Two books on same-sex relationships for General Synod: a review
Journeys In Grace And Truth: Revisiting Scripture and Sexuality
Editor: Jayne Ozanne, Via Media, available as a Kindle book, and at https://journeysingraceandtruth.com
Amazing Love: Theology For Understanding Discipleship, Sexuality and Mission,
Editor: Andrew Davison, DLT
As I write, news comes that holocaust survivor and writer Elie Wiesel has died. “We must always take sides,” he says, “neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.”
As I write, I have two books in front of me, both produced for the General Synod of the Church of England as its members prepare for ‘shared conversations’ about same sex relationships.
They are both excellent books. One, edited and published by Jayne Ozanne is a collection of essays by evangelical Anglicans. The other, edited by Cambridge theologian Andrew Davison, is published by DLT. Both have, I believe, been sent to all members of Synod. I don’t think there was any consultation in advance between the editors but they complement each other remarkably well.
Both books begin from an orthodox position; this is no liberal agenda, or Honest to God anything goes. Orthodox faith is the foundation that we all begin with.
Davison’s book is a calm summary and presentation of current biblical, theological, and scientific thinking about same sex relationships. It is well written, easy to read and balanced. While some would disagree with its conclusions it never steps beyond main stream thinking.
There is not much new in it but it would save the reader searching out many other publications. In its summary of writing on the biblical passages usually used to condemn same-sex relationships the only new insight for me was in thinking about the Romans 1:26-27 passage. As the authors point out the whole thrust of this section of Romans is to show that all are included in God’s love, so to use this passage to condemn those in same-sex relationships is to use the text against the meaning of the whole passage.
The most interesting section, for me, of Davison’s book is on mission. I know from my own family and friends as well as from my work with teenagers that the church’s attitude to same sex relationships is considered exclusive, prejudiced and simply wrong. It confirms to them that the church has nothing useful to say to them or to society. In all my years of teaching I have never heard a pupil say anything else.
Ozanne’s book is a very different kind of beast. Far from academic, main-stream Anglicanism it is a series of testimonies from within the evangelical strand of our tradition. I was deeply moved by it. There is raw honesty and most of all deep faithfulness to Jesus and to Scripture. There are a variety of voices, far from everyone is ready to accept same sex relationships as marriages, but everyone is ready to listen. There is also a real engagement with the whole of Scripture and not with isolated passages
One of the problems with the Church of England’s ‘shared conversations’ is that they lack equality. A straight person discussing same-sex relationships has nothing, or very little, to lose; a gay or lesbian person is being challenged at an existential level and can even lose their livelihood. Listening is a very different position to ‘shared conversations’.
In my seven years as a Head Teacher in south east London of a majority black school I have learnt that the only thing I can offer in race relations is my attention, my ability to listen. Whether I like it or not I have great privilege as a white man and I cannot transfer my privilege to my pupils and black friends.
I suppose this is what I find missing in these two books – and I realise they have a particular purpose that explains this. In my own life liberation theology has been hugely important. In my work with black teenagers I have had to hear the deep anger that is the fruit of racism. I have shared with them my own hanging on to the line in the psalms “O Lord avenging God, avenging God appear.” The liberation of gay and lesbian people is an Exodus, the work of God, a source of miraculous joy, like the ordination of women not something grudgingly allowed but the very fulfilment of the good news in Jesus. I want more of this, more passion in these books, less the victim and more the liberated.
I suppose what is also missing is a fully Catholic voice, what does the sacrament of marriage consist of, what is the ‘matter’ of marriage and what is its fruit? Here thinking on Genesis 1-2 is crucial, while often used to defend a complementary view of gender a simple reading of the text reveals that what it shows is sameness; common humanity – and perhaps this is what made it truly radical. Flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone. This is what convinced me of the ordination of women. If our common humanity did not exist we would need a male and female saviour. Christ saves us because he is the new ha-adamah, the new dustling, who is the origin of us all.
These are excellent books, but they are only the beginning, Sh’ma Yisrael is the commandment given to the chosen people in Deuternomy 6 and repeated three times a day by pious Jews even now. Listen is the beginning of St Benedict’s Rule, listening is the most powerful tool I know in school for resolving conflict. But it is not an equal engagement. It is the task of the oppressor to listen to the oppressed. As the truth and reconciliation process has shown in South Africa, only when the truth of oppression is told can there be reconciliation.
What do I hope for? I was asked by a member of Synod this week. Quite simply that the church be a safe place for LGBT people. It is not now. Shockingly, the church is the only place I have ever experienced homophobia.
To end with another quotation from Elie Wiesel:
“I have not lost faith in God. I have moments of anger and protest. Sometimes I have been closer to him for that reason.”
O Lord, avenging God, avenging God appear.