The Church and same-gender concerns
The Gleaner of January 18, in an article entitled ‘Church of England refuses to back same-sex marriage’, noted that Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the spiritual leader of the Anglican Church, acknowledged that the proposals “will appear to go too far for some and not nearly far enough for others”.
“This response reflects the diversity of views in the Church of England on questions of sexuality, relationships, and marriage. I rejoice in that diversity, and I welcome this way of reflecting it in the life of our church,” Welby said.
The Archbishop of Canterbury is to be commended for his approach to a difficult, divisive, and controversial subject. This is a welcome example in the space of church where many have bitterly opposed views on matters of sexual orientation and gender identity.
One of the truths about biblical interpretation and Christian theology is the evolution in theological thought. Many have, for example, come to realise that although slavery was accepted in the biblical world and also in Church contexts, there is a better way, a higher way of being for the human community.
Only recently, in some parts of the Church, Christians were comfortable with a system of apartheid. Thankfully, there were other Christians who maintained the struggle against the injustices of racism. There have also been traditions in which it was okay to be silent with regard to wife-beatings. Unfortunately, various theological arguments were cruelly used to support subjugating women.
The Church has come a long way. An important lesson over the years is that leadership must tread carefully when dealing with the human struggle around how we process our understanding and conversations around various challenging subjects. After all, the various subjects involve the complex reality of the human being.
The beautiful thing about Archbishop Welby’s reflection is his capacity to recognise the place of those who feel that the proposals have gone too far and the place of those who feel that the proposals should have gone further. Are we able to just pause and recognise that in a plural society, the “our side won, your side lost” approach benefits no one? The Church has indeed come far away from burning people at the stake to having conversations that do not have to end with battle scars and death!
Maybe we should be winning people and communities of love rather than arguments. Maybe we should be protecting the lives of people rather than doctrinal purity.
It is to be noted that while a decision on the part of the State to recognise same-gender marriage was passed, this did not place a demand or compulsion on the Church to change any of its various teachings or beliefs, dispelling the falsity that freedom of religion would be lost if same-gender marriage was allowed by the State.
Can the Church in the Caribbean get to that place where everyone is valued unconditionally? Welby is also quoted as saying, “I hope it can offer a way for the Church of England, publicly and unequivocally, to say to all Christians, and especially LGBTQI+ people, that you are welcome and a valued and precious part of the body of Christ,” he added.
Now, we do well to recognise the challenge for politicians and pastors in a society where many do define holiness largely on the basis of expressed public opinions and positions around human sexuality. ‘Public opinions’, since many also have a different private opinion on the same subject! Allow me to take a few sips of coffee here.
The Gleaner also noted that Jayne Ozanne, a prominent campaigner for LGBTQ people in the Church, said that the bishops’ decision was “utterly despicable. I cannot believe that five years of pain and trauma has got us here. We have had countless apologies over the years but no action to stop the harmful discrimination”, she tweeted.
Clearly, the prevalence of binary thinking and the comfortable approach of placing issues in easy black or white categories will not suffice as the Caribbean Church treads the treacherous waters of same-gender relations. Each side has a voice, with none more important than the other. However, the privileged majority do have a duty to advocate for the oppressed minority.
Also instructive is another reference to words from a high-ranking Church of England cleric. “Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell apologised for “the way LGBTQI+ people and those they love have been treated by the Church, which, most of all, ought to recognise everyone as precious and created in the image of God.”
“We are deeply sorry and ashamed and want to take this opportunity to begin again in the spirit of repentance, which our faith teaches us,” he said.
Many from the Caribbean are currently migrating to First World contexts where they will no longer have the cover of silence, ignorance, and convenient pretense about gender and sexual identity concerns. They also fall in nicely as they discover that their respectable boss or manager or religious leader openly identifies his or her LGBTQI+ reality.
Our Church and nation should do the kind thing and facilitate some honest and informed conversations about human sexuality. We do not have to change our beliefs. We may, however, respect others, even with how they may understand their gender and sexual identity. Jesus’ instructions in John 13:34-35 are still relevant for us today. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” Just imagine if we chose to be guided by love in Jesus Christ our Lord. Just imagine.
Fr Sean Major-Campbell is an Anglican priest and advocate for human rights. He is the recipient of the 2017 Ally of the Year Award for advancing the protection of LGBT persons around the globe (presented in the Hall of the Americas, OAS, in Washington, USA). firstname.lastname@example.org