with limited  other conversations about homosexuality, this was still the only one in the show in town. Being Homosexual might/might not be a sign of demon possession. Being Homosexual meant that you were a project to try and deal with through deliverance. And as it was said by Wimber, and he was influencing David Pytches and others in Chorleywood (so says the forward to the book), then it stands to reason a bit that this is where some of the UK learning about renewal might have come from. Add this to the sense, that no one is actually going to read this stuff themselves in the evangelical world, just hear about it from others, and the great divergence even from what was written takes place. If Wimber says ‘may or may not’ but see deliverance of homosexuality as a demon possession thing, then what will they go with?

It is only as i re read Wimbers Power Healing last week, on the back of Vicky Beechings experience that I look at what Wimber wrote, and the influence of it, and him, that things make sense. In that bubble, I hadnt questioned this aspect of what Wimber had said at the time. I do now. Why couldnt I then – what was the teaching on homosexuality? Did anyone share or engage in one? In an evangelical bubble where homosexuality is a non conversation, the only conversation that seems to resonate is one of fear, continued ignorance and distance the evangelical community from the deemed impurity of anyone who might be considered homosexual. It all made sense, as did the stories of evangelical parents who kicked out their children as they ‘came out’.

As I said, this is me reading this back 20 odd years later, and recognising the non conversation growing up evangelical about homosexuality. Realising that Oranges was not an extreme case. Realising that permission was even in print to do this. Realising that a silent culture on a subject could allow for positions to foister without challenge, or alternative. And Wimber wasnt as far right about it as Ken Ham was he..? Wimber was, in the evangelical world an established leader, success was following him around.

In Gemma Dunnings excellent chapter ‘Integrity and Imago Dei’ in 4 Views on Pastoring LGBTQ Teenagers (2018), Gemma talks about how unprepared she was with doing ministry with young people in a variety of settings who had been excluded from communities because of profession of or being found to be LGBT, She found that in developing an awareness of informal education, and anti-oppressive practice, she was able to find a method, or at least a view of humanity that helped, as undoubtedly being in the presence of and with her local LGBT community to hear stories will do as well.

And that probably is a similar place to where I pick up the story, for myself. In the mid 2000’s. Talking about anti oppressive practice and equality within youthwork and theology degree course at ICC ( Now NTC, Glasgow). Discovering, because I had ignored, the issues that LGBT identifying young people were likely to experience in society, families and schools, and how youthwork practices could, should help, and create safe spaces for conversations. And not only that, thinking for the first time about how equality is a faith issue, and theology is for those who are oppressed.

This is only the part of this blog in which i have personally looked back at how homosexuality was the big non conversation in growing up evangelical. There was no conversation. LGBT was given the silent treatment within evangelical churches, families and culture, for at least towards those who didnt profess to be LGBT there was no conversation about it that would help create the possibility of a good story about it. The dominant voices were negative, cruel and damaging, and only had one version. One version that was powerfully communicated, one version in which compliance and power to it was rife.

I would like to think that a conversation on LGBT is not as silent in churches for young people today as it was for me 30 years ago. I would like to think so, and Gemmas book, would certainly be a help for anyone wanting to begin a conversation on it. Young people professing LGBT need community more than ever, as churches we have got to normalise 100% acceptance. The silent treatment is just not good enough.

This is part one, of two, the second to be published later in the week, this is a little of what was for me, the LGBT conversation and growing up evangelical. For the many young people in churches in the UK today, there needs to be a different story. One where the two cultures are not separate, and where the stories are more coherent. At least where there is conversation. We owe it to young people to offer spaces of conversation, of listening and place to learn, have question and consider a number of views on LGBT and the christian story. Silence and putting it off isnt going to help anyone.

References

Winterson, Jeanette, Oranges are not the Only Fruit, 1991

Wimber, John Power Healing, 1986

Gemmas resource, Pastoring LGBT teenagers can be purchased via this link: 4 Views on Pastoring LGBT teenagers

This is a powerful read too: http://www.unadulteratedlove.net/blog/2018/7/29/evidence-of-shockingly-prejudiced-attitudes-to-lgbti-people-in-the-church-of-england

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