Anglican Samizdat

July 7, 2009

Tolerating the intolerable

Filed under: Anglican Angst,homosexuality — David Jenkins @ 11:53 am
Tags: ,

George Pitcher has this to say about Dr. Nazir-Ali’s call for repentance:

But his comments in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph, which he is expected to repeat today, that homosexuals should “repent and be changed” cannot pass unchallenged. Or rather, they should not go challenged only by homosexual rights campaigners, such as Peter Tatchell, who you would expect to be somewhat antipathetic to the expressed view.

Because Dr Nazir-Ali is wrong in the eyes of a broad swath of kind and tolerant people of differing sexualities, social mores and of the Christian faith, other faiths and no faith at all. Badly, badly wrong.

I say that I didn’t want to have another fight with him because such fights polarise Anglicans, and we’re at our best when we’re talking. I went to a private lunch recently, to which Dr Nazir-Ali was also invited. He didn’t show. The seat next to me went empty. I do hope he didn’t bottle it; it’s important that religious leaders don’t just inhabit comfort zones with friends who share their views.

Dr Nazir-Ali’s friends are the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (Foca), who this week will try to get the Anglican schism over homosexuality going again, while denying that they are doing any such thing. Had he turned up to our lunch, I would have asked him why he and Foca are so convinced that they know the mind of God better than those who disagree with them and that their interpretation of scripture is with absolute certainty the one and only true one.

When I write about the Church and homosexuality, inevitably I receive messages that read simply “Romans 1:26-27” or “1 Corinthians 6:9”, as if that settles something. We can argue scripture until we’re at the pearly gates. But the essential difference between Dr Nazir-Ali and me is this: I accept, disappointing as I would find it in my fiery furnace, that he might be right. By contrast, he and his friends cannot accept that I might be right, claim that I can’t be a proper Christian, and some of them go so far as to suggest that I’ll burn in hell for all eternity.

And there’s the real problem: it’s an issue of intolerance. Anglicanism has long been characterised by a broad tolerance. But my tolerance of Dr Nazir-Ali and his friends, that they are Anglicans with whom I happen vehemently to disagree, doesn’t seem to be reciprocated.

There are a number of problems with what George Pitcher has to say:

The first is that Pitcher’s understanding of tolerance is the characteristically mushy I’m OK, you’re OK, we can all get along wet version. To be tolerant of another’s views used to mean disagreement did not result in violence, being thrown into prison or war. Now it is the wimpy you might be right and an expectation of reciprocation. Just imagine Peter’s first sermon at Pentecost: “Look I know this is really hard to believe, but Jesus rose from the dead. I’m sure most people disagree and I respect your opinion because I could be wrong”. That would have worked well.

Second, Pitcher has set the value of soggy tolerance above that of truth. Ultimately he cares less for whether, from a Christian perspective, blessing homosexual activity is right or wrong than he does for whether those who disagree can still belong to the same institution.

Third, Pitcher is cheerfully discarding 2000 of Christian understanding of human sexuality for the sake of conforming to the culture of effete liberals in which he finds himself. Changing the biblical understanding of human sexuality also changes our understanding of human nature itself; changing that calls into question the God in whose image we are made.

Interestingly, Theo Hobson in the Guardian also takes Pitcher to task from a liberal perspective:

The fact is that conservative evangelicals profess a different version of Christianity from other Anglicans. There are admittedly other divisions within Anglicanism, but this is the really big one. If opposition to homosexuality is a basic component of your idea of Christian truth, then you ought to be clear about this, and not cohabit with those who fudge the issue, or openly express disdain for your position.

Over the past 20 years or so we have seen huge amounts of dishonesty and evasion on this. The church’s leadership has been trying to build a home on the fence. The liberals and the conservatives must both be accommodated, it has said: as long as both sides are still part of the same communion, then there is hope of reconciliation. A pious sentiment, surely? Well, the piety is laced with self-serving evasion and hypocrisy.

The fault lies with the liberals. Their complacency and cowardice have been breathtaking. In the 1990s, liberal Anglicanism ought to have asserted itself, and called for reform on sexual teaching. For the traditional teaching, that sex was for straight marrieds only, was out of sync with liberal opinion. Instead of achieving reform, the liberals allowed the conservatives to tighten the rules. Despite employing disproportionate numbers of homosexuals, the church was now more explicitly discriminatory against homosexuals than ever. But still the liberals shrugged, and assumed that enlightenment would soon prevail. The evangelicals would soon get over their homophobia and reform would come.

Liberal Anglicanism therefore became tainted by an acute hypocrisy. It became defined by open contempt for one of its own rules. The rule that priests should not be actively homosexual is a rule that liberals see as sub-Christian, heretical. Instead of demanding its repeal as a matter of urgency, and daring to pledge to leave the church if it was not repealed, they retreated, smugly superior, full of camp little Oxford jokes about how ghastly the evangelicals are.

My background is liberal Anglican, but I gradually realised that I couldn’t have much respect for these people, whose liberalism was so timid, so political, so self-serving. I do not share the opinions of the evangelicals, but I can see that they are more honest: all they are saying is that this church has decided to proscribe priestly homosexuality, so let it stick by that.

The basic dishonesty of liberal Anglicanism is evident in the Telegraph today, in the form of Rev George Pitcher. Why can’t we all get on, he asks, why can’t the Evangelicals agree to disagree, but stay within the big tent? Why do they have to be so horrid about homosexuals, saying that they must repent? Why are they so sure they know the mind of God on this issue?

If Pitcher were serious about opposing discrimination he would leave a church whose official policy was discriminatory. Liberal priests of course reply that they are seeking reform from within. What a convenient position.

It is the liberals who are arrogant. They are so sure they know the mind of God on this issue that they think it legitimate to ignore the rules of their church, which must surely be on the verge of being reformed, because everyone they ever talk to agrees with them.

Although I disagree with Hobson, at least he has the guts and integrity to clearly say what he thinks: in the face of the barrage of waffling drivel that one has come to expect from liberals from Rowan on down, this is a refreshing change.



  1. “The seat next to me went empty. I do hope he didn’t bottle it;”

    Um…what does that mean?

    Comment by Kate — July 7, 2009 @ 5:11 pm

  2. Slang for not having the guts to show up.

    Comment by David — July 7, 2009 @ 5:16 pm

  3. Whenever a so-called “liberal” expresses a contrary opinion, he is assumed by bible-believers of being “intolerant”. Being liberal doesn’t mean rolling over and accepting anything that comes from the mouths of conservatives. A “liberal” is someone who sees more than one point of view. For conservatives there is only ONE view – theirs. That is not Anglicanism.

    Comment by Fr David Heron — July 8, 2009 @ 5:23 am

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