Oliver O’Donovan: good news for gay Christians

“How does the homosexually inclined person show Christ to the world?” [Rowan] Williams asks. Again, it is an obvious first step to ask why there would be a different answer for a homosexually-inclined person than for any other person. At the deepest level there can be no difference. It is one and the same Gospel witnessed to by gay and non-gay, a gospel of redemption from the enslavement of sin and of the purification of desire. Yet gifts are given differentially to members of the body of Christ; vocations are distributed variously to serve the common mission. Some are given in the form of special skills and abilities, some in the form of special opportunities, especially opportunities of special experience and suffering. From the place of special sensibility in which the homosexual Christian may find him- or herself we may hear a testimony to the way the world confronts our mission in our time, to its fragmented identities, its disjunctions of feeling, its cruelties, its dislocations and the peculiar possibilities of redemption that God has put at its heart. The rest of us cannot do without this torchlight shone through the fog of the late modern world in which we, too, must grope our way.

What if the challenge the gays present the church with is not emancipatory but hermeneutic? Suppose that at the heart of the problem there is the magna quaestio, the question about the gay experience, its sources and its character, that gays must answer for themselves: how this form of sensibility and feeling is shaped by its social context, how it can be clothed in an appropriate pattern of life for the service of God and discipleship of Christ? But suppose, too, that there is another question corresponding to it, which non-gay Christians need to answer: how and to what extent this form of sensibility and feeling has emerged in specific historical conditions, and how the conditions may require, as an aspect of the pastoral accommodation that changing historical conditions require, a form of public presence and acknowledgment not hitherto known? These two questions come together as a single question: how are we to understand together the particularity of the age in which we are given to attest God’s works? And then the Gospel has good news for us all: there is a friendship in which the most difficult questions about the self and the world in the era of time that is given to us can be explored and enquired into, a community in mission that can engage in the most difficult hermeneutic tasks. The good news preached by the church to the gay Christian coincides here with the good news preached by the gay Christian to the church. The content of that good news, perhaps, can be summed up simply by saying that the word “church” can achieve its proper content. The church is our neighbourhood in the confession of Christ and obedience to his law, a neighbourhood suffused with his love, a communion of mutual service and recognition.

—Oliver O’Donovan, Fulcrum


Chris Donato said…
…a communion of mutual service and recognition.

If by "recognition" O'Donovan means something akin to Luther's simul iustia et peccator, then I'm in. We who are suspicious of homosexual love need always be reminded that the world is too much with us as well. But if he means by "recognition" something akin to flipping it right-side-up and facing it forward, then, well, I'm out.
Evan said…
This is a great quote- I'm interested in reading his recent book as well. I wonder, though, whether "liberals" and "conservatives" that are currently at loggerheads over this issue in the Anglican Communion wouldn't recognize their own work as pushing precisely for what O'Donnovan outlines here. I think that the "listening process" that Williams calls for and O'Donnovan responds to here has been attended to by everyone from Gene Robinson to Peter Akinola, and all sides have advocated for a showing of Christ to the world and ways for both homosexuals and heterosexuals to do this. That both sides are agreed on this end goal yet still entirely in disagreement about how they see it occurring makes the reality of the issue both hopeful and that much more depressing, I think.