95 Getting the gay issue into perspective

Once upon a time, the issue of whether or not people were gay was little discussed. Within the Anglican church however, it was quietly understood that there were places which were, if not accepting, at least tolerant of a gay lifestyle among the congregation. If a clergyman was gay, it was understood that his bishop could place him in an inner city parish where no one enquired about the domestic living arrangements of the Vicar. It is no coincidence that the Diocese of London is, by reputation, the most gay friendly in the country.
The situation of an uneasy ‘truce’ had existed for around thirty or more years. The motto, ‘don’t ask and don’t tell’ seems to have worked after a fashion fairly well. As long as a gay clergyman was not appointed to a small village or country town, where everyone knew exactly what was going on in the Vicarage, all was well. The ‘difficult’ parishes which had local schools totally unsuitable for clergy children could continue to be manned and served by an Anglican vicar.
This situation of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ could not, of course, last for ever. Two things forced a change in the landscape of the Church of England. In the first place, the section of the Church which was quite clear that gay life-styles are incompatible with biblical laws became more prominent and powerful. This evangelical conservative section of the church began to speak out about the issue, having been shut out from the cosy collusion that existed within the liberal and high church end of the Church of England over the years. Whether it is true of not, these conservative Anglicans claimed not to have known about the uneasy acquiescence of gay lifestyles in parts of the church. They began to make their voices heard and increasingly join up with Anglicans across the world to protest against this rampant evil, as they saw it. The conservative position received particular support from African Anglicans where cultural taboos made gay sex a especially sensitive issue. The second thing that was taking place was a revolution in Western public social attitudes to the problem. Just as the general public as a whole was beginning to become more tolerant and catch up with what had hitherto been radical liberal views in society and the church, the conservative part of the church was beginning to protest loudly against these changes.
The situation we have today is one that is deeply damaging to the church. On the one hand the suppressed voices of the gay lobby are finding a voice after the decades of secrecy. On the other hand the voices of reaction, that believe that this issue is the most serious threat to the church’s integrity that has ever existed, are also being heard. In the middle are the vast swathes of people who wish that the whole debate would go away. ‘How can’, they think, ‘the church’s position on the gay issue be that important? The world is full of so many other problems on which we should be focusing our energy. Is not peace and reconciliation and the relief of hunger far more important than what people do in bed together?’
It is clear that the church needs to come to a mind as to how to tread a path through the challenges thrown up by the new legislation on same sex marriage and the many changes in society that follow it. It is equally clear that the disproportionate amount of energy that continues to be expended on discussing the topic has gone too far. Sadly the voices of those who oppose the legislation are perhaps the loudest so that the general public believes that the word ‘Christian’ means homophobic. Because of this vast amount of implacable opposition to gay sex by conservative Christians, the voices of their opponents are also beginning to be heard, sometimes in a strident way. There is one blog site, which I occasionally follow, of St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Glasgow. The issue of gay rights is so prominent that one gets the (perhaps wrong) impression that nothing else is ever preached about or discussed. Clearly the pro-homosexual lobby in this case may have gone too far. It is one thing to take up a worthy cause but it is another to allow an issue to take precedence over all others.
As editor of this blog, I need to reiterate my position. There are issues to be discussed and debated around this matter but clearly my readers will not expect me to believe that the whole thing is sorted by an appeal to selected and fairly obscure Scriptural texts. The conservative part of the Anglican church has, for a variety of reasons, made the gay issue a defining one. Those who do not agree with the ‘biblical position’ are deemed to be heretical and outside the orbit of what it means to be Christian. This attack on non-conservatives who do not agree with the position of traditionalists, is not tolerable. It is one thing to have a point of view and draw on scripture to support it. That is a possible and legitimate position to take. It is quite another to declare that those who oppose your arguments are un-Christian or failing in some fundamental way to follow Christ. Throughout my previous 90 posts on this blog, I have consistently repeated this position. People can say and believe what they wish but they should never be allowed to shut down dialogue with those who disagree with them. When that is done, that is the beginning of tyranny. Where there is tyranny, there is the abuse of power.

About Stephen Parsons

Stephen is a retired Anglican priest living at present in Northumberland. He has taken a special interest in the issues around health and healing in the Church but also when the Church is a place of harm and abuse. He has published books on both these issues and is at present particularly interested in understanding the psychological aspects of leadership and follower-ship in the Church. He is always interested in making contact with others who are concerned with these issues.

11 thoughts on “95 Getting the gay issue into perspective

  1. To say that “don’t ask, don’t tell” worked relatively well is relatively true insofar as gays could find some quiet spaces away from witch hunts, and the damaging warfare which has now broken out was avoided. Yet the impression needs to be avoided that it was a golden age if only we could return to it. Living in the closet imposes serious damage to the integrity both of those who have to do it and the churches that expect it. I agree that it’s traumatic seeing the CofE tearing itself apart over this, and we must do everything we can to remember that this is a single issue and not the whole gospel. However it seems to be an issue whose time has come, that can’t be put back in a bottle.

  2. The ‘Gay’ issue is one amongst many. There is power behind this issue. The intelligent have organized and succeeded in making it an issue and a point of focus.
    I on the other hand see (And know) thousands from the lower working class who are not even seen in the visual field of professing ‘Christians.’

    A commentator far removed from the realities they have to struggle with always interprets their plight!
    If God in Christ took on an incarnation in the heart of the world, then his present day followers are involved in a mass evasion of the truth.
    Stephen Parsons is right to point out that popular issues can and do cloud and push out of sight other urgent need.

    I have tired of repeating myself on this issue and will in future be very discerning about when and if I have a presence on this blog.

    Sincerely, and wishing you all Peace, Chris Pitts

  3. Hakusinenomine. The ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ worked in one way but not in another. There were indeed many unhappy gays in the closet with only this minimum freedom allowed them They did have the consolation that some senior clergymen were sympathetic to their plight and the church chugged along with the ‘problem’ contained but not dealt with. Chris, in dealing with the issue of facing up to the issues that conservative ‘biblical’ Christianity raises for the rest of us, we cannot ignore the fact many such Christians have this gay issue as THE issue for today. It would be difficult to avoid discussing it at some point. To be told that all gays are going to Hell is yet one more thing to be resisted. You, Chris, have been at the wrong end of these power games and we need reminding of the raw emotion from the experience of being manipulated by others in the name of a vengeful God. Power games and manipulative practice are the heart of this blog. It is very common in the church and multi-facetted and it needs to be talked about and named in each of its many manifestations. The poor, the ill-educated, the vulnerable and the weak are all victims to various kinds of religious bullying alongside the disabled, the gays, the mentally ill and the disadvantaged. Because I am not myself a victim of this, I am bound to wander across this whole rage of victims and not concentrate on one or another. I could be, for example, a victim of Christian homophobia. I am not but some of my energy will be to defend those who are. You are witness to the ‘real deal’ of these religious power games. I just know about them in theory but try to empathise with what it feels like as far as my imagination will allow me.

  4. The Biblical position seems to be broadly that if you are gay, you should be celibate. Not to be unkind, let’s face it, lots of people aren’t in sexual relationships. Then you get the people who claim to be Christian, but are plainly filled with hatred. Peter Akinola comes to mind. I don’t want to be in his team. I wouldn’t want to agree with him that rain was wet. Let’s remind ourselves though, that the general public were intensely homophobic for the most part until recently. The churches I belonged to certainly didn’t accept that people could be actively gay. And just another point, a lot of people equate homosexuality with paedophilia. No idea why. To play devil’s advocate, how does a church hold a broadly “No sex if you’re gay” view in public, but allow people to do what they like in practice? And would this be extended to straights who want to sleep around? The rules are there for public consumption, but hey, no need to keep them eh, nudge nudge, wink wink. I’ll admit to being a bit shocked that the church has been following this hypocritical policy for years. Or have I misunderstood? But if these gay priests are celibate, so what? No issue at all, surely? Just incidentally, I have always had gay friends, and I don’t occupy myself trying to imagine what anyone does in bed! Brrr!

    1. Next, you will have to define what are essentials and still debate about that.

      On marriage: 4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’ ? 6 So they are no longer two, but one.

      This text, I presume indicates that its an essential part of the church to set that right

      1. SamtheProphet,

        I like the idea of focusing on the central themes to start with. The Two Greatest Commandments seem pretty simple, and I don’t think that we’re doing very well on that in the US. Then, throw into the mix what some call “hyperCalvinists” or “Calvinistas” in the US, and things become even more complicated. They divide the Old Law into three categories: civil, ceremonial, and moral. We are only to follow the moral law. But no one can come to anything remotely close to a consensus as to what law belongs in which category. That’s a big push behind the “Christian Reconstruction” problem — a movement fueled by Theonomy.

        It is truly sad. I say that it becomes a matter of “survival of the spiritually fittest” for them. “I’m elect, and you’re not. Ha, ha!” Jesus is just a catalyst to get back to being some kind of “Uber Adam.”

        1. Cindy. You will have to explain in a few words to us in Britain what Christian Reconstruction and theonomy are. I think I know and am pleased to report that they have not infected our shores yet. But like many things, it may be only a matter of time…..!

          1. Brevity — a challenge. 🙂 At the beginning of the 20th Century on my side of the pond, Christianity became increasingly anti-intellectual as society became increasingly secular and humanistic. We had our court debates concerning evolution, and with egg on our faces, Christians decided to largely retreat from the political sphere. “The Lutheran Hour” radio broadcast which began in the 1930s preached that Christianity was a private matter.

            Following the social upheaval in the 1960s, Christians realized that they’d lost their place of influence in government. In an attempt to regain a presence in civil matters, Fundamentalists and Presuppositional Apologists (mostly Baptists and Presbyterians) birthed “Christian Reconstruction.” They argued that our Founding Fathers never envisioned an atheistic society — and argued against our “separation of church and state” concept, claiming that it was misunderstood. Christian Reconstruction’s efforts birthed groups such as the “Religious Right” (including the newer “Tea Party”), the “Moral Majority,” the “Constitution Party,” and all sorts of other conservative organizations that have adopted what I’d call a Victorian view of family as the panacea that will save the world.

            As a consequence, anything having to do with sexuality becomes something of a sacrament. There is a continuum of beliefs, but included in the mix of abhorrent evils are women in ministry and homosexuality. I also believe that along with abortion, this group also uses the issue of contraception like a choke chain to blackmail Christians into compliance with their worldview.

            If this is of interest, I highly recommend Berlet and Lyons’ “Right Wing Populism” book. You can read some overview info at Chip Berlet’s website. I believe that he presented this information at an ICSA conference (the one recently held in Washington, DC) many years ago.


            1. Theonomy (“theos”= God; “nomos” = law in Koine Greek) also developed from presuppositional apologetics and the fundamentalist movement in the US. Rousas J Rushdoony (of the Chalcedon Foundation) and Greg Bahnsen framed out most of the essentials of the ideology which I would call a novel interpretation of Covenant Theology/Calvinistic Presbyterianism. Comprised of postmillennial rapture adherents, the movement is supposed to be a grass roots evangelistic movement that ultimately seeks to usher in God’s government on earth, thus triggering the Second Coming of Christ. Because of Covenant Theology’s strong ties and identification with Old Israel, they argue that Old Testament Law offers the best form of civil government.

              The “Late Great Planet Earth” pre-tribulation pre-millennial rapture Dispensationalists (a la Darby) strive to save the world before the rapture. The Theonomists strive to dominate the government to usher in the millennium reign of Christ over which they will be rules.

              According to their belief, all men will come to know Christ, will desire to be governed as Israel was before the Cross, and people will desire to reinstitute laws such as stoning for adultery, homosexuality, rebellious teens, etc. (I have taken great criticism, for I’ve said that until we have such a society (which is to come spontaneously under God’s sovereign will), talking about the reinstitution of such civil and ceremonial law is little more than Christian science fiction.)

              The aformentioned book by Berlet and Lyons offers some insightful info about the development of this ideology. But note that some of the most influential figures in Christian Reconstruction followed Theonomy. This movement is also tied to the Confederate South dating back to our American Civil War in the 1860s, and a good deal of those involved are racialists and kinists. They preach that slavery is Biblical and the cure to all of our economic woes. They tend to hoard guns and gold, and they prefer agrarianism.

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