Dr David Leal’s short book on Debating Homosexuality was written in 1996, whilst he was a lecturer in Moral Philosophy at Regent’s Park College, formerly an evangelical college for the training of Anglican ministers, before becoming a recognised college of Oxford university. Since 2000 he is a lecturer in Philosophy at Brasenose College, Oxford. He is the author of a number of Grove booklets, including “On Marriage as Vocation”, “Naturism and Christianity” and “On Gay Marriage”.

Certainly, the debate about homosexuality in the church of England has moved on since 1996 just as it has in society in general. It is fifty years since homosexuality in England was partially decriminalised, ten years since it became illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and society’s attitude to same sex relationships has changed with 67% of the population believing they are not wrong at all.[1] We now rarely talk of homosexuals, rather LGHBT+. In the church however, it is in danger of fracturing the Anglican communion. In the Church Times bishop Hugh Montefiore wrote, “Homosexuality is the most explosive issue in the Church of England” and one which “will not go away.”[2] The most recent Synod of the Church of England in February 2017 focused on the issue of Gay marriage but the arguments put forward both by those supporting and those against the recent bishop’s report on Gay marriage reflect totally divergent views. On one side is a fundamental view of scripture which laments that “the authority Scripture is no longer the rule of faith and practice”.[3] This seems to be opposed to Archbishop Welby’s comments about the report when he stated "It was right that this needs to be about love joy and celebration of our humanity, of our belonging to Christ, all of us without exception, without exclusion." [4]

It is not just the Church of England which is divided but the whole of the Anglican communion. There is a wide divergence of views between the Episcopal church of North America where in 2003 Gene Robinson, a practising homosexual was consecrated a diocesan bishop and some African churches notably the Anglican Church of Uganda which in 2014 backed a law outlining harsh punishments for homosexuality, including prison.[5] According to the archbishop of Uganda, “Homosexual practice is incompatible with scripture, and no one in the leadership of the church can say legitimize …… homosexuality”. The arguments from the quotations show the wide differences in attitudes to homosexuality and the reasons for these views. The Bible seems to state that homosexuality is a sin and it is the duty of every Christian to condemn it. Yet, the consequences of this would involve condemning 2% of the population (according to the Office of National Statistics 2016).[6]

David Leal’s book, although written more than twenty years ago, attempts to explore the moral, ethical and to a certain extent the psychological and biological issues as well as what the whole concept of what homosexuality means, making the interesting point that few of us are either purely homosexual or heterosexual, and giving rise to the question, “Who or what am I?”

In the second section of the book Leal turns to an analysis of some possible causes of homosexual orientation. He explores three possible causes, genetic, psychosocial or personal choice and cultural, linguistic factors. Here the fact that the book was published in 1996 shows its limitations as so much research has been done since then, for example by Simon LeVay [7] Indeed there is much “accumulating biological and genetic evidence”[8] to show that there is not just one cause but several causes which means that sexual orientation is not a choice and should be, according to Leal, regarded in the same way as a predisposition to left handedness, if it “does not contribute negatively to the individual’s living a good and fulfilled life”[9].  However, Leal goes on to assert that a homosexual person should not be regarded as a product of deterministic biology and any attempt to interpret causation “must leave freedom for people to interpret their own experiences and to be open to the surprises of an unpredictable God.” So, according to Leal, no moral questions can be answered by reference to causation.

In the third section of the book Leal considers “nature” and “identity”. In analysing identity, he raises the debate over gender dysphoria but considers it is not relevant to the understanding of self-identity. The way forward, he asserts is that “we should offer to God the best self-understanding we have, based on the concepts which are available to us” and that “The concepts homosexual, heterosexual are not the ultimate features of individual identity”[10] and their value should be in our relationship with God. God who is love and who loves unconditionally.

Leal then goes on to analyse different aspects of the debate, including what he calls “Biblical fundamentalism” and deals very briefly with those whom he calls having a “high view of scripture.” There are a number of New Testament passages, for example in Romans 1 18-32, which appear to condemn homosexual activity, both male and female in an explicitly theological framework. Yet Leal places this passage in Paul’s general concern about idolatry and lust. Neither does he refer to 1 Corinthians or 1 Timothy where same sex activity seems to be regarded as sinful. He makes no mention of Paul’s apparent reference to the Holiness Code of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, although he would probably have pointed out that these are surrounded by other commands which present day Christians no longer consider binding or the fact that the racial purity of the Hebrews was of fundamental importance. Many adherents of “Biblical fundamentalism” refer also to Genesis where male and female are considered necessary sexual counterparts. Leal’s only comment about all these verses is “It is undoubtedly tempting for those who feel confident in the truth of their cause to assert the meaning of these passages without understanding the hard, exegetical graft involved.” [11]Given the extent to which Leal has addressed other issues in the debate this appears to be very simplistic.

As far as the way forward is concerned, Leal writing in 1996 states that where there is fundamental disagreement over theological premises it “may well be that honesty requires recognition of this fact in formal separation.”[12] However, he states that with a pastoral theology adequate to the life of a Christian moral community with tolerance, authority forgiveness and autonomy which “regards death to self in baptism and which permits life in the way of Christ” could be a way forward.[13] The question remains how far is this ever going to be possible?

Perhaps it is possible, for this is what occurred at the Primates Meeting in January 2016 when the following statement was put out.  “We have asked the Archbishop of Canterbury to appoint a Task Group to maintain conversation among ourselves with the intention of restoration of relationship, the rebuilding of mutual trust, healing the legacy of hurt, recognising the extent of our commonality and exploring our deep differences, ensuring they are held between us in the love and grace of Christ.”[14]

1023 words (not including quotations)



David Atkinson Pastoral Ethics 1994

Ed David Atkinson David Field et alia New Dictionary of Christian Ethics and Pastoral Theology 1995

Ed. Nicholas Coulton: The Bible, The Church and Homosexuality 2005

Ed. David Muir and Eileen Turner: Personal and Social Ethics Module 2001 (revised 2011)

Websites consulted

British Social Attitudes survey, quoted in July 2017.

The Guardian 11 February 2017.

St Andrew’s Day Statement 1995 at

Neil Swidney “What makes people gay?”   Boston Globe August 14, 2005

Le Vay, Simon (1991). "A difference in hypothalamic structure between heterosexual and homosexual men". Science. American Association for the Advancement of Science

[1] British Social Attitudes survey, quoted in July 2017.

[2] Church Times 1 ix 1995 quoted in Leal Debating Homosexuality.

[3] Quoted in The Guardian 11 February 2017.

[4] ibid



[7] LeVay, Simon (1991). "A difference in hypothalamic structure between heterosexual and homosexual men". Science. American Association for the Advancement of Science

[8] Neil Swidney “What makes people gay?”   Boston Globe August 14, 2005

[9] Leal page 11

[10] St Andrew’s Day Statement 1995 quoted in Leal page 19 and also available on

[11] Leal page 23

[12] ibid page 26

[13] Ibid page 27