You’ve got to love Changing Attitude. There’s nothing like a bit of double-mindedness to entertain you on a weekend. Take the latest self-publicity attempt which is a letter to every bishop in the Church of England demanding that they be honest.
Changing Attitude knows from the evidence of conversations with bishops and from our supporters that over 50% of bishops dissent from the current teaching and practice of the Church of England on homosexuality. They support, ordain and licence their LGB&T clergy, ordinands and lay ministers, including those in civil partnerships. They know that God does not discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation and their expression of love in permanent, faithful, stable sexual relationships.
Just beautiful. What are they going to do with the replies? Publish them? Because if they’re not, what is the point of this exercise? When we question Colin Coward as to what response he got is he going to claim, “Well over half the Bishops said they don’t implement the 2005 Pastoral Statement on Civil Partnerships, but we’re not going to tell you who they are.” That would fit in with the usual bold claims coming out of CA. For example, this week Colin Coward repeated his oft trotted out “There are 14 gay bishops in the Church of England” line.
Some of you reading this letter are gay. Some of you are bisexual. Some of you are in a gay relationship. Some of you were sexually active with men when you were younger. Some of you may be unaware of the fourteen gay bishops in your midst. The majority of you will know some of them.
Lovely. Who are they? Only Colin Coward has the Gnosis and we are not enlightened enough orÂ privilegedÂ to have the secret shared with us.
And then we get this classic line.
We hope that those of you who are gay or bisexual have integrated your sexuality and spirituality and know that your same-sex desires are a gift from God and a blessing in creation.
Ah yes, now we know what honesty you want. Changing Attitude aren’t actually interested in honesty, only honest compliance. They don’t want Bishops to be honest about their sexual orientations, they want them to be honest AND agree with Colin. If not, why else would Colin have responded to a senior Evangelical leader coming out last week with this kind of venom and refusal to listen.
Vaughanâ€™s struggle with being gay only arises because he belongs to a sub-set of the Church which believes love-making between people of the same sex is forbidden by the Bible, taboo, evil, hated by God. Itâ€™s a world of their own making, derived from seven Biblical clobber passages and membership of a Christian set which is obsessedÂ by sexual sin and guilt in particular.
Vaughanâ€™s conservative evangelical Christian worldview means he has to develop strategies for denying or suppressing feelings and desires which are natural, healthy, God-given ways in which LGB&T people create loving, physical, intimate, holy relationships. I feel sad for him, and angry that his brand of Christianity continues to infect the Church.
This is absolutely typical for liberals. At the same time as they demand that the Church hear them properly, the distort and misrepresent the position of their opponents. Who said anything about “denying” feelings? Where did Vaughan say that he is “suppressing” his same-sex attractions? Nothing could be further from the truth. There are plenty of us who are conservatives who are more than honest and open about our sexual feelings and desires, we just don’t think they should dictate our lives. Take for example this great piece by Dr Sean Doherty on the Fulcrum website this week.
My own journey is as a Christian who experiences same-sex attraction but who has chosen to move away from a gay identity, and I have written about thisÂ here.
This means that I know from absolutely first-hand experience that the churchâ€™s prohibition of same-sex sexual activity is not based on prejudice but is based precisely on love. I have never experienced homophobic treatment in the church. Rather, the church accepted and nurtured me, and encouraged me in my vocation as a clergy person and theologian, just as it also gave me guidance and direction about how to order my life and relationships. In my experience, unconditional acceptance of me as a person and clear moral teaching about how I should live were two sides of the same coin.
I’m guessing Sean’s honesty isn’t the kind that Colin wants to hear. It doesn’t fit his paradigm and Sean is obviously not happy and he’s probably lying about never having experienced homophobia in conservative churches. How can he be telling the truth, because unlike Colin he doesn’t embrace all his sexual desires and instantly validate them.
What Colin still fails to understand is that the crucial difference between his position and the one shared by Sean, Vaughan, myself and others is not one of suppressing or denying feelings but rather something fundamentally much moreÂ ground-line, namely whether feelings are a valid basis of identity for Christians. As Mark Meynell pointed out last week in his review of Jenell Paris’ “The End of Sexual Identity“,
But if desire is not a trustworthy indicator, then what is? Well in a Christian framework, it must be the gospel of grace â€“ that in Christ we can never be more truly loved than we are by him because we can never be loved less than we are by him. So Paris proposes a new identity label: lover and beloved
When desire is seen as the sun around which identity orbits, both become rigid and unassailable; to question desire is to question a personâ€™s selfhood and worth. However, when desire is seen as a shifting planet that moves around the stable sun of belovedness, oneâ€™s desire as a child of God can remain in place regardless of how desire changes (or doesnâ€™t change). And when desire is respected as a site of conflict and a venue for grace, it remains responsive to discernment and care â€“ though this may or may not mean that desire will respond to attempts to change it, as Paul lamented so poignantly in Romans 7. (p98)
The result is that whenever people ask Paris what her sexuality is, she invariably replies that she is â€˜unlabelledâ€™ (despite being a married mother of 3 children). And she is not trying to be pedantic â€“ itâ€™s simply a helpful way for redirecting our assumptions. And of course, this has relevance far beyond the current culture wars. For it means that my identity is not derived from my social status, physical appearance, wealth, intelligence, power, respectability, or anything else. NONE ofÂ these things does any justice at all to what it means to be truly human.
It’s brilliant stuff and it actually shares a lot of ground with queer theory in positing that identity is constructed by volition and society and not dictated by biology. And crucially, it is the utter antithesis of the “honesty” that Changing Attitude demand of the infamous “14 Bishops”, which isn’t an honesty at all. Rather, it’s a dictatorial demand that these 14 men should conform to and affirm the gay-affirming world viewÂ propagatedÂ by Colin. It’s a demand that stems from a position of intellectual arrogance, based in the very presumption of anthropological superiority that it accuses, condemns and then dismisses others of. It is the height of pastoral domination and and insult to personal integrity liberty, conscience and Christian discipleship.
And this dogmatic attempt to impose on the rest of the Church a narrow constrained view of human sexuality is (and if there is anything in the liberal position that needs it this is it) something from which a change of attitude wouldn’t go amiss.