Janet Trisk and Sue Burns
Among the most important questions we ask about ourselves and others are, ‘Who am I? Who are you?’ Central to all listening is learning to understand someone in their own terms rather than simply assuming we know who they are. That is particularly important because for some people the questions about sexuality currently being discussed in the Communion are far from purely abstract or academic. They are questions which they feel touch on their personal identity at a deep level.
The bishops at Lambeth recognized this and spoke about sexuality and Christian identity in the sub-group report on Human Sexuality which Resolution 1.10 commends. That report quoted the following words from the St Andrew’s Day Statement:
There can be no description of human reality, in general or in particular, outside the reality in Christ. We must be on guard, therefore, against constructing any other ground for our identities than the redeemed humanity given us in him. Those who understand themselves as homosexuals, no more and no less than those who do not, are liable to false understandings based on personal or family histories, emotional dispositions, social settings, and solidarities formed by common experiences or ambitions. Our sexual affections can no more define who we are than can our class, race or nationality. At the deepest ontological level, therefore, there is no such thing as ‘a’ homosexual or ‘a’ heterosexual; there are human beings, male and female, called to redeemed humanity in Christ, endowed with a complex variety of emotional potentialities and threatened by a complex variety of forms of alienation.
Although this chapter includes further theological reflection upon identity - especially on how we understand our identity in Adam and in Christ - this is not the focus here. What follows is focused instead on ‘listening to the experience of homosexual persons’ as they consider with us issues of sexuality and identity. It is therefore an invitation to deepen our understanding and no particular views on the relationship between sexuality and identity are specifically endorsed.
Our guides here are Sue Burns from Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia and Janet Trisk from Southern Africa. In contrast to all the other chapters, however, it is not their voices which predominate. Sue and Janet spent many hours meeting with Christians in order to hear their testimonies. They met people who consider themselves identified by the bishops of the 1998 Lambeth Conference by the term ‘homosexual persons’. As noted in the introduction, this includes a wide range of people who self-identify under various names - gay, lesbian, ex-gay, bisexual, transgender and post-gay. Each person’s story is unique and there are therefore a variety of perspectives to be found in what follows. Sue and Janet found that most of those they spoke with did not relate to the St Andrew’s Day Statement on identity. They therefore concluded that, rather than focusing on that statement here, they would offer us a record of what they heard, with some additional commentary in order to allow each reader to consider the testimony with them.
Sue and Janet engaged in a program of listening to enable these voices to be heard both by their own personal listening and by engaging with emailed testimonies from around the world.
As they introduce the testimonies they also encourage us to stop and to reflect and to pray. They also ask questions of us as readers about our own stories and about how we are reacting to what we read. This chapter is, therefore, quite different in style from the three previous more academic chapters. For many it may make difficult and uncomfortable reading. We are asked to listen deeply and to wrestle with deep personal questions such as ‘Who am I?’, ‘Why is naming their identity so difficult for some people?’, ‘Who are we in Christ?’, ‘What are gay and lesbian people telling us about ourselves as a church?’. The hope is that it will encourage you, if it is possible in your own context, to get to know other Christians whose personal experience gives them particular insights into questions of sexuality and identity.
Boff, Leonardo. Safe on the Edge: Religion and Marginalized Existence, San Francisco: Harper Row
Brath, Karl. Church Dogmatics Vol. III, Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1956
Cone, James. A Black Theology of Liberation, Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1970
Gruchy, Steve de. “Human Being in Christ: Resources for an inclusive anthropology”, in Germond, P and Gruchy, S. de (eds), Aliens in the Household of God: homosexuality and Christianity Faith in South Africa, Cape Town: Davis Philip, 1997
Moltmann, Jürgen. The Trinity and the Kingdom of God, London: SCM Press, 1981
Thiselton, Anthony. Interpreting God and the Postmodern Self: On Meaning, Manipulation and Promise, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997
The Official Report of the Lambeth Conference 1998, Pennsylvania: Morehouse, 1998
Peter Ould - 'Of course no one is really gay'
Michael Bourke - Identity and Redemption
Clergy Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (USA) Submission
Zacchaeus Fellowship - Telling our Stories
Courage - Testimonies
Mario Bergner – Pastoral Considerations for Homosexuality
Names have been changed as homosexuality is illegal in Nigeria and those concerned may be vulnerable to victimisation and diminishment because their affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex. Such victimisation and diminishment was denounced as anathema by the Primates at their meeting in Dromantine in 2003.
Oliver O’Donovan – Sermons on the Subjects of the Day