Gay Gordon, Camp David and Gay Shame
But when it comes to politics, there are deeper tribal loyalties.
And so we witness the unseemly posturing of ‘Gay Gordon and Camp David’ – one of the best sound-bite headlines of recent years: it encapsulates perfectly the absurdity of the obsession as each bends over backwards to embrace the pink wings and fluffy hats, fighting like cats to lead the gay procession from Neverland to Sodom. There are accusations of hypocrisy, inconsistency, 'homophobia', lying and deception. Not to mention the ignoring of tradition, authority, science and nature.
But the battle in the political realm is really a consequence of that in the spiritual.
The Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans will be launched on Monday. The group had its genesis in Jerusalem and campaigns against active homosexuality in the Anglican Communion – both the ordination of practising homosexuals and the liturgical blessing of same-sex relationships. Their faith is based on the teachings of Scripture and is consonant with Church tradition and history. Its most prominent supporter is the Bishop of Rochester, the Right Reverend Michael Nazir-Ali, who is of the view that homosexuals should ‘repent and be changed’: Gay Pride should be supplanted by Gay Shame. They are traditionalists who are closer to the Vatican than they are to Lambeth Palace on this matter. And, pace the ‘Gay Catholics’ and Tony Blair, Rome has more adherents who accord with the views of Pope Benedict on homosexuality – that the practice is 'an intrinsic moral evil; the inclination 'an objective disorder' - than the Church of England has communicants who could be inspired to follow Archbishop Rowan Williams on just about any matter.
The Anglican Communion in the United States has already divided on this issue, and it seems inevitable that the Church of England will do the same. Protestantism was never supposed to dispense with authority and truth: it was never intended that it would fracture ad infinitum over minutiae.
And, dear readers and communicants, homosexuality is not an issue worthy of schism: it is simply not of the order of the sort of debate that used to divide the Church: the divinity of Christ, for example, or the nature of his humanity – the great controversy at the Council of Nicea in AD325 – or even over liturgy or the transforming nature of infant baptism. The issue of homosexuality affects only a tiny minority of its adherents: it is of distinctly secondary, even peripheral, scriptural importance.
The role of the Bible in addressing the modern question of the place of the homosexual in the church is complex, not least because where it is mentioned in Scripture, the authors give little sustained consideration of the issue as it manifests in the modern world. The nature of a biblical perspective will invariably be affected by the questions posed of the Bible, by the particular hermeneutic employed, and by the unavoidable perspective which each scholar brings to his or her reading of the Bible. While some may have an instant negative reaction, others seek to understand the debate in the different and changing circumstances in which we now live. Still others, who may identify themselves as homosexual Christians, struggle to express either their feelings or their thoughts on the issue. They are themselves divided into those who acknowledge that homosexuality is a sin and therefore a call to celibacy, and those who assert that they also are made in God’s image and therefore seek to express their sexual desires in an intimate, monogamous relationship.
That God established an objective, moral order in creation, and continues a work of re-creation through Jesus, is a source and standard of all that it beautiful, good and true. If such a moral order means anything, there may be no via media on the issue of homosexuality. Accepting theological diversity is not the same as tolerating all beliefs and practices, because ultimately the Church is called to be holy because God is holy (Lev. 19:2; Mt. 5:48). We cannot as Christians just give way to ‘you believe this, I believe that’ approach to being together, or moving apart, in the Church. Nor even can we be content with the rather cheap model of ‘reconciled diversity’, meaning benign tolerance, which many Christians find an easier option to the costlier pursuit of real, ‘visible’ unity. We need to continue to struggle together for the truth, to find the right and godly balance between the call to solidarity and the recognition of difference. Presently, nowhere is this more important – especially in the Anglican Communion – than in the area of sexuality.
But Cranmer is persuaded that the whole issue may really be a non-issue because the wrong question is being asked. His Grace posited a few days ago that the modern era is sex-obsessed: we live in a consumer society, and there is little that is marketed without a glance, a wink, a flirt, a breast, or allusions to sexual intercourse, because ‘sex sells’. If one were to judge by the media (which is more frequently a mirror to society than a catalyst for change), the fascination with people’s sex lives is now more important than politics, religion, philosophy or even Mammon. Jesus may have had to address the latter as the dominating idol of his era; his judgement was that one may not serve both God and Mammon (Mt. 6:24). But he did not enter into discussion on the fiscal minutiae of cash, credit, bonds, shares, loans or interest; a macro-warning not to be obsessed with Mammon was sufficient. If one were to apply the same principle to the modern idol – ‘Eros’ – it is doubtful that Jesus would address its sub-divisions (gay, bi, straight, oral, anal, tantric); he would most likely directly challenge society’s obsessive fixation with Eros, and by so doing confront both those who prioritise issues of sexuality and those in the church who presume to judge them.
By devoting so much time and effort to the ‘gay issue’, instead of challenging society by deconstructing the question or focusing on poverty and wealth (for example), the church is simply showing itself to share the same obsessions as the world. Paul allowed no compromise on the restriction of sexual activity to heterosexual, monogamous marriage. But such an ethic seems almost utopian to our sex-besotted age, in which it appears at times that one’s identity is made to reside in one’s sexual organs and their untrammeled exercise. The issue for the Church of England is that this debate has been blown out of all proportion; it is neither a battle for the soul of the church, nor an issue worthy of schism. It is a question utterly peculiar to this era, and those on both sides of the divide – both politicians and theologians – might consider toning down the rhetoric and the apologetics, and instead preaching a message that, contrary to society’s thinking, sexual expression is neither a necessary line of inquiry in every human interaction, nor an essential component in human fulfilment.