Category Archives: Sexual / Gender Diversity

Gender, Sexuality, Spirituality: Exploring the Interplay

(Paper to be presented by Revd Dr Christina Beardsley at the “Embodying Ministry” July 2014 conference of the CSCS Theological Educators Project).

Gender, Sexuality, Spirituality: Exploring the Interplay is an interactive workshop that builds on trans, queer and intersex perspectives. An exploration of identity, role and practice, it requires honesty and attentive listening from participants. Produced for a day conference at St Anne’s, Soho in 2007, it has been offered (and developed) with LGBT Christian organizations, the LGBT Health Summits 2010 and 2011, and the York Spiritual Directors’ Course in 2012 and 2013. Originally a trans-led workshop, at more recent events leaders have identified as lesbian, gay, and trans, and ‘spirituality’ has always been defined broadly.

Christina Beardsley, Gender, Sexuality, SpiritualityRevd Dr Christina Beardsley is Head of Multi-faith Chaplaincy at Chelsea & Westminster Hospital, London. A member of Sibyls – Christian spirituality for transgender people – Tina is a speaker, writer and activist for LGBTI inclusion in the Church of England (Changing Attitudes blog, Christina Bearsley) and the author of Unutterable Love (Lutterworth, 2009), a biography of F.W. Robertson.

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Cornwall Supports Women Bishops.

Cornwall just became the latest Anglican diocese formally to endorse proposals for women bishops.

Truro Cathedral

 Diocesan synod is now almost complete, with sentiment thus far overwhelmingly in favour. Every synod that has already voted, has carried the motion, usually overwhelmingly, and in each of the three houses.  Overall, the useful chart at Peter Owen, which summarises the votes for all dioceses, now shows the cumulative votes so far for each of the three houses as:

  • Bishops:  55  (96%)  in favour, 2 against.
  • Clergy: 1205 (92%) in favour, 98 against.
  • Laity: 1362 (93%)  in favour, 100 against.

(For the detailed picture at each diocese, and the scheduled dates for those still outstanding, go to Peter Owen. )

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Catholicism and Transgender

At Catholic Transgender, Anna Magdalena has a useful analysis of “What Does the Catholic Church Actually Say About Transgenderism?

Here’s her introduction (reproduced with permission).

Despite what many people assume, the Catholic Church does not have an official teaching on transgenderism or transsexuality. The internet is ripe with very definite opinions from every corner of Catholicism denouncing a certain mythical conception of what transgenderism is, but on the Magisterial level the Church is frustratingly silent. (The Church is also silent about intersexed individuals).

There are three instances where the Church supposedly taught on the issue, and skeptical Catholics put these forward again and again as evidence for what they view as the incompatibility between transsexed individuals and Catholicism. I’ll address each instance separately. They are:

  1. Pope Benedict’s Christmas greeting
  2. The Catholic Catechism verse 2297
  3. “Sub-Secretum” document

Follow the links listed above for her presentation of these three instances, and also here  for her thoughts on the required dialog ahead.

Also, check out her extensive “bibliography” (more accurately, list of internet sources):


Cornwall, Susannah Sex and Uncertainty in the Body of Christ: Intersex Conditions and Christian Theology 

Dzmura, NoachBalancing on the Mechitza: Transgender in Jewish Community

Isherwood, Lisa, and Marcella Althaus-ReidTrans/formations  (SCM Press)

McNaught, Brian: “Sex Camp”

Mollenknott, Virginia Ramey Omnigender: A Trans-Religious Approach

Tanis, Justin Edward. Trans-Gendered: Theology, Ministry, and Communities of Faith . Cleveland, Ohio: Pilgrim Press.



exploring gender variance, identity and religious belief 

Saturday, 16 February 2013

10.30 – 16.00

St. Anne’s Church,55 Dean Street,Soho,LondonW1D 6AF

Buses: 14, 19, 38 toShaftesbury Avenue/Dean Street.

Tube Stations: Piccadilly Circus (Piccadilly/ Bakerloo lines) & Leicester Square (Piccadilly/ Northern lines)




The charitable object of CSCS is:

“to advance the Christian religion by promoting objective debate within the Christian churches upon matters concerning human sexuality, with a view to developing the spiritual teaching and doctrines of such Christian churches.”

Registered charity no: 1070440

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Gay Masses – unique outreach and support

Terry Weldon

“You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32). “Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. (Ephesians 4:15).

These verses epitomise the importance of the Soho Masses. For this reason I am glad that the Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, has reaffirmed his support for the Masses and also comfortable with his reminder that they must not oppose or confuse church teaching. Continue reading Gay Masses – unique outreach and support

Reply to the Scottish Consultation on proposed extension of marriage law to gay and lesbian couples

Hugh Bain

I write with 20 years’ experience of heterosexual marriage and 30 years subsequently in a gay relationship. Formerly a Church of Scotland minister, and since 1985 a Roman Catholic layman, I have wide ecumenical work experience and am well informed  concerning recent academic research into sexuality and the varieties of sexual and gender perception, and also patterns of social behaviour found among gay and lesbian couples.

I write to deplore the form of the current campaign by Catholic bishops on the meaning of marriage. The campaign lacks any consultation of the huge lay component with continuing experience and expression of committed sexual relationships and has allowed for no dialogue with the significant number of religiously practising homosexual and lesbian citizens.

While I personally favour full equality for all in terms of Civil Partnership legislation, I also support lesbian and gay encouragement for the category of marriage to be extended to all such persons as want to engage with it. There is no evidence that variation in sexual orientation diminishes in any way the possibility of commitment, love and where possible the good adult care and support of children and adolescents. It is a myth that the proposed extension of marriage constitutes a threat to heterosexuals and their children. I therefore strongly support willingness to respond to the increased tolerance of sexual variation widely shown in most of the UK and elsewhere in Europe, and urge that proposed legislation be enacted. Much good can come from society’s celebration of committed and loving sexual relationships being extended beyond the heterosexual model.

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Sexuality and the Church

John Gladwin

‘I have learnt to watch my back when there are Bishops around’. That came from the lips of an outstanding priest who is in a Civil Partnership. Whatever our view about the issues raised by same sex partnerships in our time the remark is disturbing. Sadly, it is not the first such remark that has come my way over recent years. The fear and anxiety which these comments reveal is shared by the church’s leadership who similarly and paradoxically do not know what to do and how to respond. In an atmosphere of mutual anxiety pastoral care disappears and a distance is created where there ought to be deepening bonds of love and support.

Yet among the community of the baptised there is much to celebrate. I have listened to lay people in churches with a strong conservative tradition speak in the same breath of their own spiritual awakening and of their support and affection for gay members of their family and circle of friends. ‘We have learnt more about what love really means from James and Phil than from many of the married couples within our circle of friends’. So in the day to day experience of Christian women and men we find a desire and capacity to recognise goodness when it stares you in the face. The leadership of all our churches needs to work hard to develop that relaxed and appreciative attitude towards sisters and brothers whose life experience may be different from their own or even from what they might consider to be appropriate.

Providing space for the other and creating a culture of respect for the integrity and for the conscience of others is basic to a wholesome and mature community and so for the life of the Christian church. Both inside and outside the church our culture is making huge strides in this direction. Studies, for example, in the USA reveal that the cultural attitudes of people under 45 and even more so people under 25 are completely bypassing the inherited attitudes of the conservative Bible belt churches. Whatever is held in the pulpit as ‘Christian’ for our culture is not believed in the pews by the emerging generation of Christians let alone others.

In our own society this goes hand in hand with a commitment to human rights and to a proper respect for human equality across the diversity of contemporary social experience. People are much less willing to accept discriminatory attitudes and practices than was the case 15 or 20 years ago. So when the churches appear to want to distance themselves from the provisions which protect against discrimination they distance themselves from the expectations of a growing generation of people today. People hear the stories of the poor treatment of gay and lesbian friends in some religious contexts and come to the conclusion that this is all about institutional protection and unwillingness to help this generation find help and support in living out a faithful Christian commitment.

The basic challenge is not theological – we have learnt to live with plurality of life within the Gospel community – it is attitudinal. When we look positively upon one another across the rich diversity of human experience we will be able to find the language of faith to interpret the tradition in our own time and for people today.

Watching our backs when the Bishop is around is not a happy picture of how church is received by those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ.

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CSCS Submission to the Government Equalities Office Consultation on the Registration of Civil Partnerships in Religious Buildings, June 2011.

The following submission responds to a series of pro-forma questions in the Government’s Consultation documents. These may be seen at:

The Centre for the Study of Christianity & Sexuality (CSCS) is a national and international membership organisation, interdenominational in character, and unique in providing opportunities for all Christians, and others in sympathy with its objective, to consider the wide range of theological and pastoral issues in human sexuality. A registered charity, its formal objective is: To advance the Christian religion by promoting objective debate within the Christian churches on matters concerning human sexuality, with a view to developing the spiritual teaching and doctrines of such Christian churches.

CSCS pursues this through promoting academic activity by means of the journal, Theology & Sexuality, and by means of more popular and informal means – newsletters, seminars, conferences, and specific projects such as its Theological Educators’ Project which is exploring how human sexuality issues are dealt with both in the recruitment, ordination or appointment of clergy and lay pastoral workers, including ongoing support, as well as in curriculum development within theological colleges, seminaries and other ministerial training schemes. CSCS works in partnership with a range of other religious and secular groups sharing similar concerns.

In all its responses to this consultation CSCS seeks to identify, if not formally or officially reflect, the various issues which arise in different faith-settings regarding the proposal to allow civil partnerships to take place in religious buildings. We affirm our fundamental support for the amendment to the Equality Act 2010 which allows for such a development. We also wholeheartedly support the permissive nature of this legislation and the right of those who control any particular church premises to decide not to allow their premises to be so used.

CSCS is concerned, that while necessarily focused on religious organisations and institutions owning or exercising authority over the premises for which they are responsible, this consultation insufficiently takes regard of the rights of LGB people of faith and of other beliefs, religious or not, to be able to register their civil partnerships in their places ofworship or meeting. There may be an unforeseen bias in the structure of this document which allows faith-based organisations, particularly, to find ways of avoiding provision for such registrations, without specifically articulating their right not to allow their premises to be used for such purposes.

CSCS questions the legal power of any national religious body, e.g. the General Synod of the Church of England or Archbishop’s Council, the Church in Wales, or the Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales, to make a decision at national level to withhold consent to the registration of civil partnerships in buildings belonging to those denominations. The decision should, we believe, remain the prerogative of each individual incumbent, and/or owner of the church building, the parish council or similar congregational body, or body of responsible Trustees.

As an ecumenical organisation, CSCS is not aware of any consultation on this matter having taken place within the wider membership of those churches who form Churches Together in Britain & Ireland, Churches Together in England, or Churches Together in Wales. There is an immense variety of belief and pastoral practice, official and unofficial, operating across Christian churches in England and Wales on the matter of same-sex unions, and official denominational responses to this consultation may not sufficiently register such diversity.

CSCS believes that any central or regional (i.e. Archbishops’ Council, Bishops’ Conference, diocesan, or district) church body that seeks to impose a restrictive policy on individual churches within its territory should be required to demonstrate that it has the legal authority to impose that policy. Moreover, it should be required to demonstrate that it has undertaken appropriate consultation with its membership, including with recognised associations of LGB people of faith.

Current civil partnerships legislation makes it very clear that such registrations are not the same as civil marriage, let alone marriage, religiously understood. In some denominations, the Bishop may have a canonical right and duty to oversee the conduct of the church’s liturgy and sacramental practice. However, since civil partnerships do not fall into this category, and are not therefore recognised as marriage, whether sacramental or not, it is questionable what role religious leadership might legally exercise in this regard.

For example, in the Roman Catholic context, if a religious community of men and women, canonically exempt from the jurisdiction of the local Bishop except in matters pertaining to the conduct of formal liturgy and sacramental practice, decided to offer their premises for the registration of civil partnerships, it must be questioned whether the local Bishop, or Bishops’ Conference could exercise any veto over such a development.

CSCS understands that some faith communities have the practice of celebrating such events in private homes, e.g. some Jewish and Quaker communities. There is also an issue regarding those parts of the wider Christian community who describe themselves as ‘house-churches’ or who meet for regular worship outside the conventional institutional denominational structures.

CSCS believes it would be easier for local authorities to have a standard procedure to follow across all Christian denominations and other faith groups, although we recognise that not all groups, particularly those of non-religious belief, will have relevant structures of decision-making.

The principle of subsidiarity should be employed so that the decision should be made at the local level, i.e. diocesan, district, or congregational level. It should also be recognised that some religious premises such as university or college chapels may fall under other ownership/patronage structures, and so relevant personnel in those contexts would need to be identified.

The consultation document (paras. 3.7,3.8) is unclear whether a faith group, at whatever level, may at any time reverse a previous decision in either direction. An initial decision not to register premises may later be revoked in favour of allowing them, either by a general decision, or by a local change of preference, or vice versa. CSCS assumes that the intention is to allow such changes to occur at any time following the initial decision.

The wording of paragraph 3.15 is unclear as to whether this includes all customary places of worship. There are many premises which are not parish churches, or main congregational buildings, such as university and college chapels, Royal Peculiars, hospital and school chapels, and those belonging to monastic or religious communities. Many of these may not be currently certified by the Registrar General as places of meeting, or for religious worship. Some of these may well wish to register them for civil partnership purposes. Many of the venues used by the Metropolitan Community Church are not in their own ownership, but hired, and some may not necessarily be designated as religious buildings, being community halls, etc.

There are also premises shared by various denominations, where the governance may be under a group of local Trustees, rather than clearly identified denominational structures. An issue could arise if one or some denominations sharing such premises wished to register civil partnerships, and others were not so inclined. Any decision, should not be allowed to constrain the freedom, either way, of other churches sharing the use of the particular building.

The proposal in para. 3.18, that ‘faith groups should have discretion about who may seek to register civil partnerships on their premises’ is unclear. Will this discretion be exercised only at the local level or reserved to central authorities? Some faith groups might wish to limit such a service to members of their own faith. Such discretion also runs the risk of abuse by introducing additional conditions on the couples concerned that would otherwise be illegal under existing equality, or other legislation.

Any discretional policies that a faith group seeks to impose should be required to be a matter of public record, so that they are known in advance by any couples who might consider applying.

As with marriage the essence of making a lifelong commitment is that it is made in public so that all can support the couple in their decision, and their relationship is publicly acknowledged and celebrated. They should have the same access requirements as any approved secular premises where a civil partnership is registered. If the partnership is to be registered on religious premises, the same conditions should apply as in the marriage of opposite sex partners in registered religious premises.

It is unrealistic to propose the removal of all religious symbols, particularly when these are permanent fixtures within the architecture or created environment of the space to be used. Nevertheless, it should be recognised that while some will wish to keep the religious ceremony completely distinct, separate, and following the actual registration of the civil partnership, others may well wish for this to be incorporated into an act of formal worship. The legal act of a civil partnership is the signing of the register and its being witnessed, not the verbal exchange of vows or any other action. Could not either option be recognised without compromising the CIVIL nature of the partnership?

There is no reference to the arrangements for marriages in churches where the religious celebrant is not an ‘authorised person’ and the registrar attends, registering the marriage legally in a procedure held typically in a vestry, rather than the body of the church. This could provide one possible model for civil partnership registrations in religious premises.

CSCS suggests that some areas of legislation from which religious premises are normally exempt, e.g. certain Health & Safety requirements, may be required for civil partnership registration purposes. Registering authorities should be allowed some discretion to allow exemptions in line with this.

There is concern at the level of fees that might be charged. Access to rights under the Equality Act should not be obstructed by imposing high levels of fee-costs on providers of these services who will inevitably have to pass on such costs to service users. There is likely to be a relatively small number of registrations taking place in any one location. Those controlling religious premises aim to provide a pastoral opportunity for couples wishing to register their partnerships, rather than primarily acting from financial motives. Guidance to local authorities should make it clear that this legal change and associated charges are not intended to provide them with a new revenue stream.

Many LGB couples are sensitive about openly approaching a particular denomination or church with a request to register their partnerships in this way, if they think they will be refused. If there is a record of approved religious premises this may well add to the speed of social and religious change on this matter.

Religious bodies should be consulted on any guidance to be provided for registrars (para. 3.32). There should equally be guidance offered to faith communities. Sensitivity to the particular needs of LGB couples and an understanding and acceptance of their sexuality should be an essential part of any training. While training should recognise that the civil partnership registration itself remains CIVIL in character, registrars should be encouraged to reflect the culture and traditions of the couple concerned in formulating the type of ceremony to take place, whether in secular or religious premises. It is unclear if there will be guidance to local authorities as employers of civil registrars. Some registrars may not wish to conduct registrations in religious premises as a matter of conscience, a position which CSCS would not necessarily support.

The consultation focuses predominantly on the needs of faith groups rather than registrars or service users. The Government Equality Office should undertake further work on the wider issues that the implementation of the legislation will raise, so as to avoid conflicts similar to those which have already arisen in the cases of some civil registrars who are people of faith resisting, without real foundation, their duty to register such partnerships.

Para. 3.34 recognises that some individual ministers of religion may wish to become designated civil partnership registrars. It would be helpful if clear guidance was given to local authorities to ensure that a consistent approach to this issue is taken across the whole of England & Wales. There is a risk that. if such designated registrars operated beyond their religious structures, inadvertent religious styles/actions might creep into the conduct of essentially civil ceremonies, thus failing to respect the diversity of beliefs, including non-religious beliefs which exist in a pluralist society.

It is important to recognise that the permissive nature of this legislation protects both faith groups and individual ministers of religion from any risk of litigation as a result of a refusal to allow a civil partnership registration to take place on premises for which they are responsible.

Mainstream Christian denominations in the UK do not keep records of requests for same-sex unions to take place on religious premises, nevertheless there is anecdotal evidence in most denominations of such ceremonies taking place, and these may give an indication of the small number of civil partnership requests on religious premises likely to occur.

Certain churches and other places of worship or meetings for those of shared belief may well develop a reputation for being LGB-friendly, so the number of requests in those places will be more significant. Particular denominations such as Liberal Judaism, the Quakers, General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, and the Metropolitan Community Church will also be more popular having already identified their willingness to be involved.

Various denominations/particular churches and religious locations have established fee charges when conducting marriage which presumably would be the same for the conduct of civil partnership ceremonies.

Although primarily a Christian-based organisation we also recognise that other belief systems operate in our society. The consultation document barely recognises this factor. If civil partnerships are, just as marriage, to be seen as important social developments contributing to the common good, then it is important that religious views of marriage and civil partnership are not pitted, even inadvertently, against the views of our humanist and secular fellow-citizens.

There is a risk, as stated previously in our responses, that this document is more tightly geared to the needs and concerns of religious organisations than to those of LGB people who wish to exercise their rights, let aloneother belief organisations who do not operate within these recognised structures, e.g. humanist and secularist groups and individuals, as well as pagans and those of similar beliefs.

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“Welcome one another: The Scriptures and Sexual Diversity”

Arnold Browne

Disgraceful behaviour!

Last week I did something for the very first time in my life. On this one occasion, at least, I managed to overcome my anxiety that this was unmanly behaviour. It would not have happened had it not been so cold. There were only six of us, three women and three men, and the building was unheated. I had worn my hat on the way there, and this time I did what the three wise women did, and kept it on throughout. Paul may have told the Corinthians that ‘Any man who prays or prophesies with something on his head disgraces his head’ (1 Corinthians 11.4), but he was honest enough to abandon theological justification and conclude that male and female headwear and hairstyle was more a matter of social convention: ‘If anyone is disposed to be contentious – we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God’ (11.16).

As my inhibitions testify, customs can be persistent and persuasive.But, even as he urged men to cut their hair and take their hats off for worship and women to grow their hair and keep it covered when praying and prophesying, Paul couldn’t help observing that men and women are mutually interdependent, and that, above all, all of us owe our existence to the grace of God (11.11-12). Observing the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul by receiving communion with my hat on was perhaps part of the continuing process of my own conversion. My head ‘was strangely warmed’. It was liberating!

It was the snow and ice that led me to 1 Corinthians 11, but it may not be a bad place to begin our exploration of the resources that the Bible may have for us in the diversity of our sexuality and human flourishing.

In a brief introduction to his letters to the Corinthians (Canongate, 1998) the novelist Fay Weldon accuses Paul of prating love while demanding submission: ‘don’t smoke, don’t own guns, don’t be unrighteous, don’t spit in church, let’s have no dissension here! Don’t, don’t, don’t. Put away your adulthood and submit’. But, of course, Paul’s response to the difficulties and divisions facing the community at Corinth is much more thoughtful than that. Instead he shows the community ways of bringing together their reading of the Jewish Scriptures, what they have heard and believe about Jesus, and their own concerns,
experiences and questions. It is less a matter of giving them his answers than of giving them the resources to find their own.

Twenty-five years or so after Jesus’ death in Jerusalem, our first Christian writeraddresses this congregation in Greece. He begins by reminding them that they in Corinth are called by God to be saints, ‘together with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours’ (1.2), and he encourages them to focus on that call. They disagree about many things, and their communion is threatened with schism (1.10, cf. 11.19). Some have written to him with their slogans which he quotes,

‘All things are lawful for me’ (6.12, cf. 10.23), ‘Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food’ (6.13), ‘It is well for a man not to have sex with a woman’ (7.1), ‘All of us possess knowledge’ (8.1), and they may have hoped that Paul would pronounce as to who had the right answers.

But Paul does no such thing. Is it lawful to eat food first sacrificed to idols (8.1) and then sold in the meat markets? Well, yes and no! And the way you will find out is to bring together your reading of the Scriptures, your commitment to Jesus Christ, and the particular circumstances in which you find yourselves, where you are called to be saints.

Paul acknowledges that from their reading of Scripture alone, the enlightened and sophisticated individuals in the community know that, in the words of the Shema, ‘There is no God but one’ (8.4, cf. Deuteronomy 6.4) and that in the words of the psalmist, ‘The earth and its fullness are the Lord’s’ (10.26, cf. Ps. 24.1). And so Paul allows that there are occasions when they may ‘eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience’ (10: 25).

But that is not the whole story, because the Scriptures are to be read in the light of their commitment to Christ, and reading this way Paul adapts the Jewish confession of God as one Lord: ‘Yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist’ (8.6). And what a difference that makes. ‘We know that “no idol in the world really exists”, and that “there is no God but one” ’ (8.4); but this one God is identified in Christ with what is foolish and weak, low and despised (1: 27f), and so the yes to eating must sometimes become a no for the sake of the conscience of a brother or sister who, although perhaps not so wise or strong, is one for whom Christ died: ‘When you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ’ (8: 12; cf. 10: 29).

Far from taking one side with an easy answer, and very far indeed from simply saying ‘don’t’, Paul suggests that for some of the community, who are more superstitious about  idols, it may be dangerous to eat this left over meat. But, pressing the point about the particular circumstances of the community, for others the danger may lie elsewhere. If there are those who may be destroyed by eating food sacrificed to idols (8: 10), then there are also those for whom it is Lord’s supper itself that has become dangerous to eat: ‘For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgement on themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died’ (11: 29f.).

This seems very strange indeed to us, and is another reminder that Paul’s cultural context
is not ours. But it seems most likely that those who do not discern the body are those who are failing to recognize the needs of those poorer and weaker members of the body who are going away hungry. Being faithful to God’s call is then not a matter of easy answers, such as no to idol meat and yes to the Lord’s Supper. What matters is the nature of God in Christ, and the whole community whom he calls to be saints.

I find it particularly remarkable that when addressing that question of gender differentiation in worship, Paul offers, in that one short passage in chapter 11 (2-16), two different ways of bringing together the creation accounts in the Jewish Scriptures, commitment to Christ as Lord, and the particular experiences and concerns of the community. The first is hierarchical, God and Christ, husband and wife. From the story of the creation of Eve from Adam’s rib (Genesis 2.21-23) Paul argues that men and women are fundamentally different, and the latter subordinate to the former. This was the common view of his Jewish and Graeco-Roman contemporaries, and was accepted as part of the natural order. Paul can ask, ‘Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him, but if a woman has long hair it is her glory?’ (11.14-15). What Paul here calls ‘nature’ we would call ‘social convention’, and it seems that he has an eye on those ‘outsiders’ (14.16, 23-24) who might be misled by seeing women prophets with dishevelled hair into thinking that Christianity was simply another ecstatic cult. The priority is the call to commend the gospel.

But even as Paul argues that hierarchical gender distinctions are natural, he offers a simultaneous second reading of the creation accounts in the light of Christ, stressing the mutuality of men and women: ‘Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman. For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman; but all things come from God’ (11.11-12). And so he leaves no doubt that in the Christian community both men and women have the authority to pray and to prophesy as they build up the church.

This diversity of interpretation, even within one passage addressing one issue, suggests that we will need to listen to different voices as we work together to interpret the Scriptures in the light of our own call to follow Christ in the twenty-first century. And in our proclamation of the good news in our particular circumstances we will need to be aware that what we have discovered to be ‘natural’ and what might now be obstacles to the acceptance of the message in our society will be as important as, but very different from, the assumptions and conventions of first century Corinth.

Doing well and doing better!

Because Paul has such a bad press, ‘don’t, don’t, don’t, … submit’, as Fay Weldon puts it, I would like to share with you one more remarkable example from 1 Corinthians of a bringing together of the Scriptures, following Jesus, and particular circumstances in ways  that allow considerable diversity of sexual practice within one call to proclaim the gospel. Paul finds it necessary to defend himself against fellow Christians who have questioned  his apostleship. They have pointed out that he is not accompanied by a wife, as James, Peter and the other apostles are, and that, unlike them, he does not get his living by his  preaching of the gospel (1 Corinthians 9.3-7). Paul acknowledges that the pattern of the other apostles’ lives is based both on scripture and on the teaching of Jesus. On their side of the argument is, of course, Genesis 1-2 and the command, ‘be fruitful and multiply’ (Genesis 1.28). And Paul even finds a scriptural text for them, in support of their being paid by those to whom they minister. It seems a surprising one to us, but Paul allows to them that what is written in the law of Moses, ‘you shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain’ (Deuteronomy 25.4) was expressly written to give Christian apostles a ‘rightful claim’ on their churches (1 Corinthians 9.8-12). He also readily agrees that ‘the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living bythe gospel’ (9.14), which seems to recall Jesus sending out the twelve taking nothing for their journey (Matthew 10.5-15; Mark 6.8-11; Luke 9.2-5). And in allowing that the other apostles have the right to be accompanied by believing wives, he may also have been aware of the tradition that Jesus sent out his appointed seventy in pairs (Luke 10.1). On his own side of the argument, Paul repeatedly says that he engaged in manual labour so that he would not be a burden to those to whom he preached (1 Corinthians 9.18; 2 Corinthians 11.7; 1 Thessalonians 2.9), and he is clear that he would prefer all Christians to be single so that they can devote themselves fully to the affairs of the Lord (1 Corinthians 7.7, 32-34).

Even so, Paul does not question the other apostles’ interpretation of scripture or deny that they too are following Jesus. Instead he defends his own position by interpreting scripture in the light of Christ. He reads these scriptural texts not as commands that he must obey, but as rights that he has received. And, in the light of Christ, he gives up these rights to be accompanied by a wife and to be supported by the Christian community (1 Corinthians 9.12-18). For Paul this renunciation follows Christ in putting others before himself. His argument continues, ‘For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win some of them’ (9.19). What he says here of himself echoes the language he frequently uses of Christ, who ‘emptied himself, taking the form of a slave’ (Philippians 2.7).

Interpreting scripture in the light of Christ, Paul argues that it is appropriate for him to remain single and to support himself by manual labour. However, he accepts that the other apostles are being loyal to scripture and to the teaching of Jesus in being accompanied by believing wives and supported by the Christian community. Paul believes that he is imitating the pattern of Jesus’ life in renouncing his right to support just as much as the other apostles are following Jesus’ teaching in their dependence on the community. Reading scripture in the light of Christ leads not only to a diversity of interpretation but also to an acceptance of such diversity.

Given Paul’s own preference for singleness in the service of the Lord, and remembering the slogan of some of the Corinthians that ‘it is well for a man not to have sex with a woman’ (7.1), it is interesting that Paul does not point to the singleness of Jesus as his example or concede to the tendency of those in the congregation who wanted to turn celibacy into a rule. Instead he allows both the right of those apostles to be married, and he affirms those Christians who still choose to marry: ‘So then, he who marries his fiancée does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better’ (7.38). In the service of the Lord it may only be a second best, for we owe more to Freud than to Paul if we see  our primary calling to be to heterosexual partnership and procreation. But it is here an acceptable option, and it is worth noting that Paul’s emphasis is on mutuality rather than dominance, wife and husband are equally owed their ‘conjugal rights’ and each has ‘authority’ over the other’s body (7.4), and this is more about desire, ‘if his passions are strong … it is no sin … let them marry’ (7.36), than about procreation.

It was good to hear Paul being drawn into the imagined pillow talk of John and Effie Ruskin in Peter Bowker’s Desperate Romantics, a drama about the Pre-Raphaelites shown on BBC 2 last summer. After five years of his refusal to consummate their marriage poor Effie pleads with John, ‘the husband does not have authority over his body, but the wife does’. That would have been a marvellous moment for 1851, but neither the imagined nor the historical John was persuaded. The real Effie later wrote to her father that among John’s alleged reasons for the non-consummation were ‘religious motives’. The marriage was annulled, and in 1855 Effie married John Millais and together they had a family of eight children.

Becoming one flesh.

Clearly Paul’s positive attitude to sexual intimacy reflects the influence of the tradition about Jesus. He says that his teaching not to divorce and remarry (7.10-11) is based on a command of Jesus, and indeed it is very similar to the saying in all three synoptic gospels that remarriage is adultery (Matthew 5.32, 19.9; Mark 10.11-12; Luke 16.18). Paul seems closest to the tradition recorded in Mark (10.2-9) which assumes that both husband and wife could initiate divorce and where Jesus is innovative in teaching that adultery can be committed against a woman as well as against a man: ‘whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her’ (10.11). Of course, Paul has more to say, ‘to the rest I say – I and not the Lord’ (1 Corinthians 7.12), and it is possible that he is suggesting a circumstance where remarriage may be appropriate. His world is no longer that of marriage only within the Jewish nation (see Num. 25; Deut 7.1-7), and indeed he has nothing to say against interracial marriage. And in the world of his Christian congregations a believer may be married to an unbeliever, and bodily union is at best also a sharing of hearts and minds: ‘Wife for all you know, you might save your husband. Husband for all you know, you might save your wife’ (7.16, cf. 7.14). But where the unbelieving partner wishes to separate, then the believing partner should let them go, and,
Paul adds, ‘In such a case the brother or sister is not bound’ (7.15). This not being bound would normally be taken to mean being free to remarry, and perhaps this is what Paul means here. In any event, Paul’s discussion of Jesus’ Palestinian teaching in the different circumstances of Greek Corinth is instructive. He at least does not make the mistake of turning Jesus’ words concerning the preciousness of sexual intimacy and mutual faithfulness into a law that binds.

In his Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations (Allen Lane, 2007) Martin Goodman considers how far the Christianity adopted by Constantine had strayed from its Jewish roots and sees the Christian view of marriage as an unbreakable bond rather than the Jewish view of marriage as a contract between husband and wife as one of the key differences (p. 545). As we have seen from 1 Corinthians, it is questionable  whether ‘unbreakable’ was always there from the beginning, but Jesus’ challenge of divorce by his appeal to Genesis (1.27 and 2.24), ‘So they are no longer two but one flesh’, does seem to shift the emphasis from a legal contract to a personal bond (Mark 10.2-9, cf. Matthew 19.3-8). Divorce, says Jesus, was allowed by Moses ‘because of your hardness of heart’, and it seems that Jesus’ fundamental attitude to the commandments is to see them as inadequate. It is often pointed out that, in looking back to the beginning of creation, Jesus is regulating sexuality by an appeal to the creation story as affirming a model of male-female monogamy. But we need also to notice that in speaking of regulations written ‘because of your hardness of heart’, Jesus is also using the creation story to look forward to the dawning of the promised new age when, in the words of Ezekiel, God ‘will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh’ (Ezekiel 36.26, cf. 11.19).

In this light it is worth looking again for a moment at Genesis 2.23-24:

 Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken’. Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife.

Doubtless the institution of marriage is in view here, but in hearing that rapturous cry, ‘bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh’, we can perhaps understand why commentators such as von Rad and Westermann have seen this story as setting our sexuality in the wider context of the need for relationship and human community.

There seems to be just such a more inclusive of the passage in the New Testament itself. Paul writes to the Galatians:

As may of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ. There is no longer any Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus (3.27-28). Jew or Greek, slave or free, but male and female in an echo of Genesis 1.27, ‘So God created humankind in his image … male and female he created them’, and in anticipation of the climax of his letter, ‘for neither circumcision nor uncircumcision in anything but a new creation is everything’ (6.15).

In this context Paul’s ‘no longer male and female; for you are all one’ seems also to echo Genesis 2.24, ‘they become one flesh’, particularly when we remember that Paul uses this text ‘the two shall be one flesh’ in 1 Corinthians 6.16-17 in a discussion of the believer’s relationship with Christ.

So in the New Testament we have not only Jesus’ use of Genesis 2.24 to refer to marriage as the new age dawns but also Paul’s use of it to refer to the wider context of human relationship recreated in Christ. In a conversation with the novelist Howard Jacobson shown two weeks ago (24/1/10) in the first of Channel 4’s new series, The Bible: A History, Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, found the meaning of the creation narratives as  ‘the redemption of solitude’.

The New Testament gives us two different account of this not being alone in two different interpretation of the ‘one flesh’ of Genesis 2.24. In some ways these two New Testament accounts of ‘the redemption of solitude’ stand in tension with each other. We have already seen that Paul thinks that marriage can be a distraction from the fullness of life in the community of those called by Christ (1 Corinthians 7.32-35). And Jesus himself, in calling men and women into the community that shares his life and destiny, asks them to be willing to break the ties of family commitment, including, in Luke’s version, wife in the list of those who might have to be abandoned ‘for the sake of the kingdom of God’ (18.29-30, cf. Mark 10.2-30).

Jesus, like John the Baptist before him and Paul after him, seems not to have chosen the way of marriage, and we have glimpses of the ways in which his ‘redemption of solitude’ was realized in the wider context of human community. For example, in his reaction to the woman who, in Luke’s account, bathes his feet with her tears, dries them with her hair, kisses them and anoints them with ointment (7.36-50). Jesus shows no anxiety that her sensual and tactile act is humanly inappropriate or sexually dangerous. Instead he says, ‘She has shown great love’ (7.47). Perhaps we can link this with his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, ‘Whoever looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart’ (Matthew 5.27). Jesus suggests here that male sexuality requires male responsibility. Just as the men at that dinner table would have dismissed that woman from the city, so other men required women to cover themselves. Ben Sira warned fathers, ‘Keep strict watch over a headstrong daughter – see there is no lattice in her room … do not let her parade her beauty before any man’ (Ecclesiasticus 42.11-12). But Jesus accepted the bathing, kissing, anointing as an act of love, and he expected men to be able to look at a woman without wanting to have her, without seeing her as someone to abuse or possess.

Again there is diversity of interpretation of the Jewish Scriptures, by Jesus and in the light of Christ, and there is diversity of practice. And neither is made into a rule. Some abandoned family to follow Jesus, but Peter remained married. Paul commended the unmarried state, but he never questioned the married Peter’s status as an apostle.

 To whom it is given.

In Matthew’s Gospel, after Jesus’ teaching about divorce, ‘his disciples said to him, ‘If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry’. But he said to them, ‘Not anyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given’ ‘. And ‘this teaching’ seems both to refer back to his teaching about marriage and then forward to what Jesus says next about eunuchs, including those ‘who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’ (19.10-12).

There are diverse callings, and they are all for those to whom they are given as God’s
gift, for whose who live by God’s forgiveness.

When I wore my hat last week no one commented as we warmed our hands with our coffee cups after the service. My sisters and brothers accept me with my head covered or uncovered. But in France a parliamentary committee has recommended a ban on women wearing veils in public places, and in a bleak refugee camp in Somaliland, Quresh, a woman whose husband had just been shot and killed, recently described how the religious police had then run into her house in Mogadishu: ‘Woman, why are you not wearing a veil?’ ‘There were two of them with a whip … even now you can see the marks’ (The Observer Magazine, 31/1/10).

Paul was once one of the religious police – it was one of his credentials: ‘As to zeal, a persecutor of the church’ (Philippians 3.6). Circumcision, food laws, Sabbath observance were to be imposed by force if necessary. But ‘the conversion of Paul’ was to a new understanding of his religion. He had, he told the Romans, been reading the Scriptures as ‘the law of sin and of death’, but now he read them as ‘the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus’ (8.2). Now the commandments are not to be imposed, because loyalty to Christ comes above everything else. And so remarkably he could say to those same Romans about Sabbath observance, ‘Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds’ (14.5).

At the beginning of the same letter Paul depicts the disorder of a collapsed selfish society that, as he goes on to explain, is reversed when the new community in Christ follows his selfless way of ‘peace and mutual upbuilding’ (14.19). In describing this self-determined society Paul includes one example of behaviour that most of his Jewish and Gentile contemporaries would have agreed was a rejection of gender distinctions that were both natural and conventional. Same-sex relationships were disordered because men should not be the passive, penetrated partner and women should not presume to have the active mind and desires of a man.

As we read this Romans 1.26-27 in the light of Christ and in our own circumstances, we should consider:

that what we understand to be ‘natural’ or ‘conventional’ matters;
that Paul is not offering ethical guidance at this point in the letter;
and, above all, that the converted Paul left behind an understanding of religion as the imposition of commandments.

Paul challenged even those who keep the fourth commandment and those who did not keep the Sabbath not to pass judgement on each other (14.10). Instead they and we are to ‘welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God’ (15.7).

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What have I been up to in Britain this year?

In March 2006 I had agreed with Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi at a personal meeting a plan (never agreed on paper) to hold a discussion with some of the Anglican Church of Kenya bishops on Same-gender Relations and Biblical Interpretation, accompanied by others from the Church of England. I was looking forward to going back to Kenya in 2007, possibly in the spring, to carry out the plan. Three people volunteered to come, of whom two seemed to me eminently well qualified, and a further person was prepared to consider it in the future.

Among many people who expressed interest in the plan were Philip Groves, the Anglican Communion Officer for the Listening Process, and Colin Coward, the Director of Changing
Attitude England. I’ve had a lot of encouragement from them.

I was put in touch with an American pro-gay Christian group which was going to spend part of summer 2007 in Nairobi, working with an existing Kenyan group of MSM (men who have sex with men), to have fellowship with them and their families and friends and to affirm them as children of God. They asked me to go with them. It was an attractive offer, but I decided instead to go to the parts of rural Western Kenya where I’m already known, and build on the contacts I’d already made. I learnt that the group was enthusiastically welcomed by large numbers in Nairobi, and also made contacts with church leaders and the general public.

In July I accompanied Colin and others from Changing Attitude to the meeting of the Church of England General Synod in York, to introduce members to Davis Mac Iyalla, a gay member of the Anglican Church of Nigeria and leader of changing Attitude Nigeria.

On August Bank Holiday weekend each year there’s a big festival for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people here called Manchester Pride. It includes a parade through the city centre. This year there was an ecumenical Christian contingent in the parade for the first time, and I was among them. The crowds lining the streets for the most part were happy to cheer us on.

The meeting of the Anglican primates of the world in February 2007 had brought into sharp focus the deep divisions in the Anglican Communion over homosexuality. I waited for a long time to get a sign that anyone in the Anglican Church of Kenya would want to hold a discussion with me on that topic. Eventually a reply came from Kokise, welcoming me there in October. There is also a chance of a discussion at another Kenyan college in November. Now it turns out that the people I hoped would come with me are not available during that period, so I’m going alone!

Henry Mayor, 15 Sept 2007

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