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Yes to Gay Identity, No to Gay Sex? The Concept Shaking the Foundations of the ACNA

Yes to Gay Identity, No to Gay Sex? The Concept Shaking the Foundations of the ACNA

By Edgar Noble
https://juicyecumenism.com/2021/03/04/gay-identity-acna/
March 4, 2021

Faced with growing pressure within the Anglican Church in North America to affirm the validity of a new "gay-but-celibate" identity movement, the ACNA College of Bishops issued a Pastoral Statement on January 19, 2021. The nearly 4,000-word statement projected empathy and even conceded criticisms from those who describe themselves as gay, but ultimately advised against the use of terminology like "gay Christian."

According to the Bishops, "To insist on the adjective 'gay,' with all of its cultural attachments, is problematic to the point that we cannot affirm its usage in relation to the word 'Christian'..." Such language, they said, "skews" us away from our "identity in Christ." They directed ACNA Provincial publications and teaching events to follow their guidance, but left latitude for diocesan bishops out of respect for subsidiarity.

The Bishops had not rushed into taking this stance. The problematic terminology had been spreading for a number of years. The Bishops were arguably slow to judge, "quick to listen, slow to speak" (James 1:19).

But when the Bishops issued their Pastoral Statement, reaction was swift.

The week following release of the Statement, Johana-Marie Williams, interim director of ACNA's own Anglican Multiethnic Network (AMEN) issued a scathing critique of the Bishop's Statement. Presenting herself as a champion of "LGBT+ Christians," she unflinchingly deployed the identity language condemned by the Bishops. Their Statement, she said, reflects the church's continued failure to "care for sexual minorities," a neglect linked to "LGBT suicidality." The Bishops' mention of fluidity in sexual feelings was, she claimed, a backhanded legitimation of "ex-gay theology." This is "most damaging, heaping the most shame on the heads of sexual and gender minority children in the Church." In case there was any confusion about where she stood, Johana-Marie Williams explained on the same website that her aim is to "show how a deeper commitment to Jesus Christ" leads to "a deeper commitment to fighting the capitalist-imperialist-racist-hetero-patriarchy." She also described herself as a "Womanist," defined as "a woman who loves other women, sexually and/or nonsexually." Alongside Williams, the AMEN website features a leadership and advisory team including Canons from the Gulf Atlantic Diocese, the Jurisdiction of Armed Forces and Chaplaincy, and the Churches for the Sake of Others (C4SO) Diocese.

About three weeks later, on February 22nd, another group of Anglicans criticized the College of Bishops' Statement in an open letter called "Dear Gay Anglicans" (still available at this site). Echoing Johana-Marie Williams of AMEN, the letter decried the inequities experienced by "sexual minorities," whom the church shortchanges in favor of "straight people." It forcefully affirmed the terminology that the Bishops had advised against. Reiterating the term "gay Anglican" seven times (eight if you count the title), the letter argued that the identifying adjective of "gay" is both valid and helpful--especially for "gay Anglicans who are committed to a traditional sexual ethic" (i.e., to chastity/celibacy outside of man-woman marriage).

The letter claimed "ACNA bishops, priests, deacons, and lay people" as signatories, prominent among them the Rev. Dr. Greg Peters, author of a book now popular in ACNA circles, The Monkhood of All Believers. Bishop Todd Hunter of the C4SO Diocese issued his own statement--directly hyperlinked in the "Dear Gay Anglicans letter"--in which he too objected to the thinking of the College of Bishops. In the course of doing so, he pointedly used "gay Christian" nomenclature.

Headquarters started to take notice.

The next day, February 23rd, ACNA Archbishop Foley Beach issued an open letter--at 1:15 a.m.--to his own Diocese of the South. He came out swinging. While the "Dear Gay Anglicans" letter "says they are not undermining our Pastoral Statement, they actually are. Replacing 'gay Christian' with 'gay Anglican' is pretty much in your face." He also noted that the Dear Gay Anglicans letter had "already had international ramifications. I have had to deal with two provinces already (actually now three as of a few minutes ago)--and this is just the first day."

Two days later (February 25th), Bishop Eric Menees of the San Joaquin Diocese issued his own pastoral letter to his churches. The San Joaquin diocese, like others, suffered major personal and financial losses for taking its early stand against the gender progressive turn in The Episcopal Church. Perhaps galvanized by this history, Bishop Menees said that the "Dear Gay Anglicans" letter "claims to support the College of Bishop's Pastoral Letter on Sexuality and Identity" but "it does not." It is instead "a broadside against the province, the authority of our bishops, and our polity as Anglicans."

Of course, the Archbishop was right about international reaction.

The day before Archbishop Beach published his own diocesan message, Bishop Felix Orji, Coordinating Bishop of the Church of Nigeria North American Mission (CONNAM), had already posted a Facebook message (on February 22) forbidding his clergy to sign the "Dear Gay Anglican" letter. In his view, the letter used "clever manipulation of language" to effectively "condone" homosexual activity.

Then the Nigerian church--home to more Anglicans than any other jurisdiction in the world--weighed in. Speaking as Primate of All Nigeria (Anglican Church), Archbishop Henry Ndukuba declared on February 26th that "The deadly 'virus' of homosexuality has infiltrated ACNA." He chastised the ACNA Bishops for not taking a stronger position in their January 19th Pastoral Statement, which he described as a "statement of toleration." It was "tantamount to a subtle capitulation to recognize and promote same-sex relations." This, he argued, was "exactly the same route of argument adopted by The Episcopal Church (TEC). Its appeal to subsidiarity is another trick not to submit to the clear authority of Scripture on homosexuality, rather, they defer to individual Bishops' discretion of discernment on how to relate to homosexuals, and offer them room." Ominously, Archbishop Ndukuba warned of the implications for global Anglicanism:

"ACNA was formed by GAFCON, as a safe haven for faithful Christians who reject the apostasy and rebellion in TEC. They should not now find in ACNA the aberrations which drove them from TEC. It is more serious that the Archbishop of ACNA, Archbishop Foley Beach is also the current Chairman of GAFCON. Therefore, his actions or inactions and that of his Province have serious implications for GAFCON leadership."

Archbishop Ndukuba was voicing what many North American Anglicans were asking privately as they began to see previously unknown "woke" influences within ACNA--including the "gay but celibate" identity doctrine, the notion that gay identity confers a legitimate "sexual minority" status in the face of a dominantly heterosexual society, and the drive against "capitalist-imperialist-racist-hetero-patriarchy." The questions are obvious: "What was the point of establishing ACNA in the first place? What was the value of all the sacrifice and all the lawsuits? Why did our African and Asian brethren stick their necks out to rescue us?--if this is what the ACNA now countenances and affirms?"

It is too early to foresee the outcome of this episode, but there are a few late developments.

According to reports, the "womanist," anti-"hetero-patriarchy" director of the Anglican Multiethnic Network has been removed from her leadership position, although she remains featured on the AMEN website as of this writing. (Presumably no one participating in or overseeing AMEN had been aware of her views until now.)

Apparently with the Nigerians in mind, the Provincial office issued a press release on February 27, 2021 (the day after Archbishop Nkukuba's volley) insisting that the ACNA "has not moved" away from "the biblical understanding of sexuality and human identity."

Also, in response to a request from Bishop Martyn Minns of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh, the author of the "Dear Gay Anglicans" letter took it down from the internet. He framed its removal as an act of submission to the authority of the Bishops. His removal statement speaks pointedly of "gay people," thus deploying the adjective in the service of an identity claim in precisely the manner barred by the Bishops to whom he is supposedly being submissive. (He says he continues to "work toward a Church where gay/same-sex attracted people can thrive in celibacy.")

The ongoing controversy is inevitably entangled with church polity, authority, and subsidiarity, as the dueling public statements indicate. Such matters deserve attention, but what about the substance of the matter? What shall we make of the "gay-but-celibate" identity claim that triggered the controversy?

A Millennial-aged Anglican ordinand recently shared with me his thoughts on the matter. He said he was comfortable with the "gay-but-celibate" concept, could not quite understand the negative reaction to the "Dear Gay Anglicans" letter, and did not see any obvious connections between these issues and the political anti-hetero-patriarchy rhetoric of the AMEN ministry leader (which he admitted was "troubling"). His friendly comments are likely representative of many younger Anglicans tuning in to the controversy:

"Having read the letter, which was penned by a Side B celibate, and founder of a house for Anglican men with SSA who vow celibacy, I can't put my finger on the parts of the letter that are concerning. The letter may appear to be a slap in the face, but it seems to me like a minority group whose concerns weren't heard in the College articulating a mediating position--nowhere affirming homosexual practice and agreeing with the non-ideal designation of 'gay Christian,' and affirming that all identities are penultimate to our identity in Christ."

These thoughtful comments deserve a response beyond just pointing to the need for authority and submission in a church hierarchy.

To understand, we must consider the cultural context. Fortunately, the context is familiar to virtually everyone touched by the controversy: the context is the practice of identity claims, and identity politics, in late 20th and early 21st century Western society. Let me start by addressing the concept of sexual identity claims and then consider their social, political, and theological dimensions.

Everybody is now familiar with the notion of a sexual identity claim. In fact, most people no longer give it a second thought because it has become ingrained by social repetition. The conventionally accepted notion is that people have sexual inclinations that are either "gay" or "straight," or else correspond to some other element of the now-familiar LGBTQI+ menu. Accordingly, an individual examines himself and discovers some pattern of sex-related feelings, and notices that they correspond to a gender identity on the menu. As a result, he says to himself: This is who I am. It is my nature. It is how I am made. Or if religious, "God made me straight" or "God made me gay," or etc. Moreover, since this is allegedly a discovery of who I am, it pertains to my identity before it pertains to my actions. As a result, I can be "straight" while celibate. I can "be gay" apart from whether I currently "do gay."

This conceptual apparatus is of fairly recent vintage, as I will show. Regardless, it opens a new ideational horizon for Bible-oriented Christians. Within this conceptual apparatus, you can "be gay" while also being "committed to a traditional sexual ethic" (in the words of the "Dear Gay Anglicans" letter); you can be someone who "upholds the orthodox Christian sexual ethic and yet acknowledges that they themselves might not be straight or cis" (in the words of Johanna Williams of AMEN). They can insist on regarding themselves as being gay; they can simultaneously reassure themselves (and others) that they do not intend to violate God's rules governing sexual acts (at least they don't intend to do so any more than any other fallen, redeemed person of any sexual identity would intend to do so). They can hold firmly to a gay identity even while affirming that marriage is a status only available to one "cis" man and one "cis" woman (to employ the adjectival vernacular colloquially without endorsing it).

This line of reasoning may feel like a breaking novelty among ACNA Anglicans, but it is hardly new in conservative Christian circles. As early as 2005 a report was published about a sexual policy "consultation" offered by the College for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), the association of reputationally conservative Evangelical colleges. The event reportedly featured delegates arguing for sacralized same-sex unions--provided the parties did not engage in sexual acts together. A delegate from a well-known Evangelical college apparently argued that "gay persons' sensitivities reflect aspects of the image of God" and we must accordingly affirm God's image in this respect so long as we stay just within the limits of the literal rules of Scripture (no gay sex). As the contemporaneous reporter commented drily, "This was not the majority view [at the CCCU event], but it was not met with general shock either. Some praised it for its nuance."[1]

So the conceptual apparatus of sexual identity is familiar territory; moreover, it has its own self-consistent internal logic. But is it true? And we can go one level deeper. Even if the sexual identity concept were valid, and even if sexual identity were distinguishable from sexual practice, would it be coherent to say that "gay identity is good but gay sex is bad"? In other words, can one delegitimize a practice without invalidating its related identity?

It is worth pointing out that mainstream gender progressives weigh in clearly on this point, not only asserting the gender-progressive concept of LGBTQI identity, but also opposing efforts to delegitimize LGBTQI sexual practices. From their vantage point, the "identity good/sex bad" idea is heretical. Proponents of the "gay-but-celibate" idea are attacked by the sexual Left as "self-hating homosexual[s]" even while conservatives get comfortable with the idea. As a result, one such person reports that "I'm much more at ease talking to other Catholics about how I'm gay than I am talking to other gays about how I'm Catholic." I am personally acquainted with one proponent of the "gay-but-celibate" doctrine who has been fiercely attacked from both sides; her courage, integrity, and persistence earn my admiration.

But a false idea can be misleading and damaging, even when wielded by admirable people.

"I am gay but celibate" is a subset of the overarching gender-progressive theory of identity. The problem is that gender-progressive theory of identity is false. No one is naturally "gay," just as no one is naturally "straight"--at least not in the sense that gender ideology and popular media have taught us to believe.

A few years ago, published essays by Michael Hannon and David Benkof brought this matter more clearly into the light of day.[2] (I have extended their analysis in a companion piece to the present essay, titled "Against Identity Dogma: a new consensus for virtue and liberty," which I will draw from liberally here.) In brief I'll note here that Hannon, a self-identified Catholic writer, and Benkof, a self-identified gay writer, both reject the conceptual apparatus of progressive gender theory. As Benkof notes, "Journalists trumpet every biological study that even hints that gayness and straightness might be hard-wired, but they show little interest in the abundant social-science research showing that sexual orientation cannot be innate." He cites historian Dr. Martin Duberman, founder of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at the City University of New York, who says that "no good scientific work establishes that people are born gay or straight."

Following French poststructuralist philosopher Michel Foucault, who himself engaged in homosexual practice and advocacy, Hannon traces the history of identity labels like "homosexual." The concept of sexual orientation identity "puts on airs," Hannon says, by pretending not to be "an accidental nineteenth-century invention but a timeless truth about human sexual nature." Both Hannon and Benkof cite self-identified gay historian Jonathan Ned Katz, whose pioneering book The Invention of Heterosexuality provides a similar account. According to Katz, "Contrary to today's bio-belief, the heterosexual/homosexual binary... is not in nature, but is socially constructed, therefore deconstructable."

As Hannon summarizes the case: "While our popular culture has not caught up--yet--the queer theorists increasingly calling the shots at the elite level already agree with Foucault on this point. Such thinkers echo Gore Vidal's LGBT-heretical line: 'Actually, there is no such thing as a homosexual person, any more than there is such a thing as a heterosexual person'."

Hannon, Benkof, Katz, Foucault and Vidal are likely correct that an individual's sexual orientation is "not in nature," not hardwired; however, this does not contradict the ancient argument that nature intends male and female for one another. It does not contradict, because description is not prescription; what people want is not the same thing as what they ought to want.

Aristotle famously asserted the ancient view (Politics I,ii, 1252a24), and he stands at the headwaters of a wide consensus that flows as much from Jerusalem as from Athens. According to this ancient consensus, it is natural that man and woman come together sexually (thus maritally and reproductively), and it is correspondingly less natural, or unnatural, for persons of the same sex to interact sexually.[3] The Bible, of course, anchors the natural male-female binary at an even deeper level: "God created man in His own image; in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them...Therefore a man...shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh" (Genesis 1:27, 2:24).

Not surprisingly--since it roots male-female sexual polarity in divine creation--the Bible forbids sexual contact between persons of the same sex, calling it "against nature" (Romans 1:26). (It would be easy to offer here a raft of biblical references on this point, but tedious to the reader; so I forbear.)

Obviously, confusion surrounds the terms "nature" and "natural," both within and beyond the Bible. When Katz says that sexual identity is not in nature, he means that it is not automatic, not occurring by material necessity, more "nurture" than "nature." But when the ancient tradition says that opposite-sex pairings are natural, it is saying something different. It is saying that such sexual pairings fulfill a function which constitutes human nature. Every naturally existing thing has its natural potential: like an acorn is ordered to become an oak, even if they don't all manage it. Man differs in that humans--individually or communally--can voluntarily affect their trajectory toward their potential, what the Greeks called their telos. As with all the potential excellences that are latent in his nature, man does not fulfill his sexual excellence automatically or by default.

We're accustomed to binary explanations: everything is caused by either nature or nurture, either genes or society. By contrast, the older tradition teaches that human beings need nurture in accordance with their nature, lest they fail to fulfill it properly.

It helps when our feelings and inclinations are in alignment with our nature, but it is obvious that this does not happen automatically for anyone on any matter of moral import. Achieving that alignment requires individual, communal and cultural effort--a human moral ecology, if you will. Our feelings are the consequence of infant experience, family structure, tradition, art, music, and poetry--a million threads which, if properly strung, attach desire to its natural object. Poststructuralists may call this "social construction," but the older sages would call it natural nurture. Or you could call it environmental protection for the human sexual ecology.

The historic Christian faith teaches us to respect nature--including the moral ecology--as the creation of a good God. At the same time, the faith also sharpens our awareness of disorder, that is, the obvious fact that natural things tend to get out of alignment with their own natures. Theologians call this the Fall. The Fall is the ultimate account of how our feelings and inclinations are out of alignment with our natures as God designed them. In a way intriguingly reminiscent of Ned Katz's use of the term "nature," St. Paul says that we are all "by nature children of wrath" (Ephesians 2:3), meaning that our inclinations always pull us away from proper human goodness, like a default setting for auto-self-destruct. To reconcile Paul with himself, we can say: it is the nature of our fallen nature automatically to pull us away from what is natural to us by creation.

The God of the Bible therefore calls human beings to hard moral work--among other things, the work of chastity outside of marriage and of a chaste self-discipline within marriage between a man and a woman. He also calls us to love our neighbors by fostering the conditions of this virtue (and of course all the other virtues, too). This is a cultural enterprise that spans generations. God's aim for us is virtue, and beyond this, holiness, and he supplies the power of the Holy Spirit to sustain our progress.

The implications of this for our sexuality are obvious: as bearers of raw potential (Aristotle), or as fallen image-bearers of God (the Bible), we need our sexual feelings to be brought into alignment with our male or female natures. For those who take the Bible seriously, it is clear that the only sexual experience God approves is to be found within the monogamous practice of lifelong sexual union with one person of the opposite sex.

The fact that fallen sexual feelings can frequently pull away from this norm, in a whole variety of ways, does not make the norm less authoritative. After all, our feelings pull away from conformity with God's design in other matters, too. Our unruly feelings give us no right to valorize an inclination toward something God forbids. We dare not "call evil good" (Isaiah 5:20).

Consider God's attitude toward covetousness in the Ten Commandments. If God were only concerned with actions, he would have contented himself with merely outlawing theft. But He went further to proscribe covetousness, which is an interior attraction or orientation toward committing the act of theft. We do not say, "I have an inner desire to possess what belongs to another, but I don't act on that inclination so the inclination is not a problem. I'm part of the covetous community, and you must affirm my identity and agree that my inclination is how God made me." In this case it is clear that the inclination is precisely what God condemns, even when, say, the act of theft or adultery, remains unrealized and only latent.

In historical context, the adjective "gay" emerged out of the nomenclature of sexual orientation. Look at the history of its usage: "gay" functions as a linguistic shorthand denoting an inner orientation toward a form of erotic contact forbidden by God. And the context makes clear, further, that this shorthand is not self-condemnatory. It is affirmative. The term is deployed on the pattern of other identities that historically were valorized and even legislated in order to combat injustice--like the affirmation of being female in male-dominated workplaces, or of being black in a white-dominated society. Those identities deserved recognition on both a natural and a biblical basis. The fight against invidious discrimination invested them with moral authority. "I am gay and proud" rhetorically echoes and siphons the moral authority of "I am Black and proud."

Such political meanings are evident when Johanna Williams and the "Dear Gay Anglicans" letter both use the term "sexual minorities," and when my young ordinand friend describes "gay Anglicans" as a "minority group whose concerns weren't heard."

No Christian should valorize an interior inclination toward committing an act which contravenes both nature and God's law. To put such an inclination in the same moral category as race or sex is to demean others whose quest for justice rested on wholly different foundations.

These are some of the "cultural connections" that the ACNA College of Bishops evoked briefly in its Pastoral Statement of January 19, 2021.

There is more to be said about the spiritual significance of progressive gender theory, which valorizes both the orientation toward, and the action of, forbidden sexual experiences. Such experiences do much more than break the rules of nature and God. That is because the male-female sexual polarity taught in Genesis (as noted above) gives sexual union an iconic character. Regardless of whether we exercise it or not--that is, whether we experience holy marriage or holy singleness--our physical nature carries the potential of one-flesh union with our sexual opposite, which naturally results in human fatherhood and motherhood, and these in turn speak to us of the ultimate fatherhood of God the Father and the ultimate motherhood of the church, the beloved Bride of Christ.

Conjugal love is thus an icon--some would also say a sacrament--whose meaning reverberates across human and divine dimensions. This complex iconic structure is exposited powerfully in the writings of John Paul II and Dietrich von Hildebrand, among others. (Obviously, each individual need not participate physically in all dimensions of the icon for it to be true.) Understood in this light, to engage in an erotic act outside of male-female marriage is to commit an act of spiritual defiance whose essence is iconoclasm. To designate two persons of the same sex as marriage partners is to raise the iconoclasm to an even higher pitch. Our proper human identity cannot consist in flouting the icon, nor should we be proud to construct an identity that signals our inclination to do so even if we pledge to hold back.

Now some advocates of "gay-but-celibate" may try to rescue their doctrine by claiming that their assertion of "gay" identity is not affirmative, not a matter of pride, but simply a matter of neutral description. This is belied among Anglicans, however, by the fact that they adamantly reject genuinely neutral descriptions like those proffered by the ACNA College of Bishops, such as "a person experiencing same-sex attraction." They reject this formulation because it implies neither the fixity nor the affirmation of the "gay" label; moreover, a neutral descriptor does not place them in ideological communion with outsiders who insist on "gay"(or other LGBTQI+) identity. In other words, those who insist on "I am gay and celibate" cannot extract their identity nomenclature from the surrounding cultural context that informs its meaning.

Christian defenders of the "I am gay but celibate" identity claim could theoretically take yet a different tack to rescue their doctrine, although I have not actually encountered it. They could abandon the futile effort to defend the "gay" identity adjective as descriptively neutral. Instead, they could take drastic action by trying to reverse its contextual meaning, that is, to claim that it is actually self-accusatory or pejorative. The analogy would be the protocol of Alcoholics Anonymous. For example, when George goes to an AA meeting, he says at the start, "My name is George and I am alcoholic." In that context, no one is under the slightest impression that George is valorizing his problem with alcohol. Instead, he uses the identity formulation ("I am") in order fully to own his grievous addiction, condemn it, and take responsibility for it. After all, he's at the meeting because he wants help to overcome it.

This is obviously not the spirit in which contemporary Americans say, "I am gay." Nor is it the spirit in which some Anglicans say "I am gay but celibate."

Of course, if they did mean it this way, they would subject themselves to the radical critique of unflinching secular gay advocates, who are typically quite honest about the wider context of meaning. To them, the major problem with "gay-but-celibate" Christians is their pledge not to engage in the sex acts that define the gay (or LGBTQI+) identity. Such observers are likely to see definitional acrobatics not as an achievement of redemptive wordsmiths, but rather as the desperation of "self-hating homosexuals," as I reported above.

As I have argued, contemporary Americans have been propagandized into believing that everyone has an automatically pre-set sexual orientation. This proves pathological for everyone, not just for those who would identify themselves as being "gay." For example, "gay-but-celibate" seems to have an unwitting counterpart among some Christian men eager to assert a "straight" identity. Although not typically self-aware about it, such men seek to reinforce their identity by parading their problems with lust in front of their comrades in order to signal their heterosexual bona fides. In how many men's accountability groups does admitting an attraction to pornography function as an unacknowledged badge of honor? "Oh man, you think you were tempted, let me tell you about this woman I was tempted by! My wrong inclination was so strong that I needed God's help even more than you needed it." Repentive one-upmanship becomes a way of banking esteem among Christian guys.

Sexual bravado may be a standard male sin, but it has become more urgent. Why? Because Christian men have absorbed enough progressive gender theory to believe that everyone just "is" either gay or straight, and they have to make it clear which side of the fence their genes fell on. Their insistence on asserting a straight identity is a stumblingblock for them, in a way that resembles the insistence of others on asserting a gay identity. ("My gayness is good, even though I'm pledging not to go there.")

Such errors distract from each person's primary identity in Christ, and divert attention from each one's need for real reinforcement against inner temptations from all directions. The main difference between the two errors--one "gay" and one "straight"--is that the latter error is not self-conscious. Unlike its opposite, it has not been elaborated into an ideological formulation enjoying a patina of sophistication among the educated classes. Nor is it the basis of media advocacy campaigns.

The ideological environment I have been discussing creates other challenges as well. A lot of confusion stems from our culture's inability to recognize that men can have an authentic relational love for, and even aesthetic appreciation for, other men--an appreciation which has no connection whatsoever to erotic physical contact of any kind. And similarly women for women. Because popular media pushes us to sexualize all relationships and all aesthetic sensibilities, we have learned to see any such appreciation as erotic at least under the surface. The natural distinction between fraternal love and erotic attraction gets blurred in our minds, and the blurring itself has formative influence on the development of human sensibilities. For example, in an earlier era, people could read that David loved Jonathan with a love "surpassing the love of women" with a perfectly comfortable understanding and without the slightest sexual suspicion (2 Samuel 1:26). This seems no longer to be possible.

It is likely that the lack of deep fraternal, nonsexual love relationships among men renders men more vulnerable to same-sex temptations, and also renders them less able to relate healthily to women.

Much of what is now labeled "gay orientation" may well be nothing of the sort. In many cases, the feelings at issue may be essentially the kind of nonsexual appreciation that was once so familiar, but which has been forced by a relentless ideological drumbeat into a sexualized labeling. Such labeling in turn leads people who experience such affections to infer that they must be discovering their own "gay orientation." This leads them to adopt the label and then, convinced it is their predetermined fate, to experiment with the sexual practices as well. And of course in doing so they lose the innocent fraternal love which they could have enjoyed. In this way we suffer the fallout from the detonation of modern sexual ideology.

It is a mistake to hitch the wagon of our identity to a moral debility rather than to Christ. This is the heart of the objection to the "gay-but-celibate" approach.

All human beings suffer from the disordered default settings of our fallen nature, though all of us also retain the memory of what we were designed to be. We must not think of our disordered defaults--whatever they may be--as "how we are made," as if they thus form the basis of an identity claim that must be recognized and affirmed. Just as we would not say, "I'm covetous by nature and you must affirm me as such," neither should we say, "God made me to have a nature that is inclined to flout a centrally defining aspect of the image of God. I have a nature whose essence is aversion to God's image and law on this point."

Though we are fallen, God did not design any of us to flout His image in us, or to be constitutionally inclined to do so.[4]

"I am gay" (or L,G,B,T,Q or I) is at best a recently-invented social construction, as I have argued above (as is the so-called "straight" identity as I have also argued above). The rhetorical repertoire of progressive gender theory was developed to obscure this. Philosophers of ideas call this process reification--a social process by which social artifacts gain the status of natural fixities that they do not deserve. Unfortunately, "gay-but-celibate" partakes of this error.

As a doctrine, "gay-but-celibate" is an ideological gateway drug--an inadvertent portal to heresy, or blasphemy, or ultimately improper sexual acts.

The challenge now facing the Anglican Church in North America is not about an adjective. It is about the conceptual apparatus of progressive gender theory. Many Anglicans--like their fellow citizens--already use its nomenclature as a matter of course, innocent of its implications. Ideologically linked to America's soft-core cultural leftism, and exacerbated by the widespread acceptance of identity politics, progressive gender theory has entered into the Anglican bloodstream. As indicated in the earlier portion of this essay, various recent statements by lay, clergy and episcopal leaders make this bracingly clear.

Our gender-blurring culture exalts disruption and innovation, making it hard to see problems and harder still to frame solutions. But we have resources. In an era that idolizes novelty, we will do well to resist moral, theological and ecclesial innovation of all kinds. We have a glorious antidote to error as we remain guided by scripture and the historic multi-generational consensus of catholic faith (which is the theological essence of Anglicanism). Both of these guides point us reliably to the Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and earth derives its name (Ephesians 3:14-15).

Edgar Noble is an independent cultural and legal analyst.

For a fuller understanding of the issues explored here, please read Edgar Noble's companion essay, "Against Identity Dogma: a new consensus for virtue and liberty."

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