Rarely does television touch me in a positively challenging way but this BBC 2 programme nearly always leaves me thinking long after the laughter has died down.
For those not familiar with the programme…………………… it concerns an inner-city London Anglican priest, Rev Adam Smallbone, his flock which includes an alcoholic drop-out (Colin), a churchlady (Adoha) who wants to mother him and possibly more, his frustrated wife (Alex) who struggles with the notion of being a Priests wife, and a wide variety of other characters; it also includes an Archdeacon who is more of a friend than his demeanour suggests, and two other hierarchical characters in his area dean and the lay deanery representative (two very formidable ladies, representing the Church Gestapo !).
But what sets the programme apart from the previous portrayals of Christian clergy is the earthy realism that lies behind the comedy. Here is a human Priest who smokes, drinks, has sex, swears and struggles with balancing his life with his calling to the Priesthood.
This is series three and so far seems to be the most cutting edge of them all and so, in my estimation, the best.
Last Mondays episode saw Adam wrestling with the red-hot potato of same-sex marriage and left me thinking at the end of it “Wow, how would I handle this ?”. Adam has to face the dilemma of a situation in which two gay friends have been married in a civil ceremony and who now wish to complete the marriage ceremony in their Church and before God. However Adam is faced with the dilemma that the Church of England forbids the conducting of same-sex marriages in Church. First of all he attempts to get round the regulations by praying for the couple during a mid week Eucharist but their friends and indeed Alex, expect more for they are seeking a full acknowledgement that God approves of their marriage.
Eventually Adam comes to a point where he conducts a private ceremony behind closed doors as he really wants to support this couple.
Some rambling thoughts…………….
This summer Methodist Conference is set to debate the whole issue and I suspect that we run the risk of extreme division over the matter. There will be those who struggle with the thought of same-sex relationships let alone marriage and those for whom its marriage and nothing less; There will be some clergy who will feel pressured beyond their consciences to conduct such ceremonies and others who will do so gladly; there will be churches which will find it abhorrent and others who will question what the fuss is all about, leaving presbyters torn because there may well be some who have churches at either end of the spectrum (I found under the homosexual discussions in the early 1990`s, that I had three churches all with a different position on the matter, but all expected me to take their view as I was `their` Minister !).
Sadly, I predict a summer of discontent over the matter because many will form their views on gut-instinct, prejudice, culture originating in years gone by, lack of understanding and certainly lack of knowledge. Sadly, there will be few who will wrestle honestly with the subject whilst holding the most important parts of the equation in the centre of the debate; and what are the most important parts ? I would say quite simply God and people !
Too often we remove God from the equation or we decide what we feel/think and then impose it upon God. I have heard Biblical material/evidence supporting a prohibition on homosexuality and also supporting a position on non-condemnation. Have the people who would argue one way or the other actually decided their views and then used Scripture to support their established position ? It is hard to fully and conclusively know Gods will on specific subjects as we are human beings, influenced too often by other agendas, but it must be a daily desire to seek Him out and seek His will however unsure we may be that we have a final answer. It’s not too long ago that many in the Church used the Bible to establish a position against women preachers in pulpits whilst avoiding the issue of women wearing hats !
Secondly, we remove people from the picture. We talk theologically as if the topic of our conversation was no more than a philosophical dilemma to be resolved. There are emotions involved, pain, distress as well as joy and hope. These are real people with real hopes and fears the same as everyone else. We must learn to listen to them also, to try to get alongside and meet their concerns head on, not to dismiss their pain under the cloud of theological dispute. Jesus always met people where they were and dealt with them in a loving, caring manner. When harsh words were needed they were reserved for those who didn`t care and who were bound by petty rules and regulations rather than Gods love for people.
And for me ? I`ve reached the stage of the journey where I think that if we`re discussing Gods stance on this and other issues we need to consider His love for all people. The God of creation is the God of love, and if His love is for all people then surely I am called to follow His example.
Whatever the Church decides regarding same-sex marriage I will follow its leading for I have placed myself under its disciplines, but my prayer is that in all of the deliberations, in all of the thinking and most of all in all of the prayer we will seek Gods love for people and then have the guts and conviction to show it.
I know I`ll be condemned by some quarters for not taking a condemnatory stance on this (indeed I already have been) but I also will NOT let down my gay friends or family who are on this journey and who know only too well the pain that the Church can cause.
Marriage ? I continue to wrestle with my understanding of marriage (procreation, companionship, faithfulness ?????) but I do so with a supportive, loving heart for my friends and family and I invite others on whichever side of the debate to do the same………”Greater love has no man than to lay down his life for his friend”. Perhaps the time has come to lay down some of our old lives (prejudices/misunderstandings etc.) in order to find Gods love for all people.