Is it possible for people, and even for a whole society, to lose faith in God? ... [If] it happens, [it is] not primarily because something they used to think existed does not after all exist, but because the available language about God has been allowed to become too narrow, stale and spiritually obsolete ... the work of creative religious personalities is continually to enrich, to enlarge and sometimes to purge the available stock of religious symbols and idioms ... (The Sea of Faith, 1984)



... people of different periods and cultures differ very widely; in some cases so widely that accounts of the nature and relations of God, men and the world put forward in one culture may be unacceptable, as they stand, in a different culture ... a situation of this sort has arisen ... at about the end of the eighteenth century a cultural revolution of such proportions broke out that it separates our age sharply from all ages that went before (The Use and Abuse of the Bible, 1976)

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The Cost of Liberation
by Paul Walker

The last 200 years have seen a series of liberations. For all its bloodiness, the French Revolution liberated ordinary working people. The nineteenth century brought liberation of black slaves. Later, a series of legal and social changes have brought a growing liberation to women and minorities.

But of course each liberation came at a cost. Some argued that to allow freedom to certain people was dangerous. Society would be undermined and this would lead to chaos and anarchy. There were always some on hand to provide moral justification for this position. Many of them were Christians.

So it should not surprise us today that many Christians also oppose the ordination of gay people. Just as society is beginning to recognise yet another group who need freedom, some Christians react with bigotry and nastiness.

At present this debate is tearing the Church of England apart. I find it hard to stand by and watch the institution I love, which bases its theology on balancing the Bible, the Church and human reason, to be taken over by those who wish it to be a club for fundamentalists. I want it to be the open and tolerant institution I grew up to know.

The debate matters to us all, wherever we are. First, it matters because many non-churchgoers think of themselves as "Church of England". Young people will not wish to associate themselves with a bigoted institution.

Second, who comes next? Divorcees? Or will the Church of England remain an institution open to the entire population?

Many will agree with what I�m saying. But there will also be those who feel I'm attacking the authority of the Bible. I�m not. It's a book I love. But it is an ancient book written for ancient and alien people. Many of its moral codes no longer work.

The best illustration I can give of this is a letter which appeared on the internet. It purports to be written to "Dr Laura", who is a well-known Christian agony aunt in the United States. It goes like this:

"Dear Dr. Laura,

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and I try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind him that Leviticus 18.22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate.

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the specific laws and how to best follow them.

a) When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odour for the Lord (Leviticus 1.9). The problem is my neighbours. They claim the odour is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

b) I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21.7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

c) I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanness (Leviticus 15.19-24). The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offence.

d) Leviticus 25.44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighbouring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

e) I have a neighbour who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35.2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obliged to kill him myself?

f) A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination (Leviticus 11.10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this?

g) Leviticus 21.20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?

I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.

Your devoted disciple and adoring fan."

When I hear that the Church of England is now contemplating action against gay and lesbian people I fear for it.

As a man proud to be a priest in the Church of England, I feel that God�s love and justice extend to all humanity regardless of race, gender, age, sexuality or disability.

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