When David Dennis and I set out to make our video 'Time for Love', we aimed to help New Zealand Christians who want to reconsider issues associated with homosexuality, without riding roughshod over the teachings of scripture.
But we were not aiming for a neutral documentary.
We both knew people asking to hear a biblical case for change. So we brought together a group of New Zealand Christian thinkers who are reconsidering traditional views of homosexual acts and relationships, and urging greater acceptance of LGBTQ people in the churches.
The video is made up of excerpts from in-depth interviews with seven ordained ministers from Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian and Baptist churches.
Each speaker is convinced our churches need to rethink the issues. That said, they have different emphases and might well have disagreed had we put them together in one room.
Rev Keith King and Rev Dr Rob Kilpatrickʼs forthright views are balanced by insightful feminist analysis from Rev Dr Carolyn Kelly, chaplain at the University of Auckland. Rev. Uesifili Unasa, Methodist minister, reflects on the issues for Pasifika people and three biblical scholars contribute their analysis: Rev Dr Tim Meadowcroft, Rev Dr. Derek Tovey and Rev. Dr James Harding.
These speakers delve into the commonly quoted scriptural passages, drawing out the theological issues at stake. We asked each one key questions that worry believers who view the Bible as authoritative: so they looked at Old Testament laws and the story of Sodom, at Paul’s analysis in Romans chapter one, and at what we can deduce of Jesusʼ attitude, bearing in mind that he never spoke directly on the subject.
Old Testament scholar James Harding responded that if you fully and carefully read Leviticus, our differing modern takes on homosexuality are almost self-explanatory.
"On Leviticus: it’s a way of thinking that we in our society don’t really have in quite the same way," he says.
"The world is divided into things that are sacred and profane, or clean and unclean… the boundaries of ritual proprietary and boundaries of moral right and wrong were set differently in Leviticus than they are in our society."
Rob Kilpatrick goes straight to the one biblical message that drives his view,
"God wants people to love one another and be in relationship with one another. If we understand that in the church we would have a whole different attitude to people whose relationships are different to ours." he says.
Powerful moments occur when each speaker shares what caused them change their minds about the nature of homosexuality.
Carolyn Kelly was moved by seeing young gay church people hurt by the condemnation of others within the body of Christ.
"I realised the harm doing and the marginalisation of people who should feel loved and part of that body into which they’ve been born." she says.
"That was deeply troubling to me, so I thought something’s really wrong here."
For Derek Tovey ethics cannot be divorced from the pastoral impact on real people,
"What is the effect of this interpretation? " he asks. "Is it life-affirming or life-denying?
"Does it bring people life or does it bring them death?"
This short video conversation is not without its gaps. We failed to unpack the exact verses in Leviticus, or to touch on scientific and theological debates on the nature of gender, or to track the shifts church history can document on these issues over time.
But it is a video, not a treatise, and we hope it will help people in churches to encounter some of the most recent thinking on the subject. 1
We wanted to put the ethical argument to Christians that it was time to move away from rejection of gay sexuality. But we do not expect everyone to agree with us, and we hope that viewers will sense a charitable and generous spirit towards those who disagree.
Carolyn Kelly believes that moving away from traditional interpretations is not a step into the wilderness. Instead, she believes Christians can trust Christ to lead the way on this journey.
"So we read and we look at our tradition and deeply honour scripture. We honour where we’ve come and what we hold. But that’s not the end; we’re on a journey. Revelation means that God is active and speaking God’s word into this world."
We hope that church groups will sit and watch this video together and discuss its arguments without acrimony. Our objective was to support people to discuss in an open and truly Christian spirit, holding onto the Bible, and respecting others’ struggles and experiences.
Dr Peter Lineham is Professor of History at Massey University's Auckland Campus.
To view the video go to www.timeforlove.co.nz
1. A book by James Brownson, Bible, Sexuality and Gender: reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships(Eerdmans, 2013) adds more food for thought on these issues.