From Mr Gavin Turner
Sir, - I was pleased to read letters (
26 September) clearly unhappy with the Pilling report. But what
seems to be missing from most debate is any recognition that the
official guidance is almost certainly a serious obstacle to
mission, now that the Church is so detached from most of society in
its attitude to homosexuality.
This is a generational attitudinal issue. The latest surveys
show that, among the wider population in the UK, acceptance of
homosexuality has risen markedly over the past 30 or so years, by
some estimates now reaching as much as 70 per cent - and this
includes approval of gay marriage.
Many of the homophobic minority are predominantly of the older
generation, and most would deny their homophobia: approval ratings
are likely to increase further. But is anyone thinking about the
implications of the Church's official line for its mission to
younger people? Most younger people now regard homosexuality as a
morally neutral fact of life, to be accepted, and sometimes even to
be celebrated as part of life's rich pattern.
I live in a relatively isolated rural community whose two-thirds
vicar in a six-parish rural benefice struggles to meet the demands
on him. Our diocese is now talking of merging us with another
benefice under one new full-time cleric who will simply not be able
to cope with the demands of 12 parishes in a new larger benefice.
The justification from the diocese is that it cannot recruit enough
Does anyone know how many potential young ordinands are being
turned away because they are not prepared to dissimulate about
their sexuality in the way that everyone had to in the past? This
nonsense is going on at a time when there are plenty of gay clergy
throughout the Church and in senior positions (as there always have
been). These sorts of hypocrisy only emphasise the values gap
between our ecclesiastical masters and the real world.
I do not follow synodical politics, but if it is powerful
Evangelical minorities who are setting the agenda with these absurd
attitudes, and pushing most bishops in a direction in which they
don't really want to go, is it not time that the Bishops took a
stand? It is leadership that we need, not pandering to bigoted
minorities in a very dubious democratic process that is making the
Church look absurd in the wider world.
I don't expect the Roman Church to lose its unhealthy
centuries-old obsession with sex any time soon, but I really
thought better of the Anglican Church.
3 Stable Yard, Gunton
Norfolk NR11 7HJ
From the Revd Professor Christopher C. H. Cook
Sir, - As Dr Christopher Shell has noted (Letters, 3
October), I was not writing about human sexuality (Comment, 19
September) as a New Testament specialist. Contrary to his
assertion, however, I did not say that the term
arsenokoitēs was "imprecise".
Rather, I stated that "scientific terminology is precise and
open to examination, even when contested, in a way that ancient
Hebrew and Greek terminology (e.g. arsenokoitēs) is
Further, I was commenting on the Pilling report, and not on the
New Testament texts. Thus, I chose this term as an example, since
it is stated in the report that "Most scholars recognize that the
precise meaning of this word is extremely difficult to pin down." I
defer to those who are specialists in this area as to whether or
not this statement is actually correct, but it seems to me that
there is indeed much debate concerning this term, and that it is at
least less precise and open to examination than is the current
There are multiple views concerning proper translation of this
word, and we cannot ask St Paul exactly what he meant by it. Given
that the current term "homosexuality" was introduced in the 19th
century, that its nuances of meaning are correspondingly modern,
and that it is open to examination in ongoing scientific research,
at least we can know precisely that this is not the term that St
Paul had in mind.
CHRISTOPHER C. H. COOK
Department of Theology and Religion
Abbey House, Palace Green
Durham DH1 3RS
From Mr Dermot O'Callaghan
Sir, - The Revd Professor Chris Cook attributes elevated LGB
mental ill-health to societal stigma, and criticises the Pilling
working group for accepting Core Issues Trust's evidence over that
of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. He claims that Core's
evidence was selected to support "a particular interpretation of
But Core's evidence was from the College's own cited sources:
"the precise causal mechanism at this point remains unknown.
Therefore, studies are needed that directly test mediational
hypotheses to evaluate, for example, the relative salience of
social stigmatisation and of psychosocial and lifestyle factors as
potential contributors" (Gilman, 2001); "many people will conclude
that widespread prejudice against homosexual people causes them to
be unhappy or worse, mentally ill. Commitment to this position
would be premature, however, and should be discouraged. In fact, a
number of potential interpretations need to be considered" (Bailey,
1999); and "It may be that prejudice in society against gay men and
lesbians leads to greater psychological distress. . . Conversely,
gay men and lesbians may have lifestyles that make them vulnerable
to psychological disorder" (King, 2003).
Thus, the Pilling report rightly affirmed that "the three
scientific papers referred to by the Royal College of Psychiatrists
. . . actually refuse to attribute the causation of mental health
issues among gay and lesbian people to societal factors."
Furthermore, the College has produced a new position statement
(April 2014) that takes on board some of CORE's criticisms. In
particular, it no longer follows a "biological" theory of
causation, and it allows that sexual orientation may be "fluid", so
that "born gay" can no longer be sustained (though it doesn't draw
this logical conclusion).
DERMOT O'CALLAGHAN (Reader)
27 Monument Road
Co. Down BT26 6HT