Thursday, February 8, 2007

Bishop demands 'better theology' of sex

MICHAEL VALPY: Globe and Mail

The Christian church has a deeply flawed understanding of sex that has led to morally groundless objections to masturbation, birth control, abortion and homosexuality, says a leading Canadian Anglican bishop.

In particular, the church has been wrong for centuries on the notion that sex exists only for the purpose of procreation, Right Rev. Michael Ingham, bishop of the Greater Vancouver Diocese of New Westminster, told a conference in Ottawa last night.

"Christianity as a religion stands in need of a better theology of sexuality," he said, "a better understanding of the complex role sexuality plays in our human nature and of the purposes of God in creating us as sexual beings."

He said the church has misunderstood references to homosexuality in the Bible, wasted energy in persecuting individuals who have argued for a new understanding of sexuality, and failed to comprehend how much the Bible and church doctrines have been shaped through the lens of male experience.

Bishop Ingham's call for a new theology of sex will be felt as a shock throughout the 77-million member Anglican Communion, Christianity's third largest denomination.

He already has outraged most Anglican leaders by authorizing the blessing of same-sex unions in his diocese.

That act led in part to the Canadian church being asked to withdraw from the executive body of the world church.

His comments last night come just two weeks after world Anglicanism's primates -- or senior archbishops -- issued an ultimatum to the U.S. branch of the church, giving it until Sept. 30 to pledge not to bless same-sex unions or appoint openly gay bishops at the risk of being kicked out of the communion.

The Canadian church is to decide nationally on same-sex blessings in June.

The forthrightness of Bishop Ingham's address on sexuality is without precedent in the Canadian Anglican church. It not only puts him at odds with much of the Anglican Communion but with Roman Catholicism, most Protestant sects and the Orthodox Church.

The Bible's Christian New Testament condemnation of homosexuality, he said, is "almost certainly" a proscription of sex between adult males and young boys -- tolerated in the 1st century AD in Greek society -- and not a proscription against adult homo-eroticism.

"[The Christian biblical writer] St. Paul understood same-sex relationships only in terms of the older-man and younger-boy relationship of the Greeks, which we call pederasty, or in other words child abuse. . . . But no difference was perceived [by the Christian church] between child abuse and adult same-sex love.

"Today we have a better understanding of homosexuality as a basic and natural orientation experienced by some members of the human community, just as we find the same thing among some animal species, and in Christian terms we must come to think of this as not only natural but also God-given and good.

"But these developments in the social sciences and therefore in popular understanding are still relatively new -- since about the 19th century. They have not yet penetrated the church's thinking except at the edges of its consciousness and greatly against its will."

Several times in his address, Bishop Ingham referred to the church's inability to get beyond a fixation on genital intercourse -- and a negative view of sexuality for any purpose other than procreation as tainted, impure and evil -- isolated from a full, loving interpersonal sexual relationship.