Prudence Dailey Commentary
Putting the Cart Before the Horse on Sexuality Issues
Only a recently arrived visitor from Mars could be unaware of the long-running debate raging within and around the Church concerning matters of human sexuality, pitting the Church’s historic understanding against the mores of wider Western society. Within these isles, the Scottish Episcopal Church voted to allow same-sex marriage some time ago; while the Church in Wales is currently considering it. The Church of England, much larger and arguably more diverse, has produced a whole library of resources under the title ‘Living in Love and Faith’ with an emphasis on LGBT questions, and is encouraging its members to discuss them (though to what end no-one really seems to know).
Meanwhile, the Methodist Church also recently decided to conduct wedding ceremonies for two men or two women: ‘Methodist Church allows same-sex marriage in ‘momentous’ vote’ ran the BBC headline, with other news outlets reporting in similar vein. At the same time, the Methodists also passed a resolution which essentially approved the cohabitation of unmarried couples; but this received considerably less attention, within or outside church circles.
I wonder what our Martian tourist would make of this? He might well conclude that that the Christian Church is not really too worried about who does what with whom provided they are of opposite sexes; and he would be astonished to learn that the proportion of human beings identifying as LGBT in the United Kingdom is only about 2%.
Of course the Church’s teaching on same-sex relationships is important; but why do we so often give the impression that we think it is more important than teaching on opposite-sex relationships? A few years ago, I was involved in a situation in which an unmarried couple were appointed to job-share a church caretaking position which came with a one-bedroom flat: upon objecting to the Vicar of the church concerned, I was told that the couple were in a ‘committed relationship’ (they split up soon after), that the Vicar’s daughter had lived with her boyfriend before they got married, and he simply did not share my view of the matter. He seemed unconcerned that ‘my view’ was not just mine, but the Church’s view. Had a same-sex couple been appointed to share the flat, I am sure it would have caused much disquiet amongst the congregation; but as it was, nobody made a fuss.
Perhaps the reason for the reticence is that premarital cohabitation is now so widespread, that Church leaders are nervous of causing offence; but it is hypocritical to be willing to discuss the sinfulness of same-sex sexual relationships, but not opposite-sex ones. It is, after all, not homosexual couplings that bring children into the world; and in many ways it is the very differences between men and women that make sex without commitment so exploitative.
Feminism has encouraged the absurd and unscientific belief that men and women are really just the same, apart from some incidental physical differences, and this in turn leads many people—especially, but not only—young people—into situations which are damaging both for themselves and for others. A man and a woman may enter into an intimate encounter with no understanding that, while the man may remain emotionally detached, the effects of the hormone oxytocin on the woman’s brain mean that her feelings are engaged (whether she intends it or not). The widespread acceptance, and even encouragement, of sex without commitment is a licence for the exploitation of women, and encourages men to be less than they ought to be.
Whilst cohabitation may be less obviously abusive than a casual one-night stand, it should not be mistaken for commitment. As popular Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson (who is not a Christian in any conventional sense) puts it in his latest bestselling book, Twelve More Rules for Life:
‘Here is what [cohabitation] means: “You will do, for now. And I presume you feel the same way about me. Otherwise, we would just get married. But in the name of a common sense that neither of us possesses, we are going to reserve the right to swap each other out for a better option at any point.” And if you do not think that is what living together means as a fully articulated ethical statement, see if you can formulate something more plausible.’
The Church has allowed the secular world to set the agenda, and has therefore become so preoccupied with the minority pursuits of a small fraction of the population, that it has lost sight of the bigger picture. Until it is brave enough to examine the damage done by the sexual revolution as a whole, its discussions of LGBT issues are deprived of any meaningful context.
Prudence Dailey has been a member of General Synod for twenty years and is a candidate for re-election this year. She also served as Chairman of the Prayer Book Society.