I was going to list this originally as just an oddball news item, but in fact it raises some big issues, so I held back, gave it some serious reflection, and can now comment.
First, the bare facts. A little while ago, Oprah hosted a panel discussion with a group of religious leaders. During the Q & A, one of the panellists, Rev Ed Bacon, commented that “Being gay is a gift from God”. Oprah, obviously surprised by the line,observed that she had never before heard that said by a minister of religion. Oprah’s legions of loyal visitors were more than surprised, they were outraged. The show’s website quickly swelled with comments from shocked viewers, almost unanimous in the response that ‘nowhere in the bible’ does it say that, and quoting repeatedly the good old clobber texts.
There is a happy ending: Rev Bacon has now been invited back to expand on his remark. What was just a throwaway line as part of an answer to a question, will now become the focus of a more extended discussion.
So: Why is this important?
Well, my first reaction to the original story was one of surprise, even shock, that so many people should have found this observation so scandalously new. I was particularly disappointed that Oprah herself should find it such a new concept: her show could not have the viewership figures it does, if she did not have an excellent set of antennae out there, feeding her with information on what people are thinking, and what is worth talking about.
I was surprised by the ignorance, because the idea is one that I have become so familiar with, that to me it seems ‘obvious’. But nothing is obvious util you have seen it for the first time. The more I reflected, the more I realised there was a time when I did not recognise the concept – and how revelatory, and profoulndly important the idea was to me, when I did first encounter it. What was once new to me, will certainly be new to others. So it is worth repeating and restating the argument.
First, recall (if you are old enough) the old penny catechism:
Question 1: “Who made you?”
Answer, “God made me.”
Next, reflect on the findings of science – sexual orientaion is not a ‘lifestyle choice’, but something innate and fixed within our physical and mental make-up – probalby before birth. If this is how we are made, and God has made us, it follows that this is how God made us.
Now consider that God does not mistakes – so, this is how we were made, quite deliberately, by God. Our make-up is deliberately given to us.
Finally, if we accept that God is good, then we must also accept that this is not given as a joke, nor as a punishment on the innocent young child. Rather, it is given fully and deliberately as a precious gift.
Now, many people may wonder in what sense this gift may be ‘precious’ when it often brings such oppostition from society, and especiallly in the church. This is a topic that requires rather more expansion than I can go into now. However, part of the answer is that precisely because we sit so outside the mainstream, outside the conventional pattertns, we are in fact closer to the heart of the Gospels. Christ and the apostles no more fitted standard stereotypes of family than do modern gay men and women.