Sodomy and the Pirate Tradition… The CofE Needs to just Get Over It

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With the news that the CofE has come out (h-hmmm) and said that it is gravely concerned about the effect of gay marriage on the Church and its relation to the state, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at some history…

A good friend, when hearing about what I was writing, immediately sent me a copy of Sodomy and the Pirate Tradition. It’s a fascinating book by the historian B R Burg, which dares to ask questions of an era that other books simply don’t. And his conclusion is fascinating: some men simply and freely chose to live together in communities on board and on shore. Others chose not to, but some pirates, having broken free of the chains that demanded they should serve only the king and not expect fair pay or fair treatment, and should go to church whether or not they believed it, chose to express their homosexuality. End of.

What is interesting about the Royal Naval response to homosexuality on board ships was that they couldn’t care less about it from an ethical or moral standpoint. All they cared about was whether the crew worked hard, and any expression of sexuality – homosexual or heterosexual – made the men more lazy. Homosexual behaviour was frowned on for the same reason that women were banned from crewing: it was a distraction, and the captains wanted hard, brutal labour from their crews… meaning that the image above is, of course, total nonsense!

I think there’s something here about the fear of being unproductive that it important, especially when we reflect on the Protestant work ethic that has been so formative in the CofE… Economic and human production are anxieties for the church, and homosexuals have been shouted down on that point for centuries.

But this also says something about power too, for it’s clear that the edicts coming from the top of the CofE are totally out of touch with the feelings of people on the ground. And it was always thus: Burg’s book makes it clear that gay clergymen were also very common, and people simply didn’t care…until those in power started to make a fuss.

Anyway, more of this in the new book… more of which later today.


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  1. Alex

    Interesting points, but just because something is tolerated and people “couldn’t care less about it from an ethical or moral standpoint” doesn’t necessarily make it ‘right’.

    Culture can inform and help interpret but I don’t think it should really guide or dictate to the moral and ethical principles of appropriate human relationship(s) that God points us toward.

    But I might be wrong.

  2. JQ

    Alex, you are wrong. The ‘appropriate human relationships that God points us toward’, of which you write, are no less the cultural views of Jewish and Christian biblical texts. These aren’t the words of God, but the words of men and bound by the prevailing culture of their time of writing. Culture has deliberately and inadvertently been used to guide and dictate moral and ethical principles and the bible is no exception in that.
    God lives in the hearts and actions of men and women. In the words of books, he is dead.