Those of you who make a point of being right across the latest ecclesiastical edicts will have noticed with some relief that the Church of England’s bishops have issued new “pastoral guidance” about sex, something I know we’ve all been waiting to drop for quite some time.
BBC iPlayer is currently showing a two-part documentary about the crimes of Prince Charles’ BFF Bishop Peter Ball who, despite being investigated by the police in the early 90s (resulting in his receiving a caution – whoopi bloody doo) didn’t get sent to the big house until 2017 for the sexual abuse of 17 teenagers.
So, when I heard that their graces had put pen to paper, I naturally concluded that they’d have issued some sort of condemnation in the light of the BBC doc.
But no! In their God-given wisdom, the bishops have chosen to reaffirm that “For Christians, marriage – that is, the lifelong union between a man and a woman, contracted with the making of vows – remains the proper context for sexual activity.”
The guidance goes on to say, “Sexual relationships outside heterosexual marriage are regarded as falling short of God’s purpose for human beings.”
Personally, I’m quite happy to “fall short of God’s purpose” if it means having shed loads of mindblowing sex, but what the Church says matters to some. For believers who are not in heterosexual marriages, like unmarried straights and all the gay people on the bleedin’ planet, the guidance sows intolerance and discord at the exact time our society needs to be striving to heal the divisions of the past few years. Way to go, Bishops!
What’s more, traditional believers whose knowledge of the LGBTQ+ universe may, at best, be scant, have affirmation from the highest level that many perfectly normal, healthy and loving relationships are less valid or, in fact, anti-God.
The Judeo-Christian tradition has always been peculiarly obsessed with sex, stemming from what it says in special books written several thousand years ago by old men. As it happens, Jesus doesn’t say anything about homosexuality in the New Testament but you kinda know he’d have been cool with it. No, the trouble in the New Testament is the idea of the virgin birth.
Here we have the zenith of womanhood, her goodness and unimpeachable perfection defined by her virginity. This, I am afraid, has underpinned misogyny and the oppression of women in Christendom for two thousand years. It is no coincidence that there are no male equivalents of “slag”, “slut”, “harlot” and so on: it is women who fail God by having sex outside marriage, not men.
As you’d expect, it’s the Old Testament – with its angry, vengeful and somewhat interventionist God – which adds most fuel to the sex-shame fire. Right at the start, when the serpent tempts Eve (A WOMAN!) with the forbidden fruit and she, in turn, uses her feminine wiles to entrap Adam (AN INNOCENT, DECENT MAN) they come over all coy about their private areas and scarper off to invent pants. Yes, in the beginning God may well have created heaven, earth, the beasts of the field and, for all I know, Sky +, but he also found a window in what, by any measure, is a pretty manic schedule, to contrive sexual shame. Way to go, God!
But for all those obsessed with the sanctity of heterosexual marriage, from the Westboro’ Baptist Church to, seemingly, the Church of England, the gold standard of the “God hates fags” scriptures is Leviticus, where it tells us that a man can’t lie with a man as with a woman. Yes folks, one short, simple sentence in an ancient book with dodgy provenance is – in part at least – responsible for centuries of hatred, murder, cruelty, torture, ostracisation, suicide, lynchings and destitution. Still is in some parts of the world.
Anyway, I decided to try and make some sense of it all by reading Leviticus. Not, you’ll be pleased to know, some modern, happy-clappy, namby-pamby version, but the King James Version, published in 1611, which is obviously how God actually speaks.
Lying with a man as with a woman results in death for both parties, but you knew that already. Knowing, as we all do, that their lordships would never ever commit the sin of inconsistency, I wanted to find out what further Leviticus-inspired “pastoral guidance” we might expect in the future.
“Selling land permanently” is one of them, so anyone expecting to move house is going to have to rethink pretty soon. “Going to a place of worship within 66 days of giving birth to a girl” is another no-no, but okay if you make a sacrifice. “Letting your hair become unkempt” is another one, and I could go on. There are 76 of them – not all, to be fair, entirely bonkers.
All this goes to show that the Bible is full of all sorts of nonsense which may or may not have had some relevance 4,000 years ago, yet many of our religious institutions insist on focusing on homosexuality. I honestly find it all a bit peculiar, this obsession with what people choose to do in their bedrooms and with whom.
The Church of England, a laudable institution in some respects, has not done itself or the wider communion any favours at all. Surely it is now time to file these ancient, irrelevant edicts away with all those other pronouncements which the Church conveniently chooses to ignore.