Will the House of Bishops review take on board “liquid”, “fluid”, or “post-label” sexualities?

The Lord called me before I was born, he named me from my mother’s womb.
The Lord formed me in the womb to be his servant.
Isaiah 49.2 and 5

These two verses imply that we are called in the womb, born destined to be someone – a servant – or heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender. Conservatives dispute the idea that we are born destined with a particular sexuality on scriptural grounds. They won’t be convinced by my selection of these two phrases from today’s third service reading to argue against them – from Scripture.

Andrew Goddard and Glynn Harrison are on uncertain ground, I suspect, in their article in yesterday’s Church Times, which is arguing to heed more the B in LGB&T.

They are arguing against a dualistic view of human sexuality, the assumption that we are either gay or straight, “as though they were distinct and enduring categories of human experience”, a view not held by Changing Attitude.

Human sexuality is formed in the womb, we are all “born that way”, whatever that way may be, as well as being influenced by nurture, environment, culture and human agency. These influences often undermine the sexual identity that we are born with, the heterosexual majority culture attempting to “normalise” those who experience themselves as different.

Andrew and Glynn use the evidence of two recently published American reports which find significant numbers of people declining conventional categories of “gay” or “straight”, preferring instead to categorise themselves as “bisexual” or “unlabelled”.

An estimated 3.5% of adults label themselves as lesbian, gay or bisexual. Bisexuals are a slight overall majority – 1.8%, with 1.7% identifying as gay or lesbian. Eleven per cent of the Americans surveyed acknowledge some level of same sex attraction and 8.8% have engaged in sexual behaviours with someone of the same sex at some point in their lives.

11.4% of women and 4.9% of men aged between 25 and 44 report having at least one same-sex sexual partner in the previous year.

The work of Lisa Diamond finds that over time, more women adopted bisexual or unlabelled identities than relinquished them. This data is consistent with increasing use in every day discourse of concepts such as “liquid”, “fluid”, or “post-label” sexualities. This conforms to the witness given by a substantial minority of those Changing Attitude encounters in our work.

Andrew and Glynn argue, rightly in my view, that the Church must now give much greater weight to the fact that “liquid”, “fluid”, or “post-label” are increasingly significant sexual identities and the concept of a spectrum of sexuality reflects the complex reality of sexual attraction and behaviour.

They urge the bishops undertaking the review of Issues in Human Sexuality to reflect carefully on the uncertainties of research. Discipleship apparently means being cautious of the evidence revealed by current research (which reveals “contingent sexual interests” and “constructed sexual identities”).

They hope the House of Bishops will offer something truly prophetic and counter-cultural by combining scripture, tradition and reason. I argue that scripture is as malleable as human sexuality. If the House of Bishops follow Andrew and Glynn’s advice, they are likely to end up with a document as flawed as Issues in Human Sexuality and as irrelevant to the experience of a significant minority of the human race, many of whom are Christians.

The reports:

A.Chandra et al., Sexual Behaviour, Sexual Attraction, and Sexual Identity in the United States, US Department of Health and Human Services 2011

G. J. Gates, How Many People are Lesbian, Gay, and Transgender?, The Williams Institute, UCLA, 2011

Comments

  1. Erika Baker says

    If by those words we mean that there are some people who can genuinely feel attracted to people of both sexes to a greater or lesser extent, I have no problem with it.
    But fluidity, too, is something we’re born with.
    I would hate it if conservatives got the wrong end of the stick and claimed that people choose throughout their lives what they want to be at any given moment.
    Or that anyone could do so.

    • Paul says

      Absolutely right. It seems to be so easy for them to go from “it can be fluid” to “anyone can choose”. This is not so. As a bisexual, you can’t necessarily choose which way sexuality swings in your life over the years. Not in my experience.

  2. says

    I found the article quite annoying Colin. Surely we have known about ‘bisexuality’ in this sense since Kinsey’s researches but when it comes to activism it seems to be hard to recruit them – certainly in Christian circles. I felt that the authors were trying to deflect attention away from the real issue which is about the full inclusion of LGT people: bi people, when they are behaving in hetero-normative ways, admittedly, being already accommodated. If this comment is unfair to bi people then I will be very happy for them to put the record ‘straight’ (pun intended) here.

  3. Changing Attitude says

    Tina, and Erika, I think Andrew and Glynn were either being disingenuous or dishonest in writing the article. The research they cite most certainly doesn’t support what I think their attitude is towards LGB&T people. On the contrary, it undermines their position, reflects reality as we have experienced it in Changing Attitude, and presents the House of Bishops and the group appointed to review ‘Issues’ with valuable information and a big challenge to Church teaching, expectations and assumptions. Will they rise to the challenge? I fear not.

  4. Erika Baker says

    Christina,
    I don’t think you’re being unfair to bi-people. I’ve been bi all my life but spent the first half of it happily heterosexually married and completely integrated into society. It’s only after I got divorced civil partnered that the topic began to impact on my life.

    The one difference is that most people seem to get their definition of bisexuality from the porn industry where it usually means threesomes in ever changing constellations, or at least conducting 2 relationships at the same time.
    I’ve heard people argue that if Changing Attitude supports bisexuals it’s completely lost out, morally.

    The other difference is a complete incromprehension as to why, if we can choose, we would opt for the “immoral” choice of homosexuality.
    I think that one arises from the efforts of gays and lesbians to emphasise that they cannot be called immoral if they haven’t got the choice of loving a person of the other sex – the implication in many people’s minds being that, if they did have that choice, they would of course never choose a same sex relationship.

    We really need to get the debate to the level where people don’t evaluate the morals of same sex relationships based on fixed orientation but on the quality of the relationship.
    That would help all of us.

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