Friday, 10 September 2004

Discrimination and the Church

As we await the report of the Lambeth Commission set up to address the crisis over sexuality, it might be useful to look at the rest of the news, and the way the secular world addresses such issues in Britain. The BBC news website has the following

A gay Conservative candidate has survived a deselection vote within his local party after winning support from Tory leader Michael Howard. Mr Howard earlier stepped in after press reports that Ashley Crossley hadbeen the victim of homophobia. He said there was ‘no place whatever for discrimination of that kind’ in his party, in a letter to local Tories.

Whilst the news media are all clear in their reporting of the Tory leaders’ view, what is equally significant is that without exception they all consider him to have acted correctly. Silence, or fudging the issue, would have been seen as reprehensible.

Of course Michael Howard has the full support of the law of the land in taking his stand. Discrimination on grounds of sexuality is wrong. Yet only ten years ago gay members of parliament were still being persecuted in the news media simply on the grounds of their sexuality.

There has been a complete revolution on this issue, one perhaps as challenging to people’s perceptions as was the ending of slavery in the 19th century.

The Church has asked for an opt out clause on sexuality, and this is beginning to look increasingly inappropriate. It is as though the Church were saying, at the point when slavery was outlawed, ‘but Christian clergy may continue to keep slaves’ with some argument like those used in the apartheid days of South Africa, to justify maintaining the status quo.

Lest this example appear unduly offensive, note that it is the South African churches and nation that have been foremost in campaigning against discrimination against homosexuals. They know, from their experience of discrimination, that all forms of it must be eradicated.

So, when the Eames commission reports, the rest of the Anglican Church will need to note that society in North America, in Europe and South Africa, finds discrimination against homosexuals unacceptable. The public, decisive, action taken by Michael Howard, as leader of the Conservatives, and Liam Fox, party chairman, ought to be an example to us all, and particularly to our own bishops. Homophobic discrimination has no place in the Church, and no place in the world today.

Posted by Tom Ambrose on Friday, 10 September 2004 at 8:46am BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: just thinking

Is there a place for discrimination against those involved in loving incestuous relationships if they are over the age of 18 and both consenting?

Posted by: sawman on Friday, 10 September 2004 at 10:33am BST

The logic doesn't work. Some Tories have not been deselected despite adulterous lifestyles (eg Alan Clarke). That doesn't make it right for the Church to ordain those who are adulterers, does it? Or would that be deemed heterophobic or adulterophobic?

The issue is not one of discrimination or of rights but whether the sin of homosexual activity should prevent ordination or preferment within the church. Those who reject important biblical truth on this matter should not be made Bishops of Reading, New Hampshire, etc.

Of course homosexuals are loved by God, as are all sinners, but homosexual activity needs repentance and a change of lifestyle, as does other sin.

Posted by: end_of_transmission on Friday, 10 September 2004 at 1:08pm BST

"Lest this example appear unduly offensive, note that it is the South African churches and nation that have been foremost in campaigning against discrimination against homosexuals."

That is entirely untrue. While a few high-profile figures such as Desmond Tutu may have equated apartheid and disapproval of homosexuality, the bulk of the congregation in South Africa, like all Africans, abhor homosexuality and consider it sinful.

Posted by: Christopher Culver on Friday, 10 September 2004 at 5:19pm BST

Bowing down to the culture of the day has no place in the church.

Posted by: WannabeAnglican on Monday, 13 September 2004 at 3:50am BST

Do we get to keep bucking and re-challenging authority every decade? As I remember, the CoE's ruling was:

"that homosexual genital acts also fall short of this ideal, and are likewise to be met by a call to repentance and the exercise of compassion;"

Does God set the standard foundation of moral laws or do the majority of secular governments?

Posted by: Andy on Monday, 13 September 2004 at 6:22pm BST

Dont recall a Conservative leader saying local parties shouldnt discriminate against adulterers? So that logic doesnt work either.

No the church should not bow to culture but it has always reviewed principles in the light of current culture & knowledge, since the early church fought about food laws and circumcision. Most of us now accept women with uncovered heads speaking in church, borrowing money, that the earth is not flat, evolution etc. Most Westerners now believe that some people are born inherently homosexual and that should make us think again whether it is still in line with Christian principles to deny such people loving committed relationships.

We must also consider the many existing gay clergy and whether it is consistent with Christian principles to ask them to live a lie, denying who they are. Personally I believe it is not.

Posted by: Amanda on Wednesday, 15 September 2004 at 11:17pm BST

Andy (13-09-2004)
One reason why authority will always be re-challenged is because people with a genuine faith in Christ will always have different understandings of how various actions do or don't conform to loving God and each other. It is part of how we reflect and grow.

As for the CoE’s ruling “that homosexual genital acts also fall short of this ideal” etc, part of the problem with it is that it's too vague and based on mis-assumptions, ie as a ruling it doesn't work. Not all homosexual partnerships engage in genital acts, or even in 'homosexual' genital acts. Many heterosexual partnerships engage in 'homosexual genital acts', ie the kind of sexual acts that homosexuals might engage in. You see, it might be very convenient to classify relationships in terms of types of presumed sexual activity, but it really doesn't work.

In Apartheid South Africa authority was continually re-challenged, in spite of being backed by St Paul (Rom 13.1-3), because classifying people in terms their presumed genetic 'race' didn't work, and de-humanised both the classifiers and the classified.

Posted by: John Webster on Thursday, 16 September 2004 at 5:24pm BST

In writing about homosexuality, I hadn't discussed marriage, and it is difficult to talk about these together.
The commandments address themselves only to those who marry - Thou shalt not commit adultery.
The command is not about all sex, like the stories about the England football manager and a girlfriend, both of whom were unmarried at the time. It is about breaking vows that you have made to a lifelong partner, and potentially breaking up the home of the children who are the fruit of the marriage. It is about recongnising the huge responsiblity one takes on in bringing children into the world, and acting appropriately towards the spouse, the offspring and hence the whole of society which has expectations about the right way to bring up children.
What I wrote was about those for whom marriage to a partner of the opposite sex and the natural procreation of children from that partnership is not a realistic option. It is disgraceful that those who can enjoy wedded bliss with a partner of the opposite sex, should discriminate against those for whom this is not an option.

Posted by: Tom Ambrose on Friday, 17 September 2004 at 10:19pm BST

This is yet another example of where the Church is simply being left behind.

Whilst this happens, the Church will simply become irrelevant in contemporary, progressive nations free of the superstitions of biblical literalism.

If the Church cannot change, then that is the best outcome.

Posted by: Mike Homfray on Saturday, 18 September 2004 at 1:24am BST

I am utterly opposed to church discrimination against homosexuals (of which I am one). But our case against discrimination can't be based on contemporary secular standards. Rather, we must rely on good theology and an understanding of scripture that relies on sound interpretation and the justice and love of God.

Posted by: Brian McKinlay on Sunday, 19 September 2004 at 12:12am BST

Brian McKinlay makes the point that "our case against discrimination can’t be based on contemporary secular standards." However, there is a philosophical argument (here drastically reduced) that God does not command us to do what is known to be evil; rather, God's commands are known to us to be the commands of God precisely because they command us to do what is good. Thus we reject the argument of a parricide that God had commanded the murders of his parents, for God commands no such thing. However, if discrimination against gay and lesbian people is wrong, then the Church appears to be making the claim that God, in this case, does command us to do wrong. I say that the burden is on the Church to prove either that discrimination based in homophobia is in fact a good thing, or that God does in this case command Christians to commit the positive wrong of homophobic discrimination.

(I am now an ex-Christian, over precisely this issue.)

Posted by: Charlotte Pressler on Sunday, 19 September 2004 at 12:50am BST

I totally agree with Brian McKinlay's stand that the argument for or against homosexuality (or any other subject of christian ethics) should indeed be biblically based. The key problem seems (to me at least) lies in the interpretation of the bible. There are different systems of interpretation thus leading to different understandings. Just like on the subject of baptism, drinking of alcohol, etc. Each sect/denomination has a different interpretation on these subjects.

When will we humans ever learn that we are not God and are thus incapable of knowing everything. We just have to accept that we are limited beings, thus, all the more, we need God the unlimited being to guide, lead and comfort us through our journey in life. That is also partly why God is so worthy of our adoration & worship.

Moreover, although christendom can't agree on the exact theology of baptism, Mary, etc. We are still able to join together as one body of Christ (aka Ecumenism). Indeed great progress has been made in uniting Christians since time immemorial. So let's continue our progress by making homosexuality another article in our agreement to unite despite our difference in opinions. Afterall, we are all one body of Christ. Let's not break the body of our Lord over our own myopic perspective.

Posted by: passerby on Tuesday, 21 September 2004 at 11:10am BST

'passerby' writes 'although christendom can’t agree on the exact theology of baptism, Mary, etc. We are still able to join together as one body of Christ'.

Although I garee with the sentiment, there is a difficulty in practice. Differences in theology, however seriously we regard them, rarely prevent us from living a godly, righteous and sober life (or whatever). But the point at issue is precisely over whether homosexuality can validly be regarded in such a light. That makes it much harder to live together and submerge differences for the greater good -- because for people on both sides this _is_ the greater good that must be argued about and lived. Similarly at the Reformation, when Christians on both sides were burning each other at the stake for heresy, it was largely impossible for them to live peacefully side by side, whereas several hundered years later we can -- in most places -- more peaceably discuss our different theological views. For people on both sides, the whole thing is tightly bound up with the mission of the Church at this present time, and perhaps there is not enough common language to do this together. But we can all hope and pray that we can proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.

Posted by: Simon Kershaw on Tuesday, 21 September 2004 at 11:23am BST

I keep noting this contrast: "the Church's ____" vs. "secular _____."

This *presupposes* that the Church reflects the Gospel Ethic of Christ better than those outside the Church do!

But what if---especially in a place like the UK which has benefitted from a _via media_ worldview for so long---secular society in some sense "gets" Jesus better than the Church does?

Yes, yes: the Holy Spirit will guide the Church in All Truth. But . . . that's in God's good time. And *how*? Perhaps, like certain Samaritans of old, post-/non-Christian civil society has much to teach the People of God about true faith? (Maybe the *human rights* example found within democracies are the _means_ by which---at this time---the Holy Spirit will guide the Church? _Stranger things have happened._)

Posted by: J. C. Fisher on Friday, 15 October 2004 at 5:09am BST