by the Revd Canon Giles Goddard, Former Chair of the General Synod’s Human Sexuality Group and member of the co-ordinating group for the Living in Love and Faith project
My mother was quite stern with me, when I was a child. She used, quite often, to say to me ; ‘Giles, if you have nothing constructive to say, it’s better not to say anything at all.’
I was reminded of that advice as I read Martin Davie’s new book, produced by the Church of England Evangelical Council, Glorify God in your body. I read it with a mounting sense of missed opportunity, and when I reached the conclusion, I was dismayed by the hubris the book seemed to demonstrate.
Much has been written about the clumsy and desperately inappropriate analogical comparison between same-sex marriage and penguins and elephants. To me, that sentence undermines the entire argument of the book. Dr Davie calls on Christians to approach with generosity and care ‘those who are same sex attracted’: and yet he uses terms which caricature and dismiss relationships of deep love, grace and fidelity. I wonder what he thought he was adding to the conversation by using such comparisons.
More profoundly, Dr Davie cites the example of Dietrich Bonhoeffer at the end of his book, comparing the witness of conservative evangelical Christians opposed to same sex relationships and those who transition to the witness of Bonhoeffer against the Nazis.
Bonhoeffer was a great theologian, a tremendous thinker, a wise man and a martyr. He has been an example to thousands, in desperate circumstances, who have been inspired by his profound faith to discover a deeper, wiser and more creative Christianity. To cite him in defence of the conservative evangelical stance on sexuality and gender makes me think of Lloyd Bensen’s words to Dan Quayle in the 1988 US election campaign: ‘Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy.
My school reports were as stern as my mother. I was regularly told I ‘could do better.’ My disappointment in the CEECs’ book is that it, too, could do better. It is a sadly missed opportunity to engage constructively and creatively in the conversations which the Living in Love and Faith initiative is seeking to develop.
The CEEC would have done better to have used its time and resources to genuinely engage with the theology, experience and knowledge of LGBTI+ Christians and trans people and to demonstrate that it is taking seriously the Lambeth 1.10 exhortation to ‘listen to the experience of homosexual persons.’
The book is a classic example of the dangers of ‘talking about us without us’. I am glad to be part of the LLF process, however challenging and difficult it is, with the sense of engagement across theological boundaries which is emerging. I am looking forward to continued discussions, on and off the floor of General Synod next week. I am developing my understanding of the conservative position. I welcome any signs that my developing understanding is being reciprocated. I see none in Dr Davie’s book.