Anglican Samizdat

September 4, 2008

Dr. Deborah Pitt’s response to Rowan Williams.

Filed under: Anglican Angst,Christianity — David Jenkins @ 1:11 pm
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The full text, published with Dr. Pitt’s permission:

Your Grace,

Thank you for your letter of 28.09.00., and for your frankness about your views on Homosexuality and how you reached them.  The topic is a huge and diverse one with many ramifications, and has given me quite a bit of food for thought.  Also, I needed to improve my own knowledge of the subject and it has taken me awhile to reply, for which I apologise. I hope you do not mind that my reply is rather longer than I anticipated.  I’ll try to respond adequately to the points you raised, with explanations of my own perspective and the concerns I have about how the liberalising of views on Homosexuality are affecting the Church and Society. Your letter was very gracious, and I hope the tone of my letter is not affected by the anxiety your views caused me.

I was interested to read that your interest in the subject was piqued by contact with homosexual professing Christians who were grappling with the morality of the matter. My own perspective has come about largely from personal contacts also, through my work as a medical doctor in both general practice and more recently Psychiatry, and having worked on both sides of the Atlantic. Yes, it is rubbing shoulders with the people personally affected by moral dilemmas that causes one to question and study one’s own presuppositions and the orthodox Christian teaching; with regard to the latter it appears that we both started from the same place, incidentally.

I started at Med. School the year the 1967 Abortion Act was passed.  When I was in G.P. training the controversy for Christians was the prescribing of the birth control pill to unmarried women.  My contact with AIDS patients was when working at a Government-funded clinic in the USA where the majority of the county’s patients were seen. The practical issues associated with departure from the Christian teaching on sexual morality have been uncomfortably real to me and have caused much agonising, made no less by my own personal struggles, throughout my career. I can relate very well to the theological and pastoral issues you have met.

You used the term ‘homosexual by instinct or nature’, and you make a distinction between homosexual acts done by heterosexuals and those done by those who are exclusively homosexual, the latter being authentic in some way and the former not. I do not know whether the Bible makes such a distinction, but I do not think scientific investigation has yielded precise distinctions about the behaviours or personality traits of these two groups.  Scientific research on any behaviour, especially sexual behaviour, is extremely difficult to do accurately. The preponderance of evidence, though, is that Homosexual behaviour is socially and developmentally acquired rather than the result of genetic endowment. Sexual orientation appears to be somewhat fluid, with different varieties of expression over time.  Some homosexuals become exclusive heterosexuals, for instance (though few convert the other way.  So I think it is difficult to define accurately the term ‘homosexual by nature’. However, even if one could define the term and describe its causes scientifically the question then needs to be addressed: ‘ What are the implications for the expression of this behaviour?’ Lord Longford brought out the significance of the distinction between orientation and practice in the debate in the Lords ‘ …homosexual leanings are not sinful in themselves, but are sinful when put into practice.’ The point is not only What is my nature?, but whether it is right to express my nature.  Civilisation has largely been about training people to act contrary to their instincts or nature in a given situation. There is no absolute or automatic right to express one’s nature.  My sense though is that homosexuals think there is, and that one has an obligation to express it, or at least confess it (or else be subject to the tyranny of ‘outing ‘and being branded a hypocrite if one doesn’t).

The Biblical yardstick for sexual behaviour is, I think, the Creation story, in which I trust you and I both believe, either literally or as Myth. It talks of God creating Man and Woman, of the difficulties between them and the introduction of Sin into their relationship and the consequences thereof.  Why, I wonder, is their no provision anywhere in the Bible for homosexual inverts?  Dr. Edward Norman stated in one of his ‘meditations’ (The Times, I think) that homosexuality appears to be a gift from God, ‘an involuntary condition; it is how some are made’.  But God does not seem to have told us how that gift should be exercised.  What parameters, what constraints? There are certainly lots of constraints given us for control of our other sexual, or aggressive or acquisitive instincts. Why has God not endorsed such behaviour by giving instruction?  Why was there no marriage law for such? But there is nothing, no positive endorsement for this trait or behaviour. I think it is dangerous to conclude other than from the Bible that God endorses homosexual behaviour, loving or not.

Your third paragraph prompts me to ask, ‘Where are the liberal views on Homosexuality taking the Church?’  You don’t see yourself, Archbishop Rowan, as ‘a campaigner for a new morality’.  However, I believe that by having the views you do you will be pressured by the Lesbian and Gay Christian lobby to act on them and to endorse church or society legislation to ratify a kind of homosexual marriage, as an equivalent not just legally but qualitatively to Christian marriage. They will want to know, if you believe as you do, why you are not campaigning for a new morality.

I agree, the Church has shifted her stance on several matters.  The examples you gave, the admissibility of contraception and the rightness of lending money at interest, provoked some wry thoughts.  The latter has led to the rise of capitalism and the widespread pursuit of wealth and gain and to the rampant exploitation of the world’s resources.  I have heard that the Amazon rain forest is likely to be the next victim of this rampant greed.  The Anglican Church is caught up in this same mechanism, as are we all to some extent.  As for the BCP, this invention will change forever, probably, the world’s attitude to sex, which is now considered a commodity to be indulged at whim, a right not a permission. Perhaps the Christian Church has failed very badly in not speaking out more strongly against the temptations that the free availability of the BCP and the lending of money at interest have brought. Personal debts have risen dramatically and there are more illegitimate births than ever.  There is an accompanying tendency to throw money, or birth control pills or morning after pills, at the problems of society that arise, rather than address the deeper issues of personal responsibility and adequate education and warnings.  The darkness can never overcome the light. But if we whom Christ called the light of the world cannot ensure that the light burns on, then it will go out. And the light, the prophetic voice of the Church calling people back to God’s standards no matter how unpopular that voice, seems to get dimmer.

Truly, God loves all sinners; perhaps the greatest sinners are the ones He has the most compassion for, for they have lost so much.  But we live in a fallen world, so He gave us first the Ten Commandments for, amongst other things, our protection, I believe, and second of all Christ for our redemption.  God has seen fit to regulate sexual activity for our good, because we need protection from its excesses.  The choices He gave were chastity before marriage and fidelity within it.  Both marriage and celibacy are described as gifts. (Which is not to say that all states of such are vocations, of course.) I do not think that homosexuals are any more disadvantaged by the Bible’s proscriptions on their behaviour than are the many heterosexuals who are also denied for various reasons stable relationships, marriage and children. Surely none of us is free to violate God’s rules of behaviour or form liaisons that are outside his explicit commands.  The Christian homosexual’s dilemma and challenge is therefore not a lot different from that of the heterosexual. Admittedly, the heterosexual has the potential for marriage and family, but also the disadvantage of despair if such desires go unrequited. One other point, if I may:  The Bible distinguishes between inclination and behaviour.  One is under no obligation to indulge one’s inclinations, and one’s temptations are one’s own business before God. A frequent inclination, urge, temptation, I assess in patients is to suicide. There are degrees of inclination before one forms an intent, and degrees of intent before one acts, either impulsively or premeditatedly.  But there is no such thing as a suicidal nature! We are not, surely, defined by our particular weaknesses or temptations.  We can choose to act on them or not, or to not express even worthy attributes if a greater good calls for their denial. I seriously question the use of the term homosexual nature.    I reject Dr. Edward Norman’s idea of a gift of homosexuality.

So, has the Anglican Church been wrong, as you surmise, Archbishop Rowan, about Homosexuality all these years?  No, I don’t think so. I accept that your conclusions have been reached in a spirit of honest and compassionate enquiry.   The idea that the ethics of homosexual relations should be no different from those of heterosexuals, i.e. exclusively faithful or lifelong, is an attractive and plausible one. I am afraid I have not read any of the books (perhaps I should read them) which promote the idea that such relationships are equal qualitatively to heterosexual ones. I don’t see how they can be if there is no possibility of children; how can they be anything but inferior, at least in scope? I am not saying that the quality of devotion cannot be as high, perhaps it can for all I know.  But that does not make the relationship  intrinsically right.  There are many adulterous heterosexual unions that are marked by great qualities of devotion, commitment etc.  That does not make them right, though. There is honour among thieves.  That does not make robbery all right.  Certainly not for the victims.  As for ‘ absolute covenanted faithfulness’ as a criterion for the rightness of a relationship, well, the Mafia operates by the same code. (I am not likening homosexuals to the Mafia, just that the criterion is not an absolute good). The attainment of such an ideal is less likely with homosexual relationships than with heterosexual, as has been shown so far by enquiry into the pattern of homosexual relationships, which are remarkable for their promiscuity, for some reason. .  Neither will the strong tendency to promiscuity be helped by friendly legislation for homosexual marriage or acceptability by the public. (Nothing, by the way, prohibits a homosexual couple from drawing up their own legal contract if they want to.)

Why am I so pessimistic?  Because I believe the movement for Gay Rights will not stop at promoting choice to be of either homosexual or heterosexual orientation. In a climate of increasing liberalisation of sexual mores, sexual practice will be increasingly also towards bisexuality, and eventually loosening of attitudes towards paedophilia. Why?  Because Choice as an absolute right knows no boundaries. Now bisexuality, that is real choice!!  For the nature of Choice argument is not choice to be this or that, but choice to be this or that or the other, and whenever I choose.  So the naïve gynaecologist is shocked and disillusioned when the woman he cured from infertility chooses to have an abortion when a pregnancy is inconvenient. That is the problem of absolute choice.  The nature of choice is not either- or, but both-and.  The confused young people prone to experimentation in all kinds of areas are presented increasingly with multiple choices but without guidelines as to how to discriminate good from bad choices.  I think the arguments of nature vs nurture, being and doing, being true to oneself etc. will be swept away in the next wave of liberal thinking on sexuality as both-and takes over from either –or.  If one kind of sex is no better than another, why stick with one type when all kinds are available? Fallen human nature is like that.  Adam and Eve wanted both-and, and the devil framed his temptation accordingly. ‘No, no, it’s not God (life), or knowledge acquired by disobedience (death). Has God said…?  He didn’t mean it.  You can have both. Knowledge and God’.

As for the Church, it is not hard, I think, in this Post-Modern, Post Birth Control Pill, Pro-choice, liberal age to see why she is under such pressure to change her traditional views  on homosexuality. The Gay Liberation movement is piggy-backing on the sexual libertarianism introduced mainly by the Birth Control Pill.  Premarital sex has become a right, and society demands the right to have safe sex, a pill, or abortion on demand, and treatment of any adverse consequences, including infertility. So, not surprisingly, homosexuals want the same liberties.  They are after all, GAY:  ‘good as you’. The Women’s Liberation movement in the USA promoted the idea of woman as victims of discrimination, oppression, exploitation. GAYs see themselves as needing similar liberation. Women’s Lib started, actually with high ideals. The pioneers wanted to show that women had particular roles to play in Society because they were women and by their nature had particular qualities to be used in roles other than childbearing and homemaking. There were and are definite injustices that needed to be addressed. But the movement degenerated into, or was hijacked by, another agenda; of declaring women’s innate superiority and wanting to take over or invade all areas of male culture.  Forget Calamity Jane’s cute ‘Anything you can do I can do better…’; this movement was often ugly, aggressive, arrogant and intrusive, marked by ‘on my own terms’ behaviour, and purporting to speak for all women. The promotion of so-called sexual freedom (which has liberated far more men from the adverse consequences of sex than it has women, in my opinion,) has been a social disaster for which future generations will pay a terrible price, in economic and other ways. The movement has had in my opinion some dire consequences for men (perhaps the high rate of suicide in young men, a phenomenon almost unknown when Barraclough et al wrote their seminal paper on suicide in 1974, is related in part to the increased discord.); for women, who are not necessarily more respected by men, and for many children left in the care of others or who are the innocent victims of divorce and other tragedies. Will Gay Liberation stop at being GAY? Or will they want to be Superior To You, actively promoting their lifestyle, encouraging young people into their way of life? Teenagers will be encouraged to experiment because now they have Choice.  The Gay lobby says ‘You can’t turn up your nose at it if you haven’t tried it’. After all, it is only by propaganda, not propagation, that Homosexuals can increase their numbers.  They do not want just choice, or equality; they want acceptability.  Some of their behaviour is like that of the Women’s Lib- bers; ugly, aggressive, riding roughshod over the sensibilities of others.  I found the article in the Wall Street Journal re the Gay Pride march in Rome interesting and distressing in this respect.

As for the professedly Christian wing of the movement, I believe it will be claiming that Jesus was homosexual, and therefore they are superior to heterosexuals; they understand Jesus better than heterosexuals do, and He has a particular affinity with them.  In fact I think there has been a play in the West End exploring this very theme.  They can claim that He was single in a culture where all the men married, and He went around with men, taking them away from their families and occupations, even.  And was not John the disciple that Jesus loved? Dr. Edward Norman (please see enclosure) seems to promote the idea of some kind of superiority, implying that homosexual relationships are superior; ‘ their moral conduct has to be observed within a separate frame of references’, by which he seems to imply that heterosexual behaviour had to be governed by marriage, but homosexual behaviour did not need constraints or conditions! I reject absolutely, by the way, his idea of homosexual nature (how exactly does he define this?) as a gift from God.  The Gay Agenda is looking for acceptability in the Church as part of the normalising process.  Their methods include, unfortunately, the kind of aggression manifested in the Gay Pride march.  Anyone disapproving is accused of homophobia, discrimination, insensitivity, and no doubt, violation of their human rights.  They take the moral high ground.  The tone of their agenda as set out in ‘Christian Homophobia’ as per the Church Times of 17.11.00. was frightening.  They want to take over the whole ethos of the Church, it seems to me. I would contend that they appear to be extremely prejudiced against heterosexuals! The LGCM are in the process, it seems to me, of imposing a tyranny on the church whereby anybody who disagrees with their opinions or agenda is dismissed with loathing.  They use the language of the victim culture and exploit the uncertainties existing in the church on issues of sexual morality. (Do I understand that the Anglican Church no longer considers living together before marriage as a sin?  If so, well, no wonder the LGCM thinks it has a case) The Word of God is dismissed as ‘biblically based homophobia’.  Well, well.

I am not afraid of or prejudiced against homosexuals. As far as I am concerned only God can say one kind of sin, or a particular sinner, is morally worse that any other. (If I am homophobic, then I am also pornophobic, kleptophobic, and a whole host of other’ phobics.’) I feel very sorry for them. They, like many of my seriously mentally ill patients, are denied the normal blessings of marriage and family life.   But I am afraid of the unChristlike attitudes and blatant distortions and accusations that they use to promote their ends.

I am worried about the Gay Agenda. It is degenerating very much like the Women’s Lib agenda did, and I think that our society is in the grip of an uncontrolled social experiment, without precedent.  Even in Greek and Roman cultures, homosexuality was not sanctioned by law. (The Ten Commandments for Today, William Barclay). I am afraid of Society’s and the Churches lack of understanding of the scientific evidence.  I cannot possible talk of the latter in detail, so I enclose a copy of the best book I know on the subject, which you are welcome to keep, if you would like, Archbishop Rowan.  I am concerned about the rise in sexual behaviour which will occur with the inevitable encouragement of young people to experiment with homosexual sex, with soap opera and other media examples showing the way.

I am concerned about the inevitable health risks. There were about two thousand new cases in Britain last year, I believe, most of them associated with homosexual sex, actually. The virus is spread far more easily by anal intercourse than by vaginal.  This is because the vagina was so created as to be far more resilient to penile thrusting than the rectum, which has a relatively thin mucosal wall, which is easily injured, thus allowing the entry of viruses and bacteria into the bloodstream.  Sorry to be so technical.  So much, incidentally, for Dr. Norman’s idea; if Homosexuality is a gift from God, homosexuals have a very important question to ask Him.

If openly gay relationships are accepted by the Church what message does that send to heterosexual unmarried Christians? ’If homosexuals are not called to chastity, neither are you’. There is little affirmation for the homosexual Christians who have struggled to remain celibate. Admittedly, heterosexuals are granted the privilege of marriage and procreation. Does that make God unfair?  Many heterosexuals are denied those same privileges for one reason or another. My premise is that God would like it all to be as He originally intended. But we live in a fallen world, and He has promised through Christ grace to bear with our trials, deficiencies, limitations, bad breaks or whatever. I struggled for many years with a condition that has ruined my prospects of many things, and was of such chronicity that one of the country’s most experienced experts said there was no hope of cure.  But gradually God made come true His promise of redemption, and delivered me and has given grace to rebuild my life, though I will never recoup the losses. It was hard, very hard at times, to keep going.  I do not consider a Christian homosexual’s struggle to live with his or her sexuality harder necessarily than what I have endured; believe me, Archbishop Rowan, I have enormous empathy with their struggles.  Countless other Christians have endured far worse for His sake.

There is hope for all those who submit to His revealed truths. But this other attitude says ‘I have a right to have sex.  And it’s up to you, Church, to accept and support and promulgate my rights. Because I am a victim of discrimination.  Otherwise you are prejudiced and homophobic. We don’t care what you believe about celibacy and chastity.  You must make way for us too have our sex. Because we have choice.  Because we are GAY —  ‘good as you.’ I ask, ‘Where is the spirit of Christ in this?’ Is it just heterosexuals who should repent of unChristlike and judgmental attitudes?  I believe, rightly or wrongly, that the pressure will increase and will take ever uglier forms, exploit any inconsistency and make more demands.  I understand Peter Tatchell is calling for the age of consent to be lowered to fourteen.  And there is no logical reason why not now the standards of chastity have been breached. I heard to day of a magazine to be published aimed at preteens encouraging sexual attractiveness and awareness.  Let’s face it, our society is no longer committed to the protection of chastity;  there are just some laws that still shore up the concept and lookto our sexualised and secularised society more and more old fashioned.  A letter-writer in the Sunday Times (Jan 14th), respnding to the Morning After pill controversy, wrote, ’The basic concept of an age of consent has become meaningless, and the time has come to abolish it’. Was he cynical, despairing, or one of Tatchell’s camp, I wonder?  If it has become meaningless it is because society and the Church, and we Christians, who should know better, have let it become meaningless.  May God have mercy on us.  If it has become meaningless, all the efforts of Christians like Josephine Butler, who fought to protect young teenage women from prostitution by the raising of the age of consent, will seem to the nonbeliever eccentric  at best. A correspondent objected to the removal of the Sophie Dahl ‘Opium’ ad;  ‘why should anyone object to this ‘21st century’ pose?, he asked.

It is right for Christians to fight for justice, freedom and other virtues.  I do not believe homosexuals should be singled out as worse sinners than the rest of us, or subjected to ‘turn or burn’ derision, or persecuted.  But we must not be naïve about the fallibility and corruptibility of human nature and of the capacity of the most idealistic aspirations to founder on the gravitational pull to corruption of our best intentions. Our society is on a slippery slope consequent to the abandonment of absolutes about sexual conduct. Try putting down one’s foot on a slippery slope! No one disputes that those absolutes are hard to uphold.  I believe that the Church, and particularly the Anglican Church, as the state church, must uphold those absolutes.  What, marry the spirits of the age– political correctness, pro choice, the victim culture, etc. etc?  I do pray for wisdom and discernment for all our Church leaders.  You have awesome responsibilities. I do hope, Archbishop Rowan, that you will continue to keep an open mind to any developments that may mean the Church is on the wrong track in conceding too much to their viewpoints.  Of course homosexuals’ difficulties should be listened to, and they should be welcomed, but as as fellow strugglers on the straight and narrow way, surely, not in the subversive role the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement insists on.

Yes, that is a hard saying, isn’t it?
People accused Jesus of ‘hard sayings’. Which causes me to wonder about His attitude to the dilemma of those who experience homosexual temptations. After all, homosexuals comprise 1% of the population, we are told. We are told of His compassion towards the adulterous woman and towards the crowds who were like sheep without a shepherd, and towards those who struggled under their burdens. In many instances he appeared to turn the Law on its head, the ceremonial laws, the Sabbath prohibitions. He accepted outcasts.  But there is nothing about homosexuals. He was accused of being demon-possessed, but no-one, despite His lifestyle, accused Him, as far as we know, of any sexual impropriety. Jesus did not address the needs of homosexuals.  I wonder why not. If the Church now thinks homosexuals need advocacy, I wonder why Jesus did not take up their cause.  Now this is probably an issue you and others far more knowledgeable about Christology have already asked yourselves. As a non-scholar I know little about the hermeneutical principles that would apply to such an issue.  It appears to me, though, that neither Jesus nor the Bible give any endorsement of homosexuality, invert or otherwise.

Archbishop Rowan, I have written far more than I originally intended. I don’t quite know where to go from here.  I could not possibly expect you to reply fully to this letter, and I apologise for any tautologies, misattributions, assumptions, presumptuousness, misconceptions, etc. I apologise also for any deficiencies of presentation; I probably could have made my points more economically. In fact, I will not be offended if I get only an acknowledgement, for I realise you are very busy and I will be adding further to your in-tray. You have shared your thoughts frankly with me, and I appreciate the spirit of goodwill with which you have written.  I am very happy to receive any comments you may have, but I don’t want to encroach on the many calls on your time.  I ask you to sift the wheat from the chaff, and I hope that what I am sending to you will be in some way useful.

It remains for me to assure you of my prayerful interest in all the work of those called to the ministry, acknowledging their very difficult task of being salt and light in these turbulent times. May the Holy Spirit enlighten us and rule in all our hearts.

Yours very sincerely

Deborah Pitt

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2 Comments

  1. From Deborah Pitt
    I’ve realised that this copy of the letter is not dated. It was written on 6th February 2001, a good few months after Dr. Williams wrote to me on 28th September 2000. It took me a while to get my long reply together, what with the stock market beginning to melt down and other this. Dr. Williams then wrote his second letter on 13th March 2001.
    The Times printed an abbreviated version of my letter along with those of Dr. Williams. As the controversy will undoubtedly continue I think it is worth publishing the letter in full. I thought it prudent, though, to omit reference to a paragraph on the spread of HIV in the USA as I cannot quote the actual research used in the lecture I attended in the early ’80s.
    There are also references to material I sent to Dr. Williams along with this letter, including a book called ‘My Genes made me do it’ by Neil Whitehead.

    I hope people find the points I have made helpful, and I welcome any feedback or questions. In all our discussions I think we must hold onto the gold standards that God has set of Christian marriage, chastity, fidelity and decency/modesty.

    In His precious name Debbie Pitt

    P.S. the quote I attributed to ‘Calamity Jane’ actually comes from ‘Annie Get Your Gun.’

    Comment by Deborah Pitt — September 5, 2008 @ 6:17 am

  2. Debbie,
    Thanks for the clarification.

    Comment by David — September 5, 2008 @ 8:25 am


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