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Leader comment: Parallels — or otherwise

by
11 November 2022

IT IS too simplistic to compare two running stories this week — humanity’s survival on planet Earth and the Church’s general puzzlement over the behaviour of sexual minorities — and write off the Church’s concerns as trivial and out of touch. That world leaders are meeting in Egypt this week to debate ways of slowing climate change doesn’t mean that every other topic must be ignored. It is the only event of the year, after all, and the only topic that brings world leaders together in such numbers. But, whatever else is going on, the Church really does have to address its differences about sexuality and demonstrate, if nothing else, its ability to argue well — and function well while it is arguing.

There are, though, parallels that can be seen between the two topics, as long as one first avoids the causal connection made by a few individuals who ought not to be allowed near a computer, let alone a Twitter account, namely those who blame the degradation of the planet on what they deem the degradation of homosexual sex. The first true parallel is that both topics have required the public to absorb new scientific understanding. The harmful effect of fossil-fuel use on the climate was simply not known for many decades, and once known, disputed for too long. Similarly, the genetic component of homosexuality, although even now not fully understood, is generally recognised as a key factor where, before, something “wrong” in a person’s upbringing was assumed to be the cause of their same-sex attraction. In an ideal world, these significant bits of knowledge would have been received by a public predisposed to hate the obviously polluting aspects of fossil-fuel use and practised at extending love to people of all sexual orientations — but fact and opinion are generally tumbled together in people’s attitudes, and sometimes completely divorced.

There are other parallels, most notably the disjunction between many in the developed and the developing world, but the exceptions and complexities mean that instruction must be drawn judiciously. There is, for example, the treatment of minority opinion. The majority of people around the world agree with the need to address climate change. The global majority view on sexuality, it must be admitted, favours a traditional bias towards heterosexual exclusivity. The Bishop of Oxford says that he would look with favour on the conservatives’ proposal of an alternative episcopal arrangement. It would be inconceivable to suggest an alternative lifestyle for climate-change deniers. None the less, the countries most affected by the climate crisis still have to engage with those who have caused most harm in the conviction that, as more evidence emerges, they will be persuaded to change. The Anglican Churches cannot be seen to do less in their efforts to resolve their differences.

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