Page last updated at 15:28 GMT, Wednesday, 15 October 2003 16:28 UK

Head to head: Gay church debate

Anglican church leaders from around the world are taking part in a two-day emergency meeting over the issue of homosexuality. It follows the row within the church following the election of an openly gay bishop in the US.

Dr Philip Giddings, convenor of Anglican Mainstream, was a key member of the opposition to the appointment of openly gay priest Canon Jeffrey John as Bishop of Reading.

It is important to first make a distinction between sexual orientation and practice.

What is wrong, from the Bible's standpoint, is homosexual practice. That's because the Bible clearly teaches that the only acceptable context for sexual intercourse is within marriage, and marriage is only between a man and a woman.

Therefore, sexual intercourse outside heterosexual marriage is sinful and must be repented of. Homosexual practice falls within that category.

Dr Philip Giddings
Dr Giddings said church leaders cannot be gay

When the Anglican Communion first defined itself in the 19th Century it was accepted that Holy Scripture is the primary, controlling authority.

For mainstream Anglicans, Scripture is determinative, because that is what the Bible says, God says.

And that means looking at the whole of the Bible, not just picking out one or two isolated verses.

Hence, those who are called to leadership in the Church must teach and model that which we Anglicans believe. Practising homosexuals cannot hold a position of leadership.

And that is the understanding not just of Anglicans but also of the other world-wide Christian communions, the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox churches.

Part of the current Anglican debate is also about what it means to be a communion of churches, and what the boundaries of acceptable faith and practice are. After all, everyone agrees that we have to believe and practice something.

The issue of human sexuality tests the boundaries, because of what it raises - the question whether we are willing to be bound by what Scripture says, even when it is uncongenial to our present culture.

What interests the media is something that's a "row", something about sex, and particularly something about gay sex
Dr Philip Giddings

The liberal perspective says we should modernise and follow current fashion.

We respond to the argument that we have got to 'move with the times' by saying that as Christian disciples we are called to obey the teaching of Scripture whether we like it or not.

People may wish it said something different, but we are not at liberty to pick and choose the bits that fit in with our current culture or our personal desires.

We don't have to go with what current society says. People who argue that, would not say that because capitalism and the individual pursuit of wealth is the dominant culture in the West, that we should go along with it.

Jesus Himself said some hard and tough things to the people of His day, so much so that at one point almost everybody left him. But he held to His mission to proclaim and embody God's word of truth and life.

Modern Western society is far too focused on sex. I would much rather be talking about the wider understanding of the gospel and its message of freedom and wholeness in Christ.

Sadly, what interests the media is something that's a "row", something about sex, and particularly something about gay sex. That may be a cynical interpretation but I believe it's true.

Christians talking about moral virtues like poverty and humility just don't make the news.

Reverend Gareth Williams, Vice Principal of St Michael's Theological College, Llandaff:

The Anglican Church has always been a wider, all-embracing church where openness and inclusiveness defines its very ethos.

In my opinion, the conservative approach is seeking to harden the boundaries, and reach arbitrary definitions about who is in and who is out without reference to the ideals of love, acceptance, inclusivity and compassion.

Gareth Williams
'Sexuality is hard-wired into our genes'
As regards the Bible, the problem I have is that many people who take the view that the Bible is against homosexuality are approaching a rich and complex text rather too simplistically.

Two thousand years on we know so much more about what makes us human.

Reading the Bible with a naivety that pretends to know nothing of what modern human psychology tells us about the givenness of our sexuality only perpetuates injustices towards lesbian and gay people.

We know that sexuality is hard-wired into our genes, so what scripture can then help us with is how we can best handle our given sexuality in a way that best honours human integrity, honesty and faithfulness.

Sadly, many will hide behind the authority of the Bible to vent some very homophobic statements.

You will rarely find these same people remonstrating with their bank manager for charging interest on their overdraft when the Bible is as equally (if not more so) against the charging of interest on money.

To say that it is OK to be gay, but not OK to be gay and a priest is an over exaltation of what being a priest actually is.

If you were to expel all lesbian and gay members of the clergy, then the ministry of the Church would be deeply impoverished and may well grind to a halt
To be a priest is to be the full human being that God has made you to be. If that is taken to preclude a certain sexuality then priesthood can never represent humanity in its entirety.

If you were to expel all lesbian and gay members of the clergy, then the ministry of the Church would be deeply impoverished and may well grind to a halt.

That's the irony of it all, and it's all made a little amusing that 38 men dressed in purple dresses are having to sit round debating the rights and wrongs of all this!

I hope we will be able to hold the Anglican family together, but not at the expense of excluding lesbian and gay people; that would be too high a cost to pay for unity based upon homophobic exclusion is no unity at all.

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