Homosexual, bisexual and transsexual people should be treated with “compassion” and as equal Christians, according to a new Church of England guide published today.
The debate about human sexuality is not one that will go away, and Christians must remember that real people “really do have homosexual and bisexual desires”, the study Some Issues in Human Sexuality said.
Referring to homosexual, bisexual and transsexual people, it said: “It is likely that they will have encountered misunderstandings or hostility from members of the Christian Church in the past, and, if the Christian gospel is to be meaningful to them, it will need to be incarnated in terms of Christ’s love.
“If this is in the context of pastoral care, then that must offer them understanding, support, and unconditional love as they seek to meet the challenges to Christian discipleship that their particular form of sexuality raises.”
The guide, published by the Church of England House of Bishops, comes in the wake of the row over the consecration on Sunday of Canon Gene Robinson, an openly gay man, as Bishop of New Hampshire in the US.
His elevation has drawn condemnation from traditionalist Anglican leaders throughout the world and has plunged the 70 million-strong worldwide Anglican Communion into crisis.
The Rt Rev Richard Harries, Bishop of Oxford, who chaired the working party which drew up the guide, said in the foreword that it did not seek to change the statement made in 1991 by the House of Bishops entitled Issues in Human Sexuality.
The document published 12 years ago said heterosexual marriage was the proper context for sexual activity.
It said that homosexuality could not be regarded as an equally valid “expression of God’s intention” as heterosexuality but stressed that gay people are not of less value as people who are heterosexual.
And it said that gay people in long-term relationships should not be excluded from the fellowship of the Christian church, or from Holy Communion, although gay clergy should remain celibate.
The new guide outlines the background to the debate in the Anglican Church and sets out the arguments and the use of the Bible in determining sexual ethics.
It urges more education and informed debate about human sexuality.
It also questions the “unhealthy obsession” with sexual sin and asks Christians to “explore” whether this was preventing them from focusing on other forms of sin such as commercial greed, poverty and inequalities of wealth.
The new document also calls for the Church to continue work to combat homophobia and homophobic violence.
The Rt Rev Harries said it was intended to bring about “greater levels of mutual understanding”, encouraging people to be better informed and to listen to each other.
The other members of the working party which drew up the guide were The Rt Rev Dr Peter Forster, Bishop of Chester, The Rt Rev John Gladwin, Bishop of Guildford and the Rt Rev Michael Scott-Joynt, Bishop of Winchester.
Bishop Harries, speaking as the new guide was published, said: “Recent events have highlighted the need for such a guide and the House of Bishops believe it has become timely to publish this study guide now to help Christian people think through different aspects of gay, lesbian and transsexual relationships.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, said: “It is clear that there is a real need for more study of the issues raised by human sexuality.
“We have done a great deal of work as a church on this matter and we know that there is much still to be learned.”