I won’t even begin to try and pretend that I know all of the answers on the Church of England’s great debate on sexuality because I don’t. Even if I were certain on the correct theological path, that would be a far cry from resolving the matter entirely as there are practical, logistic, unitive, mechanistic, legal, ecclesiastical, pastoral and pragmatic questions which also need to be answered. For instance, if a change in the Church’s view on sexuality were to be agreed, how precisely could it and should it be delivered? How could we make such a reform or transition without it having a detrimental impact on the unity of the Church and the worldwide Anglican Communion? How legally and ecclesiastically speaking could we carry all wings of the Church forward and accommodate, include, tolerate and accept the diverse range of views which would still be present in the Church? How could we legally ensure and guarantee that those who, due to their own conscience and deeply-held convictions, would not be forced to lead services or say liturgies with which they profoundly disagreed?
However, for the purposes of this short piece, I simply want to raise some questions about the traditional, conservative view on homosexuality (the status quo). I am not saying that conservatives cannot provide answers to these questions. I am just saying that, so far at least, I haven’t heard any adequate responses to them and sometimes have heard no responses at all. If we want to, as a Church, look again and look deeper at our view of homosexuality and are considering possible changes to it, we should first of all identify the as yet unanswered questions about the status quo. It is these unanswered questions which could then allow us to, in turn, see possible and potential flaws in the position which could then hopefully be rectified if we were to consider a future change to our position.
So here are all of the major unanswered questions I have so far identified. Please feel free to comment with any others in the comments section below this post or to private message me them. Also, to any conservatives reading, I’d be very interested to hear any responses or answers you may have.
(1) Why do you believe that homosexual behaviour is wrong?
(2) What is it about the sexual acts themselves which you believe makes them wrong?
(3) How are they wrong sexually, physically, biologically and physiologically?
(4.a) Are there some sexual acts which you believe to be morally justified within lifelong Christian heterosexual marriage, but which you consider to be morally wrong if there were to take place in lifelong, committed, strong, stable and Christian same-sex unions?
(4.b) If you do believe that some sexual acts are right within heterosexual marriage but wrong within homosexual marriages, how can you maintain that it is only the sexual behaviour/actions between same-sex couples which is wrong, rather than the union itself or rather than the sexual desires/urges?
(5.a) It is often proposed by conservatives that one of the main reasons why they believe homosexual sex is wrong is that there is no possibility of it resulting in reproduction. How then ca they support heterosexual marriage and heterosexual marital sex acts between couples where one or both are already known to be infertile, and remain consistent?
(5.b) How then can you support heterosexual marital sex acts after the menopause and remain consistent?
(6.a) As Matthew Vines has noted, if you believe homosexual behaviour to be wrong, then you must necessarily enforce mandatory, compulsory celibacy upon all those who experience same-sex attraction. However, since the Reformation, celibacy has never been enforced upon an entire group like this. Wouldn’t such a move deny the clear and unequivocal statements of both Jesus in Matthew 19 and Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 that celibacy is a gift, rather than something which all people born with certain sexual desires are automatically granted by default?
(6.b) How can it be consistent to fully welcome and embrace sexually-active gay people into the Church as lay members and allow them to serve and lead, but not to ordain any sexually-active gay people? Isn’t this a double-standard?
Now I know that a number of conservatives will likely respond to at least some of these questions by arguing that “it’s wrong just because the Bible says it is”. However, I really don’t think this is an adequate response for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is hotly disputed as to what the Bible as says with many translational, contextual, exegetical, interpretive and hermeneutical difficulties. Secondly, Anglicanism believe that there are three main sources of doctrine and ethics which must come together to form Canon Law: Scripture, reason and tradition. You cannot just ignore the latter two, if only because everybody needs reason to understand and interpret Scripture in the first place. Additionally, this idea that we must just do what we think the Bible says, without thinking about it, questioning it or wrestling with it would enormously diminish the scope of theology and Biblical Studies. It would also promote a dangerous “Biblical Command Theory” which was wrongly and blasphemously deify the Bible and elevate the text to the level of the Godhead. Finally, I believe that God gave us minds for a reason, as Galileo noted:
‘I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use’
Also, I think it is very important not just to passively read Scripture but to “meditate” on God’s Law as it states in Psalm 119:
‘With my whole heart I seek you;
I have stored up your word in my heart,
Blessed are you, O ;
In the way of your testimonies I delight
I will meditate on your precepts
I will delight in your statutes‘
(Psalm 119: 9-12, 14-16)
The Hebrew word “Torah” does not just mean Law, it more accurately means something more active and participatory like “instruction” or “teaching”.
By Ben Somervell