A Glaring Omission
A principle which is rightly highly valued in the Doctrine Commission report, which accompanies the Ma Whea? report as Appendix 5, is that the voices of the vulnerable and marginalised need to be given careful attention. This premise underlies most of the report (certainly all of section B, where it is expressed most clearly on pages 10-11), and is a major factor in much of the wider debate about same sex relationships and the church. And while the particulars of its expression on pages 10-11 of the Doctrine Commission report are perhaps challengeable, the basic principle is undeniable: Jesus gave particular attention to the marginalised in society. It is hard to think why we should not show the same compassion and interest as our Lord.
For this reason it is extraordinary that a group that is very possibly the most vulnerable and marginalised in this discussion received almost no voice at all – in either report. That is, Christians who experience same sex attraction and yet hold to a biblical-traditional view of chaste sexual practise. Some such Christians identify themselves as ‘gay’, others prefer not to use the term. But regardless, this group is likely both to be considered outsiders from the LGBT community (in that they deny what is considered intrinsic to that community), and to have been insensitively and painfully treated by the church. These precious brothers and sisters are surely among the most vulnerable and isolated people in this whole debate.
So the lack of evidence of their views and voice in the reports is conspicuous. The existence of this marginalised group does not seem to be explicitly acknowledged at all in the Doctrine Commission report (the nearest thing may be a possible hint in their direction in Section C.188.8.131.52). This absence is most notable in Section B.3.2 where much is made of the testimony of the marginalised, yet gay and lesbian voices are treated as if they are univocal in support of same sex activity. This has the effect of silencing those who give a different testimony regarding their experience of same sex attraction, rendering them utterly voiceless.
The only time their voice is heard is in one of 12 summaries of views expressed in the submissions on pages 15-16 of the Ma Whea? report, and this itself is only a quote of the Pilling Report from the UK, used in lieu of a summary of NZ views. Further, despite this extremely brief appearance, the assumptions underlying the conclusions and options given in Section 11 of the Ma Whea? report express the same reduction of gay and lesbian voices to those who support same sex activity. For instance, Option A ‘affirming the traditional understanding’ is said to leave ‘no protection from being marginalised available for those of either a gay orientation or for those believing that gay people ought to be catered for’ (page 38). No place is here given to those who experience a ‘gay orientation’ but view their orientation in a different light, and feel helped by the church’s biblical-traditional teaching as a result. Nor is such a place given in any of the other nine options presented.
Same sex attracted Christians who share a biblical-traditional understanding of chastity have an extraordinary contribution to make to the church. Their example of taking up their cross daily and self-sacrificially following Christ in trust and obedience deserves to be recognised and rejoiced in. Most marginalised groups have much to teach us, and this group is certainly no exception. For these reasons, and simply because these precious brothers and sisters are indeed so vulnerable, their effective non-inclusion in the Ma Whea? and Doctrine Commission reports is disturbing, and distorts the picture presented in a significant way.
Rev. Chris Spark
Chris is Priest Assistant at St Saviours & St Nicholas, Christchurch and a member of the Latimer Fellowship.