Ascending Mount Carmel – One Step at at Time – Part Three
In the previous parts of this series I raised the question as to whether pro-gay Christian literature embraced or fled from concepts of purgation. We also looked at some ex-gay writings and saw that in their guidance they seemed to follow the classical spiritual disciplines. Having seen this, our next question is "does modern pro-gay Christian spirituality have a sense of purgation?" I reviewed two favourably received anthologies of essays on homosexuality to see whether the issue was promoted or even addressed by those supporting some form of homosexual practice. The first set of results below are from the book Homosexuality and Christian Faith edited by Walter Wink:
|Essay||Author||Stance||Purgation / Redemptive Suffering|
|A Belated Justice||Donald W Shriver||Revisionist||No Mention|
|Thoughts from the Weekend of the Quilt||Carole Shileds||Revisionist||No Mention|
|One Family’s Story||Paul Wennes Egertson||Revisionist||No Mention|
|Homosexuality and the Bible||Walter Wink||Revisionist||No Mention|
|Biblical Fidelity and Sexual Orientation||Ken Sehested||Revisionist||No Mention|
|Homosexualities||Morton & Barbara Kelsey||Revisionist||No Mention|
|Accepting what cannot be changed||David G Myers||Revisionist||No Mention|
|Homosexuality : A Word not Written||Maria Harris & Gabriel Moran||Revisionist||No Mention|
|Exploring the Morality of Homosexuality||Lewis B Smedes||Revisionist||No Mention|
|Where the Gospel Leads Us||Richard Rohr, OFM||Revisionist||No Mention|
|Being Christian about Homosexuality||John B Cobb Jr||Revisionist||No Mention|
|in God’s House there are Many Closets||Peggy Campolo||Revisionist||No Mention|
|Liberty to the Captives and Good Tidings to the Afflicted||William Sloane Coffin||Revisionist||No Mention – Suffering is raised (p107) and "turning the other cheek", but this is not in the sense of purgation|
|The Challenge of Nonconformity||Elise Boulding||Revisionist||No Mention|
|Baptism, Bread and Bonds||Ignacio Casteura||Revisionist||No Mention|
|Same-Gender Covenants||M Mahan Siler Jr||Revisionist||No Mention|
So a pro-gay book has no articles dealing with classical spiritual direction. We now turn to The Way Forward?, an anthology of essays across the theological spectrum edited by Timothy Bradshaw.
|Essay||Author||Stance||Purgation /Redemptive Suffering|
|Knowing Myself in Christ||Rowan Williams||Mildly Revisionist||No Mention|
|Homosexuality in the Church||Oliver O’Donovan||Traditional||No Mention|
|Call to Biblical Values||Gerald Bray||Traditional||Yes – p40|
|Christian Same-Sex Partnerships||Jeffrey John||Revisionist||Raised but not applied – p46|
|Travelling Together||Michael Vasey||Revisionist||No Mention|
|Dancing in the Spirit||Elizabeth Stuart||Revisionist||No Mention|
|Christ, Creation and Human Sexuality||John Colwell||Traditional||Yes – pp 95-97|
|Questions of Clarification||Dave Leal||Neutral||Briefly Touched|
|Divine Order and Sexual Conduct||Simon Vibert||Traditional||Yes – p121|
|Truth and Love in our Sexual Feelings||Martin Hallett||Traditional||Yes – and recognises the struggle and possible accommodation with fallen self – p132|
|A Psychiatrist’s Perspective||Tom M Brown||Traditional||No Mention|
|Can Hermeneutics Ease the Deadlock?||Anthony Thiselton||Neutral||No Mention|
Some points are worth noting from this brief survey.
- In his essay in The Way Forward? Jeffrey John raises the idea that all enter into some form of redemptive suffering (quoting the St Andrews Statement) but then rejects that there is any form of purgation for those with same-sex attraction since experience tells those with the attraction that it is good.
- It might be argued that the survey is skewed in that many of the articles are not about the spirituality of people with same-sex attraction. However, this is not the point. The aim of the survey is to see whether the basic traditional concepts of spiritual direction are at all discussed within the dialogue around sexuality. The fact that in practice purgation is discussed far more in the traditional camp then the revisionist camp, regardless of the exact specific of the article, is the key observation.
- That said the exact fallout of articles addressing purgation was:
- Revisionist – 5%
- Neutral – 25%
- Traditional – 66.7%
I wondered whether I had just read the wrong books, so I went to an anthology of "christian gay experiences", the Colin Coward edited "The Other Way?". Once again, in 14 stories of personal experiences, I could not find one single reference to purgation, or indeed any reference to any form of classical spiritual discipline in relation to sexuality. The closest I came to trying to combine purgation with the revisionist gay experience is in the work Sexuality and the Christian Body. Here Eugene Rogers argues that:
"I propose that marriage, for the same or opposite sexes, can be a discipline of denial and restraint that liberates the human being for sanctification. The trouble with most conservative arguments is not that in denying same-sex couples the rite of marriage they would deny them true self-satisfaction, although they might. The trouble is that in denying same-sex couples the rite of marriage they would deny them true self-denial."
The problem with this argument though is that in order for it to work there must be the assumption that a level of purgation and sanctification is available in marriage that is not available outside. If that is not so (and I and I believe the great spiritual writers down the age. many of whom were single, would argue exactly that) then single people are able to participate in the same experience and sanctification of purgation, and therefore the need for same-sex unions to be blessed is unnecessary. The truth of course is that purgation is an experience encountered by both single people and married people and it is not dependent on their status in this regard. Rather it is dependent on an attitude of the heart that recognises sin and seeks to die to it. The church is not denying any engagement with purgation by refusing to bless same-sex unions. One might even argue it is doctrinally laying the basis for a journey into purgation, by declaring clearly in its refusal to bless same-sex unions where one ground for purgation is.