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September 2008

Let's talk about sex

Third Way does not usually cover church politics. The specifics of GAFCON, Lambeth and the challenges to the Anglican communion are well covered elsewhere. But the debate about a female or homosexual bishopric crosses into territory we are more familiar with, namely the relationship the Christian faith (and how it presents itself) has with the world at large.

The difficulty is that there is more than one 'world' to address. Or at least, that the world looks rather different depending on which corner of it you call home. Issues of gender and sexuality are treated differently in different places, and not just inside the church. Much as the legacy of colonialism makes it difficult for the UK to intervene in Zimbabwe, organized religion must be careful of being seen to impose western sensibilities on the developing world.

St Paul was scathing about those who insisted that following Jewish law was essential for a new follower of the Way. Yet he was prepared to circumcise Timothy to ensure that his preaching would be well received. Ironically, modern liberals suggest that his teaching on homosexuality can be discounted for other reasons of context: that he would not have encountered gay relationships that were a loving partnership of equals.

If this be the case - that is, if context must be considered before deciding upon an appropriate course of action - surely it behoves us to consider how gender and sexuality are treated in all the countries that will be affected by decisions made here. Westerners may find it ridiculous that we discriminate, and this magazine might agree, but arguably this is inverted elsewhere.

Clearly, one cannot choose gender as one could choose circumcision; whether people should be excluded from becoming bishops on the basis of it is a different order of question. But it is still a question of how a culture might best receive the Gospel. Third Way does not want to challenge a woman's access to the bishopric, but we do want to ask whether, for some countries, it is more or less important than how well our preaching might be received.