Book Review

The Anglican Communion and Homosexuality – A resource to enable listening and dialogue

Edited by Phil Groves (SPCK – £14.99)

The clearest call for a process of listening to the experience of lesbian and gay Anglicans came 10 years ago at the Lambeth Conference of 1998. That this book is being published just a couple of weeks before this year’s Lambeth Conference is a testament to the failure of that previous call.

The process of listening to the experience of lesbian and gay Anglicans has been comprehensively hijacked and turned into a process of listening to the different warring factions of the communion. Things are not going to get better until those gay voices are heard more clearly and I am unconvinced that the process that has been adopted here will help matters much at all. Rather than ensure that we are listening to the experiences that the Communion bishops told us to listen to, we are being encouraged to listen to schism. Who can be surprised if further division is the result?

The book, like the Communion, is a mixed bag. Parts are good, parts are bad, some parts look rather uneasy and insecure and some parts are sick.

By far the best chapter is the one on Listening and Dialogue which appears near the beginning of the book. Would that this had been published as a pamphlet for the churches after the last Lambeth Conference. Less secure is the strategy of locating the listening process within the context of a discussion about mission. There is much in the experience of foreign missions which can throw some light on the current crisis, yet that experience goes largely unexamined here.

Near the beginning of the book, we are told, “The aim of this book is to enable you to begin or to continue listening to those identified as ‘homosexual persons’ and to discover and engage with the diversity of responses found among Anglicans.” Herein lies its failure. It presumes that the reader is straight, it uses terms like “homosexual persons” which unravel the identity of those very voices it claims to be promoting and it sets the whole within an agenda of listening to schism.

By far the worst parts of the book are the last couple of chapters which claim to be about listening to the “Witness of Science”. The placing of these chapters at the end of the book unchallenged and as though they were some kind of a conclusion is unfortunate at best. The clearly stated agenda for this work is an examination of what causes homosexuality in order that it can be cured. Are gay people supposed to welcome this kind of agenda being published as a response to a call to listen to their voices? We are warned in an introduction to this section that the depersonalized and medicalized language might be upsetting. Indeed, there is a suggestion that we read it in the company of a scientist or a doctor. However, we don’t need a medic present to conclude that it is not gay people who are sick.

It is the Communion itself.

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  1. I think you miss the point of the book Kelvin. It’s meant to be a guide to listening to *all* sides of the debate, not just those you agree with. That’s what makes the last section so good, because it forces us to deal realistically not just with the genuine evidence on the causality of homosexuality, but also the fact that some people *do* see remarkable change in their sexual orientation (and that others don’t).

    I wrote my own review here.

  2. Anonymous says

    We were not called by the last Lambeth Conference to listen to all sides in the debate.

  3. Ruth Gledhill has posted a PDF of the whole thing, for those interested:

  4. Rosemary says

    I’ve now read the ‘scientific’ section – thanks for the link ryan – and I thought it was mixed. I thought Glynn Harrison made a serious attempt at dispassion. I think it is a fair point that any person must decide their own priorities, and the final argument must be between theologies, not sciences. I was not so impressed by David de Pomerai – though one could hardly quarrel with his conclusion that we simply do not know exactly what makes one person homosexual and the next heterosexual. However his whole argument was bedevilled by assumptions that, e.g. homosexual men will be more effeminate than straight ones. Anecdotal evidence instantly produces examples where it is the straight male siblings who are drama queens and run from spiders, while gay ones take it all in their stride.

    It must be accepted that both gay and straight people live with voluntary or enforced celibacy with no ill effects – and that some people can change their sexual orientation and live happily with the change. What I found truly heart rending were the desperate attempts and the high cost to those who actually did succeed in changing orientation – however much Harrison denies the skin colour analogy, it reminded me painfully of those endless jars of skin lightener which encrust Sri Lankan chemists, where beauty is measured in skin tone. Because whether or not genetic, orientation is not a simple free choice. But I suppose the answer would be: ‘And what is?’

    The final point, though, is always the same. Is Christianity a religion of an authoritative book, or an authoritative Person?

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