Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Madman across the water

A bit of a kerfuffle was created the other day by Sir Elton John when he made some comments about the Church and clergy gay marriage. In an interview with Sky News the balladeer shared his views declaring:
“If Jesus Christ was alive today, I cannot see him, as the Christian person that he was and the great person that he was, saying this could not happen.
“He was all about love and compassion and forgiveness and trying to bring people together. “And that is what the Church should be about.”
Now let's set aside the novel idea that Jesus was a Christian person, which would mean he was a follower of himself, because I think I can understand what Elton means by that phrase, even if it isn't expressed very clearly. A better way of stating it might have been that Jesus Christ lived out the values and priorities he proclaimed about the Kingdom of God. As someone who has read many a Christology essay from those training for ministry, I can assure you that I have come across many more bizarre statements on the person of Christ than the one expressed by Elton.

Let's also set aside the particular issue he is commenting on, which is a topic that the Church of England is working through at the moment and requires much more consideration than this blog post affords. The main objection from many seems to be that Elton is not in a position to comment on theology in general and Jesus in particular because he is a rock musician and not a trained theologian, nor as far as we are aware is he a Christian. To which objection I offer the following observations:

I have been studying theology for many years as a student and ordained minister. The Rocket Man's summary of the Christian faith seems to me to be fairly orthodox; Christianity is about love, compassion and forgiveness and that is what the Church should be about. Did Jesus get his summary of the law wrong when he spoke about love of God and love of neighbour? And was St. Paul barking up the wrong tree when he wrote 1 Corinthians 13? Of course, how these things are worked out and applied in the ethical complexities of modern life is not easy. If you think they are then just look at the knots the C of E is tying itself up in over its investments in Wonga. All Elton is doing is what the rest of us are struggling to do on the issue of gay marriage as on a whole range of other issues.

Secondly, I think it is a cause of celebration when people seek to consider what Jesus might say and do about an issue or in a particular situation. I'd rather people did that than turn to a horoscope, consult one of the secular high priests in the daily red tops or spout the latest nonsense that drips out of the mouths of contributors to Loose Women. In order to consider how Jesus might want us to speak or act we do need to immerse ourselves in the scriptures, prayer and worship and engage with the reflections of other Christians on these matters, but at least Captain Fantastic is making a start. We also need to recognise, and this is as true for us in the Church as for any musician, that there is a difference between seeking to discern what Jesus might want us to say and do, and imposing what we want him to say and do to fit our own predetermined preferences and prejudices. In theological terms we refer to this as a distinction between exegesis and eisegesis (two great words for the scrabble board) and let's be honest we all fall into this trap from time to time.

Finally, I would simply make the observation that in my experience some rock musicians have made good theologians. There are those who write as Christians including the likes of Bono, Bruce Cockburn, and Bob Dylan, just to name some of the Bs. Then there are those who wouldn't identify as Christians but wrestle with some of the big questions and issues that confront us and come up with some fairly profound theological questions and insights; here I would suggest checking out Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen and Bruce Springsteen. Why do we think a singer/songwriter has less right to consider a moral theological issue than we do the merits of one of their albums if we are not a trained musician?

As I thought about Sir Elton's comments I did find myself wondering whether he might go for one of those rubber bracelets with WWJD on it. However, given his attraction to bling I thought he might go for something like this...

Anyway, rather than sneer at him, I think I'll try praying for him and for the Church as we continue to wrestle with what it means to be a faithful disciple of Christ amidst the messiness of life in today's world.

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