ANOTHER VIEW: Problems in need of faces

By training and by temperament I do not approve of organised expressions of outrage. But I have learnt that they are frequently inevitable, often necessary and sometimes powerfully effective. I started this learning when I joined the staff of the World Council of Churches just as the council was launching the Programme to Combat Racism. This brought me in touch with black people from various parts of the world who had stories to tell and cases to argue that clearly justified them in being angry.

A different encounter that has always remained disturbingly with me was during a meeting on liberation theology, with many Latin Americans present. Performing as the radical but reasonable theologian, I prefaced some remarks I was about to make by saying, "Of course Jesus Christ died for us all." There was an explosion in Spanish, which the interpreter rendered as: "Oh no, he did not. He died for the poor and the oppressed."

I hope this is not a full statement of the truth, but it reminded me sharply of Dean Inge's remark about the "comfortable shudder with which the average middle-class congregation accepts the burden of sin". Comfortable people can be reasonable and wait on negotiations. People with a deep awareness of current put-downs, frustrations and sufferings cannot be expected to be so reasonable. This lesson was reinforced for me by later meetings with redundant miners, hopeless young people and condescended- to seekers of social security payments in the North-east.

Hence when Peter Tatchell at the small Glasgow conference on human sexuality referred to in yesterday's "Diary" gave us his account of the way the Church of England seemed not only to be putting down homosexuals but also to be ignoring them and refusing proferred meetings for discussion, I saw things from his point of view. Naturally, it was different from that of a member of the House of Bishops, which had to negotiate tricky resolutions on sexual matters through General Synod. I believe we all needed reminding that we are dealing with hurt and angry people, not just with difficult problems about both the Bible and human sexuality. Problems, like statistics, need to be given faces.

The context of this Glasgow encounter was an attempt to engage both heterosexuals and homosexuals, both Christians and other concerned persons, in a deepening discussion about "rebalancing human sexuality". There is no hope of getting beyond either militant or defensive skirmishing about matters sexual until we escape being dominated by the general and trivialising obsession with sex in a purely genital and sensual sense. We need to reclaim human sexuality for trust, love, stability, sacrifice and support.

The writer was formerly Bishop of Durham.