Hate, Homophobia and Holiness

Here’s an interesting blog by Canon Gavin Ashenden, a Queen’s Chaplain, explaining why he changed his mind on the issue of homosexuality.

Canon Gavin AshendenThere was a period of ten years or so, when I was an enthusiastic support of practising gay Christians – and even spoke to Christian LGBT groups at their invitation to encourage them.

I have always liked the majority of gay people I met – especially the Christian ones; it was a sort of affectionate instinct.

But ‘God spoke to me’ about the practice of homosexuality; (though His views were always there in the Bible and In the ‘lived experience’ of Tradition if I had not come at them both skewed to provide a different answer;-  so I went to my friends, and told them that while still being deeply fond of them, I was going to take a different view of the practice of homosexuality. I would  simply place it in the same category  as other people (straight) and treat it simply as  the practice of sex outside marriage.

So when I read Andrew Brown recently,  being vituperative about Evangelicals at Gafcon practising ‘homophobia’ and threatening a split in the Anglican Communion no one cares about, I have several reactions.

Accepting that the Christian tradition sets out to moderate the practice of sex between two people who are not married is not of course ‘homophobia’.

And of all the things I may be prone to be ‘phobic’ about, homosexuals never figure.

But why the attempted insult by Brown and the Guardianistas at all?

Is it the usual reason that exchanging arguments dignifies their opponents too much and runs the risk of acknowledging that they might have an argument that stretches beyond the imputed blind prejudice?

Whatever the reason, insult and abuse never dignify a position.   Perhaps Brown and people of his ideological orientation are themselves irrationally phobic? Chrisitianophobic? Sanctifiphobic? Who knows. But the abuse and irrationality suggest something like that.

I grew suspicious of the gay cultural argument when Gore Vidal wrote near the end of his life about how deeply he regretted inventing the term ‘gay’. The project had intended to defend his homosexual friends and himself from  prejudice – but had also created a sub-category of humanity who were different. The trouble was he thought, that there were just human beings, – one sort of people, who expressed themselves sexually in a variety of ways – some of which changed and altered over a lifetime. There was no such thing as ‘gay ‘ people. Just people.

And homosexual men are not the symmetrical opposite of homosexual women. And then there are the bisexuals – the omnivores – and then there are the people who start off one way and become something something else – who change – because sexuality can be fluid. And then there are the transexuals – very different again. There is no such thing as ‘gay’ – it’s both much more simple than that – just people – and more complex – fluidity of attraction and appetite.

But Christianity, or Christ, comes to the human appetite, whatever it is , sex, money, booze, pride, revenge, and offers to tame it; to tame and transform it. Sex is not a different special appetite, exempt from the touch or call of God, it’s just one that society has become most fixated about, and screams abuse at any attempt to tame it.

So yes, Christians – at least those who have not been infected by the spirit of the age- continue to say that sexual appetite is not exempt from God’s call and touch, and that sex outside heterosexual marriage is unacceptable to God – who is holy – and calls us to be either holy too – or else to succumb to the flood of dehumanising appetites that the Tradition has always called sin.

57 Comments on “Hate, Homophobia and Holiness

  1. Kudos to Gavin Ashenden for putting this in the wider context of extramarital sex in general. It ought to be obvious, but only seems to get mentioned in about 10% of discussions on this topic.

      • Yes, because, of course, once same-sex weddings take place, the argument that prevents LGBT churchgoers from having their relationships recognised as marriage and approved by the church simply vanishes into thin air.

        If that’s the case for the church, that Changing Attitude and other LGBT groups will consider the argument won by freedom to hold a wedding ceremony elsewhere, I’ll look forward to that respite in perpetual victimhood!

        • Whether the church things something is marriage or not is of the utmost irrelevance in terms of law and society. The only place the couple will not be married is in the eyes of the church. And the vast majority of people who have little to do with the church really won’t care.

          I think that’s the reality of the importance of the church in today’s Britain.Its become something largely for immigrants

          • ‘I think that’s the reality of the importance of the church in today’s Britain.Its become something largely for immigrants’.

            And a few people like me who were born here!

  2. He’s changed his mind because Gore Vidal claims to have invented a blanket term, which he now regrets, and because human appetite has to be disciplined? How is it that same-sex marriage would be incapable of disciplining human desire whereas it manages to do so in its garden variety? and why is it a sin? If he’d gone out of his way to tell me, as a friend, that he had changed his mind on those grounds and now sees my relationship as sinful, he’d definitely be struck off the Christmas card list.

    • Oh, the ignominy of withdrawn festive greetings! Far be it from anyone to incur your wrath.
      Come, just be real and say of any prohibition, ‘Sin? The sky has fallen in. No lightning bolts from the sky. I’m fit and healthy in a secular society. Who cares?’

        • Sorry, to hear you’re not fit. I don’t think I suggested you had to be secular to live in a secular society. It just makes the execution of divine displeasure seem ever more remote.

          As Ecclesiates 8:11 puts it: ‘Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.’

        • Actually, I don’t think any human can threaten you with eternal damnation. It’s God who can do that. Fear not those who can destroy the body – fear HIM who can destroy both body and soul.

    • Right so, practising Christians who put same-sex sex relations in the same category as all other sexual relations outside of conventional marriage can’t be close friends with those who have sex outside marriage? Not the the lived experience of most orthodox Christians I think you’ll find.

    • When Gavin Ashenden says “gay people do not exist” what does he mean in context?

      I find that people who cannot represent their opponent’s position accurately or who deliberately misrepresent it demonstrate that they aren’t interested in real discussion.

          • Ashenden’s whole argument seems to hang on pretending that the acronym LGBT doesn’t exist. I don’t see that there’s a helluva lot more to it. (Also, though I know it’s wrong to play the photograph, not the argument, am I alone in thinking he looks like he’s been snapped for a really winsome musical?)

            • I don’t think that’s what he’s saying. What he’s arguing is that “LGB” describes what someone feels, where their orientation is, but then there needs to be a humble recognition that despite us being LBG or straight, there is a call to order our lives in the manner the Bible demands us to.

              Being LBG does not validate homosexual behaviour in the same way that being straight does not validate heterosexual behaviour. Sexual behaviour is validated by the moral judgement of Scripture (and therefore God) upon it, not the sexual orientation of the person engaging in the sexual behaviour.

              That’s the point he’s making, and that when he saw that that was what the Bible was clearly saying he had to change his position.

              • Then what are his fourth and third paragraphs from the bottom on about, where he appears to be saying that ‘gay’ (umbrella term) can’t exist because there’s variations between the life experience of lesbians compared to gay men, bisexuals compared to transexuals etc. Surely all that’s irrelevant if he’s making the argument you’ve just sketched.

                • No, he’s saying that “gay” as a generic term doesn’t work because there are far too many differing experiences of what it means to be “gay”. In the same way, if you try to insist that everyone who is “English” has the same understanding and experience of being “English” then you are not accepting the diversity of the experience of being “English”.

                  • Fine, if he thinks so, he needs more terms and – ta da! – what do you know, they exist. Of course he could *both* be arguing that ‘gay people don’t exist’ *and* that ‘gay people should be celibate’. No amount of foggy thinking would really surprise me.

                    • So you believe contrary to him that there is just ONE gay experience and if you have that you are gay and if you don’t then you aren’t? And can you define that experience for us please?

                    • Not at all, obviously there are multiple gay experiences, and LGBT (QI etc etc) are a fair stab at enumerating them. I don’t see how a proliferating variety of experiences within the category therefore mean that queers don’t exist. That’s the equivalent of arguing that dogs don’t exist because a labrador is quite a lot different from a sausage dog.

                    • *BANGS HEAD AGAINST WALL*

                      He’s NOT arguing that “queers don’t exist”. He’s arguing that queer is too varied an experience to demand that “queer” can meaningfully constrain all queer experience.

                      Your problem is that you just cannot handle anyone daring to question whether “gay” or “queer” or whatever is a validating personal prescriptor rather than just a neutral descriptor which does not in and of itself make any moral judgement of the actions that “queer” people undertake.

                    • I hope your head is feeling OK. Given the breadth of ‘queer’ (especially if you’ve dabbled at all in queer theory) I am surprised that there’s stuff you think it doesn’t take in. What about a concrete example of a queer experience that evades the definition queer, so as to speak. Then we might be able to see whether what he’s on about has any substance.

                    • Well that’s a very easy one: Ben Summerskill fancies men. You fancy men. You may have different ideological approaches to that fact, but, you both fancy men.

                    • So there is absolutely nothing intrinsic in the “gay” experience that says that one has to have sex, that one HAS to be in a relationship? There is NOTHING intrinsic to the experience of being “gay” that requires romance to occur with someone of the same-sex? One can be “gay” and be in a relationship with someone of the same-sex, one can be “gay” and celibate, one can be “gay” and married happily and successfully to someone of the other sex?

                    • Yup – I’m happy with that. Fancy your own gender = you’re somewhere in the pantheon of gay/ queer, Not complicated. Viriginity is no bar.

                    • No, I don’t – he argues that there’s something so confusing about the category as to be meaningless – I’m saying that though there’s a variety of subcategories, it’s a perfectly real and definable group. You don’t seem to be making any logical sense at all in your arguments, so I think I’ll bow out now.

                    • Legally, its very clear that its what you are not what you do. But there is a degree of self-definition in any term.

                    • A degree of it?!..The theory is completely about self-identifying. Of course, when a religion encourages a self-identification grounded in scripture, it’s damned as a harmful fantasy. When orientation hard-coding is a theory that’s aided and abetted by the flimsy mantras of ‘pop culture’, it’s lauded as liberating. ‘The way of the world’ as Earth, Wind and Fire put it.

                      And you can construct your own reality, if it suits. Just expect contradiction when you try to promote that over-simplified hard-coded, irreversible dichotomy of sexual thought-patterns and behaviour to others.

                    • But its clearly not one you relate to David, because of your own evangelical beliefs. As someone who positively rejected evangelicalism as wrong and the Bible as an unhelpful fiction, scripture would not be something I would regard as credible in terms of sexual orientation (it was written before the concept was discovered!)

                      There really is no middle-way here.

                    • But, to you, a theory of genetically hard-coded orientation that has been proven false is a helpful fiction. That useless old plaster that offers no remedy, but tries, with undiscerning affirmation of the multiple partner ethos, to conceal the statistically higher likelihood of infection risk incurred by gay sex.

                      While what you call the ‘unhelpful fiction’ of God’s transforming love described in scripture has overcome the presumed orientation hard-coding in Peter Ould’s life and in the lives of so many others for the better.

                      I agree. There is no middle-way.

                    • Let me put it a different way.

                      Most English people speak English.

                      Do you have to speak English to be English? Can the experience of being English be adequately explained by saying “All English people speak English – To be English is to speak English – To speak English to be English”? Is speaking English necessary to be English?

              • If you believe the Bible should be regarded as other than fallible, humanly authored, and reflective of the age in which it was written. That’s what liberals used to think, I can’t work out why they bother to try and find justifications from it. The Quakers recognised that and don’t regard the Bible as anything other than a human production. The only logical liberal stance

                • Liberalism and logic are orthogonal. Who else could loudly damn captial punishment ‘yet celebrate dismemberment of the unborn in the womb in numbers that cast the Holocaust into a shadow? Who else could brand the state licencing of sexual unions of consenting same-sex adult persons as ‘marriage equality’ but dismiss consensual polygamy and incest among adults as icky (passim)?

                  Liberalism is a land of confusion.


                  • No, it just doesn’t see the world in such distinct ways so that everything is either right or wrong. Liberals tend to utilise situational ethics.

    • I think his point is that gay people ‘do not exist’ as a separate category like race requiring different treatment and expectations. Actually, in much the same way that we decided at some point that race wasn’t very relevant as an indicator of how someone would act or what they were capable of achieving, and that there was just one body of people – humankind.

      • And yet the world is still lousy with racism, and someone arguing that they can’t really be racist because race doesn’t exist would rightly get pretty short shrift.

  3. Thanks for these helpful words, Gavin. The Guardian article is simplistic, but nevertheless reflective of the “spirit of the age”. What Andrew Brown et al do not seem to understand is that the Church is called to be a prophetic biblical voice which is to speak liberating words of truth to a world which is warped by the propensity to sin.

    • White-listing you Simon so future comments will automatically post.

      The problem with Brown’s piece is, yes, the press conference didn’t go well, but he fails to understand that the opposition to Pilling (if I am correct and what was on the table at the start of the week remains on the table) will not come from those who are currently waving the flag. They will come from the Bishops who so far have kept a low profile because their “red line” has not yet been reached. They will come from the church leaders like the ones this week who have been calling me and thanking me, leaders from across the Evo spectrum (Reform / Church Society, New Wine, Fulcrum).

      If the liberals think that conservative opposition to same-sex blessings is dead in the water they are deluding themselves.

      • There really isn’t any possibility of a stance everyone can and will agree with. Some like James Jones can live with an ‘accept the differences’ position so even that won’t work.
        I come back to the established position of the CofE. Those who wish to see this maintained are going to have to accept change. Those who give primacy to maintaining conservative teachings will not do so….so a split is inevitable and always has been

        • …and when the split occurs, the ‘liberal’ expression will wither and dwindle because they have traded in their uniqueness and truth to conform with the spirit of the age. That same liberal entity will sit in conference wringing their hands in the attempt to work out ‘why are we hemorrhaging members’ without acknowledging they have sold their distinctiveness and loyalty to Christ.


          • It may well do. But then I think there’s a fair chance that will happen to both sides in what is becoming an ever more secular country. The Church would hardly survive in some cities without African and Polish immigrants

            • This is the second time you’ve mentioned the appeal of the church to immigrants.

              So, be clear. Explain what you are implying by suggesting the church (whose doctrines that you decry as irrational) hardly survive but for its greater appeal towards and patronage of African and Polish immigrants.

              • Simply thst the church and its message has little appeal to British people of any colour and people from other more religious countries such as Nigeria or Poland are filling the pews instead. This means that as the church takes one view the mainstream of Britishsociety takes another. In terms of attitudes to gay relationships this is more than obvious. The consequence will be the church itself appearing – literally – more ‘foreign’

                • There is a paradox that whenever the church becomes falls out of favour with mainstream culture, it attracts more followers than when it enjoys political approval.

                  Political fashions will come and go with the spirit of the age. For instance, atheism lost favour for a while until it found a new resonance with ‘science-only’ rationalist society and a poster-child in Richard Dawkins.

                  The free market so beloved of Western democracies (yet, manipulated by international oligopolies) is fast losing credibility. ‘Fat cat’ salaries are doled out to those who profiteer unscrupulously from former national monopolies, like utility companies. Most of us pay, at least, 25 per cent tax. Google and Starbucks site their headquarters offshore to get away with less than 1 per cent.

                  As a result, some are advocating a return to State control of some national enterprises

                  Islam, once disavowed as backward, is being embraced by many young people across the globe.

                  Equally, belief in the possibility of extra-terrestrial life (so eagerly espoused by Stephen Hawking) spawned the fruitless Voyager mission and SETI which has now been moth-balled by the US government.

                  So, excuse me, if I treat as premature any suggestion from atheists that Christianity is so on the wane as to be consigned to the dustbin of history. Favour and disfavour are part of the cycle of life.

                  The church has survived because there are so many people, like myself, who have had, at some point, a life-changing angst-healing other-worldly divine intervention that broke their overpowering vices and restored them to wholeness. It is for those people that the Christian message resonates.

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