The Right Rev. Michael Ingham, bishop of the Greater Vancouver Diocese of New Westminster, is on the rampage again, wading anew into the ongoing controversy of sexual ethics in the Anglican Church of Canada. In an address he gave in Ottawa on March 7, 2007, he said, “The Christian church has a deeply flawed understanding of sex that has led to morally groundless objections to masturbation, birth control, abortion and homosexuality.”
The bishop particularly blasted church teaching on the fundamental purpose of sexuality. Ingham is barely willing to acknowledge its procreative purpose and wants to make sexual practice so inclusive that most accepted biblical strictures would have to be discarded. He praises the Hindu concept of mixing the sacred with the sexual and thinks that Christianity, along with Islam and Judaism, has always had a deficient view of sex.
He claims that Christians have misunderstood the Bible on homosexuality and says at one point, “Today we have a better understanding of homosexuality as a basic and natural orientation … and in Christian terms, we must come to think of this as not only natural, but also God-given and good.”
It’s not unusual for certain Anglican clerics to push the envelope on sexuality. But, even among Anglicans, this address was over the top. According to Globe and Mail writer Michael Valpy, “The forthrightness of Bishop Ingham’s address on sexuality is without precedent in the Canadian Anglican church.” It also puts him in direct conflict with evangelicals, some mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics and the Orthodox.
Ingham in his address deliberately puts a wedge between the teaching of St. Paul and Jesus. He states, “There is almost nothing in the teaching of Jesus about sex. It seems he was not really interested in the subject, unlike many of his followers … it is very important to understand that most of Paul’s opinions about sex cannot be found on the lips of Jesus.” Ingham, in giving an example, goes on to state that Jesus “says nothing at all about homosexuality.”
But is this an appropriate way to treat the Scripture? Historic Christianity has always taught that it was God himself who inspired the prophets to write Scripture. Ultimately, it was Father, Son and Spirit who acted in concert regarding every word of Scripture, whether written by Paul, Luke, Matthew or any other writer. Ingham’s view would suggest that the Spirit of God who inspired Paul’s writings on sexuality acted alone and that the Father and the Son were in disagreement or somehow not consulted. This would be utter nonsense. At bottom, the triune God guided Paul, and therefore, we can say that Paul’s words on sexuality are Jesus’s words as well.
Bishop Ingham speaks approvingly of the interweaving of sexuality and spirituality that he sees in certain ancient pagan religions. This exemplifies an alarming trend reported by Daniel R. Heimbach in his excellent book, True Sexual Morality (Crossway Books, 2004). Heimbach reports on a new and surging pagan sexual morality that is starting to become a force in the culture. He notes that “modern Americans now seem to be more interested than primitive tribesmen in Africa or Asia in pursuing the allure of sexual pagan religious faith and practice.” Heimbach further states that for the sexual pagans, “the only truly immoral sex is limiting sex to biblical standards, the only real sin is saying that any sort of sexual behaviour is sin.” In a sex-saturated age where confusion, deception and false teaching lie at every hand concerning God’s good purposes for sex, this book provides a courageous, profoundly biblically based roadmap for pastors, academics and lay people alike.
In his concluding remarks, Bishop Ingham stated, “The primary criterion for a Christian sexual theology is not procreation, but rather, faithfulness and commitment. This is the supreme message of the life of Jesus and ought to be the principal standard for Christian sexual ethics – not sexual orientation, not propagation, nor even marriage.” How sadly ironic that Ingham should call for mutual faithfulness and commitment between partners, but in the far more important relationship with God, he tells people they need not be faithful and committed to the God of the Bible, who has actually spoken clearly on these matters.