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Can Christians talk about morality?

102015120_univ_lsr_lgI recently visited London to see the sights and go to a show, and as I surfaced from Oxford Circus tube station, I was handed a small magazine. On the front cover was a picture of a child charging through a crowd, clearly out of control and scandalizing all the adults around them. The headline beneath called out (accusingly?) ‘Whatever happened to discipline?’ I was struck by the unusual message, and wonder which moral or religious movement was asking such a question—and it turned out to be the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I am not sure whether this is their theme only for the current edition of The Watchtower, or whether it is a regular opener; a friend reported having just this conversation in a doorstep visit.


It is an unusual message, since in our culture it is an ever-present yet rarely articulated issue. A recent television series, ‘The World’s Toughest Jobs’, in each episode took three feckless, layabout young people, and gave them the opportunity to make money (usually a lot of money) if only they would forgo their previous lazy habits and step up to take on one of the toughest jobs on the planet, usually in some far-flung place. The jobs included cray fishing off Australia, washing windows on skyscrapers in the States, and planting saplings (2 million of them!) in the Canadian wilderness. The plot was not entirely predictable; it was not always obvious which of the three would bottle out, and which would discover a new inner discipline and make the most of the opportunity. But the implicit moral was impossible to miss: lazy British kids without any discipline from their parents are missing out on opportunities which those with more steel will make the most of. In Canada, the most committed tree-planters were making $500 a day!

What was more astonishing was the relationship between the parents and the young people depicted in the first part of each show. One young woman wanted to be a hairdresser, so her parents set up a business for her. But she could only be bothered to work two days a week—and so her mothered covered for her and ran the business the rest of the time!


Questions about indulgence and discipline are perhaps the most taxing issues for parents raising children through the different stages into adulthood. But they also underlie key policy issues in our national life. Children from poorer backgrounds still lag well behind others in academic attainment—but the biggest factor in learning is whether there is a disciplined and supportive home environment. And a common response to those who employ immigrant labour is that British nationals are not interested in hard work, so they need migrants to get the job done.

Christians and church leaders have mostly given up raising questions of ‘morality’, and it isn’t hard to see why. The moment the subject comes up, the Church is seen as moralistic and judgemental—and the judgementalism of Christians is consistently noted as one of the main things that put off the unchurched from attending. In this, Christians are not alone; the question of moral responsibility, parenting and marriage is mostly avoided by political leaders. Any who do mention it sound like they are living in the 1950s, which is political suicide—or worse. Charles Moore recently commented: ‘Socially conservative moral views are now teetering on the edge of criminality, and are over the edge of disapproval by those who run modern Britain.’


FE_2007_CaLivingTorah_002_pBy either using morality as condemnation or avoiding it for fear of appearing to, Christians seem to have forgotten the role the moral frameworks play in Scripture. When God led his people from slavery to freedom in the promised land, he did not say ‘I love you and have set you free—but I am really sorry, there are some annoying rules you will have to obey!’ Quite the opposite; the ‘law’ is consistently seen in the OT as a gift of God to Israel, a pattern of life to express the presence of God in their midst and the fullness of life that he has given them. Ps 147 is typical. It rehearses all the reasons why God is wonderful, all the gifts in creation, and the climax is…his gift of the law to his people.

He has revealed his word to Jacob,
his laws and decrees to Israel.
He has done this for no other nation;
they do not know his laws.

Most Christians struggle with the idea that faith will lead to moral obligations or habits of life. Isn’t that just salvation by works? they ask, influenced by a popular distortion of a Lutheran reading of Paul. The problem is that Jesus seemed happy to affirm the moral obligations of OT law—or even, in Matthew’s gospel, to extend them. And whilst Paul contrasts the life of the Spirit with fulfilling the law, he seems quite happy to offer his own detailed lists of how this Spirit-led freedom should be expressing in specific moral commitments. The early church followed his lead in seeing commitment to Christ as requiring induction into a set of communal disciplines.


We need to find a way of presenting moral accountability as a gift; if we don’t, we are robbing people of something vital. A well-known psychology experiment offered young children one sweet now, but a second one if they exercised self-control and didn’t eat the first one for fifteen minutes. Those who were able to defer gratification and gain the extra reward were the ones who later succeeded in life. And in ‘The World’s Toughest Jobs,’ the challenge of discipline threw up a whole host of issues that the young people had been avoiding—family break-down, bullying, or issues with self-esteem. Forced to confront these proved to be life-transforming for many of them.

God accepts us as we are—but loves us too much to leave us as we are. And our encounter with moral responsibility can be just the gift we need to realise the potential that God wants to release in our lives. We do people no favours by hiding this.


This article was first published on Christian Today.


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66 Responses to Can Christians talk about morality?

  1. Andrew Godsall April 28, 2015 at 9:38 am #

    “…Christians seem to have forgotten the role the moral frameworks play in Scripture.”

    A much better scriptural example for your piece would have have been Luke 18:9-14. The issue that tars Christians is not so much being judgemental but being self righteous and hypocritical.

    • Brian April 28, 2015 at 11:48 am #

      I don’t think Christians are especially “hypocritical”, although this tired old charge from the 60s is still trotted out. On the whole, Christians in Britain are more generous and socially involved than non-believers. There is no social advantage today in being a Christian and little incentive to be a “hypocrite”. Instead, they represent something weird in the world’s eyes: the existence of a transcendent world and judgment.for sin and impurity – something atheist Britain is aghast at and must deny.
      Andrew, I think you don’t have your finger on the pulse on how secular and hostile to faith this country has become. Look at the anger in the ‘new atheists’ and half the (unfunny) TV comics toward Christianity.

    • Ian Paul April 30, 2015 at 2:14 pm #

      I don’t think Luke 18 has anything to do with hypocrisy. Jesus nowhere in the parable suggests that the Pharisee does not do what he says. In fact, elsewhere, he commends such practices, and I think expects us to (for example) fast twice a week. See http://www.psephizo.com/biblical-studies/how-often-should-we-fast/

      This is a good example of us reading our own concerns and prejudices into the texts…where Jesus was trying to teach something about the nature of grace and justification.

      • Andrew Godsall April 30, 2015 at 2:50 pm #

        No – but Luke 18:9-14 has everything to do with being self righteous – and that’s what Jesus was trying to teach us something about. The hypocrisy charge is frequently levelled at Christians and churches and I agree with others here that it is not a helpful one – but is nontheless one that we need to learn to counter more creatively.

  2. David Shepherd April 28, 2015 at 10:06 am #

    Ian,

    Another great post. It was thought-provoking to read: ‘And whilst Paul contrasts the life of the Spirit with fulfilling the law, he seems quite happy to offer his own detailed lists of how this Spirit-led freedom should be expressing in specific moral commitments.’

    That was probably because he saw freedom as being entrusted with the privilege of citizenship at a time when the cost of indolence was inevitable conquest and enslavement. Most modern citizens have little fear that their ‘drop in the ocean’ individual life choices and abdications could add up to such dire national subjugation.

    Give each citizen a proportionate stake large enough for each to ostensibly affect the fortunes of our nation and quite possibly those attitudes would change.

  3. Andrew Godsall April 28, 2015 at 10:32 am #

    “Most modern citizens have little fear that their ‘drop in the ocean’ individual life choices and abdications could add up to such dire national subjugation.”

    Most modern citizens understand that being gay and having a partner is no longer a crime and are waiting for the Church to grasp that point.

    • Brian April 28, 2015 at 10:57 am #

      Most modern “citizens” – in Britain at least – understand or at least believe that personal religious faith and practice a matter of indifference since it can probably all be psychologised away and makes no difference to the eternal destiny of people (if there is one) and they are waiting for “the Church” (which one that it is Capitalised thus?) to grasp that point.
      Most modern “citizens” – except some immigrants – understand that serial sexual relationships before and after marriage and OK and have no concept of sin against God.
      Once again Andrew demonstrates that he takes his lead from the culture of post-Christian Britain and not the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ.
      That’s why liberal churches have reached a demographic crisis point, while Gafcon-related initiatives are opening new churches in Britain, including in Salisbury, to the intense displeasure of Nick Holtam.

      • Andrew Godsall April 28, 2015 at 12:19 pm #

        Sadly Brian the Church of England declined hugely during the Decade of Evangelism under a quite conservative evangelical Archbishop so I think your point about liberal churches doesn’t sound totally convincing.
        Let me ask you directly: do you think same sex relationships should be criminalised again? And if not, why not, given that you and others who contriobute to this blog disapprove so strongly?

        • Brian April 28, 2015 at 9:45 pm #

          “Let me ask you directly: do you think same sex relationships should be criminalised again? And if not, why not, given that you and others who contriobute to this blog disapprove so strongly?”

          I would support that if adultery were criminalised again too. And I would outlaw abortion under most circumstances as well. And I would force Amazon and the other tax-dodging mutlinationals to pay their rightful share of corporation tax. And I would outlaw blasphemy on the BBC. And I would make deadbeat fathers live up to their responsibilities. The list of evils that need to be amended in modern pagan Britain is very long.

          But since I am never going to be Lord Protector of the Commonwealth, I will leave these things in the hands of the Judge of all the earth. Christian ethics understands that the law cannot far outrun the population: a Christian law for a non-Christian and unregenerate people will never have much purchase.

          I am much more concerned that the Church of Christ remain faithful to the teaching of Christ and that the Church’s authorised teachers remain faithful to him rather than taking their cue from the faithless world. Can you imagine St Paul telling his readers to be conformed to the pagan world around them? There is one thing worse than disobeying God and that is teaching others to do so. If the salt loses its savour, it is fit only for throwing away. Let the reader understand.

          • Andrew Godsall April 29, 2015 at 8:03 am #

            Thanks for your honesty Brian. It will be good to see if David Shepherd and Ian Paul agree with you.
            It terms of the criminalisation, what would you propose for punishment? Would you propose, say, a return to stoning for adultery? If not, what would it be?

          • David Shepherd April 29, 2015 at 9:17 am #

            Andrew,

            I don’t agree with imposing religious laws in a post-exilic democracy. Neither do I agree with undemocratic consultations.

            I would also distinguish the Church law from State law. The scope of measures for apostolic discipline was limited to repeated warning and eventual loss of affirmation and fellowship. The ‘punishment’ was imposed by the local assemblies exercise of freedom of association and no more. ‘If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector’ (Matt. 18:17)

            Yet, in terms of scope of discipline, Christ asked an important question as a preface to the famous verse: ‘render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s . It was: ‘Who’s superscription is on this coin?’ (Luke 20:24) if they were truly scrupulous in their financial they would have

            I wrote this back in 2012:

            ‘Today, Christ might have demanded that CofE leaders, contending over the right of the State or church to define marriage, show Him a marriage certificate. He might even challenge them to describe ‘the image and superscription’ that the document bears. As with the denarius, marriage certificates are issued by secular government. In England, they bear the stamp: General Register Office.

            On that basis, the established church should accept that, while it has a significant voice in society and may, in its canons, define Holy Matrimony, the implied acceptance of the civil dictates of marriage registration involves an abandonment of the right to monopolise the definition of marriage.

            This is not stated to assert an Erastian insistence on submission to the State in all things. Yet, if the church claims that the true nature of marriage is grounded in scripture, the dual role of priests as licensed marriage registrars belies a compromise with the State.’

            CofE could relinquish its common law duty of priests to marry its parishioners to registrars, while maintaining its own religious definition of marriage that does ‘render unto God the things that are God’s’. After all, that marriage registration duty was largely set up by Thomas Cromwell to relieve the State of orphan care by assigning first-line child care to its presumed father by evidence of marriage to its mother.

            The issue that I’ve always raised is that if that presumption of paternity remains rebuttable (as it is for straight couples) then that’s fine. As it is, most of the countries introducing same-sex marriage have tried to assert a *conclusive* presumption of co-parenthood that deprives willing natural fathers of rights. And this is based on their laws making the parental intention implied by marriage legally superior to any means of natural parenthood.

            Nevertheless, as the HoB pastoral guidance on same-sex marriage explained: ’25. The Church of England will continue to place a high value on theological exploration and debate that is conducted with integrity. That is why Church of England clergy are able to argue for a change in its teaching on marriage and human sexuality, while at the same time being required to fashion their lives consistently with that teaching.’

            The problem for the CofE hierarchy is not unlike that of the Herodians. They want the Church to hold sway in both religious and secular spheres of authority. Surrendering part of its secular authority might cause some problems, but would solve a multitude of others.

          • David Shepherd April 29, 2015 at 9:20 am #

            End of paragraph 3, I meant to say: ‘if they were truly scrupulous in their financial probity they would have no truck with such blasphemous coinage’

          • Andrew Godsall April 29, 2015 at 10:34 am #

            David thanks. Let’s see how Brian responds about a punishment for the re-criminalised acts.

            A few observations.

            I don’t know what you mean by ‘undemocratic consultations’. We live in a democracy. You have a vote. You can write to your MP. You can even personally bring a case to law if you think something is amiss. What’s undemocratic?

            And as to Christ’s own approach to the morality of adultery for example, he was hardly democratic in John 7:53 – 8:11 was he? He just swept the agreed punishment aside. And please don’t come back with the bit about ‘go and sin no more’ because a: We don’t know whether she did or not and b: the suggestion elsewhere in the Gospels is that forgiveness is not a one off thing. Matthew 18:21 indicates that she would never have been stoned by Jesus doesn’t it?

            You then write:
            “The scope of measures for apostolic discipline was limited to repeated warning and eventual loss of affirmation and fellowship. The ‘punishment’ was imposed by the local assemblies exercise of freedom of association and no more. ‘If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector’”

            Loss of affirmation and fellowship. Which means exactly what? That you’d stop actively gay people and adulterers going to Church? That you’d stop them receiving communion? That you’d stop being nice to them? Be helpful if you actually say what you mean.

            As to treating them like tax collectors – Matthew 21:31 suggests tax collectors aren’t entirely written off doesn’t it?

            Don’t you see how the self righteous approach just doesn’t work?

          • David Shepherd April 29, 2015 at 6:17 pm #

            Andrew,

            ‘We live in a democracy. You have a vote. You can write to your MP. You can even personally bring a case to law if you think something is amiss. What’s undemocratic?’

            1. None of the major parties held forth same-sex marriage legislation as a manifesto commitment. Claiming to be in favour of a policy is not the same thing as putting it in the election manifesto.

            Once elected, they held a sham consultation that, in their own words, was not about whether same sex marriage should be granted, but ‘about how the ban can be lifted on same-sex couples having a marriage through a civil ceremony’. In that Consultation paper, even the Coalition’s promise that ‘we are clear that no changes will be made to how religious organisations define and solemnize religious marriages’ foundered on the rocks of political fashion and expediency like so many others.

            2. In the case of the woman taken in adultery, Christ responded a question about the right to execute punishment under the Law of Moses. This is distinctly different from what I described as church *discipline* which focuses on maintaining the order of the Christian community while allowing opportunity for orderly change by due process.

            As you know, under Moses’ Law, many of the criminal sanctions were applied through delegated theocratic authority. ‘Let he who is without sin’ simply demolished the notion of anyone having the theocratic authority to exact God’s vengeance under that Law. You’ve simply assumed that any church sanction of discipline is tantamount a sanction of vengeance. Or is that equivalence only applicable to sanctions of discipline relating to sexual behavior?

            It doesn’t automatically follow from your thesis:
            a) that Christians can’t involve themselves in the democratic process of debate and identify non-theocratic reasons for imposing criminal sanctions.

            b) that the church has to abdicate all *discipline* which, of course, some will declare to be exacting vengeance.

            Now, my personal trainer puts me through an intense exercise regime. With no let up, it feels punishing. After the initial sessions, I felt completely destroyed. That doesn’t mean that he was seeking vengeance, instead of my betterment. And guess what? We’re achieving the goals that we agreed, but if I don’t like it, I can quit for any easy life any time that I want.

            3. In response to ”Loss of affirmation and fellowship. Which means exactly what? That you’d stop actively gay people and adulterers going to Church? That you’d stop them receiving communion? That you’d stop being nice to them? Be helpful if you actually say what you mean.’

            St. Paul gave apostolic guidance: ‘In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us’ (2 Thess. 3:6).

            ‘Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.’ (2 Tim. 2:24, 25)

            Jesus did indeed engage with tax collectors, but He claimed it was offer a chance for change. He didn’t run back after the rich, young ruler, who abandoned his chance.

            Loss of fellowship means discontinuing what might have been a shared journey of mutual edification. It’s simply respecting another person’s overt choice.

            It’s for church authorities and not me to decide what happens to those officials that not only defy the church’s canon law, but also disregard its due synodical process fro effecting change.

            St. Paul doesn’t say that we have the discretion to decide who can enter a public building, neither that anyone was banned from participating in the sacraments. He simply warned of eternal consequences that those who did participate while nonchalantly refusing to examine themselves honestly.

            4. As a member of the church, I submit to its discipline and respect its due process.

            John the Baptist’s denunciation of Herod’s re-marriage to his half-brother’s ex-wife as incestuous only caused consternation to the Herodians chiefly because they were so bent on maintaining a hold on both secular and religious authority in Judaea.

            If the CofE continues to desire ‘sway in both religious and secular spheres of authority’, it will not extricate itself from the UK establishment that will always exert pressure on its authorized representatives to affirm whatever carefully-crafted religious compromises are declared by politicians and civil servants to be in the ‘national’ interest.

          • Andrew Godsall April 30, 2015 at 8:00 am #

            David

            Thanks for your reply. I confess I find your posts over long and uses phrases that sound impressive but leave me going ‘what the heck?’ ( or some such phrase).

            So let me ask you to spell just two of them out in rather more plan language if i may.

            “Loss of fellowship means discontinuing what might have been a shared journey of mutual edification. It’s simply respecting another person’s overt choice.”

            Which means?

            Then you say:

            “You’ve simply assumed that any church sanction of discipline is tantamount a sanction of vengeance. Or is that equivalence only applicable to sanctions of discipline relating to sexual behaviour”

            Where do I assume that?

            Jesus says very clearly to the woman caught in adultery: neither do I condemn you. What did he mean?

          • David Shepherd April 30, 2015 at 11:23 am #

            ‘I confess I find your posts over long and uses phrases that sound impressive but leave me going ‘what the heck?’ ( or some such phrase).’

            Confession is good for the soul. I confess that I find your comments impertinent to the broader issues of morality that James, Brian and I have discussed from vastly different perspectives. You simply bang on about the same single issue cause.

            I would be careful to distinguish those who find it difficult to accept aspects of current church teaching, in all conscience, but still follow the church’s due process of discussion and synod as the way to rally for change.

            As Jude said: ‘And of some have compassion, making a difference: And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.’ (Jude 22, 23)

            The first part is probably what the HoB means by welcome.

            Nevertheless, a loss of fellowship is warranted when the church’s order and due process are blatantly dismissed. It simply means the community significantly withdraws from personal/social interaction with someone showing such flagrant disrespect. Simple enough?

            As a church member, I wouldn’t affirm such a person for PCC. If a member of the clergy, I wouldn’t support or affirm them for a vacancy in my parish. As a deanery synod representative, I wouldn’t support or affirm such a person for General Synod.

            Help can be extended in other ways, while agreeing to disagree, i.e. without complete moral affirmation.

            ‘Then you say:

            “You’ve simply assumed that any church sanction of discipline is tantamount a sanction of vengeance. Or is that equivalence only applicable to sanctions of discipline relating to sexual behaviour”

            Where do I assume that?’

            Well, bringing up the OT sanction of vengeance, i.e. execution for adultery while discussing the church’s sanctions of discipline would do that.

            ‘Jesus says very clearly to the woman caught in adultery: neither do I condemn you. What did he mean?’

            The woman had experienced the shame of her guilt as discipline, rather than exoneration.

            If she took His words ‘go and sin no more’ seriously, she would not revert to adultery again.

            She wasn’t spared either guilt or censure. Jesus didn’t affirm her adultery. Instead, she was graciously spared the irreversible penalty that constitutes vengeance.

          • Andrew Godsall April 30, 2015 at 11:52 am #

            David: your description of your proposed behaviour towards other church members whose behaviour you dissaprove of sounds so incredibly self righteous as to be the kind of behaviour that ought to exclude you from PCC, General Synod etc etc. 🙂

            You then go to on to say:

            “The woman had experienced the shame of her guilt as discipline, rather than exoneration.”

            Exactly where in the text does it say that please?

            “If she took His words ‘go and sin no more’ seriously, she would not revert to adultery again.”

            And where do we read that she doesn’t? But you miss the point totally. If she did revert to adultery again, (which is entirely possible) what would Jesus do in the light of Matthew 18:21?

            “She wasn’t spared either guilt or censure. Jesus didn’t affirm her adultery. Instead, she was graciously spared the irreversible penalty that constitutes vengeance.”

            Where does it say she wasn’t spared guilt? It simply says she wasn’t condemned.

            It looks like you are reading rather more into the text than is actually there, and putting quite a lot of your own words in Jesus’ mouth. You seem to be quite liberal with it 🙂

          • David Shepherd April 30, 2015 at 1:57 pm #

            Andrew,

            I will leave our discussion by showing that I have been consonant with the HoB pastoral guidance on same-sex marriage:

            ’25. The Church of England will continue to place a high value on theological exploration and debate that is conducted with integrity. That is why Church of England clergy are able to argue for a change in its teaching on marriage and human sexuality, while at the same time being required to fashion their lives consistently with that teaching.’

            Consistent with that, I stated: ‘I would be careful to distinguish those who find it difficult to accept aspects of current church teaching, in all conscience, but still follow the church’s due process of discussion and synod as the way to rally for change.’

            The HoB guidance also states:
            ’16. Consistent with that, we said in our 2005 pastoral statement that lay people who had registered civil partnerships ought not to be asked to give assurances about the nature of their relationship before being admitted to baptism, confirmation and holy communion, or being welcomed into the life of the local worshipping community more generally.

            17. We also noted that the clergy could not lawfully refuse to baptize children on account of the family structure or lifestyle of those caring for them, so long as they and the godparents were willing to make the requisite baptismal promises following a period of instruction.’

            Consistent with that I emphasized the importance of compassion: ‘As Jude said: ‘And of some have compassion, making a difference: And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.’ (Jude 22, 23)

            Also: ‘St. Paul doesn’t say that we have the discretion to decide who can enter a public building, neither that anyone was banned from participating in the sacraments.’

            The HoB also stated: ’27. The House is not, therefore, willing for those who are in a same sex marriage to be ordained to any of the three orders of ministry. In addition it considers that it would not be appropriate conduct for someone in holy orders to enter into a same sex marriage, given the need for clergy to model the Church’s teaching in their lives.’

            I stated: ‘It’s for church authorities and not me to decide what happens to those officials that not only defy the church’s canon law, but also disregard its due synodical process for effecting change.’

            My only basis for withdrawing fellowship on a personal level was when there was a complete disregard for church authority *and* the due process of synod.

            So, unless you can identify where the HoB has emphasized that I maintain fellowship with those who identify as CofE, yet disregard church authority and its due process, it would imply that my position is consonant with the HoB guidance.

            It would also imply that, according to your lights, the guidance was also ‘incredibly self-righteous’.

            Lastly, when does telling someone to ‘go and sin no more’ imply an absence of guilt over past wrongdoing: that they didn’t sin? The use of inductive reasoning from scripture isn’t the preserve of liberals.

            Your attempt to cast any inductive reasoning from the scripture as liberalism has failed miserably. It also ends our polite conversation.

          • Andrew Godsall April 30, 2015 at 2:01 pm #

            David I’ve been reflecting more on this phrase of yours: “she was graciously spared the irreversible penalty that constitutes vengeance”.

            It seems to me that hell, eternal fires, eternal damnation, eternal separation from God – call it what you will – is an irreversible penalty isn’t it? But does it constitute vengeance? If not..why not? And why, if Jesus graciously spared the woman caught in the very act of adultery, would he not spare others?

          • Andrew Godsall April 30, 2015 at 2:05 pm #

            Sadly David you ignore the wider questions about moraility as highlighted by the woman caught in adultery and go back to your favourite hobby horse – same sex relationships. But thanks for engaging a bit at any rate.

          • David Shepherd April 30, 2015 at 2:53 pm #

            Thanks, too. I’m really sorry that I didn’t address those wider moral issues, but trotted out my hobby horse of same-sex marriage by saying:

            ‘Most modern citizens understand that being gay and having a partner is no longer a crime and are waiting for the Church to grasp that point.’

            Oh no, that was you.

    • David Shepherd April 28, 2015 at 1:02 pm #

      Andrew,

      Yep. This blog post has EVERYTHING to do with preventing the affirmation of same-sex sexual relationships and therefore warrants your single-issue response to it!

      • Andrew Godsall April 28, 2015 at 1:21 pm #

        Good way to avoid the question David!
        Given that Ian has posted about that particular subject quite a lot it seems fair to raise the matter when he writes about ‘morality’. He has said previously that those church members who practice homosexual relationships should be disciplined, but won’t ever say what that would entail. Maybe he (and you) would favour re-criminalisation. It would be good to know – and good to know why not, if not.

        • David Shepherd April 28, 2015 at 1:54 pm #

          It would be good to know and talk of many things (from ‘why the sea is boiling hot’ to ‘whether pigs have wings’). The issue is whether it’s pertinent. you could always ask Ian to write a post on clergy discipline and comment on that ad infinitum.

          Now, insisting that your reply should be pertinent both to the blog post and my comment to which you responded isn’t really avoiding the question. Nevertheless, exactly what part of your original reply that quoted *my words* was a question?

          Or was that just a baiting tactic to commandeer the thread towards discussing the single issue cause?

          • Andrew Godsall April 28, 2015 at 2:03 pm #

            Oh David actually it was lay people that Ian wants to dsicipline. So I’m interested by what he means. Clergy discipline is fairly straightforward.
            In fact you were commenting on a question I had asked Brian – which is easy to see if you read carefully. The fact that you felt it necessary to comment, but unable to answer a simple question does not bode well – and might be considered baiting.

          • David Shepherd April 28, 2015 at 2:43 pm #

            So, you re-quoted: ‘“Most modern citizens have little fear that their ‘drop in the ocean’ individual life choices and abdications could add up to such dire national subjugation.”

            Was it actually Brian who originally said that or me? Or do you expect to re-quote me in the context of same-sex sexual relationships without a response?

          • David Shepherd April 28, 2015 at 2:46 pm #

            There’s a difference between inability to answer and treating an statement that’s impertinent with the contempt it deserves. I chose the latter.

        • Ian Paul April 30, 2015 at 2:18 pm #

          No, that inference is not fair. You appear to have decided that I am only interested in one issue–whereas the specific issue I highlight here is parental discipline and children’s learning.

          Shame we couldn’t have engaged with what I actually wrote, rather than what you are confident I was ‘really’ thinking about…!

  4. paintingman April 28, 2015 at 10:56 am #

    Andrew is on the right track. The main way to gain credibility on these issues is to actively demonstrate selfless discipline. The lack of this is part of the downward spiral (technically helix) which includes the diminishing influence of church (and some other things which escape me for the moment.)

  5. James Byron April 28, 2015 at 6:55 pm #

    As The Wire‘s Bunk so rightly said, “A man [or woman] must have a code.”

    While I’d calculate it differently to Ian, I agree that it’s essential to live by an ethical framework, and particularly agree that society finds the notion weird, assuming that most people are naturally good; this mistakes cost-free charm with moral courage. Being good is hard work, counterintuitive, and usually comes at personal cost.

    Good isn’t nice.

    I also agree with Brian that the “hypocrite!” charge is tedious. Too often, it’s advanced not out of sincere outrage, but to excuse a person’s own amorality.

    • Ian Paul April 30, 2015 at 2:19 pm #

      Thanks James–that’s helpful!

  6. Don Benson April 28, 2015 at 9:13 pm #

    Morality is about right and wrong; but we humans cannot decide right and wrong for ourselves because that amounts merely to majority opinion. As we know majority opinion moves on, people change their minds, become ‘enlightened’ or led astray by rhetoric, malign doctrines or simple convenience. Thus even when we come up with a grand concept like ‘Human Rights’ we know deep down that it amounts to no more than ephemeral opinion (which isn’t to suggest that nothing good is ever included in such concepts).

    So morality, if we believe in such a thing, has to come from an external and eternal source – someone who has authority because he is the originator of human existence and who therefore has both the power and the right to determine how we should behave. Of course if you don’t believe in the existence of the originator you will not feel the need to submit yourself to his authority (why should you?) and you may be tempted to assume his authority for yourself. Political correctness is one of our latest Western World manifestations of assuming God’s authority; and it is becoming increasingly coercive, restricting freedom of thought and speech in contrast to God’s intention for mankind, manifested in free will.

    So the question is well put by this post: do Christians have the right or the duty to talk to the secular world about morality? And I agree with Ian’s concluding paragraph: morality is a gift from God which can do nothing but help people flourish, even if they don’t believe in Him. It brings both security and freedom from being beholden to self promoting opinion formers. It is a gift which we should feel pleased to share without apology but also without superiority for we are all sinners. Of course we can only share it and not impose it but how much worse would life have been for millions of people around the world if Christians had not lived by and shared God’s morality even when it was not readily appreciated at the time?

    • Brian April 28, 2015 at 10:00 pm #

      Well put. Secular morality – deprived of a transcendent origin and authority and lacking any real teleology – can only be the expression of dominant wills, along with the herd mentality. It is no wonder that modern post-Christian ‘liberalism’ is becoming stridently illiberal, because it is driven by an anti-God energy. But it is coming a cropper in its encounter with radical Islam, as a trail of blood over Europe shows. The cravenness shown by the writers of PEN over ‘Charlie Hebdo’ demonstrates this all too clearly.

    • Andrew Godsall April 30, 2015 at 10:05 am #

      Don, you said:
      “So morality, if we believe in such a thing, has to come from an external and eternal source – someone who has authority because he is the originator of human existence and who therefore has both the power and the right to determine how we should behave.”

      Some external source that can change its mind about whether its right to stone people who are adulterers you mean?

      • Ian Paul April 30, 2015 at 2:20 pm #

        Or perhaps some external source which expresses ethics in a contextual, rather than a decontextualised way…

        • Andrew Godsall April 30, 2015 at 2:39 pm #

          Meaning what Ian? That in some contexts stoning would be appropriate?

          • Ian Paul April 30, 2015 at 3:17 pm #

            Meaning that in that context stoning was felt to be appropriate.

          • Andrew Godsall April 30, 2015 at 4:09 pm #

            Didn’t Jesus’ answer show that in that contexct stoning never had been appropriate?

          • Ian Paul April 30, 2015 at 7:59 pm #

            That would be true if anywhere in the gospels Jesus says that the commands were mistaken. I don’t think he does–and there is a clear problem in this case: where is the man?

          • Andrew Godsall May 1, 2015 at 8:27 am #

            Ian: What we read in the gospels is that Jesus was constantly accused of breaking the law.
            What’s your point about ‘where is the man?’ Do you think Jesus didn’t believe she actually had committed adultery but would have stoned her if he had actually caught her in the act? Or do you want to read all kinds of things into the story that are not actually there in the same way that David Shepherd does?
            And would stoning ever have been appropriate? You seem to avoid that direct question.

          • David Shepherd May 1, 2015 at 1:02 pm #

            ‘Or do you want to read all kinds of things into the story that are not actually there in the same way that David Shepherd does?’

            You asked: ‘Where does it say she wasn’t spared guilt? It simply says she wasn’t condemned.’

            I responded with inductive reasoning: ‘when does telling someone to ‘go and sin no more’ imply an absence of guilt over past wrongdoing: that they didn’t sin?’

            You now you question Ian about whether he’ll ‘read all kinds of things into the story that are not actually there in the same way that David Shepherd does’.

            So, groundless scurrility is also part of your declining stock in trade. More’s the pity that I’m not really that surprised.

        • David Shepherd April 30, 2015 at 5:57 pm #

          ian,

          The issue of context is a fair point. Even our own government can invoke martial law provisionally in a particular context (state of emergency). The privileges of citizenship, such as habeas corpus, are suspended and harsh penalties are exacted for even minor offences.

          Once rightful authority has been re-established, the return to civil law isn’t a change of mind. There may even be an offer of total amnesty.

          The OT is the equivalent of martial law and was always intended to be provisional to the NT.

          in the NT, the privileges of citizenship are restored and amnesty is provided. Many offences remain offences, although, relative to the OT, there is far greater clemency.

      • Don Benson April 30, 2015 at 8:57 pm #

        Andrew
        I was talking about morality as the distinction between right and wrong. Your comment is about what punishment God might consider appropriate for wrong actions – a somewhat different issue.

        Those early sanctions which now seem so harsh tell us just how serious God is about morality. And maybe we who now live in the knowledge of God’s redemptive mercy should be careful not to assume that his mercy renders the morality unimportant. I don’t see a change of mind here, just love beyond human understanding.

  7. James Byron April 28, 2015 at 10:53 pm #

    Alternatively, there is no external source for ethics, and we end up investing flawed human opinions with undue weight. We treat that majority as God’s mouthpiece.

    I don’t see how ethical authoritarianism gets past either euthyphro or the authority fallacy. I agree the lack of external validation may create a loss of confidence, but that has no bearing on the likelihood of its existence. You can’t conjure an is from an ought.

    • David Shepherd April 29, 2015 at 12:28 am #

      James,

      Don’s point is that modern ethical frameworks that purport to be logically derived (in contrast with direct appeals to authority) are themselves no more than alternative appeals to authority: that of a different majority.

      As you say, an appeal to the authority of God might give undue weight to subjective minority opinions that purport to be derived from Him. That is still no more a fallacy than appealing to authority of a different constituent majority, but dressing it up as thought, in contrast to religion, it was objectively derived.

      Neither appeal to authority can, as you say, conjure an ‘is’ from an ‘ought’, but, on that basis, you could skeptically lay waste to everything that Jesus said too.

      The issue is that claim rights trigger reciprocal duties that are imposed others, such as the legal demand for recognition as equivalent, public affirmation, deference, support and validation.

      So, while maximizing the ‘rights’ that impose such duties might appear the best course for granting equal weight to what might be equally flawed opinions, it doesn’t maximize the freedom of those who view the same duties as an unwarranted imposition, does it?

    • Brian April 29, 2015 at 7:43 am #

      “Alternatively, there is no external source for ethics, and we end up investing flawed human opinions with undue weight. We treat that majority as God’s mouthpiece.”

      That is precisely the position of secular liberalism: moral subjectivism and – had they but courage to see it – moral nihilism or, for the brave Nietzschean sorts, the trans-valuation of values – another form of self-worship. In the end, it comes down to emotivism

      “I don’t see how ethical authoritarianism gets past either euthyphro or the authority fallacy.”

      Read up on Elizabeth Anscombe. As for Euthyphro, it comes down to a concept of God that Plato didn’t arrive at. God commands the good because He Himself is good: His will is the reflection of his own eternal character. The God of Christianity is not capricious like the god of classical Islam.

      “I agree the lack of external validation may create a loss of confidence, but that has no bearing on the likelihood of its existence. You can’t conjure an is from an ought.”

      Indeed it does create a loss of confidence – or at least it should, although some of the most morally certain and righteously indignant people I’ve come across (at least in their rhetoric) have been atheists. But if you believe that morality is objectively true and that such things like moral obligations do exist, then you need a transcendent, atemporal foundation for this. This is one of the five arguments regularly used by W. L. Craig for the existence of God, and it coheres very well with what Peter Kreeft says on conscience as well.

      • James Byron April 29, 2015 at 11:25 pm #

        Brian, declaring God to be goodness personified just tap-dances around the dilemma: if God is goodness, then goodness must have a substantive definition, and therefore, can exist apart from God, or, as Plato would have it, the gods.

        David, in recognition that the majority can err, and err badly, I think it best that minorities are protected from that brand of tyranny.

        • Brian April 30, 2015 at 6:38 am #

          James: no, you misunderstand. Goodness CANNOT exist apart from God because God is (to use misunderstood language) ‘the ground of being’; only God possesses aseity, everything else is contingent on His self-existence. Plato distinguished his hypothetical ‘ forms’ (hai ideai) from God or the gods; he is ambiguous on deity but seemed to believe in one God. However, Plato’s God was not the Creator; this was the subordinate task of the demiurge.
          So you’re an unreconstructed Platonist, are you, James? Interesting. But you should know that Augustine perceived the very problem I have mentioned above and resolved it by arguing that ‘the forms’ (as he understood this, mediated through Plotinus’s Enneads). To wit: the forms are ‘rationes aeternae’ in the mind of God. It is impossible for them to have an independent existence from the self-existent God. Plato didn’t understand this (though Plotinus might have) because his notion of deity was too limited. But then he didn’t have the revelation of the Prophets. We do – and even more, the revelation of the Son.

        • David Shepherd April 30, 2015 at 8:25 am #

          James,

          We’ve seen the flip-side of that tyranny with gay and lesbian couples arguing that the courts should (as a marital right and by invoking the two-parent traditional family orthodoxy) dismiss the claims of any natural parent who stands in the way of the legal fiction of an a priori presumption of same-sex co-parenthood.

          That’s one minority exercising tyranny over an even smaller minority: an injustice that claims of homophobia can’t excuse.

          • James Byron April 30, 2015 at 11:20 pm #

            David, you’ve raised the paternity issue frequently: as I think I said previously, I’ve no issue with it being recognized.

            Brian, I’m no fanboy of Plato, Aristotle, or any other old timey philosopher. This is by the by: if goodness has a substantive definition, it doesn’t exist on the basis of authority; if it has no substance, it’s arbitrary, and being-itself isn’t good, merely strong.

  8. Brian April 29, 2015 at 8:01 pm #

    I had hoped it would be clear to Andrew – but apparently it wasn’t – that re-criminalising adultery etc wouldn’t command support in a post-Christian society.
    So asking me about appropriate penalties is rather pointless, like calculating how much I would have now if I had bought shares in Facebook.
    But none of this changes the fact that God has not legalised adultery etc, and whether or not we fear man, we must, as our Lord Jesus Christ warned us, always fear the One who can cast body and soul in hell.
    But maybe Andrew doesn’t believe in Jesus’ teaching on this either and is a universalist?
    Well, are you, Andrew? Will everyone be saved? As I answered candidly, please reciprocate.

    Such is the false comfort of makeshift liberalism.

    • James Byron April 29, 2015 at 11:18 pm #

      Brian, if Andrew’s a universalist, he’s in good company: notably Paul of Tarsus, who wrote a hymn to universal salvation in Romans c.11. According to Paul, all shall be saved.

      This does, admittedly, contradict many of the sayings the gospels attribute to Jesus, which is one of the many reasons I don’t put much stock in using the Bible as a how-to guide.

      • David Shepherd April 30, 2015 at 6:20 am #

        James,

        There’s no contradiction, nor universalist doctrine in scripture.

        Paul uses the example of Ahab’s idolatrous reign during which Elijah was a prophet. While the situation was dire and Ahab and Jrzebel were punished severely, Israel was not abandoned as a nation. As a whole, Isreal was retrieved from apostasy.

        The metaphor of the olive tree is telling. Unproductive branches are not simply pruned back. St. Paul states:

        ‘If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, 18 do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.’

        ‘He will not spare’ is not universalist, at all. If you sustain that olive tree metaphor, it means that what was originally planted has not been destroyed. Instead, rId of unproductive branches and replenished with the productive Gentile graft, Israel has, *when taken as a whole*, been preserved.

        That’s what Paul means when he says: ‘All Israel will be saved’. That which God intended in planting Israel has not and will not been frustrated.

        Of course, the Sadducees wore the mantle of unyielding skepticism towards scripture as divine revelation that you’ve donned. They too lifted single verses out of their context to demonstrate supposed inconsistencies in Christ’s teaching, but only in order to exonerate the inconsistencies of their own skewed rationalist framework.

        Mirroring that ethos is erring in bad company.

      • Brian April 30, 2015 at 7:01 am #

        No, that’s a big misunderstanding of that half-verse, which is contradicted not only by Jesus in the Gospels but by scores of sayings by Paul himself in Romans itself. So either Paul has blundered here or the reader, fixing on one phrase, has misunderstood Paul. The latter is much more likely. Even in modern English ‘all’ and ‘everyone’ have a range of contextual-rhetorical meanings.. No serious commentator thinks Paul is teaching ‘universalism’.

        If the Gospels don’t give us reliable information on Jesus, then trying to build a faith on him is a pointless exercise – the ‘Holzweg’ of liberalism.

        • James Byron April 30, 2015 at 11:30 pm #

          David & Brian, the thrust of Romans 11 is towards universal salvation: Paul explicitly says that Israel’s heart has been hardened by God in order for God to be merciful. It’s not a matter of cherry-picking a verse with “all” in it, but of recognizing a central plank of Pauline theology, namely, that God was bringing in the Gentiles as a prelude to the eschaton.

          David, you read too much into the analogy. Pail isn’t being forensic, he’s, as usual, painting his theology in vivid, broad strokes.

          Yes, Paul does, elsewhere, suggest wrath and, by implication, salvation. As E.P. Sanders so rightly said, Paul was a theological genius, but a systematic theologian he wasn’t.

          • David Shepherd May 1, 2015 at 12:11 am #

            ‘David, you read too much into the analogy. Paul isn’t being forensic, he’s, as usual, painting his theology in vivid, broad strokes.’

            I’m afraid that the vivid, broad strokes are of your own imaginative artistic licence. Paul didn’t have to be a systematic theologian, but he was consistent.

            ‘That God was bringing in the Gentiles as a prelude to the eschaton’ is not disputed.

            However, universalism does not follow from that central plank. Across the entire apostolic witness, including St. Paul, the fate of those who rejected or apostatized from OT is held forth as a warning, e.g. Heb. 10:26 – 29; 2 Thess. 1:8,9; 2 Pet. 2:4 – 13.

            What’s glaring here is that if any conservative here hinged his thesis on a particular construction of one verse, it would be rejected as resorting to proof texts. A liberal does it and that’s fine.

          • James Byron May 1, 2015 at 7:15 pm #

            David, it’s a straw man to suggest I’m hanging an argument on a verse: I’m not, which is why I summarized, instead of quoting.

            Rather, I hang my argument on the sense of the excerpt as a whole, especially Paul saying that God hardened Israel in unbelief explicitly to be merciful, and selected Gentiles not out of any merit of their own. To be anachronistic in the extreme, Paul here doesn’t think much of Armenianism.

            Interesting, though, to see the quintessentially “liberal” approach of arguing that when Paul says that God will be merciful to pantas/all, he doesn’t actually mean what he appears to say. Yes, it’d contradict other biblical verses, but Paul, writing long before a Bible and even longer before its verses, could hardly be expected to have known that!

          • David Shepherd May 1, 2015 at 9:30 pm #

            ‘Rather, I hang my argument on the sense of the excerpt as a whole, especially Paul saying that God hardened Israel in unbelief explicitly to be merciful, and selected Gentiles not out of any merit of their own.’

            Well, you might have wanted to do that. Nevertheless, in the attempt, you’ve conveniently dismissed reasonable and contextual inferences from Paul’s olive tree analogy far too detailed for the ‘vivid, broad strokes’ of his theological genius.

            While some might adopt your view of the analogy as plausible, you would also have us believe that Paul, a well educated ex-Pharisee, also played fast and loose with OT history.

            For in Rom. 11, we have Paul citing the parallel example of national apostasy and punishment, while the chastened remnant become the nucleus of complete national restoration.

            It’s totally out of kilter with your universalist theory, but no match for your theological crow-bar with which you’ve tried prise one verse away from its context.

            And despite centuries of evangelical theology involving scripture, tradition and reason, you join Andrew in resorting to bemusement at how refreshing it is for a bunch of literalists to attempt the inductive reasoning that you label ‘liberal’.

            A premature self-congratulatory sneer. And yes, good isn’t nice. But neither is triumphant pride.

          • James Byron May 2, 2015 at 3:07 pm #

            If we parse the text immediately following the branches example, David, it aids the universalist case (not mine, incidentally, but E.P. Sanders’): Paul emphasizes that God has the power to graft Israel back in, and drives home how powerful this return will be.

            Paul goes on to say, repeatedly, that all Israel will be saved, that God’s gifts are irrevocable, and that God has Imprisoned all in disobedience in order to be merciful to all. It’s not just a matter of a single verse, it’s the climax of his rhetoric: Paul sets up Israel’s despair in order to surprise with joy of new life. Paul’s comparisons to previous events don’t overturn that: just the opposite, he cites Isaiah’s promise of a deliverer from Zion.

            I accept that this interpretation may be wrong; what’s interesting is that you’re adamant that it can’t be right.

          • David Shepherd May 3, 2015 at 12:45 am #

            James,

            I think that our differences hinge on whether national or individual redemption is in view. I would argue that the olive tree analogy, the cited OT history and the admonition against complacency all point to the apparent frustration of national redemption promised to Isreal.

            Gentiles believers are warned: ‘You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.’ vs. 19, 20.

            That last warning would be an idle threat and no remedy for arrogance, if, as you say, Paul was claiming that God’s stern excision of the natural branches will be reversed anyway..

            The universalist might well respond to Paul by saying ‘Sp what if God didn’t spare Israel? While it may underscore God’s capacity to judge impartially,, I interpret your later words to nullify judicial severity with the iron-clad guarantee of impunity: everyone has and will be spared’.

            At the very least, your interpretation turns the latter part of the chapter into a full contradiction of the admonition of verses 19 and 20.

    • Andrew Godsall April 30, 2015 at 7:08 am #

      Brian it’s absolutely clear to me that recriminalising these things would not command support in a Christian society, let alone a post Christisn one. But it was also clear to me that you personally favoured such re criminalisation, so I’d still be interested to know what you think appropriate punishment would be.

      As to being a universalist – I’ve no idea practically what that means. I don’t think it’s possible to put ourselves in the place of God. So making any comments about the destiny of any hypothetical individual is ridiculous. What I do believe in is the infinite mercy and compassion of God

      • Ian Paul April 30, 2015 at 2:24 pm #

        I would agree on this first point…though I think Calvin disagreed…?

        There is surely a Christian distinction between things that are ethical and things that are criminal?

        • Andrew Godsall April 30, 2015 at 2:34 pm #

          “There is surely a Christian distinction between things that are ethical and things that are criminal?”

          I’m sure there is Ian. The point is that Brian personally favours criminalising same sex sexual relationships and adultery. Of course he won’t say what punishment fits these crimes.

          Interesting to note that even criminals find their way in to the kingdom of heaven though.

          • Brian April 30, 2015 at 8:10 pm #

            Andrew: Actually, I gave a long list of things that I wouldn’t mind seeing re-criminalised, like blasphemy on the BBC, most cases of abortion, and much of the larcenous behaviour of our politicians – people like David Laws, for example, who defrauded the taxpayer of £40k and got away with it.
            Do I gather that you approve of abortion and adultery and fraud by politicians?
            But you’re being obtuse or a poor reader if you didn’t notice that my feelings on this are entirely obiter dicta, since a post-Christian society isn’t going to criminalise these things.
            Sub specie aeternitatis, it doesn’t matter that these things are no longer crimes because they haven’t ceased to be *sins*, and I’m surprised that you, as an ordained minister in the Church of England, haven’t observed that *that* is the important issue.
            The wages of sin remains what it has always been.
            The first task of the Church isn’t to advise the state what should be the appropriate penalties for misconduct. It is to witness to the Kingdom of God, to proclaim the mercy in the Gospel, and to testify to the reality of divine judgment on unrepentant sin.
            I’ve never made a judgment about any individual, hypothetical or actual. In truth only God knows our hearts and who has truly believed and repented. I do know that Jesus – more than anyone else in the Bible – warned about hell (Gehenna) and I don’t think he was bluffing. Christianity is not interested in the god of one’s own choice or imagination.

          • Andrew Godsall May 1, 2015 at 8:41 am #

            Brian I think you seem to misread things actually. It’s pretty clear that even a Christian society, let alone a post Christian society would not criminalise these things, but you made it clear that you would wish to. You said:

            “I would support that [criminalising same sex acts] if adultery were criminalised again too. And I would outlaw abortion under most circumstances as well. And I would force Amazon and the other tax-dodging mutlinationals to pay their rightful share of corporation tax. And I would outlaw blasphemy on the BBC. And I would make deadbeat fathers live up to their responsibilities. The list of evils that need to be amended in modern pagan Britain is very long.”

            I don’t ‘approve’ of abortion or adultery. I think they are complicated grey area parts of fallen human behaviour. I note what Jesus said about the punishment for adultery – and I observe that he said nothing about abortion or same sex acts but think we have enough to extrapolate from. There is no evidence of any repentance from the woman caught in adultery but she still receives no condemnation.

            You don’t mention climate change among the evils you list but it is good to hear the C of E saying clearly this morning that it is the most pressing moral problem – more pressing we assume therefore than adultery or same sex acts.

            I agree that Christianity isn’t interested in the God of your imagining – or my imagining. But seeing as we seem to have been given imaginations, as were those who wrote the scriptures, it’s large part of what we have to work with isn’t it?

  9. Brian May 1, 2015 at 10:17 pm #

    Andrew, you entirely misunderstand what I am saying and keep putting words into my mouth and raising distractions instead of engaging with my central concern. I am bothered by your lack of comprehension about the actual theological issues I raised. You seem fixated with asking questions about recriminalisation of former crimes (but permanent sins) and legal penalties; my concern – as I have made it clear – is not with your political-legal obsession but with the faithfulness of the Church. I am not a politician but a priest and a biblical scholar. Trying to play ‘Gotcha’ with me only shows that you are not reading me properly. I have already said several times that your obsessive questions are hypotheticals, not real possibilities in post-Christian Europe, so don’t waste any more time on this.

    I am also bothered by the poor way you handle the Scriptures and what seems to be your lack of understanding of the context of the First Century, as well as the way you play fast and loose with catholic theology. Like all liberals, I’m afraid you’re caught up in your own historical subjectivism.

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