Sunday, 11 July 2010

Sex and the Churches

It’s terribly unfortunate, but a great and historic institution, the Church of England, is in trouble. Again. Once more, it is being riven by controversy (which reminds me, can you be riven by anything other than controversy? It feels to me that in the same way as only cuts can ever be swingeing, only controversy can ever rive).

As it happens, right now the riving is being done on two counts. The first is about whether women can ever be bishops. The Synod of the Church of England has rejected a compromise proposal whereby women could be made bishops and Anglicans would have to accept their authority unless they really, really didn’t want to, in which case they’d get a man to do the job instead.

The other row is about whether a particular man, John Jeffries, can ever be bishop. The problem in his case is that he’s openly gay (seems it’s OK if you keep it quiet, a bit like the US Army).

Meanwhile, over on the Catholic side of the shop, the Pope is terribly upset with British equal rights legislation that might force Catholic adoption agencies to consider gay couples as possible candidates. Now, the rights and wrongs of this obligation can be argued. What I find curious is that once more the issue seems to be sex.

Not just gay sex, of course. The Catholic Church as concerned as ever with its traditional preoccupations of divorce, abortion or contraception. In fact, it seems to go on and on about sex of one kind of another, as though it was as fixated on the subject as anyone else. Obsessing about how people get laid is apparently not a preserve of the laity.

It strikes me that this apparent preoccupation isn’t really doing the Churches any good. Where are all the good old-fashioned debates about original sin, transubstantiation or the nature of the Trinity? You know, the ones that spilled so much ink and so much blood. And lit not a few bonfires.

When I see that all those noble concerns have been superseded by constant obsessing on what women can do, what men can’t do, what gays mustn’t do, I just get sad. It’s as though we were sinking into the very pit of moral turpitude about which the Churches are always warning us. And we all know where that leads: after all, look at all those sexual abuse scandals.

It’s time for the Churches to recognise that they have a real problem. Come on, guys, admit it – facing up to an issue like this is a first step towards solving it, you know.

As my friend Ian Covey puts it, it’s time for you to come out of the cloister.


Anonymous said...

Do you mean sex or gender? There is a difference between the two which point to very different arguments.

David Beeson said...

Ah, yes, I admit I had deliberately glossed over the difference. On the other hand, even gender ultimately is to do with the configuration of genitals - it seems to me that the Churches might occasionally deal with matters more interesting than the way people have their genitalia configured, or the use they make of them. War, natural disaster, hunger - don't these seem rather more significant than constant debate about whether gays or women can be priests, and who has sex with whom, when and in what circumstances?

Awoogamuffin said...

I try to get my Spanish students excited about trans-substantiation but I can't even get them to believe people once cared about it.

On the issues of contraception, women, trans-substantiation, priests marrying and homosexuality, the Spanish are Anglicans, really.