Tag Archives: Homosexuality

Compassion and Protest

Clare Herbert

I want to begin this evening’s talk with two sets of words between which I feel caught.

The first words come from St John’s Gospel in which Jesus is praying for his disciples movingly before leaving them.

“ I pray that they may all be one. Father! May they all be in us, just as I am in you and you are in me. May they be one, so that the world will believe that you sent me” .

Another is found in St Matthew’s Gospel and St Luke’s Gospel where Jesus is warning his disciples about some of the possible effects of mission.

“ Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the world. No, I did not come to bring peace but a sword.”

In our own day the urge to live together in Christ is interpreted strikingly differently.

The writers of the recent Anglican Covenant , a vitally important document in terms of the future ordering of the life of the world wide Anglican Communion , underscores unity and harmony of agreement as important goals of our common life together.

“ We affirm the ecumenical vocation of Anglicanism to the full visible unity of the Church in accordance with Christ’s prayer that all may be one”.

But in the Guardian the Revd Marilyn McCord Adams, appalled by what she found of how slowly things had moved for both women and lesbian and gay people in the statements of the Church of England writing when she was Regius Professor of Divinity and Canon of Christ Church, Oxford, said:

“…liberals must not make an idol of unity. In institutions, as in biology, differentiation and division may be in service of richer and more mature integration. The Jesus of St John’s Gospel prays for unity, but the Jesus movement precipitated a schism within Judaism. It was not his first choice, but it is how the Gospel spread.”

As an Anglican priest and practising lesbian I feel squeezed by the pressure of trying to work out which set of these words to live by and how, and by the possibility of whether it is possible to live by all of them at the same time! As a true Anglican I want to live the former, to join around one altar in all difference and harmony, to make the Anglican Communion work! As a lesbian priest and particularly as a lesbian pastor I want to protest.

A fortnight ago, Nicholas Sagovsky set the scene for our series of lectures on Radical Compassion with a talk of rare clarity, authority and grace. I want to build on 4 aspects of what he said

  1. God is radically compassionate towards the human race and we are to turn the world upside down by imitating the radical compassion so alive in his Son.

  2. Radical compassion involves cost to the self: anyone who is in attentive engagement with the other who suffers, suffers also.

  3. Working at what needs to be changed to end the suffering of the other involves attempts at creating justice, the formation of networks of right relations between ourselves and others, as well as between ourselves and God.

  4. The Church, therefore, because it sings the song of Mary’s Magnificat, possesses as a primary goal the creation of active citizens who are intent on creating justice in society rather than turned in upon themselves and on issues of church leadership and hierarchy.

I agree with all of this but want to suggest that 4 above sets up well-nigh insuperable tensions for Gay and Lesbian Christians which may result in legitimate and just protest.

When people ask me “Why do Lesbian and Gay people go on so much about who they are? Wasn’t it better for all of us in the old days when they didn’t say anything?” I reply, we are not in the old days! The reality I know is that as the State becomes increasingly tolerant towards gay and lesbian people, providing legislation which allows us to live in less fear, in more rejoicing, and with increasingly regularised family ties and responsibilities made clear, as the Civil Partnerships Legislation has done, as has Equality of Access to Goods and Services – so the relative intolerance of the Church of England becomes harder to bear. That tension leads of course to human suffering and pain, and to very many gay and lesbian people saying why bother with the church?

How best to live compassionately with that pain? I want to suggest two positions to take up – that of waiting for justice and that of working for justice.

  1. Waiting

Waiting for the revelation of God’s mercy, in Exodus, in Exile, in prayer, in steady daily attendance upon God’s grace to deliver, in expectation of the End Time, has been a constant theme in Hebrew and Christian Theology from their very beginning. Two very good books to read about it are The Meaning is in the Waiting, by Paula Gooder, and the Stature of Waiting, by William Vanstone. One of our most important modern theologians who writes from the perspective of being a gay man in the Catholic Church is James Alison and he also recommends waiting for justice to prevail as an important stance for gay and lesbian Christians to consider. His perspective is of it being essential for us not to waste time on the furious activity of putting down our enemy in the quest for revenge. In all his writings he is hyper alert to the human tendency to make of those who oppose us scapegoats and warns gay and lesbian Christians against doing this.

He said in a lecture on this very platform called TheDivided Self,

“ The more attention I give to that person or group being wicked, and not like me, the more I allow myself to be fascinated by the evil of that person I then give that person or group permission to dance around inside me, outside my control.”

He urges that we are within God’s own End Game in relation to gay acceptance in Church and Society but that

“ …the process of adjustment to truth in this sphere is going to take a long, long time.” He challenges us

“ Do we dare to have our love stretched by building (the church) without approval, as we wait longingly for the day when some… Wall comes down…Can you take responsibility for that? Can you persevere?” (Lambeth Conference) (Building a Church outside the walls)

Waiting for acceptance can be for many reasons. The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lambeth Conference would advise such waiting, as the developing world deeply needs the support of the Western Church yet cannot tolerate our sexual mores. Some may wait in celibacy or silence because they are fully given to other causes of justice or ways of life in which open gay protest would hinder fragile and important relationships. (School Headmaster in a predominantly Islamic area) Still others because family or friendship relationships are not ready for truth telling and may never be. And here it’s important to remember God’s time goes on past this flesh bit.

It is important to honour waiting for God’s mercy to be fully revealed as a vital and important Christian witness. But it’s important too, because we are looking at the pressures which lead to protest, to fully acknowledge the dangers in this position.

The main danger is the ease with which it may cover collusion with fear – fear of who one is so that one never allows oneself to develop fully, not out of freedom but out of constraint, and there is all the difference. For the one unable to be compassionate towards the self is rarely compassionate towards others – the person waiting for the revelation of who they are may painfully confuse others, may act bitterly or spitefully |towards those who see more freely, and of course are also likely to be blind towards the massive injustices cause by homophobia here and across the world. The one waiting may also not in reality be able to contain that waiting but turn to all sorts of abusive forms of deviant behaviour in an effort to over control self and others. One of the things I am desperate to get the Church hierarchy to own is the need to look at how much deviant sexual behaviour among gay people, including gay clergy, happens because the outlets are not there to be open and true and freely who one is.

Facing the tensions of now – waiting for Justice to be revealed. As a theologically, psychologically and pastorally mature stance which sets the self free for disciplined service and generous joy, it is admirable though may not be open to all to thrive on, or enjoy. This stance may certainly be understood as its own compassionate protest against an unthinking gay world which equates “being out” at all costs with goodness.

Working for justice

There are all sorts of ways of working for justice for gay and lesbian people whether Christian or not and the need to do so seems hardly worth arguing about, or does it? Last time, just before the end of his lecture Nicholas slipped in a line which astonished me – he seemed to suggest that if the Church were to spend less time arguing over issues of gender and sexual identity and more time over seemingly more important issues like justice then those former issues would simply and somehow shuffle down into a just shape. What worried me was not did I get it wrong? I get loads wrong and don’t worry about it. What worried me was if it was possible for me to get this wrong then it was possible for others to mishear too and for the age old message to be perpetrated by a quite evidently lovely person that issues of gender and sexual identity are somehow less important to pursue.

For me this is a dangerous line to take for three reasons.

  • What I have experienced at the heart of gay oppression in the church is my NOT being taken seriously as a full person – being objectivised, talked about and treated as an object whom it is possible to pass judgements and opinions over as if those judgements and opinions did not hurt or injure me. And the reason I work for justice for gay and lesbian Christians is because I consider that it is this objectivisation of people – not coming alongside them as people with attention engaged, not giving them the attention of compassion – which lies at the heart of all injustice – the depersonalising of the other so that it becomes easy to hurt and oppress them, and to support the climate in which they may be violated, even murdered. The Samaritan was a neighbour because he saw and understood pain and need and did not detach himself from it leaving a person to die as an object in the ditch.

  • A further evil which may then take place and which certainly happened to me is that lesbian and gay people may internalise this oppression, may hate themselves, do themselves harm, try to detach their own gay identity from the very core of themselves. I suffered from this phenomenon dreadfully when I first came out. I was in my middle thirties and there was no hiding my sexual orientation any more because I had – at last I might add – met someone worth loving for the rest of my life. I was beset by phobia and fears and a sort of mental illness which made even going outdoors terrifying for a while. I had a good life – what I couldn’t do was allow myself to have it, see myself as good. Told often enough that we are sinful, or that we should keep quiet, or that we are causing disunity in the Church, eventually many of us internalise profound shame, a shame which saps confidence, cripples joy, and may lead to the reinforcement of mental illness, to despair, to hiding frightened in inauthentic relationships, even to suicide.

  • Then, in contrast to Nicholas’ apparent stance, I have been heavily involved in the sheer slog of getting women into the priesthood and please God this year, through General Synod, into the Episcopate on equal terms with men. I have no sense at all that we would be where we are now if it were not for the dedicated work of the Movement for the Ordination of Women and now of WATCH, the daughter organisation, “Women and the Church”. Involved in those campaigns I was confronted with the truth of how hard we had to work when two friends of the Movement – the then Bishops of Durham and Lincoln, both speaking on the MOW platform openly said how much we had to do to get through the fiercely supportive and protective ring of the House of Bishops – they were quite clear that despite seeing us to be on the side of right, their first tendency as men and male bishops would be to protect men they had gone to school, university, London Club and now the House of Bishops with no question. It was a shocking but utterly helpful insight to gain into the dangers of sitting back. It is in this sense of understanding and having gratitude for those who go before us in the struggle for justice that James Alison suggests we claim our present freedoms because of their work – “We stand on others’ shoulders”.

So what work is going on?

Recently the main LGBT Christian charities have come together in the Anglican Church in a new way as the LGBT Anglican Coalition and we are lobbying for change, particularly over the blessing of same sex relationships and the care of LGBT Ordinands; we are creating liturgy resources; we are educating for openness in terms of struggling to listen to the others who disagree with us; we are trying to get the voices of LGBT people in the developing world heard. One important thrust of this work is simply by our meetings to offer role models of being Christian and lesbian, Christian and gay. The worlds of Gay Pride, Old Compton Street, the Scene both for men and for women can offer images of the gay life which Christians want to challenge. Much of our work lies in simply being and proclaiming with our lives; it is possible to be gay and longing to be recreated in the image of Christ in our personal, partnership and social lives. My own doctoral research work lies in what constitutes good pastoral care for lesbian and gay Christians who are in any sort of developmental transition. So watch this space and look up LGBT AC on the WEB.

But to enter the second part of this lecture I want to look now at what I take to be one particular form of working for justice which is protest in the narrowest sense of the word, speaking out, shouting out, acting out; using our bodies to speak our hearts and minds.

Saying ‘Ouch’ audibly in Church when all parents are presented as necessarily warm and accepting towards their children when that is NOT the experience of all gay and lesbian people by a long chalk and over parentalised images of God really don’t help.

Waving banners and singing hymns at Gay Pride.

Marching for gays to be able to be accepted as adopters.

I have a hunch that it’s this sort of work which people feel slightly out of line with being Christian, slightly egotistical and not understanding of the pain of others, slightly divisive, unnecessary, coarse, even. Where does protest fit in the Christian tradition? And is it compatible with compassion?

I understand protest in this narrow sense as being on a continuum in lesbian and gay experience with three things:

  • Saying, Voicing, Speeching who we are – Coming Out if you like;

  • Conversation with God, having Chutzpah, having it out with God about who we are.

  • Prophecy, envisioning God’s future for us.

When I walked my first Gay Pride March – joined friends very shyly and nervously here on the steps of St Martin’s – I was so nervous and so proud! Gradually along the way I enjoyed singing, blowing my whistle, dancing alongside outrageous cross dressers and acknowledging all our common identity – I became less afraid of myself and my common humanity with others and it was like Coming Out, especially when we rounded Piccadilly and the crowd on the roof of St James Piccadilly who knew me started to wave and cheer knowing as they did what this might be costing. I was with friends. Knowing myself to be with friends not on the pavement but walking the walk was a form of coming out.

No-one ever wants one to come out nor is it ever easy to do so, to admit one belongs to a minority, but it is part of establishing identity – I am NOT like that, I am like this; with these people I am specially at home! Hilary Mantel in her autobiography ‘Giving Up the Ghost’ is not writing about being gay but, after a Catholic childhood, in which nobody at all much listened to her, the experience of finding out who she was is not dissimilar.

“When you were a child you had to create yourself from whatever was to hand. You had to construct yourself and make yourself into a person, fitting somehow into the niche that in your family has always been vacant, or into a vacancy left by someone dead.”

The niche most of us had to fit into for the long years of growing up was heterosexual, so no wonder. Coming Out has the force of protest attached to it. It is particularly difficult for the Christian to come out in my view because the Church is so ill at ease with the body, let alone with things sexual to do with the body – again Mantel writes rather mischievously and endearingly:

“ In terms of the Catholic Church, the church in which I was brought up, the body is a beast, a base simian relative that turns up at the door of the spirit too often for comfort; a bawling uncle, drunk, who raps with the door knocker and sings in the street. Saints starve. They diet till they see visions…Some saints are muscular Christians. But there are no fat saints” (and no gay ones either for similar reasons as far as I can tell.)

Anyone who has listened even recently to certain Bishops of the Anglican Communion justifying violence against practising homosexuals and the language such complainants use about the body, will understand how for the Christian to come out at all is a brave step of protest.

But protest is also in a continuum with conversation with God and with prophecy arising from that conversation.

Chuntering, grumbling, cheeky conversation, Chutzpah with God in which we establish who we are and who God is has always been a lively part of the Hebraic religious tradition. Anyone who has seen the play or film Fiddler on the Roof will have found themselves attracted to the way the main protagonist protests to God continually about the hand he has been dealt – if I were a rich man is the least of it! This chuntering protest we see more seriously reflected in Moses’ misery before God over his shyness, Jeremiah’s about his youthful inadequacy to be a prophet, let alone Job about his personal pain. And lest we forget the women of the tradition – Sarah’s laughter at the idea of future fertility and Hannah’s long lament before God over childlessness are connected with this – here I am being human as you made me, and it hurts, and I just hope that YOU are noticing! We could do with recovering the force of Chutzpah.

Jesus is – unfortunately for us – not given humorous lines, but he certainly spends time differentiating himself from what is expected! “Didn’t you know I would be in the Temple?” “It’s not time yet for me to be creating miracles with wine!” “Get behind me!” “Get out of the House of God.” “Please let this cup pass from me”?

Then, by the time we reach Paul, let alone the early fathers of the Church, we arrive at a culture more heavily influenced by neo-Platonism than were the Hebrew prophets, in which strong emotions like anger and fear, desire and admiration, are to be more tightly controlled so that we have lost our confidence in growing into chutzpah, grumbling before God.

With confident conversation about who we are we move further into the continuum between prophecy and protest. Both prophecy and protest make available to others the passion, the danger and the freedom of God.

Walter Brueggeman in his beautiful book Hopeful Imagination about the prophetic voices of Exile – of Jeremiah, Ezekiel and 2 Isaiah, suggests how there is a phrase in Isaiah Chapter 43, verses 18 – 19 which acts like a hinge in Israel’s history, a hinge in our own story of faith, a hinge in the developing history of the Church.

Do not remember former things;

Behold, I am making a new thing.

He suggests if we are to follow these prophets, “We need to learn to articulate a newness out of our own tradition but speaking a newness out beyond the purview of most of our present contemporaries.” And I find this a very helpful encouragement when I think about the act of protest. The protest, trust and courage of the prophets were based not on egotism but in their knowledge of and dependence upon the ways God had worked and was working. The protest, trust and courage of Jesus and the saints of the Church have also been so based in who God is – one who leads us out to live with justice and compassion. Prophecy – discerning the ways we understand God and acting and speaking of it – links our protest with compassion for we have responsibility for others who are in pain. We need by our protest to speak to them a word of hope! Protest in itself may be fuelled by compassion for those whose lives are blighted by oppression, by bullying, by death threats, by the terror of torture and execution, by simple fear.

When gay and lesbian Christians protest – at General Synod, at the Lambeth Conference, celebrating the Pride march here in prayer and word and song, we bring about the new actions of God by the way we treat each other, welcome each other, and challenge each other, by the ways we see God and worship, by the ways we talk about God and listen – in prophetic protest we bring about the new actions of God just for a few moments in our lives by the use of our imagination to conjure the longed for future for ourselves and on behalf of others. Protest for us, as for other Christians throughout church history suffering the hiding of God beneath cruel human shapes, may be prophetic and an act of compassion.

But what about when others disagree – strongly disagree? What about their right to be, and their hurt at our loud proclamation of who we are? Isn’t that the crunch issue in the Church of England at the moment?

I think and think and think about this one and this is where I am right now. Those who disagree with me must have the right to say what they think, to exist without fear of violence or retribution, as must I. But the extent of that right ends when their opinion causes others to suffer greatly and fuels even unconsciously the fires of violence and hate. I consider conservative views about homosexual practice to be based on fear caused by taboos created in speech and then in liturgy and then in written texts in vastly different societies than our own some 2–3000 years ago where there was no understanding of homosexuality as an orientation nor of its capacity for goodness and faithfulness in terms of relating. As a Christian pastor attending to the needs of LG people or their parents of friends, I know that the costs of living under such taboos are far too great for me to be happy with the calm of those who disagree with me. The cost of perpetuating taboo on this subject is often somebody else’s wellbeing and sometimes, and increasingly across the world, somebody else’s life. That price is too high for me not to put myself on the line in protest, and I do this as an outcome of the call to be pastoral, not as an act of aggression.

If that is the positive side of protest wherein lies its danger?

  • We must not depersonalise in our turn those who disagree with us. We are trying to attend to God’s kingdom of kindness, justice and compassion and not only to our own ends. Like the people of Israel who so easily forgot the pain of oppression in Egypt in their triumph at having a land of their own, we need to beware the tendency to simply recreate oppressions with our own views and desires. Having known what it is to be outside the establishment of society and Church, Christians who are Gay and Lesbian are called to heed the outside experiences of others, the outside parts of our world – to let our own experience speak so as to save, to grow IN compassion as a result of what we have experienced in being oppressed ourselves.

  • We need to learn to repent and mourn ourselves. I am very struck how in learning from Walter Brueggeman about Israel’s prophets, when they protested they did so to the people as well as on behalf of the people. The people themselves were to enter into the acceptance of exile, understand their own role in their oppression, fully, before being able to be led out. And I sometimes feel that we Christian gay and lesbian activists such as I represent become raucous in wanting everything now when we have not accepted how much work we may need to do towards repentance: in the ways we relate, listen and present ourselves to a taboo trapped church; in the work we may need to do in distinguishing between freedom of sexual identity in Christ and barely disguised promiscuity; in the efforts we may need to make to relinquish the identity of victim in our lives so that we are freed up in our energy to work alongside others who are even more in need.

  • And if we will protest we must learn to bear the consequences. If we are being called to witness the conflict between God with God’s Church over the issue of the responsible use of human sexuality, it will probably prove not too comfortable a place to be!

I want to end with more words from McCord Adams. What does compassion mean when protest is unavoidably necessary? She writes,

“Getting along to get along” is not the Gospel. The synoptic gospels virtually guarantee: because the reign of God stands in judgement over any and every human social system, its coming by successive approximations is sure to violate our socially constructed identities repeatedly. Our part is to discern for all we’re worth, and to live up to the light that is in us.”

For some of us that will involve protest.

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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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“Living it out” by Rachel Hagger-Holt and Sarah Hagger-Holt (Book Review)

Daphne and John Cook

Living it outby Rachel Hagger-Holt and Sarah Hagger-Holt, Canterbury Press 2009. ISBN 978-1-85311-999-6.

This book was shared with Daphne by the mother of a friend of Rachel and Sarah’s who is referred to in their writing. A friend who is an evangelical heterosexual Christian. It was therefore a great delight and privilege to meet them both when they addressed a group in St. Martins-in-the-Fields in June.

Their book is filled with stories offering plenty of practical, positive help on managing relationships with God, the Church and other people. The authors state that the book bears witness to the many Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual people that they have met during the last ten years who hold an active faith, lived out in their daily lives. This journey alongside them and with thanks to them, has enabled the authors to build a renewed relationship with God and with the Bible, and negotiated their paths through church to a place where they continue to learn and grow in their Christian faith through good times and bad.

Each chapter offers a challenge to the reader’s faith journey under the title, ‘Action” and then it offers a prayer that may be spoken. So the suggestion to the reader at the end of the first chapter is to draw a map of their faith journey on a piece of paper. To then mark the times when God’s love has been especially known, and the people or experiences that have helped them. In addition to note the wrong turns taken and time spent in the wilderness. Then to reflect on what this shows about the past and what hope it gives for the future.

When growing up Rachel and Sarah had to come to terms with the fact that they were not heterosexual, they found girls attractive, and were not drawn to love boys. They also had to face the fact that many Christians condemned them for being lesbian. Many Churches did not welcome them.

After they met, they found themselves drawn to one another, and they wanted to enter into a life-long, faithful, loving, partnership. They were led to believe that God loved them as they were, and that God would bless them in their permanent faithful relationship.

Eventually a Christian Minister was found who would conduct a wedding ceremony for them. That was five years ago. A daughter was born to them two years ago.

In their book they quote (with permission) freely from the 54 contributors. Many are gay or lesbian or bisexual (LGB). Some are heterosexual (“straight”). Some are parents of LGB people. Some are Christian leaders who condemned LGB people but were led to change their minds. The Christian contributors are from a variety of denominations and traditions. They include practising Roman Catholics

The book offers help to LGB people and to their relatives and friends. It has a good list of books, organisations and websites including a website for Eastern Orthodox Gay and Lesbian Christians. It is a challenge to Churches and to all who call themselves Christians. Is our ignorance, our prejudice, causing us to condemn those whom God loves and accepts?

This is a book to be read and re-read. Colin Coward of Changing Attitude writes, “It is full of wisdom, a resource not only for survival in a confused church, but an inspiration to those longing to be true to themselves and to God who calls us unconditionally to love and transformation”.

Daphne and John Cook

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Clare Herbert

The “rain” in this address is the sexual orientation known as lesbian or homosexual, and its growing acceptance in our secular culture, as recently demonstrated by the civil partnerships legislation from which some of us are benefiting. We know that things are different in small towns, up north and in rural areas of our country, but in most cosmopolitan centres we have gay friends, we know gay priests living openly, some of whom we rejoice to know live in committed partnerships. At a deeper level the rain is our starting to understand that homosexuality is part of us all, and as an important part of us all, to be carefully considered and reflected over, rather than rejected and pushed away.

That is the raining that is going on as far as I can tell – not just in Soho, where it is raining rather a lot, and where I was the Rector when I did a lot of this thinking – but everywhere. And acknowledging that it is raining seems to be freeing people up not for orgies – but for companionship, laughter, going to Church, feeding the cat, looking after children, leading choirs and planning day-care for elderly relatives. As a central London priest who is my friend once said to me – darling if only they knew it’s not so much about S and M as M and S! But anyway, it is raining, if I am not much mistaken.

Of course some parts of our Church pretend that it is not raining, or not raining enough as to worry about. They usually smile a lot. Other parts of our Church know it’s raining but decide to try to put the Church under a huge Centre-Parc–type roof so that they do not have to feel the rain. They smile a lot too, but with real worry that the dome above them may leak or collapse. Yet other parts do a sort of war dance in the rain, swizzling their umbrellas and ranting that everyone must enjoy the rain equally, that homosexuality is not really difficult for anyone to accept. Come on in – of course the water’s lovely! This talk is about my own acknowledging that it’s raining, and learning to sing in the rain.

When I met with Inclusive Church trustees just before applying for my present post I asked them what they thought Inclusive Church is for and they said “The transformation of the world.” They then asked me to think about what sort of Church we are aiming at creating once acceptance of women and gay and lesbian people in equal relation ships with men and heterosexual people is here. What is the real point of what we are trying to do? It was clever of them to ask me to think about that because the vision I formed then sustains me in my work now.

Few would doubt that we need to transform the world to become less a place of oppression, gross injustice and violence to become more a place of well-being, equality and peace, but how do we get there? Many would agree that we need to create peaceful sustainable life-styles for as many as possible on this earth, but where to begin?

In the Church of England we have to ask what is it about the ways that we speak and live which help us make that peaceful sustainable life-style for ourselves and for others and what might it be about the way we speak and live which destroys our being able to move towards peace. The work of Inclusive Church is urgent because of its insistence that we need to look at all paths to peace , all the ways in which we live in disharmony and I was pleased to receive in the summer , via inclusive Church, papers about what was going on in Palestine and the Lebanon at the time. That information and view sharing seemed as important as anything I am more usually doing about equality for women and for gay people in the Church – we need to look at the whole.

The most frightening thing for me about the divided Church is that it seems to be giving up on the human struggle for real peace and settling instead for the creation of order – building the Centre Parc dome over “orderly church” and excluding the rest. Order in human living comes as a result of the struggle of people for real peace in their lives or in the life of their group but not as something which can be imposed to keep chaos at bay.

And it never lasts very long – order – it is not a permanent state. As we are seeing chaos breaks out and needs facing as a creative force rather than feared as purely and permanently destructive. At least that is my experience, from which I will now speak. For me the transformation of the world begins with the transformation of the self. I approach the questions “how to transform the world” and “is it worth it”, by means of my own story.

I grew up in a wild and windswept part of North Devon, at a time when the Guardian described it as the most isolated part of England, more so even than Northumberland. The tiny market town at the centre of my life in my formative years had one bus out a week so we made life happen there, entertained ourselves and went to Church a lot! By the age of 10 I was entering regional Bible quizzes where I swear I learnt whole books of the OT off by heart to answer and thought no more about it. Church was the other place you went if you weren’t pub, Church was youth club, Church was community. By the time I had gone through university, reading theology and loving it, and theological college, I knew a lot about the Gospel! That is I knew the words, of love, salvation, forgiveness, new life, but I was dead inside. I had a sense of the centre of my body being shaped like a coffin. I knew from looking around me what the words of salvation should mean but I didn’t know what they meant in any sense which brought me joy and hope.

In my first job as a deaconess and university chaplain in Bristol I met Professor Denis Nineham, and began to talk to him. He obviously thought I was far too churchy for my own good and started to talk to me about giving the Church a break. As I struggled to see how I was going to survive he said: “Theology needs a dancing partner to bring it to life – if the Church is going to go on treating women as badly as it does, you should get out and do something different. Find the dancing partner for your Theology.”

I didn’t do much with this phrase for a while but it slowly began to alter my life. I changed my life-style, became a social worker and entered into psycho-analysis. In psychoanalysis and psychodynamic counselling I found the dancing partner to theology for me which would eventually bring me the good news of the Gospel – of relating, love, forgiveness and of courage, of discipline, of reaching out to the others in my life in real rather than bogus ways.

Psychoanalysis taught me to distinguish rain from sun, to be able to tell the truth a bit more. It helped me see that my growing up had been far from easy and that trying to believe , while it had given me a community to grow up in, had also taught me to think everything would be wonderful if I tried a bit harder to believe more. Finding it difficult to walk down the road one day, ironically on my way to deliver a lecture on pastoral theology, I knew that the words weren’t working. It was the practice of psychoanalysis over years which gave me the liberty of living and loving as my own self, that living and loving which the Good News of Jesus and his Church talk about.

And I suppose that experience of the gap between the words of theology and life as I knew it taught me to beware any Gospel or words from the Church which might imply we need nothing else to understand and live a good and happy life. For me that whole idea had proved confusingly and frighteningly useless.

So, to summarise, to be people who transform the world we need to develop as people in whom theology dialogues with other subjects, other people, other disciplines, not just our own – with feminism, ecology, politics, philosophy, biology, psychology, film, whatever – Faith, to bear fruit which is alive and offers life, needs a dancing partner!

As the layers of what I had been unprepared to feel dropped away, I found of course that I am a woman and that I am gay, wanting both to live with a partner and be ordained as a priest all within a Church which didn’t want to talk about being either a woman or gay let  alone both! Any ordinary mortal, aware of their own fragility with more honesty and grace than I am, would have given up at that stage, would have not gone for ordination as a priest when I was after all already about 40! But you see I had been captivated by the Jesus figure at a very young age, and had known the strength of a church which almost certainly saved me from terrible loneliness and possibly from mental breakdown when I was young. I was hooked – Called to be a priest and testing that calling honestly with Bishops, with a very strong vision of the Church as actual and theological community. Called into a paradoxical way of life, I was ordained.

Luckily for me another wise figure hove into view at the time. Monica Furlong helped me to explore being both gay and a woman as I went through my early years as a priest. She helped me to see that it was being gay which was the sand in the oyster of my life as a priest, which might produce a pearl, eventually, if I let it. If I tried neither to extricate the sand from my life nor get out of the oyster shell something of worth might come (though the temptation to do both at times has led me a merry dance , taking me very near thresholds of vicious uncertainty about myself and near breakdown of either me or my career). What is that pearl?

The pearl is learning to individuate from the Church as Institution and yet remain working within it as a free and healthy person calling other people to freedom and health. The grit in the oyster, never being one with the Church’s teaching, has eventually allowed me to be able to see the Church from my own viewpoint, to be sufficiently separate from it to establish my own inner authority of voice and life-style, to individuate from the Church to be my own person who is priest and woman and gay.

What the Church of England appears to ask of its most successful, priests is fusion between that priest and the needs of the institution. In its most so-called successful priests I see the picture of one who assumes that it is OK to work all the time. I see one who is at the beck and call of the parish as if the parish were one’s family. I see one for whom a contract and set hours off is somehow not necessary as it is for ordinary mortals. I see one who derives energy and purpose from the favour of a Father-figure Bishop, in whom greater authority apparently resides than within the self. “Not my will but Thine, oh Lord” becomes interpreted as a lack of separation between the priest figure and the demands of the institution – as if all that the priest is, is priest, not a number of different figures with competing and complementary demands within the one self which is what I believe being fully human is.

What I am not saying here is that everyone needs to be out, or that being a closet gay or lesbian within the Church is wrong – people make decisions about what they can manage at any one time in their lives with care and sense. What I am saying rather is that the silencing of gay and lesbian priests and people is very wrong – because it does not allow us to explore , discover or speak from the position of our own authority, that authority wrested out of our own dialogue between being captivated by Christ and gay.

Nor am I advocating an easy journey towards honesty. A bit like a childhood hero of mine – Harry Williams – I spent years in analysis discovering and managing myself! Saying that the locus of authority for who one is, and who one is going to be, lies within the self, does not mean that one does not believe in the mystery who is God , or in the need for ethical, spiritual and religious guidelines, or in the vital importance of community in which to shape and offer that authority. It does not mean that one is a mere individualist or selfish (as some of our most senior Bishops have got pretty near saying about gay and lesbian people who wish to be open about their lives). No-one in the end has authority over me, but I discover the meaning of my own authority in relation to others and to God and to the tradition of my faith and politics and family and so on. If you like I am saying dialogue in relationship is all – is where the Holy Spirit blows – but it has to be dialogue between real parts of the self, between groups able to speak honestly and openly within the Church and using a theology which is humble, capable of cross fertilisation by other arts and sciences.

I was struck recently by some words of the poet Michael Rosen speaking on Desert Island Discs – of forming a poem he said “ If you fib, the poem won’t work


Just occasionally as Dean of Women in the Two Cities Area of the London Diocese I met with other women and a small group of Bishops from the Ministry Division to talk about the development of the ministry of women as Bishops and Priests within the Church. Those meetings were always held in the context of the residential meetings of the House of Bishops. I thank God for those meetings because they gave me some tiny glimpse of what we are up against and why it might be difficult to talk about gender relations and sexual identity in the context of the Church. It looks as if the House of Bishops – all men of a certain age, educational level and marital status, having arrived in positions of considerable power and not dreaming of losing it – might find it very difficult to talk about the weather, if it caused conflict, never mind a wayward son or daughter, some vulnerability of their own, or the number of gay clergy they have in their diocese! The vulnerability involved in being human is not where it is at – believe me! It’s about having power and maintaining the order that sustains that power, world-wide if at all possible.

Welcoming Church? They don’t even welcome women – one half of the human race! If they were really interested in the welcome of women then women would be in all the meetings in equal numbers – surely one does not need to be an ordained or consecrated woman to be worth listening to – surely just being different, representing the thoughts and life-experience of the other gender would do!

Understanding the conservatism of our leadership has helped me understand just a little why we are still wed to biblical pictures of gender elations, family and community life, and sexual relationships – pictures from 2000-3000 years ago and utterly different social milieus.

There has to be some strong reason to be so wed when the pictures given in the pages of the Bible are themselves so complex and changing over time that it becomes clear they cannot be used simply as a rule-book in sexual ethics.

There has to be some strong reason when one of the great treasures of the Church – the pastoral awareness of its priests – is being completely overlooked. It is not just in Soho that pastors encounter the gay person, the devastated and liberated divorcee, the young person or older person needing a period of sexual exploration and reflection to grow in to the next phase of their life, the contentedly childless couple, the lonely person – all questioning heterosexual monogamous marriage as the only holy sexual state, with, of course, that celibacy which priests are so magnificent at maintaining! It is in this real struggle for pastoral sensitivity and understanding that the vulnerable God is daily understood in the pastoral work of the Church of England – but in order to maintain the semblance of one mind across the world wide Anglican Communion in sexual ethics the wisdom springing from that that pastoral work is being lost.

There has to be some strong reason for maintaining so conservative a sexual ethic when our gifted lay – people – parents and teachers , nurses and psychologists for goodness  sake, counsellors and artists and biologists, know human life to be other! Why even our children, from age 11 onwards onwards, know that life is different in terms of sexual identity and journey than is being openly spoken of in the Church.  There are so many problems springing from this lack of ability to talk openly about changes within our understanding of gender relations and sexual identity that it is hard to know where to start. But I want to mention four.

Firstly – unless we align gay with holy, clearly and firmly, we contribute to homophobia within our society. The child being bullied in the playground for being a pansy, the lesbian couple from the North who visited my Church recently after being literally stoned in their street at home, the gay man struggling with whether it is possible to be a Christian and gay; these do not hear the Church being open and welcoming towards gay laypeople – they hear the reiteration of what their family have probably already said to them – we love you, but only conditionally Secondly – unless we align gay with holy, clearly and firmly, we cannot begin to talk to the gay and lesbian world about sexual ethics , we cannot challenge the ethics of “the scene” – we have earned for ourselves absolutely no place to stand. What  is the pastoral point of that? Why is it more important for me, as the parish priest in Soho, to show unity with people across the Anglican Communion and not with members of my own parish on Old Compton Street who may be in need of blessing or help? Why does the one group matter more than the other? (Because of the need to maintain power with order, is the only answer I can think of!)

Thirdly – unless we align gay with holy, clearly and firmly, we are creating pastoral mess with the identity of gay priests in parishes. Again, it is as if we are permitted to study pastoral psychology, but not use it in relation to this issue. We study how projection is part of what priests and congregation become involved in. How is the gay or lesbian priest to be clear about who they are – breaking down a little the projection on to them of being apparently single and available sexually . So many dishonest relationships coalesce around the silencing of gay priests, helping neither priest nor layperson, let alone their partners, develop healthy mature relationships of integrity in their personal lives or in their parish.

Fourthly and lastly, what about being gay and lesbian and experiencing the Good News of God’s love, the Gospel? Strange that it is heterosexual married folk who are meant to possess a very special awareness of the nature of God’s love. As far as I am concerned , it is being loved by my partner over 15 years that has told me more about mercy , grace and forgiveness, and joy, happiness and creativity than any other relationship in which I have been known. Of course it has – this is not rocket science – it’s the wonder of being known long-term and loved. Perhaps especially when, as for many people who are gay an d lesbian (though not all), that “being loved” business was rather messy and conditional on not being gay in one’s family of origin. If we are not allowed, in the Church, to speak of the very person or relationship which has helped one most live the Gospel, this repeats past hurts and old tortures instead of offering liberation and energy to create a new thing.

The parish priests and lay people of the Church of England are in a unique place of pastoral availability and stored wisdom to enter the discussion of the complexity of human sexuality with thinkers in other disciplines – best not to start however with the House of Bishops. Probably more fruitful by far to work – if you will excuse the expression – from the bottom up!

If you came to St Anne’s Soho one Sunday morning while I was Rector of that Church you might well wonder what on earth I am talking about. One Sunday just before I left to take up my present post the organist couldn’t find the music for the mass setting – and that in the middle of the mass not before – we were down to about 25 in number – and I had to preach about women being created from the rib of a man! Marvellous!

In other words we looked pretty normal, and quite fragile. But something was happening there to do with the transformation of the world – or at least that part of the world over which we had some agency – ourselves and our community and a tiny bit of the wider world.

It’s partly to do with our history. Soho grew up like a rather overheated plant out of the Royal Hunting Fields after the great fire of London. Because the buildings were overquickly
raised then they were not very well built and the rich quickly moved out to open Soho up to floods of refugees, artists , small craftsmen tradeswomen, Jewish, French , Greek, Italian, the sex industry and now of course the pink pound. Diversity of culture and life-style has always been the name of the game. Though we are a tiny intense village we have to embrace diversity to manage to co-inhere together at all – on the school roll there are 139 children speaking myriad different languages.

It’s partly to do with the nature of our Church building. It was built, after the Blitz had destroyed the former Church, 20 years ago, within a centre which has attached to it many community rooms. A very successful local amenity group is housed in the tower, film companies use the former choir vestry, and the church itself is tiny. This gives the effect of no one particular group having dominance. We had to dialogue to survive fruitfully on the one site. We didn’t have to look for the community to come in to the Church – they are there already. It is more that we have to justify our usefulness to them, which is a challenging but fruitful way of life. What did they make of our togetherness, our rituals, our hospitality, our links with the wider world, did they ever need us or like us or appreciate talking with us? These were the acid tests of our identity.

In this living with difference we experienced the odd moment of romance and sentimentality, but more usually great difficulty. The one who is very different from me creates the gap, the absence, the wound, showing me that diversity is not the by-word for a comfortable life, but a real hard-edged place to be, of jarring and struggle and  forgiveness, as we inched our way towards the wholeness in complexity for which we are made. But we were getting there! We had some groups in which the Bible was studied by intellectuals and those with little formal education, some parties at which the London Gay Men’s Chorus sang to the old ladies (who staring at their beauty are often heard to mutter wistfully as they struggle to comprehend – “What a waste!”), some lunches at which the violently anti-church parent could see that we don’t wear crosses or horns and might just might be quite alternative ourselves, and so on. It was a slow haul but one going on in different ways and places across the parishes and meetings of all our churches.

The Orthodox theologian Nicolas Berdyaev wrote that we “need a multitude of modern saints, people willing to take upon themselves the burden of this complex world” Part of that burden is learning to wait for something to emerge rather than dictating what will come. One aspect of the present love of order within the Church is that we create guidelines for growth, numbers for viability, clarity of Good News to tell the world. What I think actually happens in our churches is that something emerges and we don’t quite ever know what it is going to be. But its main shape seems to be a place to belong, a building used for dialogue and debate and a community offering acceptance and the bonds of affection against all the odds! Only when folk get there, to knowing and feeling that they are accepted, do they tentatively begin to explore if they might need to change. It’s not a starting point – change – but a response to love, which is the main thing we have to offer.

So, to summarise my thoughts – what we have to offer is ourselves, honestly engaged with the Gospel and the world. We have to offer the willingness to enter dialogue with other people and other knowledge bases, not from a position of power or coercion to convert, but from a position of need and desire. I think that as religious people with a concept of the Kingdom of God within and without we have to offer debate about the locus of authority in making decisions about our lives. I believe that from our pastoral praxis and from the wealth of laypeople with knowledge of the human sciences we could be contributing far more than we are about the complex phenomenon which is human sexuality. And I believe that we have valuable spaces in which people can find in us the love of God and a belonging and acceptance which may trigger world transforming change.

To end then, I don’t believe the world is uninterested in Christianity and sexuality – it is interested to find people of integrity, to engage in dialogue, to debate where authority is to be found, to embrace the problems and opportunities of realising our sexual complexity, to be able to dip in and out of, or rest in, places of belonging. It is perhaps we who need to change! Perhaps God is asking us to admit that we are as frightened of real encounter with other human beings as anyone else. And perhaps if we start there we may learn to be less afraid, we may start to sing in the rain, and know ourselves to be already a multitude of modern saints able to take upon ourselves the burden of this complex world.

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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.


Alan Sheard

The Church of England report ‘Some Issues in Human Sexuality’ published in 2003 claims that ‘The jury is still out on the causes of homosexuality’. This implies that little is known about homosexuality, but there is a great deal of scientific evidence about it that the Some Issues report completely ignores. Scientific research on this goes back to the 1950s, and indicates that a person’s sexual orientation is fixed, and in the great majority of cases is unalterable. This led to the removal of homosexuality from the list of recognised medical disorders in 1973. Further advances have been made in the past 25 years which confirm the position. In the late 1980s the Government sponsored, and the Wellcome Foundation funded, a very comprehensive survey of sexual attitudes in Britain, which revealed a great deal of information for the first time, and this was published as a book by Penguin in 1994. The sample was large enough to include statistically significant numbers in subgroups within the population. Then in 1991 Simon Leroy conducted a series of autopsies on homosexual men and showed that the anatomical structure of part of the brain was different in homosexual people. Much work has also been done on other lines of enquiry, which has led to the conclusion that sexual orientation is largely fixed by the time of birth.

Prevalence studies have shown that exclusively heterosexual or homosexual people make up almost all of the population, and bisexuality is rare. This is unlike most biological variables, such as adult height or blood pressure, where most people have values near to the average. This in itself suggests that sexual orientation develops on two different paths.

Historically, Sigmund Freud’s view of sexuality was accepted in the early 20th century that good mental health, and a heterosexual orientation, were dependent on a good relationship with the parents during the early years of life. Well constructed surveys to test this were not done until the 1960s, when it was found that neither homosexual people nor mentally ill people were more likely to have had a poor relationship with their parents.

The possibility remained that association with gay or lesbian people could lead to initiation of a young person into lifelong homosexuality. Again, detailed studies, particularly the one published by Penguin, have shown that this does not happen; the study shows that young people at same sex boarding schools do as a group show a higher proportion having homosexual activity, but, in a group who had left a same sex boarding school five years or more previously, the proportion still having same sex activity was no higher than in the general population. Also, in one of the tribes in New Guinea, children are made to have same sex relationships with adults, but the homosexuality rate in their adults is no higher than elsewhere. This is further evidence that homosexuality is not addictive, and not permanently altered by external influences. However the Church of England Report ‘Some Issues in Human Sexuality’ wrongly infers, in paragraph 4.4.64, that changes in sexual behaviour in some circumstances are evidence against an innate sexual orientation.

Enquiries into families have confirmed that homosexuality does cluster in families in a way that suggests it is inherited genetically. Identical twins have exactly the same genetic inheritance, and non- identical twins have half the same genetic inheritance. Studies have
been done of groups of twin pairs, in all of which at least one of every pair was homosexual. The second twin was also found to be homosexual in half of the identical twin pairs, and in 16% of non-identical twin pairs, and 6% of adoptive pairs. The finding that half of the second identical twins were homosexual indicates a strong hereditary influence, but also that there is another, non-hereditary factor also operating among those twins who were homosexual. Nevertheless, conservative Christian spokesmen claim that the lack of full concordance in the identical twin studies shows that homosexuality is not inherited.

Heredity therefore appears to be responsible for a predisposition to homosexuality, which must be triggered by some other influence. We have already noted the possible postnatal influences that might be responsible for this, which could be early parental effects or copied behaviour in later childhood, and found that these are not implicated in causing homosexuality to develop. But is homosexuality just a free will decision made by people, who are responsible for their own sexuality? There is a lot of evidence against this. Many homosexual people, often in response to the criticisms coming from religious organisations or individuals, have undertaken courses of ‘treatment’, often at great expense, to make them heterosexual. These almost always fail. A recent study by Professor Spitzer of New York University is frequently quoted by conservative Christians as showing that sexual orientation can change. He asked for people who had undergone therapy for homosexuality to contact him. Only 200 people responded, almost all of whom had had therapy because of religious criticism. He concluded that only 13 out of the 200 had become mainly heterosexual, and confirmed that for the great majority change of orientation is not possible. Conservative Christian commentators seem unable to understand that people differ, and cannot all be forced into the same pattern in this respect.

We therefore have to consider the one remaining possibility, that the environmental factor causing sexual orientation operates before birth, in the uterine environment. Sexual development in the foetus does not begin until the sixth month of pregnancy, when the baby is complete in almost all other respects. At that time the sexual organs develop and grow in the pelvis, and there is also a rapid change in the part of the brain known as the hypothalamus. Experiments on animals have established that the hypothalamus includes the nerve centre for sexual awareness and activity. This is one of the reflex centres in the brain that control different aspects of body functions, such as body temperature, the fight or flight response to danger, and body balance. The variability in voluntary control of a person over their reflexes is notable – there is none in the case of body temperature. When the hypothalamus is surgically altered in an experimental animal, the animal’s subsequent sexual behaviour becomes dramatically different. And biochemical tests have shown that the hypothalamus is specifically receptive to the sex hormones, oestrogen or testosterone, and their derivatives. Any prenatal influences on sexual orientation must be operating at this point, anatomically and in time.

By a process of trawling, ie designing and testing all conceivable hypotheses, which is the basis of the scientific method, it has surprisingly been found that males who have two or more older brothers have a small but significant increase in likelihood that they will be homosexual. A possible explanation is that a male foetus inside the mother’s body is essentially foreign to the mother, since she herself has no male tissues. As with other external substances entering the body, such as microbes, the mother’s immune system develops antibodies against them – in this case, against the male hormones in the developing foetus. Antibody formation is always a slow process, building up over several exposures, which in this case is over several male pregnancies. It is feasible to suggest that an antibody to the testosterone (or its derivatives) in the male foetus could alter the development of the hypothalamus at the critical sixth month stage of pregnancy, configuring the sexual reflex centre to recognise males rather than females as attractive.

This occurs in only a small proportion of male births, but similar hormonal variations in the developing brain could be occurring in other pregnant women, with female or male foetuses, and could account for other instances of homosexuality. There is a close analogy with Rhesus disease of the newborn, which is due to a reaction by a Rhesus negative mother to her Rhesus positive foetus.

The importance of the sex hormones in prenatal development is revealed by two rare medical disorders. One is Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, in which a genetically male foetus is totally insensitive to the effects of the testosterone circulating in its body. These people grow up as women, and usually marry, but of course they are infertile. The other is Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia, in which the child is genetically female, but has a tumour of the adrenal gland which produces the male hormone testosterone. If the tumour is removed surgically very early in life they grow up as heterosexual women. If it is not removed, as was always the case until recently, they grow up either as men, or as women
with a high probability of being lesbian.

Finally, it needs to be stressed that most homosexual people have no abnormalities. Every
person in the world is unique, with their own combination of characteristics, including such things as resting blood pressure, pulse rate, height, haemoglobin concentration et cetera. In a male foetus, a normal but low testosterone level during later pregnancy when the brain is developing may lead to a homosexual orientation, and in a female foetus a normal but high testosterone level may lead to a lesbian person, in the normal course of affairs.

This is a very brief summary of the main findings of the biological research into sexuality. A useful recent book is Born Gay by Wilson and Rahman, two London University Psychologists, published in 2005 by Peter Owen Books, which gives a fuller account. Also of interest is the British Medical Journal of 21 February 2004 on the history of the treatment of homosexuality up to the 1950s, pages 427 to 432, headlined ‘Treating homosexuality as a sickness, one of medicine’s many mistakes’; copies should be obtainable through libraries.

Some conservative Christian organisations have circulated reports of population studies which they claim show that homosexual people characteristically abuse children, are prone to drug taking, and are likely to die young. Their evidence is totally unreliable, being based on selective and unrepresentative population samples, such as convicted people or deaths mentioned in gay magazines, in which deaths of older people would hardly be newsworthy.

In the medical profession the debate is long past. Doctors are forbidden by the General Medical Council to allow their views on sexuality to affect the treatment they give or arrange for their patients. Surely it is time for people to receive the same understanding and acceptance by the Church.

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Gill Cooke

‘The Working Party attempted to discover and assess the medical evidence as objectively as it could and to set down what seemed to be the facts of the matter whether the facts were to the liking of all its members or not.’ These words express how the Chair of the 1979 C of E’s working party report on Homosexual Relationships treated the scientific material in its deliberations, a working party which included medical experts. The material, drawn from major scientific books and journals, covers 14 pages of a 94 page report. (The reports of the 1950s concerned with the decriminalisation of homosexuality had similar scientific sections and were produced by multidisciplinary working parties.) The importance of science was also recognised in the Lambeth Conference Reports of 1978 and 88 which acknowledged ‘the need for deep and dispassionate study of the question of homosexuality, which would take seriously both the teaching of Scripture and the results of scientific and medical research’. The 1988 subsection report on Sexual Orientation goes even further: ‘We believe that the Church should therefore give active encouragement to biological, genetic and psychological research, and consider these studies as they contribute to our understanding of the subject in the light of Scripture’. It also advocated further study ‘of the sociocultural factors which contribute to the differing attitudes toward homosexuality …. in the different provinces of our Church.’ The Church is here acknowledging the need for rigorous, objective scientific information in its discussion of homosexuality.

Until recently this would have been undisputed in the Church debates about homosexuality, but now there seem to be worrying signs that at a time when scientific research has been developing rapidly and affirming gay people’s views, the more reluctant the Church is to include this dimension in the debate.

Gone are the multidisciplinary Working Parties, which included scientists and medical practitioners. The issue is now solely in the hands of the Bishops. The 1991 report, Issues in Human Sexuality, which is still quoted, has three brief paragraphs of general comment.

It gets worse! The 1998 Lambeth Conference Resolution on Sexuality has no mention of scientific and medical research. Only in the subsection report on Sexuality do we have a mention of ‘scientific questions’. It states that after prayer, study and discussion they (bishops of course, no scientific advisers) ‘were unable to agree on the scriptural,  theological, historical and scientific questions’. Let’s give our worldwide bishops the benefit of the doubt and assume they are competent on Scripture, theology and history – but have they also really now become scientific experts?

Then we have the lengthy 2003 report Some Issues in Human Sexuality produced by four Bishops with two theological consultants, one of whom wrote the report. The only material on science and medicine occurs in the Chapter Homosexuality and Biblical Teaching. For the current state of research we are referred to a book by two conservative Christian writers. They are both psychologists, but their book Homosexuality: The Use of Scientific Research in the Church’s Ethical Debate claims that the Bible must decide what is acceptable as evidence in the debate. One of the lengthy quotes by one of the same authors says (to paraphrase) that homosexuality may have a biological or genetic cause but this may be true of other antisocial things like drunkenness and violence.

When we examine the context of the quote in the original book, things become even more disturbing. The chapter referred to begins with a lurid story from Penthouse involving a story of a sex ring involving predatory American clergy and abuse taking place on Church property. Same sex relationships are being clearly linked by the authors to sexual abuse, although this link is not made in the Bishops’ report. Did the Bishops actually examine the context of the original reference?

Gone is the objectivity of the earlier reports. Science is no longer a respected partner in the debate. The Bible has become the supreme authority for judging science. Surely Church history since the age of Galileo must have taught the Church the dangers of doing this. With the Archbishop of Canterbury only too aware of the ignorance of so many about sexuality, it might have been hoped that the necessity of informing the worldwide bishops about the increasing developments of scientific research in the field of sexuality would be considered essential. Indeed this would accord with the 1978 and 1988 Lambeth Resolutions, but this does not appear to be happening if, as the Church Times of 10th November 2006 reports, he has ruled out reopening of Resolution 1.10 on human sexuality from Lambeth 1998 where there is no mention of scientific and medical research. Listening ‘to diverse views and experiences’ is necessary if they are to be well informed, but sadly this is often not the case since many opinions reflect views which contemporary science has shown to be wrong.

Science cannot decide ethical norms, but we cannot have an informed ethical debate without an understanding of present scientific knowledge.

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“Prayed Out: God in Dark Places”, John Michael Hanvey (Book Review)

Reviewed by Daphne Cook

Prayed Out: God in Dark Places, John Michael Hanvey, Columba Press 119p. ISBN 1-
85607-505-2. Paperback £6.99.

Everyone has a story to tell. Prayed Out is a story of a journey in the life of a man who responded to a call to train and serve as a Franciscan brother at the age of eighteen. He entered that calling and subsequently that to Priesthood with all the confidence of youth. It is an honest story of sharing when that confidence of youth, and the striving to be the perfect priest, was challenged by a journey of living in a gay relationship which was to be for both participants ecstatic and tragic. A relationship of feeling complete one moment,
incomplete and beyond redemption at the next.

It is an honest story of one who discovered his God again in the dark places of his humanity. Through art he has been reminded that his prayer as a young man was to enter the sufferings of Christ for the good of the world. It is his offering of a meditation on Rembrandt’s powerful picture of the Prodigal Son that the author refers to as his autobiography.From this place of being ‘prayed out’, of casting off excess baggage of the past, an unbinding process has come about through many people who have shown love and care.

Finding his place in creation and knowing that God not only loves him, but likes him just as
he is, has been sometimes a harsh, but exciting experience. The reading of this personal story could open a journey that contains similar experiences.

Everyone has a story to tell. This story could be the encouragement for others to travel through darkness to offer the incredible possibilities of God’s grace. The epilogue concludes,

‘All things are new every day, and grace is everywhere; and even if we don’t have the courage for this journey, the one who loves us will make it possible’.

Daphne Cook

Daphne Cook

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A Dialogue between the Churches on Sexuality Issues – An Anglican Approach

The Rt. Revd. John Gladwin

A personal disclaimer – what I say should not be taken as necessarily representing Anglicanism! I am an Anglican and what I say I believe to be in that tradition – but many Anglicans may come at these matters very differently – a matter which I consider to be a strength in church life.

Anglican conversations about sex, its meaning and purpose in human life, spin round our traditions on marriage. In a variety of ways Anglicans enter this field from this entrance point. Since liturgy plays an important role in shaping our doctrine and attitudes, the changing shape of the liturgies of marriage play an important role in this.  Anglicans would be heard saying the following sort of things:

  • Marriage is a gift God gave to humanity in creation.
  • Marriage is a covenant of love and commitment between a man and a woman.
  • Marriage is a sacrament or is sacramental in type – a means through which God’s grace may be experienced in our lives.

The character of the gift.

  • Universal – for all and to be a blessing for the world, including those who do not formally enter into marriage.
  • It is an exclusive bond – joining of the couple in union is the bodily sign of the love that brings them together. Sex, commitment and love are to be held together.
  • It is the context within which God wills the creation of new life in children.

Marriage is not a civil arrangement, nor a service in church.

In regard to the morality of sexual behaviour these understandings would resist two ways of creating a division between sexual behaviour and the relationship between the people. There is the obvious one that sex for self gratification irrespective of whether there is any relationship is sinful – fornication. There is the less obvious one of the suggestion that where there is love, anything goes. So Anglicans have, from a variety of frameworks of moral endeavour, always taken an interest in the morality of the act as well as the quality of the relationship.

The sexual bond and act is of itself a profound good – part of the gift of life God has given in our creation as human beings. So that long cultural history of experiencing sex as sinful in itself and dirty has no place in serious Anglican theology – from the Prayer Book onwards!

In attending to these questions of both relationship and praxis, Anglicans always hold to the essential authority of the church in the Bible, interpreted down the centuries in the teaching of the church and qualified by reason – which some would say includes experience.

We may not hold as true, things which are manifestly against the doctrine of Scripture.

When tackling the complex issues facing us today – not just the personal and pastoral needs of same sex couples, but cohabitation, the forms of marriage in society where many are reticent about making such commitments and the impact on behaviour of safe contraceptive protection, the HIV/Aids crisis and of the wider cultural mores which are manifestly changing – Anglicans can look back on a history of development and even change in their judgements.

The obvious ones

  • Contraception and family planning
  • Divorce and remarriage
  • Contemporary techniques in human fertilisation, family reconstruction and so on.

So we are always having to reshape how we speak about these issues – finding new directions in Scripture and in the understanding of our traditions.

What I think is remarkable at present is the shift in thinking about the needs of same sex couples. From an age of deep ambivalence about marriage, we now have same sex couples seeking stability, recognition and human rights in parallel to marriage.

Is this compromising our doctrine of marriage or is it strengthening it?

That is unfinished business for us.

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“Opening Up”, Julian Filochowski and Peter Stanford (editors) (BOOK REVIEW)

Reviewed by John Cook

Julian Filochowski and Peter Stanford (editors), Opening Up, Darton Longman and Todd, ISBN 0-232-52624-9. £14.95.

The sub-title of this book is “Speaking Out in the Church”. The 24 contributors (almost all of whom are Roman Catholics) write about the need for the Church to go back to Jesus, his example and teaching, his life, death and resurrection: but to note what life in the world is like now. The book is a plea for the Church and the Gospel Message to escape from the shackles of past thought and practice, and to address the realities of human life in 2005.

Several contributors point out that the Church should be a listening and learning Church, not just a teaching Church. “We are Church. Together. We are multi-hued, we are female as well as male, we are gay and straight, we are all sinners and all would-be saints. And we must learn again to listen to each other.” It is “a global people united in sacrament and solidarity striving to follow the Lord in this broken and divided world”.

Down the centuries the Church has been impoverished by concentrating power and authority in the ordained, and under-valuing the experience, the thought and the insights of its lay members. Baptism has primacy over ordination. Having an all-male ordained ministry has further weakened the understanding and the applying of the Gospel. Chapter after chapter is a plea for the Church to get real about sexuality, poverty, and peace. Theological seminaries should ensure that students (and staff) understand the realities of God’s good gift of sexuality. “What you don’t know can hurt you”. Sexual intercourse is for expressing and building up a loving relationship, not just a means of producing babies.

Believing that Jesus showed God’s love for all people, clergy, nuns and others have worked amongst gay and lesbian people. Unsympathetic members of the hierarchy have tried to stop them. Priests have been rebuked for welcoming gay and lesbian people to receive the Holy Sacrament.

No one doubts that the Church needs rules. There is no virtue in chaos. But “the Sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath”. To forbid the wife of an HIV-infected man from insisting that he uses a condom, is to promote death not life.

The Church also needs to get real about Options for the Poor. God is described in the Bible as “the Father of orphans, defender of widows”. The cancelling of unpayable debt, and the promoting of fair conditions of trade are urgent. There is no salvation for the rich if the poor are ignored. “Extra pauperes nulla salus” – outside of the poor there is no salvation.

I am typing this review on the day that newspapers report the publication of “An Instruction concerning Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with Regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies in View of Their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders”. The document, from the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education, says the church deeply respects homosexuals. But it also says it ‘cannot admit to the seminary and the sacred orders those who practice homosexuality, present deeply rooted homosexual tendencies or support so-called gay culture.’ The document reiterates the Church’s traditional teaching that homosexual acts are ‘grave sins’ and also intrinsically immoral and contrary to natural law.

Writers in Opening Up point out that respecting Natural Law means the Church has to take account of scientific discovery. The Earth does revolve around the Sun. Human beings do not choose their sexual orientation. All of us, lesbian, gay, straight, need to live our sexuality in ways which conform with the two great commandments: to love God whole-heartedly, to love our neighbour as ourselves. God calls some of us to a life of celibacy, God calls others of us to a faithful sexual relationship of love.

“Traditional Church Teaching” emphasises the importance of applying church rules carefully to particular circumstances. In the parable of the Good Samaritan the priest and the levite obeyed the rule of purity (do not touch what might be a corpse) rather than the rule of compassion. The Church needs its members to cultivate and obey an informed conscience, rather than be unthinkingly compliant.

The book has been published to mark the beginning of the leadership of Pope Benedict. As the introduction states “Opening Up is not a monochrome or tidy gathering. There is no common experience, temperament, register or angle of vision. But each voice, in its individual and sometimes contrary way, is a reflection on love, truth and justice in the Catholic Church spoken in honour of a friend.”

The friend is Martin Pendergast, who ”hast given most of his life to cherishing those who are on the margins, whether of society or the Church”. Martin is a member of CSCS.

Our CSCS leader, Jane Fraser, is one of the contributors. She has written the chapter “Teenage Pregnancy: are the Churches to Blame?” You cannot read this chapter without being forced to think very deeply indeed.

Reading this book is like opening the window of a stuffy room, and receiving breath after breath of fresh air. I recommend that as many people as possible read it. With thinkers and writers such as these, there is hope for God’s Church on earth.


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