Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Gays, Damned Gays, and Pro-Gays!

Ok , it doesn't have the same ring as 'Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics'  which came to mind as I thought about a title for this blog, but it does exhibit the same progression that is found in parts of  the Christian church.  In fact, it is fascinating to see how more conservative church attitudes to homosexuality are developing the same kind of hierarchy in levels of distrust.
On the first layer are gay people themselves (I use the word gay - by the way - as shorthand for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered - which I always find a bit of a mouthful).
This is the layer of openly gay people who are not currently in a same-sex relationship.  On the whole they are tolerated by the Church.  They are conditionally welcomed into most churches - conditional that they don't get into a relationship, of course.  They are permitted to contribute to most areas of church life - join a home-group, read the Bible and lead intercessions.   They are sometimes supported pastorally - mostly to keep  them from getting into a relationship. 
They are a slight cause of anxiety or concern,  but are often used as an example in saying "We have gay people in our church", so our church is not homophobic.   Dig down a little, however, and they are often viewed as a ticking  time-bomb, which one day might explode with damaging consequences.
The next layer up are 'Damned Gays' who are the ones who are 'practising' homosexuals - whatever that means! 
They are the ones who have  the audacity to turn up to church with their partner.  They are made to feel much less comfortable.  They are often welcomed with that tense, surprised and nervous look by clergy and church officers who live in fear of what their presence might mean for their well-ordered church and congregation.  They  are often not allowed to join home-groups, not allowed to stand up and speak at the front of church, not allowed to be involved in lay ministry, but nevertheless are told that their presence is welcome as long as they don't rock the boat too much or talk to anybody.  They are reminded from time to time however, that according to 1 Corinthians 6:9 they will not be inheriting the Kingdom of God - hence the title, "Damned Gays".
But there is another layer of mistrust which is gaining ascendency among conservative churches.  And this layer is causing much more concern for those from a more conservative theology of sexuality.  The name of this last category...  Pro-gays!
They are being feared more and more, because of the damage they are doing to the Gospel.  On the one hand there is less to attack.  They are straight, often happily married, with families.  They are amongst us as clergy, church wardens, deacons, or even Bishops.  They are respectable people, not like those gays!  They might be evangelicals, anglo-catholics, or just good old broad church CofE. England'.
But beneath this layer of respectability, they are more dangerous than Gays or Damned Gays because they have the audacity to be Pro-Gay.  They are the real threat because they have no vested interest in seeing the church become more inclusive,  and their presence is increasingly finding its way into the cross-hairs of conservative focus.
The appointment this week of Rev Nicholas Holtam as the new Bishop of Salisbury is just such a case.  He is straight,  married with children, and the vicar of a hugely successful church in central London.  Surely such an appointment could not upset anyone?
But there is a darker side to Nicholas Holtam - he is Pro-Gay!  And worse still - he has said so publically, is a member of Inclusive Church, and has welcomed such people as Bishop Gene Robinson to speak at the church!  He has had the audacity to challenge the homophobic statements of the global south, and to genuinely welcome gay people in ministry and worship.  Worst of all he has had the nerve to suggest that the biblical scriptures against homosexual practise simply do not apply to "baptised people in loving and faithful same-sex relationships".
And indeed the reaction from those who react to these things has been predictable.
"The appointment of the Revd Nicholas Holtam as the next Bishop of Salisbury is a regrettable and retrograde step.  In his public ministry Mr Holtam has actively promoted erroneous teaching on the issue of human sexuality, which puts him at odds with the declared mind of the House of Bishops, the General Synod of the Church of England and the 1998 Lambeth Conference, makes him unfit for ministry in the Church of England let alone as a Bishop.
While Rev John Richardson, writing in the Telegraph says that,
"If I were a minister in the Diocese of Salisbury today, therefore, I would be faced with a real crisis of conscience."
You do not need to be a church dignitary of course to attract such questioning.  In a comment to one of my recent blogs on same-sex marriage, the same Rev John Richardson wrote:
"When it comes to an issue as contentious as changing our entire theology of marriage and sexuality, the tradition should be our starting point, from which departure should only be made after careful, serious and collective deliberation. Importantly, this is one of those cases where private judgement must not be allowed free rein.

And that brings me to my question. You acknowledge standing outside the tradition (laid out in the BCP). But you are required to take the Declaration of Assent and stand under Canon A5, and I just want to know how you can do this. If you have changed your mind, fair enough, but should you not therefore change your allegiance?"
These are the kind of views which make many of us deeply suspicious of the Anglican Covenant - not for its intentions, but for the way in which it might be applied.  Under the Covenant, Anglican Provinces which  are perceived by some to have stepped out of line in their theology, practice, or indeed appointments could be similarly asked to consider 'changing their allegiance' but in a much more official way.
Such reactions do not, of course reflect the views of the majority of Anglicans in the UK who, despite wide diversity in their views on sexuality, treat each other with the acceptance and respect that Christ encouraged.  They know that to have 'serious and collective deliberation' in the way John Richardson describes, requires people to be there to deliberate - not ejected or asked to change their allegiance.
As a member of the Clergy in Salisbury Diocese, I am happy to say that I am facing no crisis of conscience following the nomination of our new Bishop - just a sense of rejoicing that the Church of England has listened to the diocese and God in this appointment, despite what others might try to say.


  1. Thanks for this, Benny. I think the comments about Nick Holtam have been pretty shameful. The hostility shown by some conservatives towards those who, in good conscience, hold a different view to them does not exactly inspire confidence in the Anglican Covenant. It makes me suspect that "seeking a shared mind" will actually mean, "think what we think or else"!

    You are also right to stress the importance of straight allies.

  2. I sincerley want to thank you for this article... I have rarely read something which gave me so much clarity. I am now clear that you are great at erecting windmills and tilting at them; you have a clear view that scripture is what you want it to be and that everyone with a different view is dogmatic and hostile. Thank you for helping me to see this. You have poured oil on troubled waters and then set fire to it... and 'yes' God still loves you but who do you still love?

  3. @Suem: Thank you for your comment. I found the Church Society statement via your blog entry and was surprized but not shocked at what I saw.

    @ Anonymous: I wonder why you think that I am erecting windmills.

    The description I have given for each stage comes from the very real experiences of gay Christians who I know, and the quotes I used are not my words but the un-doctored quotes of those who are uncomfortable with having 'Pro-Gays' in the church.

    I think that the one from the Church Society is pretty clear about Nicholas Holtam when it expresses the opinion that his inclusive view "makes him unfit for ministry in the Church of England let alone as a Bishop."

    We, however, are prepared to stay and work with those who disagree with us - and to love them with the love of Christ. But Christ had some harsh words to say sometimes about those who wanted to exclude others, even though he loved them.

    God Bless and Keep You, whoever you are.

  4. Thanks for your perception in the way you name the various " degrees" or states of belief about welcoming gay people into the church. The Church of Scotland is coming towards a key debate on how to move forward as a national church when there are such varying views amongst members and clergy. I hope you will remember us in your prayers, as you are in mine.
    Every Blessing

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  6. Dear Peter,
    I am grateful for your support but in the interests of my previous blog, 'Play the ball, not the man'I don't think that personal attacks on individuals are helpful or appropriate.
    So, with regret, I have removed the comment.

  7. I am impressed! A sensible post on a contentious subject. I think that the appointment of Nick Holtom is an excellent one and seems to demonstrate that the Church's mind is not discriminatory or supportive of those who would treat LBGT people as different and a lesser species.

    I have just had to write a paper on the topic for a DDO. I struggled with the Church's stated position and will continue to do so. But as I am in the discernment process, I have had to be honest about my views, which are supportive of the aims of Inclusive Church, while acknowleding the church's position.

    Where it goes from here, only God knows, but Nick Holtom's appointment sends me a signal that I sense as positive.

  8. @ Freda: Thank you for your comment. I will be praying for the Church of Scotland over the months ahead.

    @ UK Viewer:

    Thank you too. It must have been difficult to write such a paper for the DDO, and I would endorse your honesty. In discerning vocation, the only real option is to be honest while open to other views. All other strategies are ultimately fake.
    (See my posting 'The Sin of Honesty'for more on this: )

    When I arrived at my selection coference,(25 years ago) dressed in jeans, denim jacket,& heavy metal T-shirt, with an Adidas bag slung over my shoulder, one of the other candidates (in a suit and tie)looked down his nose at me and and "Are you just leaving?". God knows what he is doing, however....

    I hope and pray that your DDO does too.

  9. Absolutely fantastic and inspiring!
    Thanks for sharing, I enjoyed the visit. :)

  10. Glag you enjoyed the visit! I also visited 'Short jokes...' and loved the 'The Navy' and 'Wise sayings' posts.

    There is another blog which I follow which you might like ...

    God Bless