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For God So Loved the World...
Address by Michael Ingham, Bishop of New Westminster
September 27, 1996 -- St. Leonard's Church, Toronto Canada

"The double standard in our church compromises our integrity and our credibility."

"I no longer believe that only heterosexual people are capable of such sacramental relationships."

"The Gospel of Jesus Christ now requires us to recognise the full humanity of every child of God, whatever their sexual orientation."

"If we can accept sexuality as a powerful and healthy dimension of human nature, and see its purpose as also playful, celebratory, healing, and in the right context profoundly holy, then we must ask why only heterosexual people have been allowed to express it openly and freely."

"I would like to see the day when we can bless same-sex unions in church."

"We need to get beyond the reduction of sexuality to genital and biological activity."

"The church should be in the business of defending loving and responsible relationships not undermining them. We need to encourage people to reclaim their sexuality in healthy, integrated ways, whether they are homosexual, bi-sexual or heterosexual."
Three years ago, in July 1993, we held a debate in Vancouver between John Stott and Bishop Spong. It was held in the Cathedral on a hot summer's night and about 1400 people came. We turned 300 away at the door.
It was an amazing evening. Both men spoke passionately and persuasively. They spoke with an evident measure of respect for each other. But what they described were two fundamentally different understandings of human sexuality, human freedom, the interpretation of Scripture, and indeed the Gospel itself, and they were applauded by two quite different sections of the audience.
Related Topics

"Selective Inclusiveness": Anglicans Online! editor Tod Maffin's speech to the Canadian General Synod on homosexuality in the church.

The Canadian House of Bishops' official policy

Mailing List: Canadian Anglican Issues

Status of proposed same-sex unions in the Episcopal Church in the U.S.

Book Review of "Same Sex Unions in Premodern Europe": New York Times review and LA Times review

Two things became clear to me that night: first, what a marvellous thing the Anglican Church is that we can hold together such diverse and opposite viewpoints within both our members and our leaders. Many of us remain in good relationship with each other despite disagreement on these fundamental issues. And second, what a huge gulf divides our church in its understanding of human sexuality.
I welcome therefore Bishop Finlay's appeal to us to build bridges of understanding. I have lived on both sides of this gulf at one time or another, and I understand some of its depth and its difficulty. But in the last few years I have moved over from one side to the other. I no longer believe some of the things I once did. What I want to offer tonight, hopefully by way of a bridge, is some personal reflections and some reasons for changing my mind.
For the greater part of my life I have believed that God has ordained the sexual act for men and women alone. For the greater part of my life I have believed that all forms of same-sex relationship are a distortion of the biblical ideal of marriage; that marriage is for men and women; that marriage is for life; that in the absence of marriage one should remain celibate; and that even if these ideals are difficult to live up to, they nevertheless represent a high and noble Christian ideal, and are the revealed will of God.
I thought that when you reached the really advanced levels of Christian faith you had to renounce sexuality altogether, that genuine faith required giving up the flesh, or as much of it as you possibly could, so you could lead a truly spiritual life. When I was a teenager, I thought that would probably happen when I was about forty. Today I've given up hope.
My study of Scripture, and twenty years of pastoral work among all sorts and conditions of people, has led me in another direction. I still believe the Christian life means choosing the harder path of self-discipline and self-sacrifice over the easier path of following our selfish instincts. And I still believe that sexual relationships between people are profoundly sacramental, that is, an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace that connects people with each other at the deepest core of their being.
I continue to believe that sexual activity needs to be between people of relatively equal power, between people who have both the maturity and security to give themselves freely to each other in mutual love, and that all forms of exploitation and degradation, coercion and manipulation, are morally wrong. I also believe our Church has been correct to say that sexual activity achieves its highest expression in the context of a sacrificial commitment by one person to another, in a covenant of mutual love, that sex it is a sacred act and a sign of the unconditional love God has for us and for all creation. None of this has changed for me.
But I no longer believe that only heterosexual people are capable of such sacramental relationships, and I no longer agree with the double standard our church has imposed on gay men and lesbians as a condition of their inclusion within the Christian community. I continue to believe that the celibate or single life is always an option for people, that voluntary abstention from sexual relationships is a courageous choice and should be treated with respect. But I no longer believe sexual abstention can be required of an entire class of people, simply because of their sexual orientation, and regardless of their personal vocation and calling.
I've crossed over from one side of the divide to the other not because of I've lost sight of the Gospel, but because the Gospel itself cannot and will not sustain continued discrimination against people simply because they are attracted to others of the same sex. And after many discussions with people in countless coffee hours and forums after church, I have come to think that the basis for our continued denial of dignity and intimacy to gay and lesbian people is not theology but pathology. I believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ now requires us to recognise the full humanity of every child of God, whatever their sexual orientation.
Christian tradition has had an ambivalent view of sex. Starting with St. Paul who thought it better to marry than to burn - by which he meant that marriage is something people should do if they can't walk in the way of the Spirit - we have tended to rank sexuality low on the scale of human characteristics. Sex has been justified largely as a means of continuing the species, of producing children.
For that reason, it was restricted to relationships between men and women and to the covenant of marriage. Sex has been tolerated rather than celebrated through most of our history primarily because there seemed to be no way to get rid of it, and also I suspect because there was no other way to produce popes and bishops.
There is also, I think, a deeper reason. We have inherited a suspicion of Eros, the explosive and passionate power that is part of the human instinct. We have failed to see the erotic as a dimension of the creative life that makes us human. We have difficulty knowing how to direct its power positively, in ways that integrate and deepen our humanity. We have tended to separate the erotic from the spiritual.
The Greeks defined eros as "the drive toward union with the Other" and as such they saw it as part of God's design to draw us back to Godself, a kind of homing instinct that drives us toward passionate union with each other and with God. But instead of this positive view of eros, the early Church Fathers saw it as a dangerous force that threatens the purity of the spiritual life, as a destructive power that brings unpredictable chaos, or as the Orthodox scholar Philip Sherard has described it, "the springhead through which the tribes of evil pour into human nature." We have had a long history of ambivalence to sexuality, as something both necessary and nasty, and the 20th century has brought us face to face with it.
Nietzsche, the 19th century philosopher, was no fan of Christianity but he had some perceptive observations. He said: "Christianity gave Eros poison to drink. She did not die of it, to be sure, but she degenerated into vice." What he meant was that religious suspicion of sexuality has produced a distorted and unhealthy dis-integration within human nature. Suppress the erotic and it comes back as the pornographic. If you idealize love without sex, what you get is sex without love, the commercialization of sex, the objectification of sex and its reduction to a lonely and soul-destroying promiscuity. This is precisely what we've got today.
In Jungian language we might perhaps say that Christianity needs to integrate the erotic. If you try to suppress it, it will become your shadow - a dark force that will rise up and overwhelm you with its power, a deep and unresolved chaos that can unleash powerful destruction. This has been the experience of many Christians over the centuries.
The greatest bearers of this shadow have been women. Early on in history women were seen as symbols of the flesh, of the lower order of nature, as more susceptible to temptation and the wiles of the devil. Men were held to have the capacity for reason and for things of the Spirit. Women were for child-bearing, men were for affairs of state. Child-bearing remained for many years the sole justification of women's sexuality. They were regarded as essentially inferior to men.
The other great bearers of the shadow have been gay men. Western tradition placed them lower than women in society. They were believed to be passive and submissive in nature, even more so than women. They were therefore not men. Maleness was defined in heterosexual terms. Men who were by nature not attracted to women were rejected and sometimes hated.
The subjugation of women and the denigration of gay men as being less than women, has had disastrous consequences for millions of people. It has produced suffering the likes of which most of us cannot begin to imagine. Not just the outward things like public ridicule, violence, and discrimination in every area of life, but also the inner things, the deeply personal things. People have been driven to self-loathing, self-hatred, and some to despair and death.
Sexism and homophobia are profoundly linked to each other. They are two of the most dreadful children of our history. They are both consequences of our dualism and ambivalence about sex. They are aspects of the shadow that haunts our culture because we still need to integrate our sexuality in a healthier way.
There is nothing in the teaching of Jesus which supports this treatment of gay men and lesbians. On the contrary, it's hard to imagine our Lord condoning the contempt that has been directed against this community in his name. He seems to have been far more concerned with justice and with love than with male and female anatomy. His whole life was a demonstration of the importance of faithfulness in relationships. He revealed a faithful God. He taught us the meaning of fidelity. He remained faithful to us even unto death. He seems to have been less concerned with sex than with compassion and forgiveness.
Even the creation stories in the Bible suggest the same thing. Eve was given to Adam as a companion, according to Genesis, because it was not good in the eyes of God that Adam should be alone. Companionship, mutual love and comfort, the need to care for and sustain the creation itself as co-stewards with God - these are the first reasons given in the Bible for human sexual identity. Not the task of procreation, but mutual love and sacrifice. The Bible suggests that it is in exercising these gifts that men and women reveal the image of God.
We need to get beyond the reduction of sexuality to genital and biological activity. Sexuality is not simply an instrument for pro-creation. It's a means of celebrating and deepening the total realm of interpersonal love between mutually committed persons. Sexuality is sacramental of the care and compassion with which God loves the whole creation, uniting us in deep bonds of communion with each other and with the divine. There seems no reason to restrict it to heterosexual relationships, unless we continue to maintain that its purpose is primarily reproductive. There seems no more reason to deny sexual relationships to same-sex partners than there is to prohibit sex among couples who are infertile, couples who are elderly, or those who have no desire to have children at all.
If we can accept sexuality as a powerful and healthy dimension of human nature, and see its purpose as also playful, celebratory, healing, and in the right context profoundly holy, then we must ask why only heterosexual people have been allowed to express it openly and freely. What is the great harm in homosexual relationships? Why are we still being told they are a threat to the family? I have lived all my life in a family. It happens to be a nuclear family and a heterosexual one. Some of the people who have been most supportive to us over the years have been gay and lesbian people. They are not a threat to me or my children. They have extended our family and made us aware of other ways to be a family. This dark picture of homosexual threat to society is a scare tactic and it is designed to maintain a system which needs to be changed.
I would like to see the day when we can bless same-sex unions in church. I am unable to see a great danger in that. We bless battleships and oil tankers. We bless armies and soldiers and people going off to war. We bless dogs and cats (I can't say I do, but it happens). We bless homes and construction sites. But we can't bless people who want to make a commitment of their lives to each other before God - because that would imply approval of their lifestyle. But I can't for the life of me understand why the church approves of the lifestyle of the lizard and the poodle I saw blessed last year.
We have been told that homosexuality is sinful, that it is contrary to nature. And yet nothing can be contrary to nature that occurs in nature so widely. Human sexuality comes in a variety of forms, and each of them is morally neutral. Sexual orientation is neither moral or immoral by itself. What makes sexuality moral is when it builds up and supports truly human relationships, when it contributes to our growth and compassion. What is immoral is when sex is distorted for purely selfish and manipulative ends.
The greater immorality, in my view, has been the one visited on gay and lesbian people because they have been prevented from expressing their love in moral ways. The dominant culture has repressed and driven underground even the healthiest expressions of same-sex partnerships. We have driven you underground and then vilified you for being secretive and covert. We have prevented you from living in moral relationships and then accused you of having immoral ones. There have been too many ruined lives. Too many false healings. Too many tragic deaths. Too many innocent victims among family and friends.
The church should be in the business of defending loving and responsible relationships not undermining them. We need to encourage people to reclaim their sexuality in healthy, integrated ways, whether they are homosexual, bi-sexual or heterosexual.
I don't mean to suggest, of course, that all expressions of love between people need to be sexual. Most human relationships are not sexual and don't need to be. Ordinary friendships and family relationships are obvious examples. And there has always been a recognition in Christianity of those specially called to the single or celibate life. The voluntary renunciation of sexual activity is a particular gift of self-offering and service that some individuals are called to make, and it can be a deep expression of love and faithfulness. There is also a place for periods of voluntary sexual abstention in marriage itself. These things are rightly honoured in Christian tradition.
Unfortunately, celibacy has not always been voluntary. It has been imposed on people who have no calling to it, and required of people who cannot bear it. Far from being a blessing, in these situations it becomes a curse which denies normal, healthy human intimacy to people who are in every other way faithful servants of God. When people fail in it, as they often do, the response of the Church has been to blame the individual, when it would have been better to question the teaching. Imposed celibacy is a contradiction in terms.
Anglicanism, to its credit, along with Orthodoxy, has never imposed celibacy on its clergy. Our clergy are free to marry and enjoy all the freedoms and responsibilities of human intimacy. This is enshrined in the 39 Articles, no less! It's as if we have recognised from the beginning that ordination does not require renunciation of sexual life. Some individuals may have such a calling, it is true, but they are few in number. Anglicanism has instinctively recognised that human beings are sexual beings and so we have accorded the clergy the same marital privileges as the laity.
Except, that is, for gay and lesbian clergy. Here we meet the ambivalent double standard. Homosexual people alone must accept imposed celibacy. Homosexual Christians alone are denied the full expression of intimacy with their partners because only for them does the church now insist on the pro-creative theory of sex. Only for them does the church still require renunciation of the sexual life.
I believe we need to help the church to see both homosexuals and heterosexuals alike as people with the same legitimate yearnings, desires, hopes and dreams for stable, faithful and lifelong intimacy; that we are different only in the object of our attraction; that we share the same fundamental humanity, the same sinfulness, the same image of God given to us in creation; that we have the same Saviour and Lord who accepts us and loves us unconditionally. We are different only in what Richard Holloway calls a 'normative variation' which is quite common in nature. Normative variations are seen in racial and ethnic characteristics, in quite normal physical differences, in things like left-handedness. Helping the church to understand these things will require persistent education and courageous personal witness.
I think our strategy now should be to try to get the church to move on the blessing of unions. If we can get people to see that normal healthy intimacy is equally possible between people of the same sex as between people of the opposite sex, if we can show the importance of nurturing and supporting people who wish to commit their lives to each other, whatever their orientation, then we will have addressed a fundamental injustice. After this the issue of ordination will become a non-issue. Anglicans have not denied to the clergy the marital freedom enjoyed by the laity. What we need to do is to extend that freedom to all members of the Church.
Those on the other side of the divide will immediately pull out their Bibles and point to passages in Genesis and Leviticus and Romans and Corinthians and say the Word of God prohibits such freedom. They will say the Scriptural teaching is clear. They will say we are in rebellion against God's will.
And we need to say to them that God's will is to create some male and female, some called to singleness and some to marriage, some heterosexual and homosexual. God's will is to call all of us to freedom and responsibility through the proper integration of our sexuality. God's will is that we may know the fullness of life, not the repression and denial of life, and for this reason we can no longer support the repudiation of human rights and dignity among people for whom Christ died.
We need to say to them that the truth of Scripture is not served by selective quotation. We no longer believe women should be silent in church. We no longer believe in the divine right of kings and rulers, nor in the institution of slavery, nor in the prohibition against usury, nor in the slaughtering of scapegoats, nor in the beating of children with rods. All these we find in Scripture. But they are not God's Word. They are the words of an ancient culture. And an increasing number of us believe that the exclusion of gay and lesbian people falls into the same category.
Those of us who have crossed over the gulf continue to believe in the Word of God. We continue to believe that God's Word was spoken in Jesus Christ, the one who suffered and died that we might live, the one who was crucified by the excesses of misplaced religious belief, the one who said not a word against homosexuals nor sanctioned their rejection. We continue to look to him who consorted with prostitutes, tax collectors and sinners because they were the outcast of society, people whom he singled out for inclusion and adoption in God's kingdom before the righteous ones. We believe Jesus Christ continues to stand today with those who are outcast and abused because society has projected on to them the shadow of its own ambivalence and fears.
I hope to see the day when our church can welcome gays, lesbians and heterosexuals as equal members at the eucharistic table, when sexual orientation is of no consequence to a person's dignity and freedom as a child of God. I hope to see the day when we can truly say like St. Paul that in Christ there is neither male nor female, Jew nor Greek, slave nor free - and go on to say neither black nor white, yellow nor brown, gay nor straight.
The double standard in our church compromises our integrity and our credibility. I would like to see us correct this situation for the sake of the Gospel itself.

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