For a few weeks I’ve had a copy of the book to the right sat on my desk. it was sent to me as a review copy and I’ve been slowly going through it, a bit every day, time allowing. I’ve finally come to the end of reading it and have a simple, clear thing to say.
"The Anglican Communion and Homosexuality" is very, very good.
The book is edited by Phil Groves, the co-ordinator of the Anglican Communion Listening Process, and in his introduction with Andrew Goddard he sets out clearly the intent of the resource that he has created. It is simply this:
"To explore together the complex mystery of human sexuality and the shape of faithful human discipleship in this area."
and the book more than meets this remit. Through eight sections Phil Groves colates the thoughts and stufies of a number of academics and theologians, interest groups and Anglican bodies to provide what is probably the best general reader on this subject from an Anglican perspective. The contributions are varied and provide an insight into both the wide range of opinion on this subject and also a clear exposition of what the current Anglican position is and possible ways forward.
The opening section, "Listening and Mission", provides the framework for the rest of the compilation by laying out the clear understanding that issues around human sexuality are issues of mission. Unless as Christians we listen to the experience of those who have identified at some point as being homosexual, we cannot really produce an answer foucsed in Christ for them. This approach then focuses us in our study of the rest of the book, for we are not just reading for reading’s sake but for the sake of understanding what Christ would have us do in the world with those who are homosexual.
Chapter three, "The Witness of Scripture", takes us on a detailed journey through not just the "clobber passages" but also the general framework that the Bible presents for the exercising of human sexuality. The Scriptures are handled fairly, with all sides of the argument expressed so that the reader can understand the current international debate . The chapter is followed by one on "The Witness of Tradition" where issues such as marriage and polygaymy are explored as examples of the development of Anglican theology in areas of controversy. This leads us to understand how the formation of biblical theology is not a static, once and for all, process but rather evolves within the context of wrestling with the latest contextual socieal issues. This chapter is then followed by some fantastic contributions on the subject of "Homosexualities and Culture" from the Church of Uganda, North America, South Africa and England. This section is far from being a capitulation to liberal notions of the primacy of experience over objective understandings of revelation in Scripture and instead is a marvelous exercise in understanding where many in this debate across the globe are coming from as regards their own cultural contexts.
Issues of identity and spirituality are also examined before the closing chapter on the scientific debate where David de Pomerai provides a brilliant summary of the current research into biological causation of homosexuality. He hits the nail on the head with his summary of the research when he concludes:
"Only a complex and highly variable mixture of underlying mechanisms – some biological, as well as some psychosocial – seems adequate to explain the relaity of homosexuality in human society, and no single mechanism can claim to hold the key to homosexuality."
This provides a natural lead in to the last section of the book, a study by Glyn Harrison of whether pastoral and counselling techniques can help homosexuals to change, a section that is fair in exploring not only the complaints about abuse in this area, but also the remarkable number of testimonies that change can really happen.
So what is my overall verdict of this book? Well as I expressed above, it is really a very good compilation. As an initial Reader to help the uninitiated understand the complex parts of this discussion there is simply nothing to come close to the usefulness of this volume. And while it is fair and balanced, conservative readers will be encouraged that there is no surrender to a revisionist agenda. If I had my way, I would bundle it with the 2003 Church of England House of Bishops’ report "Some Issues in Human Sexuality" as the two essential pieces of reading on this fractious subject. If you are at all interested or involved in this subject, you need to have read Phil Grovess excellent volume sooner rather than later.