Dear Peter Tatchell

Outing bishops must keep you busy - but please take a moment to hear the views of an `orthodox' Christian, a member of the evangelical Free Methodist Church suggests

You certainly seem to be having a busy year. Scarcely a week goes by without some new media hype about gay bishops with or without leathers, word-juggling cardinals, or dark hints at huge numbers of clerical closet- dwellers frightened to emerge. But may anyone be permitted to put in a plea for the "orthodox" Christians so often portrayed as either bigots or hypocrites?

The understanding of bishops such as Michael Baughen, and denominations like my own Free Methodist Church, is that the teaching of Jesus (itself referring back to Genesis) indicates clearly that heterosexual marriage is the only right place for sexual acts. This is not the result of "homophobia", nor is it based on any spurious assumptions about homosexuals being promiscuous or paedophiliac. It is based on careful study of Christ's teaching in a biblical context.

We believe, then, that homosexual sex acts, fornication, idolatry and atheism are all "wrong". But a belief that such things are wrong does not imply a view that they should be illegal. The function of law in a free multicultural society is to stop people infringing the rights of others - not to enforce orthodoxy or morality.

But your quarrel with us concerns church rites, not civil rights. We, like most churches, hold meetings open to anyone. We believe, though, that it would be inconsistent for, say, a Hindu, an atheist, a fornicator or practising homosexual - however sincere or uplifted by experience - to hold church membership or office without radical change. We are not here speaking of inclinations or temptations but of belief and lifestyle. Many leaders in our churches may well be "naturally inclined" or tempted towards fornication, adultery or homosexual sex. But temptation is not sin, for Jesus himself was tempted. What temptations a leader or church member suffers may be "private", for him or her alone to work out with God. Sexual lifestyle is not - and St Paul makes it very clear that certain standards are required.

I would support you and other gay rights activists in encouraging Christians to think about the law in a multicultural society. I would support any who encourage Christians to recognise that homosexual acts are not placed by the New Testament in some "special category" of wrong act, worse than, for example, greed, jealousy or fornication. But I do believe that you and your friends confuse some of the basic issues - especially by exploiting the confusions in the English language for propaganda purposes.

Take the word "homosexual". As any dictionary testifies, the word means men or women who are sexually attracted to their own sex. But a temptation towards an extramarital sex act - whether homosexual or heterosexual - is not in itself sin and is no bar to membership or ministry in the church. Thus "homosexuals" can rightly become ministers or bishops, and it is hard to see what useful purpose is served in "outing" them. It is simply a trick of language to suggest that there is any hypocrisy in fully accepting homosexuals (in this sense), but censuring extramarital sex acts whether homo- or heterosexual in nature.

You may, of course, disagree with us. But what we do object to is being labelled "homophobic" or "hypocritical", or being made out to be inconsistent by propaganda that exploits the ambiguities of the English language.

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