We’re all the same?
“A horse is a horse, of course, of course […] unless the horse is the famous Mr Ed.” We like putting things in categories. It makes life easier. And it’s necessary for a range of practical reasons and normally it makes sense and is entirely appropriate. Horses are horses. Of course. Unless…
The Ma Whea? Commission were faced with a daunting task – not only did they have to review and report on historical, canonical, biblical and theological issues, surrounding the issue of same-sex relationships, they also had to speak about real people, with desires and feelings. People who choose to act and give expression to those desires. People who experience joy and sorrow, who get hurt and feel all sorts of things after they give expression to those desires and feelings.
So there was necessarily a degree of grouping together ‘homosexual’ people – placing people in a category. However a careful reading of the report makes clear that we are not talking about a single category. There are those who experience attraction towards people of the same gender who choose to not give physical expression to that attraction. A previous reflection spoke to their situation. There are those who experience attraction at times, but not at others. There are those who embrace and delight in their attraction to those of the same gender, and those who wrestle with it and wish they didn’t experience such feelings. There are those who engage in same-sex activity with delight, and others who engage us such activity but feel remorse and shame in doing so. There are those who commit themselves to such a lifestyle, and those who occasionally fall and behave in a way they wish they hadn’t. Simply put, a homosexual is not a homosexual, of course, of course.
Within the report there is at least some recognition of the fact that not all people who experience same sex attraction view themselves, or what the church should do, in the same way. Archbishop Richardson’s evidence to the Human Rights Review Tribunal and the surrounding discussion in section 9 makes clear that the key issue is not sexual orientation but behaviour of God’s people. Therefore, not only is it incorrect to group all people who experience same-sex attraction the same way, we must recognize that the church can, and must, respond in different ways.
This truth must be clearly grasped, for at times the grouping together of all homosexual people leads to unhelpful conclusions. In the paragraph describing Option A (Affirming traditional understanding) we read “This [option] would have the effect of disenfranchising people who identify as homosexual and lesbian in the Anglican community…”. This sweeping statement is not true, both because it groups all ‘homosexual and lesbian’ people together, and implies to the church that unless we affirm homosexual behaviour, we disenfranchise people who experience homosexual desire.
Standing for chastity as our church understands it is not a blanket rejection of those who experience homosexual desire. This is because such a group is far more varied than the report assumes. But this is also because the gospel does in fact group all of us together as those who, by God’s grace, are called to deny ourselves and grow in conformity to Jesus’ instruction and example.
Rev. Dave Clancey
Dave is Vicar of St Saviours and St Nicholas, Christchurch, and Chair of the Latimer Fellowship.