The Sydney Anglicans are really nailing their colours to the mast, aren’t they? After fighting marriage equality so publicly and so infamously, we have now been treated to the spectacle of thirty-four Anglican School Principals in the Greater Sydney region writing to the Minister of Education for permission to allow them the legal right to sack gay teachers. Something that no-one else is allowed to do. It’s discrimination, plain and simple. And we don’t we like discrimination because it gives undue coercive power and authority to the strong over the weak. The weak suffer as a result and injustice is perpetrated and normalised. Discrimination creates different classes of human beings. The deserving and the undeserving. It could be you on the end of it one day. Societies like ours in Australia reject such behaviour as being unethical, immoral. But the Sydney Anglicans say pish tah to all that namby pamby equality nonsense. They say their schools must be able to sack gay teachers in order to protect their “values and mission”, their “ethos”. They say that the ability to curate in their schools who teaches and who doesn’t is core to their ethos.
So let’s take a look and see if we can draw some conclusions about this precious Sydney Anglican ethos as it relates to gay people and Christian faith.
In the twenty first century, here’s what science tells us about gay people. Interestingly, it is also what we gay people ourselves have been saying about our lives, like forever. There is strong concordance between the narratives of the lived experience of gay people and the discoveries of science.
Being gay is a psycho-biologic reality. Essentially, this means that people are born gay. An individual’s brain development is shunted down a particular sexual orientation pathway in utero, probably in the third trimester, so that all the architecture and biological functioning for a conscious sexual identity is already in place at birth. This is true for all neonates, whether they ultimately turn out to be gay or straight. Scientists have now identified the expression of certain gene areas that appear to be involved in this shunting process. This innate sexual identity waits through childhood and then makes itself known typically around the time of puberty when the erotic becomes conscious. Human sexuality, both straight and gay, emerges at this time, unbidden and without choice. No-one gets a choice whether to be straight. No-one gets a choice whether to be gay.
Furthermore, being gay is viewed scientifically as being stable across the lifespan. It cannot be prayed away, it cannot be wished away, it cannot be therapy-ed away, it cannot be suppressed away, it cannot be denied or sublimated away, it cannot be opposite-sex married away. Likewise, having children does not eradicate a gay sexual orientation. People with a gay/lesbian sexual orientation must go through a tough road of self-acceptance, both privately at first, and then publicly. Just like straight people, gay people are able to live long, happy, healthy and fulfilling lives. We do not see this as second-best or the bronze medal. But this is always easier where we are accepted and where stigma and bigotry have no place. Gay people are not clones of each other, but are all individuals, experiencing life in multivarious ways, but with the solidarity of all having been through the same journey of identity formation. Despite the Church’s despicable record on LGBTIQ people, some gay people, in fact, quite a lot, can be people of faith, strong believers and followers of God. Their sexual orientation does not preclude them from such faith or allegiance. As for numbers of gay people, there is good evidence that around 7% of the population is statistically gay. Historically, we have been around since the beginning of recorded history and we have been identified in every ethnic group on earth without exception.
In the twenty first century, here’s what most Christians understand their faith to mean.
They follow Jesus of Nazareth, whom they call Lord. Most of them believe he was God in human form. What is certain is that Jesus was a truly good man, whose life was extraordinary and who taught some of the greatest and most profound lessons in ethical living we have. This did not go down well with the power elites of his day, so, because he got on the wrong side of big religion and big politics, he was executed. Both groups colluded to kill him because he didn’t do politics and religion their way.
When you read the accounts, he was not interested in religious rules and systems and he broke them regularly, teaching that they were only there to serve humanity, not for humanity to serve them. Religious sticklers (Pharisees) got angry with him for not following the accepted rules, some of which covered which people he could interact with. Now this is an important point about Jesus as it goes to the notion of his famous inclusivity versus the religious leaders’ exclusivity. From the accounts, it appears Jesus didn’t turn anyone away. He included everyone. Including the so-called outsiders. All the marginalised people of his time, the ones on the outer, the ones the religious leaders wouldn’t touch, these people he favoured: sinners, thieves, drunkards, traitors to Rome, thieving tax collectors, adulterers, the non-religious, even religious people whom the Jewish religious leaders hated because they didn’t follow God their specific way (Samaritans). And let’s not forget women and children, whose social status was at the very lowest and who didn’t matter. There were plenty of them with Jesus too. He mixed with and ate and drank with all these groups all the while actively eschewing religious leaders and teachers, who he did not kow tow to, even getting angry with them for putting unnecessary religious burdens on everyday people. He hated showy religion too and said so.
His main message can be condensed down into three areas. The first was the message of love. He stated that love was the first and greatest commandment. Love God. Love your neighbour. He even taught about who your neighbour was. His other main teaching was about forgiveness, telling his followers that they should always forgive, not just sometimes. Finally, the third thrust of his teaching was the concept of the kingdom of God, which he said was already here on earth, within us and at our hands. Part of this kingdom teaching was his focus on the poor and the needy, the marginalised, the outcasts, the widow, the orphan, the prisoner, the sick the infirm. He called them “the least of these”. In fact, he actually taught that if we didn’t help and support the ‘least of these’ he would declare that he didn’t know us, that he wouldn’t deem us as his followers. Now Jesus never said a single word about gay people as far as we know, although I hazard a guess that he probably knew some of us. So, two millennia later, how can we know what he would have done with us? The best and most theologically and psychologically consistent way is to see how he treated other people, especially other marginalised people. Well, as we’ve seen, he favoured such people. He liked to be around them.
And what about the rest of the Bible in its attitude to gay people? Well, it’s not that complicated really. The Old Testament talks about cultic sexual practices in the worship of other gods by the surrounding heathen nations. That’s not me and my husband by a long shot. The New Testament verses pick up on this notion of idolatry and take it further to include cruel and exploitative sexual practices. That’s also not me and my husband. Modern scholarship in the disciplines of history, ancient languages, linguistics, and Biblical Studies offers a strong case that where the Bible talks about homogenital activity, it’s not talking about sexual orientation as we understand it today, as a stable, psycho-biologic reality that directs physical and emotional desire to ones own sex and that is neither willfully chosen nor willfully changed. A state of being. An ontology, if you will.
So what about this famous Sydney Anglican ethos we’ve heard so much about? What conclusions can we draw?
Well, despite all the science and despite the fundamentals of Jesus’ life, behaviour, teaching and sayings, the Sydney Anglicans want to exclude gay people and sack gay teachers. If they could, I suspect they’d want to move gay students along too, but maybe they’re not game to say that publicly in today’s climate. So hypothetically, a graduate who gets a job as a teacher in one of these Sydney Anglican schools, has a Christian faith, probably a church-goer, and who is gay, would be sacked, not because his or her pedagogy was poor, or they were incompetent in their curriculum knowledge, but merely because of a sexual orientation whose emergence they had no say over at all; a bit like being sacked for having blue eyes or being over six foot tall. So, never mind the Good Samaritan for your ‘who is my neighbour’ ethics, or how Jesus lived his life, Sydney Anglicans are quite comfortable in tossing out our gay teacher into unemployment, no matter that he or she might have rent to pay or a mortgage to upkeep, no matter their financial commitments, no matter the sense of treachery and rejection the individual will suffer, no matter the message to young LGBTIQ students i n the school that they are morally inferior. So much for the ‘we’re all created in the image of God’ stuff. Looks like God’s image is taking quite a battering.
Evangelical fundamentalists like to view being gay as a moral issue. But it’s not. It has zero to do with being good or bad, moral or immoral. It’s a psycho-biologic reality, just like being straight is, for both orientations are the products of the same bio-genetic processes that sex the foetal brain and potentiate it with sexual orientation. But Sydney Anglicans are deniers. It doesn’t suit their ideology, so such science is not to be entertained. They have history. In 2017, the Sydney Anglican leadership gave the ‘No’ campaign $1000,000.00 of church money to try to stop marriage equality. A failed endeavor, and money down the drain that could have been used for worthier causes. Perhaps to offer some assistance to the ‘least of these’. Refugees. Mental health sufferers. Domestic violence victims. MS research. There’s lots of good you could do with a million dollars.
Maybe, like the injunction Micah 6: 8 asks of us when it says to “do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God”, Sydney Anglicanism could show a bit more humility, in fact a lot more humility, and admit their position on gay teachers misrepresents gay people as immoral individuals, is unChrist-like in its lack of charity and its excluding behaviour, and accept that given one or two of St Paul’s words on this topic are impossible to translate with intellectual honesty [read the scholarship], they might ease up on the LGBTIQ community and err on the side of caritas. Using a more sophisticated method of interpreting spirituality that includes the understandings from science on the subject of human sexuality might also go a long way to restoring some faith in an almost ubiquitously suspiciously regarded institution.
We see now that former students, alumni and parents and friends of these thirty-four Anglican schools have written an Open Letter to the Principals. They are outraged at this turn of events and the anger is palpable and growing. Not only do they see this as being completely out of step with a modern Australian sensibility, but many have expressed their concerns at the lack of compassion and unChrist-like behaviour that this shows to a whole class of people. It is noteworthy that the Anglican Archbishops of Brisbane and Perth and the Bishop of Newcastle have all written powerful very public letters of support to the LGBTIQ community saying they are welcome in their churches and that no gay teachers will be sacked in the schools in their dioceses.
So, how’s that ethos shaping up for you now dear reader? I can only conclude that the precious ethos the Sydney Anglican leadership keeps talking about appears to be one where they ignore Jesus, his example and his teachings, ignore the sense of justice that anti-discrimination law provides everyone in a modern pluralist country like Australia, ignore their former students and parents, ignore the science of human sexuality, and engage in some pretty shonky ethical casuistry to defend all this. If this is the ethos they are defending, then no thank you. Like a lot of others, I’m not buying.
Sydney Anglican attitude to gay people grew from ancient bigotry and is merely getting a modern-day guernsey dressed up as ‘freedom of religion’ and ‘Christian ethos’ but it is really nothing more than ugly religious homophobia.
It has no place in Australia. And it has no place in any Church.
Dr Stuart Edser
Originally published here https://medium.com/@DrStuartEdser/christianity-sydney-anglican-style-98615c6b04c9 and republished by permission.