OTHER VOICES OTHER WORLDS: The Global Church speaks out on Homosexuality (BOOK REVIEW)

Darton Longman & Todd 2006, ISBN 0 232 52569 2.

John Cook

This much-needed book is edited by Terry Brown, Anglican Bishop of Malaita in the Pacific Islands Province of Melanesia. A few of the 28 contributors are from Europe, Australia or North America; most of them are not. The history and traditions of indigenous African, Asian, and other cultures make it clear that there has always existed a diversity of human sexualities, and that homosexuality is not a disease imported from the West. Homosexuality is a global phenomenon found in all cultures, all religions. Chapter 1 is written by Martin Brokenleg, the Director of the Native Ministries Programme and Professor of First Nations Theology at the Vancouver School of Theology. He invites us to imagine a reservation in the USA fifty years ago. Three hundred Sioux (who call themselves Lakota) gather for a feast followed by a social dance. The Lakota people have two forms of their language; one spoken by men, one spoken by women. Men and women understand both forms of their language. Men and women dress differently according to their gender.

One man sits with the women and speaks Lakota using the grammar and sentence structure appropriate for women. As the food is served to the men, children and women who are guests, this man helps with the serving. He performs all the tasks of a woman. During the dancing the man shuffles to the circle’s perimeter, stands side-by-side with the
women, and dances in the bended-knee style of Lakota women. He dances as an honoured member of the Lakota community. He is W’i’nkte – a man who speaks with women’s language (Women’s Lakota). Traditional Lakota people regard him as a sacred person who is understood to be powerful.

Native North American cultures are normally female-led cultures. In Navajo society one introduces oneself as being of the mother’s clan, ‘born for’ the father’s clan. Women own property, men own the weapons with which they defend the women and children. This much-needed book thus opens with a chapter revealing a far greater variety of sexuality and gender-roles than those who claim to speak for “orthodox” Christianity recognise or acknowledge. Other chapters written by indigenous people of Africa including Nigeria), Asia and New Zealand, reveal still more diversity. Ancient Chinese literature, such as classical novels, opera, songs and poems, show that homo-, bi- and trans-sexual practices were very common phenomena; they were not imported from the West. An unbiased person might suspect God our Creator of liking variety.Christian leaders such as Moses Tay, former Bishop of Singapore, claim to be following the teaching of the Bible when they condemn homosexuality. This is challenged by other Asian leaders such Bishop as Duleep de Chickera, of Colombo, Sir Lanka. He points out that at times biblical texts seem to give contradictory teaching or direction. A Cardinal responded to a criticism that one of his priests was outside God’s grace because in Romans 1:26–27 St. Paul condemns homosexuality as a sin. Acknowledging the sexual orientation of the priest concerned, the Cardinal described him as one of his finest and most caring, creative and sensitive priests. He was able to see in this priest, more than in most others, the qualities of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control: all fruit of the Holy Spirit enumerated by the same St. Paul (Galatians 5:22).

The over-riding biblical themes of grace, love, mercy, salvation, must impact upon isolated verses such as those quoted to condemn homosexuality. Jesus said that people shall be known by their fruits. One of the encouraging features of the book is the accounts of people who are not heterosexual and who maintain their Christian faith and practice despite being coldshouldered (or worse). Groups of such Christians are to be found in Hong Kong, Singapore and Sydney to name but three. The book mentions a number of websites from which further information can be gained.

The 28 chapters are well-written by sensitive people who know about the subjects upon which they write, and who know the love of God for themselves and for all the diverse people He has made. I shall continue to re-read this book, and I recommend it to bishops attending Lambeth 2008.

Leave a Reply