[The following article was posted to the Anglican Communion Website which may issue it in several weeks. Since the matter is topical I'm placing it here on this resumed Blog. I'm starting again from Hong Kong, not Australia where I began last year and left off partly because I began to write a book/diary currently with a publisher and partly because I wrongly assumed people weren't reading me. I learned I was missed when I stopped. So here's a new beginning and I think there will be some particularly controversial articles coming up this time]
WHAT’S MISSING IN THE CHURCH GAY DEBATE.
IGNORANCE AND AVOIDANCE OF CENTRAL ISSUES
In his address to the General Synod on the 26th February the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, said there is little by way of real theological debate in the impassioned debate raging around same sex issues in the church. All we tend to see and hear is one group pushing for certain changes in practice and discipline and another group repeating tradition as authority. This lamentably is too true. It is also unnecessary.
One of the reasons the situation exists is because so few people in the church know for discussion purposes what even the basics of gay/queer theology actually teach. Nor are they aware what at the more visionary/charismatic end of Christian experience, some gays have been claiming is revealed to them. So we perhaps don’t hear “what the Spirit says to the churches”. Yet how much do Anglican and other Christians even want to know these things? I am writing the following in genuine concern over current dilemmas and not just to push, however justifiably so, my own barrow as a writer in the strange circumstances in which I find myself.
If anyone liberal or conservative wants an objective crash course guide to virtually all the main sources, voices and issues involved in current debates inside (and even outside the churches in neo-paganism) they need only read my uniquely wide ranging assessment, A Special Illumination: Authority, Inspiration and Heresy in Gay Spirituality. It was published in London at the end of ‘04 by Equinox Press. A real mystery, which however I now see as linked to what’s going wrong in church debates, attaches to the strange fate of this book.
WHEN CONTROVERSY LACKS PURPOSE OR VALUE
It happens that my study was based on a doctorate, a world first of its kind from any Religious Studies department and the first real survey cum assessment of gay religion as opposed to the more familiar offerings of polemic, apologetic, autobiography or select historical/biblical commentary the field abounds in. As such the project could well have been news. And for the wrong reasons (serious disinformation from the Australian press to the effect I’d been paid to research Jesus’ sexuality!) at the time I was awarded the doctorate it did make news, even internationally. Only the updated published version of my researches would justify my ignored protests against the distortions suffered, but no one in church or journalism in Australia would bother to review the book, admit that mistakes harmful to me had been made about the nature of the project or that the real item was unusually relevant to ongoing controversies. One member (actually gay) of Australia's ABC religious service pompously assured me that as I hadn't written about "religion" I couldn't be interviewed. Who indeed was being more insulted, myself as writer or gays assumed to have no "religion"?
The book is about precisely what its title states and very relevantly so despite the neglect. Only last week one of America’s leading gay fiction writers emailed to call the study “landmark” for gay writing. He also said he was “sad” not to have heard of it long ago and found it troubling the book it is still not distributed in America. One can well ask why it isn’t and why there’s been such neglect in England where it’s published and Australia where it was written. In Latin America gay leaders would like such a source book translated but it isn’t yet, if it ever will be, because it has neither sold enough nor raised sufficient debate in English speaking circles to justify translation. Indifference has in fact been so extreme that if I write to higher clergy suggesting they might look at the book I’m unlikely to receive response while gay Christians who have promised review or interview or website listing haven’t troubled to follow up. Beyond matters like Christian obligation to considerate treatment what’s going on here? Unfortunately I do have some notion and it seems relevant to the larger gay issues crisis in Anglicanism and beyond.
FACT IN THE FACE OF IDEOLOGY AND IN-GROUP LOYALTIES
From the beginning of liberation some gay circles had the idea one must not criticize one’s friends lest it give ammunition to the ubiquitous enemy. This has meant merely shabby ideas and behaviour have often been allowed to escape comment. The principle has affected some gay Christian self presentation and the attitude towards gays by those who defend them within the churches. Broadly academic though my approach was - the study aimed to put gay spirituality on the map like women’s studies - its objectivity, my will to critique in normal fashion, means I inevitably blow some covers and shed light where it’s not normally shed both in favour of revisionists and against them. This politically incorrect academic honesty cannot please everyone but it’s high time some facts were known and faced.
Thus if a noted gay/queer theologian like J. Michael Clark claims that the doctrine of resurrection is evil and the doctrine of the Trinity an oppressive mythology then I record that. (I’m in fact appalled gays let this post Christian thinker contribute the poison of his cynicism and unbelief to the last pages of the recently published Queer Bible Commentary where he writes on Revelation). In effect, then, I as good as expose some leading gay/queer Christians as heretics (I supply an original definition of heresy and heretic in Part Three) which would imply their influence is disruptive. At the same time I also challenge conservative views citing gays too rarely heard who for example claim that Christ has spoken to them and I set out a quite serious and hard to answer case against St Paul as any biblical authority on same sex relations today.
I think a largely unforeseen effect of my approach in A Special Illumination is to shift the question away from specific practices and morality (which though not irrelevant have so far been primary for churches outside the Catholic), to questions more of faith, theology and spirituality. Before inquiring into, say, whether clergy or laity should be allowed gay unions, one could well ask the more vital question whether those promoting the innovations even subscribe to the faith they claim to belong to. Is their homosexuality a workable, meaningful aspect of their faith (which in examples I cite it may actually be) or just one more pretext to ditch creed, prayer, meditation and the whole spiritual life in favour of rationalized socio-political gospels which embrace alternative lifestyles and claims almost automatically? Do gay Christians subscribe to “Jesus as Lord” or like some lesbians protest against the concept as sexist oppression?
Spiritual integrity and an integrity of belief should precede even moral integrity for Christians. Traditionally in Christianity sins against faith were deemed more important than against morality and reasonably enough so because even saints can fall short whereas everyone can keep some essential loyalty to the faith. When the current debate becomes both more theological and spiritual I believe it has more hope of being resolved for the good not just of gays but the whole church community to which gays belong and whose good they should be seeking along with their own. Again, one must agree with the Archbishop it’s a pity that vital issues like poverty and hunger in the world are getting lost to what’s becoming an almost obsessive sex debate. But as I say, there’s no necessity. Just let’s try to be more informed and change the emphasis.
Rollan R McCleary (Dr)