This House Would (as a Christian Church) allow the ordination of gay and lesbian priests

This is a debate about the Christian church, and a proposition that utterly discounts the authority of the Bible is rather missing the point. There is a genuine debate within the church about whether gay men and women can be true representatives of God on earth. Generally, the attitude of church authorities is “don’t ask, don’t tell” or more firmly against gays and gay priests; a notable case in August 1999 saw the Rev. Robert Nugent and Sister Jeannine Gramick, who had ministered to gay and lesbian Catholics for many years, summoned to the Vatican and ordered to stop their work.[1] More recently, there have been controversies over the appointment in New Hampshire of Gene Robinson as the Anglican communion's first gay bishop, which threatened schism within the Anglican Communion,[2] and over the attempted appointment of Geoffrey John as a bishop in England, where John was first appointed Bishop of Reading and then forced by the Archbishop of Canterbury to stand down and has since been prevented from becoming bishop of Southwark.[3] In 2009 the Church of Scotland was also split over the appointment of an openly gay minister, Scott Rennie, in Aberdeen where the church ultimately decided to lift its ban on gay priests.[4]

The Church of England has however been changing its position since the rejection of Geoffrey John in order not to be on the wrong side of the Equality Act 2010, in the Churches legal advice it is conceded that "A person's sexual orientation is in itself irrelevant to their suitability for episcopal office or indeed ordained ministry" but appointment can be prevented if it would cause division.[5]

The proponents of gay rights inevitably face a tougher time inside the Church, where they face a vociferous opposition, than in society as a whole where political correctness has made such outspoken criticism less common.

With the recently announced proposal to legalise Gay Marriage in the UK and an ongoing review into the Anglican Church’s position on Civil Partnerships this is an issue is great contemporary significance.

[1] Murphy, Caryle, ‘Judgement Day for a Priest’, Washington Post, 7 August 1999, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/daily/aug99/nugent07.htm

[2] BBC News, ‘Profile: Bishop Gene Robinson’, 11 July 2008, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/3208586.stm

[3] Butt, Riazat, ‘Church of England set to allow celibate gay bishops’, guardian.co.uk, 19 June 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jun/19/church-england-allow-gay-bishops

[4] Carrell, Severin, ‘Gay minister’s appointment divides Church of Scotland’, guardian.co.uk, 24 May 2009, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/may/24/scotland-aberdeen-gay-priest-protestant

[5] Butt, , ‘Church of England set to allow celibate gay bishops’, 2011

 

Title 
Homosexuality exists in nature and is therefore part of God’s plan
Point 

Homosexual behaviour occurs naturally – both in humans and in the animal world, it has been observed in over 1500 animal species of all different types from mammals to crabs to worms.[1]  It must be a misunderstanding of God’s plan to say that homosexuality is unnatural – it forms a part of the world that He has created and therefore must form part of His plan.

The substance of what the Bible says about sexuality is that what matters is having a stable and loving relationship, not who that relationship is with. 

[1] NewsMedical, ‘1,500 animal species practice homosexuality’, 23 October 2006, http://www.news-medical.net/news/2006/10/23/20718.aspx

Counterpoint 

Infanticide is a part of nature, as is cannibalism.  What separates humanity from the rest of the natural world is our ability to appreciate morality beyond ‘what is natural’. 

One of the moral rules that God has imparted to us is that the only moral sexual behaviour is between man and wife.  Other moral systems obviously take a different view of sexual ethics, but they aren’t relevant how a Christian Church should organise itself.

Title 
Sexuality is an intrinsic part of personality
Point 

Sexuality is an indivisible part of personhood; people need to be able to express their sexuality openly in order to fully actualise themselves. It is wrong therefore to use sexuality as an individual metric by which they are eligible to become priests or not – they should be taken on the whole of their personhood.

Counterpoint 

There can be no description of human reality, in general or in particular, outside the reality of Christ. We must be on guard, therefore, against constructing any other ground for our identities than the redeemed humanity given to use in him. Those who understand themselves as homosexuals, no more and no less than those who do not, are liable to false understandings based on personal or family histories, emotional dispositions, social settings and solidarities formed by common experiences or ambitions. Our sexual affections can no more define who we are than our class race or nationality. At the deepest ontological level, therefore, there is no such thing as "a" homosexual or "a" heterosexual; therefore there are human beings, male and female, called to redeemed humanity in Christ, endowed with a complex variety of emotional potentialities and threatened by a complex variety of forms of alienation.[1]

[1] The Lembeth Conference 1998. Resolution I.10 http://www.lambethconference.org/resolutions/1998/1998-1-10.cfm

Title 
Priests have to represent their congregations
Point 

Priests have a responsibility to represent the members of their congregations. A large number of Christians are gay, and they can receive better spiritual direction from gay ministers than from heterosexuals who do not understand their lifestyles or relationships as well.

Counterpoint 

Priests act as representatives of God towards members of their congregation, not vice versa. The argument against women priests is that, while women are children of God and part of the church, they cannot represent Jesus in performing the communion service simply because he was male. The same applies to homosexuals; they cannot represent Him in the same way.  The rule against gay priests but not against gay laity is not hypocritical but merely reflects the application of differing standards of discipline.

Title 
The Church has adapted before, it can adapt now
Point 

The Church has adapted over the centuries on a number of social and natural issues as it seeks to re-interpret and re-explain God’s message of love in the terms of modern society. For example Churches have adapted to the problems that science has thrown up, even the Catholic church, often the slowest to embrace change did eventually agree with Galileo over the earth going round the sun.[1] The acceptance of homosexuality and admission of gay priests is a necessary next step for the Church today. There will be others in the future.

[1] Butt, Riazat, ‘The Vatican may be cosying up to science but it will never go all the way’, Notes&Theories guardian.co.uk, 23 February 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blog/2011/feb/23/vatican-science-evolution-stem-cells

Counterpoint 

Religion is not a political party, changing and catering to the views of the current electorate. The Church acts as the curator of God’s Word and maintains its principles no matter how unfashionable they may be. This is especially important in an increasingly secular age when Christianity will only survive by virtue of it maintaining a clear, consistent message. 

Title 
Homosexuality is a sin in the Bible
Point 

Homosexuality is "a grievous sin" in the Bible (Gen 18:20), a capital crime (Lev 20:13), and punishable by exclusion from the Kingdom of Heaven (1 Cor 6:9-10). Christians - especially priests - must accept the Bible as the ultimate authority. Christian ministry is therefore incompatible with homosexuality. Jesus was a radical teacher and overturned Jewish tradition where He saw it was necessary to do so; His silence on homosexuality indicates that He saw no need in this case.

Counterpoint 

The part of the Book of Leviticus which sentences homosexuals to death also: permits polygamy, bans tattoos, prohibits eating meat that isn’t well-cooked, prohibits eating rabbits, pigs or some forms of seafood, and prohibits the wearing of clothes made of blended textiles (such as polyester). Most Christians accept that parts of the Bible were written according to the out-dated social opinions of the time and can be taken lightly. The only New Testament comments about homosexuality come from the moralising apostle Paul; there is nothing directly from Jesus, in the Gospels themselves.

Title 
The Church condemns all sex outside of marriage, hetero or homosexual in nature
Point 

There can be no doubt that the Bible and Jesus strongly condemn sex outside of Christian marriage (or ‘fornication’). Indeed for much of Christian history sex even within marriage has been seen as a necessary evil that should only be for creating children, as a result priests, monks and nuns had to be celibate.[1] Although Jesus spent time in the company of adulterers, He loved "the sinner, not the sin" - and ordered them to cease their behaviour. His response to homosexuals would have been just as unequivocal.

[1] Bacchiocchi, Samuele, ‘Marriage and Sex’, The Marriage Covenant: A Biblical Study on Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriagehttp://www.biblicalperspectives.com/books/marriage/3.html

Counterpoint 

Condemning homosexuality as sex outside marriage is unfair, since it is the Christian church which does not offer the right of marriage to gays and lesbians. If it were to do so, they could enjoy sex within loving relationships, sanctified by the Church, just as heterosexuals do. Jesus’ main teaching was clear - "love your God and love your neighbour" - and there is clear difference between adultery and homosexuality in this respect; the former causes pain and has a victim (the betrayed partner), the latter can be a purely loving relationship.

Title 
Ordination is not a right.
Point 

Ordination is a privilege of service granted to men deemed mature enough in all aspects of their lives to be able to be faithful to that service

It is Catholic doctrine that Homosexuals are incapable of perceiving human nature as God as created it, consisting of male and female persons meant for mutual attraction, complementarity, and, God-willing, marriage and children.

Instead, they see members of their own gender as mutually attractive in a sexual sense. They do not see females as such. In other words, they do not see or experience objective reality. Since this is so, it follows that homosexual priests possess a serious handicap which makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to serve well as ordained ministers.[1]

[1] Abbott, Matt C., ‘Three priests speak on ‘gay priest’ ban’. September 2005. http://www.renewamerica.com/columns/abbott/050922

Counterpoint 

Catholic doctrine is not the doctrine of all Christian churches.  It is right to say that ordination is a privilege of service granted to men deemed mature enough to be faithful to that service – which is why that decision should be taken on each person as a rounded basis and not as an absolute litmus checklist of issues.

Bibliography 

Abbott, Matt C., ‘Three priests speak on ‘gay priest’ ban’. September 2005. http://www.renewamerica.com/columns/abbott/050922

Bacchiocchi, Samuele, ‘Marriage and Sex’, The Marriage Covenant: A Biblical Study on Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriagehttp://www.biblicalperspectives.com/books/marriage/3.html

BBC News, ‘Profile: Bishop Gene Robinson’, 11 July 2008, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/3208586.stm

Butt, Riazat, ‘The Vatican may be cosying up to science but it will never go all the way’, Notes&Theories guardian.co.uk, 23 February 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blog/2011/feb/23/vatican-science-evolution-stem-cells

Butt, Riazat, ‘Church of England set to allow celibate gay bishops’, guardian.co.uk, 19 June 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jun/19/church-england-allow-gay-bishops

Carrell, Severin, ‘Gay minister’s appointment divides Church of Scotland’, guardian.co.uk, 24 May 2009, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/may/24/scotland-aberdeen-gay-priest-protestant

Murphy, Caryle, ‘Judgement Day for a Priest’, Washington Post, 7 August 1999, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/daily/aug99/nugent07.htm

NewsMedical, ‘1,500 animal species practice homosexuality’, 23 October 2006, http://www.news-medical.net/news/2006/10/23/20718.aspx

The Lembeth Conference 1998. Resolution I.10 http://www.lambethconference.org/resolutions/1998/1998-1-10.cfm

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