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.
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