A Church at War A Church at War
Anglicans and Homosexuality

Stephen Bates
ISBN 9780340908556 (0340908556)
Hodder & Stoughton, 2005

Category: Ethics & Morality

This book hurts. There's anger, pain and incomprehension between the pages, even between the lines, and my fingers are burnt and blistered as I reach the end of each chapter. What are we, the body of Christ, doing, tearing our own body — our Lord's body — apart? Is it not enough that we re-enact the crucifixion in each communion service? Must we also re-enact it in our relationships with one another, offering vitriol in place of love, contempt in place of grace?

Was anything accomplished
When Christ was crucified
Or was it our Creator
Committing suicide?

Christ could have saved himself a lot of future agony by staying dead. But he didn't: he returned to life, bearing its scars. And so must we as a church, and so there is hope.

The crucifixion laid bare the heart of God, the frailty of love and the bloodthirstiness of humanity. This book lays bare the prejudices of humanity as Stephen Bates takes the lid off this Pandora's Box of the gay debate within and around the Anglican Church.

As the Guardian's religious affairs correspondent Bates is well informed, his writing clear and to the point: no stones are left unturned in his research, no questions unasked. Yet many questions remain unanswered: having read this book I find myself, for example, no closer to knowing whether or not homosexuality can be successfully defended from a biblical point of view. Chapter 3, "In the Beginning was the Word" (pp.45-73), looks briefly at a number of relevant biblical passages, at issues of hermeneutics and the different attitudes of Christians (see below for some suggestions for further reading). There are lines drawn in the sand, but no conclusions reached. It's rush hour in the big city, the traffic lights are stuck on amber and every angry motorist thinks he or she has the right of way.

But I do know that lies and falsehood are not defensible — and for too long the Church of England has colluded in a lie, turning a blind eye, pretending that homosexuality within its ranks doesn't exist. As Bates observes, "Hypocrisy, it appears, is preferable to honesty." (p.300). The only thing necessary for lies to flourish is for those who know the truth to remain silent, and this, it seems, is the path the Church has chosen.

There's a time for silence, of course: Christ himself remained silent when asked, "What is truth?" (John 18:38). Perhaps he knew that the only way through the web of lies and falsehood that entangled him was crucifixion. Perhaps we need to learn from that: if the Anglican Church's unity is so fragile that it can't face the truth — and more importantly, live with the truth — then perhaps it has to die. And in dying, one hopes, rise to new life.

I also know that it is no business of mine to condemn: there are more than enough grey areas in my own life, enough logs in my eye if you prefer (read Matthew 7:1-5). "Let the one without sin cast the first stone," said Jesus (John 8:7). What followed was a private conversation that found its way into the public record (were the Gospel writers so different to today's journalists?) and each of us must choose whether we align ourselves with the forgiven sinner looking wonderingly into the eyes of her Saviour, or with the would-be stone throwers wandering away chastened but scheming: more lines drawn in the sand.

The book's subtitle, "Anglicans and Homosexuality", might equally well have been "Evangelicals and Homosexuality" since it's the evangelical wing of Anglicanism that has made most of the anti-gay noise, that has apparently appointed itself the Communion's moral guardian and so made of itself a new Pharisaism. Consequently it's this wing of Anglicanism that Bates takes primarily to task. He is a careful writer, however, and makes it clear that evangelicalism is not a single-stranded rope: differing views within evangelicalism range from the narrow perspective of Oak Hill to the more open attitude of Bishop Pete Broadbent, both referred to and quoted several times. And the rope is long enough for the evangelicals to tie themselves up in knots and end up hanging either themselves or their opponents or both. All in the name of love, of course.

Christ welcomed those the Pharisees — the religious right-wing of the day — had excluded and ostracised. That says to me very clearly that we as his followers must welcome those whom today's self-appointed Pharisees are seeking to exclude.

Many will be annoyed by this book, but Bates has done all of us a valuable service by opening the debate to a wider audience. No one concerned about the future of the Church of England — or the wider Anglican Communion — should ignore it.

Endnotes, bibliography and index bring the book to a close, but the issues raised remain open, the lights still stuck on amber. Pedestrians are bemused: they just want to cross the road and continue their journey. The entire city's grinding to a halt, but elsewhere — another City, another timezone — the traffic's flowing freely in both directions. But it's this traffic jam that's made the news.

Whether you're an angry motorist or a bemused pedestrian, you'll need to read this book with your wits about you: to those caught up in this jam, it's life and death; walking away isn't an option. If you're an evangelical, an Anglican evangelical especially, read it and bow your head in shame. If, like me, you're an ordinary Anglican, read it and be appalled at the workings of your church. Finally, if you're a lesbian or gay Christian: can you read it and still find room in your heart to forgive the rest of us for the ways we've villified and abused you?

May God have mercy on us all.

Suggestions for Further Reading
• 185174326X, Bonnington & Fyall, Homosexuality and the Bible (Grove Biblical Series B1), Grove Books, £2.95 amazon.co.uk
• 0334029341, Timothy Bradshaw (Ed), The Way Forward: Christian Voices On Homosexuality and the Church, SCM-Canterbury Press, £9.99 amazon.co.uk | eden.co.uk
• 0232526060, Nicholas Coulton (Ed), The Bible, The Church and Homosexuality, Darton Longman & Todd, £10.95 amazon.co.uk | eden.co.uk
• 0953299201, Evangelical Alliance, Faith Hope and Homosexuality, Acute (Evangelical Alliance), £4.99 amazon.co.uk | eden.co.uk
• 1851745521, Andrew Goddard, Homosexuality and the Church of England (Grove Ethics Series E132), Grove Books, £2.95 amazon.co.uk
• 080063618X, O Via & A J Gagnon, Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views, Fortress Press, £9.99 amazon.co.uk | eden.co.uk
• 1842271865, William J Webb, Slaves Women & Homosexuals: Exploring The Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis, Paternoster Press, £14.99 amazon.co.uk | eden.co.uk

Useful Links
Accepting Evangelicals
Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement

Phil Groom, August 2005

Phil Groom is this site's Webmaster and Reviews Editor. He's a freelance blogger, writer and web developer who spent ten years managing the bookshop at London School of Theology alongside eight years writing web reviews for Christian Marketplace magazine before he came to his senses and went independent. You can find him on facebook or follow him on twitter @notbovvered.


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