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.

Posted on July 3, 2016, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Two thoughts,

    First, Ozanne’s book is NOT full of essays by “Evangelicals”. Some of the contributors do not use that label and very clearly in what they teach on soteriology etc do not come from that camp, even if they belonged to it a long time ago. And I spat out my mouth of tea in laughter when I read Jayne describe herself as a “Leading Evangelical”.

    Second, and more importantly, you highlight the deficiency in the revisionist argument which is to explain a coherent Biblical theology of marriage and how same-sex unions fit into that. This is a major problem for the revisionist position because it needs to engage with (i) the removal of monogamous procreation as a normative good of marriage (even if not a necessary one) and (ii) why once procreation is removed why same-sex covenants *are* marriage but other covenants (polygamy, consensual incest etc) are not, or in other words, why is the demand for same-sex unions to be treated as marriage but other unions not anything but special pleading.

    This second point is a significant theological hurdle. One might just about argue that a PSF same-sex relationship should he recognised and even endorsed by the Church (assuming you can argue that the prohibition of sexual acts outside of the marital sexual acts can be overturned), but the move from there to “marriage” requires, in the absence of a clear Biblical endorsement, a presumption for this particular kind of covenanted relationship that can so easily be applied to others.

    • Pete Jermey

      What is your solution then for people who are gay, are unable to change their orientation and are unable to access support for celibacy? Do you see celibacy as *just* covering sex or other forms of intimacy as well? How do you square the circle of telling followers of the God of love that they may not fall in love?

      If marriage requires the capacity for procreation then why does the cofe allow infertile couples to marry? What about gay couples who have natural children from prior relations or who want to adopt?

      How, if at all, do you want the church of England to change in its treatment of gay people? Are you able to demonstrate a way by which the average gay person may live life in abundance in the cofe without a romantic relationship?

      It is all very well disagreeing with these books, but do you have any alternative suggestions and what are you doing to get them implemented?

      • I’m clear in my mind that “sex” for the purposes of chastity involved any activity intended to sexually arouse. Your first questions therefore are not “gay specific” – they apply to any single person. We need proper frameworks of discipleship that value singleness as much as they do marriage and that create communities which do not integrate a split between single and married in their pastoral setups. And it can be done, because plenty of men and women have walked the path of chastity once they stopped demanding of God a “right” to a sex life.

        On the issue of procreation I defer to the argument in Girgis et al.

        If you believe that life in abundance requires being in a romantic relationship then you clearly have a low view of the value of the life of Jesus, let alone all the single people you know who, with one sentence, you labelled as emotionally inferior to those in romantic relationships. The argument that an abundant life requires the fulfillment of a desire for a (romantic) relationship is absurd and demeans the experience of men and women who for varying reasons do not have such a relationship.

    • Pete jermey

      Peter please could you actually reply to the points I made? I did not say that you couldn’t have an abundant life without romance, but clearly (cite ed Shaw, Vicky Beeching etc etc!) banning people from romance does have harmful effects for some if not many. This is a key problem with current church teaching that I do not see being addressed. Many gay people have their own children or want to adopt – what is your answer to them? We have a huge deficit in the number of people wishing to adopt – surely gay couples adopting is a good thing? If so why do these families not count as families in your eyes?

      We have seen politically the problems that can be caused by people who criticise but do not have a plan themselves.

      • With the greatest of respect, when you launch a barrage of questions at me whilst ***ignoring the points I made***, it’s a bit rich to then complain about me not answering you (when I did).

        If some people have problems with not having a romantic relationship, we need to create better pastoral structures to support someone who is committed to a single life. But here’s the thing – the classic problem with single homosexuality is non-disclosure. Pretty well all of the famous names (Ozanne, Beeching for eg) don’t evidence any attempt to integrate an open attitude to their sexual desires with an adherence to an orthodox sexual praxis. Time and time again I discover men and women who bottle their sexuality away and then come a cropper, compared to those who are prepared to be open and honest about it, are able to be free in understanding their sexual desires to be “broken” in this regard and are therefore able to have emotionally healthy and honest relationships with their peers. Ironically it’s those who “come out” whilst maintaining an orthodox sexual praxis who do better in this regard as evidenced by some of the videos on Living Out.

        So with that in mind we need to create cultures of openness and honesty, where we see homosexual desire as not sinful in itself but simply one aspect of fallen sexual humanity. Once we’re able to be truthful about our fallenness we can move to the next step which is to learn to live with that fallenness whilst seeking santification. The alternative choice is to seek catharsis for the temptation to sin and then to justify that catharsis. Of course, there are plenty of other issues to be dealt with as well within the choice to be purposefully single, but many of them are not particular just to homosexuals.

        There are plenty of churches that help people live intentional single lives, plenty of organisations (for eg Living Out and TFT in the area of homosexuality) who are there to help them, but ultimately as I and many others have discovered, it is a choice of the individual. Do I believe that sexual union (and all it’s goods) is intended by God to be experienced in the marriage of a man and a woman or not? If I do, I will seek to structure my life around that belief (though it may be hard), if not I will not. And of course there is the huge modern shibboleth of modern society which is the notion that sex and/or a romantic relationship is necessary for a fulfilled life. It simple isn’t. It simply isn’t.

        As for your comments around gay parenting and adoption, I don’t recognise my position on that in your (frankly, insulting) comment to me on that subject (“why do these families not count as families in your eyes”) so I think until you want to stop telling me what I believe on the matter rather than asking me, I’m not going to engage on that.

  2. Andrew Cain

    ‘Ironically it’s those who “come out” whilst maintaining an orthodox sexual praxis who do better in this regard as evidenced by some of the videos on Living Out.’

    Peter, not sure this sentence makes much sense to those of us who have been comfortable with our sexuality and with our faith. I have been out for a long time and remain comfortable with that and with my sexuality and faith.

    So I do agree that single or in a relationship being open and comfortable in one’s sexuality is the key to a healthy approach to life and to God but given the ‘kitchen floor moment’s highlighted in The Plausibility Problem – I am not sure your confidence in ‘orthodox sexual praxis’ is as well attested to as you claim. Infact I read Ed’s story of one of desperate sadness and an attempt to constantly find companionship and a sense of self before God. His constant references to the ‘lovely man’ he imagines at his side hardly suggests someone entirely content and happy with his lot in life.

    Jayne and Vicky felt forced to hide the truth about themselves by the demands of ‘orthodox sexual praxis’ and, just as Pete shouldn’t put words into your mouth I also think that you shouldn’t pretend to speak for Jayne and Vicky. Both have been clear that they knew that they were lesbians, and that the teaching of their section of the Church was that they should remain celibate. From what I have heard from them it wasn’t the denial of their sexuality that caused the issue for them, it was the consequence of the pressure to conform to the ‘orthodox sexual praxis’. Indeed it could be said that they too had their ;’kitchen floor moments’ but for them they led them not to a return to the ‘orthodox sexual praxis’ but to a liberation and a discovery of God journeying with them in their sexual expression and discovery of themselves.

    I don’t expect you to agree but it is possible to see their stories in a way that isn’t simply supportive of your interpretation of their lives.

  3. However, the point of both books is this. You both hold your opinions in good faith, prayerfully considering the words and intention of the Bible. You are both part of the Church. As are many LGBT individuals, and increasingly families, as more couples marry. The question cannot be about who is right, because there will always be debate (as there is about everything). The question is how do we move forward, respecting each other’s integrity (even though we may believe them to be incorrect in their interpretation of Scripture) to live as a Church honouring to Christ, showing his love to the world, feeding the poor, healing the sick, educating the ignorant etc.

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