Learning from the case of Jean Vanier

Jean Vanier was a French-Canadian Roman Catholic lay philosopher and theologian, until recently best known for his establishment of the network of L’Arche communities that aimed to integrate the lives of the able-bodied with the disabled, so that each learned from and supported the other. He was originally an academic, completing a PhD on Aristotle in Paris, and he wrote over 30 books. But rather than continuing in academia, he sought a more ‘spiritual’ ministry; through a priest Father Thomas Philippe, he became aware of the plight of those with mental disabilities who were institutionalised, and his invitation to two men from one such institution to come and live with him formed the basis of the first L’Arche community in Trosly-Breuil in France. There are now 147 such communities around the world.

Vanier’s work was of remarkable significance in a world which appears to have an increasingly utilitarian approach to human worth. You are welcome, we are told, if you can contribute something economically and practically to the world—but if not, you are worth little. In an age where those with Down’s syndrome can be aborted without question of their dignity and rights, and where migration is based on economic worth, this is a startling and counter-cultural message. But it was not just Vanier’s work that impressed people; it was the radiance of his own personality that went along with it. The tribute paid by Justin Welby when he died last year articulates this powerfully:

Jean Vanier lived the Gospel in such a beautiful way that few who met him could fail to be caught up in it. I join countless people around the world in deep sorrow at his death, and great gratitude for his life. His generosity of spirit and Christian hospitality embraced the whole world – supremely those with learning difficulties. His L’Arche communities were places for the so-called weak to teach the self-perceived strong.

His love for Christ overflowed into every relationship with abundant grace. To meet him was to love him, to be loved – and in turn to love all others he loved. Such a luminous goodness was combined with humour, wisdom and practicality. His goodness was also combined with learning; his lyrical commentary on St John’s Gospel is the most beautiful piece of writing.

I had the privilege of spending time with him on several occasions, and always came away with a sense that here was someone whose whole way of being spoke of the goodness of God.

If that was the impression of someone who only met him, then it is hard to imagine the shock for those who worked with him closely and knew him well, and those working in L’Arche, at the news last week that he had for thirty-five years had a series of coercive sexual relationships with six women in France. In fact, his friend and mentor Father Thomas Philippe had been guilty of abuse, and Vanier had denied knowledge of this even though he knew about this, probably as early as the 1950s. The L’Arche community appear to have handled this all impeccably; contrary to most reports, they did not investigate the claims of the six women (made independently from one another) internally, but brought in an outside agency to investigate, and then made the results known (an approach that other institutions could learn from).

The investigation was carried out by GCPS, an independent British consultancy specialising in abuse prevention and reporting systems to investigate further. They also looked into his historical link to Father Thomas Philippe, whom Jean named as his spiritual father…

There is nothing in the investigation to suggest that Jean Vanier harmed people with disabilities.

Professor Irene Tuffrey-Wijne was profoundly shaped by joining a L’Arche community in London when she first came to the UK, and went on to become a professor in intellectual disabilities and palliative care, shares the sense of shock and disorientation.

Here is some seriously bad news. A man who was loved by thousands, respected by millions, a man who has inspired people across the world and who has articulated values that so many people (including myself) have taken to heart – that man turns out to have been a serial sexual abuser…

Learning of Jean’s sexually and spiritually abusive behaviour makes us feel deeply betrayed, sickened, confused, ashamed (how could this happen under our noses? Are we ourselves tainted by implication?). Distressed beyond words for the women who suffered…

This was going to affect so many people in so many different ways. The shock and betrayal. The breaking of trust. But also the echoes: many people in L’Arche have themselves been victims of sexual abuse. As with a death, when painful memories of previous losses are forced to the surface, news about sexual abuse is bound to evoke people’s own memories of being abused.

We pray in this moment not only for the six women, but for those in the L’Arche communities who will be profoundly distressed by these revelations.

But alongside praying, we would do well to reflect. Why is it that the apparently saintly can still fall in this way? How do we perceive and treat them in such a way that this is allowed to happen? I was struck by the comment of ‘Digital Nun’, who is a member of a small Catholic cloistered community, about how Vanier was revered:

I was once at a meeting where Jean Vanier spoke. What he said was inspiring, but I felt uncomfortable at the way he was being treated. At any moment, I thought, someone is going to genuflect before him. Happily, no-one did, but it was clear that no-one was going to challenge anything he said, either. Every word was received as incontrovertible wisdom. The sense of santo subito [‘make him a saint!’] in the room was palpable.

This sense of unquestioning reverence had a direct impact on the power of Vanier to coerce the six women:

One of the women described to investigators the power that Vanier had over her and others: “I was like frozen, I realised that Jean Vanier was adored by hundreds of people, like a living Saint”…

What they had in common was that Vanier, who never married, held great psychological sway over them, the report stated. Often, he was their spiritual adviser. “The relationships … are described as emotionally abusive and characterised by significant imbalances of power, whereby the alleged victims felt deprived of their free will and so the sexual activity was coerced or took place under coercive conditions,” the report stated.

One victim said Vanier told her: “This is not us, this is Mary and Jesus. You are chosen, you are special, this is secret.”

In response to this, Sarah Bingham, who is a Baptist minister, commented online:

We need to stop putting people on pedestals – everyone is fallible. Barth lived with a woman for years but never married her… Bishops and theologians and ministers and visionaries have all been found wanting. We will never know whether they were racked with guilt over it, or considered it their due, but we do know they, as we, will need to look God in the face and talk about it.

I think we can use people as milestones… ‘I’d like to pray as well as…, I’d like to be as compassionate as …, I’d like to be as organised as …’, but perhaps no one should be a complete role model except the God-man we’re following?

This comment has a striking resonance with Jesus’ own teaching about our attitude to one another, calling for a radically egalitarian attitude to those in the Christian community:

But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ. He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted (Matt 23.8–12 RSV).

This is very striking, given that Jesus himself has called the Twelve and commissioned them—but he is very clear that it is his teaching that they pass on, and not their status, that is important. And alongside putting everyone, from the greatest to the least, in the community that he is forming on the same level, he is elevating himself above them all. The only one they should look to as above reproach, and the source of all authoritative teaching, is Jesus himself.

At the weekend, a friend who had worked with John Stott speculated what it would be like for evangelicals to discover some scandal about Stott—that is something of the impact of this for Catholics. My own hero from teenage years was David Watson—but Watson took seriously this teaching of Jesus. Despite his remarkable ministry of evangelism and teaching, he refused to allow people to revere him, and always said that, in a group setting, everyone together sat at the feet of Jesus, including himself; no-one sat at his feet. I think I was quite aware early on that he was not a perfect figure, and in the following years I came to take a different view from him on a number of issues—surely a sign of his healthy attitude to influence and power.

And this approach is modelled by the apostle Paul. In his ministry, he always worked with others. In his letters, he never exerts his authority as an apostle, but seeks to appeal and persuade. And in Romans 16, he lists the women and men with whom he has worked in partnership—and from whom he has learned and benefited, making special mention of those who are ahead of him in the faith.

This leads to some important practical considerations about sin, influence and power. One is how we receive the teaching and ministry of flawed and fallen human leaders. Article XXVI of the XXXIX Articles holds together both the need for discipline but also the value of ministry even by ‘evil men’. The logic here is that any ministry and teaching of real spiritual value has its origins in Jesus, and not in the individual concerned.

Although in the visible Church the evil be ever mingled with the good, and sometimes the evil have chief authority in the Ministration of the Word and Sacraments, yet forasmuch as they do not the same in their own name, but in Christ’s, and do minister by his commission and authority, we may use their Ministry, both in hearing the Word of God, and in receiving of the Sacraments…

Nevertheless, it appertaineth to the discipline of the Church, that inquiry be made of evil Ministers, and that they be accused by those that have knowledge of their offences; and finally being found guilty, by just judgement be deposed.

In our media age, where sexual abuse is the unforgivable sin, it is sad but inevitable that all Vanier’s writing is to be immediately withdrawn by its publishers. But it would be a double tragedy if the work of the L’Arche communities was allowed to be similarly tainted.

Article XXVI also highlights some strange elements of our other debates about the relationship between sexuality and ministry. Again in the last week I have been told (as I have heard numerous times before) that, because people in same-sex partnerships enjoy fruitful ministry and lead growing churches, this shows that we should change our understanding of marriage and confirm the holiness of such relationships. I wonder how that would look if applied to the ministry and relationships of Vanier?

In terms of ministerial practice, there has been much derision of evangelicals who follow the so-called Billy Graham rule, where male leaders avoid spending time alone with unmarried women (though I think in the practice of people like Nicky Gumbel of HTB, this would extend to avoiding time alone with any woman). Yet it is sobering to note that, had Vanier followed this rule, his coercive relationships would never have happened. The BG rule doesn’t just protect men’s reputations; it was protects women from abuse. (For a good critique of its use in practice, where it is used to exclude women, see this guest post by Kate Wharton.)

That in turn might lead us to reflect on the differences between men and women. Why is it that so much damage is done by powerful men? Moving beyond our sense of existential despair at the continued damage that is done, there is actually a serious answer to this. In terms of personality description offered by the OCEAN or ‘Big Five’ personality inventory, men tend to be lower in ‘agreeableness’ and in ‘neuroticism’; in other words, they are often more focussed on changing the world, and less bothered about what people think about them. That can be wonderful, if you are wanting to start a movement that fundamentally challenges the dominant values of the world you live in. But it also makes it much easier for you to coerce people in private.

Add to that differences in physical strength, the physical and sexual drive in men created by the presence of testosterone, and the physical and emotional vulnerability of women, and you can see reasons why we need structures of social relating that must take these issues into account. The average man has 40% greater upper body strength than the average woman, and leaders in all walks of life are taller and larger than average; I am nearly 70% larger and stronger than my wife. With these physical and psychological differences, it is unhelpful wishful thinking simply to say ‘Men must stop abusing women’, as if mere will power is the answer to this. We need patterns of relationship, and in particular structures of accountability, to create spaces in which all can be safe.

We have moved from a worldview where women are the primary agents of sin, through their weakness and seduction, to a worldview where men are the primary agents of sin, through their power and coercion. I hope that the tragic case of Vanier will pull us back to the truth that ‘all have sinned’ (Rom 3.23), recognising that both women and men sin but in different ways. This sobering reality should lead us to develop pastoral practices that protect all from the effects of sin, and allows no-one to stand on a pedestal over us as infallible teacher.

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234 thoughts on “Learning from the case of Jean Vanier”

  1. This was the worst bit of news I have heard in a long time, and a large part of me hopes against hope that it isn’t true. But multiple witnesses suggest otherwise. Besides the books being withdrawn, there is a high school or two in Canada that is going to be renamed. Perhaps the paltry moral to draw from this is to not to name buildings and institutions after people until they are long, long gone. The ancient Greeks understood that in their own way: as Solon told Croesus, call no man blessed until he is dead.

    But the investigation into Vanier is one thing; how the C of E has acted is another. On the one hand, Bishop Peter Ball carried on with his abuse unchallenged because he cultivated a phony image of sanctity, based on his clothing, ostensible lifestyle and pious sounding words (of no particular profundity). On the other hand, Bishop George Bell was condemned post mortem on grounds that fell far, far short of natural justice – and Archbishop Welby dug in his heels when the injustice was uncovered, still insinuating that ‘Bell stands accused and is under a cloud’. When will we hear an apology for the awful way George Bell’s reputation was trashed by one very dubious accusation many years later, and his name torn from a school and a cathedral building, in imitation of the Romans’ ‘damnatio memoriae’?

  2. Thanks for this article. I have struggled for a while now with our obsession with Christian celebrities – putting people on pedestals. This is not to say we can’t be inspired by people, but we need to be mindful that it doesn’t turn into idolising them. There are a couple of points that I struggle with though – and I probably regret writing this for backlash or not articulating well enough. I am not sure why you saw it as necessary to include what could come across as a ‘dig’ at same sex relationships. Putting this point in the this paragraph will provoke a reaction. Are you comparing a consensual loving relationship with abuse that happened?

    The point about the BG rule is another one that I find tricky. Yes, I believe we should guard our relationships/marriages and be sensible. But to me what it says is that women are the cause temptation – no, we are human beings and in this case if a man cannot simply have a conversation with a woman on her own, it is simply not the woman’s fault – married or not doesn’t come into it really. If you follow NG’s take on it, I wouldn’t have been able to have supervision meetings with my Training Incumbent when I was a curate. And parts of what I do would not be possible.

    What stops women from getting abused is men (or women) not abusing them!

    I am not as articulate as some, this is my first comment on one of your blogs. I am not interested in a theological debate on the point I raised, just read this and couldn’t not react to those particular points raised.

    • Thanks for commenting Anika. No theological debate to come! But I don’t think it is enough simply to say ‘Men must stop abusing women’. There is always a power dynamic, as here, not least simply because e.g. men are 40% physically stronger than women.

      If we take seriously sin and temptation, then something like the BG rule is a practical restraint—on men.

      • Men are not just taller, stronger and more aggressive than women, they are also much more easily sexually aroused. And women are much more affected by appeals to their appearance and their nurturing nature. Anyone who doesn’t recognise this hasn’t been paying attention to the world. There is a clear and obvious reason why there is a great gender difference in politics today, and why most sex offenders and violent criminals are male. It’s called testosterone.

        • True, as long as we dont forget the significant number of men who have been abused, either physically or emotionally, by their female partners. It isnt just one way.

          • Yes, of course, but there’s a reason why historically women used poison while men used their hands. It’s even a trope in ancient and medieval literature. But the great majority of sexual and physical violence will always come from men.
            It’s also the reason why transgenderism is destroying women’s sports.

          • Yes: that is one of the many reasons why it is so very important not to have a default narrative in mind.

            Media and fashionable current stories and soap operas spread such default narratives to devastating effect. If for example #metoo is the current thing, how many completely unconnected situations will start being seen through the specs of #metoo?

            The use of completely general and unelaborated words like ‘abuse’ facilitates this.

      • Perhaps it is a safeguard against abuse, but it’s quite sledgehammer and nut. If this was strictly applied women wouldn’t be able to have any 1 to 1 meetings with male colleagues, clergy, contacts – meaning that we would miss out on a lot of the networking that we’re already unofficially excluded from. It isn’t equitable for women to be penalised because (some) men are abusive.

      • If a man cannot be alone with a woman without abusing her, he shouldn’t be a church leader. (Actually, he should be sectioned, or in counselling,)

        • (A) We are not talking about men who can’t ever be alone with any women, not even remotely! We are talking about men who might just once (in anything up to) 100 or 1000 times be tempted and fall – quite a difference.

          Men know men, just as women know women. Men should therefore be the ones to assess what are helpful rules for men to keep, and women for women. Men are not like women, and vice versa. We should not expect them to be. Least of all should we see our own gender as a kind of default gender.

          (B) Setting parameters is a helpful way of avoiding falling in the first place, and that applies whether one is a saint or the most miserable sinner.

          • As I understand it, the BG rule is never to be alone with a woman who is not your wife. This insults both men and women. And makes everything about sex. I often spend time with men who aren’t my husband. I never assault them.
            Being occasionally tempted is very different from being a serial abuser.

          • To read your comment it is clear that you are abiding by the modern and quite unjustifiable fashion that whatever is true of men must be true of women and vice versa. So in 5 lines you write:
            -‘both men and women’ (what is true of one is true of the other – but is it?)
            -‘makes everything about sex’ – I too hate this tendency (does anyone else loathe Freudianism and also terms like ‘the latency period’, which defines such a positive period by a negative forsooth?) but you don’t ask the question whether it is a necessary truth (and why should it be?) that men and women are precisely equally sex-oriented on average.
            -‘I often spend time with men who are not my husband etc’. Implication: what I do as a woman should be exactly the same as what a man does as a man. That can only be because there are no great differences between men and women in this respect – you are assuming. What we miss is any justification or backup for that bald assumption.
            ‘Occasionally tempted’ – yes, but who is to say how occasional things are (or are not)?

            We know that far more men are in prison, far more men commit sexual assault. Men and women have different hormone profiles. All this makes such assumptions likely to be wrong. Things that are likely to be wrong are being assumed to be right, since there is no background argument or justification, just a baseless sense that there ”must” be equality in this area. Says who? Not the evidence, that is for sure.

  3. The Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality nowhere equates same sex relationships with abuse and for you to even hint that there’s some sort of comparison to be made between a man who abused his power to spiritually and sexually exploit women on the one hand, and stable and loving relationships (regardless of whether they are doctrinally sound) on the other, is pretty awful both pastorally and theologically. I sincerely hope that you will consider revising that paragraph, or better yet, leave same sex relationships out of this discussion altogether, since they have no place in it.

    Thank you and every blessing.

    • But of course I haven’t ‘equated’ SSRs and abuse. What I have noted is the argument that ‘X has a great ministry, therefore X’s patterns of relationships must be holy’ is false, even though it is widely used.

      • I suppose people just dont want to believe the reality of evil in some people’s lives, and often turn a blind eye. But none of us are exempt.

      • I think an argument that ‘X has a great ministry, therefore X’s patterns of relationships must be holy’ would indeed be weak. However this is different from the argument that self-giving love, joy, gentleness and healing flow from certain relationships between consenting adults which do not involve betraying another partner and these might be understood as ‘good fruits’.

    • “Consent” (= saying yes to your desires) doesn’t prevent a relationship from being “abusive”. “abusive” means “using for a wrong end”. Same-sex relationships are abusive because they use the sexual drive for a wrong end, instead of their true end, which is to unite men and women in procreative marriages where children are born and nurtured. Same-sex relationships draw both parties into sinful patterns of behaviour and away from pleasing Christ. Consent may make actions legal for those over 16 but it doesn’t prevent them from being abusive in the spiritual and moral sense of that word.

        • I didn’t write the Oxford English Dictionary – or the Summa Theologiae or the Sermon on the Mount. “If thine eye offend thee …”
          But if His words offend you, that’s not my problem.

          • Surely there is a good argument for having a word such as ‘abusive’ specifically to refer to sexual behaviour which is not consensual, though that does not mean that all other sexual relationships are right? Can you not see the difference between, say, a widow and widower at an over-60s club becoming romantically involved (even if you disapprove of what is clearly non-procreative) and a gang sexually abusing a child? Abuse does tremendous damage and should not be trivialised.

          • Er yes, and a normalisation of divorce caused to no mean extent by its acceptance by the authorities who were supposed to be upholding standards. Which takes away the incentive to character, maturity and holiness. None of which you mentioned.

            It is not just divorce. Legislation normalises anything. When bad things are permitted, then bad things get normalised.

            And the poor children have not even got a mention yet.

          • Previous comment came out in the wrong place, was for Penelope.

            On ‘abusive’, yes. But none of this will ever work in a post60s sexual revolution culture. It is flogging a dead horse. Once people are expected to test the boundaries they will go too far at times especially if affected by a fickle nature, or hormones, or alcohol, or culture). Having gone too far, they have sinned against their better nature big time, and if the culture is a victim culture it will allow them to ‘blame’ the other party for what they themselves regret having done.

            It is incredible how people treat the definition of consent as a simple matter. That is why a system based on ‘consent’ is a non starter. The Christian system is based on a marriage certificate. That is clear cut. There either is or is not a marriage certificate. Look at all the proliferation of court cases we now have re matters that were behind closed doors involving 2 non unbiased people. He says – she says. How can they possibly be resolved? They could not even be resolved in a world that lacked self interest, alcohol and up and down hormones. But a marriage culture drastically cuts (and has within living memory cut) the background patterns of behaviour. How can they possibly avoid intense embarrassment to the whole families?

          • Christopher
            I am not sure which comment of mine your reply refers to, but I think you might find that alcohol (for example) has often played a part in the breakdown of relationships and societal corruption.
            Have you looked at Hogarth at all?

      • Well – exactly. Consent means saying yes to your desires (and sometimes devastating teh lives of poor family members too). How ”difficult” can that be? And yet liberals see it as not merely allowable but noble. You couldn’t make it up.

        • Of course consensual relationships can be sinful. No so-called liberal is denying that. Faithful, monogamous relationships can be sinful too. Consensual is simply a descriptor of a relationship that is not forced, e.g. rape, incest, most forms of sexual abuse. Rape and sexual abuse are always sinful.

          • Good, I’m glad you grasp that point. But ‘sinful’ is a theological word, not a legal one. One-night stands are consensual. Do you also understand why they are sinful? And why consensual adult “swingers’ parties” are sinful, and why consensual adult incest is sinful? To do so, you have to invoke the concept of God’s will and the telos or purpose of sex and the nature of marriage.

          • There are people in the world I would describe as context-fundamentalists. They claim that they think content is nothing and context is everything. More sensible people pay due attention to both.

          • Brian

            I ‘understand’ why some one night stands are immoral. As I said, some consensual relationships are sinful if they involve commerce or infidelity, or promiscuity.
            And as I have argued the telos of marriage is not solely procreation, which the CoE liturgy and teaching recognises. If it were, the Church would not allow contracepted sex, nor the marriage of infertile couples.
            Indeed, one might never know from reading the NT that the purpose of marriage was reproduction!

  4. Ian – a helpful reflection on this tragic case. Thank you. But can you please clarify what you meant by your comment … ?

    ‘I have been told that, because people in same-sex partnerships enjoy fruitful ministry and lead growing churches, this shows that we should change our understanding of marriage and confirm the holiness of such relationships. I wonder how that would look if applied to the ministry and relationships of Vanier?’

    I do not understand why you single out ss folk and their relationships here at all – let alone suggest there is a comparison to be made. But I may have misunderstood you.

    • Thanks for pointing this out, David. I also asked this but it seems my comment didn’t work or hasn’t been approved yet. I made the same point. Is it a comparison of a loving consensual relationship to abuse…?

    • Thanks David. As I have said in reply to Anika, what I have noted is the argument that ‘X has a great ministry, therefore X’s patterns of relationships must be holy’ is false, even though it is widely used.

      The only reason for mentioning it is because it is a popular argument, and was indeed said to me just the day before the Vanier revelations. I don’t here it in relation to other forms of relationship, e.g. ‘X is polyamorous, but has a great ministry, so polyamorous relationships must be ok.’ Of course, that day might come.

      Vanier’s case highlights what a very poor theological and ecclesiological argument this is.

      • Ian. Thanks but I agree with others here. The comparison with a particular group of people and their relationships who have long been judged, marginalised and excluded is at least strange, certainly insensitive and doesn’t not illustrate your point at all actually. Adding ‘polyamorous’ is just making it worse! I too wish you would revise that paragraph in an otherwise excellent piece.

        • “Karl Barth was a great theologian and for many years he lived in an adulterous relationship with his secretary. It obviously gave him great emotional satisfaction in a productive life, so God was OK with that. ‘ Discuss.

          • Gladly Brian
            I believe that however great a theologian Barth was, God was not OK with his extra marital relationship even though it was, presumably, consensual and therefore not abusive in the Peter Ball, John Smythe, Jean Vanier sense.
            I still think it’s a serious moral and theological error to conflate (as both you and Ian have done) adulterous and abusive sexual acts with the loving, consensual, faithful relationships of single sex couples.
            There is nothing new in what I am about to write, I have said it often enough on here: there is nothing intrinsically abusive in same-sex sexual intimacy (despite your assertion above). Sex doesn’t have to be procreative to be generative, as many infertile and post menopausal mixed-sex couples will testify. Nor does the liturgy of the CoE (especially in its most recent iterations) confine marital sexual activity to procreation.
            The comparison of faithless and abusive sexual acts and relationships with faithful and monogamous same-sex relationships is grossly offensive to couples whose lives show the fruits of the Spirit. The heterosexual and the celibate get a free pass until they fall from grace (and all too often beyond that fall), whilst gay people are deemed guilty simply by trying to live lives according to their mature and prayerful consciences.

          • Penelope – I was of course using ‘abusive’ in a theological-philosophical way as befits Christians. Is a man using adult prostitutes “abusing” them? Legally speaking, not at all. There is no legal case for damages here. Spiritually, of course he is. And St Paul says so clearly as well. So whatever you may think in modern legal and psychological terms (where no “harm” is detected), this is abuse because it harms the souls of both persons. But I doubt you would be sympathetic to that claim because you are already on record here as saying that you don’t think one-night stands are sinful either – while I think they can endanger your soul. Only one of us can be right on this question. But maybe you think one-night stands can be the fruit of “mature and prayerful consciences”. I submit that the Christ of Scripture thinks otherwise.

          • Indeed Brian, I have no issue with your ‘theological and philosophical’ usevof the term abuse. I was using it in the same fashion.
            A man using sex workers is certainly guilty of abuse.
            A man enjoying sexual intimacy with his same-sex partner is not, unless their relationship is non consensual or faithless.
            Whatever I believe about the licitness of one-night stands and commenters seem to forget that I wrote of only one particular example, does not, of course, affect the morality of covenantal same-sex relationships. They may show the fruits of the Spirit whatever my personal beliefs may be. And to equate them to adulterous and abusive sex is, as I said, grossly offensive.

          • Penelope, why is it not abusive to his poor wife, his children, his parents, his own walk with God? Appeal to ”consent” is like a figleaf: it covers almost none of the bases. I mean – like – if it seems fun, people will consent. Where is the surprise at that, and where is the merit in it?

          • Anyway how does something’s being subjectively ”offensive” (or inconvenient?…) make it inaccurate? Please explain.

          • Christopher
            Thanks for replying. But I have no idea what you mean.
            Are you saying that all gay men are unfaithful because they once had straight relationships?
            Are you confusing my argument that not all consensual relationships are licit or moral, because some are unfaithful or adulterous?

            It doesn’t really matter if describing faithful covenantal relationships as abusive is ‘subjectively’ or ‘objectively’ offensive. It is rude, cruel and uncharitable.

          • ‘All gay men are unfaithful because they once had straight relationships’? First of all, the gay/straight language refers to behaviour not essence. Secondly adoption of language of this sort (together with vague terms like ‘relationships’ too) is eccentric not universal or international.

            Second, of course! Anyone who remarries commits adultery. What people call sex is by definition marrying into one flesh. It is a matter of awe and importance. If we disregard the best attested Jesus saying of all, as NT scholars reckon, then where does Jesus fit in?

          • Christopher
            Thank you
            But you haven’t answered my questions.
            Not all gay people are bi sexual. Thus, some have relationships only with partners of their own sex. Where these relationships are faithful etc., I do not see how they can be unfaithful!
            Secondly, we’ll have to disagree on whether remarriage constitutes adultery. I’m afraid that, for once, I agree with the CoE.

          • So either the ‘C of E’ is more important than Jesus or the C of E does not follow Jesus. Which, and why?

            Most people would think that the whole point is that they are in existence to follow Jesus.

          • I don’t know Christopher.
            Do we follow Mark’s Jesus?
            Or Matthew’s?
            Or Luke’s?
            The CoE seems to have gone with Matthew.
            You don’t. But if you can disagree with Church teaching, so can I!

          • Since Matthew’s Jesus and Luke’s Jesus *themselves* follow Mark’s Jesus, with scarcely a first-hand detail in sight, the answer to that one is plain.

          • That’s disingenuous Christopher.
            The Matthean exception contradicts Mark, and both differ from Luke.
            As Ian observed on another blog, you choose your Jesus.

          • My point is a serious and a strong one.

            EP Sanders is often cited as the greatest NT scholar of the last 50 years, though of course he has plenty of weaknesses too as a scholar and myself I would plump for Hengel and Bauckham.

            He writes (Studying the Synoptic Gospels [SCM/TPI 1989] 51) ‘from ancient literature no other examples of such close similarity are known’ as between Mark, Matt and Luke.

            That is a superlative. An absolute extreme is what we have here.

            If Matt and Luke are not using a source, no-one ever used a source.

            There is a fundamentalism that says that all Jesus pericopae are equally ambiguous in the evidence yielded by the primary sources. So we are expected to believe the coincidence that all of them just so happen to be equally ambiguous (or else make a preposterously general generalisation about ‘Jesus’ as you did, collapsing all pericopae into one).

            Well, it would suit some people’s purposes for everything but everything (note the totalitarian nature of this rather dodgy claim) to be obscure, but that is the other end of the spectrum from careful discriminating scholarship which operates pericope by pericope.

            To this we add that the divorce logion is very largely considered to be pretty much the best attested Jesus saying. It is distinctive. It is hard (as Matt’s expansion acknowledges). It bears no relationship to any imposed structural or thematic pattern. It even makes itself known in Paul and precious few sayings do that.

          • Christopher

            I defer to your NT expertise. But this does not alter the CoE teaching on divorce and remarriage. Mark may be difficult and original, but the CoE has attended to the Matthean exception and the reality that marriage is a very different institution from that which obtained in the 1st century Graeco-Roman Empire.

          • Marriage is a very different institution from in the Greco-Roman times?

            No, no, no. No-one ever doubted that there are differences as well as similarities in how it was/is conceived and constituted. But that would only be relevant if the differences pertained to the relevant aspect of marriage (namely, the requirement to be faithful). Again and again we hear that marriage is different in different cultures and the nuclear family has not always been the norm. What a cliché. Everyone knows that some cultures have had extended families and jolly good – I wish more did. But the ways in which families have been different within Christian culture have not involved cohabitation, serial monogamy etc etc. Is the argument ‘some differences have existed therefore any differences are permissible’? Because that is at the weak end of weak.

          • In addition, the C of E is not accurately characterised as having simply attended to the Matthean exception. The Matthean exception is porneia (the eunuchs passage is in a context of discussion about those who do not marry in the first place). Is the C of E position even close to that? The C of E position is the world’s position, as once you give an inch they take an ell.

            Remember John Sentamu on William and Kate. People sometimes want to test beforehand whether the cow will give good milk. (Like – for 10 years??) Aside from the facile idea that he was making comparisons with a cow (of course he wasn’t) you can see where this leads. ‘No- I don’t like that milk.’ ‘No – I don’t like that milk either. I liked it for a while but then I got bored.’ 50 milk-tastings later….

            When I was young there were controversies about whether divorced women should be allowed in church young wives’ groups, mothers’ union groups etc.. (To which I answer – if the poor souls had been deserted and made subject to some evil effectively-”no-fault” system, then of course.) That shows how rare and remarkable divorce (hateful word) was in the church a few breaths ago.

          • Christopher
            Sentamu’s remark was sexist and gross.
            You agree that marriage has changed. The CoE, as a reformed church, was the instigator of one of the major changes in the understanding of marriage.
            More recent changes have permitted the marriage of some divorceees in church and a more charitable attitude to those who are divorced and remarry.
            And I think you will find that serial monogamy and cohabitation were much more common in former times than you suppose.

          • Er yes, and a normalisation of divorce caused to no mean extent by its acceptance by the authorities who were supposed to be upholding standards. Which takes away the incentive to character, maturity and holiness. None of which you mentioned.

            It is not just divorce. Legislation normalises anything. When bad things are permitted, then bad things get normalised.

            And the poor children have not even got a mention yet.

      • I completely agree that the “X has a great ministry, therefore X’s patterns of relationships must be holy” argument is a silly and unhelpful one that one hears rather too often.

        However surely David and Anika are themselves demonstrating that your example is unhelpful, not because it is untrue or unfair at face value (I personally don’t think you are being either), but because it clearly provides cause to change the subject and distract from the major thread of your article..

        • Yes, but that is the reader’s choice. I have not given it more than two sentences in a piece of 2,300 words.

          What the comments fail to note is that the SSR argument is entirely circular. If you *already* judge that SSR are not sinful, then the comparison is offensive and distracting.

          But if the catholic, apostolic is correct in judgement SSR sexual relations to be sinful, then the comparison is not between an abusive and non-abusive relationship, but between two different kinds of sin.

          • Quite so. Penelope writes above: “A man using sex workers is certainly guilty of abuse. A man enjoying sexual intimacy with his same-sex partner is not, unless their relationship is non consensual or faithless.”
            I do not know how she draws that conclusion. Prostitution with an adult is consensual and does not constitute “abuse” under our laws. So why does she condemn it? Spiritually, of course, it is a different matter and it has no place in the Christian’s life. And homosexual acts are a misuse of the body, as the consentient witness of the New Testament and human biology show. Something doesn’t cease to be abuse just because consent is involved – at least as far as Christian theology is concerned.
            Penelope goes astray, as does David Runcorn, in confusing the fulfilment personal desires and emotional needs (which are real enough) with doing the will of God. She fails to see that precisely the same arguments that she uses (adult consent, autonomy over one’s own body) destroys any grounds for the State forbidding consensual adult incest – which will surely come, just as surely as same-sex ‘marriage’ suddenly arrived within one generation, despite all the denials through the 90s that such a thing would happen.

          • Brian
            I would really appreciate it if you didn’t discuss me in the third person.
            Firstly, sex with a sex worker is abusive (morally, not legally, as I stated) because it is by no means always consensual and, even when it is, involves the use of someone’s body commercially and for selfish personal gratification.
            Secondly, there are no ‘homosexual’ acts which married heterosexual couples may not enjoy. Since the CoE recognises that contracepted sex is licit and that not all sexual intimacy is procreative, then these intimacies are not a misuse of the body. Unless you would argue, as some do, that all sexual activity should be inherently procreative. Which is your prerogative. But it is not the teaching nor the liturgy of the CoE.

          • Penelope, I am an ordained minister of the Church of England and I teach what the Church teaches. I have done so as a minister for many years. Prostitution is sinful because it is a breach of God’s purpose for sex. Even if a prostitute was happy about this, that wouldn’t make it right. Your permissive beliefs about one-night stands – which are very commonplace in contemporary western society – are not the teaching of the Church of which I am a minister. Nor do you have any grounds for arguing against consensual adult incest, because you do not base your arguments on the words of Scripture but on concepts of ‘harm’ and ‘abuse’.

          • Brian
            I agree that sex with a sex worker is (usually) sinful. I have made that comment more than once here.
            I have also explained that my comment on one night stands on a previous blog was confined to a particular context, was not permissive, and has very little in commen with contemporary mores.
            Many of Jesus’ teachings and, indeed, of the Law are about the harm and the abuse of others. These are wholly scriptural precepts.
            But, if you are teaching that the sole telos of marriage is procreation, then you are not following CoE liturgy.

          • Brian. ‘Penelope goes astray, as does David Runcorn, in confusing the fulfilment personal desires and emotional needs (which are real enough) with doing the will of God.’ No idea where you get this from. It is nonsense.

          • Penelope just wrote these words: ‘Sex workers require dignity and agency too’.

            The errors here are as the sand of the sea:

            (1) She just agreed that what they do is sinful.

            (2) In what sense is the work they presently do any part of their actual essence? I just don’t get this point.

            (3) They have always already had dignity, even though within such a line of activity as that one is doing one’s level best to lose it.

            (4) The term ‘sex worker’ legitimises something that harms all participants and all their loved ones simultaneously. Do we legitimise that? On the contrary we delegitimise it.

            (5) When PCD says ‘Sex workers require agency’ that is presumably not saying that their actions have good in them. But what *is* it saying? Everyone who makes intentional actions thereby has agency. This is not something that people *should* have, since they already *do* have it.


          • Interesting how the use of language removes any moral imperative.
            ‘Sex worker’ sounds so much better than ‘prostitute’ does it not?

          • Christopher and Chris

            Yes, sex worker sounds much more dignified than prostitute, which is why I choose to use it.
            I commented that sex with a sex worker is sinful. You may infer from that who I think is the greater sinner in this exchange.
            I hope everyone here can see that all humans, especially the most vulnerable, should have dignity and agency.
            Many sex workers are slaves, are trafficked, sell their bodies because they have been abused and/or because they are addicts.
            Some choose this work.
            Whatever their motives, they should be afforded dignity and protection.

          • Penelope, what you are dignifying here is the behaviour not the person.

            Maybe we should start calling ‘thieves’ ‘property takers’ to give them a bit of dignity perhaps?
            After all, I would suppose they all work in the ‘theft industry’ do they not?

          • Chris
            Should I assume that you believe thieves should not be accorded dignity and agency?
            Should I assume that your analogy means that most thieves steal because they are trafficked, enslaved, abused and addicted?

          • Penelope thank you for your reply. Thieves will steal for a variety of different reasons, however it does not change the fact that theft as an action is intrinsically and morally wrong for whatever reason. The use of morally neutral language rather than dignifying the individual, helps them to become morally disengaged from their actions and in time leads to moral ambivalence and self-justification. The fact that they are called a thief does at least confer some dignity as it offers to them the standard of right action. I agree that people who are forced to thieve under coercion or threat of harm, is more akin to slavery than thieving and they would probably not choose to do so if they had choice, but a thief is a thief regardless. You cannot really call them anything else.

          • Yes, Christopher, in this instance it is.
            Can you explain why the woman (assuming that the sex worker is female) is equally culpable?

          • Chris
            Thank you. And I would rather call a sex worker a sex worker. The description does not absolve them from responsibility, but it confers an agency which the term ‘prostitute’ does not. Unless we can find a term for the customer which also robs him [sic] of agency and dignity.

          • But is this really the debate you set out to have here?

            I’m not accusing you of saying anything false, or of deliberately seeking offense per se. I’m suggesting that you were naive to write something you’re well-aware could (and if we’re honest, would) be interpreted with hostility and would dominate the discussion, when the subject matter of the other 95% is of considerable importance and will be lost in the white noise.

            Ah well.

          • Where to start?

            She is messing with and tarnishing what is holy.

            She is acting without regard for family ties.

            She is tempting.

            She is sinning against her own body.

            She is acting as though we were in a trivial world not an awesome one.

            Etc etc etc.

            If you proceed as though we jointly accept the term ‘sex worker’ you already know that this is a term I do not in any way accept and which involves more than one internal contradiction (imposing neutrality on something harmful and pretending that we have here a profession like any other, such as anyone might take up an apprenticeship for).

            I think Mat is right. I don’t think that the matters in question are in reality controversial, and am always surprised when people take up what I would characterise as untenable positions. But if they do so (particularly where this involves apparent moral tone-deafness) then it is wrong not to intervene.

          • That is the opposite of the truth. People presently and fixedly involved in sexual sin are among the first listed as those who will not inherit the kingdom. Cite one such sinner who was accepted by Jesus unrepentant i.e. not having turned away from all that.

          • And I would rather call a sex worker a sex worker. The description does not absolve them from responsibility, but it confers an agency which the term ‘prostitute’ does not.

            Hang on…

            ‘Many sex workers are slaves, are trafficked, sell their bodies because they have been abused and/or because they are addicts’

            So you’re saying they don’t have agency (the whole definition of a slave is someone who doesn’t have agency).

            Which is it? Do they have agency or are they ‘slave, trafficked, abused, addicts’?

          • Hello S
            I was wondering where you were.
            I wrote sex workers ‘require’ dignity and agency. Which they do, whether they are enslaved or freely choose sex work.

          • I wrote sex workers ‘require’ dignity and agency. Which they do, whether they are enslaved or freely choose sex work.

            Okay, so as I understand it you’re saying that prostitutes can fall into one of two disjoint classes:

            (a) those who did not choose to be prostitutes: they were enslaved, coerced, trafficked, or otherwise forced into it; and

            (b) those who freely chose to prostitute themselves.

            Those in group (a) are, I think we can agree, basically blameless victims of rape. They do not have any agency (because agency means being able to choose, and they couldn’t). therefore to use to describe them a term which implies that they do have agency is not only inaccurate (because they don’t have agency) but offensive because it implies that they are responsible for their actions: it is, in fact, precisely victim-blaming, in that by implying the victims have agency in their prostitution you are implying that they are responsible for what has happened to them.

            Those in group (b), on the other hand, are actively choosing to sin. That their clients may be the greater sinners I will grant; but that others sin more does not absolve them of their sin in trading their bodies for cash, does it? So while in this case, unlike the other, the term which accords them agency is accurate, in fact they have used their agency to commit sinful acts and what they need to do is repent and sin no more. In this case the problem is that the use of the term ‘sex worker’ implies that prostitution could be a kind of respectable work, which, I hope you agree, it cannot.

            Therefore in neither case is the use of the term ‘sex worker’ appropriate: in the one case because it is victim-blaming and in the other because it is sin-excusing.

            So you ought to stop using it. I hope you will.

          • I have also explained that my comment on one night stands on a previous blog was confined to a particular context, was not permissive, and has very little in commen with contemporary mores.

            Perhaps you might like to take the opportunity to do, then, what you have refused to before, and explain what precisely, in your view, makes the difference between a one-night stand which is immoral and one which is morally justifiable?

            After all, seeing as you clearly are saying you think that some one-night stands are moral and some aren’t, then you must have criteria by which you can judge which one-night stands fall into which category.

            What are those criteria?

          • Well S, fairly brief comments don’t lend themselves to nuance, so I should say it’s not a simple binary between good and bad sex workers; there are most probably a host of variables between the enslaved and the worker who chooses freely to sell sexual services.
            As I said, both require dignity and agency. They are human and made in God’s image. I do not seek to judge the culpability of those who choose this path. Who is to say their sins are worse than mine? Jesus.
            I shall of course continue to call them sex workers.

            You are most welcome to revisit my comments on one-night stands.
            I recollect I argued that if a young man, on the eve of battle, enjoyed sexual intimacy with a sex worker or with his girlfriend, this would not be immoral.
            Q who was the more culpable:
            Sailors who caught syphilis from ‘native’ women when they invaded the Americas?
            Colonialists who gave the ‘natives’ blankets impregnated with smallpox?
            That’s a tough one.

          • As I said, both require dignity and agency.

            But the enslaved sex workers don’t have agency, do they? That’s what ‘enslaved’ means. Slaves have no agency.

            And the ones who have agency but deliberately choose to do wrong don’t have dignity, do they? They freely gave their dignity up.

            Who is to say their sins are worse than mine?

            What have your sins got to do with it? This isn’t some kind of sin olympics, where we rank sins to see who is the greatest sinner. The point is that trading sex for money is sinful, isn’t it? That is what matters. That other people are out there in the world both doing lesser sins and greater is neither here nor there.

            I shall of course continue to call them sex workers.

            Well, now you know you oughtn’t.

            You are most welcome to revisit my comments on one-night stands.
            I recollect I argued that if a young man, on the eve of battle, enjoyed sexual intimacy with a sex worker or with his girlfriend, this would not be immoral.

            I am aware of your example. I am asking whether you will divulge the principles which lead you to that erroneous conclusion. What is it that, in your incorrect view, makes that one-night stand not immoral, when other one-night stands are immoral? You can explain, or not, that’s up to you. If you don’t everyone will know you have no leg to stand on.

          • S
            From your response I infer that you are not an ethicist. Neither am I, but I do know that Christian ethicists do grade moral choices or sins. Thus, the question of whether giving indigenous peoples blankets deliberately impregnated with smallpox is worse than a quick screw with a sex worker is the sort of stuff they consider.
            Likewise, it’s rather Augustinian to argue that sexual sins are particularly grave. Though you may not have been doing that.

            I repeat, yet again, that sex workers, whether their ‘lifestyle’ is voluntary or involuntary, require dignity and agency. And your opinion is to what I ought to call them is neither Christian nor persuasive.

            As for the one-night stand example: again it’s an ethical question. If a thief steals a loaf because she is hungry, is she less culpable than a thief who steals merely for profit?

          • From your response I infer that you are not an ethicist.

            I dunno, does having a degree (partly) in ethical philosophy not count?

            I repeat, yet again, that sex workers, whether their ‘lifestyle’ is voluntary or involuntary, require dignity and agency.

            Oh, they absolutely do require both. But the point is that as long as they are prostituting themselves, they can’t have both, can they? If they aren’t doing it through choice then they don’t have agency, and they need to be rescued (or to save themselves, if they can) from their slavery. Only then can they have agency.

            And if they are doing it through choice, they don’t have dignity, do they? The only way for them to recover their dignity is to repent and leave their life of sin, isn’t it?

            So yes, you are right that they require both dignity and agency. Which is exactly why it’s wrong to use a term which implies they already have dignity and agency, when they don’t, and they need to regain both dignity and agency — which they cannot do while they remain either sex slaves or willing prostitutes.

            And your opinion is to what I ought to call them is neither Christian nor persuasive.

            And how is calling them ‘sex workers’ productive to the goal of getting them out of prostitution? Or do you not think that should be the goal?

            As for the one-night stand example: again it’s an ethical question. If a thief steals a loaf because she is hungry, is she less culpable than a thief who steals merely for profit?

            Maybe. You’d have to outline what criteria you think should be used to determine whether a particular act of theft was wrong. For instance you might be a utilitarian and think that an act of theft was moral of the consequences of not stealing were worse than the consequences of stealing.

            Are you going to answer the question now? By what criteria do you judge one-night stands? Are you a one-night stand utilitarian? Millsian or Benthamite? Or is your philosophy of one-night stands more deontological? Does virtue come into it? Do you follow Alasdair MacIntyre on one-night stands?

            I await your ethical explanation with interest.

          • Penny, some of your argument is ‘X is okay because we can think of something that is worse.’. That that is a bad argument is obvious. 7% is an okay exam result because 2% is worse? Wherever there are 2 things, one must be good and the other must be bad?

          • No, Christopher, my argument was not that sex workers are not sinful. It was that gifts of smallpox infused blankets are more sinful. There are, as I am sure you will agree, grades of sin.

          • No, Christopher, my argument was not that sex workers are not sinful

            Ah, so you at least recognise that ‘sex work’ is sinful and people shouldn’t do it, then?

          • Should we make adultery unlawful?

            Yes, obviously. But why are you bringing in the law? What you’ve agreed is that ‘sex work’ is sinful and immoral, right?

            So, about that ethical analysis of one-night stands you were going to give us. Can you give us a clue? Are you going to be referencing Peter Singer?

    • Like the once-blind man, Ian is of age and may answer for himself. But I took him to be saying (as we sometimes hear), ‘Because X has a ‘flourishing ministry’ (attendance, conversions, finances), God is OK with the sexual side of X’s life’ – as if, to paraphrase something Tim Bradshaw of Trinity College wrote years ago, the fruit of the Spirit come as a total package in a person’s life, so that compassion, wisdom etc are inevitably found alongside rightly-ordered sexual desire (because proponents of same-sex relationships claim that homosexual desire is God’s intended will for some people) – something which Bradshaw was denying, of course. But David Gillett said something very similar to this: ‘See how kind and loving these gay couples are: their relationships are obviously blessed by God.’ The parallel with Vanier’s case is not exact because the complaints against him are of ‘sexual abuse’ in a spiritual/pastoral relationship (not assault), which brings us into a grey area of consent and power relations. I don’t know anything about the allegations against Vanier, but the point for Christians is that while consensual behaviour can make something legal, it doesn’t make it moral or acceptable to God.

      • ‘You will know them by their fruits’, said Jesus. He made no exceptions. But the logic here is that whatever good fruit is found growing in the lives and ministries of faithful, loving, gay relationships it cannot be a sign of God’s blessing and presence – however much this is experienced as the case.
        This is close to suggesting that no matter how fruitful such relationships are on the surface they must, like Vanier was, be living a Godless lie (or worse) beneath the surface.

        • A good reply deserves a better rejoinder. Jesus made no exceptions? Be careful in practising gnomic fundamentalism, or I will ask you why you haven’t cut off your hand or plucked out the eye that causeth thee to sin. One swallow does not make a summer, and one gnomic utterance does not make an entire, exceptionless theology of sin and holiness. I have never had a problem with the idea of good and evil co-inhering in one person because I see it in myself and in every other person I know. As you well know, ‘victorious Christian living’ this side of the grave does not consist of sinlessness but striving against sin while taking refuge in the blood of Christ. Nobody – certainly not our Lord – ever said it would be easy. Hence the call to askesis (hands and eyes), which includes our sexual desires, wanted or unwanted. I think you have missed that point, David, as did David Gillett. Tim Bradshaw has a batter grasp of the evangelical counsels of Christ. In the end it will be Christ who will inspect the fruit.

          • That should be “better” of course – though cricket-loving Tim did have a good grasp of the bat as well. I hope he still does.

          • I couldn’t agree more.
            All of the same-sex couples I know are sinners.
            All of the mixed-sex couples I know are sinners.
            But the same-sex couples are not sinners because they are same-sex any more than the mixed-sex couples are sinners because they are mixed-sex.
            They (we) are sinners because we are human.
            Some of our sins may be sexual. I warrant that the majority are not.

          • ‘But the same-sex couples are not sinners because they are same-sex any more than the mixed-sex couples are sinners because they are mixed-sex.’

            That is your prior assumption, and it makes your argument here entirely circular. ‘You cannot compare the two, because I judge SSR are not sinful’.

          • And your prior assumption is that SSRs are inherently sinful, which is why you make the gratuitous and egregious comparison between an abuser (Vanier) and gay church leaders living exemplary and unexceptionable lives.
            I think this weakens your otherwise helpful blog and has led to some very unpleasant comments.

          • ‘your prior assumption is that SSRs are inherently sinful’ Well, that is the current teaching position of the Church of England, and I am a minister in it.

            But that is not the point of comparison. As I have said several times above, the argument is ‘X is fruitful in ministry; therefore X’s patterns of relationships must be holy’. That is recited all the time; it is not coherent. Vanier demonstrates this.

        • Indeed, David. But everywhere in the NT ‘good fruit’ means obedience to the moral law of God, not merely ‘being nice’.

          It is striking that the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ in Gal 5 is opposed to the ‘works of the flesh’, which includes sexual sin, and for Jewish Paul would have clearly included same-sex sexual relations.

          • Which, since the same-sex intimacies he knew or knew of, didn’t include contemporary compassionate, covenantal, mutual, faithful equal marriage has no bearing on his views on ‘works of the flesh’.

          • Ian. Come on. On this thoughtful discussion thread no one here is suggesting being fruitful is simply ‘being nice’. But exactly ‘everywhere in the NT’ is good fruit linked to obedience? In Galatians the fruit of the Spirit describes character and quality of life. The word obedience is not mentioned. I am not saying obedience is not a core part of our discipleship in Christ – of course it is. But I think you overstate ‘obedience’ where fruit is actually discussed and understate the actual focus on fruit as ‘character’ by implying others are reducing this to ‘being nice’.

          • “What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit unto holiness, and the end, everlasting life.” (Rom. 6:21,22)

            “Slaves of God“ connotes obedience, and is clearly the pre-cursor to “fruit unto [resulting in] holiness” which was stark contrast with their previous lives.

            @Penelope: Herod Antipas’ marriage to his half-brother’s ex-wife was also “compassionate covenantal, mutual and faithful”. When Caligula deposed the Tetrarch, she even gave up her title to follow him into exile.

            That didn’t stop JTB from denouncing the marriage, nor did it stop Jesus from describing the prophet as a “burning and shining” light.

          • Hello David

            We’ve discussed the delightful Herodias before. The difference here is that her relationship with Herod involved incest, adultery, betrayal and abandonment (his abandoned wife Sha’udat escaped to her father Aretas). Josephus claims that Herod was afraid of the great influence John had over the people, but no doubt John’s criticism of his adultery and incest didn’t help his popularity with the tetrarch.

          • It’s still worth revisiting and reviewing this comparison carefully.

            1. Incest: after Herodias’ father was executed by Herod the Great, the latter married her off to her half-uncle, Herod Philip. So, to make incest the ground of forbidding her re-marriage to Antipas is somewhat like “closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.”

            Certainly, I’d expect progressives and liberals to ask why the freedom of the gospel should be constrained by what many might consider to be JTB’s warmed-over Pentateuchal views of marriage.

            2. Adultery: Herodias was the victim of an arranged child marriage (born c. 15BC, engaged to half-uncle by 7BC).

            Again, I’m surprised that you wouldn’t find it heartless for JTB to categorise as adultery her escape from what must have been a toxic marriage to a far older half-uncle.

            3. Betrayal and abandonment. Of course, whatever we make of Herod Antipas’ remarriage, his situation occurred many centuries after Moses’ law was promulgated.

            Christ’s detractors might well have challenged him (as you challenge us) with the fact that marriage had evolved considerably since former times.

            It would be true to say of Herod Antipas’ remarriage that: “ The comparison of faithless and abusive sexual acts and relationships with faithful and monogamous same-sex relationships is grossly offensive to couples whose lives show the fruits of the Spirit.“

            I’d assume that you would see similarities between those who have divorced their straight spouses to enter a same-sex marriage and Herodias’ remarriage to Herod Antipas. The former partner’s suffering is just so much unpleasant but unavoidable collateral damage.

            However, apart from a special pleading, there’s no reason why the former should be affirmed and celebrated, while the latter was so clearly denounced by John the Baptist whose uncompromising prophetic ministry was lauded by Christ.

          • David
            I would assume that JtB would have criticised both of Herodias’s marriages as incestuous. Jews weren’t keen on the Herodians. I also assume that he would have found an arranged marriage unexceptionable. Romantic and companionate marriage was the norm in the 1sr C. Despite the obvious romance of the story, there was a victim of their adultery – poor Sha’duat.

  5. I wouldn’t have thought that King David was a paragon of virtue being both an adulterer and an accessory to murder, yet God worked through him and blessed the nation of Israel despite his sin. It would seem to me that Vanier’s work still stands in spite of him rather than because of him.

    I think also that Ian’s point is quite valid. If one has an effective ministry and has been used by God it does not follow that their pattern and manner of life is necessarily holy. There are plenty of examples in scripture of this.

  6. Ian, thank you for addressing this. I’m discouraged and disheartened by the wretchedness of our sin and the paucity of our gospel witness.

    As evangelicals, sin should not surprise us, yet the depth of our capacity for deceit (of ourselves and others), our potential to use and abuse others and the damage that our sin does to individuals, churches and witness has shocked me in successive allegations – my understanding of total depravity is clearly weak and shallow. I’m also continually grieved at how few of the commentators within the church have acknowledged that we should respond with fear and trembling lest we too fall, preferring instead a tone of righteous indignation or judgemental finger pointing.

    Would you please consider writing something further?
    How do we speak of the way God uses flawed and wretched sinners for gospel work?
    How do we value what he has done through these leaders once particular sins are made known, caring for the victims but also supporting those who benefited spiritually from their ministry and wonder what this means for their spiritual nurturing?
    What does repentance look like in our contemporary culture (for perpetrators who are not dead)?
    What difference does sanctification make – what expectations should we have of sinners in church, and our leaders?
    Is our culture uniquely prone to bullying/coercion/spiritual abuse/sexual abuse or do we simply have a language and medium for declaring what has always happened?

  7. You will know them by their fruits .. but the dilemma here is that Jean Vanier produced good fruit and bad fruit, seriously bad fruit as well as much good fruit.

    We are all sinners but some are very definitely sinned against (as well) and seriously so, to the point of lifetime damage and even death.

    There is a philosophical- theological trajectory that takes a view that all have sinned, and all need to seek forgiveness and all should forgive others who sin against them, and it can find several key texts from the Bible to support this. But this approach runs into pastoral difficulties when the apparent uniformity it claims, is confronted by the gross imbalance of abusive power. There are saints who have forgiven their abusers and their torturers, but many cannot (yet), especially if the abuser lies and hides their abuse and even shames the victim; Some encourage what they call forgiveness when what they are demanding is actually condoning of the sin.

    Jean Vanier is sadly but one of several significant Christian leaders who have been found to be abusive, using their spiritual power abusively, and for their sexual gratification.

    Ian quotes Article 26, so this is no new problem.

    Some key questions – one is what is the ongoing standing of the writings of someone whose ‘hidden’ fruit was so at variance with their public fruit? Karl Barth is mentioned in the comments as a possible similar writer whose personal life was at significant variance with the gospel. Our libraries might be severely reduced if we knew more, or are too quick to judge. But it is current: Franklin Graham is dividing opinion for what he says. Do his life and views contradict the gospel message?

    Another question: When, or for what severity of sin, does the punishment of a wrong-doer and the future protection of other people require leadership to remove someone from a post of responsibility? Article 26 does not go into detail.

    A third question: How do we care for both the abused and the abuser, without either making too light of the abuse, or demonising the abuser? Sadly the evidence is that organisations tend to protect their own and demonise the vocal victim.

    This last concern is I am sure where Jesus would start, but the philosophical-theological trajectory which works with texts and absolutes is seldom if ever able to negotiate the actual realities of real life hurts, pains, and the complexities of human beings. We know many abusers were abused themselves, but that does not excuse abuse.

    Paul Tillich explored the inter-connection between love, power and justice in his “The Courage to be”. Because power is relative and unequal within relationships, love and justice have to respond in each context. A potent judge exercises power, and a good shepherd protects sheep from dangers from within the sheepfold, and from without, stepping in with power and judgement to protect the weak and to prevent abuse of power by even the strong sheep, because love requires us to stand against as well as to sit with and alongside.

    When the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, the gospel writer could say ‘and we have seen his glory’. The gospel accounts of Jesus are about his activity as well as his teaching, and they are set in a context that was particular and real, not a universal domain. That should raise questions about too much priority given to any philosophical-theological approach and certainly any one approach that claims a universal “power”.

    As Ian rightly draws our attention, we probably invest in some of our Christian leaders too much, just as the Israelites wanted a king like the nations round about them. And in that regard it is troubling to the theological approach why David, a man of continued dubious ethics and actions, is chosen and protected and revered. By his fruit we know him to be a “bad” King, yet he is upheld as a good king.

    • Thanks Peter. I like your connection between Israel ‘wanting a king like the other nations’, and then, in God’s characteristic judgement of giving them what they asked for, got just that.

      ‘The second worse thing in the world is not getting what we want. The worst thing is getting what we want’.

      I also agree that there is a real question of how we care for the abused, including the betrayed, without losing all the good the offender did. Is there really now no value in anything that Vanier ever wrote? That appears to be the verdict from our righteous world.

      • Thanks – but I was also wanting to raise the conundrum that is King David, because I Samuel – at one level – seems to present David as a man after God’s heart, despite his behaviours whether undermining Saul, running an extortion racket, marrying multiply, let alone having Uriah killed. At the very beginning although God looks at the heart, the writer tells us David is good-looking, an echo of Saul? The writer does not hide David’s failings though some seem partially obscured or put in a less glaring light, yet David is held up to be the good one, and then later Jeroboam castigated (as is Saul) when it appears they were no worse and in many ways better.
        Logic dictates that if we uphold David then we should uphold Jean Vanier – but maybe it is more than timely that the voices of the victims, whose blood cries out from the earth if we would but listen, should be heard more than the voices of the flawed and abusing leadership. Their voices are muted within the OT but they can be found. Their voices have been muted and marginalised but maybe they are finally beginning to be heard.

        • Thank you.

          I think it is important that, in Biblical Studies, the voices of Bathsheba, Hagar, the Levite’s wife and other victims, are now being heard.
          The project on the Bible and Rape Culture is excellent and an antidote to the silencing of victims’ voices.

          • Penelope,
            Where did I or what I wrote blame victims. Lack of good biblical teaching is not a sin of recipients but is open to abuse by teachers.
            No one is seeking to silence victims voices.
            Your reply is feeble, typically a goad: Biblically and theologically weak. In fact is a non -response: or , as is your wont, a reductionist’s nagging response, reducing all I sketched out to victimhood (not that that is unimportant). Yes sin has consequences…the sins of the fathers(and mothers) pass on…to generations.
            I’ll not genuflect, pander to, refuse to be a victim of your irreducible sin.
            Maybe the offended/offence card will be played by you.

          • Geoff

            People are abused whether they are the recipients of ‘good’ biblical teaching or not.
            I’m not asking anyone to pander to my ‘irreducible’ sin. Whatever that means. But I’d be careful about casting stones. Especially nasty ad hom ones.

        • 1.King David,
          1.1 Vanier does not remotely compare with David. David was God’s choice, (a man after God’s heart- imperfectly) not the peoples choice (unlike King Saul), but it was in line of the Messiah, leading and point to the perfect King, Shepherd King Jesus.
          1.2 Repentance of King David, (Psalm 51 in particular) A lot of the Psalms reveal Davids’s inner life with God.
          1.3 David’s sin clearly had consequences, to himself, family and Nation.
          2 Teaching: While I’m certainly not saying that Vanier would not have been able to trangress as he did as it may have been less likely,if the women had been aware of correct biblical teaching. Spiritual abuse (his unassailable? prominence) leading to physical abuse.
          3. Sin, whether overt or covert, recognised or not, admitted or denied has consequences, frequently in proportion to the prominence of the person the person.
          4 No matter how prominent some people are in the church, given out propensity worship (genuflect was the phrase used by the nun in Ian’s article) the creature, with undue deference, with no discernment, we forget at our peril, Simul Justus et Peccator, no matter how saintly a person may appear, no matter how fruitful, their lives may seem, to lead people away, in the wrong direction. It may be the result of “common grace” of God.
          (At a deeper level, and this may be far to soon and raw, consideration may need to be given to the theology that God can use evil for his ultimate Good Purposes.)
          5 And, as L pointed out above, there seems to be a paucity of consideration given to sanctification.

          • ” it may have been less likely, if the women had been aware of correct biblical teaching.”

            I take issue with this. It’s obviously right that every individual should take notice of what the scripture says… but (and it’s a big but) abusive relationships have much to do with one person overwhelming /over aweing another in such away that normal “good sense” is rendered weak, blind and eventually powerless

            . Presumably the relationship starts with the thin end of the wedge and grows thicker in time. Hence a victim is created by the perpetrator. It’s a grooming process.

          • Ian Hobbs,
            Of course there is more to it, than teaching but from what has been written by in Ian’s article it has has some relevance:
            “Often, he was their spiritual adviser.” He was, in effect, a fiduciary relationship’ This led to:
            “The relationships … are described as emotionally abusive and characterised by significant imbalances of power, whereby the alleged victims felt deprived of their free will and so the sexual activity was coerced or took place under coercive conditions,”
            And this is teaching from Vanier: One victim said Vanier told her:
            “This is not us, this is Mary and Jesus. You are chosen, you are special, this is secret.”

          • Geoff… But isn’t this why victim blaming raises its head. It’s not that responsibility does not apply to both parties but that one is much more capable of manipulation.

            ” it may have been FAR less likely, if VANIER had been aware of correct biblical teaching.”

            What we say isn’t a message in isolation from a pastoral context. I don’t agree with a lot of what Penelope says… but I do on this.

          • Ian Hobbs,
            Your comment of 26 Feb. Contains an assumption that Vanier didn’t know the correct teaching. Was he lying to suit his own purposes to manipulate
            But, thank you for your comments, that have caused me to look again at what I have written. The main point I was seeking to make, but didn’t, and expressed lop sidedly, is that false teaching, a lack of biblical grounding, can lead to use and abuse of scripture to manipulate and be manipulated especially by those in authority.

        • Yes, the OT portrayal of King David is fascinating. I’ve often compared his deathbed speech in 1 Kings 1 to that of a Mafia Don…..”I promised I would do Shimei no harm, but you made no such promise, my son; you will know what to do, my son….”!

        • The admonition “by their fruits you shall know them” should be tempered with our understanding of the corollary to the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares: “Let the wheat and the tares grow together”.

          Darnel (which is the more familiar name for tares) is very much wheat’s evil twin.

          While it’s initially very difficult to distinguish it from wheat, its eventual yield is very different.

          The risk is that one might destroy fledging goodness by trying to weed out nascent evil.

          It would appear that many people have used positive community impact and growth in mutuality as the primary gauge of spiritual fruitfulness.

          However, it’s entirely possible to develop initiatives that have a positive community impact without the “die to self” fruitfulness that Jesus describes in John 12:24-26.

          Ultimately, fruitfulness involves our decrease so that he may increase (John 3:30). In John the Baptist’s case, such devotion incurred the cost of his own safety and life.

          Fruitfulness also involves pruning away what we might consider to be healthy branches of our lives, which God sees a spiritually less productive than they could be (John 15:2)

          This “dying to self” does not involve self-chosen hardships, but, instead, inadvertent and unplanned mishaps, suffering and even sickness.

          When compared to David, the main thing that King Saul lacked was David’s overwhelming zeal and ‘non-negotiables’ in furtherance of God’s rightful honour and glory.

          It was Goliath’s open contempt for God’s glory that roused David to vanquish Israel’s enemy.

          By comparison, Saul had no such non-negotiables in furtherance of God’s glory.

          Practical holiness and genuine fruitfulness is founded upon a ‘non-negotiable’ approach to God’s honour and glory.

          When our behaviour publicly impugns God’s honour, we should even feel a desire to recuse ourselves from the public role and office that we hold.

          Vanier may well have considered this, but that kind of fruit unto holiness didn’t appear to materialise.

    • If you know that Franklin Graham is breaking his marriage vows, fiddling funds or doing other wrong things, you should say so. Otherwise, why do you mention him here? Because liberals like the Bishops of Manchester and Liverpool dislike him and have successfully campaigned to have him de-platformed for holding unacceptable views? Vanier’s sins don’t nullify the right and good things that he taught and did (the same is true for any human teacher, whether religious or not), but if he did not repent of his own sins, then his own salvation is in question. Fortunately, none of us know the state of his soul when he died (or anyone else’s), so we cannot comment on this.
      Remember also that Christian pastoral theology isn’t simply based on the Gospel narratives and the words of Christ, essential as these are. The NT Epistles are part of the Gospel as well and are full of wise and binding teaching on how Christians should order their relationships, particularly pastoral ones.

      • Brian. In passing – I am not sure why you are going looking for liberal bishops to kick and blame when the most thoughtful and informed opposition to Franklin Graham’s visit has been from Evangelicals – including Paul Eddy’s fine piece here on Ian site. Perhaps you missed it?

        • The hundredfold harvest is always caused by the Billy Grahams and Reinhard Bonnkes of this world. Liberal leaders are so very far short of that that they only criticise; it is a parasitic role.

          Anyone knows which way of life is quite obviously and massively better – as the Good Book says, I set before you 2 ways.

          • Sadly that is the truth. Liberal leaders have almost never demonstrated an ability to make new converts and grow the Church. That is why State Lutheranism is almost dead in Scandinavia and Germany, as is Anglicanism in most of England. Before Cherry Vann and her civil partner left Manchester for the Diocese of Monmouth, she declared there was very little interest in the Church of England in Manchester diocese and no prospects of that changing. And then they went to the dying Church in Wales (to Rowan Williams’ old see, no less) with that cheery message.

        • Peter made some comment about Franklin Graham’s life: ‘Do his life and views contradict the gospel message?’ which implied some significant sin in Graham’s life. I thought this was an unfair innuendo that should be substantiated or withdrawn. No, I didn’t read Paul Eddy’s piece, so I won’t comment on what I haven’t read. All can say is that British Anglicans, evangelicals as well as liberals, generally enjoy kicking Americans – and the greatest opposition to Billy Graham in 1959 came from Anglican bishops. The British just hate evangelism and nay excuse will do. I know from my own slothful life that I can always find ten reasons not to do what I know I should.

  8. As a sideline (and people often tend not to realise it is a sideline), it is incredibly important that very broad terms like abuse, violent/-ce, grooming not be used in a lazy or general way. Each case is specific and we need to know what we are dealing with. I do not think the present case is one of mischief making. But there are cases of mischief making, and to prevent that, we need to be very specific in this way otherwise mischief makers (or people of up and down emotions, who want to be in the right and who want revenge – which is very many people according to human nature) will make hay. Victim culture (apart from being infantilising) just encourages that.

    There is a culture emerging where to allege is to be a victim. I and honest people want no part of that. This too is unlikely to have relevance to the present case (I am just sitting here selfishly cursing loss of sales, as in the case of Pope Francis) but it will have central relevance in other cases, and so-called abuse cases (many of which are genuine abuse cases) tend to be lumped together rather indiscriminately.

      • The whole point is that some allegations of ‘abuse’ are false.

        Cliff Richard. And many others for whom I feel.

        Where does that leave the blanket response ‘We believe you’? What – just for making an allegation?

        People make allegations for numerous reasons. Not everyone is honest or always honest. Everyone knows that. It is one way to bring someone down. Vengeance is a human instinct. One can even (think one can) get vengeance on an entire sex by punishing an innocent member of that sex, should one be of the sex-war school of ”thought”.

        • Certainly, the allegations against Cliff Richard were unfounded. Whether they were mischief making I do not know.
          Most allegations of abuse are, however, truthful. False allegations are extremely rare.
          It is the past inability to believe allegations against apparently saintly men, such as Peter Ball and John Smythe, which has compounded the original abuse.
          Fortunately, Vanier has not been shielded and his victims have been believed (although it seems that he shielded an abusive priest).
          #churchtoo sadly.

          • ‘Most allegations of abuse are, however, truthful’, you say.

            Aside from the glaring generality of the word ‘abuse’ (and its occasional subjectivity, in certain cases), you know as well as I do that there is no way you could possibly even approach such knowledge of cases 99.999% of which are distant from your own experience. I suspect the same as you, but could never assert it. Only on the basis of careful examination of a single case can one start asserting such things on a very small scale – but the subject matter is actions done in private anyway!!

          • Well, that is true (though the Smyth case cannot be classified as lacking evidence, merely as lacking public evidence for a sufficiently long time before his death).

      • Penelope: Are you aware of the recent Sheldon Hub briefing? There are plenty of examples of malicious allegations of abuse and of safeguarding CDMs being taken out and clergy and their families being put through many months, if not years, of investigations. These innocent people then become the true victims. I have also heard many stories of this happening in secular environments, where broken people find a way to wield power against teachers, social workers, carers and others.

        • Yes, I am a bit aware of that. But not as much as I ought to be. Thank you for reminding me.
          But I worry that the existence of false allegations will undermine those many cases which were not unfounded and where neither mercy nor justice have yet been meted.
          It’s a fraught situation.

          • It will be a lot less fraught if people stop throwing around vague generalisations like ‘abuse’ etc.. If a mum shouts or panics or is in distress because her baby has been insulted, then she is behaving loudly in a public arena. Voila – she is being ‘abusive’.

            It will also be a lot less fraught if people do not abandon the principle that allegations have to be tested. People are claiming that the labels victim, abuser and so forth apply before claims have been tested. Anyone who knows human nature knows how that way of doing things can be – er – abused.

          • Sexual, spiritual and psychological abuse are harmful, serious and evil. Victims have committed suicide, become abusive themselves, or addicted to alcohol, drugs or self destructive behaviour.
            Many perpetrators have died as free men and women.
            Many victims have received neither justice nor mercy.
            The cases have been tested. The response, whether from the church or from secular organisations hS been found wanting.

          • Well, exactly. What you say is precisely accurate. But it is nothing to do with the issue of how we correctly identify in this black and white fashion who is perpetrator and who is victim, and whether in fact people always fall neatly into those simple categories at all (I know that they sometimes do). Why do people even allow themselves to be alone in the same hotel room as the Harvey Weinsteins of this world? There is no need for them to be within 100 miles. Etc etc..

          • People allow themselves to be in a hotel room with the Weinsteins of this world because they are being groomed, like the girls in Rotherham.
            It’s easy to say we would never be so foolish, but perhaps we have been fortunate never to be so vulnerable.

          • Yes, but as I have repeatedly said, people are pushing the false line that it is obvious where something called grooming begins and where something called seduction ends.

            Moreover, seduction from one person is welcome and from another is not. But by the time one finds out which it is, it’s already too late.

            That’s why it is hopeless trying to prevent anything such in a sexual-revolution culture. One might as well give up.

            A marriage culture has clear boundaries and definitions. Anything else is playing around and is asking for trouble.

          • Christopher

            Firstly, what is a marriage culture?
            Secondly, there is a vast gulf between seduction and grooming.
            Which rather takes us back to the concept of consent, which you seem to dislike so much.

          • First, marriage culture is a culture where marriage is assumed or default.

            Second, I disagree strongly that there is a clear line between grooming and seduction. I have intimated at some of the reasons for that already. But it would be well worth thrashing it out in debate.

          • Christopher

            Marriage being a default is not an unmixed good.
            But again I disagree strongly. There is a chasm between seduction which is surely the norm in romantic relationships, and grooming which is the process facilitating rape and abuse. Grooming and sexual abuse are, as I said, non consensual.
            Seduction is consensual, otherwise it would not be seduction. David did not seduce Bathsheba.

          • I am absolutely certain that seduction cannot be called the norm in romantic relationships. Men are often not poetic enough to woo. But on the other hand they also do not need to be seduced one bit. On the world’s terms, as soon as they get a smidgin of a green light they are ‘in’, with no further elongation of the process needed. Further, men will not need convincing over any long period or process of whether they are attracted to someone – they will know it in a millisecond.

            What place does this therefore leave for seduction? It would be needed only by the unscrupulous who are punching above their level – or perhaps it would also need to be employed towards the shy. The former scenario is much the same as grooming.

            If grooming has only to do with rape and sexual abuse then why are people currently applying it to cases that may not even qualify as being sexual at all?

            The idea that any seduction is needed when people like each other is a nonsense. If they like each other they would not need convincing by means of a process; and if anyone needed that process (presumably because of doubts), they would be bested by a candidate about whom there were no (or fewer) doubts.

            Partly this demonstrates how differently men and women think about things.

          • And as for marriage as a default not being an unmixed good (how could anything on that vast scale be an unmixed good?) that is to change the subject (why?) from the apposite and relevant one of what option is better or even half as good in its track record.

          • Christopher

            Goodness, you know some crass men. Perhaps in your world there isn’t much of a divide between grooming and seduction.

          • I haven’t got a world. There is only one world. However, you didn’t read carefully what I wrote. The subcategory of men (or women) who employ seduction do so because they are ruthless and target oriented and devious and have learnt to push the right buttons. I never put a percentage on these to say how common they are. The subcategory of women (or men) who set out to seduce the shy (to seduce the only ones who might *need* any persuading, in other words) was just as much mentioned, so I was not talking particularly about one gender rather than the other.

            In other scenarii men would not need seduction because they would not need any persuading in the first place. Nor would they necessarily waste time on any woman who needed it, since there are plenty of others that they could get on with more easily and more naturally. I do urge you, if you want to understand men, ask men.

            Further, it is hard to see how seduction figures in a Christian scenario. Generally the more transparency the better, and secondly the more natural mutual-ease the better. Thirdly, is seduction really something to be done among equals? A seducer and a seduced are not equals, nor (fourthly) can both of them be unselfish.

            To see the seduction-grooming overlap, a comprehensive (not selective) Venn diagram of core characteristics would be useful.

      • Penelope – the allegation against Bishop George Bell was almost certainly false. But Archbishop Welby has never withdrawn what he said.

  9. Together with which, the present liberal viewpoint (which has very much in common with the tabliod-newspaper outlook) is that one sexual misdemeanour (and Vanier had many) definitively colours a whole life. Any whole life whatsoever. Yet the same people would turn a blind eye to someone who broke the biblical and international-Christian sexual code 10 times a day between age 16 and 100, even if they identified as Christians.

    Something to ponder.

    • That’s interesting. I find that the tabloids are far more conservative than liberal. They are usually very moralistic about sexual misdemeanours. Hypocritically, of course.

      • I wasn’t talking about any vast generalisation about their overall stance on everything. I was talking about the way that they present the idea that one sexual misdemeanour or moment of weakness definitively colours and defines a life of 30,000 24 hour days. Liberal discussion sites seem to agree with the tabloids on this.

        (However, they are quite happy for Christians to perform multiple such misdemeanours daily.)

        • Christopher
          You just made one vast generalisation about the tabloid press and ‘liberals’. Most ‘liberals’, secular and religious, loathe the tabloids (a generalisation).
          However, what are the multiple ‘such’ misdemeanours we Christians perform daily?

          • We don’t. But you think that a Christian could with impunity have extramarital relationships (potentially daily) including so-called one night stands, and that would not cause one eyebrow to rise, whereas a single moment of weakness in another person’s lifetime should colour their entire profile and lead to their being called an abuser. Not once but whenever they are mentioned.

          • I think there’s a vast moral difference between a one-night stand on the eve of a battle and a single instance of sexual abuse.

          • That’s exactly right. Precisely because sex constitutes marriage. (Also if someone is dying.) But such things happen rarely.

          • It constitutes marriage because marriage/sex is (like the Lord’s Supper) something awesome and not to be tampered with. It can be never neutral – it’s either the highest good or the highest adulteration. 1 Cor 6 deals with this.

            Marrying is another word for fusing and unification.

          • Christopher

            It isn’t awesome if you’re the victim of abuse. It’s cruel, harmful, exploitative. And mostly leads to long term damages to the victim.

          • That’s just what I said. The highest adulteration, leaving everything truly mixed up and messed up. But for Christ.

  10. Years ago an American leader visited one evening at a ‘therapy’ group I attended at the time. During it he exclaimed a ‘word’ about me which wasnt true. He asked the leaders what they thought, and their response was “We would never doubt you”. They therefore assumed I was in some sort of denial because he just HAD to be right. But he was wrong. I left the group shortly afterwards given the leaders’ attitude. This is what happens when you put people on pedestals. Ironically, Jesus taught those who are ‘great’ among us are to be the lowliest servant. If only that were true in the church.

  11. Yes, the OT portrayal of King David is fascinating. I’ve often compared his deathbed speech in 1 Kings 1 to that of a Mafia Don…..”I promised I would do Shimei no harm, but you made no such promise, my son; you will know what to do, my son….”!

    • The interesting thing about David, Israel’s greatest king, is how the Hebrew Scriptures are so honest about his many failings. I once commented in a sermon that he would not qualify to be a bishop according to the criteria of 1 Timothy 3: he had more than one wife and he certainly did not manage his household well – think about Tamar, and then Absolom.

      In contrast, Islam holds that David was a prophet, and therefore without sin. This is perhaps the human view of heros and saints: they have to be without a fault. If someone is on a pedestal, they can do no wrong… until it is found that they have, and then the person is toppled off that pedestal and into the gutter. Then, all that the person has done is tainted.

  12. Ouch, ouch, ouch. I too read about Jean Vanier with grief, the sort of grief that I attribute to HaShem. I hear a recitation of the ancient texts on a high C, plaintive, You will forget me when you are successful in the land. The whole sexual landscape is fraught, O God, who sees that we walk amidst many enemies, and they are stronger than we are.

    Are we innocent that we should throw so many stones?

    Ian, I want to bring up a phrase at the end of your difficult piece. And bravo for trying. “pastoral practices that protect all from the effects of sin”. To me this is like the hedging of Torah, begun with Eve and continued in all sorts of places. What magical bullet do you have in mind!

    I’ve seen the fortress church and the continual police record checks, what we call safe-church. But is this a prophylactic? I doubt it. These are a sell-out to finance, to protect the churches from lawsuits and keep insurance fees reasonable.

    We cannot bring every one to completion by correct or incorrect policy. It is the prerogative of God to bring us to our true end. And even Egypt is to be brought to completion, the world, and the city, redeemed.

    We should live in hope and not carry the important metaphors of Scripture (including marriage, intimacy, and pleasure) only for our own benefit. One could do well to reread Psalm 16 and sing it. I did a version here in the style of the music of the accents. I hope the link comes through.

    I put things on the way out of the house where I can see them so I don’t forget what I need to take with me. I am still forgetful.

  13. The article and the debates are interesting. No one has mentioned that Jesus told His disciples not to let themselves be put on a pedestal, but He seemed to spend a lot of time encouraging everyone to put Him on one, to obey Him in every way, to reject everything and everyone else except Him – of course He was the Son of God, but that was a great leap of faith for those around Him to take. It is an attitude that we wouldn’t want anyone else to model. I find this difficult.

    • I think I do point to both these things in the quotation from Matthew.

      The reason that Jesus does this, but prohibits us from doing so, is that Jesus is the sinless Son of God, and we are not! That is why there are some serious limitations to the question ‘What Would Jesus Do?’

      Why do you find this difficult…?

  14. Eddie Arthur has posted this today: https://www.kouya.net/?p=10707
    It is about his experience of ceasing to be the UK CEO of Wycliffe. His comments towards the end are interestingly relevant to this post:

    “Leadership is insidious and it is dangerous. I didn’t realise how important my role, influence and title were to me until I stepped down. I may not have liked doing the CEO’s job, but I loved being the CEO and all of the attention that came with it. At this distance, I can see that it would have been all too easy to see myself as being more important than I am and to believe that normal rules didn’t apply to me. I can understand why leaders fall and I can see why those responsible for monitoring them allow it to happen.

    Dealing with my own feelings of loss of significance makes me realise the importance of praying for those in leadership who face temptations that are different to those faced by the rest of us and which have the capacity for a much wider impact. “

  15. Wow, that was some list of (some off-topic) comments to wade through to see if this had already been asked!
    Where does a possession of the Fear of God come into this?
    How true is it that the modern obsession with the love of God is removing the Fear of God who will judge all sin?
    I had not heard of Vanier before all this; did he ever write about what it means to fear God?

  16. Well, this conversation certainly revealed the huge fissures among self-described “Anglicans” – which includes those who sit pretty lightly to the words of Christ and his Apostles. Cafeteria Anglicans, perhaps? Penelope Cowell Doe thinks “one-night stands” are OK on ‘the eve of battle’ (what romantic novels does she read?) and states that “sex workers [= prostitutes] require dignity and agency too”, while the Church of England which I am a priest says (still) they need Jesus Christ and forgiveness. Savi Hensman opines that sex between widows and widowers over 60s is OK, but I don’t know which Bible or wandering prophet told her this. And David Runcorn still wants to call himself an ‘evangelical’ (why, I’m not sure – Steve Chalke, Roy Clements, Rob Bell, Brian McLaren and others ditched that label long ago to embrace the New Revelation about sex and salvation) , though he bends the word beyond breaking point – certainly beyond anything Stott, Green or Packer would have recognised.
    When it all comes out in the wash, it will be clear that Jean Vanier, for all the wonderful things he did for adults with learning disabilities, had some weird and twisted ideas about sex. As did the sexual predator Bishop Peter Ball, who was lauded in his day by George Carey at Trinity College, Bristol; while John Smythe acted brutally toward young men, and Jonathan Fletcher has acted strangely and unwisely as well. The last two were or are self-described evangelicals and have no excuse at all for the way they acted.
    All very sad – and it so calls to mind Ezekiel’s lurid descriptions of the religiosity of Judah and Jerusalem before their fall to the Babylonians.

    • Brian

      You might be an ordained priest, but you continue to be rude and dismissive. Apparently, you believe you have a right to declare that I am only a so-called Anglican and David cannot be an evangelical. How breathtakingly arrogant of you.
      Perhaps you might find my original comment on one-night stands to understand the context. It had nothing to with romantic novels, and I resent your cheap, sexist slur. Finally, I would remind you that your Lord and Master taught that sex workers have agency and dignity, I am horrified that you do not and pity anyone for whom you have pastoral oversight.

      • When did He teach that, and secondly what is meant by agency?

        It is an unclear concept.

        The claim makes no sense, since no-one is in their essence anything called a ‘sex worker’ since they have obviously not always been one (what a gross thought) and, further, they could/should stop being one in intent this second.

        The extreme dignity of each human being is intrinsic to being human and created not connected with any way they occupy their time. Obviously things people do to occupy their time can be either good or bad.

        • I, too, wondered what this dignity and agency language was about, having studied it as a topic as part of contract and partnership law many moons ago.
          A quick internet skim shows that agency is a topic in philosophy such as ” moral agent” (carrying a sense of “right and wrong”)and in sociology, such as “social agent” within a social structure.
          Really, explanation and meaning and application of the term is needed, in the context of
          1 prostitution ( which carries connotations of moral agency) and sex worker ( which seems to be weighted more towards social agency in Penelope’s use) Coercion may be a factor in both instances of “agency”.
          2 Vanier and the women, in particular, from what is set out in Ian’s article. (I know nothing else about it.)
          To me, the language and it’s use seems to be less biblical, more superficially woke Guardianista.

      • Finally, I would remind you that your Lord and Master taught that sex workers have agency and dignity.

        I don’t really want to intrude on this spat, but I resent the implication in this statement that Jesus approved of sex work, i.e. prostitution. Rather, by his own words, he saw “sex workers” as being lost and in need of being found. He gave them ‘agency’ by granting them forgiveness and the ability to leave their previous life and “go and sin no more.”

        • David and Christopher and Geoff

          A couple of responses:
          I would describe it as a rebuke, not as a spat.
          I did not say that sex workers were sinless: none of us is; we, nevertheless have dignity and agency. I would, however, argue that in commercial sex it is usually the buyer who is the more guilty and that many sex workers would find it impossible to leave and sin no more; especially those who are enslaved.
          These texts remind us of the biblical language on dignity and agency – Matthew 21.31, Genesis 1.27, Galatians 3.28. Two thousand and odd years before the Grauniad.
          No one is in essence a sex worker, any more than anyone is in essence a prostitite, a doctor, lawyer or car mechanic.

        • ‘Something to be healed from’ is not just different from ‘something to be affirmed in’. It is the precise opposite.

          Just as ‘go and sin no more’ is the precise opposite of ‘go and pursue your trade’.

          It is not exactly likely (to put it no stronger) that Jesus of all people would have come close to uttering the latter!

          • Whaat????

            We have record of taxcollectors and sinful ladies coming to the Lord and each time (a) they repented first and (b) they were regarded by the Lord as lost sheep or in need of repentance. Consequently anything about their status that was sinful before, the process of repentance or ”turning away” made them relinquish that.

            Matt’s saying on this 21.28-32 (though I don’t regard it as authentic, but that makes little odds here) is in the middle of a section all of which is addressed specifically to the chief priests and elders.

            The fact that Jesus is saying that ‘even’ the taxcollectors and prostitutes etc etc should be a clue.

          • No, they’re a specific sociological group. Unless you have good arguments or evidence for why ‘we’ are more chief-priests-and-elders than we are disciples or women-helpers or synagogue-listeners or anything else.

          • But self-righteousness is part of human nature. It would be found in all the groups. It would not even be absent from the tax collectors and ‘sinners’. There would be different degrees of it however. The central point is that in Matt the parable of 2 sons pits the authorities against the nobodies (in Luke it pits Jews against Johnny-come-lately Gentiles).

            You seem to be thinking that Jesus is saying that the taxcollectors and sinners were the first to respond to him. He does not say that. He says that the chief priests and elders are below even those groupings in responding correctly.

    • Brian,
      you said:
      When it all comes out in the wash, it will be clear that Jean Vanier, for all the wonderful things he did for adults with learning disabilities, had some weird and twisted ideas about sex.

      I have not read any details of the investigation, but I suspect that Vanier had ideas about sex that were not particularly “weird and twisted”. The idea that men with power should be able to use that power to get sex is an idea that, all too sadly, is very common. The whole concept of the Alpha Male is rooted in this. I suspect that there are few men who do not have this idea lurking in their Id. King David did. With his eye off the ball of what a king should be doing (see the wry comment in 2 Samuel 11.1), it wandered over the rooftops…

      We rightly vilify Harvey Weinstein. It seems to me that he got himself into the position he had in the film industry in order to gain access to the infamous ‘casting couch’.

      With Vanier we have more of a dilemma. I doubt that he set up l’Arche in order to gain access to and power over women. Rather, he found himself in a position of influence and power over women. And he fell. Would I have done better? I fear that I might well have also fallen.

      We have been invited to learn from this very sad episode. One thing that strikes me is how the Billy Graham Rule shows wisdom. It seems a bit clunky, but if someone recognizes the failings of men, if you find yourself to be someone whom women admire, then you do need to guard yourself from yourself.

      Can we think of other things which we can learn?

    • Brian, you state incorrectly that ‘Savi Hensman opines that sex between widows and widowers over 60s is OK, but I don’t know which Bible or wandering prophet told her this.’ What I actually wrote was ‘Surely there is a good argument for having a word such as “abusive” specifically to refer to sexual behaviour which is not consensual, though that does not mean that all other sexual relationships are right? Can you not see the difference between, say, a widow and widower at an over-60s club becoming romantically involved (even if you disapprove of what is clearly non-procreative) and a gang sexually abusing a child?’

      As I made clear, sexual relationships which are non-abusive are not necessarily right. However there is a category of behaviour which is commonly classified as abusive and which may result in police or social services action and/or dismissal by an employer. Whether or not you think the authorities should take any more notice of a gang sexually abusing a child, the example I gave, or romance between a widow and widower over 60, people who come across cases of abuse have certain legal or organisational and, I believe, moral duties to take action.

    • Brian. Please take more care what you claim here. Bishop Peter Ball was not Bishop of Gloucester when George Carey was at Trinity College. I assume you mean when Carey was ABC? Savi Hensman has questioned your reading of her words here, as has Penelope, more than once. Steve Chalke has not, to my knowledge, ditched ‘that label’ – rather, conservative groups and organisations who previously enjoyed being associated with his ministry disinvited him, leaving him outside their tribes. That is very different. Packer, Stott and Green have all taught me a great deal but they differed from each other on significant issues (Calvinist doctrine, and the charismatic movement among them). They also belong to a larger and more varied list of evangelical leaders and theologians in what has always been a diverse tradition. So your list is limited and misleading. I remain an evangelical. We disagree. Evangelical often do. I can live with that? I do not know why you cannot. Your approach reminds me of when I worked with Michael Green when he brought students to Lee Abbey. One of his regular challenges was to the Oxford CU leaders. He repeatedly warned them not to define evangelicalism so tightly that it became exclusive and excluding (it was well known at the time that some of the leading theologians at Oxford had started out as evangelicals).

      • “I remain an evangelical. We disagree. Evangelical often do. I can live with that? I do not know why you cannot”

        David, surely you know why. The matter in hand now is far more serious than anything previously straining to inner evangelical relations. Previous generations of evangelicals could stand together when they differed over interpretations of doctrines, say over the Bible as infallible or inerrant or inspired; Election as particular in calvinist or universal in Arminian; Baptism in the Spirit at conversion or subsequently; eschatology premill or-amill or post mil etc; leadership-congregational or apostolic or episcopal; conditional mortality or eternal punishment etc etc.

        But none of these former or current disagreements amongst evangelicals were regarding ethics so serious and indeed salvific; where one party reads something in the Bible as being clearly presented as sinful and condemned by God, whereas the other party promotes and blesses that same something as something as divine. (Though I am aware of your claim that what you now bless is categorically different than what the Bible then condemned).

        You posit Michael Green as an example of one who was not partisan over doctrines, yet on the matter in hand, he very decidedly and vociferously took sides in North America and UK. As for there having been ‘leading theologians at Oxford starting out as evangelicals’ – indeed, but when they landed, I doubt they still claimed to be evangelical.

        • Simon. ‘Previous generations of evangelicals could stand together when they differed over interpretations of doctrines’. But more often they didn’t did they? This has been a tradition with an endless capacity to fragment and split when disagreeing (and not just in the dozen Welsh chapels down the old valley high streets). I started studying theology at a bible college where everything on your list was a big issue, sound or liberal, discussion was tense, other views (and those who held them too vocally) suspect and where the college was constantly guarding its public image/pronouncements for fear of falling out with one or other of its sponsoring traditions over some issue of belief. For all its rich gifts and fitness the evangelical tradition has never been very good at coping with questions that rock the traditional boat. The discussion about men and women in the bible on another thread here is a further example of that. And Green’s point, which I think you miss here, is that those theologians were gradually forced out of the evangelical fold by conservative tendencies to bang in the fence posts too narrowly – not the other way round. So it is not so much about where they finally landed so much as being steadily edged off the evangelical land that had once been the home of their faith.

  17. David,
    You’ll be aware that Dr R T Kendall has a book of his lengthy sermon series on King David, “A man after God’s own heart”.

    At this risk of ruffling feathers a married Christian female family friend was more circumspect in blaming David alone asking what Bathsheba was doing bathing as she did in the sight of David, on the roof top in full view, close enough not to need a telescope! In a culture of female modesty? Was it knowing temptation on her part? She continued to live with Urriah, who knew something was up, before David had him bumped off in battle. They may have previously met as Urriah’s wife in a court social? It wasn’t one way. They were both moral agents. They didn’t move in together. Women know women, and what makes some of them tick! Male and female attraction. Upwardly mobile perhaps? Or even one night stand!
    So much speculation from scripture, but we can not read it through the single lens of victim, coercion, rape, social structure “agency”, patriarchy, dominance. Nor through the lens of Freud.
    But this has moved far from the article and Vanier and should not be read into it.

    • My feathers are duely ruffled. “So much speculation from scripture”? In this case Scripture seems clear. David was clearly at fault, and when confronted, saw this and repented, as we see in Psalm 51.

      He was brought to this point by Nathan’s confrontation. It is partly in David’s reponse to this we see a way that he was after God’s own heart. For David the bottom line was his relationship with God and he realised how his actions had affected that relationship.

      Perhaps this is a lesson from Vanier. Would that he had been confronted by a prophet on his first fall from grace. Leaders need to be confronted with their failures. Their reaction to this is a test of their heart.

      • David

        I agree. And my comment was really addressed to Geoff. Women in patriarchal cultures rarely had the opportunity to say no to kings or tribal leaders. Abraham and Hagar also.

        • Penelope;
          1 Are you accusing me of being a supporter, a defender of rape.?
          2 Are you accusing me or female family friend, for her comment on the behaviour of Bathsheba?
          3 You seem to be a poor reader of texts
          4 From being an ardent disciple of deconstructionism, with a flick of a switch you become a reconstructionist with little more than a huge fallacy. No evidence, no balance.
          5 With you your neo- Marcion view of the OT Testament, what do you think God was doing through all of this?
          6 Did God approve of King David’s actions in adultery? David started out well but ended badly with a divided Kingdom. Not permitted by God to build a Temple. Scriptue does not pull any punches about the failings of David.
          7 Bathsheba, with the support of God’s voice/prophet Nathan ensured her son Solomon was enthroned, not some other. She was no push-over. A feisty woman.
          8 She became Queen mother a position of high honour.
          9 Solomon, the fruit of her womb from the seed of David built the magnificent Temple and he had renown in the known world.
          10. Bathsheba received even more honour from God being named by him through Matthew, in the history of redemption leading to the long for, sinless perfect King of Kings Lord of Lord’d Jesus,the Messiah, a descendant of hers.
          11 It is with a huge relief, as God throughout the OT shows the inability and depravity of human, nature even those in high positions that he stepped into our hostile world, in person, God made flesh, to deliver redeem, rescue us from self, sin ans satan.
          For a great overview of 1&2 Kings, head over to the Gospel Coalition site for Nancy Guthrie’s two part discussion with Dr Gary Millar in the “Help me to teach the Bible” series.

          • Hmmm.

            I agree with Steven Robinson (below) but I also think Penelope is right to ask the question. If rape is primarily an issue of consent, and if she (Bathsheba) was put in a position where she could not say no, or if she was at the very least an unwilling participant (which seems reasonable from context), then that would at the very least justify the question, wouldn’t it? Even if later on it is implied that David’s action had benefited her, it would not retroactively justify said action, would it?

            I mean, I agree that the story as it’s presented in Kings does not paint her entirely as the fully-innocent victim, but nor does that excuse David’s clear abuse of power in his decision to pursue her. The weight of responsibility may be shared a little, but even if so it is clear who holds the greater portion of it.

            I don’t think you are responding fairly to a reasonable question.

          • And yes, I am well-aware of my hypocrisy. Complaining about the comments being a digression above, and actively engaging in them down here.

      • It seems to me Geoff has a point. David was clearly at fault, but perhaps so was Bathsheba. As king, David had great power, yet she might still have said “No, I am married” (cf 2 Sam 13:12). The text does not say that David raped her. I don’t know enough about the customs of that day to say for definite whether it was normal for a woman to go to the trouble of carrying water up to the roof and washing herself there (Hebrew readers would have known without being told) but I suspect not.

        • Steven, I know you’re not the only one, but you’re mistaken in assuming that Bathsheba herself was on a rooftop. More probably she was washing herself at ground level, albeit out of doors.

          Some make much of her being chosen by God to be an ancestor of her son. Myself, I doubt whether any purity can be read into that, and it’s curious that Matthew refers to her, the mother of Solomon, not by her own name but as ‘the wife of Uriah’ (Matt 1:6).

          One of the penalties God imposed for David’s adultery, and indeed murder, was that he lost the child issuing from their union. But we should not overlook that Bathsheba would have suffered the loss at least as much.

          Luke does not mention her at all in his genealogy. Jesus was ‘the son (as supposed) of Joseph … [son] of Nathan, [son] of David’. Who was Nathan, I wonder? – especially as David did have a son called Nathan (II Sam 5:14).

      • David

        I have no doubt Vanier would have been repeatedly ‘confronted by a prophet’ with God’s challenge to cease & repent. I think Scripture shows us it is always God’s way.

        Vanier certainly would have been ‘convicted of sin, righteousness and judgment’ by the Holy Spirit – yet he stifled that voice – I am not surprised his commentary on Jn16 moves quickly away from the challenge here.

        I dont know what Vanier’s doctrine of ‘sin’ was, but my hearing & reading of him suggests it was fairly absent. He spoke and wrote beautifully on loneliness, tenderness, kindness, weakness, brokenness but he seemed vague on the present power of personal wickedness (someone correct me if I’m wrong and point me to his work on this).

        That Vanier persisted for some 4 decades in his own abusing indicates he closed his heart and mind to God, and his conscience in this matter was seared. That he was mentored by, stood by and facilitated the ministry of the abuser Pere Philippe – disciplined in the 1950’s by the Vatican for similar sexual abuse in the context of spiritual direction – suggests this shadow was present for all Vanier’s adult life. That on being questioned he outright lied and claimed to know nothing of Philippe’s wickedness – despite having been spoken to by Vatican officials in the 1950’s about Philippe – and that he later at L’Arche shared notes on shared women victims, with Pere Philippe, shows the cob-web of sin was well spun in his life.

        kyrie eleison

      • David,
        I know this is a stretch, but if you look up to an earlier comment I made, I said much the same thing.
        David repented, as a result of the prophet Nathan’s intervention, as per psalm 51.
        Adultery, yes. There’s nothing to claim or cry rape.
        But my point is that there is nothing to show the David raped Bathsheba, as Penelope heavily implies in her accusation to me.
        For an excellent overview of 1&2 Kings, head over to the Gospel Coalition site and listen to the two part interview of Dr Gary Millar, by Nancy Guthrie in the, “Help me to Teach the Bible “series.

        • Geoff

          There is the context. To use the word agency again. How much agency do you think Bathsheba had, or Hagar, or Leah and Rachel’s slaves?

  18. Blog Host:
    ” Again in the last week I have been told (as I have heard numerous times before) that, because people in same-sex partnerships enjoy fruitful ministry and lead growing churches, this shows that we should change our understanding of marriage and confirm the holiness of such relationships. I wonder how that would look if applied to the ministry and relationships of Vanier?”

    Are you, Ian, trying to equate the Church’s acceptance of the ministry of LGBT+ people with the Church’s acceptance of the ministry of Jean Vanier?

    If so, you are equating their ministries, too.

    Jesus said: “By their fruits you will know them”. The heterosexual abuse of women by Jean Vanier can in no way be equated with the ministry of non-abusive LGBT people, surely?

    • No, of course it can’t – unless you’re Brian and extend the meaning of abusive to include “any behaviour which incurs my disapproval”.

  19. Geoff

    There is the context. To use the word agency again. How much agency do you think Bathsheba had, or Hagar, or Leah and Rachel’s slaves?

    • You are not profound, and your reading of Hagar and Leah is simplistic.
      As usual you dont answer questions don’t present any scripture theological support for your contention.

      • Geoff

        I was going to apologise for posting this comment twice when I meant to answer your reply about ‘accusations’ more fully.
        I was going to point out that the Levite’s wife and Weinstein’s victims were feisty too, but that this didn’t stop them from being raped; repeatedly.
        You really believe that Hagar and Leah and Rachel’s slaves were not raped? They were slaves. How could they consent?
        I suggest that you google the Shiloh Project, to see what other scholars are writing.

  20. Mat,
    I’m not reading backwards to justify King David’s action, but reading forwards to describe what happened, context.
    There is nothing to show whether Bathsheba was a willing participant or not, regardless of power imbalance.
    Here is a far more balanced and thorough presentation, of the topic, by a woman, following closely the scripture story. It shows who Bathsheba was and her family upbringing. It provides much missing context. :

    • Thank you for the link, it contains much food for thought, though to be clear I was not accusing you of trying to justify David’s action; that question was rhetorical.

      But I think my point remains. I agree that there is nothing explicit in the text that tells us about Bathsheba’s motive. But as you are well aware, and is covered at length in the linked article, we can know a good amount about the cultural context and the expectations of men and women in that society. From that context I think it’s fair to ask questions about how much consent Bathsheba could have given, which is what Penelope is doing.

      I am not convinced that ‘rape’ is the correct term to describe what happens, but then I’m convinced it’s totally wrong either. Despite what the article you link argues, I cannot help but disagree with the amount of agency the author grants to Bathsheba: Even if it was higher than she is often given credit for, it would still pale in comparisons to the desires of the King, which has been argued above already. Even if it is slightly less one-sided than often presented, which I’m prepared to accept, one-sided it undoubtedly remains.

      There isn’t really a question in there…..

      • If Bathsheba were culpable in anyway for seducing or inviting or not resisting David’s advances, then the prophet Nathan would surely have rebuked her too.

        But he addressed only David. It is David who is guilty of ‘despising God’ and who was judged for it. Note the threefold use of the verb ‘took’ – David took what was not his. It was a wicked abuse of power – period. We must not try to defend the indefensible in David by casting aspersions on Bathsheba.

        • “If Bathsheba were culpable in anyway for seducing or inviting or not resisting David’s advances, then the prophet Nathan would surely have rebuked her too.”

          It is entirely plausible that he did.

          I hope you do not think I am attempting to defend David on this matter? I am certainly not arguing that he was right in what he did, or that somehow it was God’s will that he commit adultery.

          • But Mat, and Simon, we can’t go beyond scripture in this. Both are presumptions about what Nathan may or may not have said, arguments from silence. Certainly David ought not to have needed a prophets word of winsome correction as he’d know the law.
            Much appreciate Simon’s contribution but in relation to a cry of rape, it begs the question of what “took” x3 means in the context: adultery/rape?
            “Rape” was used in relation to Tamar, but not David.
            Don’t think we can read back 21 C Western definition of rape/consent into the social mores of that Biblical period.

            And Mat, I’d be pleased if you could explain what you mean by agency in the biblical context of that day and age as I really don’t know. Is it moral and/or social agency as no one who has commented has taken the trouble to explain what they mean by the term. But any explanation may only be for my edification as I’m not looking to take this further, and further from the original article from Ian.
            Vanier: Simon thanks for your input, a most welcome directly on point application.
            Not sure now who enjoined King David in the comments without scrolling the lengthy thread on my phone, but I did join in. But it has been widened obsfucated even further to bring Hagar, Leah not remotely similar and Weinstein, with all the western liberal sexual Hollywood morality, agency, into the mix (again highly distinguishable from from Vanier)
            Particularly with what I consider highly vexatious accusations to me by Penelope, which without explanation border on defamatory.

          • Geoff
            I haven’t made any accusations. Nor am I going beyond scripture. David takes Bathsheba. Hagar and the slaves of Leah and Rachel are different only in that they haf even less agency than Bathsheba.
            There are huge differences between marriage in the Hebrew Bible and marriage in contemporary western society, but not too many differences between coercive sex.
            Once again, please google the Shiloh Project.

  21. Lovely reference to one of my heroes, David Watson. His biography is still one of my favourite books. I don’t think he was easy to live with but on the other hand he made sure his wife’s own gifts were given outlets. I’m sure your theology had the possibility to go deeper on many things that he was only just pioneering in practice.

    I’ve been reflecting again about working with pioneers. They’re quite a particular phenomenon. We’ve had contact with quite a few over the years one way and another.

    Without them some things just wouldn’t happen. There’s such wonderful but dreadful power in social inertia and social pressure, in some ways vital and stabilising, building social cohesion, in other ways suffocating and excluding eg the strength and weakness of say Denmark as a country and maybe some denominations as they become comfortable after a few generations .

    The whole point is they cross boundaries and think in original ways, or they have the initiative to put ideas into practice and often have some sort of charisma to get others out of their comfort zones to do the same or at least divert spending to fund them. Like the point made about church employees in a previous blog they’re often highly motivated people willing to take risks and work long hours in return for poor wages. John the Baptist ministry, opening doors that others then walk through. It seems to me that as long as their organisations still have a ‘founder’ they remain more alive and ‘sparky’ (the old stat according to Wagner was 3 generations for a new church, 5 for a mission organisation) but they’re also more vulnerable to the founder’s clay feet being found out . Not because founders have greater moral inconsistencies than others but they have a greater effect the more power they have and the more followers there are.

    I remember Gerald Coates speaking about this subject, saying that often our greatest weaknesses aren’t necessarily what we’d think of as our besetting sins but are often a flip side of our greatest strengths. I think celibacy linked with dedication can be a strength, but if the person has announced it as such they then are morally obliged to not enter into any visible relationship, hence any outlet being automatically opaque and at higher risk of being coercive as in the 2 in the L’Arche situation. Ditto living simply. I remember when the accounts were being reviewed of a sadly messy church handover seeing that the pastor had awarded himself a small but illegal pay rise after going to do translation work in Argentina. Seeing how royally pastors were treated there had left him miserable and feeling undervalued.

    I think the words about management were wise. But pioneers are often the first one in to an organisation and it can be harder to impose things on them, the whole point is they’re already sufficiently “semi-detached” to conformity or convention to do something new, or they quickly become like that through having to push through to make it work. Maybe there isn’t ever quite the right no-risk balance and there will be pendulum swings between new initiatives and subsequent administrative cold porridge. I think there is legislation in place in both France and the UK that helps more recent initiatives get stable more quickly in terms of limiting potential abuse by leaders if we can get over the superstitious practices that can give such unhealthy or unchecked power.

    Well done L’Arche for how they’ve dealt with things so far, do hope they don’t get mired later, baby and bathwater syndrome.

  22. I also think that there’s a thing about pioneers and founders that people think that because they’ve had one great idea and even got people to do it that all they do will be as great or they’re all round great people when in fact that means we suspend critical thinking and wise judgment around the. I vividly remember the brilliant founder of a mission movement doing all sorts of pastoral damage in his visits round teams, and another evangelist, amazing gift with the unsaved but the pastoral havoc he created when trying to follow through into discipling. In my book all evangelists without exception should be linked up with follow up teams and if they plant churches, which is no bad thing in itself, but they should have training in team leadership themselves. Bible college or theological college just doesn’t cut it. The best evangelistic outreaches and pioneering projects within churches were organised by people who came from a background of another profession first – an architect, a banker, a teacher, a RAF engineering officer, a computers expert. This models the 2 Tim route into leadership – not relying on self selection at career choice stage for single youngsters (although I wouldn’t deny they have their role).

  23. I have just added this guidance to today’s post, and should have done so on this one. I don’t think these disciplines of grace have been observed in all the comments here, and I wish they had.

    A note on Comments policy:

    On contentious issues like this, comments are apt to get out of hand. Please can all commentators follow these disciplines of grace:

    a. Address the issue, rather than kicking the person. Even the shift from ‘You are a heretic’ to ‘This position appears to lie outside the boundaries of orthodoxy’ makes a big difference.

    b. Take personal spats offline. If there is a long engagement just between two people, it suggests you need to get coffee together.

    c. Always assume the best construal of the other person’s position.

    d. Don’t dominate. Make room for others to contribute.



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