Evangelicals in listening mode

by
15 July 2016

Adrian Thatcher looks at contributions to the sexuality debate

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Journeys in Grace and Truth: Revisiting scripture and sexuality
Jayne Ozanne, editor
Ekklesia £9.99
(978-0-9932942-4-2)
Church Times Bookshop £9

 

Amazing Love: Theology for understanding discipleship, sexuality and mission
Andrew Davison
DLT £8.99
(978-0-23253-26-5-4)
Church Times Bookshop £8.10

 

 

JAYNE OZANNE was a lay member of the Archbishops’ Council. She was, and remains, an Evangelical Angli­can, one whose attempt to reconcile her sexuality with the standard Evangelical teaching of “enforced celibacy” led to two breakdowns, and nearly cost her her life.

She hopes that Journeys in Grace and Truth, made available to all General Synod members in time for the Shared Conversations on sexuality in York last weekend (News, 24 June), “will bring hope and some element of healing to those who have been deeply wounded and scarred by the church”; for “those who have felt silenced”, that it will encourage them “to speak out”; and “for those who have still to be convinced that there is actually another way of interpreting Scripture on this important issue”, that they “will read the book with an open mind and an open heart”.

The 13 contributors (nine men, four women) include the present and former Bishops of Liverpool, the Bishop of Dorchester, and the Dean of St Paul’s. They provide “a collection of stories from leading Evangelicals . . . who hold . . . an affirming view” of same-sex love. They are all impressed by the sincerity and spirituality of many LGBTI Christians, as Paul Bayes is in his encounter with Open Table in Liverpool.

Marcus Green compares his coming out to that of Bartimaeus, the blind man, calling out to Jesus. Colin Fletcher wonders whether “homosexual practice of the sort we know today in the context of stable, faithful, and permanent partner­ships” is “universally condemned in the Bible” after all.

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David Ison asks why some sexual matters are regarded as immutable, while others, such as contraception and divorce (and capital punish­ment), are not. Like Anthony Archer and Gavin Collins, he admits that the usual proof-texts are open to different interpretations. Like Jody Stowell, he makes the vital distinction between Jesus the living Word of God and the words of scripture.

Stowell wisely makes the con­nection between gender — for her the “double jeopardy” of being a woman and being ordained — and sexuality. She is disturbed that in Evangelical thought “binary categories of male and female are the ultimate forms of humanity.” Hayley Matthews, having endured an attempted exorcism of the demon of homosexuality from her, “had no choice but to move beyond the Scriptures if I was to understand what God was assuring me of . . .”.

Collins draws attention to the words of Jesus on celibacy (”not everyone can accept this”), arguing that its requirement for homosexuals only cannot “possibly be a Biblically valid standpoint”. David Newman acknowledges that “there are those for whom sexual identity is a much more complex issue than a simple clear-cut male/female binary divide,” while David Runcorn gets the point that “homosexuality” and “sexuality” are “modern concepts”; so “bringing them into engagement with ancient texts needs to be done with great care.”

Andrew Davison wrote Amazing Love with his fellow Anglicans Duncan Dormor, Ruth Harley, Rosie Harper, Elizabeth Phillips, Jeff Phillips, Simon Sarmiento, Jane Shaw, and Alan Wilson. The book assumes that theology rather than biblical literalism is needed for understanding discipleship, sexuality, and mission, and they pack plenty of it into a very short book. It is “about how to treat people well, and to behave morally ourselves”.

Chapter 2, “Being Human”, em­­braces “changing scientific under­standing”, “emotional intimacy”, the naturalness of human and sexual diversity, and the spectrum of desire.

Chapter 3, “Being Biblical”, shows how the authors “have found that a journey towards support for com­mitted same-sex relationships has not been a journey away from the Bible, but a journey that involves taking the Bible seriously”. The biblical texts thought to condemn homosexuality raise “many questions”, which “make it difficult to build a solid case against same-sex relationships from any one of them, or even from all of them taken together”.

Chapter 4, “Being Part of the Story”, shows that tradition changes. The three examples discussed are clerical celibacy, birth control, and changing assumptions about sexual difference. Why is same-sex love apparently exempt? Chapter 5, “Being in Love”, argues “We can rejoice in love between two women, or two men, simply because it’’s love”. Chapter 6, “Being Missional”, regrets that for many younger people the Church’s intransigence over homosexuality has made it into a “toxic brand”.

There are no new arguments in Journeys. The key points have been made repeatedly in the past 30 years. What is new and most welcome is that more Evangelicals are listening to them and realising the damage of their views about homosexuality to individuals and to the Church and its mission.

The tone of Amazing Love is gentle, affirming, and conciliatory, urging the Church of England to “fulfil the gospel imperative” that the body of Christ “needs to value and embrace everyone for whom he died”. It contributes significantly to that task. The hopes of the first book are abundantly present in the second.

 

Dr Adrian Thatcher is Visiting Professor in the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Exeter.

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