BARONESS HUNT of Bethnal Green, former Chief Executive of Stonewall, and a practising Roman Catholic, has edited — or, rather, “curated” — 24 short essays that “highlight the human cost that religious homophobia has upon individuals who have done nothing wrong — epares her “passing” (off as straight) with (the biblical) Esther who gains “access to privilege by means of hiding so that she could subvert the system”. Jarel Robinson-Brown describes the horrific campaign against him as a young minister. No, he did not know “the comfort or consolation of God” in this holy hatred: only “the cowardice of God’s Holy Silent Church”.
Tamsin Omond describes how they married Melissa on Westminster Bridge during the Extinction Rebellion protests, both of them determined “to risk loving beyond the safety of one chosen lover”. John Bell describes his outrage at the death of Lizzie Lowe “because the prejudice of ‘Christians’ had made her doubt her value and destroy herself”. Karl Rutlidge, a disabled, bisexual trans man, married to Sally, describes his rejection as an Anglican ordinand before becoming a Methodist minister.
Mpho Tutu van Furth (daughter of Desmond Tutu) cannot describe her grief at being barred from ministry in the South African Church because she married Marceline. Rachel Mann speaks of being “coded as Other” in the church she serves. Ruth Hunt finds that “to be rejected by those who are supposed to help us find God is utterly devastating.” Kate Bottley laments that she “still can’t help two people in love with one another” marry in an Anglican building.
The testimony of these “prophets” is profound and troubling. Perhaps personal testimony can overcome the disgrace of homophobia in the Church when theology seems powerless to do so.
SAM ALLBERRY suggests that some of his readers might want “to grunt in disgust or hurl the book across the room”. I am one of them.
God cares with whom we sleep because God loves us infinitely and wants only what is best for us. Most Christians will agree with this answer. The author is at his best in emphasising sex as a “means of self-giving”, when giving pleasure is more important than receiving it. He finds that the New Testament imposes particular constraints on men “to avoid sexual immorality”. It teaches mutuality between men and women (he doesn’t explain why, in that case, “wives ought to be, in everything, subject to their husbands”). And it teaches the importance of consent.
A central feature of the book is a highly contentious interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2, which ignores the wide range of recent scholarship, understands them as literal descriptions, and then uses them to assert unalterable “biblical” truths. Biological complementarity is assumed in advance and assigned biblical warrant.
The book is evasive. It does not acknowledge that marriage does not entirely mean the same as it did in the time of Jesus. Arrangements for entering (and leaving) it are very different. Millions of people, not just Christians, avoid immorality, prioritise mutuality, and would never have non-consensual sex. But, grateful for these values, they don’t confine themselves to the rigorous, over-defined, and exclusive heterosexual ethic that the author thinks his reading of the Bible validates.
Allberry recognises that his sexual ethic might sound “deeply offensive”. Yet there are plenty of people who gladly take up the demanding challenge of loving, just, committed, mutual, and consensual sexual relations who might themselves be rightly and deeply offended by Allberry’s account of biblical teaching and his lack of any sense of a developing Christian tradition.
The book is likely to be pastorally disastrous for many people, and my “grunt of disgust” in reading it is more a prayer of anguish for all whose faith has been harmed by this facile presentation of Christian sexual morality, all in the name of the One whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light.
Dr Adrian Thatcher is Honorary Professor of Theology in the University of Exeter. He is the author of Redeeming Gender (OUP, 2016).
The Book of Queer Prophets: 24 writers on sexuality and religion
Ruth Hunt, editor
William Collins £14.-00-836005-4)
Church Times Bookshop £13.50
Why Does God Care Who I Sleep With?
Good Book Company £7.99
Church Times Bookshop £7.20