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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Precious Forgiveness
by Paul Walker

One of the most precious Christian teachings is about forgiveness. Psychologically it is very comforting to believe that God can and does forgive us the things we�ve done wrong. What�s more, most of us know we could live better lives in better ways than we do. Therefore to be told that a holy God has forgiven us is deeply satisfying.

The problem, I suspect, is that we have tied God�s forgiveness inextricably to repentance. In almost every act of worship I�ve attended I have told God how wretched I am - in the hope that he will forgive me. At one stage in my life, I fervently believed that Jesus underwent the agony of crucifixion in order that God might punish him for the wrongs that I had done. It was humbling.

But I have recently come to the conclusion that this attitude accounts for bizarre double standards I have witnessed in the Church relating to sex.

I don�t think I�m being overly censorious if I suggest that Christian ministry seems to attract an above-average number of gay men and paedophiles. This is surprising. What is more remarkable, however, is how differently the two groups appear to be treated by Christian authorities. One group seems to be protected while the other group is attacked.

The apparent scandal is not only that there are men of the cloth who wish to have sex with children, but that such people exist in all societies. The real scandal is the way that Church authorities have often moved these men to new congregations, new posts or new places where they are free continue their abuse of the young.

On the other hand, openly gay men are snubbed. Jeffery John, now a well respected theologian could not become Bishop of Reading in the United Kingdom because he had once been in a sexually active gay relationship. Gene Robinson, a sexually active person in a permanent gay relationship in New Hampshire, USA, has been consecrated as a bishop. Strong disapproval of Robinson's consecration might split the worldwide Anglican Communion.

And the difference? Paedophiles repent, openly gay men do not.

I suspect that bishops who moved paedophile priests to new congregations first spoke to these men. The latter no doubt wept with shame, promising they would never behave that way again. The bishops who had taught how God forgives penitents absolutely were perhaps moved with a sense that even these men deserved a second chance.

People like Jeffery John and Gene Robinson on the other hand have said that they have been living in committed, loving relationships. They have publicly stated that they do not believe they have done anything wrong. They have had nothing to repent for and so haven't asked for forgiveness.

Meanwhile the public looks on in horror. There is clearly something deeply troubling about an organisation which condemns loving relationships while at some level condoning abusive ones.

I believe that there are two things we must say about forgiveness.

First, it needs to be unconditional. I do not need another person to beg me to forgive them. Quite the contrary. Forgiveness is more real when it makes no such conditions. If that is true for me, then why not for God?

Second, forgiveness should not be na�ve. An offender may genuinely repent, but should nevertheless be restrained for the protection of the vulnerable. Likewise, however repentant a paedophile may feel, he or she should never again be put in a position of authority over the young.

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