Wednesday, 30 December 2009
2000. I returned to my native Canada for the first time since my family emigrated, in 1983. I spent 10 weeks with my aunt in the tiny, but beautiful BC town of Princeton.
2001. I graduated from Regents Theological College with a 2:1 in Biblical-Theological Studies. In May I returned to Princeton and became Associate Pastor of a small Pentecostal church.
2002. I had moved on from Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity, and was beginning to balk at evangelicalism, too. My relationship with the Senior Pastor was difficult. I made some wonderful friends in Princeton, but it was time to move on. I left in September to take up an internship at a small evangelical church on Bowen Island, off the West Vancouver coast. My ancestors (the Davies family) were among the first settlers there, my mom grew up there and I still had cousins and aunts there. I loved the place and the people, but I couldn't live off the modest stipend, and found it hard finding other work.
2003. I was stressed and broke. I had no choice but return to England in February. In May I was confirmed an Anglican. I joined my local parish church and began singing in the choir. In September I enrolled for a PGCE at Edge Hill College in Lancashire, and began teaching Religious Education and Citizenship.
2004. My PGCE was going formidably. After a shaky start, I was receiving consistently good reviews from my mentors and tutors. As the school year came to an end, however, I let myself down. I wrote great applications, but my nerves were my downfall in interviews and observations. I attended several day-long interviews for teaching posts, but unlike most of my peers, who found jobs within the first two or three attempts, I was left floundering, progressively stressed and depressed. My dear aunt visited us that summer for three months. Her health was deteriorating and it would be the last time I ever saw her. In September I began work as a substitute teacher, and by the end of the month I secured a one-year post teaching RE at a Catholic school. There, for various reasons, things went from bad to worse.
2005. By February I was at my lowest point. Teaching was going badly. I was so stressed, I would frequently stop on my way to the station to vomit or to cry. Then one chilly winter's morning I couldn't take it any longer. It was 6am and I was sat at my desk at home, the sweat pouring off me. I phoned in sick that day. And the next. And the next. Eventually I was signed off indefinitely by my doctor, and my resignation followed. I did not want to return to the classroom. But the best possible thing had happened: I had told my doctor about my depression and anxiety. I got help and for the first time in years I had self-confidence. There was literally a spring in my step. I began to write - about faith, fundamentalism, film. I got a job as a writer-researcher for 63336, then known as AQA. I joined my old schoolfriend Robert Howard in pioneering the Prescot Festival of Music and the Arts. In the spring of that year, at the age of 27, I took a step I never dreamed I would have the courage to take: I came out gay. I dated a lovely guy for a while, but it fizzled out.
2006. I had my first serious relationship since 1997. By the time it got serious, Tim had moved to Edinburgh, and it was to be a long-distance relationship, with us taking it in turns to travel between Edinburgh and Liverpool every other week to spend the weekend. It was demanding, but it helped that I loved the city. The Prescot Festival continued to grow under Robert as Artistic Director and myself as Assistant Director. I had a few writing successes, with a feature article published in Third Way magazine and a commission to contribute to a book called Leaving Fundamentalism.
2007. My aunt from Princeton died in January, aged 77. I was devastated. It was the closest death had ever touched me. In August I was Best Man at Robert's wedding. The Festival was still growing, and ran to 10 days for the first time. The star guest was actress Honor Blackman, performing her one-woman show. Nevertheless, I planned to leave Prescot for Edinburgh, to be with Tim. It would most likely be in summer 2008 - but eventually it was not to be. We broke up in October. I was gutted, but hopeful for the future.
2008. The Prescot Festival was big this year, as Liverpool was the official European Capital of Culture. I was resigned to being single, and actually quite content with it, eager to invest my time and commitment in my writing and the Festival. But I met someone online and it soon became clear it would be a lasting relationship. Hours of conversations turned into plans for me to return to Canada.
2009. The year began with a bang. My mother had a severe nervous breakdown and spent almost four months in hospital. Robert was also having a tough time, but we somehow got through yet another successful Festival. It was to be my last, however. In September I moved to St Catharines, Ontario, to be with Chris. With freedom from other commitments and a new sense of independence, my writing career has finally taken off. In October I was published by The Guardian (online), and again in November. I have other writing projects lined up. I've supplemented my income with copywriting. The year began badly, but it's ended successfully.
Thursday, 24 December 2009
Be like Jesus, who from inauspicious beginnings grew up to turn tradition on its head, announcing a welcome for the poor, the sinners and the outcasts.
(And don't be like Terry Sanderson of the National Secular Society, who sadly appears to be having difficulty mustering up some festive cheer.)
Friday, 18 December 2009
The rules of the meme are to list three religions, apart from your own, that you find fascinating and why.I'd probably find it easier to list the religions I can't stand. But as per the question, here are the three religions I would try out if I had my druthers:
1. Sikhism. Sikhism just seems to me to be a very sensible religion with some very sensible ethical principles. For example, I like that a Sikh temple (a gurdwara) is always ready to receive visitors (of any faith) and feed them.
2. Hinduism. Its worship is a colourful, vibrant experience. You get to make lots of noise and eat lots of fruit and nuts. Its temples and deities are stunningly beautiful works of art. Frankly, Hinduism is fun.
3. Buddhism. Since it's the one major world religion that doesn't require belief in a deity, in the traditional sense, perhaps this is the one for me. I think learning the disciplines of Buddhist life, eg meditation, could be quite fruitful.
I'm aware my reasons don't appear particularly deep. They may even come across as offensive, especially the suggestion that I should try Hinduism because it's fun to make noise, look at pictures and eat stuff. I think there's something much more profound lurking beneath those statements, but I'd probably need to sit down and talk it all through for it to emerge.
The late Oral Roberts was a healer, an exorcist, a preacher, a televangelism pioneer, an ecumenist and a cultural icon whose life and message united popular religion with the American Dream.
By his own admission he was a businessman. Early on in the post-war Pentecostal healing revival he distinguished himself among his contemporaries by running his ministry on a savvy business model that eventually made it a multimillion-dollar non-profit corporation. It is no coincidence that Roberts was instrumental in the founding of the Full Gospel Businessmen's Fellowship, an organisation at the forefront of the charismatic movement of the 1960s and '70s, when the once-ridiculed Pentecostal experiences of tongues, healing and prophecy broke into the traditional, more respectable churches and denominations worldwide.Read the full article (by yours truly, David L Rattigan) at The Guardian's Comment is free.
In the early days he vowed to touch "neither the gold nor the glory," and proved remarkably resilient to public scandal over the years. Despite his increasingly ludicrous and manipulative pleas for funds, Roberts survived six decades of ministry without the moral and financial scandals that brought down other televangelists.His message was a simple promise of health, wealth and salvation: Jesus wants you to be saved, healed and prosperous. It was a message that struck a natural chord with ...
Sunday, 13 December 2009
I freely admit I've not always gotten it right, and I invite others to comment on how I have defined fundamentalism in my writings. I think I was much too vague when I defined fundamentalism in the 2007 book Leaving Fundamentalism.
On my website LeavingFundamentalism.org, I offered the following definition:
[By fundamentalism we refer to] certain conservative Christian churches and religious groups, usually evangelical, charismatic or Pentecostal, who have the following features in common:On revisiting this definition, I think it is actually quite fair. Notice that the theological beliefs alone do not make someone a fundamentalist (I know lots of people who believe in the inerrancy of the Scriptures, for example, but whom I would hesitate to call fundamentalists). Those beliefs may be seen as indicators, but the essence of fundamentalism lies in the other characteristics I first described.
- An insistence that their brand of religion uniquely represents "true Christianity";
- Intolerance of and hostility towards views outside the accepted teachings of their church or group;
- Exclusion, whether actively or verbally, of people whose 'lifestyles' are deemed immoral or sinful, e.g. gays and lesbians, cohabiting couples or divorcees;
- A zeal for evangelism and conversion using methods and techniques that frequently border on psychological, emotional and spiritual manipulation and abuse;
- A radical distrust of the secular world, often manifest in anti-intellectualism, and exalting the 'spiritual' and the 'Word of God' over reason or logic.
Because these fundamentalist groups are largely conservative, Protestant and evangelical, their distinct theological beliefs often centre around the following:
- The Bible is the Word of God, without error, and is the only authoritative guide to morality and belief;
- Their interpretation of the Bible is the 'clear meaning';
- Only by being 'born again' (converted) can one be truly saved and be guaranteed heaven;
- Those not born again will face punishment, e.g. hell.
In sum, fundamentalist Christianity encourages a very black-and-white view of the world, where everyone is 'in' or 'out', 'saved' or 'unsaved', and where belief and behaviour is cut-and-dry -- 'The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it!'
But to this definition, I would like to add a couple of thoughts.
First, I now perceive fundamentalism as a centre, out from which various Christians form ever increasing circles. Rather than seeing Christians as being strictly in or out of fundamentalism, they are at varying distances from the centre. (I borrow this analogy from my friend John Halton, who once defined evangelicalism similarly).
Second, my recent experience of Christians from Bible college and church days has shown me what lies at the root of fundamentalism, or the difference between fundamentalists and non-fundamentalists. The key lies in the ability to make room for other people's stories. Fundamentalists shut out voices that represent other stories, other agendas. To the extent that a person is not generous enough to make room for others without insisting on conformity to their story and their agenda, that person is a fundamentalist.
I am pleased to say that many of my Christian friends have utterly failed to live up to my definition of fundamentalism - and I am grateful.
Tuesday, 8 December 2009
I began with Scrooge, the 1970 musical starring Albert Finney. This has always been my favourite, mainly because it was the first I ever watched. It enchanted me from the moment I first saw those gaslit Victorian streets. Despite being in his 30s, Finney manages to pull off the role quite convincingly. Leslie Bricusse's songs, as always, differ in quality, with some embarrassingly trite lyrics surfacing here and there. Overall, however, the tunes are hummable, with a few showstoppers that have stood the test of time, such as I Like Life and Thank You Very Much.
Oswald Morris's camerawork provides the film with a rich, multitextured look that has its dark as well as its light. The supporting cast are a treat, with Alec Guinness camping it up outrageously, yet delightfully as Jacob Marley, Edith Evans both wry and grandmotherly as the Ghost of Christmas Past, and Kenneth More spirited and commanding as the Ghost of Christmas Present.
The second, and by far the least successful of the three, was A Christmas Carol (1938). Lionel Barrymore's declining health prevented him from playing Scrooge, so the role was taken on by Reginald Owen, who tries rather too hard in the part, playing him unconvincingly as a caricature. Leo G Carroll, on the other hand, looks perfect as Marley, and yet underplays a role that can really benefit from some pantomime hamminess (so Michael Hordern in 1951 and Alec Guinness in 1970).
This version contains none of the bleakness or creepiness of the story. Scrooge's offices are overlit, his bedroom too ornate, and the Cratchits look fairly well-off in their spacious house. It is perhaps understandable that in 1938 MGM felt cheeriness was the way to go - but this film is overloaded with it. Most of Dickens's episodes are replaced with saccharine, whimsical vignettes that do little to advance story or character. Elements from the book are too often dealt with in perfunctory fashion.
In happy contrast, I was enthralled by the BBC's 1977 production of A Christmas Carol, which was a new discovery for me this year. Michael Hordern, who played Marley brilliantly in 1951, now plays Scrooge. It is a short piece, lasting only about an hour, but it is perhaps the most faithful adaptation I have yet seen. It is typical vintage BBC drama: shot on video on a shoestring budget, a tad rough around the edges, but carried off with creativity, sensitivity and atmosphere. Unlike many versions, it really feels like a ghost story.
Hordern is pitch-perfect, avoiding caricature, playing the miser with the appropriate amount of nastiness and presenting a believable transformation. Clive Merrison commendably avoids the usual bland portrayal of Bob Cratchit. I couldn't decide whether I liked Tiny Tim or not. For a change, there was nothing mawkish about him; yet the child actor seemed rather nervous, even glancing unsurely into the camera at one point, and the classic closing line ("God bless us, everyone") was delivered hastily and with uncertainty.
I'll be revisiting at least two very good adaptations before Christmas is over: the 1988 comedy Scrooged, and the 1951 British film with Alastair Sim - perhaps the screen's finest Scrooge, and certainly the most popular.
Saturday, 5 December 2009
I am a people watcher:
I stare at them from nooks;
Peer down into my coffee-cup
If anybody looks.
I love to guess their story,
Delve deep into their minds,
Look hard into their faces,
See what lies beneath the lines.
I see their past, their loved ones,
Their homes, the books they read;
Send up a thought, unconscious prayer,
For what it is they need.
I am a people watcher:
I glance as they go by,
And duck behind my Telegraph
If they should wonder why.
Wednesday, 2 December 2009
It provoked a mixed response among friends, but there was one particularly gracious response that stood out. It was from a Pentecostal pastor, a fellow Bible College student and the wife of my former Principal, no less. If anyone were to take offense at my often-harsh assessment of my days as an evangelical Pentecostal, it would be someone closest to the situations I wrote about. So it was a welcome surprise that Alison recognized my integrity and greeted my story with openness and understanding.
She has given me permission to post from an exchange we shared on Facebook. In it, we discuss my Pentecostal days and my sexuality, and I think the discussion exemplifies a "generous space" (an expression I owe to my friend Wendy Gritter) we all need to find ourselves in if we're to live together.
I've just spent some time reading your open letter and a couple of the links to your writing which is, of course, challenging to those of us who haven't shared your journey. I thank you for your intellectual honesty and ability to analyse. Also for not misrepresenting the Christianity of your past and my present and not, therefore, having rejected it out of hand. There's a lot of ongoing discussion which could be had - my own thinking re sexuality attempts to be faithful to biblical revelation which I still believe to be God's word (with all that implies); my hermeneutics are very influenced by a feminism which makes me, I think, more liberal than many of my fellow Pentecostals, but wouldn't take me nearly far enough in your estimation, I have no doubt.I responded:
I am uncomfortable with the anti-homosexual rhetoric of much of my community but retain a belief that God's intention for sexuality includes the element that both genders should be involved. That men and women together make up the image of God seems to me to be important: faithfulness; vulnerability; give and take; complete openness to the other are all expressed in sexual intimacy with one person for life - sex is to that deepest of human relationships what worship is for the human and God. But I also have to acknowledge that all those things are possible in a gay relationship and that heterosexuality is no guarantee of healthy sexuality.
I am therefore much less sympathetic to heterosexual promiscuity and abuse than to homosexual monogamy or monoandry (is that a word? - it should be). And probably feel that the current controversy re sexuality is analogous to the NT example of meat offered to idols, to which Paul's response in Rom14 is not to attempt to convince those on the other side of the fence (though you know which side he is on and that he is firmly convinced he is right!) but to accept that we all must stand before God and follow our own conscience with regard to how we act. Notwithstanding Rom 1, maybe a 21st century Paul would include sexual orientation issues as a 'disputable matter' (14:1). Thanks also for the Tillich quotation re grace; an unexpectedly lucid Tillich-ism (sorry, I always struggled to read him and usually fell asleep - liked this bit though!)
Let mercy triumph over judgement.
Hi, Alison. I sensed from our conversations that you were definitely one to "live and let live," and that you were the sort of person who would be open to other people's stories - but still I am surprised you are so liberal compared to your Pentecostal peers.Facebook comments became too restrictive by this stage (the above exchanges had to be posted in tiny parts), so Alison wrote a full-length 'Letter to David' in reply:
I am so warmed to hear that you don't feel misrepresented as a Christian by the things I've written. I look back with a genuine affection - if ambivalence at times - on my days as a Pentecostal, and even though I have some harsh criticisms for evangelical Christianity, I strive to be evenhanded. It means all the more to me that you sense no malice in my writings, since if anyone is going to interpret me as unfair or spiteful, it would be someone so close to the situations I wrote about - an Elim pastor, a Regents member of staff or the wife of the RTC Principal!
Re: homosexuality, I agree that even from a perspective that treats the Bible as the authoritative Word of God, there is room to ask how someone like Paul would answer *today's* questions, and whether he might answer them quite differently from the questions of *his* day.
I can see a real honesty in the way you approach the sexuality question. One thing that led me initially to question the traditional teaching on sexuality was that so many Christians seemed to rely on slandering and misrepresenting homosexuals. It occurred to me that if homosexuality was wrong, surely the case could be argued without recourse to all kinds of myths, slurs and pseudo-science. (I'm talking about the old standards here: gays are a risk to children, being gay is just about sex, there's no love in gay relationships, all gays are promiscuous, being gay is a mental illness, the "lifestyle" is dangerous and ends in early death.)
You seem unprepared glibly to repeat the same deceptions and half-truths, and that's wonderful. When you show a grace like that, I can live with you being on "the other side of the fence," just as you've shown you can live with me as I am.
PS The Tillich quote comes from a sermon found in The Shaking of the Foundations. I've never persevered with Tillich's heavier academic writings, but I've really enjoyed his sermons. That particular one is called You Are Accepted. You can read it online here.
David, thank you for the warmth I perceive coming from you. I was bold enough to write that i didn't think you had rejected our brand of Christianity out of hand, so I am cheered by your reference to genuine affection and I can affirm that I did not read malice in your writing, though there was, of course, lots of criticism.True to her signature, I found grace in Alison's words. I responded thus:
There is plenty that is cringeworthy in Pentecostalism certainly; I can't defend excesses though I sympathise with people who are genuinely trying to hear from God and often make mistakes. Actually I don't have to sympathise with those people: I am one! Ah well. I happen to highly value the American prophetess about whom you have written and don't consider her to be extreme. I don't remember the particular prophecy about banks etc. so can't comment on that. As far as her workshop session goes, I was part of that and know that from her angle it was an introduction to teaching people to listen for God's voice. To give Christians the confidence that they are able to hear from God more than they think is, in my pastoral experience, an important thing. We do have the mind of Christ and most sincere Christians who wonder if they have anything to say which might be used by God to speak to others need to be given the confidence to speak out. Then there is the process of weighing and discernment which is where the Christian community and sensible leadership comes in.
What is indefensible is the sort of rhetoric which you mention which 'demonises' gay people. But (oops maybe I am approaching a defence? call it an attempt at explanation?) most evangelicals don't know any gay people personally (that's to say they don't knowingly know any ...) and when one's information comes from media which, referring to any kind of sex, is more concerned with titillation than information, they are afraid, uncomfortable and suspicious. Also there is the concern that society is concerned with equality to the detriment of Christian sensibilities and we are presented as less tolerant than we really are.
Still, I am happy to affirm that gay and straight (don't like that term) people probably: think about sex as much (or as little) as each other would rather not be defined by their sexuality - it is part of a person not the whole are capable of long term commitment and loving relationships often sin sexually.
I'm not sure of the value of vicarious repentance, but as part of a Christian community whose members have often made hurtful comments to you and others, I'm sorry.
I value relationships where I can genuinely disagree with someone without personal abuse intruding and I sense I have one here. I agree with you that if I think homosexuality is wrong then I should be able to justify that position "without recourse to all kinds of myths, slurs and pseudo-science." So here's the beginning of such an attempt.
For me the first two chapters of Genesis are foundational to a meaning of sex. Male and female are made in the image of God and as such express that image most fully when they get their relations right. I argue against many men (including church fathers) that women do not possess God's image in a secondary sense, but just as much as men; against some radical feminists I would insist that women need men too! Gen2 describes the creation of one being which is then divided into two. "For this reason" men and women have sexual relations, thus restoring the original (one flesh) complete image of God. The one-flesh relationship must therefore include the two. Not only that, it is a productive relationship: the two become one who then bear offspring.
So our sexual ethics must reflect our view of God. Promiscuity and prostitution are wrong because we must not create a one flesh relationship casually (1Cor6). Sex outside marriage is wrong because it should entail complete giving of oneself to the other for life, as God has given himself to us and we to him. That's the ideal: God knows that we are also sinners and Jesus said it was because of hardness of heart that Moses allowed divorce. It is no accident that there is so much sexual sin in the world as it is the one area which directly attacks the image of God in humans and when we get it right it is so good.
The danger of what I just wrote is that people will think I mean that single people or infertile people as well as homosexuals are somehow less than God's perfect image. That would be a gross misinterpretation. Man and woman as one flesh says something about God. But every individual also bears God's image and is precious.
There it is - a very imperfect offering which I hope does not wind you up too much!
I must thank you for recognising grace in my previous comments and hope there is just as much in the above. At root, though I'm clever enough to have been an academic, I am really a pastor who finds that my ethics have to work in practice. You said you thought I am the sort of person who would be open to other people's stories; thanks again. I believe it is a pastor's lot to listen more than she speaks, support and value. Please take these two long responses to your original letter not fundamentally as an attempt to (re)convert you to a particular point of view, but as the sort of serious response you deserve. To do less would have been to value you less.
Anyway will shut up now. I hope this has not been too polemic.
Grace to you,
I'm really glad we're having this conversation. You have a lot of grace, and as someone whose experience of evangelical Christians has all too often been graceless, I cherish that openness.Alison couldn't see my point about androgyny in Genesis, so I elaborated:
Thanks for your exposition of Scripture, which I didn't find too polemical! For you the Bible is primarily the (infallible?) Word of God; for me it's primarily the word of humans. So biblical arguments may inspire me or lead me to reflection, but they'll never be authoritative in the same way as they are for you. The biblical idea of the image of God in humans strikes me as a beautiful way to view ourselves and our relationships, but I'd want to extend the metaphor to other kinds of human relationships. Since Eve was formed from Adam's side, perhaps Genesis contains the suggestion of androgyny in Adam. From that, can we ask whether two males joined together might adequately reflect the image of God? This is just a thought.
Onto the American prophetess. Following the lead of social scientists, I don't dismiss religious experiences such as prophecy out-of-hand as simple fakery. I think some of those experiences could be valuable. I regard them as "altered states," temporary "alternate realities," or "heightened states of awareness," but also I believe they originate in the human psyche, not the supernatural. My major problem with these experiences in Pentecostal circles is not the experiences themselves, per se, but how they are interpreted for and by the community. I think I would be more comfortable with Pentecostal prophetic experiences if they were framed as indirect impressions of where God might be leading, viewed more tentatively as subjective experiences and open to critical exploration, rather than being considered the "voice of God," or direct "messages," or "words" from God.
I know there are pastors and teachers who try to various extents to emphasize the provisional nature of prophecy, but in my experience the effect is often nullified by the language of "words," "messages" and "voices."
I think the androgyny point actually originated in rabbinical interpretation, but I could be wrong.The exchange continued somewhat, but it widened to include other commenters' points, so I shall leave it there.
What I mean is that Adam had in him both male and female. I guess you could interpret that as either very anti-feminist (man is complete without woman) or radically pro-feminist (Adam was *neither* male nor female, so gender distinctions postdate creation).
Since I've outed myself as Rattigan to friends who only know me by my "real" name, perhaps I should step a bit further out of my closet for readers who know me only as Rattigan. I won't reveal my name (though it probably wouldn't take a great deal of detective work to find out), but I will share a bit more about my background, to put the above discussion in context.
I spent 1993 to 2001 in the Elim Pentecostal Church, which I think I'm right in saying is the second largest Pentecostal denomination in the UK (it is to Assemblies of God what Foursquare is to Assemblies in Canada and the US). I earned my theology degree through Regents Theological College, the organization's official Bible college. Despite being a conservative denomination, the college gave me a fairly thorough theological education, which introduced me to the full array of biblical criticism and alternative, non-conservative Christian and non-Christian ideas. (Not that everyone approved. I remember my decidedly anti-intellectual pastor warning me in advance of the heretical ideas that were "floating around" at Regents. Many pastors, and even some students, scoffed at the college's increasingly academic emphasis.)
I think the broad scope of my education this was partly the result of my choice of classes - I opted for the more academic modules, such as New Testament Interpretation, Philosophy of Religion and Contemporary Theology. Had I chosen just the more pragmatic subjects, such as Evangelism and Missions, it would have been quite easy to coast through college without ever encountering non-evangelical approaches.
Ironically, then-Principal William Atkinson's NT Interpretation classes were ultimately the most formative in my later liberal approach to the Bible. I think this is a credit to his ability to teach without simply imposing his own biases on students. I recall raising laughter by hugging William enthusiastically as I stepped up to the platform at graduation - but it was an embrace of genuine affection, which remains today.
Against this background, it's been a risk to share my changed perspective, my writings and my journey with friends, acquaintances and colleagues from those days. But I opened the door and I found grace.