Tuesday 5 August 2014

All it takes is acceptance

When I was just out of the egg, I decided to go to Scotland to pick raspberries for money.  At the time we lived in Essex about 30km NE of London and my brother drove me to Hatfield where The Great North Road leaves outer suburban London heading for Edinburgh.  We picked a roundabout and I got out and stuck out my thumb.  Two days later, I was trying to hitch-hike North West out of the Granite City of Aberdeen as evening fell.  After an hour of fruitlessly trying to look poor and unthreatening, a car stopped and the driver suggested that it was far too late to set out for Inverness; if I came home with him, he'd put me back on the road as early as I wanted the following morning.  I fell in with his suggestion, met his wife, was given a high tea and a drive round the city of which my host was justifiably proud. At some point we stopped and he stood us all ice-creams. The other thing of which he was justifiably proud was the fact that the guest room in their tiny terraced house doubled as theological library. Three of the walls were shelved to the ceiling with books in English, Greek and Hebrew in which languages this amateur scholar was fluent - he needed to be because most of his leisure-time he was rooting about in the original texts on which the King James Bible (and Tyndall's and the Vulgate and the Revised Standard Version) was based.  It would be wrong to say that, with my Junior Scripture Prize, I was able to contribute to the debate; but at least I knew the language and could follow his arguments. It was enlightening and interesting and I didn't finish up in a shallow grave in his small back garden, so I've ever since been grateful.

What do you do if you've been brought up in a loving caring family of Presbyterian believers but realise, as soon as you start to think about such issues, that you are homosexual? How do you reconcile the strictures of the scriptures, your pastor, your congregation all saying that your inclinations are against nature, against religion and that the Bible agrees with them?  If your name is Matthew Vines and you are a modest internet entrepreneur (a Harry Potter fan-site god-help-us that was generating 50,000 hits a day) and have been admitted to Harvard, you take the fight to the Bible to reconcile your issues and inclinations with holy writ.  So far, so Ron Weasley, you atheists may say: the bible is a pernicious mix of primitive and violent nonsense from Palestine 2000+ years ago and some ethical truisms from 2000- years ago that any reasonable chap from the humanist tradition would accept without having to be told about them in post-Shakespearian English.  But you only say that because you've clipped some convenient absurdities from the dietary requirements of Leviticus (well, are Kangaroos kosher?) and blenched at the story of Jael and Sisera and the tent-peg and have heard Psalm 23 sung in church. You haven't read the Bible because it's too long at nearly 800,000 words, but you still, for shame, know it's pernicious nonsense.

You're too busy to read the Bible but you might have sufficient attention span (at 67 minutes it's much less than the Big Match) to listen to Vines addressing an audience of United Methodists about The Gay Debate: The Bible and Homosexuality.  Panti's great polemic it is not: Vines is too intellectual, too from-the-script, too ever so slightly boring but his pain at rejection and exclusion is still palpable. Don't bother to read the comments under the youtube clip unless you like to see entrenched views (all sides weighing in with their certainties) uttered with more venom than rational debate should require. Why is this sermon/analysis important?  Because 150 million people (half) live in the parts of the USA where the Bible condemns gay people to at best a grudging celibacy - aren't we liberal for not stoning the αρσενοκοίτες! Good word, knowing a little Greek would make people happier in their hate. And if 5% of those people are of the gay persuasion, that's twice the population of Ireland who are conflicted in themselves or in conflict with their community.  If Vines can, using the words of the Bible to serve his own ends, convince some of these believers, including the gay ones, that being gay is okay then that's a huge contribution to inclusion and happiness.  As Vines says "All it takes is acceptance": you don't have to like what you imagine homosexuals do; you just need to consider it none of your business.

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