In the final chapter of the book, ‘Good News for gay Christians’, Oliver O’Donovan explains the failed hopes of the St Andrew’s Day Statement.
“Of course, no secret was made of the fact that the authors of the Statement approached the discussion with the assumption that the right category for the relationships of gay people was singleness, not marriage, and that this implied doing without an exclusive, intimate and permanent relationship. But it was never the intention of the Statement merely to declare what its authors supposed to be the case.”
I admit I read the St Andrew’s Day Statement with a prejudiced mind. I prejudged the intention of the evangelicals who issued it and assumed exactly what Oliver says was not its intention.
“Its intention was to pose open questions to gay Christians which might elicit what they supposed to be the case. It was an invitation to dialogue within the basic terms set by Christian faith. The authors knew full well that other answers might be given to these questions than the answers they themselves would give, and they wanted to discuss those other answers, too.”
As a committed Christian with a very strong pro-gay agenda in the church, I want to respond positively to Oliver’s challenge – I’m excited by it. If any of us are to move this so often polarised, sterile debate to a new, more creative level, we all need to allow ourselves to participate in a mutual process of open exploration.
I have already participated in a number of explorative encounters, at St George’s House, Windsor (when Oliver participated) and the Royal Foundation of St Katherine, Limehouse, the latter including Canadian representatives. There have also been three encounters between representatives of Inclusive Church and Anglican Mainstream and the Goddard2Goddard posts have explored the territory in cyberspace.
Oliver wants: “…to hear the question discussed by gays, rather than by liberals.” Are “stable relationships” key to our experience, he asks:
“Or is there something important in the roaming character of some gay relations? There is room here for a seriously interesting discussion among gay people which will be instructive to us all. What the gay experience really is, is a question of huge importance both to gays and non-gays.”
Let me out myself – I was a member of the member of the Lesbian and Gay Clergy Consultation Working Group which produced the Sexual Ethics report published by Changing Attitude and available on our web site. I wanted to include the sentence about causal sex being often addictive and destructive, yet thinking it important to remain open to the possibility that brief and loving sexual engagement between mature adults in special circumstances can be occasions of grace (p11). This is the one part of the report which Lisa Nolland takes exception to and has referred to in several reports attacking CA’s sexual ethic, accusing us of dishonesty in claiming to that we are committed to permanent, faithful, stable relationships as the model for LGBT people. We are.
We also recognise that the church acknowledges that not all heterosexual Christians are capable of fidelity to the ideal and are allowed to divorce and remarry (in church), sometimes serially. The church knows that many heterosexuals fail to live up to the ideal.
I want the church to allow similar latitude to LGBT people, not a wider scope for infidelity but the same generous acknowledgment that some relationships fail, become sterile, unhealthy for the couple. Oliver asks the question: “…is there something important in the roaming character of some gay relations?” I would like to participate in what, as he says, could be a seriously interesting discussion.
Three final thoughts for this post. How and where do we conduct a more frank public debate in the church which will help “the rest of us” as Oliver puts it, “…feel our way towards an understanding of the dynamic of the experience and a sense of how the good news may bear most importantly on it.”
Secondly, who within the world of LGBT Christians is prepared to pursue this debate? So many are disheartened with the church and have lost the will to engage, exhausted by the constant conservative attacks. Who has the capacity:
“…to engage in analogical thinking, which is central to moral reasoning. They will need to ask themselves about likenesses of experience and about unlikenesses, about ways in which known patterns illuminate unknown, about the extending of paradigms to encompass new types.”
Thanks are due to Oliver for having written his “Seven Sermons on the Subject of the Day” and to Fulcrum for having first posted them on their web site.
My third and final thought. The debate proposed by Oliver will take place against a background of schismatic threats and attacks on the integrity of LGBT identity from Anglican Mainstream, VirtueOnline, Stand Firm and the GAFCON/FoCA axis. Are any of these organisations or the individuals involved in them prepared to review their hostile strategy to enable LGBT Anglicans to engage in public debate in a less hostile environment? The reaction to Bishop Gene’s presence at Greenbelt suggests not.
Is the Archbishop of Canterbury in conjunction with other Church of England Bishops and Communion Primates prepared to make a stand and commit publicly to the creation and maintenance of safe space in which LGBT Anglicans can confidently participate?