THE book is a calm, relentless analysis of the harm that the Church of England continues to wreak on LGBT people.
The themes of the opening chapters are familiar: how the Bible is read; what the Bible is; the need for multiple interpretations; what the sources of revelation are; how the Church should respond to the natural and social sciences, and so on. Much of this has been said many times before.
But, as the argument progresses, the barely restrained accounts of the damage inflicted on LGBT people by conservative theologies of sexuality, and by what the author sees as a corrupt and dishonest Church, enter less familiar and more disturbing territory. The author is a Cambridge psychiatrist and a deacon — since this month, also a priest — in the Church of England; so his accusations bear additional academic and ecclesial weight.
Readers will quickly learn how “cognitive dissonance” and various forms of “repression” operate on many conservative Christians, but also how repressive theologies produce “church-enforced torture” among the people who come into contact with them. While there are “pockets of good practice”, the Church of England is “institutionally homophobic” and dishonest. The failure of bishops to speak honestly about LGBT people (with occasional exceptions) is the symptom of a “broken culture” that puts the bishops in this invidious position.
The plight of gay clergy, forbidden to marry, and required to live celibately in civil partnerships, is intolerable. There are “crippling levels of fear” among the bishops, and an “episcopal liberation theology” is needed to enable them to speak the truth, and to address the “sickness at the heart of the church”.
This sickness is a catastrophe for mission. The IICSA report on abuse in the Church of England has uncovered an abusive theology and practice and a climate of fear and suspicion. Conservative theologians who, when reproved for their attitudes to LGBT people, claim that they themselves are being unfairly treated display an “aura of malicious woundedness” that must be called out.
The people who, the author hopes, will read the book are also the ones least likely to do so. Yet the message of the book needs to be stated and repeated. I wondered whether the title of the book entirely matched its contents. There is little about holiness. There is little about the contribution of LGBT people to the Church and much more about the indignity, othering, contempt, and emotional abuse that LGBT people suffer as a direct of the Church’s polity and theology.
But this is an important and necessary book. While opponents will want to characterise it as shrill, exaggerated, and one-sided, this reviewer finds that the author tells it as it is. There is a growing academic interest in how some theologies inflict cognitive, emotional, and psychological abuse on whole groups of people. “Abusive theology” has become almost a new genre for investigation. This book finds plenty of it at the very heart of the Church.
Dr Adrian Thatcher is Honorary Professor of Theology and Religion in the University of Exeter, and Editor of Modern Believing.
Queer Holiness: The gift of LGBTQI people to the Church
Church Times Bookshop £14.99