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Martin Luther

Below is a sermon that was given by the Reverent Dr Giles Fraser
(Anglican vicar of Putney and lecturer in philosophy at Wadham
College, Oxford).

"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."