Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Luther, love and Gloria Gaynor



So, I was writing this essay for college and I came upon this which I had saved for a rainy day:

Face to faith

Giles Fraser guardian.co.uk, Saturday May 15 2004

"I did not love God and was indignant towards him, if not in wicked revolt, at least in silent blasphemy." Martin Luther's admission that he had come to hate God sparked a theological revolution that transformed the political geography of Europe.
For Luther, service to a God who demanded human beings earn his love had become service to a heartless despot, impossible to please. The confessional had become a private hell of never being good enough, of never earning enough merit to satisfy the unattainable demands required for salvation.

Luther's deep sense of human inadequacy meant that a God who dealt with human beings strictly on the basis of merit was always going to be a God of punishment. He thus came to see his former understanding of Christianity as inherently abusive, as a destructive cycle in which the abused child constantly returns to the abusive heavenly father for comfort.

Parallels with arguments that are now transforming the political geography of Anglicanism are remarkable. For the debate about homosexuality is about a great deal more than sex. It is about the nature of God's love for human beings, and has much in common with debates that drove the Reformation.

The message the church has given to gay Christians is the message Luther came to see as inherently abusive: God does not love you as you are - you need to be completely different before he will love you.

Take the Bishop of Chester, Dr Peter Forster's advice that gay Christians should seek to "reorientate themselves". "I would not set myself up as a medical specialist on the subject, that's in the area of psychiatric health," he said. But gay Christians who have tried to become acceptable to God by subjecting themselves to electric shock therapy, or by being bombarded with pornography, have been forced into precisely the sort of private hell Luther experienced in the confessional.

Luther's theological breakthrough was to describe a wholly non-abusive God, who loves his children gratuitously - not on the basis of merit. God's love is experienced as grace, freely given, not as a demand that, in order to be loved, human beings must become something impossibly different to what they already are. It was a conception that released Christians from bondage to a theological construction that made their lives seem as desperate as a hamster on a wheel.

Against those who would conscript this desperation into financial gain through the system of indulgences, Luther spoke of Christian freedom and the Babylonian captivity of the church; against those who would make sexuality part of a package of guilt and self-disgust, he would renounce his monasticism by marrying a nun. Ecclesiastical authorities can no more insist on celibacy than "forbid eating, drinking, the natural movement of the bowels or growing fat," he declared.

Following Luther, generations of evangelicals described the joy of being released from the burden of impossible expectations. Remember Charles Wesley's hymn: "I woke, the dungeon flamed with light/My chains fell off, my heart was free/I rose, went forth, and followed thee." The next verse begins: "No condemnation now I dread."

Being saved is evangelical language for describing the new life beyond the censure of an abusive God - the sense of facing the truth, of admitting it to others, of being accepted as one is, of being released from the burden of impossible condemnation. Being saved is an experience emotionally identical to coming out of the closet.

This is not political correctness. It is about the nature of God. For the one thing all Christians believe about God is that he seeks to call us out of darkness into light, out of pain into joy, out of deceit into truth, out of oppression into freedom. Amazingly, Gloria Gaynor's gay anthem - "I am what I am, and what I am needs no excuses" - turns out to be the contemporary voice of Luther's own protest: "Here I am, I can do no other."

· The Rev Dr Giles Fraser is vicar of Putney and lecturer in philosophy at Wadham College, Oxford.

Comment:I'd like to be Giles Fraser!