hands Speaking Love's Name

Excerpts from:
Speaking Love's Name; Homosexuality: Some Catholic and Socialist Perspectives, ed, by Ashley Beck and Ros Hunt. London, The Jubilee Group, 1988.

See also (Off Site):

Rowan Williams

The past year has been a wintry one for the Church of England; a time in which it has often been difficult to believe that it is possible to be an Anglican with integrity. We have shown ourselves to be self-destructive in our inner conflicts, in some very dramatic ways: above all, we have shown a degree of collective neurosis on the subject of sexuality that is really quite astounding in this century and this culture. We have, it seems, been happy to collude with the paranoia of populist homophobia, fuelled by the AIDS epidemic and by myths of gay 'propaganda' in schools -- fuelled, that is, by tragedy on the one hand and lies on the other. Last November, the General Synod passed a resolution whose force remains ambiguous, declaring the undesirability of gay clergy being allowed to express and experience their sexual identity in the way most people do. Even the most superficial analysis of the debate shows how the Synod was simultaneously cajoled and panicked into this move: well-meaning 'liberals', equally afraid of the harshness of the original motion (about which the less said the better) and of getting involved in a genuinely theological debate on sexuality, joined hands with some of the most disturbing elements in the contemporary Church of England, those who are determined to make it an ideologically monolithic body, to produce a vote which has, in practice, delivered much of what the original motion aimed at. This shabby compromise has been held up by bishops as representing the 'mind' of the Church, and accorded something like legislative force. Bishops have appealed to it in justifying their actions against gay clergy and ordinands. It is becoming harder all the time for a gay person to be honest in the Church. We have helped to build a climate in which concealment is rewarded -while at the same time conniving with the hysteria of the gutter press, and effectively giving into their hands as victims all those who do not manage successful concealment. And the lowest point has come with the vendetta conducted by the Diocese of London through its legal officers against the parish of St. Botolph's, Aldgate, and the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement.

What, as a church, do we think we are doing? It is time we heard and applied to ourselves the woes addressed by Jesus to those who put stumbling blocks before those who believe -or seek to believe, or understand what it is to believe -'or seek to believe, or understand what it is to believe. For whom are the actions of the past few months good news? Perhaps for the moralists who seem to think that discipleship is primarily about rule-keeping in a restricted field of behaviour (but who are not above collaborating with a segment of the Press that is openly pornographic); or for those who cannot cope with the rapidity of change in sexual mores, especially the new habit of talking with confidence and self-trust about sexuality. It is possible to feel some real sympathy for people who are bewildered and even hurt by such changes, and it is crucial not to forget that they too have pastoral needs. But as the New Testament makes plain, to go at the pace of the slowest, to respect the human needs of those whose vision is less clear, is not to compromise on the substantive point of what liberty in Christ means. The Church of England has indeed been giving an uncertain moral lead, just as it has been accused of doing -but the uncertainty has been over the moral and spiritual importance of truthfulness, truth to one's own nature, truth in relations with other believers. The more we make such truthfulness impossible, the more we quench the Spirit.

As the debate amply shows, 'liberalism' is not enough. It is hopelessly inadequate now to think that we can go back to the comfortably discreet situation in which sexual orientation was known and tacitly accepted, but never discussed, let alone affirmed. Such a situation too helps to nourish just that coyness, adolescent naughtiness and irresponsibility which many, gay and straight, I have found so tiresome a feature of the ecclesiastical gay scene: no-one holds you responsible for an adult sexuality, or suggests that you might need to share and reflect as much as anyone else, and there is little help in working out a tough and consistent morality. To argue for the need for gay liberation in the Church is not to commend a policy of letting everyone go their way in a bland situationist paradise, but to ask that this issue become part of the collective and public reflection of the Church, something on which experience can be shared and supportive and challenging patterns evolved. But aren't there, frankly, a great many more important matters for the Church in general and Catholic Socialists in particular, to get involved in at the moment? This is the voice of the contemporary wisdom of the Labour Party, in other terms, and, there as here, it assumes that justice is divisible. If we have no integrity here, we cannot expect to carry conviction elsewhere, because the issues of victimisation and disempowering are the same here as with the questions of race, sex and class. Even more importantly, for the Christian, we, as a church, make the claim that we show something of that order of human relationships in which God is the final creative authority ('the Kingdom of God'). When we produce a situation of repression and dishonesty, we at the very least put that claim in question for many of those in need of the good news of Christ. This is not an optional extra for us. The present collection of essays is an attempt to acknowledge the mess we are ') in; to express some of the hurt and anger that has been generated (not least among those who feel that their pastors in the Church, especially those in 'leadership' positions, have let them down); and to move the necessary theological discussion a little bit further forward. But it will have made its point if it communicates why so many people currently feel ashamed of our Church's public voice on this issue. Not all of us are fully agreed on the tactics or the theology of where we go next; but we share the sense that our Church has not done well in these matters, and that we are in urgent need of plain speaking and clear thinking, recognising that there is a debate to be conducted (which has already begun long since, if the truth be told) about theology and spirituality, one that is not to be sidetracked either by the trading of texts or by a tactful but finally corrupting liberal discretion.



Some recent political history

Janet Batsleer

The claim that 'the personal is political' is associated with the women's liberation movement and gay liberation movements which developed in the heart of the world's most powerful and wealthy nation states, in North America and in Western Europe during the late 1960 s and early 1970 s. The claims of those movements are still claims to hope. The slogan encapsulates the belief that our most private and intimate experiences are being shaped by social and historical structures and conflicts and are therefore open to political challenge and change. There is nothing natural or necessary in the connections between male heterosexuality and violence, whether that is violence towards women, towards children or towards gay men. Without those insights, this article could not have been written. During the last decade, however, the meaning of the phrase 'the personal is political' has often been trivialised and individualised. It can be taken to mean that there is no need to look beyond our own households for our politics and that the search for a lifestyle in private that is non-exploitative is the most important strategy. When sexual politics is trivialised in this way, we become very vulnerable. Public attacks on homosexuals and homosexuality are less easy to publicly resist. This is largely because we have ignored the fact that the association of sex and politics is neither new nor necessarily progressive, but has a long if hidden history. Every State for which there are written codes available has made explicit statements about sexuality and reproduction. That this is largely a result of the relationship between kinship structures and property and therefore class society is a hypothesis still well worth exploring. 1 Whatever its origin, it is . clear that the regulation of women's sexuality in relation to the control of their husbands or fathers is a fundamental aspect of most legal codes, particularly in relation to marriage, adultery and divorce. Such systems of law 2 are based on the subordination of women in particular kinship forms. In this context, all societies have developed a dominant or preferred version of human sexual relationships. This is usually one in which male and female sexuality are seen as interdependent, and female sexuality is seen as utterly dependent on men. Lesbian sexuality remains invisible in all legal codes. The preferred definitions of female sexuality render lesbianism literally unthinkable. Male homosexuality fares differently. In some periods and cultures it is seen as a form of love higher than marriage. In Ancient Greece, the contribution of love between men and between men and boys to the life and health of the State could be discussed openly by philosophers. In capitalist Britain, male homosexuality has essentially been regarded as a criminal offence. It is tempting to say that this is because, alongside feminism, homosexual love has been perceived as offering a threat to dominant social relations between men and women. Certainly, this connection has been consistently made in law and public policy, whether we refer to the Labouchere amendment of 1885 which made homosexual behaviour punishable, in the context of feminist 'social purity' campaigning focussing on prostitution, or the Wolfenden Report of 1957 which reported on both homosexuality and prostitution.

Homosexuality has been a political issue in modern times since the late nineteenth century, in the sense that it has been an issue that the State makes laws about. Such interventions at the level of the State are always underpinned by religious and family forms. There has been Church law forbidding the practice of sodomy for centuries, just as the Church has also made laws relating to the presence of women in the sanctuary and even on 'nocturnal pollution' as a barrier to the communion! 'Christian' morality has been used to prornote some ways of living in households and decry others in a complex variety of ways (single sex living in celibacy has been both valued and devalued, parenting outside of marriage has been condemned and so on). Religious and family forms in civil society have a major role to play in defining what is and is not permissible in any given culture. The fact that lesbians are a non- existent category of persons in the law does not prevent the courts ruling against lesbian mothers in child custody cases and does not prevent lesbian households experiencing threats and intimidation in their own neighbourhoods. There is no doubt that the importance of church and family has always been recognised by politicians of the ruling bloc. As Mrs. Thatcher succinctly put it in an interview in Woman's Own in November 1987 discussing the question of violence against children in families: 'Really, you know there is no such thing as society. ..if the families and the Church and the great voluntary organisations were really doing their job, there would be no need for Governments to intervene.'

Politicians of the left have been slower to recognise the significance of sexual politics in the preservation of the current State. Yet it is now more than fifty years since Wilhelm Reich analysed the appeal of Nazism to a majority of the German people in 'The Mass Psychology of Fascism' in terms which laid bare the significance of the sexual politics of the Catholic and Lutheran traditions -- the authoritarian family form based on the assignation of women to the sphere of 'Kinder, Kirche, Kuche'. Reich described the psychological patterning in authoritarian, patriarchal family forms as the psychological ground in which loyalty to the fascist leader is formed. We are still far too tardy in recognising those moments of deep political significance in which the linking of sex, religion and politics is a marker for wider political victories and defeats. So the issue of sexuality and of homosexuality is always in some sense a political issue. One of the effects of the dominant patriarchal culture is to make heterosexuality appear natural and normal and to make lesbian and gay sexuality 'unnatural' and 'abnormal', The existence of so much law-making in this sphere is one aspect of evidence that all sexuality is profoundly social and thereby able to be caught up in politics. This is not to say that the subject of lesbian and gay love can be confined within the parameters given it by a patriarchal state, any more than any other kind of love can be confined. But gay and lesbian love is threatened and sometimes damaged by that State. Sexuality usually becomes an issue for the State at moments of change for the ruling bloc when there is a 'shift in gear' in the patterns of rule. It is a mark of the profound instability of the British State that there is a constant 'return of the repressed'. They can't leave it alone or leave us alone. In the postwar period, issues of sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular have been constantly linked to other shifts in ways we need to understand in order to understand the current moment more clearly,

The moment of liberalism .

Because the 'permissive sixties' are so often now pilloried by Conservative politicians and located as the source of present discontents, it is important to recollect briefly the actual nature of the permissive legislation enacted by the Wilson Labour Government, under the guiding social democratic philosophies of Tony Crosland and Roy Jenkins, as well as to question the nature and extent of any permissive culture in that period. The Wilson Government did introduce and support legal reforms which covered a wide range of sexual/moral issues: The Obscene Publications Act (1964), The Abortion Act (1967), legislation liberalising divorce law in the Matrimonial Causes Act (1969) on Theatre Censorship (1968) and on homosexuality in the Sexual Offences Act (1967). There is a characteristic emphasis in this legislation on individual rights and individual choice and on consent within the 'private sphere' as opposed to behaviour in the public sphere which makes the description of 'liberal reforms' most appropriate.

The 1967 Act reforming the law on homosexuality was itself a response to the Wolfenden Report of 1957. The Wolfenden Report itself was a product of I a long period of moral anxiety about homosexuality in which definitions of homosexuality as a sin or a crime Jostled alongside a medical model of homosexuality as a 'condition' for which cures might be sought (as in hypnosis and aversion therapy). This anxiety was initially highlighted in a report by the Church of England's Moral Welfare Council (the precursor of the Board for Social Responsibility) "The Problem of Homosexuality'. This report saw homosexuality as sinful, but there was an attempt to separate this from legal definitions and a call for law reform. The visibility of sexual offences -- of cottaging and street prostitution -- after the War was the problem the Wolfenden Committee was established to consider. The question was not 'how to liberalise the law' but whether the current law was the most effective means of control.3 The very fact that homosexuality and prostitution were considered together is an indication of the extent to which evidence of 'sexual malpractice' is seen as evidence of crisis in and threat to the dominant social order. The purpose of the Wolfenden Report and the subsequential legislation with their twin aspects of public regulation of and private tolerance of male homosexuality was to protect the dominant preferred versions of patriarchal, monogamous heterosexual marriage. 'The unifying element was the belief that by ceasing to be the Guardian of private morality, the law would effectively become the protector of public decency and order.'

However, Wolfenden contained the first limited recognition within the State of the permissibility of adult male homosexual relationships based on consent. It was this which led to the formation of the Homosexual Law Reform Society in 1958 (modelled on the Abortion Law Reform Association), a pressure group which effectively campaigned for .the 1967 Act.

It is harder to assess the nature and impact of the culture of sexual liberalism which is also associated with the 1960s. It seems likely that gay culture remained ghettoised throughout the period in particular city centre based or ruling class subcultures and that the majority of young people, let alone their parents, remained tragically ignorant of the real potential of their sexuality. Certainly, there was little encouragement from either Church or State to explore sexual potential. Such encouragement seems to have been found only in what has become known as the 'counterculture', much of which remained heavily male dominated and in any case limited to exclusive city centre groupings. As a teenage girl in Lincolnshire in the sixties and early seventies, the existence of the Pill made a real difference to my life. However, the surrounding culture was one in which it needed courage to explore and express the existence of sexual feelings. And if it took courage to explore heterosexual feelings, the word 'lesbian' evoked fears of the most outrageous dangerous and worst of all 'abnormal' state of existence.

It is clearly the case that what I have called the moment of liberalism does not at all correspond to the demonology of the 'permissive six ties'. Liberalism is more painful and complicated than that. It lays the ground for the acceptance of a personal identity, of the integrity of lesbian and gay identity, And at the same time it regulates that personal identity. It is legitimate, after all, only under certain circumstances: if you are a male, if you are an adult, if you are in private, if there is consent. It is this contradiction, at the heart of liberalism, which has led to crisis. For at the heart of liberalism is both the defence of the human person who is gay or lesbian and the acceptance that some sexual activity by lesbians and gays (young sex, kissing in public, having children) is illegitimate while the same activities are accepted and even encouraged in the context of heterosexuality. Not only that, but more clearly violent sexual acts which occur with frightening frequency in the context of heterosexuality, such as rape within marriage, remain invisible to the law.

'The sixties' were not only a moment of law reform. The agenda for reaction was also being laid. The National Viewers' and Listeners' Association for example was founded in 1963 and gathered strength continually. Various populist Christian Groupings, with more or less tenuous connections with Christian Churches, such as the Mary Whitehouse Campaign, the Festival of Light, as well as official Church pronouncements on sexual ethics such as Humanae Vitae (the papal encyclical which defines the central purpose of human sexuality as lying in the procreation of children) set an agenda for a conservative vision of human sexuality which has found fruit in David Wilshire and Jill Knight's amendment to the Local Government Bill, the notorious Clause 28 banning the intentional promotion of homosexuality.

The crisis of liberalism

The Gay Liberation Movement and the Women's Liberation Movements which were at their most powerful in the early to mid seventies are rooted in a refusal of sexual identities and sexual ethics which can only be lived 'in private' and 'between consenting adults', In these movements, the recognition has grown that an understanding of sexuality cannot be confined in 'the private sphere' because 'the private sphere' is a site of subordination. Since the early seventies, gay men and lesbians have been asserting a right to be 'out' of the closet and not to have to remain secretive, out of fear, about their sexuality. Because of their sexuality, lesbians and gay men face forms of discrimination at work, in education and in society at large. The personal cannot be separated from the social. The 1974 Women's liberation Conference adopted the demand: 'No discrimination against lesbians. Every women has the right to define her own sexuality'. Many of us puzzled long and hard about what our self-defined sexuality might look like. Some of us, for a while, called ourselves 'political lesbians'. Some of us reclaimed celibacy as a political .option. Some of us struggled to transform our relationships with men. This didn't necessarily mean a great deal about where our sexual desires lay, presuming we could still find them in all this very heady politics. It did mean that the 'preferred' or 'dominant' versions of heterosexuality had been called permanently into question from a woman-centred perspective. 'lie back and think of England' and even 'being played on like a string instrument' would not do any more and women were saying so publicly.

These movements of the early seventies were essentially cultural movements, movements of civil society. They did not make formal demands of the State, except in demands for funding, usually from Local Government. The Gay Helplines, Lesbian lines and Gay and Lesbian Centres which have been established from the mid-seventies onwards have been based in principles of mutual aid and the politics of consciousness-raising and finding a voice. The explorations of the relationship between power and sex in heterosexual relationships which led many women to leave. their male partners found voice only in a limited number of small circulation publications and books.4 Yet these movements within the culture have created the conditions in the mid- 1980s which enable a clear political and public resistance to occur to the reactionary measures of the Government. Lesbians abseiling into the House of Lords is only the most obvious sense in which this is so.

During the 1970s, the crisis in understanding of sexuality led to a series of initiatives from outside of Parliament all of which suggested that 'things' had basically 'gone too far' and that the foundations of society were probably at risk unless the balance was somehow restored and there was a return to traditional moral values. I am thinking of the various campaigns from the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child to amend or repeal the 1967 Abortion Act. Of the work of Mary Whitehouse and of the NVLA aimed at the Obscenity Laws, of the use of the Blasphemy Law in the 1976 prosecution of Gay News. These initiatives connected to a wider set of tensions in the culture sharing some of the characteristic emphases of liberalism and a surer grasp of political potential than the emergent liberation movements. like the liberal reforms, they made a powerful appeal to the right of individuals to mind their own affairs in their own families. People should not be subject, in their own homes, through their own rates and taxes, to rules and moralities they do not share. And as 'most people' are good Christian people who do not like sex or violence or abortion or homosexuality, it stands to reason that institutions like the DDC or laws that condone homosexuality are an infringement on the rights of individuals. The morality campaigns took on an anti-establishment character, despite the fact that their essential aim was to strengthen the authority of the Church and the Courts. They were populist movements. Like the liberation movements, they were movements within civil society. Unlike the liberation movements and with a surer political touch born of their relationship with historically ruling groups, the morality campaigns have spoken not only for themselves but 'for the people' and they have used formal political and legal processes to assert themselves. Mrs. Victoria Gillick's campaign in the mid eighties to prevent her own daughters receiving contraceptive advice from their GP is in fact the best example of this, despite her eventual failure. Finally, the campaigns addressed the unspoken and unexamined aspects of sexuality -- the dangers' as well as the 'pleasures' -- which the liberation movements themselves were forced to examine.

During the last ten years, the links between pornography and violence have been examined again from the left as well as from the right. The separation of sexual ethics from a whole set of questions about power, love and responsibility apparently characteristic of both dominant double standards and some 'liberationist' men has been questioned by feminists as well as by moralists of the right like Roger Scruton.5

So an emergent sexual ethics associated with the liberation movements came face to face with questions of danger, threat and responsibility. It is as if an ethics not based on subordination -- an ethics still struggling to be born --has been silenced by the powerful and dominant ethic of the 'Christian' family. For the dominant culture, associated with the morality campaigns, places little value on sexual pleasure and joy and responds to the presence of sexual dangers and threats with the strong arm of the religious family law. Thou shalt have no other gods but the purity of monogamy, the security of Christian marriage, the norm of heterosexuality. In this way your women shall remain fruitful if bound, and your children healthy and wealthy if not wise. It is this continuing crisis in which the disease of AIDS throws a deadly light on the dominant culture. A sexually transmitted disease is associated with the wrath of God by the 'Christian' culture, a fatal illness is seen as a punishment and its sufferers are scapegoated, despite most Church leaders' anxiety to deny this view. It is by contrast from the subordinated culture of the gay community that an ethic of mutual responsibility and love has emerged in .the support of practical networks like Body Positive, AIDS Lines and the Terrence Higgins Trust.6 The most effective promotion of 'safe sex' has come not from the State (tombstones, icebergs and woman as temptress) but from .the institutions of an emergent culture, including the women's movement. The smiling willies on posters for condoms originating from the National Abortion Campaign are worth a thousand doom laden messages from the DHSS. You could however be forgiven for not recognising the powerful alternatives to an ethic based on fear being proferred by the gay community. In the third term of the Thatcher regime, the very right of existence of such sub-cultures is in question.

The moment of reaction

The period of Conservative Government from 1979 to the present has been powerfully destructive of many of the assumptions of the postwar consensus and has been a consistently ideological Government. As Stuart Hall writes:7 'One thing we can learn from Thatcherism is that, in this day and age in our kind of society, politics is always conducted ideologically or not at all. It (Thatcherism) always moves on several fronts at once. It moulds people's conceptions as it restructures their lives as it shifts the disposition of forces to its side.' This is true in the sexual politics of Thatcherism, as elsewhere. Economically liberal, the Government has proved itself increasingly authoritarian in the area of social policy. Its ideological project of rendering socialist ideas 'unthinkable' certainly includes an association of socialism with 'attacks on family life'. No-one has been more keen to assure the British public of a complete attachment to the values of family life than the leadership of the Labour Party. From the old-fashioned Callaghan to the modernising Kinnock there has been an eagerness to associate Labour with 'the family' (man, wife and children) which is profoundly conservative. The 'crisis of liberalism' has .been worked on by Thatcherism to powerfully strengthen the status quo, and the Labour leadership has followed in that pattern.

Although it is now quite clear that the Thatcher regime is as authoritarian in the area of sexual politics as it is for example in the politics of poverty, this does not mean that Thatcherism is uncontradictory or that it operates solely or mainly through legislation. There are 'pure liberals' on the New Right, such as Teresa Gorman MP for Billericay, who extend their free market principles into the private sphere of sexual choices. And much of the work of creating a culture of attacks against gays and lesbians and a loud silence from the major social institutions has been done in the institutions of civil society, including the press and the Church, rather than by the Government directly.

This notion of Thatcherism as a hegemonic force which is working on the crises of civil society to produce an atmosphere of fear and promise in which only one agenda -- that of a flourishing capitalist society -- can be pursued allows us to understand some of the 'morbid symptoms' of the Thatcher years in a more systematic way. In the area of sexuality, the crisis which was addressed by the liberal reforms of the 1960s is re-addressed and this time there is an attempt to overcome the crisis by rendering life outside the terms of the dominant culture precisely unliveable. 'Uncurable structural conditions have revealed themselves'8 Inequality between men and women, violence between men and women, parents and children within the family, inequality between heterosexual and gay love are all structural conditions that have been named. But 'despite this, the political forces which are struggling to conserve and defend the status quo are making efforts to cure them within certain limits and to overcome them.'9 The 'cure' lies not in the State but in society itself, in the family, the Church, the voluntary associations and in schools. The State's role is to remove all 'artificial barriers' to the cure, and -- herein lies the authoritarianism -- to condense and express the directions from which the cure might occur.

It is possible to identify a number of movements within civil society in the 1980s which have aided this process and some of them at least have close connections with the Church. The Gillick campaign mentioned earlier, the Video Nasties campaign, the use of the Obscene Publications Act against Gay's the Word Bookshop, the attack on sex education in the 1986 Education Act (achieved in part by an appeal to religious values of Catholic and Moslem parents, not groups that the Government is generally prone to respect), are all aspects of this trend. The direct intervention by the DES into the 'Positive Images' campaign and the banning of 'Jenny lives with Eric and Martin' is linked with the demands of Haringey Parents Action and their sense of an alien and anti-Christian culture. And the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, the prophet James Anderton, finds a ready audience in the national media for both his personal conversion to Catholicism and his views that he might be being used by God to tell people that homosexuals are to be blamed for the spread of AIDS, that criminals should be flogged until they beg for mercy and that homosexual practice should be made a criminal offence. Police in London raid gay pubs wearing plastic gloves, and the popular press condense it all into the readily accessible, racist and homophobic image of the 'loony left'. All these individuals and movements would be risible if it were not for that fact that they link to powerful homophobic .tendencies already present in our culture (Anderton is in danger of becoming public hero number one in some parts of Manchester, reviled by politicians everywhere but speaking for 'the common man'). And they link with the .needs of the State in 'preserving and defending the status quo'.

The importance of the Church of England in its contributions to the various attempts to provide a political 'cure' to the crisis in sexual politics lies of course in its historically subordinate but organic relationship to the British ruling class. It should not surprise us in the least to find the Church of England powerfully present when legislation on sex is debated, nor to find her leading spokesmen powerfully conforming to the status quo even when that means they contradict their earlier selves as is most clearly the case with Bishop Montefiore whose unintelligent conformity to the prevailing climate over a period of twenty years could provide a useful symbolic focus for a study of .the role of the Church of England in these matters.. The nature of the present climate in the Church of England is the subject of the rest of this pamphlet. The fact that this climate of fear has both drawn on and contributed to a much wider politics cannot be doubted from the speed at which the amendment to the Local Government Act which bans the intentional promotion of homosexuality was introduced after the Church of England had relegitimised the view that 'homosexual genital acts' are sinful. This Clause was first introduced as a Bill in the House of Lords by Lord Halsbury early in 1987. As Clause 28 it rapidly received the personal support of the Prime Minister. Given the fact that the Church of England Bishops rule us from the House of Lords, the step between Church and sin and State and crime is a short one. John Selwyn Gummer contributes to the powerful connection of Conservative politics and 'Christian' culture when he speaks in synod against .the condom culture. Clause 28 of the Local Government Act which bans the intentional promotion of homosexuality by local authorities and forbids teachers to depict homosexual relationships as 'pretended family relationships' is a contribution to a cure of the crisis by criminalising, rendering illegitimate a whole section of the community. That is 'the smell of fascism' 10 in Clause 28 and it is a stench to which the Church of England has clearly contributed.

What's Love Got to Do with it?

Anyone who believes still that following the teachings of Jesus has something to do with a love that casts out fear will be hard put to find any evidence of that in our Christian Government or our Christian churches. And to both these institutions the Labour Party leadership is deeply conforming.

Those of us who continue to celebrate the power of love to cast out fear and to celebrate sexual love and lesbian and gay love in this hostile climate are going to have to increasingly acknowledge the revolutionary nature of such celebration. While we must indeed claim our rights within existing society -- and lesbian and gay rights are human rights -- we must recognise that in doing so we prolong the profound crisis in sexual politics. We must prolong that crisis, because the cost of not doing so and accepting the 'stench of fascism' is too great to contemplate. But there is also a great deal of work we can do, perhaps are already doing, to contribute to a resolution of that crisis in favour of human love and human possibilities. David Edgar has recently suggested that the gay community's response to AIDS has the seeds of an alternative ethic to that of 'father and family first', an ethic of a chosen rather than inherited community and of the love of strangers. I I Though It struggles to survive, there is still, I believe, a great deal to be sought in the feminist culture of sisterhood, and especially in an ethic which values women's creativity, strength, difference and autonomy. And on the way to expressing this emergent ethic of love and solidarity, we might renew the meaning of comradeship, recognising that the Church's image of itself as a family with God as patriarchal father will have to be examined, alongside our socialism of a paternalistic State.


1. This hypothesis was first explored by Engels in The Family. Private Property and the State and has been the subject of much controversy ever since.
2. The legal code outlined in the Book of Leviticus is a good example. Does anyone know what happened to women in the year of Jubilee?
3. Jeffrey Weeks Sex. Politics and Society London 1981 p. 249
4. Some of these discussion papers which were originally circulated in a variety of women's liberation newsletters have been collected in an anthology called Desire edited by Ann Snitow. The collection Sex and Love: New thoughts on old contradictions also draws heavily on feminist thinking from the seventies. (published by The Women's Press)
5. For example, Elisabeth Wilson in 'What is to be done about violence against women' Penguin 1989 as well as Roger Scruton Sexuality 1987.
6. See the article on working with AIDS sufferers later in this collection by David Randall for further discussion of this.
7. Stuart Hall "Thatcher's Lessons' in Marxism Today March 1988.
8. Antonio Grarnsci Selections from the Prison Notebooks p. 179
9. ibid.
10. Lord Soper in the debate on Clause 28 in the House of Lords, January 1988
11. David Edgar Marxism Today October 1987.


homosexuality and the Anglo-Catholic subculture 1

Kenneth Leech

I want in this essay to examine the relationship between Anglo-Catholicism (henceforward abbreviated to ACism) and male homosexuality 2 in a sensitive and accurate way. Both sensitivity and accuracy are difficult: sensitivity, because it would be too easy to produce a glib and superficial account which might be misunderstood and misused, and this is particularly true in the present climate; accuracy, because, by its very nature, this is an area which has been affected by obscurity and camouflage. Let us therefore say at the outset that I do not intend this article to be seen as an overall critique of the Anglo-Catholic (AC) tradition, still less as an attack on AC homosexuals. My aim is to examine how ACism and homosexuality have been related, and whether that relationship has positive potential for the future.

I am aware that, in the present climate, sections of this essay could be misused by people who wish to find yet more ammunition against gay Christians. Indeed, I have seriously wondered whether to print it at all or simply to circulate it privately among friends. I specifically dissociate myself from, and condemn, any misuse of my argument by supporters of the present anti-gay campaigns. Nevertheless I believe that, in spite of these risks, there are important issues here which need serious and honest discussion, and I would not wish to contribute to the appalling atmosphere of dishonesty and secrecy about homosexuality within the Church of England. I would ask my gay friends to recognise the limitations of this contribution to the debate. I am writing as a more or less straight person who has never been part of the AC gay scene but has been on the edge of it as a sympathetic and critical observer for many years. I have found it in many ways a troubling and worrying phenomenon. But what has troubled me has not been the Catholicism or the homosexuality but the curious and often disabling relationship between the two. It is this which I wish to examine.

There is much confusion in the secular media, and sometimes within the church, about the AC phenomenon. It was noticeable, for example, that the publicity surrounding the suicide of Gareth Bennett included assumptions that conservatism in theology and politics went together, that "Anglo- Catholics" were an essentially conservative force, and that this conservatism was linked both with misogyny and with a predominantly gay lifestyle and ethos. Now each of these assumptions contains some truth, but as generalised comment they are very muddled and misleading. It is necessary therefore to .begin by trying to clarify the notion of ACism itself.

.Anglo-Catholicism as a subculture 3

When people use the term "Anglo-Catholic" they may be referring to one of a number of movements or tendencies, and often the distinctions between them have become blurred. They may, first, be referring to something which is quite different from Anglo-Catholicism, but which is often confused with it: namely the Tory High Church tradition which derived historically from the Caroline period and which antedated the Oxford Movement of the 19th Century. "High Church" and "Anglo-Catholic" are quite different although many people, both inside and outside the churches, assume they are synonymous.

Secondly, they may be referring to the Tractarian movement which began at Oxford in 1833: a movement which emphasied the catholicity of the Church of England, its identity with the pre-Reformation church, and its spiritual autonomy and independence of the state. The Tractarians opposed theological liberalism, and looked back to the patristic period more than to contemporary Rome as their source of authority and identity. ACism certainly grew out of Tractarianism, but the distinction between the early movement and later developments is important, historically and theologically.

Thirdly, they may be referring to what is known (incorrectly) as "Ritualism". (Ritual strictly is that which is related to rite, the language of the liturgy; the actions which accompany the liturgy are ceremonial, not ritual. Nevertheless the term "ritualist" has stuck as a description of the practitioners of impressive and "advanced" ceremonial.) The ritualist movement of the late 19th Century flourished in new industrial towns, in old city slums, in seaside resorts (whence the nickname given to ACism of "Brighton and South Coast religion") and in some very posh neighbourhoods. Ritualism contained within itself a number of different trends of which two were particularly significant and contrasted. There were those who looked to continental Rome for their inspiration both in theology and in rite and ceremony, and who became known therefore as "Anglo-Papalists" or "Romanisers" or, in C.B. Moss's term, "ultramarines'.4 They ranged, and still range, from those who see the Church of England as two provinces of the Western Church which have become separated from the See of Rome by a series of historical accidents, to those who, while rejecting many of the Roman claims, nevertheless, in their liturgical and spiritual practice, draw heavily on Roman teaching and styles. The changes in the Roman Communion since the Second Vatican Council have meant that the kind of Anglo-Papalism which was, in a previous era, associated with such groups as the Catholic League, the Society of the Holy Cross and the Society . for Promoting Catholic Unity, and journals such as The Pilot, The Dome and Crux, no longer exists except as a fringe oddity. However, the changed ecumenical climate has meant that a very wide range of people of differing theological emphases now feel free to draw on Roman theological, liturgical and spiritual developments in a way which has eroded much of the distinctive Papalist consciousness of the past. In this process of erosion, the 1960s was the crucial decade. In London, early Papalism became almost endemic in the Hoxton and Haggerston district of Shoreditch where it still represents the dominant version of Anglicanism.

The Papalist wing of ACism grew up at a time when the Roman Church itself was reviving its mission in England. This was the era of rococo Italian devotions, elaborate vestments, May s the "month of Mary", and dramatic processions with banners. There was a profound devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, to Christ as "the prisoner of the tabernacle". Here, in the words of Father Faber, "a helpless and captive God experiences a mournful universal solitude in the little dungeon of the tabernacle".5 Much of the Catholic piety of this type was very genteel, precious and dainty. It was a form of camp/kitsch devotionalism in which the symbolism of the Sacred Heart (often portrayed as a somewhat feminine young man) and the Blessed Virgin (an agenital, almost androgyne, young woman) were almost interchangeable. Hymns to the Sacred Heart ("Sweet Heart of Jesus, fount of love and mercy", "To Jesus' heart all burning" and so on) and to the Blessed Virgin would be high on the repertoire of these churches. Devotion to Mary the pure virgin was particularly ~ important, and AC men and women would pray, in Faber's words:

Thou who were pure as driven snow,
Make me as thou wert here below.6
A high mark of the Papalist movement within ACism was the restoration of the Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham. Modern Anglo-Papalism, while it may include some of the features mentioned above, is likely also to have absorbed much of the healthier and critical-, theology, spirituality and social thought of Vatican 2. Many AC socialists come from this wing of the church. The widespread use of The Divine Office by ACs -- to a vastly greater extent, and by a wider range of people, than was the case with the old Roman Breviary - - is indicative of the different character of contemporary Roman influence on the movement.

A quite different trend within ACism was that which became known as "English Use" or "Sarum", often ridiculed by its opponents as "British Museum religion". This wing of the movement was fiercely anti-Roman, held that Anglican Catholicism was a purer and superior type of Christianity to that of the Vatican, and in its worship drew more on the medieval English ceremonial than on that of modern Rome. Within this group were both theological liberals of the Gore type, and somewhat rigid Anglican Catholics of the genre of the late Dr. C.B. Moss. Moss was fiercely anti-Roman but even more anti-Protestant, and held that Anglican Catholicism was a unique and distinct species of Catholic Christianity. 7

A variant of these two positions which combines elements of both is found more in the Episcopal Church in the USA where Papalism of the English type never really existed. It is not uncommon in the USA to find Anglo-Catholic churches which take no notice, theologically or liturgically, of the contemporary Roman developments, but which use Roman ceremonial from a previous age. Thus they continue to use books such as the English Missal or its variant the Anglican Missal which contain rites and ceremonies which were once authorised by Rome but which today do not represent the liturgical practice of any Christian church. So Anglo-Catholicism of this type represents a fossilised form of Christian presence, a way in which abandoned and obsolete forms and styles continue to exist in pockets of a sectarian kind.

Fourthly, people, particularly those within the "Jubilee tendency", may be referring to the various forms of Catholic socialism associated with such figures as Stewart Headlam, Conrad Noel, Percy Dearmer or St. John Groser. For some, the concept of ACism relates to this "rebel tradition".8 And certainly there are areas of overlap with the movements mentioned above. But the socialists drew more on the theology of F.D. Maurice than on that of the Tractarians, and in many respects it is misleading to call them ACs at all. Their theology was quite different, and there was little love lost between the Catholic socialists and the Ritualists. W.G. Peck told Maurice Reckitt that he had been rescued from "lace and incense pietism" by the Catholic socialist movement.9 If one retains the term AC for the Catholic socialist tradition -- and there may be good grounds for doing so -- it is important to be clear that there were, and are, profound differences, theological and cultural, with other wings of the movement.

It is arguable that changes both in the Roman Communion since the Second Vatican Council, and in the Christian world as a whole since the Second World War, have meant that ACism as an identifiable phenomenon has ceased. to exist. Certainly many of the elements which were once the marks of the movement -- the centrality of the Eucharist, confession, retreats, and so on -- are now absorbed into the culture and life of "middle Anglicanism". It is also arguable that, to the extent that ACism survives, it does so as an exhausted religious tradition, one which has fulfilled its historic role and is not capable of further creative developments. I am not concerned to argue these issues here. Nevertheless, one can identify a type of worship and Christian life within the Church of England which lays great emphasis on the sacrifice of the Mass and on Christ's "real presence" in the sacrament, on the affinity with the Roman Communion, on the necessity of a recognised priesthood, and on the need for "correct" celebrations of the sacraments. In spite of all the changes which have occurred, an AC church is still recognisable and distinctive. And the AC world has many of the features of a subculture, a minority culture within the larger cultures both of Anglicanism and of the wider society. There are certain aspects, or offshoots, of the AC movement which are worth noting at this point.

1. Its emphasis on the doctrine of the incarnation, on the material basis of all religion and spirituality. The AC stress on sacramental worship, on the place of art, music and beauty, on incense, statues and banners, was an inevitable byproduct of its theology of creation and incarnation and of the church and sacraments as the extension of the incarnation into the world.

2 The element of rebelliousness and "nonconformity", evident not only in liturgical but also in social and cultural matters. George Orwell described ACism as "the ecclesiastical equivalent of Trotskyism", 10 an ironic observation since, although Orwell probably was unaware of the fact, one of the reasons given for the expulsion of the early Trotskyists from the Communist Party was their association with Conrad Noel and the Catholic Crusade) 11 Of course, it is also true that many Anglo-Catholics were, and are, to be found politically on' the extreme right, and some have been associated with a fascist position. Yet the rebel tradition remains a significant element within the movement as a whole.

3 The phenomenon known as "spikery". The spike is usually a male, often a young male, who has the minutiae of ceremonial at his finger tips. Spikes are to be found in all AC churches. Their distinguishing feature is their obsessive concern with liturgical "correctness", and at times their concern with "doing things properly" takes precedence over the actual ..meaning of the liturgy or indeed of the faith itself. While there are parallels in. the Roman Communion, spikery is essentially an AC creation, and does not exist in the same form anywhere else in the Christian world. It is one of .the curiosities of ACism and it arises wherever that movement takes root.

4 The more or less psychopathic fringe of "spikery" which veers off into the strange world of the episcopi vagantes, the range of curious sectarian groupings claiming valid episcopal orders from various sources. ACism and the world of irregular episcopacy have been associated since the days of Dr. Lee of Lambeth and Father Ignatius of Llanthony in the 19th Century.12 The gay culture within the Anglo-catholic movement

It is easy to see how some of the elements described above might connect t with the homosexual society, or at least might be seen to have connections. A religion based on the incarnation, the belief in the Word made flesh, might be expected to take human sexuality seriously, for if Christ has taken "manhood [i.e. humanity] into God", as the Athanasian Creed claims, then that must include sexuality. Again, it might be suggested that nonconformity in one area would attract nonconformists in other areas, or that "dressing up" in church would tend to attract male homosexual people. It is often assumed (wrongly) that all "spikes" are gay, while the high proportion of male homosexuals among the adherents of the episcopi vagantes has provided material for the Sunday papers for many years.

And in fact hostile critics and observers of the Anglo-Catholic movement .have recognised the connections from an early period. A recognisable male homosexual subculture grew up in the late 19th Century, the same period which saw the growth of the AC movement.13 The Wesleyan writer James .Rigg, writing in the 1890s, described the Oxford Movement as "characteristically feminine".14 Charles Kingsley accused both Roman Catholics and Tractarians of "foppery. ..a fastidious maundering, die-away effeminacy" 15 The newly founded Cuddesdon College was attacked for effeminacy in the 1850s. A Protestant visitor to St. Matthias, Stoke Newington in 1868 commented on the juvenile and womanly appearance of the men.16 Punch wrote of "Parsons in Petticoats" in 1865 17 while Mr. Kensit of the Protestant Truth Society, after a visit to St. Cuthbert's, Philbeach Gardens in 1898, observed that the congregation were "very poor specimens of men. ..They seemed a peculiar sort of people, very peculiar indeed" 18 An Oxford undergraduate in Evelyn Waugh's novel Brideshead Revisited (1945) was warned by his cousin, "Beware of the Anglo-Catholics -- they're all sodomites with unpleasant accents" 19. An account of Fr. Eric Cheetham, Vicar of St. Stephen's. Gloucester Road, noted that "like many Anglo-Catholic priests ...[he] seemed not altogether masculine. A pastime to which he was addicted was dressmaking" 20. There are many similar examples which could be cited. Many are funny, others very unpleasant, and most consist of half- truths and stereotypes; but they demonstrate that a perceived connection between ACism and homosexuality was part of the ammunition of critics of the movement from its early days.

Various studies of male homosexuality, such as that by Gordon Westwood in 1960, noted the attraction of ACism for Christian homosexuals.21 However, the only serious attempt to grapple with the relationship between ACism and homosexuality historically is that by David Hilliard.22 Hilliard's thesis is that ACism formed a context within which it was possible to be gay at a time when openness within society at large was not an option. One facet of homosexual subculture was Anglo-Catholic religion. For many homosexual men in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Anglo-Catholicism provided a set of institutions and religious practices through which they could express their sense of difference in an oblique and symbolic way

Hilliard associated the attraction of the AC movement to gay people -- and it is worth emphasising again that he and all other writers ignore the existence of lesbian Catholics entirely -- with the phenomenon "Anglo-Catholic baroque" or "high camp".

"Anglo-catholic Baroque" was a theatrical, slightly unreal style which . reflected the restless gaiety of the 1920s and the postwar urge to reject established social conventions. High Mass in an Anglican church with baroque interior decor, sung to music by Mozart or Schubert, belonged . to the age of the Charleston, Theosophy, the Russian Ballet and the first dramatic successes of Noel Coward. The same people often sampled them all. One can also sense a covert link between exotic church decoration, liturgical extravaganza and the over-ripe elegance of homosexual "camp".23 I think that Hilliard's thesis is basically correct, but it leaves some problems unresolved.

I. ACism was always ambivalent on the issue. The issue of homosexuality was often not directly raised within the pre-1960s AC subculture, a fact .which is, I believe, of great importance in understanding the current difficulties that the movement faces in coping with the issue. However, it is widely believed that the gay element within ACism was associated exclusively with the Papalist wing. It has often been assumed that there was a gulf between this wing and the more progressive direction taken by the Catholic socialists.

So a set of stereotypes and polarisations has emerged which, put crudely, might look like this:

Papalist Catholic socialist
Effeminate/homosexual Macho/heterosexual
Lace cottas Sarum surplices
Gin-drinking Beer-drinking
Pietist theology Kingdom theology
Reactionary Radical/revolutionary

Of course, this is a caricature; the position is not that simple. The gay element t within the Catholic Left, and the commitment to homosexual rights among Catholic socialists, is a very under-researched area. There is the enigmatic position of Stewart Headlam whose wife was lesbian and who caused scandal among his colleagues by standing bail for Oscar Wilde.24 There is the intriguing figure of Kenneth Ingram, the colleague of Stanley Evans and member of the Junction group, who, influenced by Edward Carpenter, was defending male comradeship in 1920, and writing books on the need for a new sexual ethic in the 30s and 40s.25 There is the interesting fact that the best-known AC homosexual of the 50s and 60s was the MP Tom Driberg who stood on the far Left of the Labour Party.26 On the other hand, it is certainly true that much in Catholic socialist rhetoric, in the writings of Conrad Noel, for example, seem to suggest a contempt for the effeminate character of ACism, .and an implicit anti-homosexual stance.27 I suspect that such rhetoric is deceptive, and that the situation is much more complicated.

2 The AC gay culture among clergy was undoubtedly reinforced through theological colleges, through the friendship networks built up around certain churches,. and through various guilds, sodalities and devotional societies, as well as through gatherings such as the annual pilgrimages at Walsingham. Clearly there is a positive aspect to such groupings in terms of the avoidance of isolation and the building of supportive structures. But have they also helped to reinforce a narrow, unreal, and elitist climate which has cut off gay clergy from the wider culture both of the Christian community and of homosexuals outside the AC world? Again, the elitist and marginal character of ACism has nothing particularly to do with gay people. The point is that they were among its victims and perhaps experienced a double marginalisation. .

3 It does seem clear that there is some correlation between the AC clerical ghetto (gay and straight) and the most extreme and pathological forms of hostility to the ordination of women, and indeed the deeply-rooted gynophobia which is endemic to much AC life. The contrast between the attitudes to women in this group and those among the post-1960s more openly gay Christians (represented, for example, in Britain in the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement) is very striking. Gynophobia and the dread of women is, of course, by no means restricted to sections of the "gin and lace" fringe of the AC movement: but it does seem there to have been exalted into a way of life in a very extreme form.

The AC gay culture grew up in the age which preceded gay liberation. The world of the closet and the world of the sacristy were historically coincident. The growth of the gay liberation movement and the wider struggle for homosexual equality took place at the very point at which traditional ACism was in deep confusion: the late 1960s and 70s, post-Vatican 2, post -"new morality", post -Honest to God, the years of debate about reunion schemes, new liturgies and women priests. The question must therefore be raised: given that ACism played an important role in the evolution of the male homosexual Christian community in Britain -- and I would certainly not deny that this is so -- is there any role left for it in the post-closet age? (Some would deny that we tire in a post-closet age, and certainly recent developments in state and church have taken us backwards: yet it is still easier for gay people to be open about their sexuality than was the case when the AC gay culture grew up.) .

Pathology or Potential?

The dilemma can be put very simply: does "coming ou t" involve a break with . the AC culture? Evidence from the USA suggests that while most lesbian and gay Anglicans belong to a strongly Catholic sacramental tradition, they would not feel able to identify with the AC party which is irredeemably identified with fierce anti-feminism, with a liturgically and politically conservative stance, and, paradoxically, an anti-gay posture in public pronouncements while maintaining the traditional AC gay culture in social and sexual practice. On the other hand, one of the clearest recent statements of the dignity and rights of gay people in the church came from the vestry of St. John's, Bowdoin Street, Boston, a church established by the Cowley Fathers and for years at the centre of the Catholic movement in the USA. Again, what .happens when women priests (hetero or lesbian) enter this culture? Or do they? Is it correct to speak of a cleavage between two types of AC culture now? Or has ACism as such died, its insights having been absorbed into a .wider sacramental movement? The scene is very fluid and confused. There is no doubt that the AC movement once played a positive role in helping gay people to find a home within the Christian community. In many places this is still the case. The question now is: does ACism today make it more difficult for gay people to integrate their gayness into their Christian discipleship, and encourage a dualism of celibacy/promiscuity with no middle road? Certainly, some AC priests seem to operate on the basis of a rigid anti-gay position in what they say, combined with a very permissive attitude in what they do and in their pastoral dealings with others. The combination of public anti-gay rhetoric and private gay lifestyle is well known in some AC circles and produces curiously unpleasant manifestations from time to time. Statements by some leading AC bishops in recent months suggest that they too are living in two worlds, speaking in public as if "practising" homosexual clergy did not exist in their dioceses, yet surely knowing from their pastoral experience that this is not the case. The AC subculture seems to have promoted this kind of doublespeak and dualism, and encouraged its growth. It is not a promising basis on which to build a responsible sexual ethic. And yet here history is of crucial importance. In my experience some of the most difficult and painful pastoral and spiritual problems relating to gay ACs arise with those people, priests and laity, whose religious formation took place in the years before the end of the 60s. There is an important cleavage as one enters the 70s. But many AC priests who were ordained in or before the 60s, for example, find it incredibly difficult to be open and honest about their homosexuality -- even to themselves. I am not casting blame. The AC culture, including the culture of certain theological colleges, encouraged and reinforced the dualism, and I am in no position to say that, in the climate of those years, that could have been avoided. But it has clearly created very serious problems for the 80s. That is, I think, the heart of the AC dilemma: it is deeply rooted in the history of the movement.

My provisional conclusion is that it is probably not possible for gay Anglicans to make much theological and spiritual sense of being gay within the climate fostered by ACism without a definite break either with the "pathological" aspects of the subculture, or possibly with the subculture as a whole. Some would argue that the whole subculture is pathological, that ACism today is so deeply damaged in its attitudes to sexuality that it is incapable of healthy growth. Certainly, the atmosphere within the AC world since the General . Synod debate does not give many grounds for hope that it constitutes a place to which gay people can look for honesty, courageous exploration of new ground, or any commitment to the defence of lesbian and gay people in the present hostile and oppressive climate. On the other hand, there are hopeful signs, and ACism is at least free of the very unpleasant and deranged forms of homophobia associated with some types of evangelical fundamentalism. A great deal depends on how responsive ACs, particularly the younger generation, are to the positive movements of the last two decades, and that takes us beyond sexuality to the critique of the whole framework of our society.


1 I naively used the phrase "lace, gin and backbiting", as a description of some of the more depressing facets of the AC subculture in London, a letter in a fairly obscure newspaper called The Catholic Standard (November 1975 p.3). It was later picked t! up by the Church Times (12th December 1975) and even made the New Statesman competition at a later date. It seems now to have become a common term for the fussy, precious. gynophobic and unpleasant side of AC culture.
2 As far as I can see, all the material on homosexuality and ACism ignores the existence of lesbians.
3 For the beginnings of use of the word "subculture" see J.M. Yinger, "Contraculture and subculture", American Sociological Review 12:5 (October 1960) pp. 625-635.
4 See C.B. Moss, Anglo-Catholicism at the Cross Roads (Faith Press 1933).
5 Cited in Anthony Archer, The Two Catholic Churches:a study in oppression (SCM Press 1986) p. 25.
6 F.W. Faber, Hymns (1861 edn.).
7 For Moss's position see his Anglo-Catholicism at the Cross Roads (1933) and many other works.
8 For more discussion of this tradition see Robert Bocock, "Anglo-Catholic socialism; a study of a protest movement within a church", Social Compass 20: 1 (1973) pp. 31-48. Kenneth Leech, "The Christian Left in Britain 1850-1950". in.Agenda for Prophets (ed. Rex Ambler and David Haslam, Bowerdean Press 1980) pp. 61-72; John R. Orens, Politics and the Kingdom: the legacy of the Anglican Left (Jubilee. Group 1981), The Mass. the Masses and the Music Hall: Stewart Headlam's Radical Anglicanism (Jubilee Group 1979), and "Priesthood and prophecy" in Essays Catholic and Radical (ed. K. Leech and R. Williams, Bowerdean Press 1983)j and . Francis Penhale, Catholics in Crisis (Mowbrays 1986) Chapter 9: 'Catholic Socialism', (pp. 121-139).
9 W.G. Peck; letter to Maurice Reckitt, 15th October 1934.
10 George Orwell, Inside the Whale and other essays (Penguin 1979 edn.) p. 35.
11 See Willie Gallacher, "We have no room for Trotskyists", Daily Worker 23rd August 1932: "In the forefront of those involved in this are the erstwhile Catholic Crusaders, Purkis and Groves".
12 The episcopi vagantes are, of course, a mixed group, including some devout and intelligent people. Undoubtedly, however, parts of the movement do attract the more unstable and problematic elements from the Angio-catholic underworld.
13 See Jeffrey Weeks, "Movements of affirmation: sexual meanings and homosexual identities", Radical History Review 20 (1979) pp. 164-179. TIre term "homosexuality" seems to have been used first by the Hungarian Benkert in 1869.
14 James H. Rigg, Oxford High Anglicanism and its Chief Leaders (London, Charles .H. Kelly, 1895).
15 Frances Kingsley ed. Charles Kingsley: his letters and memories of his life (Kegan Paul 1881) I. p. 201.
16 The Rock, 9th and 12th June 1868.
17 Punch 48 (10th June 1865) p. 239.
18 The Protestant Alliance. Verbatim report of speeches delivered at the Great Demonstration held in the Queen's Hall, Langham Place.. May 3rd 1898 (R.J. Haynes 1898) p. 23.
19 Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited (Boston, Little Brown and Co 1946) p. 26.
20 T.S. Matthews, Great Tom (1974) p.117.
21 Gordon Westwood, A Minority (Longmans 1960) pp. 54-55.
22 David Hilliard, "UnEngiish and unmanly: Anglo-catholicism and homosexuality", Victorian Studies 25:2 (Winter 1982) pp.181-210.
23 ibid. pp. 184,205.
24 See Peter Coleman, Christian Attitudes to Homosexuality (SPCK 1980) pp. 149- 150. For a fuller treatment of Headlam see John R. Orens, The Mass, the Masses and the Music Hall: Stewart Headlam's Radical Anglicanism. Columbia University PhD 1976. A copy of this thesis is in the Local History Room, Tower Hamlets Central library, Bancroft Road, London E1
25 See Kenneth Ingram, The Modern Attitude to the Sex Problem (Allen and Unwin 1930) and other works.
26 See Tom Driberg, Ruling Passions (Cape 1977).
27 Noel's papers are in the University of Hull. .



One woman's response to the recent debate on homosexuality

Clare Sealy

Five years ago, as a young theological student starting on a course in Christian ethics, I read the Gloucester Report for the first time. I remember being somewhat disappointed that although it had heard evidence from a good number of sources on both sides of the debate, it had come to rather tame and unadventurous conclusions. However, on rereading the report, I was struck by how, for all its failings, in comparison to the recent 'debate' on homosexuality, the Gloucester Report stands out as a shining example of theological enquiry. At least the Gloucester Report had the decency to ask various groups of gay people for their point of view. The recent 'debate', by contrast, has been markedly economical, if not with the truth, then at least with the data gathered on which it based its assumptions. The result of this has been panic, denunciation and a widespread bearing of false witness against our homosexual neighbour.

As a woman in the church, this experience of hearing a false witness brought against you is a familiar one. At the heart of the Christian feminist enterprise lies the insistence of the validity of our own experience. Our lives, our attempts to be God-like, constitute an authentic theological source, a place where God's liberative power can be discerned. Theology which has been written solely by men inevitably tends to be written from a male point of view. That this bias is neither malicious nor conscious is not the point. It is the substitution of the full story by partial testimony that we reject as bearing false witness.

The parallels between the treatment of women and the treatment of gay people are striking. Just as women labour against the assumption that to be male is to be paradigmatically human with femaleness tagged along afterwards as a sort of derivative sub-species of the human whole, so gay men and women struggle against the a priori assumption of heterosexual superiority. The false witness that has been borne against gay men and women includes downright lies, stereotyping and the perpetuation of popular myth, the deliberate censoring of accurate images of what it is like to be gay, as well as the refusal to listen to the testimony of our gay brothers and sisters as to the worth, value and the integrity of their life-style, and the exclusion of the homosexual point of view.

Among the category of downright liars we must include those for whom the testimony of our gay brothers and sisters who bear witness to the countless stable, mutual and grace-full relationships between people of the same sex .is not sufficient to shift from their highly slanderous and indubitably false witness that homosexuality is intrinsically and inevitably linked with promiscuity and child abuse. We are presented with the spurious scenario of, on the one hand, heterosexual coition within marriage as, ex opere operato bringing forth loving faithful and committed relationships, and, on the other, with any deviation from this pattern as automatically plunging into one promiscuous paedophilic bestial necrophilia! A more faithful witness to the reality of homosexuality would reveal that, much like heterosexuality, it can be manifested responsibly, lovingly and reciprocally as well as recklessly, trivially and exploitatively -- and that for most people, relationships have both creative and destructive features. It would also bear witness to the reality of homosexual relationships between women.

Talk on homosexuality almost invariably focuses exclusively on male homosexuality. Reference to female homosexuality, or lesbianism, is omitted either because, like Queen Victoria, one does not believe that it exists, or, because one regards it as merely the female analogue of male homosexuality. (The recent debate is a case in point.) And so, for a change, let us bear witness to the fact that lesbian relationships are characteristically (although of course not automatically or ontologically), highly monogamous and that lesbian culture places immense value on reciprocity and valuing of the other. There are practically no cases of lesbian 'rape' or child abuse. The use of prostitutes by lesbians is exceptionally rare. Pornography is not a prominent feature of lesbian culture (although debate about the morality of it is). Thus, lesbian relationships 'score' more highly than heterosexual or male homosexual relationships. The hard fact is that promiscuity, child abuse, rape and pornography are 'characteristic' not of same-sex sexuality, but of male sexuality and uncharacteristic of female sexuality.

However the witness of women as to the character of their sexuality does not seem to be admissable evidence in the court of theological enquiry. When female sexuality in general, and lesbian sexuality in particular are deemed worthy of consideration, the traditional Natural Law approach to sexual ethics has to be considerably modified. The traditional Natural Law argument goes something like this. We are created beings, and we are created for a purpose, an end, a telos, and it is in the fulfilment of that end that the path of moral rectitude is to be found. The whole process relies on a successful recognition of the telos of a particular thing. Unfortunately, it is exactly in the diagnosis of this telos that the weakness of this approach lies. The appropriate designation of telos is highly prone to ideological highjacking. This is not necessarily through any deliberate malice on the part of the designator, but inevitably happens due to the cultural assumptions, the partial testimony, and ignorance on the part of the designator. When the designator is a celibate man talking about sex, that ignorance leads to invincibility. The assumption in catholic sexual teaching that sexuality = reproduction is a case in point. This erroneous presupposition has arisen due to the search for the telos of sexuality focussing solely on male sexuality, and seeing female sexuality as merely analogous and derivative from male paradigmatic sexuality. In the male, the organ of reproduction is (among other things), the organ of erotic pleasure. The absolutising of this biological economy measure into a hermeneutical rule against which all other forms of sexual expression must be measured is responsible for the inaccurate, prejudiced and ultimately oppressive nature of catholic sexual teaching. For, of course, with women nature has been much more generous and taken no anatomical short cuts. We have separate organs for reproductive and erotic purposes. It is entirely possible, (and indeed all too common) for a women to reproduce without her partner coming anywhere near an organ of erotic pleasure (and of course to experience erotic pleasure without any possibility of reproduction). The confusion of the generative with the erotic is a mistake made because male sexuality was taken as paradigmatic. It is tempting to ponder what sort of sexual ethics we would have now if female sexuality had been taken as archetypal. After all, if the sole function of the clitoris is to give pleasure, what sort of telos does that imply for sexual behaviour?

The fixation on male sexuality to the exclusion of female sexuality graphically demonstrates the dangers inherent in assuming that a partial testimony gives the whole truth. A partial testimony, especially if it is not seen as partial, is a false witness.

The church, as the witness of the One who is the Truth, can never be content with a witness that is partial or false, but must always seek to act with honesty and integrity, banishing myths and ousting prejudices. To dispel the lies and bigotries concerning homosexuality is morally incumbent on the church, even if that church should decide that it is not able to commend the physical expression of same-sex relationships. For the promotion of truth to be effective, it is not sufficient merely to denounce specific misrepresentations when they arise. (Although, if the church were to start to take only this small step, vigorously to denounce all portrayals of homosexuals as intrinsically promiscuous or paedophilic, that would be an immense improvement on the current situation.) Misrepresentation in the specific is only possible because of a more general misrepresentation that has become embedded within our common culture. That is to say, it is the spurious and prejudicial but culturally .common assumption regarding homosexuality (which some call homophobia), that give specific lies the air they need to breathe:- credibility. If the denunciation of this evil is to be effective, then it must tackle socio-cultural representation as well as specific instances of misrepresentation by media, politicians and 'moral' crusaders. In order for this to happen, it is necessary for positive images of homosexuality to become part and parcel of our common cultural inheritance. That is to say, in order to confront the false witness of so much that is said about homosexuality, it is necessary to present positive role models of loving, stable relationships between people of the same sex.

One area where it is especially important that this advocacy of positive images takes place is in the classroom. It is therefore vital, that if our education system is to bear faithful witness to reality as it is, it does not deliberately censor images of sections of the population, or misrepresent them as intrinsically corrupt or corrupting. Education should be concerned with dispelling ignorance and prejudice and not the fostering of it. Unfortunately present government policy looks likely to do just that. For example, the Baker circular on sex education in schools prohibits '. ..advocating homosexual behaviour. ..'. But what is advocacy? Is it not precisely that giving testimony to, that 'putting the record straight', that uncovering of false witness? If the church really is imbued with the Spirit 'who leads us into all truth', then the church -- of all places -- should be vitally concerned with the work of 'advocacy', of championing the cause of those who are represented, be they gay or black or women. To be an advocate on behalf of the marginalised and rejected is precisely part of the mission of the church if the church is to bear faithful witness to the one who is our Advocate. This is the true tragedy .of the recent debate. For instead of fulfilling this mission, the church, through weakness and through its own deliberate fault has done its bit to fuel the irrational fear and hatred of homosexuals by society at large. The church has not listened to the voices of those within it who bear witness that homosexual relationships can be stable, mutual and grace-full. It has not spoken out against political attempts to isolate gay people from mainstream culture. It has not commended the work of local councils who have courageously stood by their commitment to gay and lesbian civil rights, and paid a high price for it. Instead, the church has slavishly followed the spirit of the age.

This sickening inability to display any independence of thought and merely to reiterate in 'christianised' form the deeply unChristian morality of the present administration was especially marked in the recent debate and its aftermath. What I found really shocking about the 'debate', notwithstanding the lack of methodological rigour, was the paucity of the theological reflect- ion and consequent trivialisation of sexuality. The 'debate' seemed to consist mainly of blunt assertions as to the normativity and superiority of heterosexuality and an elevation of certain verses from Leviticus and Romans into a hermeneutical key for the interpretation of the entire canon. This seems particularly stupid when so much excellent discussion on sexuality abounds by feminist and gay theologians. Instead of considering our sexuality, our embodiedness, as a place where God's good presence may be discerned, rather than reflecting upon how sexual relationships can be a means of grace and an effective sign of God's commitment to God's people, the General Synod seems intent on reducing discussion of sexuality to a set of Rules of Engagement and a morbid fixation on the permissibility of various forms of Genital Acts. This approach does not only fail to bear faithful witness to what it is to be sexual, but gives a false witness of what it is to be human too! If we wish to have an honest theology of sexuality, a theology that does not bear false witness, then we must a) be sensitive to the tendency of doctrine to degenerate into ideology, a means of promoting one's own interest at the expense of someone else's, and b) see the task of that theology as articulating the liberative, salvific Word of God.

If women and gay people are to be saved in any meangingful sense, this salvation must necessarily include a salvation from whatever diminishes, distorts or denies their full humanity. Theologies of sexual relations must take full cognisance of the fact that sexual relations involve social realities as well as biological givens. This social reality includes the situation where women and gay people have an unequal and diminished access to housing, employment, healthcare, justice in matters of law, physical and mental well- being, cultural representation, sexual expression, social power and prestige. In addition, women also experience inferior access to income and education. It is inconceivable to me how any respectable theology of sexual relations could be formulated without specific and detailed attention to this imbalance of power. When this imbalance of power is taken seriously, it reveals how ridiculous is the assertion, (much loved by the Gloucester Report), of the essential 'complementarity' of the sexes. The 'complementarity' of the sexes is a very powerful cultural myth behind which the evils of rape, wife battering and gay bashing find ideological refuge.

The problem with the recent 'debate' was that the debate never really happened. Now, more than ever, we need theologies of sexuality that take sex seriously, that do not trivialise sex by reducing it to mere biology. We must replace the blathering false witness of the heterosexual men who stand to gain most by a continuation of the socio-sexual status quo with the witness .of those whose sexuality has been denied, or outlawed or exploited. If we believe in the Exodus God who uses the oppressed and the down-trodden to reveal God's salvific presence, then we must believe that the sexually oppressed and the sexually exploited have most to tell us about what a theology of sexuality should look like. Straight women, lesbian women and gay men enjoy an epistemological priority on matters of sexuality, since they constitute the concrete, historical mediation through which the liberative power of God is made manifest.

The church that bears witness to the Embodied God, must both signify and effect the redemption of our bodies from the structural sexual sins of misogyny and homophobia. Until the witness of women and gay people concerning the validity of their experience is heard and respected as constituting an authentic theological source and locus of God's gracious activity, the church will continue to bear false witness against those amongst who, as oppressed and exploited peoples, the witness to our God of Liberation shines most clearly.


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