This is a raw, unfinished blog, but I’m travelling to London again this morning to join the demonstration against the anti-same sex marriage law outside the Nigerian High Commission and staying for a meeting of the LGBTI Anglican Coalition tomorrow, and if I don’t write and post now, the heat of the moment will have passed.
The House of Bishops of the Church of England are doing huge damage to particular minority groups in society and to the whole of society by its inability to develop a new discourse about human sexuality and gender. There are enough bishops in the House to know that the present discourse and theology is not just inadequate but deeply damaging for individuals and for the quality of God-given life in families and relationships.
I understand their problem. They face powerful opposition from conservative forces in this country and other parts of the Communion. Many of them vacillate, including senior figures. They believe the Christian discourse, which has evolved from Scripture, tradition and reason, has to be defended and prioritised against developments of understanding in society, scientific, sociological, medical, therapeutic and psychological understandings.
The damage is being done because the bishops have mutually accepted a particular theological and Christian discourse which we know full well they are in radical disagreement about.
The whole Christian discourse is doing harm, sometimes immense harm (as I’ve written repeatedly), being responsible for the intolerance shown towards those with variant sexual and gender identities. With the support of members of the Anglican Communion, this discourse leads to abuse, imprisonment and murder. Friends of mine in Nigeria and Uganda are being abused, arrested and fear for their lives.
The promotion of reparative therapy is a result of the shockingly misguided Christian discourse. The use of language such as same-sex attraction is but one of the tools used to undermine the reality and integrity of those people, gay and straight, whose variations of identity are unexceptional in God’s creation – but judged by the Church.
In three or four year’s time the Church of England might have come to an ability to live together with these radical differences of understanding. That’s probably realistic – the best that can be achieved.
But the abuse and damage and wounding is happening now and the campaign work of Changing Attitude to change Christian understanding will never, never stop until the present discourse has changed.
Jesus taught that God is love, infinite, unconditional, tender love. Jesus’ commitment was to the poor, marginalized and disenfranchised, to women and lepers, tax collectors and sinners – those whom society and religious leaders abused because of their false interpretation of the nature of God, justified by their reading of Scripture and by their own unexamined prejudices.
We live at a time when the Christian narrative, not only about sexuality and gender but about the nature of God and the teaching of Jesus Christ, is being challenged and radically, dramatically reconfigured into a pattern which is more healthy, holy and true to Jesus Christ’s pattern and teaching. Jesus opposed teaching and practice that abused, diminished and marginalized people. He did not, ever, impose rules and laws if they did not affirm people’s core goodness and wisdom. He opposed legal codes when they dehumanized people.
My passion this morning is fuelled by several things. By the courage and determination of people to do the most loving, faithful thing in their lives to God and to their partners despite the House of Bishops Pastoral Guidelines and the threats and challenges hanging over them. By having met Jay Hayes-Light, Director of the UK Intersex Association recently and by reading Susannah Cornwall’s book Sex and Uncertainty in the Body of Christ: Intersex Conditions and Christian Theology.
Let me end by quoting from the book.
We perpetuate a false picture which – as it happens – conveniently suits a heteronormative, procreational agenda. Seizing on penises as markers of male men and vaginas as markers of female women maps neatly onto a model which says that to be real, even Godly men and women, these particular body parts must be used to act out a particular element of sexual congress in order to allow the generation of offspring. This coincides with the obsession on penetration evident in much Church reflection on sexuality; adultery and consummation both require penetration of a vagina by a penis. A theologically broadened conception of desirable or legitimate eroticisms could benefit not only intersexed and transsexual people but also others whose particular erogenous treasures are deemed illegitimate within a narrow conception of appropriate expression and enjoyment (p51).
There is much more I could write, but I offer the above quote as a marker of how far the Church and the House of Bishop’s understanding of gender and sexuality is lacking. This lack results not only in misunderstanding and a failure to understand God’s creation, but results in medical and emotional abuse in western contexts and physical abuse and murder both here and elsewhere.
The Church but one of the elements in Global culture responsible for toxic attitudes to gender and sexuality. It should be contributing to better understanding, healing, and more deeply loving relationships.