Don't repeat the mistake on page 847 of The Prayer Book . Here is what God really requires from the chosen people:Do justice.
A series of essays in the Episcopal Church
Further Reflections on Homosexuality, Christian Faith and the Church
By The Rt. Rev'd Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia
Two years ago I wrote a draft study paper on homosexuality for the Church of Melanesia Council of Bishops. The paper was an attempt at an historical and theological discussion of the issue, including contemporary developments. This paper was written before the Lambeth Conference and its debate and resolution on the issue and the following controversy which continues today. (Copies are available for anyone who wishes to read it.) The conclusions of my paper were somewhat liberal, seeing a place for stable, committed gay and lesbian relationships in the church. However, the paper also rejected promiscuity, sexual abuse, violence and sexual relations between adults and children, whether heterosexual or homosexual.
At the request of the Church of Melanesia Council of Bishops, I have been considering how to rewrite the paper in light of all that has happened in the Anglican Communion on the issue since the Lambeth debate and resolution in August 1998. However, I have decided rather to let the paper stand as a reference document and try a second, more condensed paper, drawing on comments on the first paper, post-Lambeth developments and my own further reflection.
My initial paper tried to present a survey of contemporary scientific research on the causes of homosexuality, homosexuality and Scripture, homosexuality in the Christian tradition, then moving to homosexuality in Anglicanism, Melanesian and Pacific cultures and the Church of Melanesia. The paper itself displayed the many difficulties of the whole issue, for example, difficulties around the concept of "homosexuality", the significance of causation, the authority and interpretation of Scripture, accurate interpretation of church history and many cross-cultural issues. What one decides on the various above issues will, of course, determine one's conclusions about what kind of behaviour is acceptable and what kind is not.
My own conclusions reflected my own experience of and reflection on all of the issues, including my own views of scriptural interpretation (overall meaning of the Gospel over proof texts), theological reflection (homosexuality as a pastoral rather than major doctrinal issue), causation of homosexuality (in most cases, sexual orientation is very difficult to change), cross-cultural issues (very important) and the very definition of "homosexuality" (much more difficult than I first imagined). All of these factors interact. In this paper, I shall discuss each of these topics briefly and conclude by trying to bring them all together.
(2) Interpretation of Scripture
From the 1998 Lambeth Conference through the recent Primates' meeting in Portugal, something of a divide seems to have opened out in the Anglican Communion on the authority and interpretation of Scripture of which the controversy on homosexuality is but one symptom. The extremes (represented by the rejection of the authority of Scripture by some extreme Anglo-American liberals on the one side and by a new fundamentalism, whether catholic, evangelical or charismatic, on the other) tend to demonize each other and many in the broad middle spectrum, the home of most Anglicans, arguing that only they possess the true faith. David F. Ford in his excellent paper, "The Vocation of Holiness in Today's World: Anglican Interpretation of Scripture", presented to the recent Primates' meeting, tried to reclaim this middle ground.
The above having been said, I believe that the 1998 Lambeth Conference, partly pushed by the emotion around the homosexuality issue and the strong lobbying by the evangelical, charismatic and catholic extremes, moved away from a proper Catholic and Apostolic understanding of the place of Scripture in the Church to a more sectarian view. For example, as far as Lambeth Conference resolutions on Scripture are concerned, the 12 resolutions of the 1958 Lambeth Conference on the Bible come across as profound and balanced compared to the narrowness of Resolution III.1 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference. The first three resolutions of 1958 Lambeth read as follows:
(1) The Conference affirms its belief that the Bible discloses the truths about the relation of God and man which are the key to the world's predicament and is therefore deeply relevant to the modern world.
(2) The Conference affirms that our Lord Jesus Christ is God's final Word to man, and that in his light all Holy Scripture must be seen and interpreted, the Old Testament in terms of promise and the New Testament in terms of fulfillment.
(3) The Conference affirms that Jesus Christ lives in his Church through the Holy Spirit according to his promise, and that the Church is therefore both guardian and interpreter of Holy Scripture; nevertheless the Church may teach nothing as necessary for eternal salvation but what may be concluded and proved by the Scripture'.
The resolutions on the Bible then go on to support critical Biblical scholarship, Bible study, the role of Scripture in liturgy, respect for science in relation to Scripture, use of contemporary scholarship and the arts in relation to Scripture and Bible translation. The resolutions are quite positive about all these areas.1
The resolutions are authoritative and strong because they accept the authority of Scripture in disclosing divine truths (Resolution 1) and root the interpretation of Scripture in Jesus Christ as "God's final Word" to humanity, for "in his light all Holy Scripture must be seen and interpreted" (Resolution 2). Jesus Christ comes before the Bible. Biblical interpretation cannot be done without reference to Jesus Christ. Similarly, "Jesus Christ lives in his Church through the Holy Spirit" and it is the Church who is "both guardian and interpreter of Holy Scripture" (Resolution 3, part 1). The Holy Spirit and the Church also come before Scripture. The Scripture does not have some supreme authority for believers apart from Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit and the Church. However, Scripture also prohibits the church from teaching anything "necessary for eternal salvation" except what may be "concluded and proved by the Scripture" (a quotation from Article 4 of the Thirty Nine Articles) (Resolution 3, part 2). (Using this criterion, those who argue that abstaining from homosexual activity is "necessary for eternal salvation" must show that their position is "concluded and proved by the Scripture", not as easy as it looks.)
The 1998 Lambeth resolution on the Bible represents a shift away from this full Catholic and Apostolic understanding of the relation between Revelation and Scripture to a more sectarian understanding of Scripture. The full 1998 resolution reads as follows:
This conference, recognizing the need in our Communion for fuller agreement on how to interpret and apply the message of the Bible in a world of rapid change and widespread cultural interaction:
reaffirms the primary authority of the Scriptures, according to their testimony and supported by our own historic formularies;
urges that the Biblical text should be handled respectfully, coherently, and consistently, building upon our best traditions and scholarship believing that the Scriptural revelation must continue to illuminate, challenge and transform cultures, structures and ways of thinking, especially those that predominate today;
invites our provinces, as we open ourselves afresh to a vision of a Church full of the Word and full of the Spirit, to promote at every level biblical study programmes which can inform and nourish the life of dioceses, congregations, seminaries, communities, and members of all ages.2
Rather than setting Scripture in the context of Jesus Christ the Word of God, the Holy Spirit and the Church, the 1998 resolution tends to treat Scripture and its interpretation in isolation, indeed as "the primary authority", the starting point of Christian life. This perspective reflects the evangelical and charismatic background of the sponsors of the original version of the motion, which was even more sectarian. The purpose of the original motion was to rein in what was seen as the rampant liberalism of various parts of the Anglican Communion on a variety of ethical issues, especially homosexuality. The danger in the resolution is that Scripture (interpreted in a particular way) replaces Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit and the Church as the ultimate "primary authority". Indeed, in a panel discussion on the interpretation of Scripture after David Ford's plenary presentation on the topic, one of the sponsors of the resolution, the Archbishop of Sydney, said that Scripture was the starting point of the Church and was not even challenged.
The debate on the floor of the Conference on this resolution was sluggish. Because of its generally positive tone, it was difficult to speak against it, especially after some of the original negative tone was removed. However, Bishop John Baycroft of Ottawa (an active member of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission [ARCIC] and now Director of the Anglican Centre in Rome), spoke against it, pointing out its lack of balance and theological muddle. Anyone speaking against the resolution ran the risk of being perceived as opposed to the positive statements in the resolution or even as supporting homosexuality, given the context of the resolution.
But, if one examines the resolution carefully, it very clearly puts the cart before the horse. For example, the opening phrase about "fuller agreement on how to interpret and apply the message of the Bible in a world of rapid change" puts forward the Bible as containing a "message" or messages to be "applied" to the world. Surely this is a simplistic understanding of the role of Scripture in Christian life. Jesus Christ comes first in the salvation and transformation of creation as the Bible witnesses. Transformed by Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, we participate in God's transformation of the world, supported and guided by Scripture, interpreted in the power of the Holy Spirit in the Church in relationship with society and culture. Such a process does not always produce unanimity as the New Testament often shows, nor should it initially, although we hope for increasing unity. Behind the 1998 resolution is an assumption that there is a single right answer for all issue is in all contexts -- and that one only needs the Bible to find those right answers.
The resolution is very weak in its Christology and ecclesiology, treating Scripture without direct reference to Jesus Christ, Apostolic Tradition, the Church and the broad Christian tradition of 2000 years. It also lacks Trinitarian coherence. The resolution has a certain sola sciptura ("only Scripture") ring to it and is not open to the Catholic diversity of the Church. Unlike the 1958 resolutions, which are more open to working with the secular culture, the 1998 resolution is negative about the world, which it sees as needing illumination, challenge and transformation. Certainly there has been a great recognition between 1958 and 1998 of the capacity of secular cultures to sin and the need for such transformation; but liberation, freedom and creativity have also come through secular cultures. I do not think such Christian transformation comes about by "applying" the "message" of the Bible, let alone particular proof texts.
Finally, in section (c) there is a common evangelical confusion between Jesus Christ the Word of God and Scripture as the word of God. As the 1958 resolutions explained so clearly, they are not the same. What does it mean be invited to "open ourselves afresh to a vision of a Church full of the Word and full of the Spirit"? If "Word" here means Jesus Christ the Word of God, it is not so clear that the phrase "a Church full of Jesus Christ the Word of God" quite makes sense; rather we are to be, as the resolution correctly puts it, "full of the [Holy] Spirit [of Jesus Christ the Word of God]". If, however, "Word" in the resolution refers to Scripture, as the subsequent reference to Bible study seems to suggest, or to both Jesus Christ and Scripture, then Scripture suffers the blasphemy of being raised to the level of a person in the Holy Trinity.3 All told, the 1998 resolution feels like an ad hoc attempt to put liberal Anglicans in their place. As such it lacks the Catholic depth and integrity of the 1958 resolutions on the Bible and comes across as sectarian. Even though it was passed by the Conference, I think the 1998 resolution needs to be treated carefully and cannot be used to justify the uniformity of particular ethical stands on particular issues.
All of the above bears directly on the issue of the interpretation of Scripture with regard to homosexuality. Using the 1958 Lambeth resolutions on the Bible as a base, I continue to believe that one must treat any scriptural reference to homosexuality, whether in the Old or New Testament, in the broader context of the full teaching of Jesus Christ as revealed in all of the New Testament. Because of the tendency of charismatic, evangelical and catholic traditionalists (including some Primates and many Bishops) towards a fundamentalist and literalist interpretation of Scripture (the background of the 1998 Lambeth resolution on the Bible), discussion will always bog down on the interpretation and significance of particular Biblical texts which mention any kind of homosexuality. The traditionalists will reject any interpretation which disregards an anti-homosexuality text in favour of a positive view of homosexuality based on the broader Gospel message of God's unconditional love for all humanity. Yet, from my overall reading of the New Testament, I am convinced that (following the 1958 Lambeth resolution) any particular text of Scripture, as a product of the church, must be interpreted "in [the] light" of Jesus Christ, "God's final Word" to humanity. It is on this basis that over the centuries the church has slowly changed its teaching on slavery, democracy, the role of women in church and society, artificial birth control, divorce and many other areas. I continue to believe that homosexuality is another such area where this change is taking place and will continue to take place despite the opposition of those who argue that Scripture forbids such change.
I personally resent this theological position being characterized as "heretical" or even "liberal" in the pejorative sense. I believe it is the right, indeed, the orthodox way to interpret Scripture on any issue. It is the way Jesus reinterpreted Jewish Scripture. Jesus deeply distrusted literalism with regard to Scripture. To subject a particular text to "the light of Jesus Christ, God's final Word to humanity", is not a matter of private inspiration or personal preference but the work of the whole church in prayer and study. The "light of Jesus Christ" has great power and cannot be overturned by private inspiration, personal preference or proof text. The "light of Jesus Christ", working through the Holy Spirit, has the power to re-interpret Scripture, overturning previous interpretations. On the whole issue of homosexuality, then, I cannot accept the entirely negative view of the traditionalists based on a few specific Biblical texts, often taken out of context. I believe that the "light of Jesus Christ", fully revealed in Scripture, points towards positive Biblical reinterpretation in the area of homosexuality as I discussed in the previous paper.4
(3) Homosexuality and Christian Doctrine
The Biblical and theological issues around homosexuality are very closely related. A more fundamentalist view of Scripture results in a set of non-negotiable doctrinal and ethical propositions, not subject to any further change or development. A less fundamentalist view of Scripture sees Christian doctrine (the Trinity, ecclesiology, eschatology, the Sacraments) emerging from the ongoing interaction of Apostolic Authority and Tradition, Scripture and Christian life with culture and society, such that one can legitimately talk about the "development" of Christian doctrine. Generally speaking, Anglicanism, with its respect for the patristic church, has been in the latter camp, although there have been periods when a sola scriptura approach to the Bible (the sixteenth century Puritans) produced much sectarian intolerance and inflexibility. Therefore, one must be concerned about increasing fundamentalist and sectarian movements in the Anglican Communion today, whether evangelical, charismatic or catholic.
For me, a basic question is whether homosexuality is a doctrinal issue at all. Of course, if one is a fundamentalist, it is a doctrinal issue since everything revealed in Scripture is doctrine and there are passages in the Bible which condemn various forms of homosexuality. (For Old Order Amish in the USA, the automobile is a doctrinal issue; because it is not mentioned in Scripture they refuse it use it, retaining their horses and buggies!) A homosexual person can be baptized and his or her homosexual orientation not diminish or restrict the Baptism in any way. A homosexual person can believe the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds in their entirety and even be legitimately ordained without his or her homosexual orientation being of any particular significance. How significant, then, are a homosexual person's orientation and sexual activities with regard to Christian doctrine?
If one reads the traditionalist Anglican magazines such is New Directions, published by Forward in Faith in the UK, or the Christian Challenge, published by Anglicans who have left their various Anglican provinces to establish traditionalist Anglican churches or even if one reflects on some of the 1998 Lambeth homosexuality literature and debate, it is clear that some Anglicans think that homosexuality is a major doctrinal issue. The argument is that Christian marriage or Christian celibacy are the only options permitted to Christians by Christian doctrine. The evangelical argument is rooted in interpretation of Scripture, as noted above; the Catholic argument is more often rooted in Christian Tradition (celibacy and marriage the two life-relationship options in traditional Catholic sacramental theology). It is not so clear where the real doctrine is in all this "defense of doctrine".
In the area of doctrine, the early church was most fundamentally concerned with defining who Jesus Christ really was, in relation to God and humanity, especially in response to a variety of heterodox answers (gnosticism, Arianism, etc.). Out of this concern developed the early creeds. Early Christian doctrinal formulation did not generally address issues of family life, sexuality and society. These matters were left to teaching by church leaders in house churches and the ongoing developing tradition of Christian survival in a hostile pagan world.
In this whole area, I believe there are some parallels between the discussions on homosexuality and ordination of women. Initial opposition to the ordination of women was based on Scripture, doctrine and tradition. However, as serious study of the issue proceeded, many Catholic and Protestant scholars concluded that there were no fundamental Biblical or doctrinal arguments against the ordination of women and that the tradition could be modified. Culture and the unity of the church, however, remained important constraints such that some still oppose the ordination of women on these grounds. However, the homosexuality issue is more controversial because Scripture and tradition are more negative. But as noted in my first paper, Biblical scholars and church historians have been reassessing the evidence and coming up with more positive evaluations. The issues of culture (harm done to evangelism in Africa, Asia and the Pacific) and the unity of the church (relations among provinces within the Anglican Communion and with the Roman Catholic church) remain perhaps bigger barriers.
However, specifically with regard to Christian doctrine, it seems to me that there is a point at which a matter is more one of pastoral theology than basic Christian doctrine (as closely as these two areas are related). Some very serious sins (for example, torture and murder) represent a serious rejection of Christian doctrine (creation and redemption) and one's pastoral approach must take this into account. But today almost no one regards homosexual orientation alone as a serious rejection or challenge to Christian doctrine as the person concerned does not, by most accounts, have any choice in the matter. Even in the most negative view, a temptation is still not a sin. The question of how a person of a homosexual orientation is to express (or not express) his or her sexual desires is much more a pastoral issue than a doctrinal one. I believe this has always been the approach of the church. Otherwise there would be much more open historical discussion of the issue, as homosexuality was common in the Hellenistic and Roman world of the early church. In the medieval Roman Catholic church, the matter was dealt with in the confessional, a practice revived by Victorian Anglo-Catholics. Theologically and historically, it is very difficult to argue that homosexuality per se is of serious doctrinal significance though, of course, there are sins against Christian teaching and doctrine involving homosexuality.
On the question of homosexuality and the early church, there are those such as John Boswell in Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality5 and Same Sex Unions in Premodern Europe6 who argue that the early and even medieval church had a greater tolerance, indeed, support of stable homosexual relationships than what came afterwards However, a more commonly accepted, or perhaps parallel view, is that the early Christians opposed homosexuality because certain immoral homosexual practices were associated with the corrupt pagan Greek and Roman cultures in which they found themselves and which, indeed, persecuted them. For example, in Roman society, homosexual relations between Roman citizens and their young slaves were socially accepted. (African and Asian Christians whose ancestors converted out of a similar context with regard to oppressive homosexuality, for example in Uganda or Korea, can easily relate with this early church perspective.) Early Christians avoided the bathhouse and the theatre for the same reason. (Indeed, there were even jokes about Christians smelling bad because of their refusal to go to the bathhouse.) Later, in a different context, where such problems did not exist, the church eventually relaxed its ban on the bathhouse and theatre.
If homosexuality is to be seen as more a pastoral than doctrinal issue, a great deal more information needs to come into the picture before one can make or recommend decisions about appropriate overt expressions of homosexual desire. My first paper presented some of this information. Such information needs to be taken seriously and not simply dismissed. Following the principle that those most directly concerned, homosexual people themselves, are to be the most listened to and involved in the decision making, it is important that their experience be respected. However, because of fear of persecution, judgment, loss of employment, breaking of relationships, embarrassment, etc., it is very difficult for this experience to come forward. As with all pastoral issues, there may be a variety of approaches and even a variety of answers. However, it is this flexibility and variety of response that is so strongly opposed by those who see homosexuality as a "doctrinal" issue to be opposed at all costs All I can say is that, theologically and historically, I do not think the "doctrinal argument" holds water and that one should go forward despite criticisms or accusations of being heretical. However, pastoral theology is always complex and contextual so that it is not possible to impose one's own solutions or recommendations (positive or negative) on everyone else. For example, the homosexual person who chooses celibacy (or who even chooses not to discuss the matter) is not necessarily running away from his or her sexuality nor is he or she to be forbidden from pursuing an appropriate sexual relationship. If such is the case, the Church needs to recognize and affirm that God's grace can be revealed and experienced through homosexual relationships.
(4) Causes and Significance of Homosexuality
I do not believe the "cause" of homosexuality is ultimately important. If one wants a cause, I suspect it is a combination of heredity and emotions/behaviour shaped permanently in very early childhood within the nuclear family. Microbiologists search the DNA chain for a genetic cause while generations of psychiatrists have probed the unconscious for pathological relationships within the family. But to what end? Even if microbiologists were to find a magic gene, it would make no difference to those already homosexual. Is the goal of the search prevention or the elimination of homosexuality? If there were a genetic marker to identify potentially homosexual children then the chilling possibility of choosing one's child's sexual orientation through abortion comes into play. If the aim is elimination of homosexuality through genetic engineering, is it really worth the effort? The disadvantages of homosexuality are social rather than medical. It is much easier to change t the social response to homosexuality than to spend millions on genetic engineering on something that may not even be a problem. Ethically, it is much more important to support genetic research into real diseases.
Similarly, despite numerous psychological theories about the cause of homosexuality, generations of psychiatrists and psychologists have been singularly unsuccessful in altering the sexual orientation of persons whose homosexual orientation emerged in late childhood and never changed. Sometimes such persons can be trained, through sheer psychological or social pressure, to function in a heterosexual manner (homosexuals do get married and have children) but true sexual feelings usually emerge later, sometimes in contexts not appropriate, sometimes late in life, and all previous heterosexual experiences are then seen as basically dishonest. Despite the claims in literature provided to Bishops at Lambeth 1998 by Exodus International and other groups claiming that it is possible to change a person's sexual orientation, most evidence points otherwise.
This has been my own personal experience as someone with a primarily homosexual sexual orientation. As a young teenager one is confused and frustrated by homosexual feelings that do not diminish and turn into heterosexual ones but rather grow stronger. One prays, waits and tries to will heterosexual feelings into one's life but they do not appear. One begins to fall in love, not with girls but with male friends. In reaction, one plunges into relations with women, even proposing marriage, in the hope that sexual feelings for them will emerge but they do not. One examines relationships with parents and tries to put them in order but still the homosexual feelings remain. One goes to clergy and psychiatrists for confession and counselling but still no change. One shares one's feelings with friends, both male and female, but still no change. Finally, one comes to the conclusion that one's homosexual orientation is simply something that is a given and cannot basically be changed; that it simply has to be accepted as part of one's self. At that point, one feels that the burden has finally been lifted and that one can carry on with one's life with new freedom. How to express one's homosexual orientation then becomes the issue ^Ö whether, as a Christian, to take on celibacy or to try to enter into a committed sexual relationship. Neither option is easy and whatever the choice, one still feels the oppression of homophobia in both church and society. It is not a particularly happy experience. As a Christian, I believe that only Christ's Cross and Resurrection revealed in Scripture gives "the key to [this] predicament", to use the terminology of the first 1958 Lambeth resolution.
Therefore, four decades of my own daily personal experience makes me very suspicious of claims by Christian psychiatrists and counsellors that sexual orientation can be changed. I am more impressed by the Asian proverb that "only the hunchback himself knows on which side to sleep." I become tired of people telling me that I have chosen my sexual orientation. It is simply not the case. When I was younger I would have given anything to have been "like everyone else" and put my heart into the effort. Indeed, I may have damaged others in this effort, trying to conform to the world's view of what a man should be like, entering into inappropriate relationships with women and projecting my fears onto and rejecting others also struggling with the issue. At times one becomes depressed about not having children of one's own. But with acceptance of the reality, new relationships emerge. The experience is one of death and resurrection.
I also become tired of people who have not had the personal, subjective experience of homosexuality telling me what is right and wrong and what I should do. Here I find myself resonating with the feelings of blacks and other oppressed minorities who are not always appreciative of their "white liberal" defenders and critics. I am sure that many other homosexual people, including homosexual Christians, have similar feelings. I am sure that it was because of my personal experience in this area that I found the 1998 Lambeth homosexuality debate and resolution (which I voted against) fairly traumatic. Events since Lambeth have not been particularly encouraging. Despite the Lambeth resolution's request that the church listen to the experience of homosexual people (pushed into the resolution against the will of many Bishops), I am aware that there are many in the church, including fellow Bishops, who have no intention of listening on this issue.
Therefore, from reason and experience applied to the issue, I come to the related conclusions that (1) the "cause" of homosexuality is not fundamentally important (finding the "cause" may make the related ethical issues more rather than less complex); (2) for persons who are genuinely, fully and consistently homosexual (as opposed to those who resort to homosexuality in extreme situations, those who pass through a homosexual phase of human development or those who participate in short-term homosexual behaviour as a part of their culture heritage), it is best not to try to change their homosexual orientation (indeed, it is virtually impossible); and (3) in such cases, it is better to encourage the person to accept and live creatively and with integrity with his or her homosexuality ^Ö if a Christian, prayerfully and thoughtfully considering all the options for sexual expression. These recommendations are consistent with the view of homosexuality as a pastoral rather than a doctrinal issue discussed in the previous section of this paper.
(5) Cultural and Cross-cultural Issues and the Definition of Homosexuality
There has been relatively little discussion of cultural and cross-cultural issues around homosexuality. The issue is related closely to the difficulty of defining clearly just what is homosexuality. Some discussion has focused on kinds of homosexual behaviour that have been positively incorporated into the culture, such as the initiation rites of the Sambia of New Britain, Papua New Guinea, or the homosexual transvestite lifestyle of the mahu of Polynesia. Such examples are valuable for pointing out that some homosexual behaviour is determined more by cultural beliefs than by erotic desire (the Sambia) and that there are cultures that do positively incorporate homosexual desire and activity (the mahu). The anthropological material provided with my first paper gives several examples of homosexuality in various traditional Melanesian cultures including in the Solomons and Vanuatu. With the exception of the Polynesian mahu, there is little indication of long term homosexual lifestyle in traditional Melanesian cultures. Rather there were short-term erotic and emotional liaisons, for example, between older men and teenage boys for mutual pleasure, in addition to heterosexual marriage. I am not certain how much this practice continues today but my impression is that it has died out under the influence of government and church. If anything, it has been replaced by European residents or visitors entering into such liaisons with teenage boys, accompanied with gifts and cash.
However, as a western participant-observer in Melanesia for 25 years, with many close and affectionate friendships with Melanesians (without, I hope, having transgressed inappropriate sexual boundaries), I think that Melanesian same-sex friendships speak to and, indeed, challenge western understandings of homosexuality. However, before I comment further I want to make a digression.
(a) Pre-modern, Modern and Postmodern European views of Homosexuality
Although I have not read the literature extensively and my summary may be flawed, there has been much research on the rise of the concept of "homosexuality" in western culture. In pre-modern Europe (that is, before the Renaissance and the rise of science at the end of the Middle Ages) there was no clear overarching concept of "homosexuality". Rather, there were all sorts of close relationships between people of the same gender with many varieties of expression, both verbal and physical. Many of these relationships (for example, men writing romantic poems to one another, men sharing a bed together) were socially acceptable and taken as experienced, without necessarily seen or experienced as primarily sexual, though there was sometimes sexual activity within them. There was not the consciousness of "homosexuality" as a single collection of actions having in common homosexual behaviour and action.
The rise of "homosexuality" as a distinct concept for a collection of sexual feelings and behaviour is associated with modern (as opposed to pre-modern or postmodern) Europe and the rise of science. The Scientific Revolution sought an objective scientific (rather than religious) explanation of all natural phenomena. As science moved from the physical sciences (astronomy, physics, chemistry, geology) to the biological sciences (biology, botany, human anatomy) to the social sciences (political science, economics, psychology, anthropology, sociology), sexual desire and behaviour came under its purview. Psychologists began cataloguing and trying to give objective explanations for human behaviour, including homosexual behaviour. Similarly, anthropologists began to catalogue the sexual (including homosexual) behaviour of non-European cultures such as those of Melanesia and Polynesia.
This development of seeing "homosexuality" as a single scientific objective reality covering a variety of experiences and the attempt to find its causes was further intensified with the rise of Freudian psychiatry early this century which put forward a "science of the unconscious". Freud saw unconscious erotic (sexual) forces as primary in the development and exercise of the human personality. In the Freudian world view, all human life and cultures are a function of eros (sexual desire). Popular American and European culture sometimes vulgarized Freud's views such that people began to see everything in sexual terms. Thus, certain activities that in pre-modern Europe would not have had a homosexual connotation (men writing love letters to one another, men sharing the same bed, men kissing each other) are now seen to be "homosexual" in some sort of objective, scientific sense. Biological and psychiatric research into the "causes" of "homosexuality" are very much in this "modern", "scientific" tradition.
However, during the past century, European scientists and intellectuals have increasingly questioned whether science (whether physical, biological or social) can be truly objective, not least of which because the scientific "observer" is not really a detached objective observer but an intimate part of the experiment or the reality being described. Contemporary secular European intellectual theory has now moved to what is commonly called "postmodernism" in which the grand scheme of the total scientific, "objective" explanation of the world as the complete and definitive understanding of reality has been abandoned. The postmodern understanding of reality accepts many different social relationships and other phenomena on their own terms, without moral judgment, but sees "explanations" of them as simply human constructs, not "objective" reality. No one system dominates another.
The effect of this paradigm shift on the understanding of homosexual orientation and behaviour is profound. While modern science defined and researched "homosexuality", contemporary postmodern historians and philosophers reject "homosexuality" as an artificial construct not definitive of reality. Rather, they speak of "homosexualities" (in the plural) and the social, linguistic and cultural constructs behind each phenomenon, drawing on personal experience. The French philosopher Michel Foucault (History of Sexuality) represents one postmodern approach with his emphasis on sexuality as simply an historical construct.
To present a very short overview of pre-modern, modern and postmodern understanding of homosexuality, then, one can say the following: In pre-modern Europe, homosexuality was not recognized as an overarching concept but homosexual desire and behaviour were simply incorporated into human life. Where homosexual behaviour had to be controlled it was through the moral teaching of the church. In modern Europe, the scientific paradigm dominated and the definition of "homosexuality" as an objective reality subject to scientific cataloguing and research emerged. Generally speaking, homosexuality was seen as pathological, not for religious reasons but because it was against the "progress" of nature (a "sin against nature") and seemed to fulfill no good purpose as far as science was concerned. Indeed, it eventually became defined as a form of mental illness, subject to treatment following the scientific medical model. In postmodern Europe, on the other hand, homosexualities, varieties of human and cultural behaviour, are regarded as each having their own integrity, without moral judgement. It is in this postmodern context that the gay and lesbian liberation movement has emerged. 7
To add a few final comments to this digression, it should be noted that contemporary North American and European culture is a combination of pre-modern, modern and postmodern elements in various proportions depending on the context. (Inevitably cosmopolitan Paris is different from rural Wales.) Pre-modern elements continue, for example, in religious faith, the arts and family and national life; modern elements continue in liberal democracy, individualism, Marxist analysis, science, technology, medicine and in a general trust in human reason; postmodern elements dominate in the acceptance of diversity and pluralism, the disintegration of the nation-state and a loss of faith in absolutes, whether religious, scientific or ideological. The three paradigms exist simultaneously (including with regard to homosexual desire and behaviour) in cultures, nations and individuals and require integration. Their strong proponents argue that they cannot be integrated. In certain respects, the re are some common elements in pre-modern and postmodern societies insofar as both are simply lived without the attempt at a "scientific" explanation but they differ significantly in their different views of ultimate meaning, one with faith, one without.
It is in this diverse context that the church in western culture must now minister and evangelize. For Anglicanism, which emerged in the transition from pre-modern to modern Europe, postmodernism is a particular theological challenge. At the risk of over-simplification, perhaps one could say that Scripture and Tradition belong to the pre-modern world; reason belongs to the modern world; and experience belongs to the postmodern world.
In reflecting on my own understanding and (partly self-imposed) experience of homosexuality, I would say that I, like many other Europeans, including western Christians, have moved from a modern to a more postmodern understanding of homosexuality ^Ö from seeing "homosexuality" as a single, objective, scientific reality, basically pathological ^Ö to trying to understand (indeed, experiencing) homosexual desire, relationships and activity as quite complex, constantly shifting in meaning and not inherently pathological. (However, as a Christian, I continue to make the judgment, unlike some secular postmodern scholars, that some forms of homosexual activity, for example, homosexual rape, are immoral.) For me, insofar as sexual desire and activity are integrated with the rest of life, there is, in a sense, also a return to (or the development of) certain pre-modern elements, strengthened, in my case, by Christian faith that such relationships have significant meaning and are signs of God's grace.
The purpose of the above digression is to give a summary of the European background as the discussion on "homosexuality" moves to the cultures of Africa, Asia and the South Pacific. If I try to assess my own experience and observation of close and affectionate male friendships in Melanesia (and they are a very important part of the culture), including their erotic components, I would say that, of the three European paradigms I have summarized above, they are closest to same-sex relationships in the pre-modern European paradigm.
There is, compared to the contemporary modern and postmodern European cultures I am aware of, an incredible amount of affectionate touching and physical closeness -- men and boys hold hands, sleep together very closely, caress and massage one another and develop very close emotional friendships (kampan blong mi, "my companion") ^Ö yet none of this is seen as having any major sexual significance. Of course, sometimes something more overtly sexual happens but one has the impression that even it is not "set apart" as "homosexual". Even fairly overt homosexual persons are integrated into the culture without rejection unless they transgress to an unacceptable level. While other Asian, African and Pacific cultures may not have such a high level of physical male friendship as Melanesia, I believe most are still closer to the European pre-modern model than a modern or postmodern one in this area
Colonialism and the missionary movement, part of the expansion of "modern" Europe, brought European patterns of homosexual behaviour to Africa, Asia and the Pacific. In some cases these patterns interacted with existing indigenous patterns of homosexual behaviour, sometimes creatively. But more often then not, given modern European culture's negative assessment of homosexuality and the privileged position that colonial administrators, traders and missionaries enjoyed, the patterns furtively pressed themselves upon the weak and vulnerable, such as students, house boys and plantation workers (for example, the sexual abuse in Canadian Indian residential schools which is only now becoming public). Or the homosexual desire was sublimated creatively into government or Christian service. Because most colonial administrators, traders and missionaries were heterosexual, the homosexual activity was not always recognized or regarded as important.
Colonialism and the missionary movement brought European economic, political and cultural dominance, indeed, oppression, to Africa, Asia and the South Pacific. But it also brought Christian values and some of the fruits of scientific discovery: medicine, communication and technology ^Ö as well as more questionable developments, such as anthropology, psychology and eventually, modern European "scientific" explanations of homosexuality. Because of the sensitivity (indeed, obscurity) of the subject, the latter interpretations arrived very late (for some at the 1998 Lambeth Conference!) in some places in Africa, Asia and the Pacific -- indeed, at a time when European culture itself is moving or has moved on to a more postmodern understanding of homosexuality. However, given this history, one understands the complaint of many African bishops at 1998 Lambeth that the imposition of western discussion and conclusions about homosexuality on them was yet another form of western colonialism. Similarly, their frequent assertion that "we have no homosexuality in our cultures" (despite evidence to the contrary) makes sense when one considers the (often very positive) pre-modern (to use the European term) character of sexuality in Africa. African men, like Melanesian men, sometimes sleep together and touch one another, perhaps giving sexual pleasure. It is not "homosexuality" but rather part of the fullness and complexity of human life.8
Indeed, one is tempted to characterize what went on at the 1998 Lambeth Conference as western bishops (myself included) trying to draw African, Asian and Pacific bishops with a fundamentally pre-modern experience and understanding of sexuality into the contemporary European modern vs. post-modern debate about the nature of homosexuality. (It was not a polite debate. Negatives were accentuated, with accusations of "ignorance", "heresy" and "immorality".) The modernists defeated the post-modernists on the homosexuality resolution but many of the African, Asian and Pacific bishops returned home, some wondering why the topic required weeks of intense controversy, some declaring that the matter should not even have been discussed, still pre-modernists in their experience and understanding of sexuality ^Ö although perhaps moved a bit (for good or ill) towards modern or even postmodern views of homosexuality.
(c) Melanesian male friendship
To move away from the abstract, I want to discuss Melanesian affectionate male friendship as a case in point. As I mentioned above, from childhood through old age, Melanesian males (and to some extent, women) participate in a great variety of physical and emotional same-gender friendships. Visitors to Melanesia are surprised by the large number of men and boys holding hands with one another, even across two generations. It is not unusual in a village to see an old man with young teenage boy's arms wrapped around him. Sometimes men sleep very closely together, indeed, in each other's arms. Men bathe one another in the river. Without doubt, Melanesian males enjoy both touching and being touched. It is part of friendship. Such friendship is not exclusive between two people but corporate. Such friendship, however, is not seen as having any sexual or erotic significance. It is simply part of being a human being.
As a European Christian acclimatized to (indeed a participant in) such friendship, my impression is that all the physicality, despite not being regarded as sexual, does have an erotic component ^Ö people give each other bodily pleasure and, in a sense, they desire one another, otherwise they would not be always touching. But I resist placing modern or postmodern European labels ("homosexual", "bisexual", "gay") on the behaviour, even if it is occasionally genital. (Freud, most positively interpreted, saw the whole body rather than just the sexual organs as erotic. Freudian Marxists such as Herbert Marcuse argue that modern capitalism alienated and divided the human body, reserving the genital organs for "sex" and the rest of the body for work. Marcuse argues that "polymorphous" sexuality is to be rediscovered.9) Indeed, my experience of Melanesian affectionate friendship further supports my rejection of the modern "scientific" understanding of "homosexuality" (including its assessment as pathological) and represents hope and fulfillment of the development of the postmodern paradigm.
From a Christian theological perspective, perhaps one can say that there seems to be a greater capacity for the integration of agape and eros in male friendship in Melanesia. than in the west. Reasons include the fundamentally corporate nature of the human person in Melanesia10, the sustained intimacy of rural life with greater familiarity and trust among people, the lack of modern European realities (factories, cities, salaried employment, rapid communication, a complete cash economy) producing alienation among people and fewer (culturally learned) boundaries between men's bodies. In short, male friendship is more embodied (incarnational), more loving (agape) and more pleasurable (eros) than male friendship in the west. (Nor does fear of homosexuality come into the picture as it is not a given.) It represents a genuine movement away from isolation and alienation to incarnate (embodied) love (agape). It is also not exclusive or selfish and has the capacity to reach across cultural barriers. However, it is not an idol to be worshipped as it can also be harnessed to kill as has become apparent in the rise of the ethnic militia groups in the Solomons. Nor is it immune to modern and postmodern western influences with the rise of economic individualism and the loss of common human values (Melanesians who spend a long time in European culture lose the capacity to touch. Europeans who spend a long time in Melanesia regain the capacity.) Hands that once held one another can easily become fists that kill or hands that only reach out for money.
By now, I hope it is clear that I believe that the cultural issue is the primary one in dealing with homosexual desire and behaviour. The "scientific" study, indeed, the very definition of "homosexuality" as a common objective phenomenon discoverable and describable in all cultures of the world is not viable. Rather, one does better to start with the cultural realities of many different situations, not practicing the cultural imperialism of imposing one view upon the whole world. This discipline needs to be mutual. It is the "listening" that the Lambeth resolution talks about.
Northern Christians need to take seriously that for Ugandan Christians the blood of the martyrs was shed in resistance to oppressive indigenous homosexuality and not be dismissive. Northern Christians need to realize that male colonial administrators, traders and missionaries sexually abused men and boys as part of the colonial enterprise and that their contemporary heirs continue to do so (only go to Sri Lanka's beaches!). Northern Christians need to respect the integrity of indigenous or pre-modern understandings of sexuality and not impose modern or even post-modern western models and solutions on them. Northern Christians need to discover the wisdom of indigenous and pre-modern cultures of the South, including their sexuality, and not regard them as simply "ignorant".
Southern Christians need to realize that there are hundreds of thousands of faithful homosexual Christians in the Anglican Communion and the whole church of God whose Christian lives need to be respected and, indeed, supported, however they have prayerfully decided to express their sexual feelings. Indeed, it is often they more than the catholic traditionalists of Dallas or the charismatics of Singapore or the evangelicals of Sydney who have led or supported the fight for the abolition of apartheid and the forgiveness of international debt. Southern Christians also need to realize that within their own indigenous or pre-modern cultures there is "homosexual" behaviour, even if it does not have to be given a western name. Southern Christians need to realize there is no quick and easy answer from the North (or even from the Bible) about homosexuality (not even from the Lambeth Conference) but that the issue needs to be struggled with on the local level. And North and South need to listen to one another with patience and understanding rather than condemnation and hatred.
As Christians, particularly as Anglicans, grounded in Jesus Christ, we rely upon the resources of Scripture, Christian doctrine, tradition and history. We struggle in friendly but critical dialogue with our cultural, social and economic situations as well as with those who live in other cultural, social and economic settings. I hope this paper makes some contribution to that discussion. The Holy Spirit will not fail us.
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Auki, Malaita Province
July 15, 2000
1 Roger Coleman, ed., Resolutions of the twelve Lambeth Conferences 1987-1988 (Toronto: Anglican Book Centre, 1992), pages 121-2.
2 The Official Report of the Lambeth Conference 1998 (Harrisburg: Morehouse Publishing, 1999), page 394.
3 For a good theological discussion of the common evangelical tendency to confuse the Word of God (Jesus Christ) and the word of God (Scripture) and their proper relationship, see Stephen Reynolds, "The Word of God and God's Word Written'" in John Simons, ed., The Challenge of Tradition (Toronto: Anglican Book Centre, 1997), pages 71-97.
4 Another excellent resource in this area, from an Evangelical Anglican perspective, is the late Michael Vasey's Strangers and Friends: A New Exploration of Homosexuality and the Bible (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1995).
5 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980)
6 (New York: Vintage Books, 1995)
7 Michael Vasey's short chapter, "'Why am I gay?'", in Strangers and Friends, op. cit., pages 141-161, on the meaning of "homosexuality", including the problems and approaches I have noted in this and the previous section, is quite useful.
8 Archbishop Desmond Tutu, from a South Africa in which pre-modern, modern and postmodern understandings of reality coexist, has been able to make the transition to a postmodern view of homosexuality and become an advocate of gay and lesbian liberation. But it is much more difficult for Bishops from rural African, Asian or Pacific dioceses where consciousness on this issue is still predominantly pre-modern.
9 Herbert Marcuse, Eros and Civilization (Boston: Beacon Press, 1966).
10 See James Clifford, Person and Myth: Maurice Leenhardt in the Melanesian World (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982), especially chapters 11, 13 and 14.
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