Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Sex, the Bible and the Real World; the Church of England's Turmoil over the Jeffrey John Affair Raises Questions about How the Testaments Are Interpreted

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Sex, the Bible and the Real World; the Church of England's Turmoil over the Jeffrey John Affair Raises Questions about How the Testaments Are Interpreted

Article excerpt

Byline: BRIAN SEWELL

THERE are many who absolutely believe in the holiness of Holy Writ, particularly those in the Evangelical wing of the Church of England who, with the casuistry of the skilled Jesuit, struggle to justify as God-given the Bible's every word.

I am not one of them. It is time we recognised the Bible for what it is - a thing of three testaments, not two. The Old Testament is a compilation of convenient myth and a history of racial justification and aggrandisement, threaded through with rules of hygiene and behaviour, all devised to convince the Children of Israel that as God's chosen race, no matter what calamities befell them as victims of Babylon and Egypt and no matter what calamities they wantonly inflicted on other races and religions, they should strive to increase in number, power and extent.

The New Testament, as expressed in the four Gospels, is a dispensation from the narrow and proscriptive uncharity of the Jews, appealing to the Greek and Latin temperament. And the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles of St Paul, that sanctimonious master of self-adulation, record his efforts, physical and intellectual, to reverse the generosity of Christ's Christianity and wrestle the hopeful new religion back into the stifling folds of Jewish law and custom.

What we have witnessed in the past few weeks in the affair of Jeffrey John, the wouldhave-been Bishop of Reading, is, 2,000 years later, what we see in the New Testament - a tussle between the generosity of Christ, whose response to sin was a benign "Be off with you and sin no more", and Paul and his followers, who were prepared to condemn, blind and dispatch to perdition anyone whose actions and arguments offended them.

To the agnostic, it seems extraordinary that half the members of the C of E, while proclaiming the divinity of Christ, should prefer the hellfire teaching of St Paul, a mere man, and an unpleasant man at that, who was never in the physical presence of Christ, who could claim only to have seen a vision of him on the road to Damascus, yet who usurped his authority as a teacher, diluting the humanity of the Sermon on the Mount and the example of Christ's compassionate response to sinners.

Jeffrey John is homosexual and has been hounded for it, yet not one of his enemies - and enemies they are indeed - can point to any words of Christ that condemn the acts and emotions of the man who physically loves another man.

They can, however, in their assumption that homosexuality is sinful, point to the Old Testament for such condemnation, and to St Paul's fulminations as their secondary authority, but in both cases they are obliged to assert the nonsense that not only must every word of the Bible be accepted as divinely inspired, but that every act of the ferocious God of the Old Testament must be applauded, every instruction obeyed.

Consider the daughters of Lot after their flight from Sodom - girls who got their father drunk and themselves pregnant with his semen; surely such incest is further up the scale of sin than sodomy?

Consider Tamar, who seduced her husband's father, Judah, and conceived his twins - this after Onan, her husband's brother, had been struck dead by God for refusing to inseminate her, preferring to spew his semen on the ground; would the Evangelicals condone such behaviour among the families of the nearest housing estate? …

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