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Paul Vallely: GAFCON’s thinking is out of date

02 July 2008

The philosophical bases of the conservatives have been discredited

Oh, dear: “Stay out of domestics” was the advice to young policemen in a previous era. It seemed good counsel to outsiders such as me in the tedious rumbling row over homosexuality in the Anglican Communion. But there comes a point when you cannot ignore it any longer.

For me, the breaking point was the arrival of a chap called the Revd Melvin Tinker, dressed in shocking pink, at the Gay Pride march in Jerusalem last week. The pink was never really explained, since Mr Tinker was a traditionalist who was in the city for the aptly named Gafcon. Perhaps he was under cover.

What he told the secular world was that homosexual sex frustrates God’s good purposes for his creation. It moves counter to the ethos of the Bible because it undermines the biblical principle of the complementarity of the sexes, evident from Genesis to Revelation, in that God had made people male and female. Our bodies cry out against homosexuality because “anatomically the male genitalia are made for the female genitalia.” People decide whether something is good or bad, he concluded, on the basis “Would you want everyone to do it?”

As a Papist, I have kept out of all the Anglican dogmatics about a distinctive historic tradition combining a reformed commitment to the priority of the Bible on doctrine, a Catholic loyalty to the sacraments, and “a habit of cultural sensitivity and intellectual flexibility that does not seek to close down unexpected questions too quickly”, as Rowan Williams has put it.

I have even kept mum on the politics of it all, though privately I have observed that those who here describe themselves as traditionalists seem a long way from a tradition rooted in the notion of compromise at the heart of the Elizabethan Settlement.

Indeed, the most recent political precedent for those who arrogate to themselves the notion of being in the Anglican mainstream, when they are so evidently a wild side-eddy, is that of the Militant Tendency. The tactic is entryism; the targets are the true mainstreamers, who are styled as revisionists by a slight of Orwellian doublethink.

Yet with the assertions about the purpose of creation being procreation, the notion of complementarity, and the anatomy of sexuality, we have moved bang — if you will pardon the expression — into the territory of natural law at the heart of Roman theology. The scholastic notion that we can tell what God intends by looking at a purposeful and ordered world was central to the business of Catholic philosophy for nigh-on 800 years, until thinkers such as Hume knocked aside the pillars of its presuppositions.

Under the onslaught of the Enlightenment, Rome slowly abandoned the notion that the only purpose of sex is procreation, and embraced the idea of sexual love as an expression of relationship. Jigsaw sexuality has no place in that; that kind of complementarity is more of a cultural projection than embracing the gospel ethic of inclusion is a sign of being in thrall to contemporary culture.

Rome also abandoned the old natural-law supposition that what is normative must be ideal. “What you want everyone to do” cannot be the basis for deciding whether something is good or bad. That is to mistake the average for the ideal, and pave the way for the oppression of minorities. If what is unnatural were immoral, we should all be bearded, and the clean-shaven would be sinners. Instead, we delight in the diversity that God intended — a diversity that even embraces the outmoded thinking of Mr Tinker and his fellows.

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