Giles Fraser is wrong (again)

It gets a bit tedious at times, but nevertheless the first thing I do almost every Friday when the post comes is to turn to Fraser’s column in the Church Times. I like to start the weekend annoyed and this weekend is no exception.

This week Giles wants to destroy the distinction that the church makes between homosexual orientation and practice. He writes:

Allow me a moment of philosopher-speak: can there really be such a thing as an orientation to X, if that orientation never actually results in X? Orientation makes sense only by virtue of its relationship to the actual doing of something.

What could it mean to say a person had a homosexual orientation, if he never once had any sort of sexual relationship with a member of the same sex? I suggest it would mean next to nothing. And, if I am right, then there can be no ultimate distinction between orientation and practice. The former cannot meaningfully exist without the latter.

OK, where do I start? First, it is very possible to have an orientation towards something without actually practising it. Millions of teenage boys (I use this example because I, and I suspect half of you, were once one) grow up with sexual desires that they never carry through. Most teenage boys grow up fancying girls. Does Fraser think that because they never have sex that means that they’re not heterosexually orientated? Are they asexual because they don’t achieve orgasm with somebody else? Or let’s take the argument further. Am I not a sweet-tooth if I once eat a toffee and then want one for ten years but never actually have one because my dentist (who scares me – seriously, my dentist scares me – his taste in music is dangerous) tells me not to?

If only Fraser has turned to the Bible he might have had some help in writing his column, but unfortunately he didn’t. If he’d had turned to Scripture he’d have discovered that God doesn’t view people in terms of their sexuality. The only sexual distinction Scripture sees is male and female, which in Genesis 1 and Ephesians 5 (for starters) it views as a glorious picture of the redeeming work of Christ with his church. Yes, the Bible has HUGE amounts to say about sexual practice and the way that in the context of marriage between a man and a woman it signifies Christ and the church, but it never once addresses the issue of sexual orientation. That doesn’t mean that the God of the universe who breathed Scripture into being through those who wrote it is ignorant of these things. Rather, it means that human beings were never designed to think of themselves as gay or straight or bisexual or anywhere in between.

And then there’s the issue of those who, like myself, find that their sexual orientation changes over time. Despite being exclusively homosexual (and please don’t try the “you were bisexual” line on me – it’s wearing a bit thin) I chose not to act on my orientation. Did that mean I wasn’t a sexual being? Not at all, but I let God guide my sexuality into appropriate areas and then, in his grace and providence, he healed my wounds and brokenness.

Fraser says that “the most telling argument against the orientation/practice distinction is that it protects no one”, but even here he’s wrong. The orientation / practice distinction is hugely important because it affirms for many people the Biblical truth that their heart is deceitful above all things, but God is still able to transform and redeem them. It also tells them that they don’t have to do what their fallen and broken selves sometimes desire. It tells them that God honours lives that seek holiness even in the midst of temptation. And most importantly the orientation / practice distinction reminds people that no sin is unforgivable, that they’re not destined to be gay just because they act out homosexually in the same way that someone who steals something isn’t destined to be a kleptomaniac.

And for the record, the opposition to Jeffrey John being made a bishop was because of what he taught, not his sexual orientation. Just so we know.

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  • Neil

    Thanks Peter. Very gracious. Very true.

  • http://www.captainsacrament.com/ Kyle

    Can you elaborate on the Jeffrey John comment? I thought his orientation really was the issue, but to hear otherwise would make me feel quite a bit better about C of E evangelicals…

  • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

    Sure Kyle (and nice to have you around),

    The objections to Dr John were twofold:

    i) His authorship of Permanent, Stable, Faithful showed that he taught a position on sex outside of marriage that was inconsistent with 2000 years of orthodoxy. It was one thing to have a theologian arguing such a position – it was another to have him as a Bishop
    ii) Though Dr John was now celibate (and had assured the Bishop of Oxford that he would stay so) he had previously been in a sexually active relationship with another man. His refusal to say that his sexually active relationship outside of marriage was immoral and incorrect conduct for a priest (let alone a bishop) demonstrated a lack of propriety in his “family life” (i.e. 1 Timothy 3). This was clear grounds to oppose his consecration.

  • http://www.captainsacrament.com/ Kyle

    Oh, that makes much more sense. Cheers. :0)

  • john

    Brilliant.

    Many people try to make this nonsense argument–and often.

    I wish more people would have read this.

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