What are acceptable sexual morals for a Christian Leader?

Let me ask you a question. Say I invited over to the UK one of the leading ex-gay speakers in the USA? What say, once we arrived we did a tour of theological colleges, sharing his story and asking the seminarians to support his ministry? I think we’d get a good reception (or at least at *some* of the vicar factories here in the UK).

But then, what if you found out that the same speaker had had one-night stands at two of those colleges? What if you learnt that he almost didn’t turn up to preach because he was too busy on a gay dating and sex website? What if behind-the scenes he was utterly profligate with scarce resources, demanding to be ferrried everywhere by taxi and chaeuffeur and to stay in the best places?

Would such a person make a good role-model? Would you want to have him as one of your main speakers? Would you want Bishops of the Anglican Communion having photos taken with him, unaware of his character?

Read these quotes from one of the most vociferous pro-GLBT Anglican websites on the net:

I found his private behavior over the six weeks we were together to be rude, manipulative, arrogant, spendthrifty and destructive. He was continually sexually predatory, in ways both disgusting and laughable. Our tour nearly broke apart in C— after the first week; I had to seek the intervention of two priests who were hosting us. I also had to warn Bishop —, who had consented to a joint appearance with — at a — Eucharist in New York, of the difficulties —’s behavior presented, so that the bishop would not be embarassed by the association.

Earlier in C—-, the Dean of the Cathedral, had to send the curate to fetch —– to attend a Choral Evensong, after which a dinner was held in his honor. Though I had warned —- of the time, I could not pry him loose from an explicit Gay website (silverdaddies.com) offering dating and chats with “sugar daddies.” He was in mid-chat and he wasn’t about to lose a live prospect. —–, Caribbean-born, hair in dreadlocks, finally dragged him into the nave.

The entire tour was like that, but we managed to keep it together. He “scored” twice, both times while we were resident at American seminaries.

Wow!! Would you want such a man at the Lambeth Conference, let alone on a stand promoting your cause?

So who was it? Mario Bergner? Dawn McDonald? Andy Comiskey? Randy Thomas?

Are you ready for this?

The man in question is Davis Mac-Iyalla, Chair of Changing Attitude Nigeria. The website that has exposed him is the brilliantly vitriolic "Akinola Repent!!", (hardly a bastion of Conservatism) and the whole blog piece makes fascinating reading. Go check it out now.

Davis has been at the centre of Integrity / Changing Attitude’s campaign at the Lambeth Conference. Last Tuesday he was part of the Integrity team promoting a new film on Africans and homosexuality. Two days earlier he was at *that* Eucharist, proclaiming how happy he was to be there. And only yesterday he was the main attraction in a Changing Attitude story promoting homosexuality on the Kent Campus, as the lead speaker in a gathering for Bishops to hear gay experiences. He is a "poster-boy" on the Changing Attitude website, with almost every story for the past three weeks involving him.

At the moment, David Mac-Iyalla is Changing Attitude.

So what is Changing Attitude to do (assuming these allegations are correct)? The first thing they could do is absolutely nothing, but this would be a suicidal course of action. It would mean that any group in the future that worked with them would have to implicitly support a group that had no problem with a key member and leadership representative being highly promiscuous. Is that something that Integrity, those purveyors of the model of "Permanent, Stable, Faithful" gay relationships, really thinks they can do?

The second option is this. Mac-Iyalla can come out publicly and repent of these activities. What’s the chance of that? But f he does do this then we need to accept such a repentance and stop hassling him. Yes, he will have to take time to sort out his issues and that will be a period when Changing Attitude would be wise not to use him for publicity. We conservatives should under such circumstances leave him alone.

The third option, and the most sensible if option two doesn’t happen, is that Changing Attitude can drop Mac-Iyalla and have nothing more to do with him until he changes his ways. This would seem to be the obvious course of action, but it has a major problem which is as follows.

Any attempt to discipline Mac-Iyalla, or to even admit that what he did was wrong, would mean that Changing Attitude would have to tear up their document on Sexual Ethics, published in 2004 and still available on their website. This paper, edited by Andrew Henderson, has this remarkable section on pages 10 and 11:

James Nelson’s ideas on sexual ethics in Embodiment are definite and idealistic:-

“The physical expression of one’s sexuality with another person ought to be appropriate to the level of loving commitment present in that relationship.
Our relationships exist on a continuum – from the fleeting and casual to the lasting and intense, from the relatively impersonal to the deeply personal.
Genital sexual expression should be evaluated in regard to motivations, intentions, the nature of the act itself, and the consequences of the act, each of these informed and shaped by love.
Each genital act should be motivated by love, for one’s partner and for oneself.
Each genital act should aim at human fulfilment and wholeness.
The intent should be the engagement of the whole person – body, mind and feelings.
The concern for fulfilment-in-communion involves such intentions as sustaining, healing and growth through our genital expression
The intention to sustain the partner involves emotional security and sensitive, empathetic communication, and these imply continuity in relationship.”

There is often an implicit assumption in using the words ‘faithfulness’ and ‘commitment’ in this discussion that we are always talking about sexual relationships persisting over a long period of time. And of course time provides the vital conditions for development, change and growth. To be committed is to take things seriously. It is to say ‘Tomorrow I will be here as well as today, which means that we have time. Time for facing up to the reality of each other. I am not going to run away (from you or myself).’

However, the biblical theme is primarily about the overwhelming demand to remain faithful to our covenantal relationship with God through the Spirit (which, as the gospels warn, may challenge conventional family obligations) Thus while it is clear to us as LGBTs when we survey the gay scene, and indeed much of contemporary social life, that casual sex can often be addictive and destructive, we think it is important to remain open to the possibility that brief and loving sexual engagement between mature adults in special circumstances can be occasions of grace. Risky, but then as Paul Tillich said ‘A Christian is safest taking risks!’

This is an extraordinary statement and amounts to "One night stands are OK". How can it be read otherwise?

So is this going to be Changing Attitude’s response to Mac-Iyalla’s promiscuity? Are they going to argue that his philandering is "an occasion of grace"? Do they really think they can get away with that?

At the end of the day, conservatives rejects the main portions of the LGBT argument in the church, but at least we can have respect for the likes of Jeffrey John who argue unequivocally for relationships that are monogamous and life-long. Changing Attitude however seems to want us to bless a quick shag, and that leaves them with a huge problem with how to deal with Mac-Iyalla.

Only two weeks ago they got themselves in a huge muddle by simply refusing to be honest and open about a Eucharistic Service. Now, on the eve of the Lambeth Conference day looking at issues of human sexuality they are in huge danger of single-handedly undermining their entire argument by obfuscating on how to handle the scandal that is the Chair of Changing Attitude Nigeria. If Mac-Iyalla was working for a conservative group he would have already, quite rightly, lost his job. How the liberals deal with this (and the evidence is that they’ve known about it for a while already and done absolutely nothing) will be crucial to discerning whether they have any right to be in this current ethical debate.

10 Comments on “What are acceptable sexual morals for a Christian Leader?

  1. I do have to ask what constitutes special circumstances, and whether something can be a means of grace without involving holiness. I hardly think that being open to a special circumstances situation applies to going to a gay bar to deliberately engage in casual sex.
     Evangelical christians can be pretty flexible on sexual morality too: e.g. I know loads who don’t have a problem with masturbation (do you, Peter?) and pornography is usually potrayed more as an addiction to be struggled with in the hope of overcoming it, rather than (as with homosexuality) a disfellowshipping offense.

    Serious question: are there really lots of liberal christians engaging in casual sex with strangers on the basis of that passage? Most liberals *I* know subscribe to a permanent faithfull and stable ideal.

  2. Morning Ryan,

    Masturbation? I can’t see a particular problem with the physical act itself – I mean it all comes out eventually down the same route. The issue often though with masturbation is the entertainment of sexual fantasy that goes with it. Our thought life should also be surrendered to God (though in the case of sexual fantasy that’s very hard) so to engage in something which involves unhealthy sexual fantasy is not helpful.
    I would view porn, sexual fantasy, homosexual activity all in the same boat. Certainly, if I knew that a senior lay member had an issue with porn I would try and support him or her deal with the underlying reasons for wanting to look at porn, but if they continued to use it habitually (or at least told me so) I would have an issue with them being in any kind of up-front position.

  3. You seem only to address the issue of male mastrubation Peter.  You are aware, I presume, that women do so as well? And often rather more frequently?
    There is of course a difference between erotic material and pornographic material, and masturbation would be bound to involve fantasy at some level.  The fantasy would be bound to be erotic, but not necessarily invovle pornography, and there is the difference.  Pornography is always de-grading and abusive.  But erotic material is not. Women and men often fantasise rather differently, but generalisations are usually unhelpful.  

  4. Sound : I would (putting my former secular humanist hat on for a second) disagree that pornography is inherently degrading whereas eroticism is not. What about women who like porn (plenty of them exist)?  Lots of rape fantasies in romance novels too.  I would have to question your source on women masturbating more frequently than men, too (although I concede that vibrator sales are booming).


    I have read justifications of masturbation that say it’s ok as long as you don’t fantasise about sex , and also that it’s ok for husbands to do it as they can think about their spouses (which begs the question what happens if they – involuntarily?- think of someone else). This seems to me to be an area where you have to concede that bible isn’t clear so other theological sources have to be used.  When it comes to unmarried christian couples I always wondered how they decide what constitues sex – sounds silly I know, but *legally* Bill Clinton had a point when he said that oral sex isn’t sex. To me it seems self-evident that *kissing* one’s boyfriend/girlfriend would *increase* lustful thoughts rather than dissipate them which raises all sorts of problematic implications. I have a hard time with christians who flirt, date and kiss regarding themselves as in some way comparable to celibate priests.

    It sounds like you wouldn’t deny communion to someone engaged in unrepentant use of pornography, Peter, which does differentiate it from what I assume is your approach to people in homosexual relationships.

  5. Sound,

    Matthew 5:28 clearly wipes aside your attempt to partition off “erotic” from “pornographic”.


    I’m personally in the Joshua Harris camp when it comes to sexual practice during courtship. As to the masturbation and porn issue, well I think the issue with pornography and denying communion is that if I felt that there was a deliberate attempt to be public with one’s sin then I could deny communion. The canons though tell me very clearly that I can only do it once, and then I have to consult with my Bishop as to the future course of action.

  6. Matthew 5.28 does nothing of the sort.  It speaks about attitudes of the heart, rather than actions, being at the centre of our intentions.  If you think it’s about erotica v pornography then you seem to be obsessing about sex.  You might do well to read some women’s erotic fantasies Peter; that might help you to discern the difference. You seem to be pretty fixated on men, which is perhaps why you ignore the question I raised about women masturbating and in your previous post assumes that it is a male only thing. 
    Ryan: the kinsey report is a bit old now, and certainly concluded men masturbated more than women, but I think you might find that the question was more about orgasms. Masturbation (and indeed sex) that leads to orgasm is a very male thing. 
    Would love to know what the Joshua Harris camp is Peter. Does it forbid kissing in courtship?  

  7. Davis spent the last five days of his U.S. visit at my home in Northern Virginia which I share with my partner of twenty-four years and spoke at our church St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, Dupont Circle. During that period, I never observed the conduct described by Josh Thomas. I found Josh difficult to deal with while arranging Davis’ visit. During his visit, Davis was polite, well mannered and appreciative of our hospitality. I really don’t understand why Josh would want to go on this path at this time.

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