Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Linzey: "The Church is Homophobic"

Before continuing a review of some of the essays found within Gays and the Future of Anglicanism: Responses to the Windsor Report, there are a couple of items I need to mention.

First, please keep all of those who are suffering from the earthquake in Pakistan, India and Afghanistan in your prayers. I've written more about the global response to this disaster on the Christian Alliance site. Links to aid agencies are included, for those who desire to make a donation.

On a more personal note, my lovely wife's father passed away quite unexpectedly on Saturday. He had not been ill until that morning. My wife was quite close to him, and is deeply mourning this loss. I ask for your prayers that his soul, and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Pray also for those who mourn, that they may have strength to meet the days to come, and live in joyful expectation of eternal life with those they love.

I received an email recently that alerted me to some excellent points made by Andrew Linzey, one of the editors of Responses to the WR, in the introduction to this volume. Linzey is a member of the Faculty of Theology in the University of Oxford, and Senior Research Fellow of Blackfriars Hall, Oxford.

Linzey makes the argument that the Anglican Communion is homophobic. Before delving into the six symptoms he identifies that have led him to this conclusion, he carefully defines the term;

But by "phobia", I mean simply "fear", "dread", or, better still, "an aversion" - and in that limited sense, it seems to me that many Christians can, and do, experience that kind of phobia about homosexuals largely unconsciously. That doesn't mean that they wish to harm gays, or persecute them, and they would certainly not want anything to do with the kind of outrageous cruelty exhibited by Nazis during the Third Reich. They just have a residual sense that homosexuality is not natural, and that individual gays, while often pleasant and acceptable as individuals, are in some sense "not quite right"...

Some people say they are not "homophobic", using the word in its etymological sense. Perhaps they are right - they don't fear gay people. Gay people do, however, turn their stomachs. That's the point. It isn't just being frightened. It's loathing, disgust, an aversion. Persons so inclined want to get away from gay people, not (or not simply) because gay people might harm them (maybe that's "fear"), but because gay people might pollute them.
What Linzey is describing here is what I have previously referred to as "the ick factor." As an example of how it works, I am reminded of my response to cooked cauliflower. When I was young, my grandmother used to make me eat cauliflower; she'd pinch my nose and shovel it in. To this day, I cannot stand even the smell of that particular cooked vegetable. It turns my stomach. I know it is a sin to cook it. I think it should be against the law to do so.

When I was facilitating human sexuality dialogues, I saw this response to the issue of homosexuality over and over again. If we were able to get past the personal feeling of revulsion, the "ick factor", real dialogue became possible. Unfortunately, this was not always the case. By moving beyond the realm of simply icky feelings, Linzey suggests why this particular bias is so deeply embedded in some people;

But homophobia in the relevant sense isn't just a feeling - though certainly feeling comes into it. Homophobia is an "existential" state of mind and heart, constituted, and reinforced by two thousand years of Christian propaganda.
Let me list Linzey's "tangible signs of homophobia" within the Anglican Communion. I'll be providing his opening statements. If you want to read his explanation of each statement, I'm afraid you're going to have to buy the book;

1. The intemperance, even vehemence, of anti-gay language.

2. The absence of dialogue with those who differ.

3. The denial of human rights to homosexuals.

4. The disproportionate attention that the subject receives.

5. The inconsistency in the way church statements are selected and advanced.

6. The disparity between what the church says and what the church does.

This leads us to a particular paragraph of Linzey's essay that succinctly summarizes why some Anglicans find our current situation not just uncomfortable, but absolutely bizarre;

But if further evidence is needed, there is the very fact that the Anglican Communion had to set up a blue-ribbon panel and issue a weighty Report, all because the third largest church in the world is - or thinks it is - about to break up, not over an article of faith, but over the issue of same-sex relationships. The strangeness of this situation should not go unremarked. As reported, Jesus said nothing about gay sex. There are no Anglican creedal statements on sex, let alone same-sex. The great ecumenical statements of Nicea and Chalcedon make no references to sexual behavior. Even the comprehensive Thirty Nine Articles do not touch on homosexuality. Likewise, the Book of Common Prayer. The elevation of one view of sexual behavior to the status of incontrovertible teaching, so incontrovertible that it is allowed to become the criterion of being in communion is without parallel, historical precedent, theological and moral justification - in fact, so preposterous that unless it had actually happened it would be scarcely credible.
In his conclusion, Linzey quotes Isaiah to remind us that Jesus gave priority to those who are "least of all". Theology that accepts unnecessary suffering, and desensitizes us to such suffering, cannot be Christian theology.

Using Linzey's definition of the term, do you think the Church is homophobic? If so, are there "tangible signs" that you would add to his list?

J.

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