Telling the stories of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, NZ and Polynesia

Sexual orientation 'no impediment'

The Auckland Diocesan Synod is told that it's possible to be gay or lesbian and in a committed same-sex relationship, while being true to Christian morality.

Glynn Cardy  |  04 Sep 2011

September 3, 2011

Mr President, Members of Synod,

Within our ministry units there are many gay and lesbian Anglicans.  They are a part of us.  They are in big units and small units, rural units and urban units, units that might be considered ‘liberal’ and units that might be considered ‘conservative’.  They have always been part of us and, whether we’ve known it or not, always ministered as lay and clergy in our midst and made enormous contributions through the history of this Diocese.

This motion is simply a means to talk about the ministry of gay and lesbian Anglicans and the variety of views we hold.  It asks that sexual orientation not be an impediment, and those in committed relationships not be excluded. 

If the motion passes we will not see immediate change in the current practice.  The bishops of the Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand & Polynesia have chosen, prior to any resolution by General Synod, not to ordain anyone who is in a same-sex relationship.  Our diocese will also not discern someone for ordained ministry who is in such a relationship.  Other dioceses extend this to licensing.  These matters of discernment, ordination, and licensing are Episcopal decisions, but ones where the Synod can give an opinion on a matter of principle.  In order therefore to change the current practice decisions will need to be made both by General Synod and the bench of bishops.  Some legislation may also be required.  Ultimately it will be the individual diocesan bishop’s decision who are ordained.

This motion does not seek to define what a ‘committed’ relationship is.  Anglicans adhere to the relational values of mutuality, self-giving love, and fidelity, and these are the benchmark for what we call ‘committed’.  Heterosexuals have the option of expressing these values in a service of marriage, and this is normative for the relationships of heterosexual clergy.  Although for same-sex couples that option doesn’t exist, there are many Anglican same-sex couples upholding those values.  The moral expectations of ordained and licensed, gay or straight Anglicans are the same.

There has been over a number of years now a series of hui, initiated by Archbishop David, bringing together some of the varying views across our Church to talk about the Bible and Homosexuality.  Those differences, faithfully held, continue to exist, and what I’m about to say does not resemble a consensus.

Some biblical references that have been advanced as pertinent to homosexuality are irrelevant, such as the attempted gang rape in Sodom[i], and such as the sexual acts involved in Canaanite fertility rites[ii].  Other texts may refer to pederastic relationships or prostitution, and thus it’s unclear whether the issue is child abuse, sex-for-hire, or homosexuality.[iii]

Putting these texts to the side, we are left with three references, all of which condemn homosexual behaviour – two from the Book of Leviticus[iv] and one from the Book of Romans. 

The Hebrew pre-scientific understanding was that male semen contained the whole of nascent life, and women provided only the incubating space.  Hence the spilling of semen for any non-procreative purpose was considered tantamount to murder.[v] Culturally homosexual acts were considered pagan not Jewish.  Whatever the rationale however the Levitical texts are clear: persons committing homosexual acts are to be executed.

Romans 1:26-27 also condemns homosexual behaviour.  Paul seemed to assume that those whom he condemned were heterosexuals who were acting contrary to nature, "leaving" their regular sexual orientation behind.  It seemed Paul believed everyone was straight.  Further, the relationships Paul describes are not relationships between consenting adults who are faithfully committed to each other.

Regardless of the qualifiers we might put around a reading of Romans 1:26-27, the Bible quite clearly takes a negative view of homosexual activity in those few instances where it is mentioned at all.  But this conclusion does not solve the problem of interpretation, for there are other sexual attitudes, practices and restrictions which are normative in Scripture but which we no longer accept as normative today.  These include forbidding intercourse during menstruation,[vi] executing people for adultery[vii], and executing women for having sex before marriage.[viii]  Polygamy (many wives) and concubinage (a woman living with a man to whom she is not married) were regularly practiced in the Hebrew Scriptures, and are not condemned by the New Testament.[ix] 

The Law of Moses allowed for divorce[x]; Jesus categorically forbids it.[xi]  Yet many Christians, in clear violation of a command of Jesus, have been divorced.  Why, then, does the Church ordain divorcees? 

Clearly we regard certain rules, especially in the Hebrew Scriptures, as no longer binding.  What is our principle of selection?  Why do we appeal to Scripture in the case of homosexuality, when we feel perfectly free to disagree with Scripture regarding most other sexual practices?

Sexual norms are necessary in any society, but as Christians we must critique them by the love ethic exemplified by Jesus.  Defining such a love ethic is not complicated.  It is non-exploitative (hence no sexual exploitation of children, no using of another to their loss), it does not dominate (hence no patriarchal treatment of women), it is responsible, respectful, mutual, caring, and loving.  Approached from the point of view of love rather than that of law, the question is not "What does Scripture command?" but "What does the Spirit say to the churches now, in the light of Scripture, tradition, theology, and, yes, psychology, genetics, anthropology, and biology?" 

The majority opinion in the scientific community views sexual orientation as an aspect of gender that emerges from the pre-natal sexual differentiation of the brain.  Whether a person ends up gay or straight depends in large part on this biological differentiation – with the lead actors being genes, sex hormones, and how the brain responds to them.  On the nature/nurture biology/culture scale it is nature and biology that have the most influence.

The majority view in the scientific community is therefore in marked contrast to the traditional beliefs which have ascribed homosexuality to family dynamics, learning, early sexual experience, or free choice.

Another trait that emerges from biological differentiation is that of right and left handedness.  As with homosexuality, there has been a social history of labeling the minority, those left-handed, as deviant and needing to have their behaviour corrected.  ‘Deviancy’ is a label often applied to minorities. 

That said, some behaviour in society is deviant – murder, rape, etc.  Our task as Anglicans is to evaluate on the basis of science and reason, in the light of Scripture, tradition, and theology, what behaviour is true to the love ethic exemplified by Jesus. 

The seconder of this motion and I are of the opinion that one can be gay or lesbian and be in a committed same-sex relationship, whilst being true to the standards of Christian morality.  In our Anglican community there are some who have the charisim of ordained leadership and are encouraged to test their vocation.  Some of those are gay and lesbian and in committed relationships.  Let us not automatically discount their calling and deprive our church of what they could offer, and what we could gain.

I move motion 4 standing in my name.

Rev Glynn Cardy, Vicar of St Matthew-in-the-City


[i] Genesis 19:1-29

[ii] Deut 23:17-18

[iii] 1 Cor 6:9 and 1 Tim 1:10

[iv] Leviticus 18:22, 20:13

[v] Female homosexual acts were consequently not so seriously regarded, and are not mentioned at all in the Old Testament (but see Rom. 1:26).

[vi] Lev. 18:19; 15:19-24

[vii] Deut. 22:22

[viii] Deut. 22:13-21

[ix] Save for the questionable exceptions of 1 Tim. 3:2, 12 and Titus 1:6.  Jesus' teaching about marital union in Mark 10:6-8 is no exception, since he quotes Gen. 2:24 as his authority (the man and the woman will become "one flesh"), and this text was never understood in Israel as excluding polygamy.  A man could become "one flesh" with more than one woman, through the act of sexual intercourse.  We know from Jewish sources that polygamy continued to be practiced within Judaism for centuries following the New Testament period.

[x] Deut. 24:1-4

[xi] Mark 10:1-12; Matt. 19:9 softens his severity.