Homosexuality and the church
Recently, our vicar preached a sermon on the 3rd chapter of St Paul’s letter to the Colossians. In commenting on verse 5 (“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, which is idolatry”), he very deliberately reiterated that this means sexual activity outside marriage is wrong, and that marriage is between one man and one woman. This view of homosexual practice, he said, is the official line of the Church of England, and is also his own. (He then went on to invite people to talk to him about this issue, person to person, if they wanted. He was emphatically not encouraging homophobia, and no one who knows this lovely and kind man would think for a moment that he was.)
As a fairly new vicar, he probably thought the time had come for him to tell the congregation where he stood on what is already, and will probably continue to be, one of the most divisive issues in the C of E. I think this decision was probably wise and correct., even though I don’t agree with where he stands.
For large parts of the British public, the attitude of the C of E, and many other churches, to sexually active gay people seems to be baffling. I suspect a widespread feeling is Grow up already! Why do you hate gay people?
I’m not sure that this is fair. For over 1500 years, Christians have had a sacred book of God’s instructions as the basis of their worldview. It is not easy for them/us to jettison the Bible, especially when parts of the Bible teach that being hated and reviled for your faith is a badge of honour.
(Except of course we have jettisoned large parts: see http://www.penelopewallace.com/what-we-have-learned/.)
Since I have never in my life jumped off a fence without constantly looking back at the other side, I am of course still conflicted on this topic, more perhaps than may appear from the Tales of Ragaris. Living with Dorac certainly led me to a more liberal view.
In the current climate, I have a few thoughts:
- I refuse to allow the last word on sexual ethics to a book (Leviticus) that devotes a whole chapter to them without ever definitively stating what all civilised people would consider the most basic rule – that all sex should be consensual, no exceptions;
- If you are a traditionalist in the C of E on this theme, as many intelligent and lovely people are, have you considered the church’s track record on sexual morality: on masturbation, contraception, sex during pregnancy, and indeed sex for any reason at all except to beget children; and the way in which church teaching has repeatedly had to be dragged kicking and screaming into a sensible view? Not only teaching: also actual behaviour towards unmarried mothers. You may be wrong;
- What, honestly, do we expect to happen next? Are gay people going to disappear? It is of course possible for societies to move from liberal or anarchic rules towards more restrictive ones. I may hope that our society will do so, on issues like promiscuity and abortion. But on what basis can we expect society to change its view on gay sex, short of a universal conversion to Biblical theology and ethics?
- What are we actually saying to couples who have entered into civil partnerships or marriages, and have children? “You are a second-class Christian”? “We accept you, as long as you don’t want to be ordained”? “You ought to live celibate lives in the same house”?
- I have seen the argument that the acceptance of homosexuality is a, or even the, major heresy of our time. Is this not so preposterous as to undermine all the rest of the argument? What is the logic here? There is no basic Christian doctrine in the creeds that is affected in any way (in my opinion, but I could be wrong.) The only theological doctrine, I would suggest, is that the Bible is inerrant, and if that’s heresy, well, let’s go back to the 19th century;
- Although I do think that it’s not just about “getting round” a few verses in Leviticus and Romans, but that the whole tenor of the Bible tends towards heterosexuality, you could say the same thing about the rights of women. The whole tenor of the Bible, or at least the Old Testament, is for women to obey and be used without much if any comeback. Many although not all evangelicals no longer accept this, so why can’t they/we take the same approach to homosexuality? Because there are more women in their lives?
But on the other hand, Side Two:
- It is distressing to see people called homophobic for believing that homosexual behaviour (not orientation) is wrong. Those who assume that jettisoning not just Leviticus but also the whole heterosexual atmosphere of the Bible is easy are the people who do not believe in the concept of the Word of God. Such people shouldn’t judge until they’ve made a serious mental effort to live in others’ shoes. It isn’t just Christians who have believed this – surely most religions and cultures have done so;
- (See above) It’s not just Leviticus. The whole tenor of the Bible is heterosexual, and if we believe in God, is it unreasonable to think that He know best, and made two genders for a reason? (Opening floodgates here);
- Although most people have moved on from the idea of “gay cures”, we shouldn’t undervalue the experience and opinions of those gay Christians who do believe they should live celibate;
- Many people, myself included, dislike the fact that Uganda has laws making sex between men illegal. But is it an essential and universal human right for all consensual sex to be allowed? Incest is still illegal in Britain, and if we’re allowed to ban sex between siblings, why can’t Uganda ban sex between men, and other countries ban adultery? Views on sexual morality vary between cultures, and their laws reflect this;
- How much of the debate depends on the overvaluing of sexual freedom, and indeed romance, in our society? It may seem to the modern Briton completely unreasonable to expect large numbers of people to live their entire lives chaste and without a nuclear family – but this might not have seemed odd to earlier cultures, where there was more emphasis on monasticism, or indeed warfare or subsistence farming as a way of life. Jesus expects people to give stuff up, and for some people this is, or can be, sex. No one has a right to sexual fulfilment, and no one has a right to have children.
These are just a few scattered thoughts.
Love from the PPI Blogger
PS. I know you weren’t going to, but due to sensitivity of topic and people involved, please don’t share this post. Next week’s, on the other hand….