So what to say? I woke up this morning to an inbox full of responses; facebook tags, twitter responses and a number of emails. Some of it’s great to read, a lot of it encouraging, and sadly a few bits that don’t understand the irony of the accusation of “hatred” given how it’s delivered.
So many people have so many opinions but the truth is that there’s really only three of us who have the fullest reflection upon what actually happened and how well the show reflected it. So on my day off with a coffee beside me I’m going to try and begin that process. I hope this will be helpful in a number of ways. Some of you just want to know what’s in my mind and heart, that’s only natural. I’ll try and share that with you. Others have an interest in understanding the perspective of someone they may not fully agree with. I’ll do my best to help you learn more. And some, I know, will have come here ready to tell me exactly what they think of me. If that’s you, then welcome – but do please consider reading this through in some detail and responding to what I actually write, not what you have already decided I believe.
Watching the Show
I have nothing but deep respect for anyone who attempts to condense 10 full days of filming into less than a hour of television. A lot has to go and a lot has to be compromised, not out of a lack of integrity but simply because there’s no other way. That meant that the editing was severe, but necessary.
Complicated and nuanced discussions get reduced to simple one-liners that simply can’t adequately reflect the nature of the conversations that were had. Watching the show you’d get the sense that the discussions were basic and limited, that I didn’t try and explore a wide range of issues outside of a simple religious perspective and that Greg and Michael had little to say other than respond emotionally to my presentation. The reality, of course, was that far more went on. I tried to talk about issues of nature and biology, natural law, the research and statistics surrounding topics like mental health outcomes, parenting, sexual self-identity change and so on. I say “tried” because one thing that the edit did attempt to represent fairly (albeit simplistically) was the pretty rapid aggressive stonewalling I got whenever I tried to pursue a deeper conversation around the issues. In other interviews Michael in particular insists that he came in “open-minded” but my experience at least was that it simply wasn’t true. Yes, they both had a particular view on religion that can’t be undone but I did feel again and again that everything that was heard was filtered through this one set of expectations. So much so that in the early scene in the church you can tell that Michael in particular simply doesn’t want to hear. I think the edit does a good job of communicating this basic attitude.
Where the edit, to my mind, fails is in attempting to accurately portray just what the foundation of my position is when it comes to the “religious” part of it. This is seen (or not seen, depending on how you want to put it) in the portrayal of the church service. We open up with me saying “Christians are people who sing because Christians have always had something to sing about”. It’s a great line I shamelessly stole from Rico Tice and sets a great agenda. We’re gospel people who see the gospel of Jesus as the core of who we are. But the edit never once attempts to convey this.
This is to my mind, and I am deliberate about writing this, egregious since it reflects a clear decision made by the editors. We’ve made the full audio of the sermon available online and you can also download my original script which I made available to the producers before we began filming.
In it I say this:
No discussion about what the Bible has to say, what Christians believe about a subject, is in any way complete without turning to consider Jesus. He is the centre of our attention and, indeed, the centre of the Bible. All the Old Testament leads up to him and all of the New Testament is a reflection upon Him. To miss out Jesus would be like going to the footy stadium but not actually watching the game.
I finish by saying this:
You see, friends, when it comes down to it the whole Bible, the great news about who Jesus is and what He’s done can be spoken of in the language of a wedding invitation! Jesus Christ is the great bridegroom who has proposed to all of us, no matter who we are. It’s as though God the Father asks Him “Jesus, will you take this sinner, to have and to hold, for better for worse, from this day forward”? And Jesus says “yes! YES! There’s nothing I want more than that. I want them to change their mind about their lives, say sorry and come be with me and experience a love like no love they have ever experienced!”
“I want them to be at that great wedding party!”
And that invitation, that proposal, is called out to every single person no matter who they are; straight, bi, gay, lesbian, trans. The faithfully married and the adulterer. The promiscuous and the life-long virgins. All of us, no matter who we are and what we think a wedding party should look like or what we dream ours should look like. We’re all invited to attend this far far greater party at the end of all things. Not just to attend, but to be a central part of it, to sit next to the great bridegroom Jesus and to enjoy the good things He brings and to simply be loved by Him. What a day that will be! What a party!
So yes, one difficult verse from Leviticus might make for great television (and is, let’s be clear, part of the debate – I didn’t want to avoid it). But the editing here does me a disservice by representing my focus, and the focus of Christians in general on this topic, to be something other than what it really is.
It also then sets a clearer context for the response of Michael and Gregory (and others) to what was seen. Yes they heard a clear statement about the morality of same-sex activity, but they heard much more than that. As for the accusation that we “promote hate”,
That means that if you’re here today and you’re a Christian then I need to ask you a hard question. Are you loving those who you disagree with on this issue? When you talk about homosexuality and particularly when you talk to someone who is homosexual, are you loving them like Jesus loved those that He thought were sexually immoral? Yes, there are a number of motivations that we have. We want to honour God’s word and we are often rightly angered by some of the foolish political agendas that we see around us but Christian, Jesus more than anyone honoured God’s word and there’s no doubt He had a fair deal of anger for the politicians of His day and yet He loved. If we can’t do that then, frankly, we need to stop and be quiet.
So at this point, dear reader, I only have one question for you to consider. Whether you agree with me or not, do you think the edit of the church service accurately reflects the general tone and intent of what actually happened?
What this edit (and similar things in other conversations) does is described well by Nathan at St. Eutychus:
We got some good Gospel stuff – but had to sit through the producer’s commitment to David undergoing some sort of redemptive narrative arc in order to get there.
I’m not sure I’d put it as strongly as that, and reflecting back on the filming I’m aware that I got a little better at communicating myself and adapting to the particular responses I was getting as the days went on. But the basic position I tried to communicate was there from day 1.
In every other respect I think the editors did really well. Perhaps Mike and Greg will be upset that more of their wedding isn’t included. It was a big day for them and the visual symbolism of it is a key component of their presentation and argument. Overall, except for the above, I think we ought to give the editors a big vote of thanks for attempting the impossible and getting a decent result.
As I note above, the “discussion” was frustrating for me. There’s a number of occassions where the show vividly portrays both the reluctance of Greg (on some occasions) and Mike (on plenty more) to engage and attempt to give me a fair hearing. “We’ve heard it all before” was what a lot of it felt like. I’m also happy with the way that the show portrays my ongoing frustration with the process (although I think I remember one voxpop where my emotions are a little more strongly expressed than what you see in the final cut!)
My big desire going forward is that this promotes better conversation over the issues. I think there’s thoughts to be had in our Christian community about our language and approach that will mean reflecting upon what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. If Jesus is our model then what does it actually mean to love like He loved; to be clear with people on moral issues and their consequences and yet to be the one that those same people long to come to because of the incredible compassion, mercy and grace that He shows to them? I know that we want to try, and I’m confident I (and others) can do far better. But let’s not stop trying.
It’s very easy in the face of what can feel like a torrent of invective and abuse to respond badly. Here’s what I had in the forefront of my mind the whole way through:
1Peter 2:23 When [Jesus] was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
Christian, this is no mere stoic stiff upper-lip. Jesus puts up with insult for the sake of those insulting Him. This is key to engagement with those we disagree with. And it’s not optional, Peter has just told us it’s our calling! (1Peter 2:22). Avoiding the insults is avoiding gospel opportunities. Our problem is the expectation that it won’t happen. It’s closing us off to the potential of progress.
More generally, one thing I’ve learned from the filming, the media work and now people’s comments is that a gracious attitude goes a long long way. The best radio interviews I’ve had have been those where the interviewer, although opposed to my position, has commented on how much they’ve appreciated the manner of the discussion and my own approach to things. I’m by no means an expert but I wonder if we need to work even harder on winsomeness. Some people won’t want to hear no matter what we do or say, but there’s plenty out there for whom the paradigm of “opposition=hatred” can be broken or at least gently challenged.
Others are starting to pen/type their responses. I may yet add to this list but this morning I see
and no doubt you’ll have your own thoughts. That’s what the comment boxes below are for. I look forward to hearing from you.