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Oliver O’Donovan & Homosexuality

In light of the ongoing discussion at Faith and Theology over the issue of homosexuality and the church, allow me to plug a book we’ve just published at Wipf and Stock by Oliver O’Donovan, Church in Crisis: The Gay Controversy and the Anglican Communion.  This book is perhaps the most erudite treatment of the current controversy in the Anglican church that I have yet read.  What is most helpful about it is the way that O’Donovan lingers over the questions, taking the time to explore them with the care and patience needed for true theological inquiry.  There is just the right sort of patience in his work, that neither descends into timidity, nor boils over into belligerence.  In and of itself, O’Donovan’s methodological patience serves as a significant corrective to the haste and feverish zeal that characterizes nearly all sides in the debates over homosexuality and the church.

Doubtless the book will not be well-received by everyone — what could be so received in a controversy like this? — but, it is definitely a landmark study one theological ethical methodology in dealing with questions as serious and as fraught with ideology and emotion as that of homosexuality and it deserves a wide reading.  Here’s what Rowan Williams has to say about the book:

“Oliver O’Donovan’s reflections on the current troubles of the Anglican Church are quite simply of unique significance. He consistently takes us to the questions others are not asking and refuses the ready-made questions and answers that paralyze our thinking about the sexuality debates. Anyone wanting to understand what is most deeply at stake theologically ought to read and meditate on this invaluable book.”

And here is what John Milbank said of the book:

“In tones of characteristically elusive profundity, Oliver O’Donovan forces the reader of his new book to realize that contemporary “gayness” represents an enigma which demands a long period of sustained cultural, ethical, and theological reflection before the Church can hope to reach any well-grounded consensus on this issue. He hints that the latter might well be at once more conservative and yet more radical than the political moralizing and prudishness theological liberals might desire. Yet if campaigning for “gay rights” is dismissed as both inappropriate and premature, the schismatic reaction of certain evangelicals is roundly condemned. Indeed, O’Donovan has here achieved nothing less than an indication of just how Anglicanism can in the future reconstruct itself through a recovery of a Hooker-like sense of Episcopalian Catholicity, and the Patristic integration of Platonic wisdom with Biblical revelation, on the part of more discerning evangelicals like himself.”


  1. Andy wrote:

    Thank you for this. I am a pastor in the PCUSA, and we have our own version of this debate. I have found Ephraim Radner’s “Hope Among the Fragments” to be a very helpful and thought-provoking work dealing with these issues. In fact, I would describe it in ways very similar to how you describe this book. Have you read “Fragments”? If so, how would you compare the two?

    Friday, July 18, 2008 at 4:17 pm | Permalink
  2. Andy wrote:

    oops, I just clicked over and saw Radner’s endorsement…if you could comment though I’d still appreciate it.

    Friday, July 18, 2008 at 4:18 pm | Permalink
  3. Stuart Siegel wrote:

    Hi Halden,

    Thanks for the link to the discussion at Faith & Theology. It’s an amazing set of documents.

    None of the objections given, however, prompt me to alter my relationship with my covenanted partner. It was in his arms and through his love that I finally, really KNEW that Jesus was risen from the dead. I respect the intellectual and hermeneutic efforts of everyone on all sides of the issue but I have experienced the rich, godly blessings of sharing my life with Mike.

    I believe my partner is a gift from God and an agent of Grace. I believe this because by sending Mike to me, God enables me to serve with more diligence, pray with more vulnerability, repent with more fervency, know my absolute dependence on others and on the Trinity for life. The prayers of love and thanksgiving to God, offered in a sleeping Mike’s arms, were perhaps the most powerful communion with God (I’m a cerebral, non-mystical guy) that I have ever had.

    I believe my life with Mike is of God because God gave it and sustains it. A covenanted relationship involves mutual surrender, vulnerability, ascetic commitment, and patience among many, many other attributes. I don’t generate these things, they are divine gifts. If God didn’t want this relationship, he would merely have to withhold his hand and it would collapse. I don’t believe two people can build a house unless God’s hand is always there keeping the roof from blowing off. If Satan were sustaining this relationship, it would be characterized by selfishness, apatheia, lying, and every manner of wickedness. I don’t believe the devil can deceive the saints with a richness that leads the heart to call ever more fervently on Jesus Christ.

    So, there’s my testimony on this contentious issue not of “homosexuality,” but of same-sex love. Can two people of the same gender experience physical love as an aspect of our utter dependence on God. Yes.


    Stuart Siegel

    Thursday, July 24, 2008 at 5:55 pm | Permalink
  4. Stuart Siegel wrote:

    Error: I meant to type ‘apathy’ not ‘apatheia.’ -Stu

    Friday, July 25, 2008 at 6:09 am | Permalink
  5. While the third world countries are struggling with issues such as food shortage, unemployment, illiteracy, population control, low per capita income, inflation, communal and casteist struggles, poverty, natural calamities, insufficient resources, utilities and infrastructure, health and hygiene etc, the United States and many countries in Europe are fighting and arguing about something that most people in the world are not even able to think about …

    Friday, July 25, 2008 at 7:25 am | Permalink
  6. Byron wrote:

    Halden, thanks for bringing this to our attention and I look forward to getting my hands on a copy. How closely related to O’D’s sermon series on the Fulcrum website is this new book?

    Sunday, July 27, 2008 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

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