THE TONY CROSS COLUMN
Article No. 9
Some attention has been given this week to an African Archbishop who says that the next Archbishop in England must be a man who adheres strongly to biblical truth. And so say all of us. This African cleric goes on to say that St Paul calls on us to transform society, not be conformed to it. We would all agree. He then suggests that some Christians are ‘sympathizing’ with homosexuals and lesbians but that the gospel is very clear. If, he says, we start preaching that men may marry men and women marry women this is contrary to God’s command to procreate and fill the earth.
He has a strong view that anything to do with homosexuality is wrong, because, in his view, it is condemned in the bible. He sees the attitude of Christians in the West as ‘sympathizing’ with homosexuals and thereby compromising their faith. He believes that the bible states beyond any argument that homosexuality is morally wrong.
Well, we all have our views. I and many gay Christians believe that marriage is a state which should be preserved for a union between a man and a woman, but I want instead to pick up this idea that Christians are going along with homosexuality because it has become culturally acceptable in our society.
The argument goes like this: society (i.e. ‘culture’) has moved towards accepting gay people for a variety of reasons – including an advancing understanding of sexuality generally, the recognition that many millions of people worldwide are homosexual and that not by their choice, and also that to alienate and demonize any one group in society is wrong. But the church, the argument goes, does not have to follow culture. We (the church) can stand out against society or culture. We can insist on biblical truth, if we so wish, and say that homosexuality is morally wrong. We must not, in this instance, be “culturally acquiescent”.
I totally agree with the principle that Christians must not be culturally acquiescent. The churches must never be culturally acquiescent. To do that is to betray the deep truth as shown us through the bible. To be culturally acquiescent is to be prepared to compromise the truth we hold in order to go along with the society in which we live. But who is asking for that? Not gay Christians! They are not asking for the church to accept their homosexuality just because culture happens to be swaying that way. Culture could just as easily sway the opposite way – as was in danger of happening at the outset of the aids panic when homosexuals were blamed and the disease (sometimes called, at the time, ‘the gay plague’) was deemed, by some Christians, to be God’s judgment on homosexuality. Of course Christians and the churches must not bend with the same wind that sways society. But that has never been called for by gay Christians.
Christian people who are gay are calling the churches to reassess their attitude to gay Christians in the light of the better understanding we have all now reached in various areas (e.g. our better understanding of sexuality generally, of homosexuality, of social trends) and also, of course, in the light of our better understanding of the bible and, in particular, the gospels and the society in which they were written.
What gay Christians are saying to the churches is: reconsider the meaning and sense of the gospels. Consult the experts on what they now understand about human sexuality and development. Reconsider who you are excluding by your policies and alienation. Reassess the effect of your previous pronouncements. Rethink what the love of Christ means. And especially what it should mean between brothers and sisters in Christ. Reconsider what your present attitudes imply. Recognize the real effect of your present policies in the lives of gay Christians who are trying desperately to stay in the church, but are finding it very hard going. Gay Christians are more and more excluded from the real fellowship in many churches (especially evangelical) because of your decisions – do you really want that? Without the loving endorsement (not of the ideas about homosexuality, but of the kinship in Christ of us all, straight or gay) from the hierarchy of the churches, it will take decades before ordinary Christians come to accept gay Christians on a par with themselves (though it will come in the end for truth must prevail).
Gay Christians are regarded in many churches (especially evangelical churches) as perverse, twisted, probably morally suspect, deviant, sick or misled, and not to be trusted with leadership – is that what you want? That, by saying that the state of homosexuality is ‘disordered’ in some way, you are effectively legislating against gay people ever being properly accepted in the church. Is that what you really want?
There is no force in the argument that the churches must be culturally acquiescent – no sensible gay Christian would ever say there was. There is however every reason for the leadership in the churches to reconsider their attitude to fellow Christians who happen to be gay. And there is every reason for Christians (straight and gay) to stand up for the moral content of the gospel against modern trends whenever necessary. But can the churches seriously think that they are embracing their brothers and sisters in Christ who are also gay when they place them in this special category and treat them as somehow tainted? As a consequence they are bound to be sidelined, alienated from other Christians, treated as odd, perverse, morally deficient.
What then is required of the churches? That they declare their full acceptance of their gay brethren. That they accept them as of equal status. That they recognize that what binds us all together (being one in Christ) is far more important than disagreements about sexuality. That the church leadership hopes that they will take high office in the church and be influential in its councils. That although the authorities recognize that there is a difference of view about sexual morality, they are not going to let that block fellowship with other Christians for whom Christ died and who know the power of His resurrection in their lives.
If the leaders of the various churches would make it plain that gay Christians were as welcome as every other Christian there might be some hope of the fear and prejudice that is rampant in the churches (especially evangelical churches) – and which can legitimately be called homophobia – being reduced.
Of course it will not be eliminated fully until the whole question of gay morality is worked out by the churches, and that will take some time. But a start will have been made. Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of young people – gay and heterosexual – are turned off the churches because of their prohibitive attitude. The churches are seen as woefully behind the times – by thinking, for example, that the only reason to welcome gays would be in order to acquiesce culturally. And the Church of England is seen as valuing its alliance with one-dimensional bible thumping churches more highly than accepting genuine Christians who happen to have different opinions about a matter of sexual morality. No wonder that modern young people are avoiding the churches in large numbers!
There is an equally important reason for the churches to take a radically different stand to the one they have taken so far. It is that there cannot be real and deep discussion on this subject between heterosexual and homosexual Christians until there is acceptance on both sides of the validity of their mutual standing in Christ – that they are on an equal footing as regards the Lord. As long as the dreadful prejudice against gay Christians that exists at present is not rebutted by the leadership in the churches there cannot be an open free and frank discussion. It is poisoned by suspicion and distrust.
And without gay Christians present there cannot be any real discussion at all – this is not something that can be settled once and for all by straight Christians. Nor just by gay Christians. We need each other in order to get to the heart of the matter and let the light of the Holy Spirit play on all aspects.
What then is needed? Once the Church’s leaders have made a move towards publicly accepting gay Christians into full fellowship and acceptance, there need to be mixed groups (heterosexual and homosexual Christians) set up across the nation. Could these not take place now? No, not as they should be – because, apart from the reasons outlined above, there are a lot of gay Christians who are in the closet at present and their voices would not be heard. They are afraid to show themselves in their churches because they can see the prejudice and attitude of the rank and file Christians. They are not going to reveal themselves until they are sure they are not going to be excluded and reviled. They need to be heard. Only leadership from the top will bring the necessary change.
Gay Christians are needed. Some are single and some are married. Some are living alone and some are living with a partner. Most are keeping a low profile. They are of all ages. The group contains some of the best Christians we have. Yet they are hidden from view because the atmosphere in their churches is such that they dare not show their true colours.
Why are they hidden? Because they know that their usefulness in church circles will be lost once it is known that they are gay, or have gay tendencies. In this atmosphere of distrust some of them still revolt at the thought that they are ‘gay’ and prefer to speak of ‘homosexual tendencies’. Some talk of it being a grey area, or of ambiguous sexuality. Some still refuse even to acknowledge to themselves that their desires range in that direction. Some still cherish fond and vain hopes that there is a ‘cure’ or that self discipline will suffice.
How can any church be meeting the needs of its members when one of the most basic of all human drives is thus hidden and covered up and repressed? A subject that cannot be brought into the open except by those who wish to condemn gay people. Ought we not in the churches to be ready to talk, in an atmosphere of mutual acceptance, freely and honestly about our feelings, desires, needs? That is the way we can help each other to bring every aspect of our lives under the Lordship of Christ.
And we need more Christian theologians to deal with the subject. Where are the Christians who will break free of the tyranny of the groups that hold to an old and outdated view of the bible? Where are the men of courage who will ask the questions no one else dare ask in today’s climate? And where are the Christian leaders who will welcome a fearless approach being taken in these matters? Or do they think that their spiritual strength is insufficient to stand the heat?
No gay Christian wants cultural acquiescence from the churches. Only an archbishop who is one-dimensional and tied into a disappearing view of the bible, could possibly think in such terms. What is needed is men and women with a complete allegiance to Christ to face the issues and to start discussions with all those involved, valuing every view and contribution. If the Church leaders play the coward on this subject they will have betrayed their congregations. They will have missed an immensely important opportunity to meet the present generation on its own ground. And they will have excluded thousands – probably hundreds of thousands – from Christian fellowship and their place in the church.
There is a lot of talk about the decline in the numbers of people going to the churches. There is a recognition that all is not well in the church’s approach to modern day society. Indeed, some would say the churches are truly sick. When will they wake up? How many churches have to close before a new approach is started? The attitude of the churches to the bible and their treatment of fellow Christians who happen to be gay is the biggest turnoff imaginable. Heaven help us if we in the churches fail the wake up call!