Christ can change things, Dr Tveit tells Gazette
Speaking to the Gazette editor last week from the headquarters of the World Council of Churches in Geneva, the WCC General Secretary, Dr Olav Fyske Tveit, stressed that the theme of this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, ‘Reconciliation – the love of Christ compels us’, is a reminder that the call of Christ is a source of “hope” for the future, stating: “Things can change. Christ can change our mind. Christ can change our relationships.”
He said that every year the Week of Prayer (18th-25th January) highlights “a new perspective from a new context and a new theme”, but added: “We have to remind ourselves that prayer is also work.”
Asked for his view of this year’s 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, Dr Tveit said: “What was important 500 years ago is still important today, namely that we cannot understand what it means to be Christian, to be Churches together, other than through the Gospel of the grace of God in Jesus Christ. That is the starting point. This honouring of Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord is the hope for the world.”
THE CHURCHES IN THE PUBLIC SQUARE
The annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is an opportunity for the Churches to consider the whole range of issues concerning their life and witness together. One such issue is that of engagement in the ‘public square’, the life of the world around us. The global theme of the Week, ‘Reconciliation – the love of Christ compels us’, involves a call to common engagement as Christ’s love compels all Christian people to reach out to the wider world. That was very much at the heart of some of the comments which the World Council of Churches’ General Secretary, the Revd Dr Olav Fyske Tveit, told the Gazette last week (report, page 1).
At the turn of the year, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby was in South Africa on a private visit, but preached in George’s Cathedral, Cape Town. He took that opportunity of giving his support to Archbishop of Cape Town Thabo Makgoba over a dispute between Archbishop Makgoba and the President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma. Mr Zuma had called for Church figures to avoid becoming involved in party political divisions, but the South African Broadcasting Corporation reported that this had been taken up by some Church leaders, including Archbishop Makgoba, as a call for the Churches to stay out of politics. According to the Anglican Communion News Service, Archbishop Makgoba “welcomed the clarification but insisted the Church would not keep quiet and would not keep out of politics”.
It was to this issue that Archbishop Welby turned in his sermon on Romans Chapter 8. He said: “Archbishops are warned to stay out of politics. You may as well tell a fish to stay out of water … Party politics is what we avoid, but politics is where we live – and it is a central theme of the Gospel. Politics is ultimately about the Kingdom of Heaven.”
It is clearly impossible for the Churches, in reaching out the the world either denominationally or in a truly ecumenical way, to be faithful in proclaiming the light and truth of Christ while simply staying quiet on matters of what might be declared a ‘political’ nature. The ‘public square’, where politics abounds, is full of issues of moral import and religion has much to speak into the moral realm, even if the Churches themselves at times go morally astray. The skill that is needed is to address moral principles in public discourse without becoming party political. A major problem with Church leaders becoming party political is that the Church is to be a place for all people and clergy must be able to minister to everyone without party political disputes getting in the way.
An official clarification of Mr Zuma’s comments usefully indicated: “President Zuma did not appeal to religious leaders to be apolitical … The President reiterates his view that religious leaders should avoid becoming embroiled in divisive party political squabbles and that they should ideally strive to be above such and unite all the people in the pursuit of justice, righteousness and the common good.”
In his Cape Town sermon, Archbishop Welby also warned against legalism in the Church, saying that the Church “turns away from the Spirit when it becomes legalistic”. He said that, in a world where politicians say ‘stay out of politics’, “the biggest political statement we can make is to love one another in the power of the Spirit, whatever our differences”. The authentic Church, the Archbishop said, is recognised “by its holiness, which is seen in love for God and one another”.
The focus of the Church in all its denominational forms and in its ecumenical outreach is to be on proclaiming the Gospel of Christ by words and deeds. Debate over issues that are important to people is inevitable both in the Churches themselves and in society at large, in the ‘public square’. However, to speak with power to power – as Dr Tveit clearly aimed to do at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos – the Churches must seek wherever possible to do so in a united way and, always, to take as their example in prophetic warning, the way of Jesus of Nazareth himself.
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Letter to the Editor
DERMOT O’CALLAGHAN (Letters, 13th January) seeks to bolster his contention that homosexual orientation can be changed through reparative therapy, by quoting unnamed studies and sources as supportive of this practice.
However, I must point out that the overwhelming majority of verifiable and reviewed evidence from reputable academic sources emphatically opposes the practice of reparative, conversion or ‘corrective’ therapy advocated by Mr O’Callaghan.
According to a review of the scientific literature published by the American Psychological Association (APA), reparative or conversion therapy has a lengthy track record of not working. Research also suggests that such treatment can actually worsen feelings of self-hatred and anxiety, as it encourages people to abhor and fight a sexual orientation that can’t be changed.
In 2009, a task force established by the APA found that conversion therapies had little evidence to back them up. A review of the 83 studies on this subject, conducted between 1960 and 2007, established that the vast majority of these did not have sufficient empirical evidence to show whether the therapies achieved their stated goals.
The review also found that even the best of the studies they looked at focused not on the statistical effectiveness of treatment but on the subjective experience.
Moreover, many of the studies found that conversion therapy could be harmful. Negative effects included suicidal tendencies as well as anxiety, depression and loss of sexual interest.
In a more recently published study, Sexual differentiation of the human brain: Relation to gender identity, sexual orientation and neuropsychiatric disorders (published in Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology 32 ), Ai-Min Bao (Department of Neurobiology, Key Laboratory of Medical Neurobiology of Ministry of Health of China, and Zhejiang University School of Medicine) and Dick F. Swaab (Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience, Institute of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, Amsterdam) concluded that sexual orientation is determined during early childhood development as a result of the interactions between sex hormones and the developing brain.
They found that the development of the neuropsychologically influenced sexual variation in the brain takes place at a later stage in foetal development than the earlier occurring sexual variation of the genitals.
Clearly, the chronology of foetal development shows that LGBT+ people have no choice regarding either our physical gender attributes or our sexual orientation.
In light of such considered opinion, I suggest that the Church’s mission to the LGBT+ community be one of acceptance, support and inclusion rather than seeking to ‘cure’ individuals of an illness they do not have.
It is now widely accepted that LGBT+ persons have experienced reprehensible treatment as a result of religiously inspired prejudice. The Archbishop of Canterbury has apologised in all humility and compassion on behalf of the Church of England, for the wrongs of the past. Surely it is now time that we, in the Church of Ireland, followed this admirable example and, rather than seeking to reinforce the ill-founded and outdated practices of outmoded therapies of previous generations, embraced those of God’s creation who wish to be part of his family, focusing on what makes us all one in Christ Jesus.
Chair, Changing Attitude Ireland Abbots Leigh House Delgany Co. Wicklow
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