As folk who read my writings relating to homosexuality will know, starting with the book I wrote some four years back, “The Gay Conundrum”, followed by several blog posts on related matters, this is one subject that particularly interests me. Firstly, as one keen to commentate on and fight my corner in the culture wars, it is a subject that is never far away. Secondly, as a Christian leader coming from a more conservative section of the church, and one where many consider same sex activity to be sinful, and yet wishing to engage positively with gay folk (some I regard as friends) and provide pastoral care if that is what is called for, it is beholden upon me to think through the issues and come to a view, which I do.
I am not an Anglican but I take an interest in what happens throughout Christendom. I look upon a history of fudges to maintain some semblance of unity inside Anglicanism, with a measure of bemusement. I have watched with interest the debates and deliberations and sometimes schism that has taken place over the years. The latest of these debates took place yesterday when the Synod voted on a paper put forward by the Bishops on a subject that has divided the Anglican Communion, as they continued to affirm a more traditional and orthodox approach regarding same sex relationships, i.e. sex can only be permitted between married couples of opposite sexes. Unsurprisingly, it gave rise to passionate debate and protest and it turned out the Synod was divided. There is no shortage of reading material: supporting the bishops: “The Bishops’ Report: Homophobic, unloving and dangerous?”; somewhere in the middle: “Church Of England’s Clergy Issue Shock Rebuke To Bishops’ View On Sexuality”; and opposing the bishops: “Church of England Synod rejects report reaffirming opposition to same-sex unions”.
Peter Tatchell wrote on Facebook: “This vote to reject the Bishops’ report is a triumph for love and equality. It is the biggest defeat for the Anglican leadership in many decades. Synod rightly refused to endorse the anti-LGBTI exclusion and discrimination advocated by the Bishops … This report defends heterosexual superiority and opposes same-sex blessings and marriages. It totally ignored bisexual, transgender and intersex people. The Bishops’ recommendations urged continued discrimination against LGBTI people. They confirmed the church’s opposition to same-sex civil marriages, as well as same-sex religious marriages. They also reiterated the refusal to permit same-sex civil partnership ceremonies in church. The church blesses warships and pets but the Bishops refused to countenance the blessing of loving, committed same-sex couples. Their stand against LGBTI equality means that people in lawful same-sex civil marriages will be refused ordination as priests and those already ordained will be denied further appointments, even in secular jobs such as prison and hospital chaplains. This is outrageous discrimination and is incompatible with the Christian gospel of love and compassion. The Bishops have treated LGBTI clergy and laity as second class, both within the church and the wider society … We are appalled by the church’s mistreatment of LGBTI people and the bishops unwillingness to remedy it. LGBTI people want full inclusion and equality, both inside and outside the church. LGBTI Christians are denied equality by the Anglican leadership. They are victims of religious homophobia and this homophobia must be opposed, irrespective of one’s personal views on religion and the church …” Taking an altogether different line is Sam Allberry. who spoke at the debate (see here). He spoke of his own experience and some of his struggles and set backs concerning his sexual preferences. He admitted to having same sex attraction while resolved to remain celibate in accordance with his understanding of God’s purposes.
I continue to be exercised by the whole matter. I do not wish to do a disservice to gay folk, including friends I have a great deal of regard for, some of which I readily accept as brothers and sisters in Christ, who I wish to encourage in their Christian walk. More importantly, I do not wish to do disservice to the Lord I serve. I also recognize there remains homophobia, not only in society at large but also in the church, and this needs to be countered. I also recognize real pastoral concerns, for example reports of suicide because of sexuality and depression because of rejection and other related reasons. I also recognise the dilemma church leaders have dealing with those in a same sex relationship if they see this as wrong (although I suggest this might also apply to those who re-marry after divorce). Yet I would be dishonest if I were not to side with the bishops on this matter. While I might have reservations about some of the details in the report, they are right to reaffirm traditional teaching on the subject of homosexuality. Times are indeed changing, but God’s word doesn’t change and I have to be faithful to its teachings and pay the price of being out of step with the culture.