When the Anglican Church appeared set to ordain an openly gay bishop back in 2003, one of those vocally and aggressively opposed was Bishop James Jones, of Liverpool. However, he later apologised for this aggression, and undertook to listen more to other views on sexuality. As I have noted before, when people can be persuaded to listen with an open mind, views begin to change. Earlier this week I wrote about the conversion journey of the US Presbyterian theologian Dr Mark Achtemeier, who describes himself as both conservative and evangelical (“And Grace Will Lead Me Home“). In his case, the conversion was complete, and now argues actively in favour of full inclusion in church, including same sex marriage and ordination.
Bishop James, who is associated with the evangelical wing of the UK Anglican Church, does not seem to have gone quite that far (not yet), but he does now argue for recognition that differing views and interpretations of Scripture are possible. He recently voted in favour of a decision to grant pensions to civil partners of gay clergy. With the formal confirmation of the USA’s first openly lesbian bishop expected within weeks, he is encouraging his fellow evangelicals not to overreact to this. He has also said that he is “in sympathy” with the House of Lords amendment this week which will allow religious premises to be used for Civil Partnerships.
The evidence is clear. Difficult as it is, we need to find ways to speak to those who are so opposed to us. Many will not listen, and will remain rigidly wedded to their preconceptions. But where we can engage a few, we must. In listening, they will modify their own views. Thereafter, they will help to modify the views of others. The Holy Spirit is clearly working in this matter to “renew the face of he earth”. She deserves our help.
Some extracts from “Ekklesia”:
The Bishop has not explicitly abandoned his longstanding view that same-gender sexual relationships are unethical. However, he appeared concerned not to condemn same-sex couples when, in his words, “in a world of such little love, two people sought to express a love that no other relationship could offer them”.
Jones’ stance on religious same-sex partnerships is markedly different from certain other conservative Anglican bishops.
The amendment recently approved by the House of Lords will give churches the freedom to host same-sex partnership ceremonies if they choose, but will not require them to do so. However, Michael Scott-Joynt, the Bishop of Winchester, has been widely criticised for suggesting that the law will allow clergy to be sued for refusing to carry them out, a claim inaccurately reported as fact in parts of the media.
In contrast, James Jones’ comments are in tune with those evangelicals who have shifted their position on homosexuality in recent years. There are now several evangelical organisations which accept the validity of same-sex relationships.
In a particularly controversial section of his remarks, Jones challenges the notion that sexuality is a matter of choice, saying instead that it is a “given”.
The Bishop compared the Church’s divisions over sexuality with its ability to accommodate a variety of attitudes to war. “On a number of major moral issues, the Church allows a large space for a variety of nuances, interpretations, applications and disagreements,” he said.
“The day is coming when Christians who equally profoundly disagree about the consonancy of same-gender love within the discipleship of Christ will in spite of their disagreement drink openly from the same cup of salvation,” he added.
Colin Coward of the pro-inclusion group Changing Attitude gave a warm welcome to Jones’ comments.
“This is both a strong affirmation of gay relationships and a confirmation of Anglican tradition,” said Coward.He added that Anglican tradition meant that “differences in attitude to homosexuality are not church-dividing and that Christians can live together in one church community respecting each other’s convictions”.
- Queer Inclusion in Church: Evangelicals Ask, “What Would Jesus Do?” (queeringthechurch.wordpress.com)
- You: Gay bishop Gene Robinson to retire (guardian.co.uk)
- LGBT Anglican Coalition writes to the Archbishop of Canterbury (thinkinganglicans.org.uk)