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Jesus’ view of mission

70ApostlesI spent part of last week at our excellent clergy conference in Swanwick. (I will leave it ambiguous as to whether the clergy or the conference was excellent—or both!). As is the practice with the Partnership for Missional Church approach to mission (being used in a number of diocese including ours), we repeatedly spent time reflecting on Jesus’ sending of the seventy-two in Luke 10.1–12. This is also a foundational text for the ‘LifeShapes’/Missional Communities approach associated with Mike Breen from Sheffield.

We read the text each morning, and simply gave space to hear from each other what has struck us in the passage. I was left with the overwhelming impression that this teaching of Jesus is remarkable, and almost incomprehensible, in that it appears to overturn almost every conception of mission and missionary activity that Christians have thought up and passed on. Perhaps it is a good reminder that, however ‘intimate’ we are with Jesus, with God, this is an intimacy with someone who is quite ‘other’ than us, whose thoughts are a long way above and beyond ours (Is 55.8).


Here are some of my (still half-formed) observations and reflections, simply from reading the text before looking at any commentaries or other expositions:

1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.

There is some textual uncertainty about whether the number is 70 or 72, which I suspect is due to the sense of parallel with the 70 elders appointed by Moses in Numbers 11.16–25. This suggests Jesus is not doing something new, but repeating a pattern of God’s dealings with his people in the past—or, perhaps, better, that this radically new thing is the same radically new thing that God has always been doing.

He sends them out ‘two by two’; mission is never undertaken by individuals, but only in teams. That is why Paul never works alone—except in Athens in Acts 17.16–34, the only place where he fails to establish a congregation. This is a constant challenge to our persistent individualism. (I wonder if there is also a connection with the biblical emphasis on plurality of witness, in line with Deut 17.6.)

They were sent to the places ‘Jesus was about to go’ though in fact he does not appear to have gone there subsequently in Luke’s narrative. So the 72 actually function as Jesus’ presence in those places, which is confirmed by his later statement. The ‘kingdom of God’ is present in the ministry of Jesus, but now it becomes present in the ministry of the 72. Contrary to the current vogue saying ‘Mission is finding out what God is already doing and joining in’, this is much more like ‘Mission is going to the places where God wants to be but is not yet until we go.’

2 He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.

In the West, it feels to me as though our conceptualisation of the missionary task is that we are willing, but it is jolly hard work and people are just not interested. In other works, the workers are willing but the harvest does not appear to be ready. Jesus here says exactly the opposite; the harvest is there, and ready, and all that is needed is for workers to go out and reap it!

3–4 Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.

It is worth noting here that mission is seen as inherently risky; if there is a power relationship, then those sent are the ones without power, which seems to be the opposite of most recent history of mission. There is a certain recklessness in the task, since those sent do not plan for their own provision. In our discussion group at the conference, which included people with experience from Africa and the Middle East, the command ‘not to greet anyone’ was baffling and very difficult to make sense of in cultures where greeting was important.

5–7 When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If the head of the house loves peace, your peace will rest on that house; if not, it will return to you. Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for workers deserve their wages. Do not move around from house to house.

I was struck here by the sense of reality that this section assumes. Those whom Jesus sends make a tangible difference; if they bless people, those people are truly blessed. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this reality is that the good news of the kingdom is almost a commodity, in the sense that people who receive it will be willing to support you because they appreciate the value of what you bring. The idea that we should receive from and even depend on the people to whom we are preaching is quite shocking; I think most of us assume that we need to do good to them in other ways as a recompense for the fact that we are asking for the privilege of preaching, or that the good we do is buying the right to be heard. Jesus here assumes that the good news is in itself enough of a blessing.

Staying in one place has, I think, been made much of by Mike Breen. We are to focus not on the crowds but on significant individuals in the communities to whom we are sent who respond positively.

8–9 When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’

To ‘eat what is set before you’ would be a shocking thing for Jews who wants to observe the food laws and who visits those who are less kosher than them, but is completely in line with Jesus’ other teaching which prioritises relationship over the niceties of legal conformity. In many parts of the world, being willing to receive hospitality is essential in establishing relationships; I wonder if Christians in the West need to learn humility in receiving…?

One of the things I left behind when leaving the Roman Catholic church was the idea that the church is coterminous with those who are saved—in other words, that the kingdom of God and the church are identified. Whilst I would continue to reject such identification, it is challenging here to see that the kingdom is understood as being present in the embodied ministry of Jesus’ followers. This comes very close to Paul’s idea of the Christian community as ‘the body of Christ’, but because Paul’s language relates to the gathered community, we often forget that here Jesus applies the idea to the scattered community as well. We are Christ’s presence not just when we meet, but wherever we are. This idea is also powerfully present in the parable of the sheep and the goats; those who have welcomed, fed and clothed us (as we come to them on mission?) will inherit the kingdom.

10–12 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.

If the earlier verses hold challenges for evangelical or pietistic understandings of mission, then these closing verses contain a stark challenge to ‘liberal’ ideas of mission. The reality of the kingdom of God in the presence and ministry of the people of God means the departure of the kingdom on the rejection of the message. The command is simply to ‘wipe the dust off’; the idea that this is a ‘warning’ is an interpretive expansion in the NIV, possibly based on the parallel in Luke 9.5 ‘as testimony against them.’ The phrase also occurs in Acts 13.51, with a similar interpretive expansion in the NIV. The act is a sign of Jewish rejection of Gentile values and lifestyle, and signals a clear sense of separation between the two groups. So, ‘inclusive’ Jesus, who ate with ‘tax collectors and sinners’, is clear that rejection of the message of the kingdom will lead to symbolic and actual separation—to ‘lostness’ if you will.


XIR155497There remains an important interpretive question: To what extent is this teaching, which Jesus gives to particular people on a particular occasion, really paradigmatic for mission today? First, it is worth noting that the word ‘mission’ does not appear in English translation here, or anywhere else in the NT for that matter. (In Acts 12.25 in the NIV, the word ‘mission’ translates diakonia, elsewhere translated ‘service’ or ‘ministry’.) But our word ‘mission’ comes from the Latin mittere ‘to send’, itself a translation of the Greek apostello—which Luke has Jesus use here, and which is a cognate of ‘apostle’. To say we are an ‘apostolic’ church means both to be rooted in the apostolic teaching and testimony, but also to be ‘sent’ on mission as the apostles (and the 72) were.

Luke emphasises the importance of this pattern by repeating it, first with the 12 in Luke 9, and then here with the 72. Matthew conflates Jesus’ teaching from more than one occasion (as is his habit, for example, in the Sermon on the Mount) in Matt 10, and interlaces it with what looks to be later teaching that relates to the period after Jesus’ death and resurrection. These all suggest that Luke and Matthew see this pattern as a template for the communities they are writing to, and not just of historical interest concerning Jesus’ practice.

I am sure there are many, better and fuller, expositions of this passage. But there is enough here for me to be very conscious that I still have much to learn about mission as Jesus understood it. To read it again and again over a whole year might drive me mad…but I suspect most of us have a long way to go before this becomes our natural way of working. Perhaps we should talk less of ‘transforming mission’ than of ‘reforming mission’ in the light of Jesus’ teaching…


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42 Responses to Jesus’ view of mission

  1. Martyn Taylor October 13, 2014 at 2:01 pm #

    Ian, have you come across Neil Cole ‘Organic Church?’ He picks up these themes and runs with them brilliantly. He has systematized the missionary principles of Jesus into POPS.

    Power of Prayer (workers for the harvest field)
    Pockets of People (every place where Jesus was about to go)
    People of Peace (those who become the gateway to the community you are trying to reach)
    Power of Presence (Proclaim the Kingdom and heal the sick)
    People of Purpose (the new community that join you in the mission of Jesus)

    Great training material.

    • Ian Paul October 13, 2014 at 3:12 pm #

      No I haven’t. Sounds interesting…though my first instinct is to react a little against such systematisation!

  2. Etienne October 13, 2014 at 2:56 pm #

    “…completely in line with Jesus’ other teaching which prioritises relationship over the niceties of legal conformity.”

    So the niceties of legal conformity mean nothing when they don’t suit your purpose, but when they do, they’re all important, eh?

    And you wonder why we don’t take you seriously!

    • Ian Paul October 13, 2014 at 3:15 pm #

      Etienne, you spend a lot of time commenting considering you don’t take me seriously!

      I think the same applies in all cases. But of course on sexuality morality we are not talking about ‘niceties of the law’ but about a central strand of Jewish ethical distinctiveness which Jesus specifically affirms, as do Paul and the Council in Jerusalem. Perhaps the best example of this is in John 8, where Jesus ‘sets aside the niceties of the law’ in opposing the stoning of the woman, and then enjoins her to ‘go and sin no more’, which confirms the essential trajectory of the law.

      Now, I know that the part of the world not obsessed with the gay issue is vanishingly small…but could we focus on it for just a moment?

  3. Maureen October 13, 2014 at 4:18 pm #

    “Contrary to the current vogue saying ‘Mission is finding out what God is already doing and joining in’, this is much more like ‘Mission is going to the places where God wants to be but is not yet until we go.’”

    I was surprised by this comment Ian. I recognise that God is in us, and we are His presence. ‘The ‘kingdom of God’ is present in the ministry of Jesus, but now it becomes present in the ministry of the 72. ‘ So far so good – and in fact amazing that we carry the presence of Jesus’ Kingdom in us!

    However what you have said above seems to suggest that God cannot be at work in the world outside the church? Surely God is already working in the hearts and minds of people who have little or no experience of church?

    “places where God wants to be but is not yet until we go”? Almighty God wants to be somewhere but cannot? God who created the universe wants to be somewhere in his creation but is unable to be – without us?

    I suspect you might quote Romans 10:14 How can they believe if they have not heard? but what about Romans 1:20 God’s qualities being seen by what he has made?

    God has (amazingly) chosen to work through the church, through us – continuing the ministry of Jesus, but surely God does on occasion work without us and beyond us – because He is God?

    • Ian Paul October 14, 2014 at 4:47 pm #

      Thanks for the comment, Maureen. I am not sure I was going as far as saying ‘God cannot work outside the church’ but, in commenting on this passage alone, was noting what Jesus appears to be assuming here.

      If God limits his activity and depends on the action and obedience of his people to fulfil his will, isn’t that just a piece with God’s humility and self-giving? If not, why do we ever need to pray?

      In Romans 1, Paul is not talking about God’s activity in making himself known so much as humanity’s culpability in failing to recognise him. This really is (as far as I can see) an account of God’s absence from a sinful world.

      I am not suggesting a water-tight doctrine here. Just pointing out that a lot of mission thinking fails to recognise the theme of God’s absence from the world because of sin, which is actually a fairly prominent theme in the NT, it seems to me.

  4. Etienne October 13, 2014 at 4:58 pm #

    Who mentioned the “gay issue”? I was speaking in general terms.

    Unless you think that because I’m gay I can’t possibly have an opinion on any other topic. Or that my opinions don’t count for anything because I’m gay. That would certainly fit with past experiences with Christians. And you wonder why we don’t take you seriously?

    No, hold on … what I meant to say is “you wonder why we don’t take your beliefs seriously”. We have to take you seriously, as people, because you’re here, you’re in our face and you’re trying to influence legislatures and courts of law to discriminate against us. The beliefs that motivate you seem like dark fairy stories to us, so it isn’t possible to take them seriously. But we have to take the people who believe in them seriously, otherwise we may wake up one day to find ourselves being carted off to prison, or to concentration camps, or to auto-da-fes, because the believers in fairy stories have just seized power and they want rid of us. It’s happened before. And with the rise of right wing extremism, and Christian fundamentalism, and mass demonstrations against gay rights, it could easily happen again.

    So yes, I do take you seriously. Seriously enough to wonder what my fate would be if your beliefs ever again gain a foothold in public policy.

  5. Mark Rodel October 13, 2014 at 5:28 pm #

    Hi Ian

    Some initial thoughts.

    First, I am glad that you flag your expository comments as provisional. The whole purpose of Dwelling in the Word is to be attentive to the voice of the other. The process leaves plenty of room for Biblical expertise but it would be a shame if after participating in a genuinely open communal reading process you used your blog to say: but here’s what it really means.

    I too have been intrigued by Jesus is sending out of his disciples to places where “he himself intended to go”. How we interpret this will dependto some extent on our Christology I guess. For me it is entirely possible that Jesus truly intended to go to these places but that he didn’t make it. Can it be that the Son of God makes plans but is unable to complete them? I think if we affirm the full humanity of Jesus and then we have to say yes. That might mitigate against your interpretation that is Jesus understands these people he sends to be going in his stead.

    On the face of it, this text, taken alone, does appear to present a profound challenge to missio Dei missiology.but how authentic is it to read it on its own? Surely your reading is solely Christological and not Trinitarian. One can affirm simultaneously that iJesus is yet to arrive at the same time as recognising the prevenient work of God’s Spirit. John’s Jesus, of course, affirms that he can only do what he sees his father doing. He does not say that he only goes where his father sends him. He recognises God’s work already going on before he arrives. It is his presence and person that brings it to fruition. He is the uberr-harvester.

    I think you might also have fallen into the headline writers trap of suggesting that there is more disagreement then is really the case. On the basis of the content of your post, I don’t think you’re hugely at odds with current mission thinking.

    You might be interested in the discussion I engaged in with Richard Passmore on the CMS pioneer Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/groups/133990043345445/. Richard also takes is you with missio Dei. But in his case it is not a Christocentric missiology that takes its place but instead what I argue is a rather extreme form of contextual theology.

    • Ian Paul October 15, 2014 at 12:06 pm #

      Mark thanks for your thoughtful reflections. Some further reflections and responses from me.

      ‘it would be a shame if after participating in a genuinely open communal reading process you used your blog to say: but here’s what it really means.’ Presumably, then, it would be a shame for anyone else to read my reflections and reply ‘But here is what it really means…’? Tongue in cheek…but it does highlight a problem with this whole ‘sharing of impressions’ method. Fine if views are compatible…but how do they relate to what the text actually says?

      ‘Can it be that the Son of God makes plans but is unable to complete them?’ That’s a really interesting question, and one that John Byron also raises in the discussion about ‘What if the Bible is wrong?’ His question is ‘Did Jesus ever hit his thumb with a hammer?’ Supposing that, though, doesn’t really undo my reading, since the event is mediated to us by Luke, who appears to believe it means something particular. I think the later identification of the presence of the kingdom in the ministry of the 72 supports my observation.

    • Ian Paul October 15, 2014 at 12:07 pm #

      I am not sure I go with your sharp distinction between Christological and Trinitarian understandings of mission, for several reasons. First, Luke ties the presence of the Spirit very closely to the person of Jesus in both his volumes, and in fact (as Max Turner has pointed out) his depiction of Jesus as dispenser of the Spirit of God (which in OT terms simply means God himself in presence and action) has huge trinitarian significance.

      Secondly, I am struggling to think of anywhere in Scripture where the Spirit is depicted as at work in the world in detachment from either the people of God of the proclamation of Jesus in the way that I often hear of it in relation to mission. The places where the Spirit is depicted as roving round the world are Ezekiel, Zechariah and Revelation, which are perhaps the most ‘sectarian’ in the Bible.

      I wouldn’t extrapolate this into a hard and fast doctrine—but this does seem to me to be data in the biblical text which is not noted enough.

    • Ian Paul October 15, 2014 at 12:08 pm #

      Isabelle Hamley commented on Facebook:

      I have lots of questions about the practice of ‘Dwelling in the Word’; I really like openness of it, and the attention paid to the other. However… I worry that there is too much ’emptying’ of the text and space for projection by participants. This may not be very postmodern, but I do think that Scripture has something to say, it can be interpreted in different ways, but the range of interpretations is not limitless. Nor are all interpretations or conclusions equally valid, though listening to different points of view is important.

      So my question really is, how do you create a boundaried space for communal readings? How do you facilitate both listening and contribution, and attention to a text that is not always easy or obvious? When I have been part of the ‘dwelling’ exercise, we have usually been told to think of questions to ask a Biblical scholar. But I have never seen anything actually done with that in the groups I have been part of (by which I mean, there may have been questions but we never actually asked someone and then look at what the answers might mean for our own interpretations). Also – it is great to go with people’s questions, and they do need addressing. But there are often questions we do not ask naturally about a text, which do need to be asked, or would illuminate it greatly. But cultural distance and sometimes simple discomfort can mean those questions do not naturally arise.

      SO a direct listening to the text and one another is great, but how does it dovetail with other readings and insights from both ‘Biblical scholars’ and, dare I say, tradition? So that what the scholar has to say isn’t immediately dismissed because it challenges our own readings or places limitations on what we want to do with the text?

  6. Mark Rodel October 13, 2014 at 5:32 pm #

    The other thing I would want to question in your analysis is that the shaking of dust from feet is about the receipt or not of the message (and that our mission approach should be the same). It seems to me that it is the scandalising refusal of hospitality that prompts a walk-out, not the receptivity of the message. That suggests to me that we stay somewhere for as long we are welcome, not for as long as people respond to our message. They’re not exactly the same thing.

    • Ian Paul October 15, 2014 at 12:07 pm #

      On the shaking of dust, I don’t think I buy your exegesis. The Acts example looks fairly clear to me…as I think are the OT roots (need to check that one).

  7. Mark Rodel October 13, 2014 at 5:33 pm #

    …receptivity *to* the message…

  8. Terry Jones October 13, 2014 at 6:12 pm #

    Thanks so much for this Ian. So relevant here in Darlaston where we are seeing growth in adversity. The timely and prophetic reminder that we should be doing mission plurally is vital I believe. Wasn’t the Holy Spirit throughout all Scripture ‘making a people (singular!) for His Name’? Your comments about being Christ’s presence whether we are gathered or not reminds me of Matthew’s ‘Lord’s Prayer’ where the believer is to shut him or herself away in secret and pray OUR Father. We are a body, a Temple etc surely even when in secret? Your comment ‘Mission is going to the places where God wants to be but is not yet until we go.’ is wonderfully thought-provoking and reminds me of the passage at Acts 18:10 ‘for I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to harm you, for there are many in this city who are my people.’ At that time Corinth was all Temples and brothels and utterly Godless! In what sense was Christ at work here because in less than 2 years Corinth NT fellowship was vibrant. Jesus referring to the converts Paul was to make (future tense)? Thanks again Ian.

  9. Susi October 13, 2014 at 8:10 pm #

    I think this is very interesting Ian and something I am thinking about a lot at the moment. When we discuss missional comunities it seems that the idea is we form this little community and invite poeple to come in. As you say – when we read Scripture we see Jesus and his disciples going out. They also are guests and I agree so much with that. We need to be guests to bring the Kingdom. I can’t easily walk off with a partner and literally do what the 72 did. But I can go to my workplace, my Trade Union meeting, my Running Club and talk with folk about my faith and my life with Jesus. I can accept invitations and hospitality from those I encounter during my daily walk.

  10. James Byron October 13, 2014 at 11:26 pm #

    “… these closing verses contain a stark challenge to ‘liberal’ ideas of mission.”

    Couldn’t agree more, Ian (I really enjoyed this nugget of exegesis, BTW, clear and to the point — would that more sermons could follow your example!).

    The “Jesus of California” conjured into being by groups like the Jesus Seminar is a caricature of the person in the gospels. Liberalism has still to get to grips with Jesus’ uncompromising eschatology, highlighted, ironically, by liberal scholars. Jesus wasn’t a free floating hippie voicing platitudes about love and brotherhood; he was a man rooted in 1st century Judaism, one too often remade in our image.

    We must allow Jesus to be Jesus.

  11. paintingman October 14, 2014 at 1:25 am #

    I do agree that we should be reforming mission (as well as other stuff) in the light of Jesus’ teaching.
    As with other study though we should reflect a little to see what the teaching actually is.

    The PoP gospel is great fun and a looks good as an aid to memory but (as Ian intimates) needs to be kept as secondary rather than primary teaching material.

    Those sent out were powerless ….. but were given authority (like a small and unarmed policeman).
    As with today’s “healing on the streets” teams they were able speak with authority into the lives of (presumably willing) people and (having seen the power of God at work) to return rejoicing. Yes we do have to answer for ourselves the question “Do I believe that God has given this authority to me as well as to them?” In order to obey Jesus’ command to “Heal the sick” though it helps to give the answer “yes”. Fortunately this conforms to reality for many. The advice not to work alone though is good. It’s good to work alongside those already exercising this or any ministry before attempting it oneself. Discipleship is still important even if we don’t give up our day job as all the early disciples did.

    Note that their work was not restricted by their accommodation. They would stay in one house (Apparently this was to show respect for the hospitality given in that house and to avoid the sin of gluttony.) but they would discourse with the whole community. The main mission (vv 8-12) is to “the town” as a whole rather than to the house. Gnostics might have restricted their message to a favoured few but Jesus’ words were heard by the whole community even when he addressed the 12.

    Following Maureen’s comment. The disciples had been seeing what Jesus was doing and at his command were joining in. The fact that they did it in a different location is immaterial to this although it probably stretched their comfort zones somewhat. This is all very concrete in this passage but the idea of seeing what Father is doing (in the spiritual realms) and joining in with Him to help make it happen in the physical realm is (I think) to emulate Jesus’ approach to His mission. I don’t think there is any question but that God can do stuff anywhere anytime but in order for his kingdom rule and reign to come then people need to acknowledge this and invite him to rule in their domain. We need to proclaim that Gods kingdom is coming (every knee WILL bow) and invite people to accept his rule voluntarily whilst they still have breath to do so. Of course any signs following (or preceding) the message will add a certain weight to the proclamation.

  12. Dave October 14, 2014 at 10:39 am #

    Thanks Ian, some thought provoking stuff.

    Such variety in the pages of the NT too. There is the see what Father is doing examples, but also the ‘just go’ stuff. Take the example of Paul who had prepared for mission in one context – but was redirected en-route. Perhaps it’s easier to be turned when in motion than stationary.

    In practice, the majority of times I’ve seen healing prayer ministry, including healing on the streets, few are healed of things that are medically verified without medical intervention too. Some are, but a minority. Yet, many do like to be prayed for and cared with and for, even as is in most cases, not dramatically healed. Any practice of the healing ministry I’ve seen in the UK- though engaging for church folk, doesn’t appear to have the effective authority that Jesus, the Apostles and some of the early church had. So blessing the wider communities, in practice, seems different, less ‘signs and wonders’ than in Gospels and Acts – even when talk of ‘The Power and Presence’ of God is talked about and yearned for.

    We don’t seem powerful in that way! Is it ‘an elephant in the room’?

  13. Etienne October 14, 2014 at 11:48 am #

    You may talk about Christ all the time and yearn for his power and presence, but that doesn’t mean he recognizes you as his own. Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.

    Where might the problem be? Where do I start?

    Is there a God to lend you power and presence in the first place?

    If there is, are you members of his Church?

    The Apostles could heal at will, but are your orders validly endowed with Apostolic Succession?

    Are you preaching in the name of Christ or do the various Anglican accommodations across the centuries mean you’re actually worshipping quite a different spirit?

    Does current Anglican doctrine reflect the will of the Lord or is he withholding himself because you’ve got it wrong?

    The answers to all of these questions and more could go a long way towards explaining the elephant in the room you speak of. If Christianity in general and Anglicanism in particular have such trouble convincing anyone of anything these days, and certainly don’t seem to produce miracles to order, where does the problem lie? Why has the power of Christ abandoned you? Is it all the fault of evil pagans like me, or should you be looking in the mirror for answers?

    • David Shepherd October 14, 2014 at 8:30 pm #

      In Jesus’ home-town of Nazareth, Mark relates that: ‘Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.’

      When Christ entered their synagogue, Luke also quotes Him as saying:

      ‘Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

      So, Christ certainly didn’t produce miracles on demand. I hear faint echoes in your taunt of ‘miracles to order’ of ‘If thou be the Son(s) of God, command these stones that they be made bread’.

      We point you to Christ’s response that recalls Israel’s desert training camp of the Exodus: a place of humbling dependence where provision satisfies our need and not our greed. A place of scarcity, where God’s favour sustains us with the moral backbone for us to accept that ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’.

      In the time of Elijah and Elisha, God bestowed his miracles to those who had no privileged religious heritage to dismiss thoughtlessly, instead of those too far prejudiced and cloyed with their own self-importance to respond to the miraculous. It’s very much the same today..

      In Christ’s parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the Rich man pleads with Abraham to send Lazarus back from the dead to warn his family of the prospect of eternal judgment. Surely, he thought, producing a miracle of that order would be evidence enough to precipitate their remorse:

      ‘Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

      “?‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

      “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’?” (Luke 16:29 – 31)

      He was right. Reprobates can’t realize that their judgment is the permanent custody of the forbidden desires that they can’ never give up. They think they have freedom. A bit like the freedom of a death-row in-mate’s short-lived daily walk around the prison yard.

  14. Dave Male October 15, 2014 at 12:28 pm #

    Great article and really good to see all the further discussion that has ensued.

    You raised a really important issue I have been contemplating (but have no coherent answer to) which is how far this passage and in a sense Jesus practices with his disciples is paradigmatic for mission today. Much of the current popular mission literature and conversations with leaders seems to assume this position entirely. Are there places in the rest of the NT where this paradigm described by Luke is seen clearly as the major paradigm for the church.

    I am struck by the fact that the word disciple is not used outside the Gospels and Luke and I wonder what were the paradigms that for example guided Paul? Did he simply want to reproduce the sending out of the 70 or did he somehow use the principles in varying ways in very different contexts.

    Hoping you can help me Ian :))

    • Ian Paul October 15, 2014 at 2:49 pm #

      I think Paul displaces the language of ‘disciple’ with the language of ‘saints’, and I wonder the extent to which this is a function of moving from a Jewish to a more gentile culture.

      I think Mike Breen would argue that we see this pattern all over Jesus and Paul’s ministry:
      . the woman at the well in John 4
      . the man born blind in John 9
      . the Ethopian eunuch in Acts 8
      . Lydia and the Philippian jailor in Acts 16
      . Sosthenes in Acts 18 (see intro 1 Cor)

      I suspect there are others. This might tie in with Richard Bauckham’s idea about names in the NT too. He argues that individuals are named, not because of their importance in the story, but because they would have been known as leaders in Christian communities.

    • Ian Paul October 15, 2014 at 2:50 pm #

      I should perhaps add to that the long list of individuals in Romans 16 as evidence that Paul worked with and invested in key individuals, many of whom ended up in, or had come from, Rome.

  15. David Shepherd October 15, 2014 at 5:56 pm #

    Ian,

    As always, you’ve made great points. Nevertheless, I might nit-pick about this bit:

    ‘In other works, the workers are willing but the harvest does not appear to be ready. Jesus here says exactly the opposite; the harvest is there, and ready, and all that is needed is for workers to go out and reap it!’

    The difference between our nation at this time and theirs was the preparation through the numerous prophets that preceding Jesus’ ministry. Jesus’ highlight this groundwork.

    John expands on Luke’s quotation: ‘Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”

    The last plural can’t refer to Jesus alone. The church is ‘built upon the apostles and prophets, Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone’.

    As the Prophets ministered, it would appear that they wondered whether they might reap that vision foretelling of the Messiah’s glory. St. Peter reminds us:

    ‘Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow.

    It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.’ (1 Pet. 1:10 – 12)

    The seed of the gospel had been sown by the Prophets, revealed in Jesus’ ministry and the harvest was now ready for reaping.

    Our mission is more like that of Corinth, where even the foundation of the church’s mission needs to be established.

    St. Paul explained of the ministry to Corinth: ‘I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.’

    As you are aware, by comparison with the start of Jesus’ ministry in Palestine, planting the seed in Corinth was hard work from the outset. Those in the synagogue rejected Paul’s assertions from scripture that Jesus was their promised Messiah. That led to Paul set up a separate teaching center next door.

    His detractors tried to get him arrested by the civil authorities on trumped up charges. It was only supernatural reassurance that made him stay on there for a year and a half.

    Then along comes learned Apollos, an itinerant Egyptian who is exceptionally knowledgeable of scripture and with a bit of mentoring from Priscilla and Aquila is able to accept the commission by the Ephesian church to water the Corinthian Christians…and God gave the increase.

    Mission, though difficult, will succeed as we support those, like yourself, with courage to do what Paul did and separate their ministries from those who relentlessly reject the sound consequences of the gospel.

    Mission, though difficult, will succeed when we have the courage to mentor and commission those with an unconventional calling but obvious gifting, regardless of their lack of mainstream approval, heritage, or pedigree, just as Priscilla, Aquila and Ephesus did.

    God bless your ministry. Hope this helps.

  16. Etienne October 15, 2014 at 7:43 pm #

    @ David Shepherd…

    So if Bible stories are all the evidence we need for God, then why aren’t Quran stories all the evidence we need for Allah?

    If it’s a matter of chronology, then why don’t you believe in the Hindu Vedas or the gods described in the Epic of Gilgamesh?

    The truth of the matter is that you believe in the Christian God because you were born in the place you were born in at the time you were born. Had you been born in Iraq or Saudi Arabia, you’d be telling me there is one God and his name is Allah. Had you been born in India, you’d be trying to persuade me that God is blue and has multiple sets of arms. Your beliefs have been conditioned into you by your family, the surrounding culture and the unique circumstances of your life.

    The difference between you and me is that I reject that conditioning. My family and culture tried to condition heterosexuality into me too, which I was forced to reject when I realized I experienced no sexual attraction to women. They also tried to condition a revulsion for homosexuality into me, which again I rejected because the only sexual attraction I experience is towards other men and I don’t find it revolting at all. Quite the reverse, in fact…

    I’ve also rejected Christian conditioning. Part of the reason is because it requires me to live a life of celibate misery, but mainly it’s because I just don’t believe in God. Who is this arbitrary and vengeful deity that we cannot see, hear, feel, smell, taste or sense in any way, but who must be constantly placated like some kind of interfering busybody of a school principal? The only proof I have that he exists is a set of ancient writings, which are no more convincing than any other set of ancient writings. I’m supposed to accept them because people like you tell me I must. But quite frankly I see no reason to accept your opinion over anybody else’s. You’ve shown no proof of a superior mind or any kind of admirable character trait. Going by your posts, all you know how to do is harangue people and tell them how evil they are. But you can’t bully people into faith. If that’s your idea of mission, don’t expect the converts to come rushing in.

    You talk of freedom, but it seems to me that real freedom is found in the ability to examine a belief system and to accept or reject it based on the proof presented. Christians like you present no proof at all, just assertions and threats. The words of Moses and the prophets have nothing of evidential proof about them. They’re just stories backed up by no corroborating evidence. Show me a miracle however, like someone I know to be dead coming back to life, and my skepticism would be truly challenged. Would I look for alternative explanations? Of course I would. Do you think I would welcome belief in a God who condemns me to live in celibate misery for the rest of my life? I’d try every possible way to wriggle out of it. But if I were confronted with incontrovertible proof of his existence, intellectual honesty would compel me to believe. There’s no way around that.

    Of course belief doesn’t necessarily entail salvation. If he exists, the Devil must surely believe in God. But his eternal soul won’t benefit from that fact. And mine probably wouldn’t either. Proof of God’s existence would not necessarily be proof of his benevolence. And how is it possible to love a malignant God? How do you love your torturer? If I’m suddenly confronted with the proof that God exists and wants me to live in celibate misery for the rest of my life, how do I conform to that demand without hating and resenting him for it? And surely if I hate and resent God, I’m just as damned as I would be if I didn’t believe in him at all.

    So perhaps God is withholding proof of his existence from me as a form of grace. Not believing he’s there means I can live my life without being consumed by hatred and fear of him. I may be going to hell, but at least I get to experience a bit of happiness here, whereas if I believed in him I’d be miserable AND doomed.

    As it is, I’m not miserable. And I believe that when I die, I will simply cease to exist. Which seems like true freedom to me. My life had a beginning and I was not conscious before that moment. It will have an end and I will not be conscious after that. My time is now, so I must live in this moment rather than worrying about a post-mortem future that will never exist.

  17. David Shepherd October 15, 2014 at 10:37 pm #

    Etienne,

    So, you were guided by your sexual predisposition towards men to reject your parents’ attempts to re-orient you to become heterosexual. I’d probably have done the same.

    You have framed your rejection of God as a rejection of Christian conditioning because, according to you, the Deity must be discernible to all by direct natural means alone and free from any capacity for the kind of retributive justice with which you disagree.

    My own faith was triggered, but did not evolve through the written word alone. I listened to a bunch of well-meaning, but inarticulate Christians who tried to describe their supernatural encounter with God. What happened to me, later and alone, was just as formative of my Christian identity as yours were formative of your gay identity. Why are experiences along the road to discovering one’s sexual identity equally open to charges of psychological conditioning.

    Yet, we are all, including you, influenced by experiences, peers and culture. So, what would happen if we subjected your own assertions about the correctness of your re-conditioning to the same comparative scrutiny? Oh, I know: ‘Etienne’s are about his sexual orientation and therefore objective, whereas Dave’s are religious and therefore purely subjective and culturally conditioned’…(Yeah, right!)

    According to what you’ve said of cultural influence and upbringing, had you grown up in a culture in which religion recounted that God’s power only intervene to overthrow the sort of immorality with which you disagree, that would only support and affirm your sexual orientation, then your remaining objection would be to His transcendence. And that’s because any Deity that is not immediately discernible to all humans in unmediated form at all times does not exist.

    So, let’s see…A god who affirms your sexual orientation, whose interventions completely agree with your morality and who is non-transcendent. Oh, I know…that’s just a description of you.

  18. Etienne October 16, 2014 at 9:13 am #

    @ David Shepherd

    And a God who affirms YOUR sexual orientation, whose interventions completely agree with YOUR morality and who is transcendent. Oh, I know … that’s just a description of your own idealized vision of yourself.

    I do not make God in my own image. I don’t make him in any image at all because I don’t believe he exists. When I theorize about what he might be like if he really did exist, I’m speculating on the nature of a fictional character come to life. The phantom I talk about is based on other people’s descriptions of God seen through a rational lens. The phantom you talk about is the idealized reflection of yourself seen in some kind of perfecting looking glass.

    My sexuality can be objectively discerned based on my physiological responses to stimuli. Your God is a creation that can only be mediated by your conscious mind. You base your fantasy on what you’ve read in a book, but you only read that book because you grew up where you did. Had you grown up elsewhere and read a different book, your God would be a very different creature. And I choose that word very carefully. “Creature”. I believe you have created God, not exactly in your own image (because your narcissism is tinged with enough reality to understand that God as David Shepherd would be a pretty poor God), but rather as an idealized version of yourself. Not you as you are but you as you’d like to be. And then you bow down and worship that image. Oh my…

    You know, I don’t really object to seeing you fall to your knees in awe at the wonder that is you perfected. It might provoke a wry smile and make me roll my eyes, but at the end of the day every individual has the right to believe what he or she wants to believe, no matter how cringe-worthy that belief may be. What bothers me is when you try and pull me to my knees and make me worship you too. That’s just narcissism, on a scale so large it becomes quite sinister.

    Had we been having this conversation a century ago, that narcissism would have made life very difficult for me. Nowadays it’s really just annoying more than anything else. We live in a society that’s starting to leave the childish obsession with self-deification behind. Those who refuse to give it up are increasingly seen as out-of-touch and irrelevant. To the point where the Church, as a group of people who’ve agreed to a form of collective narcissism and self-worship, is starting to feel deeply uncomfortable and even embarrassed about what it believes. This is an encouraging sign. When you see a synod full of Catholic bishops start to backtrack on centuries of homophobic doctrine by admitting that gay relationships have at least SOME positive characteristics, you know the penny is starting to drop. Sure, a few conservatives will dig their heels in, but the Church as a whole is moving steadily towards enlightenment. We’re seeing it happen in the US Episcopalian Church and the early stages are also visible in the Church of England. Even Rome is starting to creak along the same path. I confidently predict that a century from now Christianity will be very different religion, to the point where the word “religion” may not even properly describe it. I won’t be here to see it, but I can see the trajectory, which is enough for me.

  19. David Shepherd October 16, 2014 at 10:37 am #

    @Etienne,

    Given that you only know my sexual orientation identity and not my sexual orientation, it’s a bit premature to suggest that God affirms my sexual orientation. Neither can you assume that I’ve not had to wrestle with aspects of the divine that disagree with my morality. So, the only part of your latest salvo that might be on target is the fact that I consider God to be transcendent, rather than corporeal.

    There are many Christians whom I’ve met, who consider God to be far from an idealized version of themselves. Every aspect of an omnipotent otherness can challenge our preciously held notions time and time again. Who knows? Perhaps, there’s something of the voice of God in what you’re saying. The difference is that I’m open to that idea. You’re open to nothing, but your belief that your rational lens is entirely objective and that your derision will take root. Why else would you waste your time around Christians on a mission as hopeless as any chance of converting you.

    ‘The phantom I talk about is based on other people’s descriptions of God seen through a rational lens.’ Again, the issue here is that you consider that rational lens of yours to be free from any prejudices of your own. How comforting that must be!

    You claim: ‘My sexuality can be objectively discerned based on my physiological responses to stimuli.’ So what? Does that mean that sexual behaviour is predicated upon no more than the determinism of physiological response? What of those in committed relationships who can physiologically respond to stimuli from outsiders? Unless we distinguish the sexual behaviour from the predispositions that arise from physiological responses to stimuli, we would all be incapable of nothing more than instinct.

    The reality is that sexual commitment occurs and it shows that humans are actually capable of making decisions about behaviour that may well be at odds with objective physiological responses to stimuli. Are those decisions about commitment objectively, or subjectively determined?

    Well, it’s probably a bit of both. What I don’t buy is the idea that your sexual behaviour is entirely objectively determined because it tracks the discernible physiological response to stimuli.

    So, your charges about the subjectivity of my religious experiences and choices are equally applicable to decisions about sexual behaviour. Neither has to particularly track our objective physiological experiences.

    You’ve made subjective, culturally-conditioned choices about how your sexual identity relates to your physiological responses to stimuli. Had you been born in a Muslim country, your choices would probably have been entirely different.

    What’s truly cringe-worthy is the idea that sexuality (which includes sexual behaviour) should be completely predicated upon what is ‘objectively discerned based on physiological responses to stimuli’.

    Go tell that to separately raised siblings who experience the Westermarck effect of Genetic Sexual Attraction.

  20. Etienne October 16, 2014 at 6:06 pm #

    @ David Shepherd

    My sexuality is a proven thing based on measurable phenomena. Flash a photograph of an attractive man in front of my eyes and my body will respond. Do the same with a photograph of a woman and it will not. Ergo my sexual orientation is exclusively homosexual, whether I act upon it or not. That’s not opinion. It’s fact.

    Your God is an unproven thing based on your opinion. There is no known experiment that can be performed to prove his existence. Ergo, at the very best, your God is an unproven hypothesis. That’s also not opinion. It’s fact.

    You can choose to do whatever you like with an unproven hypothesis. You can accept it or reject it, or you can put it to one side and wait for data that either confirms or refutes it. I’m in the latter camp, although I suspect that proof will never be found quite simply because there’s none to find. That is, of course, an opinion rather than a fact. However I freely admit this and, if shown proof of God’s existence in the form of measurable phenomena that admit of no other explanation, I am quite ready to start believing in him. I am therefore as open-minded as it’s possible to be while still remaining rational, whereas your mind is completely closed to anything except your irrational and emotional response towards an unsubstantiated and fantastic story.

    Want to change my mind? Show me some facts. Do I want to change your mind? No. I couldn’t if I tried. I have no emotional and irrational superstitions to throw at you, and as your beliefs seem to be predicated solely on what you feel rather than the facts in front of you, nothing I can say could ever change your mind.

    If I interact with Christians, it’s solely for the purpose of reminding them that they do not have the right to decide my morality or my behavior for me. If they’d just mind their own business and get on with their own lives rather than trying to interfere in mine, they would never hear from me again.

    • David Shepherd October 16, 2014 at 11:25 pm #

      ‘My sexuality is a proven thing based on measurable phenomena’. Yep. So is genetic sexual attraction. Again, so what?

      Let’s explore the ‘whether I act upon it or not’ to the same extent that you’ve been describing your orientation experience. It’s the choice to act (or not) that determines behaviour, not your sexual predisposition. Just as it does for those experiencing genetic sexual attraction.

      So, let’s say that someone experiencing genetic sexual attraction doesn’t act upon it. They may be motivated by law, by culture, or by the fact that incest undermines responsible natural kinship structure. There are valid subjective and objective issues that come into play.

      The fact that the Bible underscores that principle explains the purpose of scripture. It’s not supposed to supplant our reasoning process; it’s meant to reinforce it by challenging us to asking the question ‘why?’

      Christ told the Rich Young Ruler that if he always did what was morally resilient, he’d be okay. Of course, Jesus then proceeded to test the young man’s moral resilience. The special pleadings for same-sex relationships are not morally resilient. Any comparison with other sexual predispositions is never explored.

      In respect of behaviour, there are people who follow gospel morality all over the world and in different cultures, even without being able to articulate it in exact accordance with their religious tradition. It’s what they do and the rationale behind it that matters. As St. Paul puts it: ‘(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law.’ (Romans 2:14)

      St.Paul was happy to quote from Aratus and even Cleanthes hymn to Zeus. They represented as much light as his hearers had received.

      Christ himself speaks of those who will ask, ‘”Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ (Matt. 25:37)

      These are people who know to do good and do it, even when there no audience. These are people who can reflect remorsefully on their mistakes and seek help to change. These are people who show forbearance towards their enemies, but still believe in retributive justice when a person becomes irretrievably hardened and a danger to others.

      In terms of needing proof before action, you’re probably aware of the Drake equation used to estimate the number of active, communicative extraterrestrial civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy.: N=R* fp ne fl fi ft L

      Where

      R* = the birth rate of stars in our galaxy, number per year

      fp = the fraction of stars with planet

      ne = the number of planets per solar system that are suitable for life

      fl = the fraction of such planets that actually spawn life

      fi = the fraction of planets with life that evolve intelligent life

      ft = the fraction of planets with intelligent life that produce technologically capable life

      L = the average lifetime (in years) of a technological society

      Values for the last four are still speculative. The equation proves nothing. Yet, based on such a speculative outcome, the SETI project was set up and is estimated to have expended $10 million a year until mothballed in 2011.

      You might say that, for the time that it was in operation, NASA’s scientific minds were also completely closed to anything except the irrational and emotional superstitions that the odds of finding E-T’s cousins were a lot better than they actually were. Now that’s blind faith.

      At the time of SETI’s closure, I remember an atheist asking me to tell him what SETI had proved by the time it was lost NASA funding. I answered: ‘Nothing’. He replied: ‘No. It eliminates those parts of the galaxy that we have explored. It also proves that the life is out might not be discernible by our current technology.’ $10 million a year of tax-payers’ money on a hypothesis that can’t be falsified.

      Yet, somehow I doubt that you’ve sought to heap the same derision on Professor Steven Hawking’s irrational, but highly influential views about extra-terrestrial life that you appear to reserve for Christian belief. The resulting prioritization of such ‘science’ is no less a moral choice (that directs our abilities and resources) than decisions about sexual behaviour.

      No, Christians don’t have the right to decide your morality. Life will do that. Look at Table 24 of the 2010 Gay Men’s Sex Survey. It speaks volumes about same-sex morality and its cost.

      After 5 years of Civil Partnership recognition, 63.6% (age 18 – 49) of the 15456 sample (taken from across the UK) had more than one sex partner in the last year. Also, 67.1% of the sample didn’t communicate their HIV status prior to or during sex with last non-steady male sexual partner. Unsafe-sex all round.

      By comparison, a predominantly heterosexual sample of 15162 men and women in National Surveys of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles-3 showed an average of only 9.3% of women and 14.9% of men who had more than one sex partner in the last year.

      And you think the ‘writing on the wall’ is for Christianity!

      • Etienne October 17, 2014 at 12:47 am #

        @ David Shepherd

        While I’m looking at the 2010 Gay Men’s Sex Survey, maybe you should consult the latest figures for women’s reproductive health. You’ll see that up to a third of women who have given birth will suffer from vaginal prolapse, a serious health issue. Speaks volumes about heterosexual morality, doesn’t it, that it maims one woman in three who engage in it?

        Sex is not without risk for anyone, gay or straight. If you highlight the risks of gay sex while ignoring the far greater risks of straight sex, all you’re doing is exposing the basic homophobia of your manipulative and dishonest agenda for all to see.

        But I guess this is all part and parcel of the wonderful Christian morality you’re so proud of…

        • David Shepherd October 17, 2014 at 8:52 am #

          @ Etienne:

          I’m surprised at you. Surely, a person of your intellectual stature could come up with something better than an ersatz comparison.

          On the one hand, we have a risk of prolapse incurred in furtherance of the next generation and, incidentally, in furtherance of improving the genetic (allele) diversity of the human race.

          You compare this with the risk of HIV-infection caused by the proven higher promiscuity among gay men and non-disclosure of HIV status to homosexual partners.

          So, for that comparison to hold, you are asserting that the relatively higher health risks incurred by greater promiscuity and the lack of sexual health disclosure among homosexuals are part of a purpose that is as essential to homosexuality and to mankind as reproduction.

          You’re just being intellectually dishonest now and trying to pass it off as anti-homophobic indignation. I really shouldn’t have expected more of you, but I did.

          • Etienne October 17, 2014 at 10:37 am #

            @ David Shepherd

            You tell me that gay sex is morally wrong because gay men have higher rates of HIV infection than heterosexuals. You fail to note that lesbians have far lower rates, but this doesn’t surprise me considering your dismissive attitude towards women’s reproductive health in general. I mean, who cares if straight sex kills and maims so many women? Babies make it all OK, so the vaginal prolapse and other issues that so many of their mothers suffer from is actually a moral good. Even death in childbirth can’t make straight sex morally wrong because what is a woman’s life worth in comparison to that of her husband’s child?

            Well, transforming straight men into patriarchs might validate the sacrifice of a woman’s life or health in your eyes. One assumes you believe this is what women are here to do. But all I see are the statistics. Straight women are far more likely than LGBT individuals to suffer from health problems due to the sex they have. So if health problems are an indication of the moral worth of different kinds of sex, the heterosexual variety is unarguably the most morally troubling. A definite indication, to use your logic, that God must frown on it.

            It seems to me that babies do not wash away all sins. Paul himself said that it’s better to remain celibate and unmarried. If the primary concern of God is to prevent the human race from dying out, why this emphasis on behavior that cannot possibly contribute towards its continuance? If a woman who eschews heterosexual activity and concentrates on worshipping God is much more worthy in his eyes than her married sister who pumps babies out at regular intervals, what does that say about the morality of straight sex?

            Whichever way you look at it, straight sex is dangerous. And if the level of danger is an indication of how moral or immoral an activity is, straight sex must surely be one of the most immoral things you can do. Married or unmarried, it makes no difference. A wedding ring will not protect you from vaginal prolapse, or pre-eclampsia, or puerperal fever.

            So if you judge the morality of gay sex based on possible health problems, you have to do the same with straight sex. Any comparison will show that straight sex is far and away the more harmful of the two. Whether you have a baby to show for it or not doesn’t make any difference to the level of harm sustained. Mothers with babies will be just as dead from the effects of postpartum sepsis as any gay (or straight) man could be from AIDS. So if the wrath of God is measured in the health consequences of various kinds of sexual activity, I’d rather be a gay man than a straight woman. He must really have it in for them considering how much they have to go through.

          • David Shepherd October 17, 2014 at 11:51 am #

            ‘You tell me that gay sex is morally wrong because gay men have higher rates of HIV infection than heterosexuals.’

            Straw man. I actually said: ‘No, Christians don’t have the right to decide your morality. Life will do that.’

            I then proceeded to show how statistically higher promiscuity rates and non-disclosure of HIV are preventable risks that the provision of civil partnerships (as a supposed commitment device) hasn’t significantly reduced. Your counter-argument was the comparison wasn’t that, if only heterosexuals stopped having straight sex.

            No. It was that if only women reproducing (a capacity that many gays and lesbians actually still want), then uterine prolapse would also be preventable.

            I wonder if you realize how inane your comparison is.

            I rest my case. You no longer deserve the benefit of the doubt. Your rank prejudice against any challenge that unsettles your fixed notions is clear for everyone here to see. Find an intellectual pygmy who can’t see through your impotent sophistry.

          • David Shepherd October 17, 2014 at 11:54 am #

            @ Etienne:

            ‘You tell me that gay sex is morally wrong because gay men have higher rates of HIV infection than heterosexuals.’

            Straw man. I actually said: ‘No, Christians don’t have the right to decide your morality. Life will do that.’

            I then proceeded to show how statistically higher promiscuity rates and non-disclosure of HIV are preventable risks that the provision of civil partnerships (as a supposed commitment device) hasn’t significantly reduced. Your counter-argument wasn’t the comparison that, if only heterosexuals stopped having straight sex…

            No. It was that if only women stopped reproducing (a capacity that many gays and lesbians actually still want), then uterine prolapse would also be preventable.

            I wonder if you realize how inane your comparison is.

            I rest my case. You no longer deserve the benefit of the doubt. Your rank prejudice against any challenge that unsettles your fixed notions is clear for everyone here to see.

            Find an intellectual pygmy who can’t see through your impotent sophistry.

  21. David Shepherd October 16, 2014 at 8:09 pm #

    @ Etienne,

    The reality of genetic sexual attraction is no less any more than I do the reality of genetic sexual attraction.

  22. Etienne October 17, 2014 at 12:32 am #

    @ David Shepherd

    If you’re concerned by the plight of people who experience genetic sexual attraction, perhaps you should involve yourself in pastoral outreach towards them … if you can find anyone to reach out to. It’s a vanishingly rare phenomenon.

    I myself will not venture to comment on the morality of their relationships. As a general principle I accept the incest laws as they stand on the grounds that the greater interest of mankind is served by dissuading inbreeding. But if sibling couples want to challenge that and can present cogent and persuasive arguments in favour of allowing them to marry and have children, I’m ready to listen to them. Until I have, I can’t tell you whether I could be persuaded to support their cause.

    The situation of these people has no bearing on the morality of gay relationships however. The reasons why we try to prevent closely related people from engaging in sexual relationships do not apply to gay couples. We can’t produce children, therefore inbreeding is not an issue. And there is no fraternal bond to render a marital relationship inappropriate. There is therefore no compelling reason to prevent gay couples from acting on the sexual and emotional attractions we feel. Religious bigotry cannot be allowed to nullify the right of others to order their lives as they see fit.

    • David Shepherd October 17, 2014 at 9:23 am #

      @ Etienne:

      ‘The reasons why we try to prevent closely related people from engaging in sexual relationships do not apply to gay couples. We can’t produce children, therefore inbreeding is not an issue.’

      Here, we should distinguish legality and morality. I’m not sure why you compare legal endorsement arguments against incest legally with morality arguments against homosexual relationships.

      In terms of legal endorsement, inbreeding depression can be ameliorated by genetic screening and it’s used in some US States where cousin marriage is permitted.

      The reason that incest is still banned among closer family members, such as siblings, is not the threat of inbreeding depression. The impact of that minority on the wider society would be minimal. The reason for banning incest is that, even among consenting adults, it undermines the legal responsibilities and rights of natural kinship.

      While same-sex couples are unable to jointly produce children, the case law, that I quoted in an earlier post, demonstrates that incapacity doesn’t stop them trying, through marriage law, to assert the two-parent model to justify their claims to be automatic co-parents of each other’s children and at the expense of the willing natural parenthood. Strange tactics, for those whose reproductive arrangements reject the two-parent model, eh?

      As far as legal endorsement is concerned, the ultimate consequence of both incestuous and same-sex marriage is the same: if legally endorsed as marriage, they undermine the legal responsibilities and rights of natural kinship.

  23. Ian Paul October 17, 2014 at 11:54 am #

    Gents, I wonder if this discussion—not actually related to the post—has run its course now…

    • David Shepherd October 17, 2014 at 6:23 pm #

      Ian,

      You’re right. My opening comments in relation to this post on mission examined it in terms of:
      1. ‘Miracles to order’ as proof of divine affirmation;
      2. Comparisons with Christ’s assurance about readiness for reaping.

      The responses to those comments had little to do with the church’s missionary stance and more to do with atheist and LGB advocacy.

      I just tested those responses (as any other commenter here would) and proved them wanting. Happy to move on.

  24. Etienne October 17, 2014 at 12:26 pm #

    “Gents, I wonder if this discussion—not actually related to the post—has run its course now…”

    Fine by me. Brick walls have never been my preferred partners in conversation.

    Interesting though that you refer to us by the euphemism commonly used to describe a men’s lavatory. I’m not quite sure how to take that. Shall I just put it down to the English language’s well-known clumsiness and lack of elegance, or are there darker forces at work here?

    Tant pis ma chère gerçure, je ne vous en veux pas du tout …

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