Content Note: discussion of religion & religious homophobia.
Despite the Christian proclamation that: “whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love”, the Church struggles deeply with issues of human sexuality. There are deep and painful divisions between those who feel that rejection of homosexuality is a fundamental feature of the Church’s understanding of sex, a line in the sand which should never be crossed, and those who long for the Church to embrace all people and their God-given sexuality. I write this article deeply aware of the pain that the Church has caused, and I hope to offer a positive account of a theology of sexuality which is gaining support in the Anglican Church and other churches throughout this country.
Saint Paul, the only New Testament author to speak about homosexuality, says in one passage: “the males likewise gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another. Males did shameful things with males and thus received in their own persons the due penalty for their perversity.” (Romans 1.27). Of course, I’m not naive enough to think that many people reading this regard the Christian Scriptures as morally authoritative. However, condemnation of homosexuality in the Christian community is based on these passages of Scripture and I personally believe that the Bible is, in a sense, authoritative and holy. We must remember that we are reading texts from antiquity whose witness to Christ makes them eternally significant: yet this does not mean that the men (and only men) who wrote them could extricate themselves from their cultural context in order to speak the mind of God. Paul was a human being, formed in a very conservative family and living at a time when homosexuality was understood as nothing more than pederasty and promiscuity. Paul simply never comprehended the deep, loving, profound and sexual relationships which people of the same sex can have and do have.
There are many individual arguments which can be used against particular verses of the Bible, but I don’t believe that we as the LGBT+ community should have to justify our existence to the Church through detailed Biblical exegesis. Instead, there is a very positive case to be made for the acceptance, blessing and marriage of people of all sexualities in the Church today. Our lived experiences as members of the LGBT+ community, along with the insights of psychology, have shown us that human sexuality is not a ‘lifestyle choice’: it is part of who we truly are and therefore part of our nature as we were created in God’s image. Jesus himself declared that he came that: “they may have life”, and that his love extends most powerfully to those marginalised by society and the religious elite of his time. The Lord’s desire for people to have abundant life certainly provides an antidote to those Christians who claim: “it’s fine to be gay, as long as you’re celibate”, or who attempt to ‘pray the gay away’ in public liturgy.
The Christian understanding of what it is to have a holy and blessed relationship or marriage has changed throughout history: however the one constant is that all covenanted relationships should bear fruit. They should be fruitful: both in terms of deep love and service to one another, and that the couple should be a blessing to others, encouraging one another to a deeper love and service to friends, family and the world. In short, the Church teaches that a Christian-relationship should be life-affirming for the couple and life-giving to the world. Traditionally, this idea of being life-giving has been grounded in procreation, but increasingly (for heterosexuals as well as LGBT+ people) the decision to have children is not central to the decision to marry. There are few people, for example, who would deny that a heterosexual couple who have chosen to adopt instead of bringing another privileged child in the world are not bearing life-giving fruit in the world. Similarly, it is obscene for the Church to deny the fruitfulness of LGBT+ relationships simply because they may not be able to procreate in the way a cisgender heterosexual couple may be able to.
Of course, the theological musings of one ordinand are little comfort to those who the Church has hurt and continues to hurt by its current stance on these questions. However, all I can say is that things are changing: there are large numbers of LGBT+ people within the Church whose testimony and faith are providing a powerful impetus for change. In my Church, the Anglican Church in Wales, the current consultation is so far yielding very positive results and similar work is being undertaken in the Church of England. The average age of the Church’s members means these questions take time to be answered – but the Church is moving in the right direction. I take heart in the Church of England’s ordination of women as bishops, which was an almost inconceivable innovation in the 20th century. God is on the move and these are exciting times in the life of the Church: the hope of Christians like myself is that it will grow towards a place of increased inclusivity and diversity. A Church where LGBT+ people, along with all those who are marginalised or cast aside by the world and the mechanisms of power, are fully accepted, so that the Church can focus on its true purpose: the healing of the sick, feeding of the hungry, and the conquering of hate and enmity by love, forgiveness and peace.
Dominic Cawdell (GR. Comment Contributor)