Tuesday 3 July 2012

Overview and Inner View

Two archbishops wrestle what some insist on calling the Gay Issue to the ground. The overview comes from Nobel Laureates led by former Archbishop Desmond Tutu
The same cultural values, which have fostered and supported our lifelong quests for peace, also command us to speak out against the violence and discrimination our fellow human beings are enduring every day solely because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex. In many of our countries the influence of colonial era laws still makes outlaws of LGBTI people. Recent legislative efforts like those underway in Russia and Uganda could pose even more sinister sanctions on LGBTI people as well their allies, ourselves included. The criminalization of adult, consensual homosexuality in any form is unacceptable. And, we must remain vigilant even in countries that rightly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, to ensure that LGBTI citizens are effectively protected from the hatred and bigotry that persists.”
The bigger context is persecution and violence LGBT people face around the world. We must hang our heads in shame where anyChurch leaders  have colluded with or even promoted it. The kind of “unity” you purchase with one brother by spitting in the face of another, or even turning a blind eye, is not worth having.  It is sub-Christian.

Also last week, Archbishop Rowan was hobnobbing with young people at Lambeth Palace and observing with painful accuracy the tangles the Church has got itself into over the status of women and marriage equality. He went on to say:
What’s frustrating is that we still have Christian people whose feelings about it are so strong, and sometimes so embarrassed and ashamed and disgusted, that that just sends out a message of unwelcome, of lack of understanding, of lack of patience. So whatever we think about it, we need, as a Church, to be tackling what we feel about it.”
This is no complex theological puzzle with little silver balls in it. All we have to do is apply the Golden Rule, the Lord's summary of the Law, the call from St John to love the God we have never seen by loving the person we have, in other words, the basics. The Church is not a place these apply differently, or even do not apply, but the place they should be so vibrantly applied that the world may believe.

That, not liberalism or missional credibility is the issue that calls for the courage to name cultural embarrassment, shame and disgust for what they are — cultural foibles — rather than reading them into the Bible, reading it back out again and using our conclusions as a soft cosh against gay neighbours.

Our dirty little secret is that there is no gay issue. Our embarrassment and secrecy is a symptom of our own, oft unacknowledged, yuk factor and hypocrisy — something Jesus warned us about all along. He defied the stranglehold of any obsession with ritual purity, and teaches us the rules were made for people, not people for the rules. The Sermon on the Mount is not given us as a Postdoctoral proposal, or a discussion starter, but a way of life. Just do it. Then people will hear the voice of Jesus in our Churches, instead of the scribes and pharisees. Then the appearance we give will be the one we can't help giving, given the reality of who we are and how we see things.

When we stop believing gay people are an issue, and start seeing them as people, anyone will find a genuine welcome not hand-wringing, deep seated prejudice masked by niceness, and cheesy grins to get ’em in, applied with cheap theatrical gum.


Rachel Mann said...

As ever, Alan - thank you

Lay Anglicana said...


David Ould said...

He defied the stranglehold of any obsession with ritual purity, and teaches us the rules were made for people, not people for the rules.
well yes, but the principled opposition of many to homosexual practice is not grounded in cultic purity but in a Biblical morality.

So you're right to remind us again and again that we ought not to give way to simple base revulsion but it does the wider debate in the Church no good, I would suggest, to be so incorrectly reductionistic about your opponents' motivations.

June Butler said...

The kind of “unity” you purchase with one brother by spitting in the face of another, or even turning a blind eye, is not worth having. It is sub-Christian.

Indeed. The heart of the Gospel message is simple to understand but not necessarily easy to put into practice. Still, we must try if we claim to be followers of Jesus.

"Lord, when did we see you?"

Unknown said...

Except that the issue is not gay people, it is same-sex sex. Now agreed, some people find that idea disgusting to such an extent that it affects how they treat people. But that does not alter the fact that it is the sex which is the point at issue.

UKViewer said...

Thanks for a thoughtful challenging (for those who choose not to understand) post.

I've often quoted the two greatest commandments as the basis for the whole way that I think and act as a disciple - and I doubt whether I will find any better guide than Jesus' words.

Erika Baker said...

Whether it's sex or people is irrelevant. The church must find a way of breaking the deadlock it's got itself in.
The question "is homosexuality moral or immoral" is clearly not resulting in an answer the church can live with, far less in an answer gay people can live with.

It's time the church changed tack. It's time the focus was on a different question: given that some of us believe that there is something wrong with gay people/gay sex, what does our biblical faith tell us about engaging with this? How are we to treat those we believe to be sinners? And looking at what we are doing or saying, are we following the biblical guidelines in this respect?

I think that if we focused on that question - on OUR response to gay people rather than on THEIR lives, we might find it easier to come to a solution the church can live with and one that those gay people who are still in the church can live with.

June Butler said...

Since I may be going off topic, please feel free not to moderate my comment through, Alan. I don't know that what I say has anything to do with the Gospel or the church, but the intense and ongoing interest in the sex lives of LGTB persons is a mystery to me. How people choose to express physical love seems private to me, and I have little interest or time to spend thinking or talking about it. From the amount of attention and discussion, one might be led to think that LGTB folks do nothing but have sex.

On the contrary, they work, care for their families, cook, shop for groceries, clean their houses, take time out for entertainment, worship their God, or not, live committed and faithful lives with their partners or spouses, or not, just like straight folks,
generally living their lives like the rest of us. Why do people outside their lives focus so on sex, when it occupies only a very small portion of their lives?

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

I'm sure John, you're right that the heart of the yuk factor is to do with sex. If we had spent the 90's following up the Osborne report process, we would be in a better place to discern this now. As a Hungarian Scot, I am bemused about the whole Anglo-Saxon Victorian hang-up about sex. In the Hebrew Scriptures, as in life, it is a basic and occasionally significant aspect of living but not the crucial obsession. None of the 7 different concepts of marriage in the OT relate its meaning to sex particularly, and, for example, Solomon is able to mix his 700 wives with 300 concubines perfectly happily. So I'm sure it is English prurience and hypocrisy about sex driving the yuk factor, and strongly suggest we examine this issue on other grounds. I haven't met gay Christians who regard themselves as married to each other who want the legal status as a sex licence. That's a new one on me. By and large their desire for a change is driven by relational considerations like along the lines of of John Milton's tract on a Christian Man's Liberty of 1654.

Erika, I strongly agree we need a new approach, as the one we've taken has borne bitter and, frankly ludicrous, fruit. More of the same augurs badly for everybody. I'm fascinated by your suggestion. If, for example, I, as a Christian of high moral aspiration about money, found out the Churchwarden was fiddling their taxes or whatever (an acknowledged wrong), how should I be loving them? What if they were the CEO of Barclays bank, i.e. they didn't think they were doing wrong, but many would think they were? What if they were, say, tax avoiding by holding offshore funds — not illegal, an activity a minority would regard as wrong, but not by most people? And, at the most basic, one thing I have learnt in the past few years is the utter futility of talking about people not to them.

GM, I think your point is a much needed corrective, and until we grow up and stop obsessing about sex, we're pretty much stuck with the consequences of our own folly.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

PS my attitude is affected by having worked for a few years in a prison where all the congregation, by and large, were publicly measurable moral failures of one sort or another. Did I feel this gave a superior moral status? No, sir. And if I did I would have deceived myself and failed as a minister of grace. Was I condoning their crimes? No, sir. I'm in no position to condemn or condone. I'm not God. I'm just the Vicar.

Erika Baker said...

Alan, yes, it would be interesting to see how the conversation would change, wouldn’t it. The difficulty about a theoretical “are you for or against something” is that everyone can have an opinion and that it does not matter how fierce it is, as the opinion is largely without consequences.
But if you change it to “what is my individual responsibility here, how am I asked to respond to a particular person”, the whole thing will slowly shift. Of course, the starting point here is that we are not talking about accepting anything illegal, but that we are talking about how we deal with something we believe to be immoral. So what will it be like?

Will it be like the death penalty, where I have firm ideas of what is moral and what isn’t but where I do not try to interfere in the lives of those who support it?
Will it be like the Barclay’s executives, whom I don’t know personally and of whom I can therefore say absolutely nothing valid other than what I read in the papers?

I would hope that the conversation would become much more personal, much more people focused. I have no access to the Barclay’s executives, my responsibility would be to engage with the people in my sphere of life. You might be asked to interact with one of the great and good, but because it would be a personal conversation it would be so much more useful than me just writing disgusted of Tunbridge Wells letters to the Daily Telegraph.

It would be harder! There’s no doubt that it is harder to engage with real people than to have theoretical opinions about something. And it would be harder for both sides. Because believe me, treating those kindly who are currently trying to destroy my life (which is how it feels to me), would be a huge challenge.
Only… in reality, it probably wouldn’t be all that bad. Because we all already know gay people and those who oppose them. In most of our parishes, we have already found a way of interacting with each other. Not in all parishes! But by and large.
And we have all probably already discovered that we are quite capable of disagreeing in friendship or almost friendship with about things to do with homosexuality with those we know, whereas we can really get worked up and end up strongly disliking those with whom we only argue on the Internet.

And I believe what happens is that, when our conversation becomes more personal and when it focuses on both our responsibilities, we will begin to see the other person as a real and complex person. And we will find unexpected things we like about them and unexpected things we dislike about them.
Provided, that is, we genuinely do see it as a conversation in which we both share a responsibility for our personal response and not just as one of us sitting in righteous judgement over the other.

Will it ultimately change anything? I don’t know! That’s the exciting question. But it has to be worth trying.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

I have been wondering about the essence of Christian ethics — what is it that makes them Christ-like? I think I conclude their Christlikeness does not arise from their generating checkboxes of right answers on every issue, but more in their alignment with Jesus whole approach to people. Therefore we need to personalise the discussion for it to be Christian, and the whole attempt to distil abstract intellectual debating points out of it has, in itself, tended to tip this discussion into sterile pharisaism.

Richard Ashby said...

The only response to David Ould's concern for 'Biblical morality' is 'which Biblical Morality?'

Ann Memmott said...

Here's a real live situation to debate in the midst of this. Anonymised. Sarah is autistic. In common with 43% of people on the autism spectrum, she identifies as LGBT. She is also hugely literal and rule-driven. The church told her she absolutely must find and marry a man. Being also naive and socially fairly clueless, she is quite unable to spot malicious motives. She thought a chap was safe and nice, and she was doing God's will by dating him. She got raped. She was too terrified to go to the authorities. He got away with it. Most men are of course lovely...but so often vulnerable people are actively targeted by predators. She is now terrified of the same outcome, and living as a lesbian with her partner in a safe, loving, caring relationship. She is also now sure that God hates the sexuality she was born with, and that her relationship is going to destroy other people's marriages and insult God and his laws.

What is our response to her, as a family of Christians?

There are some 160,000 autistic lesbians/bisexual women in the UK. I wish I knew what I was supposed to say to them to tell them of God's love, I really do.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thank you, Ann, for earthing this in reality. I will get a thinking cap on, as I hope others will. What will not help is a company of Pharisees surrounding Sarah with expert views on their own versions of "Biblical Morality." It's one of the oldest puzzles in the book but it matters: what *is* Jesus writing in the sand?

Revd. Neal Terry said...

Biblical morality if it exists at all is a dead phenomena. Bereft of life it exists as a mere shade of an individuals desire to project their own wishes, choices onto others and project the blame for that onto God. If you read the bible as a Haynes manual, a set of rules for life, then that is what you will find there. If you are looking for the radical purge, the justification for persecution and hatred you will find it there. As Erika comments on the ownership of the issue, it is true for the ownership of the question. Christian Ethics are not the prerogative of the bible. Ethics are human constructs (and not ethics, if not universal), variable and changing. We may be informed by the bible as it teaches about how our bretheren through history have dealt with their challenges. It can guide, teach, inspire even, but what it cannot do is provide excuses. "It's not me...its' Gods word." - "Honest a big boy did it and ran away..."

David said...

As obvious as it might seem, might I suggest that there is an obvious and significant link between the fits our Church has been throwing itself into over LGBT inclusion and the consecration of women bishops. Their common source would appear to be heterosexual male privilege, which for too lost has perpetuated itself by the objectification of both women and LGBT folk.

In any other context of life, if we came across a straight male verbalizing or trying to project their issues with either gays or women on society, it would soon become obvious that the real issue was Mr. Straight’s sexual immaturity or their conflicted sexual insecurity. What can Mr. Straight possibly know of the grace, challenges or wonder of being a woman or of a LGBT person of faith?

So we are objectified, judged/condemned, and legislated against- again projection of their fears & inadequacies- in the name of God. My sense is that all this talk about the ‘ick’ factor only confirms what I have suggested.
I think my cherished friend Erika’s suggestion gets to the heart of this in her suggestion that the way forward- the healing of the Church, has got to be through relationship: i.e. through Communion and honest recognition of what’s going on here, and challenging Mr. Straight’s sense of the gift of sexuality. Why does he have such a visceral reaction to the thought or sight of a lesbian or gay couple? Does he really still think one of the primary purposes of marriage is procreation which results in the perpetuation of historical inequalities and sharing of Creation’s fruits?

I’m not sure how we are to accomplish this, but it is my sense that we’ve also got to find the means spiritually/intellectually and technologically to take this whole discussion to another level. The example of the recent, anonymous authored statement of the Church of England’s inability to survive the legalization of same-gender marriage is a case in point. We’ve got to develop the sophistication in our thinking and communication skills to insist that anonymously authored documents will not be entertained- either in the House of Lords, or in the councils of the Church, and then call-out the issues behind such tactics.
Ann’s concretizing of this reality with Sarah’s story is for me, a powerful example of this alternative way of doing things.

As to Alan’s question about what one might say to Sarah, I’d try to get to know her first, listen to her life and story, and then prayerfully try to witness to how deeply she is loved, by a ‘Love beyond our wildest imagining,’ to quote the Bishop of new Hampshire. Anything else would be grace in the details.

Case in point: both Ann and Alan furthered this discussion by asking thoughtful questions, and perhaps this is another instance of the skills we’ve got to develop as we try to live beyond the defensive authoritarianism of the current Church establishment. Thank-you Alan, Ann & ((((Erika)))))

Erika Baker said...

What we say to Sarah depends on Sarah... it's quite difficult to find an answer that speaks into the heart of an individual we do not know.
But I would point to the many many Christians who do not believe that Sarah is doing wrong. I would try to make her see that the church is actually not at all sure about this issue, although individual people are sure about which side of the debate they find themselves.

And then I would suggest that if someone tells her about a God who seems to be a monster for wanting her to abandon everything that is love, warm and holy in her life and who preaches a spirituality that brings her inner death - then she must trust her instinct and know that this is not from God.

Yes, there are rules for living and Sarah can cling to precisely the same rules that apply to all people. There is not a separate set of rules that applies to her.

And she should seek out the company of those who have walked the same path she is walking and who have discovered that God remains with them and upholds them and strengthens them and guides them.
She is not alone.

Mike Dowler said...

If we are to be true to ourselves and our claims to be Christian, then we *all* need to listen to every area of Jesus' teaching. The Sermon on the Mount is a case in point; the same Lord who says 'do to others what you would have them do to you' also says 'If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away.' and 'Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.' What are we to make of this?

Savi Hensman said...

I think there is a place for abstract thinking with regard to Christian ethics, provided this links with people's lives and it is recognised that nobody is completely objective on issues of sexuality. Paul's advice in Romans 13, 'The commandments... are summed up in one word, "You shall love your neighbour as yourself." Love does no wrong to a neighbour, therefore love is the fulfilling of the law' reflects a key theme in the New Testament.

Even official C of E publications recognise that same-sex relationships can have profoundly positive consequences both for partners and for the wider community. Why many of my fellow-Christians believe that I, and others like me, should avoid behaviour that not only brings us joy but also cultivates virtue in us and benefits others has not, I think, been satisfactorily explained.

Meanwhile, might it help Sarah to mention that the Bible probably does not even mention lesbian sex (since the passage in Romans 1 probably refers to unconventional heterosexual sex), as well as making the point about God's love and lack of agreement among Christians about sexual ethics?

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Is it perhaps the case that depersonalising abstraction, as an intellectual or analytical tool, is vital. Leaving the question at that level, however, is like trying to eat with a chainsaw instead of knives and forks — using the wrong tool?

Savi Hensman said...

Perhaps most frustrating for me is the tendency of some people not only to fail to engage at a human level with the experience of LGBT people but also (perhaps in part as a result) to put forward a poorly reasoned case and refuse to enter into serious dialogue with anyone who thinks differently.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

I agree, Mike. We need to remember, however, that he didn't say "If someone else's identity disgusts you, gouge them out and throw them away." He advocates addressing our own shortcomings first. And if some people are just (by whatever biological mechanism in creation) gay, how can they be perfect, too?

Chris Fewings said...

I found David's comments particularly helpful. (The story of 'Sarah' is too painful for me to take in.) I was very saddened today to read an account on the Telegraph website of ++Rowan weighing in against the proposed change in the law on marriage again. However nuanced and balanced his own thinking may be, in the context of a church which now bans any blessings of any kind on same-sex relationships, how can this be heard by LGBT people except as rejection? And what will be the psychological consequences for those LGBT Christians who can't laugh this off?

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Bishop Alan. One could hope that the Church of England would be looking for someone with your perception of Gospel integrity - with respect to the reality of the innate sexual-identity of the LGBT people of the Church and the world - to lead a Think Tank on Human Sexuality that might lead to a better understanding, by the hierarchy of the Church, of the issues involved. (Perhaps Dean Jeffrey John could also be a part).

Jonathan Jennings said...

Hi Ann - are you able, please, to cite a source for the statistic? It would greatly help with something I'm working on. Many thanks.

Jonathan Jennings said...

Wasn't it a medieval tradition that the bystanders went to look over Jesus' shoulder as he wrote and each saw a list of their own secret sins ...

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