Pope Francis and the sexuality debate

 

By Andrew Symes and Lisa Nolland

 

The Pope is continually being asked what he thinks about homosexuality, and his replies are being analysed for evidence of a shift in the teaching of the Catholic Church. As with Justin Welby, one can detect exasperation: his Holiness wishes he could talk about other things. But he has spoken: what has he said?

 

Though some of the spin surrounding his most recent interview would indicate a change in moral position, we do not believe this is the case. For example, he says “ The teaching of the church… is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.” His concern is to go on the front foot with the message of the Catholic Church and indeed the Christian faith as being about salvation, reconciliation with God, and how encounter with Jesus “makes the heart burn as it did for the disciples at Emmaus”. A religion of rules, of do’s and don’ts, is a travesty of the Gospel as well as being poor for the church’s image.

However, the Pope makes it clear that within the community of faith, once there has been conversion and acceptance of Christ’s Lordship, there must be “catechesis” and the teaching of “moral consequence”. This would of course include the traditional understanding of sexuality and marriage, along with all the other facets of the Christian life. Francis seems to be implying here that the focus of the church’s moral teaching should be primarily on Christians, although he does not rule out the historic role of the church in seeking to uphold the wellbeing of all citizens.

So at Anglican Mainstream we are delighted if Pope Francis, in responding to issues around human sexuality, wants the church to maintain an orthodox Christian sexual ethic while engaging evangelistically and pastorally with the needs of the wider culture. However, talking about these issues at any level is like entering a minefield, which is probably one reason so few leading Christians will do so.

As Christians we have a very positive message to share, and we hope that the Church of England leadership will follow the Pope’s lead in doing this. This means not talking about sexual issues above all others, but when the topic arises, promoting healthy sexuality, strong marriages, and children who know and love, and are known and loved, by the two people who created them. We believe in the power of forgiveness and the reality of personal transformation. We also are dedicated to creating spaces in both the public sphere and the religious world in which these matters can be discussed without fear of reprisal or punishment.

We are deeply concerned by all that would destroy the good creation gifts of life. The Victorians used to say something along the lines of, ‘We do not break the Commandments. We break ourselves on them’. We believe that as a society we damage both ourselves and the community by embracing what God has said is toxic to our well-being: in fact, it is the antithesis of ‘love’ and a misuse of freedom. So at times it will be sadly necessary for the church to warn against casual sexual relationships, pornography and same sex “marriage”, in the same way that it should warn against greed and the exploitation of the poor, because we cannot ignore with impunity God’s design for human flourishing.

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