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Why the bishops have done the right thing

30b950aa-879a-11e3-_512532cAt the start of 2012, the House of Bishops (comprising all the diocesan bishops of the Church of England, together with elected suffragans) commissioned a report on the current debate in the Church on human sexuality, and in particular the status of same-sex relations.

Commissioned by the House of Bishops of the Church of England in January 2012, the working group included the bishops of Gloucester, Birkenhead, Fulham and Warwick. The group invited three advisers to join in the work. They were: Professor Robert Song, The Ven Rachel Treweek and the Revd Dr Jessica Martin.

Chaired by Sir Joseph Pilling, the group reported last November. Although its remit was to report to the House of Bishops, rather than to make public comment, they very wisely made the report publicly available immediately, as a sensible way to avoid speculation. You can read the report here and the press statement here.

Yesterday, the College of bishops met to consider its response to the recommendations of the report, and how to take them forward. (The College of Bishops comprises all the bishops, diocesan and suffragan, in the Church of England, and so includes the whole range of views amongst the episcopate.) The College immediately released a statement, another move I think very helpful, which you can read here. The statement expresses acceptance of many of the key recommendations of the Pilling report:

We are united in welcoming and affirming the presence and ministry within the Church of gay and lesbian people, both lay and ordained…

We are united in seeking to be faithful to the Scriptures and the tradition of the Church and in seeking to make a loving, compassionate and respectful response to gay men and women within Church and society.

We recognise the very significant change in social attitudes to sexuality in the United Kingdom in recent years…

We accept the recommendation of the Pilling Report that the subject of sexuality, with its history of deeply entrenched views, would best be addressed by facilitated conversations…

We acknowledge that one of the challenges we face is to create safe space for all those involved to be honest about their own views and feelings…

Some of the statements appear to me to include some subtle but important emphases. For example, it is noted that the facilitated discussions must include both ecumenical and international Anglican perspectives, which I think will be very important.

However, on one crucial issue it rejected Pilling’s recommendation.

As the Archbishops noted in November, the Pilling report is not a new policy statement from the Church of England and we are clear that the Church of England’s pastoral and liturgical practice remains unchanged during this process of facilitated conversation.

I explore in depth why this is significant on my previous post, written when the Pilling report was published. My conclusion reads:

But the House of Bishops can rescue this situation relatively easily. Pilling is notproposing a change in Church policy or doctrine. They should accept this. Pilling is proposing ‘facilitated discussions’ to deeper our understanding of the issue. Personally, I doubt that these will make any progress at all—but I’m all for increased mutual understanding, even if it is understanding of how much we disagree, so I don’t think the HoB could reject this. But in order to create any credibility at all for these discussions, the bishops need to agree to and implement an absolute moratorium on any liturgical change, however local and however ‘pastorally accommodating.’ The only alternative, as others have pointed out, would be a slow and painful death by a thousand (pastoral, local, liturgical) cuts.

Joseph PillingWhy do I think College of Bishops have made the right decision? Well, most obviously because their response to Pilling is exactly the one I said in November was needed. The reason for this is more and more evident in public responses, particularly on social media, from all sides of the debate.

On the one hand, many ‘conservatives’ say that there is nothing to be done, and no need any further discussion. I don’t think this takes into account sufficiently the need for the Church of England to develop more credible pastoral response, taking into account what Justin Welby described as the revolution in attitudes within society on this issue.

On the other hand, many ‘revisionists’ agree there is no need for further discussion, but for exactly the opposite reason. It is clear what God is doing in society, and the Church needs to catch up without any further delay. You can see this very clearly in the fulminating responses to yesterday’s announcement on the Thinking Anglicans website (was there ever more irony in a website name?).

But two comments on my Facebook page today illustrate why further discussion is precisely what we need.

Is it just me, or does anyone else out there get really angry at the constant use of the terms ‘homophobic’, ‘Islamophobic’ etc? Just because you may believe that a particular lifestyle is not God’s best will for people, that doesn’t mean you’re scared of those who live that way. A phobia is an irrational fear of something, and the use of this term feels to me as one who holds the traditional biblical view that I am being branded as in some way mentally deficient.

‘When I read scripture it seems quite clear about homosexual activity.’ When I read the Bible it seems quite clear about not wearing mixed fibres. Do you wear a poly/cotton shirt? When I read the Bible it seems pretty clear about selling your possessions and giving to the poor. Have you done that? I know I haven’t…

The first comment indicates the poor understanding that the different positions have of one another; this debate is replete with unhelpful stereotypes on all sides. The second comment illustrates something that runs alongside this – a simplistic engagement with the exegetical and hermeneutical issues, which is remarkably widespread considering how developed the serious literature is on this matter. I am amazed how frequently I’m in conversation with people of a different view who haven’t even read the most accessible and introductory material from the other side. In the light of these two phenomena, facilitated discussions, without changing facts on the ground in the meantime, is precisely what we need.

But then the cry goes up ‘How can the church continue to delay, when it is receiving such bad publicity on this issue?’ There are two answers to this.

florencelitimoiruncieFirstly, it is worth noting that last weekend was the 70th anniversary of the ordination of the first woman as priest/presbyter in the Anglican Communion, Florence Li Tim-Oi. In 1975, General Synod passed the motion: ‘That this Synod considers that there are no fundamental objections to the ordination of women to the priesthood’. In 1978 the motion: ‘That this Synod asks the Standing Committee to prepare and bring forward legislation to remove the barriers to the ordination of women to the priesthood and their consecration to the episcopate’ was passed by the House of Bishops and the House of Laity, but was lost in the House of Clergy by 94 votes to 149. It will be at least 2015 before the first woman is ordained as bishop. The issue of same-sex unions is much more contentious than the issue of women’s ministry, so we shouldn’t imagine that this will be settled any time soon.

Secondly, there appears to be on the ‘revisionist’ side of the debate a massive deficit in ecclesiology. In my reading of the New Testament, the people of God (I avoid the word ‘church’ because of its confusion with buildings and institutions) is to be an eschatological, counter-cultural community, marked by mutual partnership and the exercise of gifts and manifesting growth of the fruit of the Spirit. This consistently brings it into conflict with the surrounding culture, whether Jewish or pagan. Charts produced by Changing Attitude, demonstrating the low esteem with which our society holds the Church of England, tell us almost nothing—except, perhaps, for the lies told in the media about the contribution of faith communities in general, and the Church in particular (note how the mythology of missionaries has taken hold of the public consciousness) and also who it is who is fomenting negative views of the Church in the media.

We desperately need more critical reflection on the relation between church and society. Unlike the Church of England, many of the new churches are growing, and many evangelical churches within the Church of England are also experiencing growth. Most often, these are churches which espouse something like the traditional view, but have also been consistently taking the lead in compassionate care.

There are two more banana skins lying in the part of the bishops in the next few months. The first is the need to make a decision about same-sex marriage and the clergy; mistakes have already been made here. The second to decide on the process by which the discussions take place; to follow the Indaba process used by the Anglican Communion would be the least wise thing to do.

Whatever the process, we need greater mutual understanding, and let’s leave the PR to the Communications department…

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35 Responses to Why the bishops have done the right thing

  1. Veronica Zundel January 28, 2014 at 7:18 pm #

    Ian, I don’t know whether to be flattered or embarrassed by your quoting my comment. I was responding to Richard Gutteridge, who posted the sentence in quotes, on the same level as he posted. My comment was not meant to be sophisticated hermeneutics, but a response to the idea that we just have to read the words the Bible says and we will understand it – which is what he seemed to be saying. Anyone can do that with any bit of the Bible – as I was seeking to demonstrate. I’m not so theologically illiterate as to think every biblical injunction, especially in the OT, is to be taken literally. My comment was meant to be a parody of literalistic thinking. Clearly it didn’t work. I just wish we could stop privileging injunctions on sexual ethhics above all others, and start to discuss this topic in the wider context of justice, equality and the call to faithfulness.

  2. Richard Gutteridge January 28, 2014 at 10:47 pm #

    Veronica it’s interesting that you read condemnation of same sex relationships in the Bible as I did not state what I thought was the Bible’s clear position. I was reading an article by Jeffrey Johns which took the materials, shell fish and beard shaving and came to the conclusion that we could ignore it all. I pointed this out at a Southwell DEF meeting and was pointed to “The straight and the narrow” by Schmidt. He deals with all the textural issues and refutes each revisionist argument. He also looks at health issues and at how to deal with the pastoral issues. Well worth reading for anyone interested in the debate.

  3. Ian Paul January 28, 2014 at 10:48 pm #

    Veronica, I think you have projected a simplistic approach on Richard, without any warrant. The first thing to do would have been to ask, rather than assume…and in fact he has offered a reply (which he has now posted here) which utterly refutes your assumption.

    I think this dynamic constantly besets this argument—people assuming the worst possible case of their opponent, rather than the best. And I have to say it happens consistently from the ‘liberal’ to the ‘conservative’, even on supposedly respectable places like Including Evangelicals.

  4. Alan Wilson January 29, 2014 at 7:28 am #

    Ian, Historically (“what actually happened”), the meeting was not a policy making one, as was made clear in the invitation as well as on the day itself. It was just an opportunity for the House of Bishops to consider initial reactions to the Pilling report from the College of Bishops. The paragraph you quote was in the statement prepared before the meeting, and nobody suggested changing it during the meeting; indeed only two colleagues referred to it at all, and then only in passing with no objection to it. There was no brink and nobody stepped towards or away from it. The discussion now goes to the House of Bishops. The trixical bit remains your second banana skins. The first has nothing directly to do with the Pilling Report, because it was not judged to be on the cards when it was commissioned. No policy was made on it because it wasn’t that kind of meeting. It’s the House that may do that. The second was what was mostly discussed, but, again, no policy was made, simply issues aired. The impression I got was of something of a game of two halves — it’s important the process of facilitated discussons (a term that several probed and chewed over in itself) isn’t gazumped by anything else. That will be the next challenge on the way.

  5. Ian Paul January 29, 2014 at 7:57 am #

    Alan, thanks very much for the comment——that is very interesting. I have to say that having a statement prepared before the meeting sounds like a very wise process, quite interestingly (as I comment) a series of wise decisions all in a row! For those on the outside, it does of course raise the question as to where this decision was actually taken, which does seem to be a bit of a mystery.

    Yes, I understand that the decision about same-sex marriage and clergy is quite distinct from Pilling, and I think there is a danger when there are several different strands on what is essentially one area of policy, that there can be a lack of joined up thinking, as I think has happened in the past.

    I’d be interested to know what you think of the indaba process. From what I’ve heard, it was highly contentious and something of a disaster. I do hope the process here will take a different form.

  6. Ian Paul January 29, 2014 at 8:00 am #

    Actually, and a further thought on your first comment. The statement is very clearly headed as ” from the College of bishops” as if the College have discussed and agreed it. If you are suggesting that in fact this is not the case, it is an interesting example of communication…

  7. Andrew Wilshere January 29, 2014 at 8:45 am #

    Since you ask the question: yes, the website of “Christian Concern” has a more ironic name than Thinking Anglicans.

  8. Ian Paul January 29, 2014 at 12:40 pm #

    Was it the ‘Christian’ that you were worried about or the ‘concern’ bit?

    What is odd is that Thinking Anglicans offers a very good service in providing links to resources from all sorts of traditions. And yes the comments come from one relatively narrow perspective. It’s almost as if the other people who read the site are afraid to say anything…

  9. Andrew Wilshere January 29, 2014 at 12:42 pm #

    Both.

  10. Lorenzo Fernandez-Vicente January 29, 2014 at 3:26 pm #

    Why do you think these reactions about mixed fibres stupid? Your side is equally simplistic. Here’s a pearl from Fulcrum this morning, by one Andrew Chapman:

    ‘What you are missing, I think, is that as Christians who believe the bible, as evangelicals do by definition, we simply submit our own thoughts to God’s thoughts as revealed in the scriptures. Homosexual practice is an abomination to him (see Leviticus 18:22 in particular), and so it must be to us too.’

    Then why eat shrimps or wear mixed fibres or not abstain from meat undrained of its blood as enjoined even in the New testament? Submit your thoughts to God’s greater wisdom.

  11. Ian Paul January 29, 2014 at 3:51 pm #

    Hello again, Lorenzo. I don’t recall using the word stupid. what I highlighted was that Veronica had assumed that Richard’s argument was simplistic and parodied it. in fact, Richard wasn’t taking such an approach at all.

    I am aware that simplistic arguments like Andrew Chapman’s are floating around. But so what? If we’re going to engage seriously in this discussion, then we need to give credit to those with whom we disagree and assume the best version of the argument and not the worst.

    Any decent book setting out the case for the “traditional” you give a good argument.

  12. James Byron January 29, 2014 at 4:36 pm #

    “You can see this very clearly in the fulminating responses to yesterday’s announcement on the Thinking Anglicans website (was there ever more irony in a website name?).”

    OK, if thinking is called for, let’s have a rational justification for imposing lifelong celibacy on gay people. One that doesn’t appeal to authority, whether Bible, or tradition.

  13. Ian Paul January 29, 2014 at 6:36 pm #

    Which authority can I appeal to? Science? Sociology? Your personal experience?

  14. Peter Waddell January 29, 2014 at 8:24 pm #

    Hi Ian, thanks for your blog which is definitely one of the more gracious and intelligent ones out there!

    Where I would pick you up is on the attribution to ‘revisionists’ (and I am one) of ‘a massive deficit in ecclesiology’. What follows suggests that this is because they see what way secular society is moving, and fairly uncritically follow it. Of course that can be the case, and very frequently is. But revisionists can also be very critical of widespread social consensus (just sticking on the field of sexual/personal ethics for the moment, many of us would be pretty hot for life-long fidelity, and very critical of the UK’s easy abortion culture). The problem is not our inability to be counter-cultural, it is that we think this particular issue is the wrong battle to fight.

    To make me think it was the right battle to fight, you’d need to be able to show me why homosexual practice was intrinsically an evil. And that means a better argument than ‘because that’s what Scripture says.'(Scripture, as we all know, also says God ordered genocide). You’d need to show me why Scripture says it, and that would need to make sense to my reason. If it were true that gay love always involved massive health risk, or stunted people emotionally and spiritually, or was intrinsically promiscuous – well, I’d be persuaded. But those reasons simply do not persuade me.

    So in summary: it’s not that revisionists can’t be counter-cultural, it’s that we are unpersuaded that this is the issue to be counter-cultural on. The world isn’t utterly without the Spirit, and sometimes it is capable of teaching the church a thing or two…

  15. Lorenzo Fernandez-Vicente January 29, 2014 at 9:21 pm #

    Reason, Ian, ethics must be rational. Some rational or empirical evidence that it is noxious to self or others will do.

  16. Ian Paul January 29, 2014 at 10:38 pm #

    No, Lorenzo, secular, rational ethics must be rational. Christian ethics depends on revelation, as does all aspects of Christian living, since Christianity is (typologically) a revealed religion.

  17. Andrew Wilshere January 30, 2014 at 7:04 am #

    But to expect civil law to take into account the communitarian assertions of revealed religion? No. Civil law must be the fruit of public reason. This was basically agreed when we started instituting things like parliaments.

    For myself, since my church is intent on making me choose between its “revealed” “truths” and the truth that I know and experience daily in a life of love with my partner, I must for now observe my faith without the church.

  18. Martin Reynolds January 30, 2014 at 12:41 pm #

    Rather ungracious remark about the reactions of those on Thinking Anglicans, to be honest, I was quite surprised.

    I looked at the thread, there are comments from the bishop of Manchester and two leaders of the LGBT community both seeing positive aspects to the statement and several calls for actions from the bishops to mirror these words. In fact Canterbury and York have now responded to these concerns.

    while there are gay and lesbian people still deeply hurt (I would expect some understanding from you there) I would say that the comments reflect well on the claim made in the website’s title.

    There is now a response from Gafcon that fails to see any doctrinal development within Anglicanism of the past 100 years, this deserves your opprobrium far more. I have always thought your views worthy of respect ……..

  19. James Byron January 30, 2014 at 7:09 pm #

    “Which authority can I appeal to? Science? Sociology? Your personal experience?”

    None. Appeal to authority (including revelation claims) is a fallacy. Can you give a reasoned argument? Can it even be done in those terms?

    If not, why should those of us who think in those terms take a blind bit of notice?

  20. Martin Reynolds February 1, 2014 at 12:45 am #

    I am even more sorry you thought these comments alone did not merit a response.

    As we see the responses to Justin and Sentamu from the hand of white amanuenses of African Primates you must surely reflect that these men were once pushed forward as allies of the “middle ground”, your friends so admired, and yet they are incapable of even the simple recognition that criminalising gay people is a monstrous evil.

    It is a matter that should be of great concern to you that Fulcrum and diverse American allies have given these bishops and their supporters succor and encouragement and have done much to underpin the merciless and evil persecution they are embarking upon.

  21. Cynthia Katsarelis February 3, 2014 at 5:33 pm #

    I agree about the most ungracious comment about Thinking Anglican. But what is even more shocking to me in all discussions about us LGBT Anglicans, rather than with us, is that while throwing around words like hermeneutics and exegesis, etc., why overlook the simple call of our Scriptures to justice, mercy, and compassion? Why not note how Jesus always sided with the powerless against the powerful? Why not note that Jesus simplified the law to two simple commandments, neither of which supports the hurtful bigotries of homophobia (oppressing others who are different is most certainly hateful and a phobia).

    Why is no one doing some moral math and weighing the actual pain that discrimination and exclusion causes LGBT people, vs. the “pain” that would be caused by justice? Thankfully, finally in England there is talk about bullying and teen suicide amongst LGBT teens, for one example of real suffering caused by the hateful rhetoric that LGBT’s aren’t created in the image of God and equally loved by God.

    You are right. There are some great writings out there, including on the moral issues no one in CoE seems to address. The moderates who believe that LGBT suffering absolutely must continue for decades to keep well-heeled straights comfortable have been addressed quite thoroughly by Martin Luther King and his Letter from the Birmingham (Alabama) Jail. Every Anglican church leader who thinks that our suffering needs to continue should reflect on that each and every day, giving a thought to the enlightened laws passed in Nigeria and still in play in Uganda. There isn’t an in-between on justice, if we LGBTs are truly an abomination to God and threat to society, then Nigeria is right. If we aren’t, then TEC and Canada are right. Everything else is leadership trying to hold their power bases together at the expense of the suffering of real people. How moral is that?

    I so wish that CoE would embrace the moral dimension of suffering. It is a kinder path. And it would be much more humble of CoE church leaders to remember that Scripture was used to justify slavery, racism, anti-semitism, and misogyny. Those were definitely “traditional” positions at one time. We don’t need to wait decades for “revelation,” there has been plenty; information and revelation move much faster now than in the bad old days.

  22. Ian Paul February 3, 2014 at 9:00 pm #

    Peter, thanks for the comment, and the compliment, which I appreciate.

    thanks too for your comments about revisionists. I guess the reason that I say this is several-fold. For one, my impression is that your position is not very typical of people who are theologically liberal. I haven’t heard much expressed in this direction in the conversation, and in fact on the Radio 4 programme, Dermuid McCulloch said at one point ‘The church always follows society, and finds ways to accommodate moral change.’ I was in a deanery meeting where three of us were speaking (on the issue of women in leadership), from liberal, catholic and evangelical perspectives. The liberal simply said ‘God is at work in the world, and we need to follow.’ This was someone with a higher degree working in chaplaincy, so it was said as a point of principle, not unthinkingly. In my experience, this is typical of the liberal position–though I am aware that not all ‘revisionists’ are ‘liberal’ in this sense.

    In terms of justifying why this is important, I think there are two levels to consider. First, in Scripture’s own terms, the distinction between male and female (in role, not in hierarchy) is portrayed as what we might call a biological given which reflects God’s theological intention for humanity. So rejection of this is consistently depicted as rejection of God’s sovereignty as creator, which of course reaches its climax in Rom 1.

    The point of contact with modern conceptions here is to note that for all of us, our ‘orientation’ and sexuality is a complex process of psycho-sexual development, and is shaped by a whole mixture of biological, relational, environmental factors. So I don’t believe that ‘orientation’ can be a fundamental defining characteristic of human identity in the way that the revisionist argument requires. I think the analogy between race and orientation, mentioned several times here, is unjustifiable, and Sean Doherty explores this here http://www.psephizo.com/life-ministry/our-bodies-our-sexuality/

    The second level of answer is that, given that Scripture is unequivocal on this issue, to change the church’s teaching is to decisively detach from our theological roots. I explore this here http://www.psephizo.com/biblical-studies/the-bible-and-the-gay-debate/

  23. Ian Paul February 3, 2014 at 9:03 pm #

    James, first, if you are not a person of Christian faith, then I think you are right—I would not want to persuade you on this issue. I wouldn’t start here, or even raise the question. I would want to talk to you about the person Jesus, an historical figure who, I would suggest, is impossible to make sense of without taking seriously his outrageous claims.

    However, I would want to contest the idea that ‘reason’ avoids foundationalist problems associated with faith. They are premised instead of the Cartesian foundation of the sensing self as the centre of the perceived world, which in itself makes a whole set of assumptions about authority.

  24. Ian Paul February 3, 2014 at 9:10 pm #

    Cynthia, I don’t think it is the case that the debate is about LGBT people, and not with them. I am constantly in discussion with LGBT people, and the Pilling report engaged significantly. But this is not the same as recognising a certain position—that people can be in active same sex relations and be ordained—before the discussion can start, which is often the demand.

    I also don’t think it is true that issue of compassion and suffering are being ignored. Many ‘traditionalists’ have been at the forefront of ‘compassion’ ministries, and were, some years ago, leaders in establishing AIDS charities.

    I think one key unanswered question in the debate is why Jesus, the personification of compassion, did not contradict OT teaching on sexual ethics, and if anything made it more strict. And Paul, following in his footsteps, likewise draws on OT texts in this area, whilst being happy appearing to ‘undo’ other OT strictures.

    The fact that Scirpture has been used to defend other things does not prove much, except that people have at times done nothing more than twist the Scriptures to their own ends. I don’t believe the same is the case in this discussion.

  25. James Byron February 6, 2014 at 12:38 am #

    Thanks for the reply, Ian Paul.

    I’m au fait with the evidence for the historical Jesus, including the fact that his original words are lost (all we have are Greek translations of the Aramaic, and translation is interpretation), and we have no idea which translations go back to the Galilean preacher.

    The foundation of beliefs I’m talking about is subjective evaluation of objective evidence. This is not an appeal to authority in the sense you mean, since it explains its mechanism, and is open to correction.

    Can homosexuality be argued against in reasoned terms? Your response only serves to reinforce my view that no, it can’t be. No one who rejects authoritarianism (regardless of whether they’re Christian or not) will feel obliged to do so. Just the opposite. They’ll fight to see the rights of LGB people recognized.

  26. Peter Waddell February 6, 2014 at 2:12 am #

    Hello again Ian, thank you for your response. I will read the links you’ve given carefully when the day job gives me a chance!

    Without having read them, three initial reactions….

    1. Yup, lots of revisionists are uncritical liberals. By the same token, quite a few conservatives are pretty unpleasant homophobes. Both sides of the discussion have their dodgy proponents (though if I have to choose – which i would really rather not, but it increasingly looks like we may have to – give me the dodgy American liberals any day over GAFCON.)

    2. On the male-female polarity in creation and the theological significance of this. Yes, I think there’s something in this… but what I’m not quite sure. Let’s grant that the polarity is there, and divinely ordained. That still doesn’t mean that in a relatively small number of cases, sexual desire might be doing something different and not necessarily unholy. I’m not sure why my neighbour’s same sex attraction/relationship ‘rejects’ that basic polarity any more than Jesus’ celibacy did – it’s just something different (though related), not necessarily opposed. I’m reminded here of the bit in the conservative case that I really never understood – that gay marriage would somehow undermine straight marriage. As a straight married man I don’t see how that is so: I can rejoice in my friends’ gay love as something different but not hostile to my heterosexual love, indeed often as helping me do my heterosexual loving better (through their friendship, example, counsel etc.).

    3. The unequivocal witness of scripture: well, yes, but scripture is also pretty hot in its prohibition of divorce, isn’t it? And yet most ‘conservatives’ get round that one. Personally (and I realise this is an unpopular view in many quarters) I think it is also pretty clear on the subordinate role of women in leadership, and in thinking that there is little if anything of value in other religions. It is also unequivocal in its depiction of a God who commands genocide: 1 Sam 15 for anyone who has edited that bit out of their minds. So for me the authority of Scripture is only one element in a multi faceted conversation between tradition, conscience, reason, experience, and prayer. I appreciate that relativising the authority of scripture in that way is a deeply untradtitional move for an Anglican, but I think most of us actually end up doing something like that in our practice even if we don’t admit it in theory. Otherwise we end up stuck on some fairly unappealing, unpersuasive, unequivocal scriptural teachings. And at the risk if descending into sloganising, it is good to remember that Jesus Christ is the Word of God, not the Bible; and that there was a Church before there was a Bible…

  27. Cynthia Katsarelis February 6, 2014 at 3:14 am #

    Thank you, Ian for a kind response. What is fundamental is whether we LGBT persons are created in the image of God, in God’s wonderfully diverse creation, or not. You seem to believe that sexuality is not innate, like race. However, any gay person will tell you otherwise, unless perhaps they are in the bi-sexual area of the sexuality spectrum. The science is quite behind sexuality as innate.

    I’m not sure that I buy that Jesus subscribed to the OT sexuality codes, that wasn’t my reading in a theological program for lay people, or amongst any of my very well educated clergy. He definitely had something to say about divorce that we seem to ignore.

    I am inclined to take very seriously the Witness of many people in the moving of the Spirit towards justice. That seems to me to be MLK’s Promised Land and it feels like a very nice place to be.

  28. Andrew Chapman February 6, 2014 at 3:48 pm #

    “Lorenzo: ‘Here’s a pearl from Fulcrum this morning, by one Andrew Chapman:

    ‘What you are missing, I think, is that as Christians who believe the bible, as evangelicals do by definition, we simply submit our own thoughts to God’s thoughts as revealed in the scriptures. Homosexual practice is an abomination to him (see Leviticus 18:22 in particular), and so it must be to us too.’

    Then why eat shrimps or wear mixed fibres or not abstain from meat undrained of its blood as enjoined even in the New testament? Submit your thoughts to God’s greater wisdom.’

    Ian: ‘I am aware that simplistic arguments like Andrew Chapman’s are floating around.’

    I don’t think it’s that simplistic. I didn’t mean, of course, that Christians have to keep the law of Moses; my point is that God is the same, yesterday and tomorrow, so that we can expect that what it is detestable to Him on one day will be detestable on another. Out of the hundred plus instances of the use of ????? (tow’ebah), there are one or two where it seems to apply to something which is acceptable now for Christians: viz, the eating of unclean food, and possibly, re-marriage to the same woman a man has divorced. Almost always, though, it is used of something, particularly the worship of foreign gods, which remains an abomination today.

    I believe that Christians must keep the instructions given to the churches in the New Testament, so I believe we must not eat blood as a deliberate act (eg black pudding.) Regular meat as it is sold in the shops (not drained) I think is acceptable.

    Andrew

  29. Ian Paul February 8, 2014 at 10:40 am #

    Andrew Wilshere, to say that: ‘But to expect civil law to take into account the communitarian assertions of revealed religion? No. Civil law must be the fruit of public reason. This was basically agreed when we started instituting things like parliaments.’ is to ignore at least half our history.

    The view is on the wane just now, but through most of history in the intellectual life of our country it has been acknowledged that reason alone is not enough. (Personally, I blame Kant for the suggestion that it could be.) This is reflected in all sorts of ways in our constitutional arrangements and in law, and is also demonstrated in the inadequacy of regulation to apply to managing the key elements of our life together. we are rational creatures, but we are also spiritual creatures, and we need the transcendent as much as the logical.

  30. Ian Paul February 8, 2014 at 10:48 am #

    Peter, thanks for your further comments.

    ‘Yup, lots of revisionists are uncritical liberals. By the same token, quite a few conservatives are pretty unpleasant homophobes’ I don’t think I would disagree with either of these observations! I do think that some people read me as defending a party, or a party line, and I am not. I am trying to be clear about what Scripture has to say to us.

    (though if I have to choose – which i would really rather not, but it increasingly looks like we may have to – give me the dodgy American liberals any day over GAFCON.) Hmmm…the phrase devil and the deep blue comes to mind. I do think Jefferts Schori wins the prize for biblical illiteracy…

    On the gender polarity question, yes, Jesus’ singleness challenges the hegemony of the married state–but he himself in his teaching locates this within the creation order. As has been discussed elsewhere, the current proposal (everywhere you look) is that ‘orientation’ has been put on a level with ‘racial identity’ in anthropology, which is wrong—when done by heterosexual or homosexual. It elevates human desire (not even will) to the level of divine given. I rather think Jesus’ singleness undermines *this*, and not gender polarity.

    The prohibition on divorce is unequivocal? Then how come ‘Moses allowed it’ and that there are two slightly different accounts in Matthew and Mark of Jesus’ teaching? And how come it reads rather differently when you locate it in the historical context of the debate between Hillel and Shammai on ‘for any reason’ divorce? I am just amazed when people compare this with what Scripture says on same-sex relations.

    I suspect we could have a really interesting discussion on all this: do call in if you are ever passing Nottingham…

  31. Ian Paul February 8, 2014 at 10:53 am #

    Cynthia ‘What is fundamental is whether we LGBT persons are created in the image of God’ I absolutely agree that they are, as we all are, but for all of us this image is marred. So not all that I am is honouring of God’s image in me.

    ‘You seem to believe that sexuality is not innate, like race.’ It might feel as though it is innate, but that does not mean it is like race, and that is my main beef. Psycho-sexual development is a complex process, shaped by genetics, environment, relationships, experience and imprinting. Many people have many things about them which they feel are ‘innate’ which are neither genetic givens nor are they necessarily healthy or moral. To claim ‘orientation’ (which in fact changes over time, as longitudinal studies have clearly shown) is innate as a knock-down argument won’t do.

    We do not ‘ignore’ the texts on divorce—see my comment above. If we did, I would argue against it on the same grounds, but we don’t. See the writing of david instone-brewer on this.

  32. Ian Paul February 8, 2014 at 10:58 am #

    Andrew, thanks for contributing and putting your case.

    I think that the argument as you present it does come across as simplistic, in that you appear to be selecting the term ‘abomination’ and holding on to that, without giving reason why lesser terms are any less binding. I am not sure that ‘degree’ is in itself compelling. So I do have some sympathy with Lorenzo’s response to this.

    However, I think Lorenzo needs to attend to other, stronger arguments. They are around clearly enough, in Richard Hays, Robert Gagnon, Dick France, William Webb and others, none of whom follow your line but offer a canonical, creational and eschatological perspective.

    I would not go with your prohibition on black pudding, because I do not believe that ‘the life is in the blood.’ I think that belongs to a particular symbolic system which I no longer follow. But that does not undermine the canonical creation case for sexual relations between male and female.

  33. James Byron February 8, 2014 at 12:11 pm #

    The contradiction between Jesus’ divorce commandments in Matthew and Mark (Matthew throws in a get-out for porneia, which seems to translate as sexual immorality) plays merry, erm, heck with biblical inerrancy. Still, given its appearance in Paul, the divorce pericope is the strongest of the Jesus sayings. At best, it allows divorce on the grounds of sexual immorality.

    The Anglican Communion flat-out ignores this, its constituent churches allowing remarriage after no-fault divorce. Multiple times.

    Yes, maybe Jesus’ words are limited to the law as it then stood, but nothing in the text indicates this. And if we can contextualize away the divorce pericope, why not say that Paul’s view of homosexuality was distorted by temple prostitution, idolatry, or any of the other saving-throws used by social liberals who try to cleave to biblical authority?

    Yeah, sure, none of ‘em are in Paul, but what’s sauce for goose …

  34. Peter Waddell February 8, 2014 at 5:58 pm #

    Hello again Ian…

    The devil and the deep blue sea. Hmmm. Did you see the letter from the Archbishop of Kenya, present chair of GAFCON, in response to Canterbury and York’s very, very mild remonstrance re. the recent anti-gay legislation in Uganda and Nigeria? It strikes me that some of the GAFCON support for that vicious – evil – legislation, and their refusal to heed the Communion’s teaching on that – is of several grades more moral seriousness than TEC’s actions. Several large grades. Give me a little biblical illiteracy any day … and incidentally, how does this description of KJS’s position differ from ‘someone who reads the Bible differently than I do?’ I think the GAFCON bishops handle Scripture appallingly: doesn’t make them illiterate, just wrong!

    The divorce issue: OK, I was wrong to say Scripture was unequivocal. But Jesus is a different – and slightly more important – kettle of fish! Even allowing that the Matthean exception for ‘porneia’ is authentic (and of course for most of church history, the Western Church including ourselves at any rate acted as if it were not), you are left with no justification for divorce and remarriage other than sexual immorality (ambiguously defined) on the part of the wife. As you know, over the last forty odd years, most Anglican practice has veered way, way,way beyond that line. And this has not been on the basis of careful biblical exegesis – it has been on precisely the grounds of social and cultural change which are not in play again in the same-sex question. If you doubt that, inspect the actual implementation of remarriage policies in parishes up and down the country – I bet you don’t find too many divorcees being turned away when they come knocking for remarriage.

    On the fundamental point you have returned to on various occasions – that sexual orientation is not equivalent to race, that it isn’t a fixed, fundamental element of human identity in the sense that race is.I think I agree with you there: not being a scientific expert, I’d be inclined to think the best guess (which as far as I’m aware is all anyone thinks we have got) is that a combination of genetic, social, cultural, psycho-sexual developmental factors go in to making all our sexualities what they are. But two thoughts in response:

    1. Have you actually succeeded in making a distinction between orientation and race here? I may be on thin ice, but isn’t ‘race’ an invention? It doesn’t actually refer to any fixed, biological difference between people and is as much culural, social, developmental as anything else?). Sure some people are born with black skin and some with white, but most thinkers about race would want to say it is much a more than a matter of skin colour, wouldn’t they? Skin colour per se is a pretty superficial thing… I’m not actually sure of my ground here, just thinking aloud.

    2. So what? So maybe sexual orientation isn’t a fixed, fundamental, biologically given aspect of human identity. But it does look like that for some people, it might as well be! In other words, there are some people who look like their full flourishing as human beings – their ability to love God and their neighbour with all their hearts, souls, and minds, is wrapped up with their loving someone of the same sex. I guess you could say that we don’t know they couldn’t do that loving as celibates… but actually, many of them have tried this and for them it doesn’t seem to work. I think to deny that that is their careful, thought-out, prayerful judgement from experience is a sin.

    Granted that, why would we stop them from living out their attraction? Why indeed would we not help them to live it as Christianly as possible – surrounded by the prayer, affirmation and practical support that heterosexual couples can (at least in theory) take for granted from the Church? The only answer I can think of is that we think on other grounds that there is something about that attraction which is just wrong, regardless of how they experience it. So what’s the wrong? There are, as far as I can see, no compelling (no even plausible) arguments about health or social damage. There is a hostile set of Scriptures – but that returns us to the whole question of divorce, genocide, world religions and the rest of it!

    Jesus of course was silent on the topic, for which I give thanks. I guess if he had been asked, he would probably have disapproved, as most people in his culture disapproved – like he initially called a Gentile sufferer a ‘dog’. But he did say something which I think bears on the question, and takes us in a different direction: ‘by their fruits shall ye know them.’ The most pressing reason I have changed my mind on this question (fifteen years ago I would have been absolutely on your side or the discussion) is that I have since got to know just two gay couples really, really well – priests, as it happens – who are, to the best of my judgement, absolutely fantastic priests. They are humble, wise, charitable, gentle, loving as well of course as being sinful idiots from time to time. And they are those things (to the best of my judgment -which of course, is all we’ve got) not despite their same-sex love but in part because of it – just like I am the man and priest I am because of my marriage. I could no more tell them they should leave each other than I could make sense of being told to abandon my wife. I have no reason for it. It appalls my conscience. And in the end, if after careful, prayerful discussion and reflection you decide something is against reason and consience – you reject it. We are made in the image of God: reason and conscience are at least as valuable gifts of God as Scripture and I think there is a good case for saying more valuable gifts.

    Here endeth the lesson! Sorry, got carried away… have a great Saturday evening.

  35. Lorenzo Fernandez-Vicente February 10, 2014 at 3:50 pm #

    ‘And in the end, if after careful, prayerful discussion and reflection you decide something is against reason and consience – you reject it.’ Totally with you Dr Waddell. Newman toasted the pope but conscience first, I’ll do the same with Scripture.

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