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Can the ‘traditional’ view of sexuality ever be plausible?

51EzC082idLI’m often intrigued by those who argue that the church’s stance on sexuality—which usually means the church’s traditional opposition to seeing same-sex sexual unions as equivalent to male-female marriage—as an obstacle to mission. They are quite right that most people beyond the church look at this aspect of its teaching with more or less blank incomprehension. But this stumbling block is really minor compared with the idea of believing in a crucified man being raised from the dead and offering a physical embodiment of the supreme creator of the universe. It’s just worth putting these things in perspective!

But Ed Shaw is quite right, in his new book The Plausibility Problem, that church’s ‘traditional’ teaching on sexuality—sex within male-female marriage, abstinence without—looks increasingly implausible to people within the church, as well as those outside. He introduces us to ‘Peter’, a young Christian man who is same-sex attracted, and ‘Jane’, an older divorced woman who has fallen in love with another woman at work. Portraying their situations sympathetically, he highlights the problem:

It is the Peters and Janes in our churches who are causing many evangelicals to lose their confidence in the Bible’s teaching on sex and marriage. It is the real people like them who are tempting an increasing number of evangelicals to ‘go liberal’ on homosexuality. You might be one of them. How can you look Peter in the eye and deny him sex forever? How can we ask Jane to turn her back on the one human relationship that has brought her joy? It just won’t seem plausible to them. It doesn’t sound that reasonable to us either. (p 21)


This shows why Shaw’s book is essential reading in our current context. If you want to see the church change and accept same-sex marriage on a par with the traditional understanding, you need to read this, because it offers one of the best expositions of a genuinely evangelical pastoral response.

If you are an evangelical (or of any tradition) who wants to see the church maintain its ‘traditional’ teaching, you need to read this because Shaw looks unflinchingly at the errors and missteps made by evangelicals and other ‘traditionalists’. It does not make for comfortable reading, but it is essential medicine.

Against, ‘accepting’ evangelicals, Shaw is clear that the key texts mean what they say, and they do prohibit same-sex sexual unions. (In a helpful appendix, he highlights why the ‘revisionist’ readings of these texts are themselves implausible.) But he is equally clear that trotting out this ‘proof-text parade’ no longer convinces anyone. Most interestingly, he finds the reasons for this not simply in changes in culture, but in the failure of evangelical churches to put them in a plausible context of counter-cultural faithfulness to the gospel in several key areas. These failures mean that many churches seeking to be faithful to scripture are simply not offering a context for those who experience same-sex attraction a viable, personal space.

It’s people, not theology, that seem to be powering the rejection of the traditional Christian ethic. It’s Peter and Jane – and others like them – not the Hebrew and Greek. (p 23)


Shaw begins his discussion by offering a frank account of his own experience. He has never experienced anything other than same-sex attraction, and the book is punctuated by profoundly honest admissions of the struggles (as well as the joys) of this. He pulls no punches about the unhelpful (even if well-meaning) ‘help’ he has received in some evangelical contexts. But he is also clear that the emergence of ‘accepting’ evangelicals has made his faithfulness to Scripture much harder.

Think for a moment of your greatest besetting sin. The thing God asks you not to think or do, but you keep on thinking or doing. Consider how much your efforts to say ‘No!’ to it would be undermined if suddenly you were told it wasn’t wrong any more or, at the very least, if a few voices started to raise doubts in your mind. When next tempted, things would be much more challenging, wouldn’t they? Why resist thinking or doing that if it isn’t really a sin any more? If Jesus doesn’t mind – if Jesus would actually approve!

Welcome to one of the fiercest challenges of my life.

He then explores nine key ‘missteps’ the church has made which has undermined its plausibility on sexuality.


The first is to believe ‘Your Identity Is Your Sexuality.’ Shaw explains why he does not describe himself as ‘gay’, since he believes his identity is found primarily in who he is in Christ—or, better, who he is growing into being in Christ—rather than being found in his sexuality, let alone his sexual orientation. (See this post about Sean Doherty for a different twist on this, finding our identity as human beings of a particular gender, rather than a particular sexual orientation.)

It would be natural to assume that the main target here would be a revisionist or secular approaches to the issue—but Shaw offers an unusual twist. Throughout the book, he draws on writings from the Catholic, contemplative and radical traditions, but is also dependent on Puritan and Reformed writers. And his criticism here is in the direction of the Reformed—those who would constantly focus on Christians as forgiven sinners, rather than redeemed saints.

Church meetings begin with prayers of confession that – badly introduced or understood – give the impression that we are sinners crawling back to God in the hope of getting back into his good books. We don’t remind each other enough that our status permanently changed when we first trusted in Jesus. That I don’t ever need to crawl back into God’s presence – in Jesus, I now live in his presence all of the time. (pp 40–41).


Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 08.23.54The second misstep is the belief that ‘Family Is Mum, Dad And 2.4 Children’. Here his critique is of the way that many evangelical churches have swallowed the doctrine of the nuclear family, and completely neglected Jesus’ radical teaching on the true nature of ‘family’ in the light of the kingdom of God.

He replied to him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother (Matthew 12:46–50).

It turns out that Jesus defines his family as those who follow him rather than those who are related to him.

He offers a moving and personal account of relationships in his church which have begun to make that a reality for him, and challenges others to do likewise.

The third misstep is the claim ‘If You’re Born Gay, It Can’t Be Wrong To Be Gay.’ Again, Shaw makes a surprising connection with church teaching, and our failure to be faithful to biblical teaching on ‘original sin’, the idea that we are sinful because we are human, and we cannot assume that any aspect of who we naturally are is necessarily holy just because it is natural.

The fourth misstep is ‘If It Makes You Happy, Then It Must Be Right!’ Here Shaw highlights the way many evangelical churches are indistinguishable from the hedonism and materialism of our culture.

The fifth, ‘Sex Is Where True Intimacy Is Found’, laments the lack of serious friendship in many of our churches, which actually causes problems all around related to sexuality:

Our sex drives are not just lessened by sexual intimacy; they can be satisfied by non-sexual intimacy, by friendship too. My personal experience is that the power of sexual temptation lessens the more time I spend among friends with whom I am non-sexually intimate.


In exploring misstep six, ‘Men And Women Are Equal And Interchangeable’, he argues that Scripture has a radically egalitarian approach to the status of men and women, whilst consistently maintaining difference. In defending the latter, he draw on scientific and cultural insights, on the use of male-female marriage as an analogy with the relationship between God and humanity—and on some intriguing testimony.

Melinda Selmys is a same-sex attracted Christian who has been in sexual relationships with both a woman (in the past) and a man (she’s now married with children). ‘That frank bafflement which inevitably sets in, in any heterosexual relationship (‘Why on earth would he do that? I just don’t understand . . .’) never set in throughout all of the years that my girlfriend and I were together – naturally enough. We were both women, and we chose each other because we seemed to be particularly compatible women.’ (p 93).

Misstep seven was the one I found most personally challenging: ‘Godliness is Heterosexuality’. Here he highlights the way that many evangelical parents long for their children to grow up heterosexual—to the point of paranoia—when their aspiration should be that their children grow into Christlikeness. The notion that heterosexuality is more godly inhibits real honesty about heterosexual sexual brokenness, so that many struggle on alone, not realising that others are struggling too.

Misstep eight ‘Celibacy is Bad for You’ highlights how evangelicals have lost the tradition of celebrating singleness.

In his excellent book on marriage, Christopher Ash poses this question: ‘When did we last see a successful movie which portrayed a contented bachelor or spinster?’ I never have. Have you?… And that’s true inside the church too. When did we last hear a good sermon that promoted lifelong singleness? I never have. Have you?

This loss is astonishing not just in the light of the history of significant single Christian leaders, but most of all in the light of Jesus’ and Paul’s singleness.


The last misstep, ‘Suffering Is To Be Avoided’ is perhaps the most challenging of all. Despite the fact that Jesus suffered, that he calls us to suffer, and that this was the consistent teaching of Paul and other early church leaders, we appear to have forgotten it.

For some reason, in our generation, following Jesus is no longer about our sacrifice and suffering. Western Christians have, by and large, stopped denying ourselves – we now talk more about our right to be ourselves. Our Christian lives are more about self-gratification – seemingly denying the existence of Jesus’ words here. They are a continuation of our previous lives, with a thin Christian veneer: just being nicer to a few more people. (p 118)


If this was my argument, I think there are a few things I would have done differently. Some of the short chapters clearly belong together. ‘If It Makes You Happy, Then It Must Be Right!’ is almost exactly the flip side of the coin ‘Suffering Is To Be Avoided’, and the three chapters ‘Family Is Mum, Dad And 2.4 Children’, ‘Sex Is Where True Intimacy Is Found’ and ‘Godliness is Heterosexuality’ offer a comprehensive critique of Western Christian understandings of sexuality and marriage.

There were also one or two points where I think I disagreed with Shaw. If sexual orientation were found to be genetic, I think it would be much harder to distinguish it from (for example) racial identity, and much easier to say that the Bible is simply wrong. In fact I don’t think that is ever going to happen, since ‘orientation’ is itself a construct of modernity and dependent on a particularly socio-cultural outlook in a way that racial identity is not. He tackles the question of what is natural through the doctrine of original sin; I think it is possible to achieve the same through the much broader theological language of fallenness. And I am not sure I would describe the purpose of marriage as giving a foretaste of the marriage of heaven and earth (as theology from above); it is enough to note that it is a key metaphor which provides an analogy (as theology from below).


But Shaw does achieve three important things in this book. For ‘traditionalists’, he demonstrates that the debate about sexuality is in fact about much more than this one issue. That means that, if ‘traditionalists’ are going to ‘win’ the argument, they are going to have to get their house in order on a whole range of other issues—and would probably be better off not using that label for themselves.

Secondly, for ‘revisionists’, he demonstrates that the debate about sexuality is in fact about much more than this one issue. This means that, if ‘revisionists’ are going to ‘win’ the argument, they are going to have to persuade the church to change on a much wider range of theological issues than sexuality alone—our understanding of fallenness, social constructions of sexuality, and the role of discipline and suffering to name but a few.

Thirdly, Shaw demonstrates that this is, in fact, a crucial issue for the church, and one we would do well to attend to—and he does this with an extraordinary depth of personal openness and honesty. On reading this, I felt I had really encountered the author (whom I have met briefly), and not merely a set of arguments. Shaw presents his case with a personal integrity that it is difficult to be unmoved by. In the end, the book awakened in me a fresh passion to live by the radical and yet plausible demand to follow Christ with renewed commitment and energy.

After returning to his case studies of ‘Peter’ and ‘Jane’, and what his comments might imply for them, Shaw concludes with a striking final observation:

Instead of keeping very silent on the issue of homosexuality, hoping to avoid all of the controversy that it brings us, we should begin to see both the people who experience it and the controversy that it brings as a gift to the church. A divine gift, because it’s just what we needed at this time in our history to help us see the whole series of tragic missteps we have taken, to the detriment of us all, as well as to the detriment of the world we are trying to reach.

Throughout church history, wonderful theological clarity has come out of divisive theological controversy…So the current controversies over sexuality should excite rather than dismay us – it is from times of profound disagreement that our Sovereign God has often brought a return to a radical biblical clarity in the church’s theology and practice.

I have a sneaking feeling that he might well be right.


You can learn more about Ed’s personal story on the Living Out website.


Statement of interest: I was provided with an advance copy of the book The Plausibility Problem: the church and same-sex attraction by Ed Shaw, published by IVP 19th February 2015, electronically and in print.


Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, would you consider donating £1.20 a month to support the production of this blog?

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66 Responses to Can the ‘traditional’ view of sexuality ever be plausible?

  1. pk February 16, 2015 at 10:21 pm #

    I have the book already on order and am looking forward to reading it.
    On the issue of orientation, the scientific thinking seems to be that at the most, it is a combination of genetics and psychological develpment, though probably more towards the latter.

    • Ian Paul February 17, 2015 at 5:11 pm #

      Yes, but ‘scientific thinking’ always takes place within a cultural and epistemic context…

  2. etseq February 17, 2015 at 5:16 am #

    Yes his arguments are so appealing, millions of gay men (lesbians seem not to exist in this masculine self-loathing narratives) are going to become celibate evangelical poster boys in order to justify your homophobia. That loving message will do wonders for gay kids who have the misfortune to be born into evangelical homes – as if self-harm and suicide aren’t bad enough as it is.
    You have to realize that there is a miniscule audience for this recipe for a life of misery. In fact, just like the ex-gay movement, all the public exponents of this view are pastors or other church leaders.

    PS – That website is emblematic of the evangelical approach to homosexuality – you think slick marketing and attractive spokespeople will somehow sugar coat a message of enforced misery. Good luck with that..

    • Ian Paul February 17, 2015 at 5:11 pm #

      I think to describe Ed’s approach as ‘self-loathing’ says more about you and the way you read than anything about Ed or his writing. This supposed ‘miniscule audience’ is currently the largest single religious group on planet Earth, as it happens.

      The most powerful aspect of this book and the Living Out website is not the slick presentation, but the authentic life stories.

      • Richard Fellows February 18, 2015 at 5:05 am #

        Ian, I think etseq’s point is that a minuscule fraction of LGBT people will accept that a life of celibate singleness is a workable solution for them.

        • Joe February 18, 2015 at 12:05 pm #

          What part of Christianity suits our needs? How workable is “love your neighbour as yourself”?

          • Richard Fellows February 18, 2015 at 3:44 pm #

            Joe, you are right that “love your neighbour as yourself” is relevant here. Christianity is not about me meeting my needs. It is about providing for the needs of others, including our gay neighbours. This is why I am so puzzled that Ian and others are so reluctant to allow same-sex marriage. As I have tried to explain elsewhere on this thread, we must distinguish between self-denial, which can be a Christian virtue, and forcing others into martyrdom, which is cruelty.

          • David Shepherd February 18, 2015 at 4:40 pm #

            It’s also cruelty to force natural fathers to lose parental prioritization in order to recognize through marriage same-sex couples as founders of autonomous intact nuclear family units.

            Why should that ‘need’ of our gay neighbours undermine the unsurrendered parental rights of the natural father?

          • Joe February 18, 2015 at 7:13 pm #

            Richard, I don’t object to “love your neighbour as yourself” but I would point out it’s high failure rate.It’s not suited to our inherently selfish nature. It could be replaced with something more “workable” or conditional. It’s a lot easier to do if one happens to live in Surrey rather than Syria.

    • David Shepherd February 17, 2015 at 5:36 pm #

      Ah, so setting aside your ever so subtle sarcasm, the ‘loving’ message *is* ‘If It Makes You Happy, Then It Must Be Right!’

      Any argument contradicting that slogan can be routinely consigned to contempt by attaching the ‘phobic’ suffix. A ‘one-size-fits-all’ blanket over-simplified behavioural parody of valid genetic determinism guaranteed to rouse the rabble to outrage and thwart all further debate.

      And I guess we can assume that LGBT advocacy web-sites have managed to escape the sullying PR tactics that you’ve mentioned. Perhaps, they’ve never needed to sugar-coat the mantra of immutable sexual orientation identity.

  3. Amen February 17, 2015 at 5:49 am #

    I read articles like this is can’t help but to see that the bible just cannot lie…

    [I have deleted the rest of this comment, as it does not engage with other correspondents in an appropriate manner. If you are unclear why this is, please email me.]

  4. Richard Fellows February 17, 2015 at 8:25 am #

    Interesting discussion.

    The important issue is not whether being gay is genetic, but whether anyone can choose not to be gay. These are different questions. If, as most acknowledge, it is not easier for a gay person to choose not to be gay than it is for a heterosexual to choose not to be heterosexual, then Paul’s logic of 1 Cor 7:2 applies to gay marriages as well as to heterosexual ones.

    Accepting suffering for yourself is heroic, but insisting on a policy that makes others suffer is cruel. While Paul did not seek to minimize his own suffering, he was realistic enough not to expect his audience to be super-human. He allowed marriage as a concession. The point that you/Shaw made about suffering is interesting and important, but it does not speak against same-gender marriage any more than it speaks against man-woman marriage. Maybe you and Shaw realize this, but I think it is worth clarifying.

    The church does have a reputation for hypocrisy on this issue, and it does put people off. All C of E clergy (including yourself, I assume) have to swear/affirm allegiance to the queen and her successors, which includes Charles. You will have a heterosexual adulterer as the head of your church and you will make vows to him, while refusing to let gay people take vows not to sleep around. I look at this with “blank incomprehension”. Hmm… what would you do if Charles (or William or George) spoke in favour of gay marriage? Perhaps you would argue that a vow of allegiance to Charles does not actually mean, well, having allegiance to Charles. But would it not be more reasonable to notice that wedding vows are not actually an endorsement of sex?

    • Ian Paul February 17, 2015 at 5:08 pm #

      ‘The important issue is not whether being gay is genetic, but whether anyone can choose not to be gay’. Richard, I don’t think this is the key question. As ‘Egghead’ below points out, people are shaped in all sorts of ways they do not choose, and this does not make such things right or natural just because of this. Ed actually explores this question quite carefully in the book.

      ‘Insisting on a policy that makes others suffer is cruel.’ Again, Ed addresses this very well. He is not imposing this on others only, but on himself as well. And he locates it as a central part of discipleship, following a suffering saviour.

      The Monarch is titular head of the C of E, and not the chief pastor or spiritual authority. In another age, that was perhaps so—but in another age, for that and other reasons, I suspect I would not be an Anglican. I think your question would have bite if Justin Welby were a heterosexual adulterer, but the relation to the Monarch is different.

      • Richard Fellows February 18, 2015 at 6:48 am #

        Ian, I agree with you that the statement “I can’t help it therefore it is right” is a non sequitur. You have missed my point, I think.

        You write that Ed “is not imposing this on others only, but on himself as well”. Fair enough, but you are married with kids, so you are imposing celibacy on others only.

        You write “And he locates it as a central part of discipleship, following a suffering saviour.” We honour the saints who accepted their own martyrdom out of their own free choice. It is no virtue to force others to suffer for Christ.

        • Ian Paul February 18, 2015 at 7:47 am #

          Richard, that is a very odd and individualised understanding of Christian faith, if you don’t mind me saying so.

          Are you suggesting that, as a Christian leader, I can never teach or lead in any area where I personally have to make exactly the same decision as those I am speaking to? That would mean I can never lead anyone other than white, male, married men.

          And Ed’s point is that Jesus calls us to a life of sacrifice. He locates this one sacrifice in the context of sacrifice that we all must make—and sharply points out the failings of ‘traditionalists’ where they have failed to do so.

          • Richard Fellows February 18, 2015 at 8:32 am #

            No, I am not saying that. I am addressing the point made in your discussion of the “suffering is to be avoided” misstep. Yes, you are entitled to accept suffering for yourself, and you are also entitled to encourage others to choose of their own free will to accept suffering. However, you are not entitled to support policies that force others to suffer. I’m not making a complicated point here.

            You say that the “suffering is to be avoided” slogan is a misstep. I assume you are referring to the suffering that many feel when the single celibate life is imposed on them. While I’m guessing that you would not go as far as etseq, who describes such a life as a “life of misery”, but it seems to me that you are conceding that a degree of suffering can result from being denied the right to marry. Am I right, or have I misunderstood you? If I have not misunderstood you, then how do you justify imposing that suffering on others?

          • David Shepherd February 18, 2015 at 9:41 am #

            Richard,

            Excuse the interjection, but if marriage was no more than a liberty right, you might have a point. As it is, marriage is a claim right imposing a duty on others for recognition and behavioural affirmation, or at least, connivance.

            So, in many jurisdiction, jregardless of prior behaviour, judges are forced by spousal ‘rights’ to prioritise the birth mother’s lesbian marriage partner as co-mother and to the detriment of the child’s relationship with its natural father.

            Of course, if you take your eyes off the parental presumption that marriage confers, you can focus attention on heterosexual and homosexual marriages having an affective equivalence and treat the restriction as unreasonable.

            The permanent, faithful and stable mantra typifies this notion.

          • Ian Paul February 18, 2015 at 5:33 pm #

            Richard, I don’t think I recognise your construal of Christian understandings of what it means to be a disciple who follows Jesus. In the gospels Jesus appears to command a number of different things, such as:

            . your loyalty to me must be ahead of your family ties
            . entering the kingdom requires a ‘repenting’, turning away from sin and walking in righteousness
            . this will involve financial sacrifice
            . it will provoke opposition, at times to the point of death
            . marriage is rooted in the Genesis account of one man and one woman
            . you are to renounce power and serve those you lead

            and so on. These are not ‘policies’ which I can choose to support or not—they are (amongst others) the teaching of Jesus, as echoed and at times amplified by Paul. In different ways they will be expressions of what it means to ‘take up your cross and follow me’.

            Various of them will cause suffering, or hardship, or deprivation of some kind to various people. Some will particularly challenge me; others will particularly challenge others. None of us has yet attained perfection in all, or even any, of these.

            But I cannot see how I am at liberty to drop any of these if they are indeed the teaching of Jesus. Ed’s challenge is to say that Christians cannot ignore the ones that apply to them whilst emphasising the ones that apply to others—and I think it is a good point, well made.

          • Richard Fellows February 19, 2015 at 7:32 am #

            Ian, you still don’t seem to be understanding my point, so I will try again. You make the point that Jesus made various demands on his disciples and that you can’t pick and choose which to follow. You point out, for example, that he called for financial sacrifice. Yes he did. Does this mean that you should give your money away? Yes, of course. Does it mean that you should force others to give their money away to the same extent, by theft if necessary? No, of course not. The rules that you should apply to yourself should be different from those that you impose on others. We may enforce the payment of taxes, but we cannot enforce the radical giving that Jesus called for. This is something that must be voluntary. Not every virtue can be enforced. The ideal of celibacy is one such virtue, as Jesus and Paul realized. They permitted marriage as a pragmatic concession because they did not want to make the perfect the enemy of the good. The same logic supports same-sex marriage. If you prevent it are you not unwittingly encouraging gay promiscuity? I’m not asking you here to abandon your principles. I am asking why you do not apply them with biblical pragmatism.

            You wrote, “Ed’s challenge is to say that Christians cannot ignore the ones that apply to them whilst emphasising the ones that apply to others”. But that is exactly what you have done. You have ignored Jesus’s call for heterosexuals to remain celibate, while emphasizing that LGBT should remain celibate.

            You concede that your policy on homosexuality causes suffering. How is that consistent with “love your neighbour”? Do you believe that God is cruel? You say that some of Jesus’s commands involve suffering. True. But it is not clear to me that any of them result in a net increase in suffering. The command to give, for example, relieves the suffering of others.

            David, yes, marriage involves the whole community. I guess different members of the community will support the marriage in different ways, and perhaps some will feel unable to support at all. Attendance at weddings has never been compulsory as far as I know. I can’t do justice to your point about children, but perhaps someone else will chime in.

          • Ian Paul February 19, 2015 at 8:28 am #

            Richard, I think I do understand your point. It is just that I am not persuaded by it!

            ‘Does this mean that you should give your money away? Yes, of course. Does it mean that you should force others to give their money away to the same extent, by theft if necessary? No, of course not.’

            Fine. The parallel with SSM is not to say ‘This is optional’. I am not sure that anyone is saying that same-sex unions should be prohibited by law. The question is whether the church should teach that same-sex unions are equivalent to marriage, as a way of life made holy by God that all should honour.

            ‘The same logic’ does not apply to same-sex unions as to other-sex unions, since Paul and Jesus did not so apply it. That is the issue in ‘biblical pragmatism.’

          • Ian Paul February 19, 2015 at 5:25 pm #

            Richard, I’ve been reflecting today, and I think you are right—I am not sure I am engaging with your comment very well.

            It seems to be that you are pressing two separate but related questions. First, can anyone ‘impose’ rules on anyone else as part of the Christian faith? Second, is it unloving to propose celibacy, and does it breach the principle of neighbourly love?

            On the first, I would also want to reject the ‘imposition’ of rules in the way you speak of, which I suppose is one part of the reason why I left the RCs. But I think this is different from the question of what Christian teaching on an issue is. I think what Ed is helpfully doing is moving us away from a construal of one group imposing on another, and inviting us all to commit to ‘one, catholic, apostolic’ understanding. I think it is clear that neither Jesus nor Paul ever invite people to pick and choose which bits they accept either for themselves or others.

            On the second, i again agree with you that this is a serious felt issue. Again, Ed is putting this in a broader context. *If* the teaching of Jesus and Paul (and the rest of Scripture) is that same-sex unions are outside God’s will for our lives, in what sense is it ‘loving’ to sanction them? And Ed’s own experience is that, given he believes Scripture is so clear on the matter, he finds it distinctly unloving that some people are saying ‘don’t worry—SSM is fine.’ Again, the issue is, what is our loving obligation to one another to grow into holiness?

            I hope that might read as a more helpful response.

          • Clive February 19, 2015 at 6:05 pm #

            Richard,

            You make the point:
            “The rules that you should apply to yourself should be different from those that you impose on others. ”
            You used money as the example.
            It is a good point, but flawed. Yet I note that Christian bakers and others are being forced to apply the rules of others to themselves, contrary to your point. So your point doesn’t seem to work. It was a good point but in order to work both sides need to be considerate of each other and they are not, it is completely one-sided.

            The U.N. declaration of human rights that allows people to practice their faith in public is being ignored and over-ruled. the same declaration allows freedom of expression but it is now clear that only P.C. comments are allowed, contrary to freedom of speech. Therefore we are living in a society that neither allows freedom of speech nor the practice of religion in public, totally against the U.N. declaration of human rights.

          • Richard Fellows February 20, 2015 at 7:13 am #

            Ian, you wrote, “I think it is clear that neither Jesus nor Paul ever invite people to pick and choose which bits they accept either for themselves or others.” The phrase “pick and choose” is loaded. The point is that Jesus and Paul do allow people to “pick and choose” (to use your phrase) on whether to be single or to marry. I don’t understand why you think they do not. Singleness was the “bit” (to use your word) that they did allow people to choose not to accept.

            You wrote “‘The same logic’ does not apply to same-sex unions as to other-sex unions, since Paul and Jesus did not so apply it.” Firstly, this is a non sequitur, but I think I know what you mean. How do you explain why Paul and Jesus did not apply the logic of 1 Cor 7 to same-sex unions? Were they being illogical or inconsistent? Or was it because same-gender sex in the ancient world was almost invariably exploitative and there was no demand for SSM (as I believe but you do not)? You could, of course, answer that you do not know why Paul and Jesus did not pragmatically decide to allow same-sex marriage as a way to limit same-sex immorality, but that you trust that they had a good reason. But if you don’t know, then how can you know that the hypothetical good reason applies to our society too?

            You wrote:
            “*If* the teaching of Jesus and Paul (and the rest of Scripture) is that same-sex unions are outside God’s will for our lives, in what sense is it ‘loving’ to sanction them? And Ed’s own experience is that, given he believes Scripture is so clear on the matter, he finds it distinctly unloving that some people are saying ‘don’t worry—SSM is fine.’ Again, the issue is, what is our loving obligation to one another to grow into holiness?”

            If I have understood you correctly, you are saying that you and Ed are not responsible for the hurt that is caused by your opposition to SSM. You are blaming God instead! You are accusing God of cruelty. Your God is responsible for the self-harm and suicide that etseq mentioned.

          • Ian Paul February 20, 2015 at 5:12 pm #

            Richard ‘How do you explain why Paul and Jesus did not apply the logic of 1 Cor 7 to same-sex unions?’ Well, on the basis that they both take seriously the Levitical prohibition on same-sex sexual unions, since that is in turn rooted in the creation account of humanity as male and female.

            To ask whether it is the church or God who is causing harm is like asking whether it is me or God who has stopped beating my wife. Ed’s whole argument is that ‘forced’ celibacy causes harm when it is located in the toxic mix of finding identity in sexuality, seeing happiness as a right, and elevating the significance of sexual experience. When located in the alternative of deep friendship within a community of discipleship who share together in joy and pain, his case is that it is a ‘good’ and not a ‘harm’. He says this from his own experience, and I want to take this seriously

          • Richard Fellows February 21, 2015 at 5:34 am #

            Ian, I still don’t think you have addressed my point about 1 Cor 7. I think David Shepherd has understood my point, so you might like to read his recent comment and my forthcoming reply. You wrote “When located in the alternative of deep friendship within a community of discipleship who share together in joy and pain, his case is that it [celibacy] is a ‘good’ and not a ‘harm’.” This applies to heterosexuals just as much as to others, but you are not calling for a ban on heterosexual marriages, even though Jesus and Paul promoted singleness. The fact that Leviticus is strongly against same-gender sex does not make the logic of 1 Cor 7 inapplicable to same-sex unions. In fact, if you abhor same-gender sex you should be all the more supportive of SSM, as a means to limit the number of partners.

            Your comment suggests that you think that the traditional prohibition of SSM does not cause hurt, but you previously acknowledged that hurt is caused, and your discussion of the “suffering is to be avoided misstep” implied as much. I’m looking for consistency here.

        • David Shepherd February 19, 2015 at 11:32 pm #

          Richard,

          Thanks for your response below. You’ve been honest about the scope of marriage rights that you can discuss comfortably.

          The issue of marriage recognition does go a lot further than compulsory wedding attendance.

          I may have misconstrued Ian’s response regarding same-sex relationships and governments are free to recognise what they will in the civil sphere. I’ve still seen no cogent argument (and I’ve debated Haller, Scot Peterson and Iain McLean on this) for the church to mark a commitment to behaviour that defies the Genesis archetype that was upheld as the model of sexual relationships by Jesus.

          Consider Herod and Herodias. Their relationship was denounced by John the Baptist, while it exhibiting the two virtues of mutuality and fidelity.

          • Richard Fellows February 20, 2015 at 5:52 am #

            Herod’s crime was that he had divorced Aratas’s daughter. He had not shown fidelity to her.

          • David Shepherd February 20, 2015 at 7:12 am #

            Mark 6:18 spell out the chief offence and it concurs with the incest prohibition in Leviticus 20:21: ‘If a man marries his brother’s wife, it is an act of impurity; he has dishonored his brother.’

            Josephus highlights this violation by a ruler of the Jewish people of that sexual prohibition in the Levitical code as the focus of the scandal caused.

            One can only wonder whether Herod trotted out the ‘shellfish and mixed fibres’ counter-argument to take the sting out of the prophet’s rebuke.

          • David Shepherd February 20, 2015 at 12:28 pm #

            Let look at your argument:

            1. The point is that Jesus and Paul do allow people to “pick and choose” (to use your phrase) on whether to be single or to marry.

            Your own argument treats marriage as an unqualified remedy for every instance of pyrousthai. So, you claim that it must be inferred that same-sex marriage would be the approved means by which unruly sexual passion would be remedied in those gay people who lack the self-control to live a single life.

            The issue here is that your argument doesn’t examine the scope of pyrousthai or even the end state of self-control that St. Paul encourages.

            On the basis of one verse, your sole argument in favour of SSM is whether it would extinguish unruly sexual passion.

            Your thesis simply assumes that affirming same-sex monogamy as marriage would remedy otherwise unruly sexual passion. What you haven’t done is to examine what is considered unruly in Christian terms. You’ve simply ignored the NT pronouncements on what Jesus presented as unruly because it lacked consonance with the Genesis archetype.

            It’s ‘begging the question to embed your conclusion in the very argument that you’re making for it. Your attempt to ‘destroy the exception’ by selectively removing certain qualifications produces a deductively consistent result that is nonetheless fallacious.

            So, how about instances of genetic sexual attraction, where siblings experience erotic attraction to each other, once re-united after separation in early life? Would encouraging them to marry remedy that too?

          • Richard Fellows February 21, 2015 at 6:13 am #

            Thanks for engaging with my point, David.

            You wrote “Your own argument treats marriage as an unqualified remedy for every instance of pyrousthai.” No, not every instance, and not unqualified.

            “So, you claim that it must be inferred that same-sex marriage would be the approved means by which unruly sexual passion would be remedied in those gay people who lack the self-control to live a single life.” Consistent application of Jesus’ and Paul’s logic leads to that conclusion, yes. However, I would say “an approved means” rather than “the approved means”. And maybe “approved” is too strong a word, since Jesus’ and Paul’s approval of marriage was reluctant.

            You wrote
            “On the basis of one verse, your sole argument in favour of SSM is whether it would extinguish unruly sexual passion.” No, not “one verse”, and this is by no means the sole argument for SSM. It is just the argument that I am pressing here.

            You wrote
            “Your thesis simply assumes that affirming same-sex monogamy as marriage would remedy otherwise unruly sexual passion. What you haven’t done is to examine what is considered unruly in Christian terms.” This argument for SSM does not rest on the assumption that it is not “unruly” (to use your word). This argument does, however, assume that SSM is less “unruly” than what would occur in its absence (common law partnerships and multiple partners) in the real world (not Ed’s idealized world). You are welcome to challenge that assumption, of course.

      • SeekTruthFromFacts February 19, 2015 at 10:28 pm #

        Bit of a red herring, but Article 37 is very clear that the monarch has no spiritual authority in the Church of England. And it’s also both legally and pragmatically incorrect to say Prince Charles will ever be head of the church, He may become Supreme Governor, but Jesus will always be Head.

    • Peter Ould February 17, 2015 at 6:49 pm #

      Let’s say for the sake of argument that we discover that incestuous desire is genetic. Some people just cannot help being sexually and emotionally attracted to their siblings.

      If this was the case, would you argue that siblings who wanted to marry each other should be allowed to? Is it wrong to ask such people to suffer by staying celibate? Or if you think consensual incestuous siblings shouldn’t be able to marry, how is your advocacy of Christians allowing homosexual marriage anything other than special pleading?

      • David Shepherd February 17, 2015 at 7:49 pm #

        Peter,

        Although your last question is rhetorical, emotive special pleading is the lynchpin of same-sex marriage advocacy.

        The basis of the argument is not objective equality, but affective equivalence. It’s a point that Ian articulated in a recent panel discussion at Guildford Cathedral.

        The likely counter-argument would be to identify affective similarities with wholesome heterosexual marriages (as did the ‘two out of three ain’t bad’ virtues cited in the post-Pilling Pastoral Statement) and affective distinctions from incestuous ones (i.e. abuse of power, etc.)

        Interestingly, we’re now seeing children raised by homosexual couples contributing to the affective argument. Their testimonies to the 5th Circuit of the US Court of Appeals were harrowing. One wonders if their cries will ever rise above the tumult of those who claim that marriage is only about adult ‘rights’.

    • David Shepherd February 17, 2015 at 7:17 pm #

      ‘If, as most acknowledge, it is not easier for a gay person to choose not to be gay than it is for a heterosexual to choose not to be heterosexual, then Paul’s logic of 1 Cor 7:2 applies to gay marriages as well as to heterosexual ones.’

      Well, no. The question isn’t whether one is easier than the other. It’s easier for a ‘camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt. 19:24)

      However difficult, the ‘unfair’ gospel demand was for even those with hereditary fortunes to abandon the pursuit of wealth. The relative ease with which the poor could become rich didn’t really matter.

      The scripture continues: ‘When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

      So, with Christ’s explicit pronouncement (and the same might be said of similar apostolic pronouncements), resistance to generously re-distributing accumulated wealth ceased to be morally neutral.

      Fortunately, that particular belief has characterized myriad Christian movements for social justice and without resorting to the hermeneutical contortions that characterize the current sexual orientation debate.

      Once that belief was accepted, it was then not so much an issue of relative difficulty, but of conformity to the change that divine empowerment through the gospel was promised to effect.

    • Clive February 17, 2015 at 8:25 pm #

      Some of the respondents want “being” and “doing” to be the same but that is not true. You don’t need the Bible to see that it is not true. Throughout the Bible “being” and “doing” are NOT the same.

      Richard Fellows tries to say “it is not easier for a gay person to choose not to be gay than it is for a heterosexual to choose not to be heterosexual, then Paul’s logic of 1 Cor 7:2 applies to gay marriages as well as to heterosexual ones.” … yet St Paul sees the difference between being and doing that Richard does not. Jesus may not have spoken about gay relationships but he did speak about marriage.

      Being a man is not a sin, committing adultery (i.e. doing) is sinful.
      As Ian affirms, the Bible is a significant authority in the Church affirmed by the 39 articles. Reading some of the responses there are many that expect Jesus’ view to make life easier. Yet Jesus does not ever.

      Jesus refers to the 10 commandments and talks about the command “do not commit adultery” which seems clear but Jesus then makes it even harder.
      In the sermon on the mount Jesus says (Matthew 5):
      27 ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
      Being a man is not a sin, committing adultery (i.e. doing) is sinful, and now Jesus is not accepting of men but makes it even harder.

      The Church is not hypocritical when it maintains this distinction between “being” which is not commonly sinful and “doing” which can be sinful sometimes.

      Richard Dawkins took the secular approach recently when he said that a small percentage of the population were paedophiles and therefore they should be allowed to commit paedophilia to a small extent. Richard Dawkins was clearly saying that if you are something then you should be allowed to do something – but that is not the case. Peter Ould makes a really good point about the difference between wanting to marry someone really closely related and being allowed to. Even the current law precludes relationships that are too close …. but only really for people of the opposite sex (and therefore links marriage with the family) for whom even being infertile is not an excuse. Therefore it is society and politicians that are being seriously disingenous when they go out of their way to make the law on marriage different for couples of the opposite sex compared to couples of the same sex, it is not the Church.

      Richard says that “The church does have a reputation for hypocrisy on this issue…” actually the Church is NOT hypocritical. Being and doing are different and they will always be different and we don’t even need the Bible to confirm that.

      Similarly if even St Paul admits to being ALWAYS imperfect (Romans 7: 21-24) then we are all imperfect. We are certainly NOT any better than St Paul. As Christians we do not try to find out what sin people have committed because it is so completely pointless and we watch in amazement as the secular world goes out of its way to condemn people for the speck in their eyes when they can’t see the logs in their own eyes. Even clergy are not perfect people so we can ordain gay people and not be bogged down in what is sinful. The Church is NOT being hypocritical and we are all, including the clergy, on a journey being slowly and gradually transformed from where we are. All that is asked is that people accept the 39 articles and allow that transformation to be taking place within them.

      There is no hypocrisy in the Church’s position but I’m afraid there is plenty of hypocrisy in society and amongst politicians.

      • David Shepherd February 17, 2015 at 9:03 pm #

        Clive,

        So true. Unfortunately, the notion of a behavioural identity conflates being with doing.

        In contrast, a person’s race and sex (aspects of being), there are no consistently immutable behavioural traits, i.e. ‘doing’. Yet, the parallels with these characteristics are persistent trotted out.

      • Richard Fellows February 18, 2015 at 5:45 am #

        Clive, I don’t understand why you think I have confused “being” and “doing”. Paul’s point in 1 Cor 7 is that singleness is a higher calling than marriage, but that marriage is preferable to promiscuity. His logic applies to same-sex couples contemplating marriage, just as much as to heterosexual couples. Assuming that Paul was consistent, he would have seen loyal same-sex marriage as preferable to same-sex promiscuity.

        • David Shepherd February 18, 2015 at 7:45 am #

          Richard,

          Paul’s words are responses to specific issues. If it’s wrong to extrapolate Jesus harking back to

          • David Shepherd February 18, 2015 at 9:48 am #

            Richard,

            Paul’s words are responses to specific issues.

            If it’s wrong to widen Jesus’ inferences from the Genesis archetype to restrict marriage to opposite gender couples, then surely it’s wrong to widen St. Paul inferences in support of same-sex marriage.

          • Richard Fellows February 21, 2015 at 11:41 pm #

            David, yes, Paul’s letters are situational and he was a particularly high context writer. 1 Cor 7, however, uses logic and logic must be applied universally. Rom 1, on the other hand is much more rhetorical.

          • David Shepherd February 24, 2015 at 7:29 am #

            Romans 1 is not much more rhetorical. It explains Paul’s eagerness to preach the gospel as the only means of escaping the outworking of divine wrath. The gospel redeems from the active principle of righteous indignation towards all who have rejected which could be inductively understood of God’s eternal power and transcendent greatness through self-evident purposes of nature.

            Without the gospel, those who abandon what God’s reveals of Himself through the -evident and beneficent purposes of nature are consigned to the custody of their errors.

            The description at the end of Romans 1 represents the final state of heathen societies as a whole, rather than a description of the overt characteristics of any and every individual within them.

            Even what is self-evident in sexual function has been abandoned for the pursuit of excitement and the adventure of self-ruled desire.

            Whereas Greek philosophers would prioritise the imposed order of custom and law (nomos) above self-evident purpose of physical function (phusis, including male-female sexual conjunction), Paul’s point is that heathen society, by abandoning the latter, exhibits the final concomitant of reprobation by God.

            That said, Romans 2 shows that the same sins are committed, albeit less overtly, by the religious. The offences of us all can only be settled, mankind can only be elevated to bear the family resemblance of God through reliance on Christ’s authority to forgive sins and captain the soul to redemption through His own perfect sacrifice.

          • Ian Paul March 9, 2015 at 3:45 pm #

            Richard, I think this:

            Paul’s letters are situational and he was a particularly high context writer. 1 Cor 7, however, uses logic and logic must be applied universally. Rom 1, on the other hand is much more rhetorical.

            is a most extraordinary statement!

            For one thing, 1 Cor is highly rhetorical, which is why it has been read so badly for so many years. (Hence people thinking 1 Cor 11 tells women to wear a head covering when Paul clearly ends his discussion with ‘Long hair has been given to her in place of a covering’ 1 Cor 11.15). This is because of Paul’s strategy of quoting the Corinthians back to them, and then working through the consequences of it in order to show how it does not make sense.

            Secondly, it is reasonably clear that ‘marriage is second best’ is *not* Paul’s theology of marriage. You and I would probably differ on whether Eph 5 has any bearing on this, since I think it Pauline and I suspect you don’t. But within this section of the letter, Paul has talked about sex with another as ‘union’, which comes straight from Gen 2. As a first century Jew, Paul clearly sees marriage as a gift of God–perhaps even a command of God–in creation.

            Third, it is really odd to treat 1 Cor, which is highly engaged with particular question his readers have raised, as more ‘universal’ than Romans, where Paul is setting out his most systematic exposition of the gospel—a more or less uniform judgement of commentators for centuries.

            So the reality is opposite to what you suggest. If we are going to take any text as having ‘universal logic’ the only real candidate is Romans 1.

          • Richard Fellows March 11, 2015 at 6:35 am #

            Ian, you misrepresent what I wrote. I did not say that 1 Cor is more rhetorical or more “universal” than Romans. My comment was about the logic in 1 Cor 7, not the letter as a whole. Please read more carefully.

  5. Egghead February 17, 2015 at 11:11 am #

    Thanks for highlighting this book – it does look like an excellent contribution to the debate.

    I also really appreciated your chapter in Grace and Disagreement (the CofE booklet for the shared conversations) – helpfully thorough and concise.

    The one thing I wanted to just press you on is this argument: “If sexual orientation were found to be genetic, I think it would be much harder to distinguish it from (for example) racial identity, and much easier to say that the Bible is simply wrong.” I think this illustrates a particular weakness of the “traditional” position at the moment, that anything which has a genetic basis must be natural and therefore acceptable.

    But this can’t be right. Natural is no doubt a contested term, but it can hardly be understood to include everything that biological and reproductive processes happen to produce. That would make all genetic diseases natural. Natural processes can go wrong, and that doesn’t make the results suddenly natural. Although modern scientists might like to paste over this, natural is an inherently normative concept, or else it loses all sense or meaning. It means something like “healthy, sound, in accordance with its nature”.

    Therefore, simply showing that homosexual preference has a genetic basis (and surely it has some) wouldn’t prove that it was natural, any more than any other sexual preference would be shown to be natural on that basis. It is now well-established, for instance, that 1-2% of the population have a sexual preference for pre-adolescent children, but no one is arguing that that is natural. Simply being a settled disposition with a genetic basis doesn’t make something natural.

    This is important because if, as the second chapter of Grace and Disagreement claims, both sides in the debate now accept that there is nothing “defective” about homosexual orientation (p46), then it is difficult to see how an opposition to same sex sexual activity can reasonably be maintained. Certainly, it would not be appropriate to claim it is morally defective or sinful – it is hardly sinful to suffer with a disorder of any kind, genetic or otherwise. But that is not the category we are working with here. The question is whether it is natural, that is, healthy, rightly-ordered, in accordance with its nature. The healthy, right-ordering of sexuality is clear. Indeed, our society continues to recognise the validity of the concept for sexual preferences other than homosexual ones – only sexual desire for adult humans is natural, people think. The traditional position merely adds: of the opposite sex – and clearly rightly so.

    Compassion is obviously required here. But so is a clear head about what we are talking about, so that we don’t confuse categories and thereby find ourselves drawn into conclusions that we really don’t agree with and never intended. This I fear could be the fate of the defenders of orthodoxy if they don’t clarify in their own minds that homosexual preference, even if settled, even if having a genetic basis, even though not sinful or immoral, is still in an important sense, and with normative implications, unnatural.

    • Ian Paul February 17, 2015 at 5:02 pm #

      Will, I would agree with you on this, though it is difficult to bring into the debate in a helpful way. The moment you say ‘Someone is genetically psychopathic, not not all genetic features are “natural” then you will have someone reply ‘Oh, you think gay people are psychopathic?’

      But my comment was simply that, if it were identified as genetic, it would be *harder* (though not impossible) to support the argument. In fact, there is clear historical evidence that all understandings of sexuality are highly socially constructed.

      But on the question of ‘nature’, some of the Christian ‘revisionist’ arguments have a really strange blind spot to this entire question. Alan Wilson’s book is a good example. Outside the church, there is little interest in this; since ‘choice’ is the dominant moral paradigm, the idea that ‘nature’ might be judged by any a priori ethical criteria is simply not on the map.

  6. Gill Kimber February 17, 2015 at 11:24 am #

    At last – somebody in the whole gay situation struggling to speak with honesty and truth, and to be heard through all the complex and noisy tissue of prejudice. I shall read this book with much interest.

    I’ve long felt that this is an issue of holiness, not of sexual orientation. The trouble arises when people draw that line in different places. Ed’s line sounds profoundly authentic, personally and biblically. This is not about what we think, or what others think, or what they might or might not think of the church – it’s about following Christ in a way that almost certainly includes suffering and sacrifice. It’s about his love for us, and the response of our love for him. How much is he worth to us? More than our own comfort?

    • Chris Bishop February 17, 2015 at 6:37 pm #

      “I’ve long felt that this is an issue of holiness, not of sexual orientation. ”

      I think that Gill has hit the nail on the head.

  7. Joe February 17, 2015 at 2:13 pm #

    I’m not sure singleness should be “promoted”. Both singleness and marriage should be accepted as viable and holy options – with only chastity being promoted and graciousness shown to those who fail this standard in all sorts of different ways. Unfortunately many evangelicals feel that if you aren’t (or don’t appear to be) “with them” on certain issues, you must be “against them”. It’s the petty tribal nature of evangelical churches that turns people off. I wouldn’t be surprised if Ed, Vaughan Roberts and Sam Allberry’s churches are all very much monocultures of ‘respectable’ white middle-class Churchianity with clear expectations of what is and isn’t the “right way” to talk about sex and relationships.

    • Ian Paul February 17, 2015 at 4:57 pm #

      Joe, I think Ed’s perspective is that in evangelical churches, marriage *is* promoted and singleness not—and he points out what an odd thing that is within the evangelical tradition. I suspect this is less so in other traditions; Ed is being self-critical of his own inheritance.

      I don’t think that would be a fair criticism of all these churches. If it is, then Ed’s is in for an almighty shock when they read the book. (though I dare say Ed has been saying these things for some while…)

  8. David Runcorn February 17, 2015 at 3:26 pm #

    ‘At last – somebody in the whole gay situation struggling to speak with honesty and truth’. I am puzzled by this comment Gill. There have been many people trying do do this exactly this, from all sides of this debate, for some time.

    • Ian Paul February 17, 2015 at 4:54 pm #

      David, well, yes and no. There is honesty and honesty! I agree with you that there have been honest voices on both sides. But there have also been (on both sides again) some less than honest ones. I wonder if Gill is responding to someone offering personal disclosure but without using it as a way of foreclosing debate.

      It is striking in the book the way Ed offers his own experience—but then acknowledges that some will disagree with his position or find his disclosure unpersuasive. There is much in ethical debate (on this issue as with others) where the emotive is portrayed as trumping other considerations.

  9. David Runcorn February 17, 2015 at 7:07 pm #

    Ian – you are agreeing with me – and yes, if it really needs saying, there are also dishonest and over emotional examples on all sides too. OK. Let’s hold fast to what is good.

    Actually, I think Gill is saying she is looking forward to reading this book on the basis of your assessment of it. She has not read it yet.

  10. SeekTruthFromFacts February 19, 2015 at 10:47 pm #

    I am grateful for this very helpful review and will aim to get hold of this book. It’s the pastoral and apologetic issue of this generation; we all need to think and pray more.

    But I am puzzled by one of your points, brother. You seem to say racial identity is not dependent on your sociocultural perspective. Is that what you meant to say? Race may seem black-and-white if someone’s experience is limited to, erm, black and white, but Asia can give you a more colourful perspective. The Chinese ‘yellow’ identity is derived from the loess soil of Shaanxi just as much as their skin color. The apartheid regime in South Africa eventually decided that (Communist, evil) mainland Chinese were ‘Coloured’ while (capitalist, free, also pariah state) Taiwan Chinese were legally white! Seems quite sociocultural to me…….

  11. Jane Newsham February 19, 2015 at 11:39 pm #

    It may be true that everyone approaching the Christian faith apprehensively thinks ‘they’ll expect me to believe that a crucified man was raised from the dead and offers a physical embodiment of the supreme creator of the universe’ but it really isn’t true that everyone apprehensively approaches a new church fellowship thinking ‘will these people respect my marriage or will they still tell me I’m living in sin?’. The first might be a stumbling block to faith for everyone generally but the second is a stumbling block to church fellowship for a particular group of (gay) people, specifically. There’s a whole world of (missional) difference.
    For discussion’s sake, let’s say our churches are moving forward to an evolving Christian ethic on sexuality where we are all called alike to abstinence in singleness and sex only in marriage (but we no longer get to choose for another person whether their marriage is opposite-gender or same-gender). I take Ed Shaw’s comment seriously about ‘accepting’ evangelicals making his ‘faithfulness to Scripture much harder’ but in their defense, ‘accepting’ evangelicals are not forcing anyone into a relationship against their will, nor are they suggesting that our churches should stop supporting same-sex attracted people who wish to commit to celibacy. Do churches which run ‘marriage enrichment courses’, or even marry people, undermine single people’s ‘faithfulness to Scripture’? ‘Accepting’ evangelicals believe that gay people should have the same rights and respect currently extended to straight people in our churches. We might consider how in previous generations, there were no ‘accepting’ evangelicals at all – everyone en masse believed that gay people were sinful, immoral, God-dishonouring and had no place in the church or even decent society. I’m sorry, but there’s no chance we’re going back to those days.

    • David Shepherd February 20, 2015 at 7:52 am #

      ‘but we no longer get to choose for another person whether their marriage is opposite-gender or same-gender’

      Instead, couples get to choose what aspects of what they claim to derive from scripture as a creation ordinance should remain consonant with the creation account. The same Bronze Age account that governed Christ’s own inferences about marriage thousands of years later.

      On what basis? Apparently, it’s that if they can’t pick and choose which parts are applicable, it’s a violation of equality.

      According to your thesis, behaviour that contradicts the creation archetype should still be wholly endorsed through the creation ordinance.

      Well, why stop at the genders of spouses? The biblical authors knew nothing about genetic sexual attraction either.

      Well, we know why? This is not about the kind of consistency that was the hallmark of Jesus’ teaching and debates with the Pharisees It’s about emphasising affective equivalence above the divine ordinance and rationalising scripture to align with the ethical framework of society’s power elites.

      Apparently, that’s being missional. Yet, it’s the evangelical churches that haven’t sold the family silver of scripture that are growing and have a far younger age profile than the average age of 61 in the CofE.

      • Jane Newsham February 22, 2015 at 10:46 pm #

        Hi David
        We have always ‘picked and chosen’ which parts are applicable and which serve God best in our current cultural climate. We no longer call people who get tattoos an ‘abomination’ – we allow them the autonomy to decide on their own body ornamentation without it becoming a matter for church discipline. We no longer call left-handed people ‘sinister’ (in league with the devil, ineligible for ordination, best treated with the reparative therapy of having the left hand tied behind the back). I can’t imagine God was very impressed with our discriminatory treatment of people who chose to get tattoos or who found themselves left-handed and we have repented of that approach. The creation account still stands but we are not using this passage or any other scripture as a stick to beat gay people with in order to ‘encourage’ compliance with our own particular interpretation of scripture or theology – this dishonours God.
        Genetic sexual attraction – there could be half a dozen incestuous couples sitting in your church congregation this morning and you wouldn’t even know that they were (incestuous) as they ‘look’ just like any other heterosexual couple. The issue with gay couples who want to be open and authentic is that you know they are gay – even though they may or may not be having sex (ever and certainly not in church, be reassured).
        Society’s power elites? My gay neighbour and my civil partnered work colleague would be thrilled to think they belonged to society’s power elites. How about the Church’s power elites – the ones which misuse power in order to control and manipulate the lives of others, including gay people in committed relationships and who have every right to belong to our churches on the same basis as straight couples in committed relationships?
        Evangelical churches that are growing have jolly music bands and doughnuts after communion and lots of social activities for the young people – but they are growing not because of a discriminatory stance on LGBT inclusion but despite a discriminatory stance on LGBT inclusion. The young people in these churches don’t invite their gay friends and it saddens them that this is still the case.

        • Clive February 23, 2015 at 7:11 am #

          Sorry Jane, but there is nothing in the Bible that I am aware of about “left-handed people”. You seem to be taking societal views and conflating them with being in the Bible / Christian which they don’t seem to be at all. Even the claim about tattoos involves hugely tenuous interpretation.

        • David Shepherd February 23, 2015 at 10:48 pm #

          Hi Jane,

          So, you’ve chosen to compare OT and NT scriptural prohibitions against homosexual activity with left-handedness and tattoos.

          I might challenge you could point me to apostolic condemnations of either, but both of us know full well that there are none. No, It’s just another faulty comparison thst you’ve trotted out with the unsubstantiated assumption that same-sex sexual behaviour is no less innate than left-handedness, and no less superficial than tattoos.

          In contrast, I wonder how you’d describe scripture invoked by LGBT advocates, like Alan Wilson, to assert that the traditonalist position is a damnable heresy (and akin to supoort for slavery,? As ‘a stick to beat traditionalists with in order to ‘encourage’ compliance with their own particular interpretation’? Of course not. It’s just another attempt to portray anyone who voices scriptural opposition as wielding a violent bludgeon.

          Furthermore, the ease of remaining inconspicuous is not a basis for upholding a special pleading for gay couples. Sidestepping the inconsistency simply attracts the accusation of hypocrisy.

          Neither your gay neighbour, nor your civil partnered work colleague were responsible for forcing through the SSM legislation without a whit of a manifesto mandate. No, to do that you must have the power to bypass the public as hopelessly ‘bigoted’ and impose a universal duty to recognise LGBT couples as co-parents through marriage and at the expense of unsurrendered natural fatherhood.

          That’s exactly how society’s power elites come to the fore.

  12. Clive February 20, 2015 at 7:13 am #

    Dear Jane

    I’m not sure I understand your point.

    Your opening paragraph is not easily understood. In its present form it is unconvincing because one could equally argue that both are blocks to membership. It doesn’t seem clear. The issue isn’t about the marriage being accepted, it is about many people being told to ignore the Bible and accept the actions of others as being non-sinful when those actions might be sinful according to the New Testament.

    You end your letter by referring to society’s view of homosexuality because you are talking about a time when more went to Church because society expected it (as opposed to being Christian). Those who read the Bible in detail found no passage that makes BEING a homosexual sinful, as with most things the Bible talks about what we choose to DO as actions is potentially the more sinful.

    Unlike any previous Church argument this is actually straightforwardley about belief in the Bible as an authority (and in accordance with the 39 articles, the foundation of the Church). This is not about overlooking passages, this is about deliberately saying passages are simply wrong.

    For me, the Bible IS an authority, and is not wrong but might be misunderstood, and I would rather leave the Church than be made to say it wasn’t an authority. Politicians are NOT an authority for anything very much!

    • Jane Newsham February 22, 2015 at 11:05 pm #

      Dear Clive
      I wish you lived closer and we could meet for coffee.
      Yes, both are stumbling blocks for gay people, but the first one only for straight people (who will assume that their marriage will give no cause for comment). For the gay couple joining a new church, it is about that church’s response to their marriage which will be an outworking of that church’s understanding of scripture. The bigger issue is the one about inclusion/exclusion, who’s in and who’s out, who’s in because they believe what we believe and who’s out because they dare to believe something different. Gay people should, of course, just find their local inclusive church but that doesn’t solve the problem of those churches that continue to misuse scripture to enforce their own exclusion policies (it’s God who gets to decide who fellowships in our church, not our church leadership team).

      • David Shepherd February 23, 2015 at 11:36 pm #

        Jane,

        I just have to interject here. ‘It’s God who gets to decide who fellowships in our church, not our church leadership team’.

        Oh really. And just how does He accomplish that. Through the casting of lots, or a bolt from the sky?

        I’d love to attend your fellowship, start conversing in those wondrously hushed tones of ‘good disagreement’ about the scriptural prohibitions on same-sex sexual activity. Wonder how long it would be until God Himself intervened (presumably to remove me on behalf of deeply offended LGB couples). Perhaps, half-way through reciting Romans 1:18 – 25.

        In stark contrast, your church leadership might also ‘lovingly’ assert the special pleading for those conspicuously diverge from the scripture, gently insisting that the creation ordinance is being misused if we don’t ignore aspects of the ordinance in order to affirm PSF same-sex sexual behaviour. Pity they wouldn’t have a logical leg from Hooke’s tripod to stand on.

        Yet, it would all make perfect liberal sense…if God had no superior right to define marriage as an ordinance established in creation and we were all born yesterday..

  13. JCF February 21, 2015 at 4:09 am #

    “Can the ‘traditional’ view of sexuality ever be plausible?”

    The “tradition” spoken of here, is the tradition of Homophobia. It’s not Biblical, it’s not Traditional (in the sense of Christian Tradition), it’s certainly not Reasonable.

    So can Homophobia be plausible? Absolutely—to the Father of Lies!

    Conversely, following Jesus of Nazareth, NO.

    • Clive February 21, 2015 at 9:24 am #

      Dear JCF,

      The “tradition” that is spoken of is really NOT homophobia. It is pro-children and pro-family.

      The New Testament including Jesus’ words clearly show that marriage is NOT merely for the pleasure of adults as the hypocrisy of society and politicians think but is actually for the creation of children.

      We have worked hard to avoid criticising the gay lobby and have listened both intensively and widely but we are now truly sickened by the hypocritical behaviour and bullying of the gay lobby characterised throughout by dishonesty and deceit.

      Children have rights whether the gay lobby like it or not and there are some of us who will fight for those rights of children regardless, including being fined and going to prison.

  14. Jonathan Tallon February 27, 2015 at 11:31 am #

    I’m coming rather late to the thread – apologies.

    Ian, I think the book is right about what evangelical churches would need to do to even have a chance of having their argument heard. However, you also say that:
    ‘for ‘revisionists’, he demonstrates that the debate about sexuality is in fact about much more than this one issue. This means that, if ‘revisionists’ are going to ‘win’ the argument, they are going to have to persuade the church to change on a much wider range of theological issues than sexuality alone—our understanding of fallenness, social constructions of sexuality, and the role of discipline and suffering to name but a few.’

    I don’t think that is the case. There will always be a call for discipline, and suffering for the sake of Christ when needed. It will never be the case that, just because something is ‘natural’, that we uncritically accept behaviour. Our identity is always ultimately in Christ.

    The issue remains whether same-sex activity is always wrong. Biblical texts, speaking in and to particular contexts, says it is wrong in those contexts. Some go from this to say it is always wrong; others argue that in a different context today it isn’t. The answer to this isn’t dependent upon any of those nine mis-steps.

    A couple of other points.

    A belief that someone can be raised from the dead and be the physical embodiment of God is cognitive. But this is a different type of stumbling block from the church being perceived as immoral, as homophobic. One is about believing weird things, the other about being evil.

    Consider if you would be saying the same thing if people thought the church was deliberately racist. For some people, the church is equivalent to the BNP – one is a racist organisation; the other a homophobic organisation. If you are more fortunate, some view the perceived homophobia a bit like an unfortunate quirk of an embarrassing elderly relative. Generally they are nice, but don’t get them started on this issue.

    This isn’t a universal view, but the younger the person, the more likely they are to assume that anyone who argues as the church does is homophobic.

    (Please note – I haven’t accused the church or anyone in this thread of being homophobic – I am talking about perceptions).

    Another point on identity. Of course our identity is in Christ, but we live in a physical world where we have multiple identities which are important in us understanding ourselves and how others interact with us. The approach taken above is in danger of de-emphasising sexuality as an identity but then emphasising gender. If our identity is in Christ, then why is the gender identity so important? Would you say that someone’s racial identity is unimportant? It is immaterial whether our sexual identities are socially constructed or not. They are important to us, and I would be wary of any approach which seeks to deny this.

    And another point on race. You seem to imply it is biological/genetic. Race is a social construct – see the seminal work by F. Barth (1969).

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  1. Out in the cold | The Simple Pastor - March 11, 2015

    […] and if Gobry is right, it could be a long time out in the cold for the traditional view. It is unlikely that the traditional view of sexuality will seem plausible to the majority for many years to come. Whatever the accommodations of various Christians, it is […]

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