Once more: whither the Church of England?

On Monday there was a (comparatively) early release of the 2023 Statistics for Mission, the results of the annual October collection of attendance numbers in Church of England churches. The headline was all about the good news!

Weekly Church attendance up five per cent in third year of consecutive growth

Average weekly attendance at Church of England services rose by almost five per cent in 2023—the third year of consecutive growth, preliminary figures show. Meanwhile weekly attendance by children was up by almost six per cent last year, according to an early snapshot of the annual Statistics for Mission findings. While total attendance is still below 2019 levels, the last year before the Covid-19 lockdowns, the analysis suggests in-person attendance is drawing closer to the pre-pandemic trend.

In 2021 all-age Sunday attendance was 22.3 per cent below the projected pre-pandemic trend, but the new figures reveal that the gap had narrowed to 6.7 per cent last year. All-age weekly attendance rose to within 8.3 per cent of the trend last year, compared with 24.1 per cent in 2021.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said “This is very welcome news and I hope it encourages churches across the country. I want to thank our clergy and congregations who have shown such faith, hope and confidence over recent years to share the gospel with their communities.

“I’m especially heartened to hear that more children are coming along to church and I’m grateful to everyone involved in that ministry. These are just one set of figures, but they show without doubt that people are coming to faith in Jesus Christ here and now – and realising it’s the best decision they could ever make. Renewing and growing the Church is always the work of God, and it’s our role to join in with what God is doing. As we gather in churches this weekend to celebrate Pentecost, let’s keep praying and working to invite more people to discover the love of Jesus Christ.”

It is worth spending a few moments actually understanding what these figures are saying. A note to the press release says this:

The projected pre-pandemic trend is based on a straight-line fit to published attendance figures from 2014-2019. A straight line is a good fit to that dataset, particularly for adult attendance.

That straight line is decreasing at almost exactly 30% over the last ten years, ie at 3% per year. The expectation (that this decline trend continues) means that the figures for 2023 were expected to be four years of 3% decline lower—that is, 12% lower than 2019. In fact, the figures are still 8.3% lower than this, which is therefore a drop of about 20%.

So we are celebrating being one-fifth smaller as a church (in terms of attendance) than we were in 2019.

These kinds of figures are always easier to grasp in visual form, so this is what the graphs look like:

(These graphs are from the papers for the Archbishops’ Council in January, when the first figures were known. I am not sure why the information has been released now, four months later, when the figures have not changed much if at all. The release seem to coincide with communication from the meeting of the House of Bishops, in which encouraging stories of growth were shared; this provides important context for that.)

In terms of the goals of the Church to see decline turned around and become growth, this is not very encouraging news. It means that not only have we not seen overall growth, we have not seen an end to decline. In fact, the rate of decline has not yet slowed, and is perhaps getting faster.

It could be argued that this is almost all the result of Covid lockdown losses, and we are still to see the full recovery. But I think that is now quite hard to sustain: this is now the third year since lockdown; other institutions seem to have made any recovery they expected; and other churches seem to have already fully bounced back (this is certainly the case here in my city). The awkward question remains about the national Church’s response, and in particular the comments of the Archbishops, which closed church buildings unnecessarily, and appeared to communicate that in-person attendance was not essential anyway. It appears as though many Anglicans have taken this seriously, and the habit of church attendance has been lost.

The graph raises some key questions, both about the general approach, our current situation, and where we are heading.

First, why report this at all? Other churches don’t appear to do this, and in fact most other denominations don’t have the resources to do the detailed counting and analysis that the C of E does. I think the analysis is important and useful, since there are some ‘levers’ that can be pulled at a national level, in terms of decisions about national finances and resourcing. And it is an important reality check for those in regional and national leadership (assuming they attend to the numbers).

But why report it in the press? If the numbers are going down, then it feeds the false narrative that the Christian faith is in decline in the UK (growing churches don’t feature much in the secular media!). If the numbers are going up, this is only likely to provoke adverse comment.

Secondly, what do these figures actually mean at a local level? It would be tempting to think that, if there is any encouragement from this late bounce back from Covid, then the Good Ship C of E is showing signs, like the proverbial oil tanker, of turning around. But we are not a ship; we are a flotilla of little ships, and many of them are travelling in quite different directions. The net, aggregated figure does not tell us whether the Church as a whole is growing or declining; it tells us whether the numbers attending the many growing churches, and their growth, is outweighing the decline in others. As yet it is still not doing so.

But, at a local level, we can also see something of where these figures are pointing to. Local churches do not decline in a linear fashion, since once they reduce to a certain size, they cease to be viable and disappear. And for rural churches (which have historically enjoyed a greater attendance in terms of percentage of the population) there is a catastrophic age demographic. In other words, unless something changes quite quickly, we are likely to see the trend of decline accelerate rather than reverse as these two factors kick in.

Thirdly, what is imagined to be happening which is driving these numbers? Justin’s comment suggests that he thinks that the increase from last year is a sign of people coming to faith for the first time. If that is so, then the assumption being made here is that the drop in the pandemic years comes from losing people permanently, which seems unlikely.

Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, commented:

This is very good news. For the first time in a long time we have seen noticeable growth. Of course we don’t yet know whether this growth is a trend but I take it as a great encouragement that our focus on reaching more people with the good news of Jesus, establishing new Christian communities, wherever they are, revitalising our parishes, and seeking to become a younger and more diverse church, making everyone feel welcome, is beginning to make a difference.

Again, the assumption is that changes from 2022 arise from people coming to faith, so the loses have again been written off. The figures are seen as a vindication of current policy—which is, well, a ‘courageous’ way to read it (as they say in the Civil Service).

Fourthly, how is this reality shaping the regional and national agenda? It was good to hear that the House of Bishops were sharing stories of growth at their meeting last week. But how much time are they spending on confronting the reality of our situation, the future, and the likely consequences?

It was fascinating to see this projection in the Statement of Needs for the next bishop of Durham:

The Diocese has 207 parishes (169 benefices) with 258 churches, of these a third have a usual Sunday attendance of fewer than 20. Modelling has suggested that at recent rates of congregation decline fewer than 100 churches are likely to have 20 or more gathering for Sunday worship by 2029.

This is something of a terrifying scenario—who would want to inherit this situation?—but at least the thinking is being done. I am not aware of any other diocese which has made a comparable projection—but surely they all need to?

This in turn raises the question: what are the implications for levels of diocesan staffing, numbers of senior staff overall in the Church—and the number of bishops? Do we simply continue with the historically overheads supervising diminishing congregations? This is probably thinking that should have been done ten years ago—since when the overall size of the C of E has dropped by more than a third.

Fifthly how does the dramatic decline in vocations to ordained ministry feed into likely future scenarios? David Goodhew offered an analysis in March of what is happening and what the implications might be.

The COVID effect is substantial and long-lasting. Drilling down, there is a further cause of deep concern: vocations to ordained ministry. During the pandemic, the number of people starting training for ordained ministry has fallen dramatically. It is about 40 percent down in 2023 compared to 2019.

For stipendiary ministry, the situation is close to collapse.

Stipendiary Ordinands Starting Training in the C of E

 370 399 403 417 321 263 229

The number starting training for stipendiary ministry was 417 in 2020, but only 229 in 2023. So, the number starting training for stipendiary ministry fell by nearly half in three years, 2020–23. Non-stipendiary (self-supporting) ordinand numbers have been hit less hard but have still fallen by about a third.

Stipendiaries tend to be younger and non-stipendiaries tend to be markedly older, so these figures mean a further aging of the clergy, who were hardly brimming with youth to start with. This dramatic fall continues. There is little sign of any post-COVID rebound. And the conflict over sexuality is further depressing vocations, so the decline may grow worse in 2024.

The consequences will not be felt immediately, but in five to 10 years the collapse of stipendiary vocations is utterly toxic for local churches. Without a rapid rebound, these figures mean far fewer curates from 2025–26 and far fewer incumbents from 2028 onward. There are going to be some mighty short short-listing meetings in future. To mitigate this stark picture requires action, now, in 2024.

Sixthly, picking up on David’s brief comment—why are we continuing to engage with distracting, divisive, and damaging debates when there is only one thing we need to be focussing on?

Why are we pressing on with the enormously contentious debates on sexuality, which appear to be unresolvable since we are not going to change the doctrine of marriage and yet some bishops are still pressing for an incompatible change of practice?

Why are we pursuing an agenda for racial justice which is controversially based on Critical Race Theory and its sibling Black Theology, rather than a biblical vision of diverse engagement and involvement?

Why are we talking about reparations for slavery, based on historical inaccuracies and a failure to recognise Britain’s role in eradicating this evil?

Why are bishops and archbishops continuing to wade into political and economic arguments in a way which is out of step with and often alienates the members of their own church?

As I said in my speech in Synod last February:

But here is the other stark reality: Other churches are growing. But we are reluctant to learn from them. We now represent something less than 18% of all Christians in a church on Sunday. We have another eight hours scheduled to talk about LLF. What it will it produce? More division, more frustration, no more progress.

Fiddling whilst Canterbury burns doesn’t even capture it.

Isaiah 3.6 vividly recounts the collapse of the people of God:

For a man will take hold of his brother in the house of his father, saying: “You have a cloak; you shall be our leader, and this heap of ruins shall be under your rule”.

If we continue this fruitless process, that will be the legacy we leave: the Church of England, a heap of ruins. It is up to us.

It still is.

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382 thoughts on “Once more: whither the Church of England?”

  1. Thanks, Ian. I think the sentence “The number starting stipendiary ministry was 417 in 2020…” should read “The number starting training for stipendiary ministry was 417 in 2020…”

  2. I admit maths is not my strong point, but I must still be quite close in concluding that current adult weekly attendance is around 1 in 95 of the English population – for what is supposed to be the ‘national church’. And in turn that makes the claim to be the national church close to meaningless. Especially with a faith like Christianity which is very much about the congregation – not like some pagan religions where attendance may not be so important so long as the rituals are performed.

    At the same time it seems fairly clear that many of the current problems/divisions/etc in the CofE are precisely because it makes that ‘national church’ claim and is under some very worldly pressures as a result. I’ve said before that the denomination is effectively trying to serve two masters, and we have the authority of the Sermon on the Mount that serving two masters doesn’t work.

    IF the Bible taught that Christian churches are supposed to be ‘national’ in the way the CofE is I guess we’d have to just accept it; but the trouble is the Bible does not teach that – the NT outlines a very different way for the Church to relate to not just individual states but the surrounding world in general. I don’t remember where I did it (probably on FB) but it is now ‘many many moons’ since I asked Ian to provide the evidence if any that the NT does support ‘establishment’ and I’m still waiting. Isn’t it perhaps time for the CofE to realise that it would be better off following what the NT does say rather than what looks to me like a very worldly “but surely God must want….” idea?

    • Christianity is very much about Christ – “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18).

      And since when did it only count if it was New Testament? I thought we read and believed in the whole Bible…

    • Thanks Stephen. It is a point you have made before!

      But I remain unconvinced—mainly because other Anglican churches have disestablished, and remained in hoc to cultural pressures.

      And the C of E itself has shaped culture rather than be shaped by it. I don’t see a correlation.

      • As a question – are there actually any established Anglican churches besides the English ‘mother church’? The answer to that might raise all kinds of issues….

        For me the issue on disestablishment is mainly about biblical faithfulness. I really seriously do not find establishment in the Bible. Obviously OT Israel is effectively a state church, but it seems to me the NT teaches, as I’ve said, a transnational or supranational church independent of secular states rather than some idea of creating ‘established’ mini-Israels. Jesus’ “ekklesia” is in continuity with the OT congregation of Israel (same word in the LXX) and is itself God’s independent holy nation in the world.

        I’d expect short-term a disestablished CofE would seem to lose numbers – there are likely to be a fair few people in there for actually questionable reasons who would leave.
        Still waiting for you to produce the NT evidence for establishment….

      • The only way to avoid having to deal with cultural challenges is to become a small sect of ultras who are willing to be mostly cut off from the outside world

        • Who is asking that we ‘don’t deal with cultural challenges’?

          What is being suggested is that the church challenges and changes culture, rather than culture shaping the church.

          • Stephen was saying that being established means the cofe has to deal with cultural challenges. But so do all churches that are not deliberately closed to the outside world. Disestablishing would not rid the cofe of links to the “real” world

          • I think the Church more effectively challenged and changed culture when it was independent in the early centuries. The history since is far too much of the church being distorted by the world – I mean, that Putin thinks he is running a ‘Christian country’…..!! A church ‘by law established’ is by that very fact giving too much to the state – the Church is ‘established’ by the power of God, of the Holy Spirit, of its own King Jesus, and does not need to be state established.

            And I wish you luck challenging and changing culture from the current position where effectively the CofE has all but lost its power.

          • Stephen

            I’d agree with that, but the cat came out of the bag in the 4th century – now most “successful” church leaders who are known outside their communities are driven by money, politics and/or sex.

    • Stephen

      I think there are lots of good reasons to denationalize the church, but national churches have been the norm for the vast majority of Christian history

      • Peter
        The BIG reason for disestablishing the church is that it should never have been established in the first place. And a strange belief that we might, all churches, do better by following the pattern the NT actually sets out, rather than a decidedly worldly idea of what God ‘must want’ but oddly enough did not tell us to do….

        Strange that you seem to support establishment when one of its many bad effects was the criminalisation of ‘gays’. Christianity certainly does not support the practice of gay ‘sex’ but as an independent and non-coercive body would have been only trying to persuade people against it, not using secular power to penalise the practice

        My point about the CofE facing ‘cultural challenges’ was essentially the same thing as the idea that an established church is necessarily trying to ‘serve two masters’ – which ultimately can’t work and looking at the current situation clearly hasn’t worked.

        And no, the alternatives are not the extreme choices of establishment or isolation; we are meant to be very much ‘in the world’ but also very much NOT ‘of the world’. Sadly there are times when isolation is forced on us by persecuting states; ironically in too many cases the persecuting states have been nominally Christian – ask John Bunyan and Michael Sattler….

        • The Church of England was created precisely to be an established church, a successor to the Roman Catholic church but which would allow the King to divorce his wife. Even if it was disestablished the C of E would become a largely liberal Catholic church like most Anglican churches in the West. It certainly wouldn’t become a majority hardline evangelical church for which there are plenty of Pentecostal, Baptist and Independent churches anyway

        • Stephen

          I don’t support establishment, but I’m not passionately against it either.

          Actually gay sex was partially decriminalized in the 1960s because the church of England promoted human rights back then!

  3. “This in turn raises the question: what are the implications for levels of diocesan staffing, numbers of senior staff overall in the Church—and the number of bishops?”

    Good questions. We have too many dioceses, and it’s somewhat silly to insist that the Archbishops are supposed to be both national leaders and diocesan bishops themselves. For a while I’ve thought we ought to just bite the bullet and accept that Canterbury is the national leader, and create another Archbishop (maybe at Winchester because I’m nostalgic like that) to look after the south whilst York has the north. Then re-organise into 23 roughly similar-sized dioceses (most serving a population of 2-3m):
    London, Southwark, Chelmsford, Rochester, Norwich & St Edmunds, St Albans, Oxford, Ely & Peterborough, Chichester & Guildford, Exeter & Truro, Bristol & Wells, Salisbury & Portsmouth, under Winchester
    Durham & Carlisle, Liverpool, Manchester & Blackburn, Leeds, Sheffield, Lichfield, Lincoln & Southwell, Coventry & Birmingham, Derby & Leicester, Hereford & Worcester, Chester, under York

    But I would add that one of the features of the Church now is that parish churches need diocesan support with the responsibilities laid on them – safeguarding, accounting, commercial activity , media inquiries etc.. Some of the responsibilities are excessive, and need to be looked at, but a lot of it isn’t going away and we will need the dioceses to be able to provide a decent support and advice function.

      • The support needs to have a fighting chance of being able to actually support individual chuches and know who they’re talking to, maybe even meet or visit them. If you centralise too much and go for a national resource, the risk is you get something very efficient but also irrelevant.

    • Why not reorganize along tradition rather than geography?

      This could please those who are worried their financial giving is supporting heresy and also could please those concerned that too many resources are being given to HTB rather than supporting parish churches

          • Do the Archbishops of Canterbury want a diocese? Really?

            And of course, I’m not just proposing dropping the dioceses to 23, I’m also adding another Archbishop (without the burden of a diocese). There are pros as well as cons…

          • AJ

            The people who become bishops are not normal people – archbishops even less so. I’m sure they would want to keep the diocese despite the extra workload

      • In the words of a former Prime Minister – “No, no, no”

        That creates a schism in the Church. We’re either a single Church or we’re not. The idea that a Catholic vicar couldn’t get along with having a Evangelical bishop runs counter to this.

        We made a serious error in the rush for women bishops by agreeing to alternative oversight. If we weren’t prepared to accept women as full bishops, we shouldn’t have had them as bishops at all. It loosed a corrosive idea into the church of opting in and out of relationship with your bishop. We shouldn’t double down on that error.

        • AJ

          It’s just reality that there are major issues that we don’t all agree on. There are churches that consider their bishops evil and everyone seems to think the ABC is evil. If there were different bishops for different traditions then there would be more confidence in both directions.

        • AJ Bell
          The fact that the CofE can have this argument at all shows it is not a single church anyway. And unlike Baptists they aren’t supposed to be a group of independent churches which can have some differences.

          • Some Baptists organise as independent churches. Others take a different view. The Southern Baptist Convention is the second largest denomination in the US (after the Roman Catholics).

  4. Thank you AJB for some balance to what I said.
    Agreed numbers aren’t everything – but when a church is (un- or almost anti-biblically) claiming national status, to be in reality so small a number is significant and exposes the church to pressures. Being ‘by law established’ is great when one has majority status – but already we’re increasingly seeing politicians pressuring the church; demanding that we ‘get with the programme’ and the like. They are in a position to pass laws telling the church what to do….

    And certainly for me it’s not that “it only counts if it’s New Testament”. But the point is that we live in the times of the New Covenant and it very much makes a difference. As I understand it the NT depicts the Church as itself a nation, though a rather unconventional one consisting of the ‘born again’ and operating in the various secular nations somewhat like the Jewish ‘Diaspora’. As ‘citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven’ becoming almost ‘resident aliens’ even in our native lands. I DO believe the whole Bible – but that is where the WHOLE Bible leads, with Jesus running a transnational ‘Kingdom not of/from this world’.

    • Two thoughts.

      I think it’s helpful to distinguish between being a national church and being an established church.

      Being a national church is, to my mind, about saying that it’s useful to organise the church nationally. The Orthodox do this (at least in their traditional heartlands and it seems to be a looming issue for them in the US that they are grieved they haven’t managed to reorganise as an American Orthodox Church), and even Roman Catholics organise nationally. National organisation is an convenient practicality, when you believe you’re supposed to maintain unity. And Scripture has a lot to say about unity of the Church – Ephesians 4, 1 Peter 3, Colossians 3, Philippians 2 etc.. Organising on theological disagreement is much harder to square with unity.

      Being an established church is a bit different, and about having a role and status within the state. Personally I think we’re too anxious about this. Is it not more properly seen as a gift for us to use? We have a seat designated for us in the national legislature. We have a national broadcaster obliged to broadcast content from us. We have a set role in the many of the key national moments where we get to preach a sermon to the nation. Why is this is supposed to be a curse that we should want to rid ourselves of?

      • The Church of Sweden was formally disestablished in 2000. But it remains overwhelming the largest church supported now by a voluntary church tax which many pay even if they attend church v rarely. Swedish clergy have told me disestablishment has affected them less than they feared.

  5. At best it could be said that the rate of decline temporarily slowed for a small time because a proportion of the people who were thought to be permanently lost when the church locked its doors actually appear to have returned. Alternatively the bounce back could indeed have been because new people have come to Christ; that would be wonderful news but it would have to be set against the sadness that roughly equal numbers have apparently been permanently lost. Either way, the church’s declining trajectory appears to remain approximately in line with what it would have been if there had been no pandemic.

    So, as Ian says, the issue that grows ever more serious involves the urgent need for C of E leaders to recognise what the church has been doing wrong and to change direction so that it does what is right and effective. A church which has a clear picture of how it must exist in the world as it is while remaining a faithful witness to God should not need to obsess over numerical results – either of people or financial sustainability. We trust God for those things. The leadership can only regain that picture if it makes the right choice between following the wisdom of the world (good luck with that) or the wisdom gained from obedience to scripture and openness to the Holy Spirit who guides God’s people and works in the hearts of potential new Christians who will respond to his voice in their hearts. I present this as a leadership issue, not to have yet another pop at the usual suspects, but because it’s the very essence of leadership within a church.

    As things stand – and we all know it – the Church of England under its present leadership is digging its own grave. It may have big financial assets but there’s no point in being the richest church in the historical graveyard of dead churches. The thing is that, despite the faithlessness and self indulgence of the past, a repentant bench of bishops would get a huge cheer and the full-hearted support of the many faithful clergy and people in the C of E who yearn for renewed life and an end to the bitter times they’ve been made to endure. Many ordinary people in England outside the churches cannot fail to notice the dark times that are coming their way; Christian hope offers a personal and possibly a national bulwark against the dark forces involved; we all desperately need lively Christians and lively churches everywhere. There’s still time for the Church of England to play its part as a sound witness for Christ everywhere in England. But time’s running out.

    • I think the end comes quicker than one suspects: rather like the Hemingway character, ‘How did you go bankrupt?’ ‘Slowly, then suddenly.’
      When congregations reach a certain average age, they will not continue to decline at 3% p.a. but will close up shop quite quickly. Those who have prepared themselves for the spiritual winter (which will include persecution and the growing salience of Islam and antisemitism in Britain) will emerge stronger – but it will not be painless.

      • Only if current trends continue. Do they ever?
        Things could be either better or worse. And those 2 possibilities may be roughly equivalent in likelihood.

        • “But sexual abuse of children and its cover up is not more widespread among Christians than elsewhere. Whereas pornography is.”

          Is that really what you meant to write, Mr Shell?

          • No, I corrected it below. For ‘Whereas pornography is’, read ‘Whereas in the case of pornography it is far more prevalent elsewhere than in the church.’. Do call me Christopher – the other sounds condescending and it is impossible to debate with a prior bias like condescension.

      • I agree: whatever transpires, I think it’s going to be anything but painless. On the secular front we have every kind of degeneracy already happening and the kind of evil looming which mostly falls under the heading of ‘fascism’ – globally (in the West at least) but with the added twist of vicious control down to the individual level made possible by mind blowing digital advances (and seriously unethical medical possibilities and practices).

        Meanwhile our own church remains focused on its favourite topic to the exclusion of the world outside which is gently coasting to dystopia. Where’s the information gathering and sharing; the leadership for prayer; the prophesy; the warnings; the condemnation; the influencing; the preaching? Where are Jill Duff’s beacons? Yes, many will be shining out for the gospel at the local level in the suburbs and on the estates; but does not the national church have a particular role in calling out the satanic forces which are operating at the national and global level, in our great institutions, our politics and corporations?

        There’s an urgent need for intelligent and informed Christians, who know how to communicate effectively, to address the fear which is starting to grip a slowly awakening population and explain the real context which is of course the unceasing battle between good and evil. There’s a real gospel opportunity here both for saving souls and also supporting those Christians whose influential position places them in the thick of the battle to push back against satanic forces. Our silence on these things signals consent and, as happened many decades ago in Europe, Christians will be asked: ‘why did you say nothing when you had the chance to speak up for us?’

        I suspect a church which was serving God faithfully in this way would not be looking at decline – although it might well be experiencing serious persecution!

        • Don Benson

          I think actually a big problem for the cofe is that mainstream secular culture is more moral than the church leadership and rather than the church of England being a moral voice to the nation, the nation (media, politicians and celebrities) are being a moral voice to a corrupt dishonest and downright abusive institution that refuses reform

          • You live in a country which is a world leader in producing weapons.

            It hosts a porn industry bigger than most nations.

            It is in the grip of a consumerism which is destroying the natural world.

            It is plagued by violence.

            Corruption stalks the political process.

            Criminals are unjustly executed.

            Sex as a leisure activity without commitment is the social norm.

            The most vulnerable, children in the womb, could in many places be killed.

            ‘mainstream secular culture is more moral than the church leadership’. Hmmm…

          • Ian

            The CofE is in England, not the US. In England there’s a big arms Industry, but it isn’t a part of mainstream culture and although porn is widespread, it’s more moral than sexual abuse of children or covering up the sexual abuse of children.

            After loss of faith the two biggest reasons people leave the church are abuse of children and treatment of LGBT people. These are both moral issues the church of England continues to fail on.

          • But sexual abuse of children and its cover up is not more widespread among Christians than elsewhere. Whereas pornography is. I don’t, therefore, understand your argument.

            Plus all the other things Ian listed are far more pervasive among non Christians than among Christians.

            You are probably swallowing whole the invented propaganda that (a) Christian institutions are more likely than the average to be involves in abuse and (b) nonChristians and their institutions are more moral than Christians and their institutions. These massive generalisations are often said, in the hope that no-one will check out whether they are true or not. Coming into a church after a workplace or pub or street. you immediately notice the higher average standards of which things are present there and which things are recommended. There is none of what you get in the secular world where people are encouraged to have a lower view of their value, their soul, their purity, you name it.

          • My second sentence in previous comment – read: ‘Whereas for pornography there is a difference – it is much more widespread elsewhere than it is in the church.’.

          • Christopher

            The Church of England is not lead by most Christians. Many Christians have become so appalled at church leadership in our generation that they have stopped attending anywhere

          • Peter,

            We live in a country which exports commodified sexual / moral degradation to the world. Presently, there is a social movement in California – the world “capital” of the pornography industry – to retitle pedophilia “minor attracted personage.” That is a societal problem, not an ecclesial one.

            On the other hand, I haven’t crunched the numbers, but I would imagine U.S. churches struggle with higher levels of sexual abuse than the C of E, considering the decades of sexual scandal plaguing both the US dioceses of the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant SBC. That doesn’t include the nearly untraceable scandals and violations within non-denominational communities. One recent example would be the implosion at IHOPKC. Being we, as Americans, are largely responsible for de-established churches due to legal separation of church and state, I cannot say the experiment is going well 247 years in…

            De-establishment isn’t a miracle formula for church health.

          • Dustin

            I’m talking about England, not the US.

            I also don’t really know anything about pedophilia. I do know it’s criminal status in the US is complicated because the current law in most states allows child rapists to marry their victim as a “get out of jail free” and until there’s widespread support for a federal ban on child marriage I don’t see how this will improve.

      • If anything there is an emergence of a Christian nationalist right across the West, especially the US but also in much of Eastern Europe especially

    • the church’s declining trajectory appears to remain approximately in line with what it would have been if there had been no pandemic.

      Indeed, and that is the point. Hardly a matter for celebration.

  6. The figures for training for stipendiary ministry are really concerning.
    Is there a breakdown (of figures, I mean) somewhere? I can’t find these easily (websites conflate numbers) – and we know that in a few years’ time there will be a big wave of retirements, given the average age of ministers. Can anyone answer:
    How many in training for stipendiary ministry in the C of E
    – at Wycliffe Oxford?
    – at St Stephen’s Oxford?
    – at Ridley College?
    – at Cuddesdon?
    – at Trinity Bristol?
    – at Oak Hill?
    – at St Mellitus?
    – at St John’s Durham?
    – at Queen’s Birmingham?
    – anywhere else?

  7. An excellent article based on reality and not the wishful thinking of the archbishops. I was astonished to read their response to the data which does not support their optimistic interpretations. The Church of England is in long term decline and the average age of congregations strongly suggests that this decline will continue. You identify the reasons for this and the archbishops’ public pronouncements only make the situation worse. The church is no longer for those of various political beliefs but for those of one often small strand of opinion. People go to church for worship, fellowship and to learn about their faith. They do not go to hear about and finance reparations for slavery and child benefit arrangements. They are not a captive audience and will and have voted with their feet.

      • Ian,

        The Church is not the clergy. It is not even the Bishops.

        It is the People of God. We do not need to go anywhere. In His mercy, it is we who will find blessing – with or without those who call themselves our shepherds.

          • Ian,

            Obviously not you personally. I have made it perfectly clear on a number of occasions I respect your fearless defence of orthodoxy.

            You hold office at the top of the Church of England. You are a public figure. I am attempting to influence your messaging.

            A perfectly reasonable ambition, I would suggest.

  8. Thanks Ian. Pertinent analysis, as always.

    May I make a fairly pedestrian point.

    As shown in the graph, in the two years since October 2021 there has been a net gain averaging nearly 40,000 per year. The key question is whether this can and will continue.

    As background, we know that net losses of all-age AWA have been running at about 20,000 per year since this attendance measurement was started some twenty years ago.

    These annual net losses have been due to a failure each year to recruit enough new joiners to compensate for natural loss. That is, each year roughly 20,000 more people die than are being recruited.

    And this is a very long trend. There has been a similar net annual loss since 1970 in a longer running measure of attendance (all-age usual Sunday attendance), which was 1.5m in 1970, and in 2019 was less than 700k, a loss on this measure of about 17,000 per year.

    To get to the point, to move from a net loss of 20k per year to a net gain of 40k per year rquires an increase in the number of permanent new joiners each year of 60K (extra to the usual number of permanent new joiners).

    It seems very unlikely that we have seen a long-term, structural increase in recruitment of this magnitude.

    It is much more likely, as you suggest, that over the past two years we have seen a temporary boost in joiners from returnees and also perhaps some delayed recruitment – those who would have joined in the past few years but were delayed because of the pandemic.

    • Thanks Trevor for this very helpful further analysis.

      I do think the big difference between much of the C of E, and parts of the C of E plus ‘new’ churches, is the demographic structure.

      If you have a church of all over-70s, you cannot simply attract a new generation. Instead, something new and separate (perhaps using the same building) needs to be started.

      • Indeed.

        But so difficult for the CofE.

        On the one hand it wants to be ‘a Christian presence in every community’ – the local, walkable, corner-shop model, where the customer accepts a suboptimal offering for the sake of convenience and community spirit. Perhaps half of the CofE’s outlets are like this, their location based on where a Norman landowner lived.

        And on the other hand, if it is flourish, the CofE has to provide the supermarket model – the mobility and free choice of those trying to do the best by their families, happy to drive 20 minutes to access their favoured service provider, and looking for a quality product, which in this case requires critical a mass of people, so will favour larger congregations, and will tend to be located in towns. Just a pity that for the CofE this usually has to be offered in buildings designed for very different cultural norms, competing with other bodies able to start from scratch.

        And this range of offerings under the single CofE brand!

        I think we’re agreeing . . . .

        • Trevor

          If the code focused on parish ministry instead of trying to ape trendy churches then they wouldn’t need to compete because they would have a USP.

          Otherwise they are just Vineyard or the Baptists, but with lots of extra baggage

          • ‘Just Vineyard or Baptists’?? What is wrong with them? Many are doing a good job of drawing people to faith and building disciples.

          • Nothing wrong with Vineyard and Baptists as Ian says below. But if the C of E has nothing distinctive ( and attractive) we might just as well shut up shop

          • Peter J
            I lead a Baptist church which is growing and whose median age is 70+ . and has doubled in size in the last 12 months. Some of those who attend are refugees from Cof E churches which to all intents and purposes have ceased to function.
            I can assure you that none of them would regard themselves as ‘trendy’.

          • Perry Butler – so I think the question that arises from your observation: what should the C. of E. be offering to those who are in the number of the Saviour’s family? and what should they be doing to bring those who aren’t to faith? And what should make the C. of E. approach distinctive?

          • Jock,
            I would suggest that what makes the Cof E ‘distinctive’ is the fact that it is the established church, closely bound up with the state and monarchy and with a long and familiar history going back to the Elizabethan Settlement (and perhaps even before that) -together with its own law-making apparatus.

            Take all that away and its just another church on the block.

          • Ian Paul

            That’s exactly my point. Why would an average Christian pick the CofE over these other two?

            Being actively engaged in promoting parish ministry not only provides a huge benefit to the community, but also gives people who would never go to Vineyard/Baptist a reason to attend a cofe church

          • Peter Jermey – so what is parish ministry? And what does ‘parish ministry’ offer that independent churches don’t?

          • AJ Bell
            “Why is this is supposed to be a curse that we should want to rid ourselves of?”

            Perhaps because it’s not the way God instructed us to do things??

            And as founded the CofE was very much a national church in a bad way – it is otherwise now because other Christians with more biblical ideas on church and state have forced it to adapt, but it still keeps trying to hang on to what are these days very much the ‘rags’ of its former improper privilege….

          • God instructed us not to crown kings, preach at funerals and weddings, take to the airwaves, or talk to legislators?

          • Peter J
            “After loss of faith the two biggest reasons people leave the church are abuse of children and treatment of LGBT people”.
            “If the code focused on parish ministry instead of trying to ape trendy churches”

            Irony there in that the current attempt to push same-sex marriage on the CofE is pretty exactly “trying to ape trendy churches” and the time people are making the church spend on that is definitely distracting from parish ministry of other kinds.

            As regards treatment of LGBT people, definitely the CofE’s part in criminalising such people was all kinds of wrong. But the current position is much more akin to the perfectly proper attitude of a sports club which says “Don’t try and take part in our games if you are openly unwilling to keep our sport’s rules”. If there is a problem there it is in the CofE being supposedly a national church and so claiming in some ways to set the rules for all and not just for its members.

            People intruding into the affairs of a sports body to try and replace its rules with the rules of a different game would be unlikely to get treated well – but would only have themselves to blame for the treatment as the option clearly exists to join or found an association of their own for their different game….

          • Jock

            Being involved in the community and being open to everyone in the community.

            Lots of other churches do this and do this well, but they are not in every community.

            When I was a child I lived in three different villages. All three only had one church, two were cofe (the other church of Scotland). They were not just another church, they were The church (or kirk)

          • Stephen

            I wasn’t talking about SSM, but no, its not the trendy churches that allow gay people to marry. The trendy churches actively exclude gay people, but play that aspect of their theology down.

            In any case the churches should be led by genuine faith, not what makes them popular or puts bums on seats.

          • The thriving Anglican churches in America are the doctrinally orthodox Anglo-Catholic parishes and Vineyard style communities. The Episcopalian churches have wealth, opulent buildings, and distinctive liturgies, but all the people are in the property graveyards…

          • Dustin

            The ACNA has endless infighting and is also losing members (when you remove the complicating issue of covid)

  9. If its present trajectory continues, then I suspect the end point of the CoE will be rather like an alkaline battery. Holds a working voltage for a certain time then suddenly declines to near zero.

  10. Thank you Ian for your article and for clarifying the news with the graphs. Your analysis is spot on. The graphs are typical of a system recovering from a sudden shock, implying the reason for the recovery is the reverse of the reason for the drop. If the recent growth had been due to another reason, such as people coming to faith for the first time, I would expect the rise to be straighter rather than a curve tending to the previous trend. Numbers for deaths, joiners and leavers each year would help unravel this

    • Thank you John—that is a very helpful observation. 2024 figures will be very interesting in that regard!

      Numbers of losses through death and transfer would be very valuable—but I don’t think this is collected, though it should be possible.

      And thank you for your work and analysis which I have found very informative.

  11. As an outside glancer, it seems to me that the moat important things is not being measured -“how far have people developed in Jesus in the last reporting period?”
    If this was measured and addressed I suspect that the church as a whole – not just CoE- would be far more effective in what will matter in eternity (and therefore what matters most now).
    What you measure is what you chase.

  12. The fact C of E attendance actually rose last year on a weekly basis certainly does not show any damage from the Synod votes, if anything something of the reverse. After all if you want no recognition of homosexual couples at all there are already plenty of Pentecostal or Baptist or Independent churches you could join so it does not seem to have affected the established church too much it now does prayers of blessing for same sex couples with opt outs for churches that disagree. While it should not focus too much on critical race theory and apologies for slavery nonetheless it does need to acknowledge the growing Black British congregation within the church.

    I do agree though we still need to focus on Parish ministry and stipendiary priests as a priority though and reduce the costs of administration spent at diocesan level

    • T1
      But you are still talking of a shift between 1 in 95 of the population and maybe 1 in 94 in a body divided massively. And I’d be pretty sure that within the CofE it will largely be the traditionalists who are growing – Liberal Christianity of any denomination has little to offer.

      • But how traditional are the traditionalists Stephen? Look at divorce: we’ve seen a serious shift amongst the traditionalists to be significantly more tolerant of divorce than their predecessors of say 60 years ago (looking again at Matthew 19). But even amongst the traditionalists who hold to a more restrictive line, you see a more liberal practice, so there’s very little support for things like denying divorcees communion.

        • First replying to your earlier comment
          “God instructed us not to crown kings, preach at funerals and weddings, take to the airwaves, or talk to legislators?”
          Dealt with the ‘crown kings’ thing at length on my blog a few years ago – here’s a link.

          Note that there are clear problems when supposedly ‘Christian’ states try ti imply that they are somehow a ‘second Israel’, a status that belongs only to the Church itself, or that the King is somehow a ‘second David’, a status that only Jesus can claim. And it seems questionable in relation to peacemaking that we crown a king who is somehow a secular head of the local church but also the nominal C-in-C of the state’s armies which have more than a few times in my life been abroad killing Muslims….

          The problem with weddings and funerals is with the dubious assumption that we are a ‘Christian state’ and so everyone is entitled to a Christian wedding or funeral. Take to the airwaves or talk to legislators – no problem; do so from a privileged position as a ‘national church’ when the NT has rather clearly said that being a national church is not how we should do things….???

          On the May 23 5.25pm post. Again I’d want to deal with each case individually – there can be a case for example that we may let people start with at least a bit of a clean slate on things that happened before their conversion. But again, I feel this is an example where the ‘established church’ status can and has distorted things because of the pressure of , well the ‘serving two masters’ thing with the boundaries between ‘born again church’ and the general population being blurred.

      • Not necessarily at all, indeed after prayers for same sex couples were approved you would expect some of the traditionalists to have left. Liberal Christianity is what the majority of people who live in England, which is where the C of E is established church after all, want of the 46% who called themselves Christian on the last census

    • Sorry Simon?? the fact that, in contrast to other denominations, the C of E has dropped 20% compared with 2019, and is still 8% below the projected level of decline shows *confidence*?

      What a strange world you must live in!!

      • The fact the C of E grew weekly attendance last year and remains the largest single Christian denomination in England yes.

        • ‘The fact the C of E grew weekly attendance last year and remains the largest single Christian denomination in England yes.’ Simon, you appear to have a flexibly relationship with reality.

          RC is twice the size of C of E in terms of attendance.

          Weekly attendance last year was 20% lower than 2019. That is not growth. (Yes, it has continued slightly its very slow recovery from Covid losses—but that is not ‘growth’.)

      • I know you basically want to turn the Church of England into a Baptist or Pentecostal church in all but name but what would be the point of it? It may as well become a Baptist or Pentecostal church if it lost its liberal Catholics

        • T1
          Because of the way this forum arranges itself over time, not sure which ‘you’ you are addressing there but personally I want to turn the CofE into a Biblical Church. Because the Bible does not teach establishment but a positively different way of doing things, disestablishment is an inherent part of achieving that.
          As for
          “Liberal Christianity is what the majority of people who live in England, which is where the C of E is established church after all, want of the 46% who called themselves Christian on the last census”
          it is not ‘the majority of the people who live in England’ who decide what the Church should or should not do – it is God through his Word and that word hardly supports ‘Liberal Christianity’ which is largely a movement about disregarding the Word and thinking they know better.
          And by the way, the 46% may ‘call themselves Christian’ – if they were meaningfully Christian 46% of the population would be in church every Sunday rather than less than 10% and around 1% for the supposed national ‘church’.

          • Anglicanism reads scripture with reason and always has, if it was Biblical literalist on everything it would not be Anglicanism. If you want that, even where there are contradictory passages in the Bible, you are Baptist, Pentecostal or an ultra conservative Roman Catholic not an Anglican.

            It is the majority of Christian people in England who should have a role in deciding what they want their established church to be, not least as they are all entitled to a wedding or funeral in their local Parish church. I doubt even most weekly church attendees are always there 52 weeks a year

          • ‘If you want that’, you write.

            Simon, it is nothing to do with what we ‘want’. The only people who centre things around what they ‘want’ are those who have not progressed beyond the pram.

            You seem to think that there are denominational alternatives, and each person selfishly (good Christian virtue) chooses what they ‘want’.

            So truth and accuracy don’t even get a look in?


            Your errors, which crop up in many of your comments, are almost always at the level of your basic unquestioned assumptions. Question them. How can it be defended not to question them?

          • There are denomonational alternatives in how scripture is intepreted, otherwise no Christian church would have women priests, same sex marriage or blessings or remarry divorcees and none would have bishops and none would have the King as Supreme Governor. However in reality only some conservative Baptist and Pentecostal Churches and the Roman Catholic Church do none of that (and some Pentecostal churches do now have women priests and remarry divorcees). While the Roman Catholic church believes in the authority of the Pope which other churches don’t

          • So you are *prioritising (sic) those who cannot even think independently enough to ever disagree with their denomination???

            And how can a denomination have an opinion anyway? That which is stated to be a denomination’s opinion is the majority vote of the board of trustees or the like. Of specific individuals not the body.

    • The reduction in numbers in training for ordination might well be a consequence of the whole LLF mess. It would be interesting to see the numbers training in the difference colleges, and how that compares with the situation in, say, 2015.

      Back then, I think it was true that a significant proportion of those coming forward for training were on “the evangelical spectrum”. My hypothesis would be that the direction of travel of the CofE might well be putting off those holding to a traditional stance on sexuality. Laity can jump ship if the Church goes off the deep end. It would be harder for someone whose employment might require them to do things against their conscience.

      • Yes indeed. Though it is also the case that *some* liberals are delaying as well because of the uncertainty of outcome.

        I would observe that, the more we talk about this, the less wriggle room there is. Liberals have relied on ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ and that hidden space is disappearing.

        • What on earth could be less Christian than ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’? It reminds me of a gentleman’s agreement or some private practice which is ‘the way we have always done things’ i.e. it is one of those things that one is not allowed to talk about (by seeing which things ”cannot” be said, you thereby see who holds power). The odd argument seems to be – This is how it was in my formative years and is the lifestyle to which I have grown accustomed. Not a nod to morality in sight.

          • “What on earth could be less Christian than ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’?”

            Worshipping Allah? Claiming Christ is a creation of the Father? Denying the resurrection? The list of less Christian things will be pretty long if we’re honest.

            And besides, for a while now you’ve held to a line that sex is strictly a private affair and to kept away from public discussion, which sounds very much akin to ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’…

          • I have held no such line.
            Quite the contrary, I have always held and said that the topic ‘sex’, which you mention, appears only when there is a question of its not meaning the same as [properly private] married love, in Marie Stopes’s phrase. Thus the very emergence of the separate topic ‘sex’ is exactly the same thing as: not the private being replaced by the public, but the public muscling in unwelcomely alongside the private.

            To summarise: there are two quite different things, one pure and one not, that you are trying to merge under the single label ‘sex’, so contaminating that which is most shameful of all to contaminate. You are saying adultery and the marriage bed are all part of the same thing.

            Pause for a moment while that sinks in.

            Further, you are saying that what is true of one kind of ‘sex’ is true of any other, so it is a unitary concept. But of all concepts there is none that more lurches from the sublime to the hellish. Nothing unitary there at all. The unitary concept is a fake – and not to be able to see that is to have travelled far down an unsavoury road. Split it into marital love and porneia and immediately the picture becomes coherent.

            That which is private (because ineffable) is the first. That which people would love to keep private so that they can do whatever they want (the dishonesty of this motivation is obvious – and you are saying I support it??) shortterm is the one that Jesus spoke of when he said there is nothing hidden but to be exposed.

  13. Looking not only at Ian’s piece, but the comments below, you all seem to think that Christendom dissolved into a nothing; but it was replaced by a something, something exciting and new and revolutionary and which like all successful revolutions was aided in its takeover by disaffected staff officers of the old Christian order. We might call it Materialist Rationalist Progressivism.

    Materialist Rationalist Progressivism is now crumbling. I doubt it will see the 2020s out. Its universalist assumptions have led it to overstretch globally and intentional self-delusion about the implications of changing demographics in its heartlands. Those changing demographics are almost certainly the anvil on which it will be smashed by a cold dose of reality. And it is that moment, when the scales fall from the eyes of the masses, for which we should be preparing ourselves.

    • Call it Modernism. It gave way to Postmodernism in the 1960s. The hippies were fastest to see the emptinesss of Modernism – and have since taken over the culture – but they had nothing better to put in its place.

    • Gerry

      In the UK (and the US) demographic change was almost inevitable regardless of cultural direction. Far right popularism has demonstrably failed – Liz Truss was a disaster and the Rwanda plan is a horrible joke. The political answer seems to be “blandness”, but I don’t think the Christian answer is to demonize non white immigrants or to be bland. I think it’s to remember that the Earth is the Lord’s and that real frustrations over demographic change are difficulties, but not existential difficulties.

      • Liz Truss ‘far right’? LOL (ex-student Lib-Dem & very much an orange book liberal for the most part). As for the Rwanda plan. We’ll see, but I expect that a number of EU countries will end up with off-shore processing for migrants.

    • Well, we aren’t living in an atheist world, that’s for sure. It’s striking how many people despite not being “religious” don’t think everything just stops at death. Huge numbers still have some sort of spirituality, filled with vague and ill-formed notions, but accompanied by a hostility to “organised religion”. The BBC’s Pilgrimage series gives us an insight, via the assorted celebrities and public figures who go on it, into the basic beliefs that a good many ordinary people in this country have. Perhaps this shouldn’t surprise us: we’re beings made in the image of God, living in God’s creation. Why shouldn’t we pick up on the spiritual nature of reality?

      That however throws a challenge back to the Church. We’ve long passed the point where religious debate was essentially between Christians (Calvinists vs Catholics) and taking place in a population with a pretty decent grounding in the basics of Christian thought (even if actual Christians might be only 50% of the population). We now have a spiritually hungry or curious population with almost no knowledge of Christianity, and in a culture with a far more varied religious offering. Are we and our leaders actually equipped for this? We have a huge and rich legacy to draw on. If we want to engage people where they are, and with Christ’s help draw them in from there, we can go all the way to St Paul addressing the citizens of Athens to get our inspiration.

      • Sigh, I hit the Post Comment button, whilst forgetting a key point…

        If we’re well equipped and the ground looks fertile, what’s gone awry? Perhaps we’ve been guilty of putting too many apologies in our apologetics. A presentation of faith that displays little confidence in itself won’t inspire confidence from others. Nor can a faith be sustained without its followers being catechised. The first contact with the outside world, and it will all start to fall away. Nor will the practices inside the Church make sense, and we cannot expect them to be sustaining if there is no understanding of them. Faith is an acknowledgement of spiritual reality and nourishment not just physical, and our people are crying out for it.

        Ethics comes next. The social action of the Church matters. Not because it will or won’t attract people, but because the world we’re in matters, the communities we are in matter, and the actions we take is what gives us licence to talk to the world about it. Personal ethics has to deal with the questions and challenges that are actually in the world, not our memory of times past or fantasies of what they might be. Because the sexual ethics debate takes up so much space on here, I’ll use that as an example. Does it make sense, or does it render us irrelevant, when we suggest we live in an age of unbridled sexual licence, when we’re in a society where young people have less sex than their predecessors 30 years ago, where teen pregnancy has declined dramatically, where marital rape has been criminalised, where the #MeToo movement has taken off, where we worry about boys being ‘incels’ who listen to people like Andrew Tate, etc. etc.. If the ethical questions aren’t the ones people are actually dealing with, then what are we doing?

  14. I can’t find the numbers and colleges of those training for stipendiary ministry on the Archbishops’ Council website.
    Does anyone have the numbers?

    • 23/4 Residential 262 22/3 320 219/20 460
      full time ( non res) 252 273 339
      part time 413 509 565
      = 927 = 1102 = 1364

      • Thank you, Perry – but this is a little ‘telegraphic’ for me. Could you please put this out in a paragraph what this means?
        Does ‘residential’ mean living in halls?
        And do you have numbers from the different colleges of students for f.t. stipendiary ministry?
        Or a link to the actual data? I am particularly interested in knowing the numbers, ages and colleges of f.t. stipendiary students in training as this will hugely impact the C of E in five years.
        Thank you.

        • As an ex DDO I remain interested so I asked a college principal I know and he sent it me via Facebook. Not sure I’m skilled enough to move it from there to here! Yes residential means living in a college and that ihas certainly declined. Will look again and try and provide more info if poss. The crucial statistics is a 40,%decline in those entertaining training in 4years

        • Sorry it’s telegraphic my skills are very basic. Residential numbers have fallen from 460 in 2019 to 262in 2023. Currently Wycliffe 48. Ridley 34 Oak Hill 26. Cranmer 35 Trinity 38….
          So the more evangelical are faring better than Cuddesdon 20. Westcott 26. Mirfield 13 St S House 11…..but residential colleges have non residential students and there are older and newer non residential courses now and that is where increasingly people are trained.

          • Perry, thank you for the update. I was a student at Trinity back in the day, but being married (as most of us were), I didn’t live on site.

            Do you know where total figures for those training for ordination) whether ‘residential’ or not may be found for the colleges?
            I can remember when Trinity had c. 130 full time students, the vast majority of them headed for ordination in the C of E, although there were a few ‘private’ students.
            I think St Mellitus would easily be the largest ‘college’ now.
            A 40% decline in entering training in 4 years is catastrophic, especially since small colleges operate on very narrow margins.

          • Thanks for the information Perry. I am surprised how some of the smaller colleges can survive on those numbers. I wonder if we are will soon see some college closures?

  15. Ian
    Excellent and most accurate diagnosis indeed of the Instututions {thankfully it is not the Church* the church is only the church when gathered in worship**}
    In short there is NO ‘clear line of sight from the ‘hierarchy’/’institutions'{all 7} for individuals.
    The whole thing needs retsructuring- a starting point would be:
    a)It is not well understood that, as the Established Church, the governance of the Church of England is delegated by Parliament. Chris Loder MP-West Dorset has come to the conclusion that the Enabling Act that effected this delegation to the General Synod is not fit for purpose.
    Question: is this the starting point for change- it will take time? The Eclesiastical Committe could be the starting point to begin the debate.
    b) in the meantime outside the formal structures Ian’s 6 points could be developed further into an ACTION PLAN but for what purpose, would it make any diffrence, who would do the work and would any’change come from’?!
    Many thanks

  16. “It is not well understood that, as the Established Church, the governance of the Church of England is delegated by Parliament. Chris Loder MP-West Dorset has come to the conclusion that the Enabling Act that effected this delegation to the General Synod is not fit for purpose.”

    And there it is – the Church of England is not ruled by God but by Parliament – it needs an ‘Enabling Act’ to run its own affairs. That is really end of argument – Christians should seek disestablishment or go to a Church without that ‘second master’ to serve. QED!!!!

    • Well of course the established Church derived its power from Parliament, after all the King is its Supreme Governor.

      • What a bizarre comment Simon. The Church derives its power from its apostolicity. Establishment invites it to exercise that power in and through law and culture, as well as in other ways.

        • Thanks Ian, a very illluminating reply which explains a lot I’ve been puzzled about in your attitude to ‘establishment’. But you and others are way too trusting of an increasingly secular Parliament and state.

          • Yes—historically ‘Establishment’ was about independence from the Pope, and having a privileged position of power in the country, which is why humanists hate it.

            The assumption of a Christian monarch means that it is not about being a ‘state church’ for a secular state.

        • The culture is what the New Testament calls ‘the world’ which is at war with the church. I believe that when the church tries to bbecome part of the culture, it invariably compromises. This is a tension that is meant to be experienced by individual Christians, not the corporate body of Christ.

          You say, Ian, that the Church [of England] derives its power from its apostolicity. What power does it have that non-apostolic congregations in England do not have?

  17. Ian
    “The assumption of a Christian monarch means that it is not about being a ‘state church’ for a secular state”.
    The assumption of an actually Christian monarch rather than only a nominal Christian is a very dubious assumption especially if he has to profess belief to be monarch – tends to lead to the “Paris is worth a Mass” kind of situation.
    Ian, sorry to be blunt but I feel there is a lot in this situation about which you are essentially kidding yourself – and the CofE as a whole kidding itself too.

  18. Ian – and further
    “Yes—historically ‘Establishment’ was about independence from the Pope, and having a privileged position of power in the country, which is why humanists hate it”.

    But since c400CE the church as a whole had been in a kind of ‘Babylonian captivity of entanglement with the state, the Pope’s power being merely how that worked out in the West when the Roman Empire broke up (or equally accurately ‘broke down’!).
    The Church does not need “a privileged position of power in the (or any) country” – it needs to be its true transnational/supranational self.

  19. Peter Jermey
    Belated reply to this which I only just found as I’ve been following later developments

    I wasn’t talking about SSM, but no, its not the trendy churches that allow gay people to marry. The trendy churches actively exclude gay people, but play that aspect of their theology down.

    In any case the churches should be led by genuine faith, not what makes them popular or puts bums on seats.”

    Fully agree with that last sentence; but of course genuine faith is often rewarded by God in terms of ‘bums on seats’.
    ‘Trendy’ comes in more than one form. One form is superficially orthodox but flashy and emotion-targetting in a way Martyn Lloyd-Jones would have said was uncomfortably like brainwashing; results of such trendiness are erratic. Theological liberals are ‘trendy’ in a different way in that they try to follow modern trends, thinking that aligning with the world will help draw people into the churches. Trying to impose SSM on the church is that kind of trendy and offers the world some of what it wants but at the expense of throwing away most of the actual Good News in the Bible for an essentially human-invented religion which dishonestly uses a few Christian words…. As I said, it has little to offer to most people…

    And I repeat, there are no ‘gay people’ as a class, they are not comparable to an ethnic group – there are only people who choose to do ‘gay sex’.

    • We are going to have to agree to disagree.

      From my perspective the only churches supporting same sex marriage are of the “three old ladies and a cat” variety.

        • Which denominations allow SSM in the UK?

          The Methodist Church
          The Church of Scotland
          The Episcopal Church (Scottish Anglicans)
          The United Refomed Church

          Which don’t
          New Frontiers
          The HTB sub denomination

          • And which churches are declining—no, sorry, collapsing catastrophically in members?

            And which are growing?

            Does that tell you anything?

    • “of course genuine faith is often rewarded by God in terms of ‘bums on seats’.”

      Is it? The preachers of the prosperity gospel seem to be pretty good at getting ‘bums on seats’. Is that a reward from God?

      • Adam, you are confusing the necessary and the sufficient reasons. Genuine faith might lead to bums on seats. Bums on seats might not be a sign of genuine faith. Otherwise football matches would be the holiest thing around.

        • I think the point here is that you have to do the right thing and trust the results to God. If instead you prize ‘bums on seats’ too much and it makes you careless, dishonest, or what Lloyd-Jones would have described as near brainwashing people, there’s a problem.

          As one example I once found myself dealing with a pushy pastor and ended up in a situation where I pointed out to him that “If you tell the church that version of events we both know you’ll be lying” – and his response was “Who cares so long as more people come to the church. And my suggestion that God might care was actually laughed at. That is definitely the wrong way to go about it….

          At a different end was the story of a man who found himself in a declining church in the southern USA and he was the only person willing to take on the preaching. The church was broadly evangelical but also had been deeply racist; he decided that he would preach a gospel of racial equality. Over the next few months he lost most of what was left of the congregation and was down to pretty much “Where two or three are gathered together” – but those few were united on the racism issue, and over the next few years the tide turned and the church became seriously full. He trusted God rather than just valuing ‘bums on seats’ and that was in the end rewarded by many bums on seats; that is the right way to do it.

      • I think (as it was once put) “God doesn’t put live chicks under dead hens”.

        Otherwise, faithfulness can lead to suffering prior to the glory that is to come. Strangers and outcasts here should be no surprise to us. Isn’t that a lesson from the heroes of faith in Hebrews?

  20. T1
    Picking up on an earlier comment of yours
    “Anglicanism reads scripture with reason and always has, if it was Biblical literalist on everything it would not be Anglicanism”.

    I’m ‘Anabaptist’ though like many UK Anabaptists I attend a local Baptist church; the Mennonites deliberately chose to spread their ideas widely rather than form a separate extra denomination in the UK.

    Can’t speak for all Anabaptists or Baptists but I’ve always basically held a view which I found well stated in JI Packer’s “Fundamentalism and the Word of God”, and I often refer to a passage Packer quoted from the translator Tyndale, which as I understand it would express the view of most Reformation opinion. Here is a link to a blog piece I wrote centred on Tyndale’s comment


    As for your further comment there that
    “It is the majority of Christian people in England who should have a role in deciding what they want their established church to be, not least as they are all entitled to a wedding or funeral in their local Parish church. I doubt even most weekly church attendees are always there 52 weeks a year”.

    Very simply, biblically there should not be an ‘established church’ in the first place; end of argument. And referring back to my immediate previous comment, it shouldn’t matter whether ‘establishment’ puts ‘bums on seats’; the only question should be “Is it biblically faithful?”, which it ain’t!

    • The Church of England was created precisely to be the established church in place of the Roman Catholic church and replace the authority of the Pope with the King and Anglicanism grew out of that. If you don’t want an established church and a reasoned approach to scripture, don’t be Anglican as you aren’t

      • T1
        It’s not so much that I don’t want an established church, more that a reasoned approach to scripture deeply conflicts with the idea of an established church. The scripture does not tell us to have established churches. If the CofE wants a ‘reasoned approach to scripture’ it should get itself disestablished with urgency. If it wants to be an established church it should face up to the fact that it is being unscriptural, that it is doing what worldly men *think* God must want rather than what God via the scripture has told us he really wants.

        Both Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism, and indeed the Orthodox and various Protestant groups in other countries, all go back not to scripture and Jesus and the apostles, but to the 4th century post-Constantinian entanglement of state and church; to follow Jesus and scripture that entanglement should be reversed.

        • The Scripture does not say you can’t have established churches either.

          Roman Catholics of course see their Popes as direct descendants of the first Pope, St Peter, one of the 12 apostles

          • T1
            Actually I think the scripture does say there shouldn’t be established churches. Agreed it does so mostly simply by positively presenting a radically alternative view which is very hard to reconcile with any kind of established church. But there are specific texts as well, of which perhaps the passage about Jesus’ trial before Pilate is the most definitive – putting it simply, if Jesus had intended the creation of established state churches, Pilate would have had no choice but declare him guilty. Messianic states that could rival Rome is exactly what Pilate was there to prevent, yet Jesus clearly persuaded him that He had a completely different agenda which was not Pilate’s concern. There are also passages in I Peter and John ch1 which speak against state involvement in the Church.

            As for Popes as direct descendants of of Peter, it may be significant that one of the favourite scripture texts of the Anabaptists is I Peter because he seems to agree with us far more than with those who claim descent from him.

          • No, the Bible does not say anywhere there cannot be established churches and I challenge you to find one passage that says that? 1 Peter is just about obedience to Christ, 1 John about following the law of God and Chris, again not a word against established churches.

            1 Peter is just about being holy and praising God and as over 50% of global Christians are still Roman Catholic plenty still do believe in what Jesus said to Peter at Matthew 16:19 ‘I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven..’ More than that believe in the doctrine of apostolic succession once you add the Anglicans and Lutherans and Orthodox who follow that in their bishops too

        • Stephen , if as you believe the Christian Church went badly wrong from Constantine onwards, the RC/ Orthodox etc are hardly going to leap back 16 centuries and become Anabaptists!! As far as the remnants of the Establishment of the C of E is concerned disestablishment would be v complex, could only be achieved through Parliament and Parliament has neither the time nor seemingly the inclination to facilitate it even if ( as is unlikely) the General Synod requested it. Let’s be realistic. The only political party that has disestablishment on its agenda are the Lib Dems. They won’t form a government…not in your lifetime if ever. It may well be that with declining numbers the C of E’s position may in the coming decades be adjusted ( Lords reform perhaps the most obvious) but we no longer live in a Confessional State as we did before the constitutional changes of 1828/ 29. These things move very slowly.

          • Even Starmer has said he will keep Bishops in the Lords even as he says he will remove the remaining hereditary peers

          • Perry
            As regards the RC church, I note that the current Pope is changing things to such a point that some have referred to him as a ‘Mennonite Pope’. Currently the RCs seem to be gradually unravelling a lot of their past positions, but it is slow because it tends to be two steps forward with a Pope like Francis followed by one (but not the full two) step back with a more conservative next Pope.
            Orthodoxy is a tougher nut to crack on this one because it tnds to be narrowly nationalistic at times – as in Putin’s Russia…..

            And while full unravelling of Anglican establishment could take a while, the key step could be remarkably quick – it just requires the CofE to realise that it should never have been established in the first place….

  21. T1
    1) If you have a chamber like the House of Lords one of the things it needs to reflect is the assorted religious beliefs of the nation. But no one religion should be specially privileged.
    2) Jesus’ assertion that “My KIngdom is not of/from this world”, spoken in the context of his trial before Pilate, is actually a pretty total rejection of ‘establishment’ which after all amounts almost exactly to trying to give Jesus a kingdom very much of/from this world. In a trial for Jesus’ life where the charge is exactly that he aimed at creating Christian states, his statement cannot possibly just be woolly ‘spiritualty’.
    3) I Peter includes ch2 vv9-10 which describes the Church itself as the world’s “Christian nation”; and ch1 v1 applies to Christians the descriptions of being a ‘Diaspora’ and ‘parepidemoi’ which though often translated ‘pilgrims’ is more accurately ‘resident aliens’. The implication is that even in his native land a Christian is a citizen of heaven living abroad. Thus the Church itself is a transnational or supranational nation which should NOT be confused with earthly nations.
    4) John 1 (not 1 John) – v12 describes how those who receive Jesus are born again owing their birth to God and not to “…human blood or physical urge or human design”. Established churches have tried to make it otherwise; which was clearly wrong – but again now that our state does not coerce belief…. Superficial Christianisation does not help but only confuses….
    5) Apostolic succession had some meaning when the NT was not readily available and one was talking about successors who had been ‘apprentices’ directly learning from the apostles. Just to be the successor in a particular see is meaningless without that training aspect. One also notes that apostolic succession led to a seriously corrupt church which needed the Reformation, and as for the Orthodox, well, Balkan genocide and Putin’s Russia…..

  22. Yes it should as the Church of England is established church even if other denominations and religions can be represented in the Lords too. Jesus stated his kingdom was heaven, on your logic we could have no churches on earth at all only in the afterlife. You can perfectly well receive Jesus in established churches at Baptism or confirmation. Most Christian churches today believe in apostolic succession, whether Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran or Orthodox. Of course that includes Ukranian and Greece Orthodox as much as Russian

  23. T1
    Oh BOY, MUDDLE!!
    1) Fairly obviously a state that has established a religion will want to give it privileges. BUT the issue here is whether ACCORDING TO ITS OWN SCRIPTURES Christianity in particular should have such privileges or whether it should be working in a different way as the God of Christianity has instructed.
    2) In his trial before Pilate it is rather the point that Jesus is suspected of being like other ‘Messiahs’ who sought to set up a Jewish state in a decidedly ‘this world’ way. His answers aim to get Pilate to understand he has a different agenda to establish a different kind of kingdom, in the world indeed but not ‘of it’ (having worldly values and modus operandi like military force) nor ‘from’ this world depending on the power of this world; and therefore he is not a threat of the kind Pilate is there to prevent. And note that he succeeds in persuading Pilate of that, whence Pilate declaring him innocent and going through the ‘hand-washing’ show when he is pressured into crucifying a man he considers innocent. The whole of that exchange indicates Jesus’ different goals.

    The point is precisely that we DO have not just ‘a’ but THE CHURCH on earth; but it does not operate like other this-worldly kingdoms. It is not ‘national’ but inter- or supra-national, separate from earthly states; membership is voluntary, made up of those from one viewpoint ‘born again’ and from another viewpoint ‘hearers’ who believe and act on what they hear. And so on….

    Yes you can receive Jesus in an ‘established church’ – but if ‘baptised’ as a child you are likely to eventually realise that such ‘baptism’ of those unconscious of it is unsatisfactory and a believer’s baptism better.

    As for apostolic succession – when I follow that ALLEGED line and the authority SUPPOSEDLY derived from it I find myself looking at medieval churches run by greedy power-tripping Popes and other people who in Jesus’name positively promoted atrocious conduct such as genocidal ‘Crusades’ and other ‘holy’ wars, or like the Spanish and other ‘Inquisitions’ judicially murdering people who disagree with them. Conduct by the way which can only happen with an ‘established’ religion…. With that history of its results ‘apostolic succession’ is not just worthless – it is way, way worse than worthless. It is an atrocity that people are still pushing the idea!!!!!

    • The Church of England was created to be the established church, that is its core purpose, end of conversation. However it does not seek to run the government so there is no contradiction in what it does with what Jesus said.

      I am an Anglican in the Catholic tradition not an evangelical so obviously for me I believe in infant baptism, I don’t believe only in believers baptism in adulthood.

      It is also established religion which founded our oldest schools, universities, hospitals and funded and produced some of the greatest art and architecture humanity has produced. Non established religion can certainly lead to death, see cults like that at Waco

      • ‘The Church of England was created to be the established church, that is its core purpose, end of conversation.’ I am wondering whether this is a spoof account run by trolls.

        You seriously think that is what the Articles state…??

        • The Articles make clear the King is the Church of England’s Supreme Governor and its governance by the monarch and Bishops is not repugnant to the word of God. It was created by Henry VIII to ensure the national church would no longer be headed by the Pope. At the end of the day the Church of England is a coalition of liberal Catholics and a few remaining conservative Anglo Catholics and evangelicals like you. The only reason they all remain in the same church is it is the established national church in England

          • Another series of bizarre claims!

            I am a member of the C of E because it is a Protestant and Reformed church. You might stay in because it is ‘established’, so I presume you would not attend the CiW when in Wales. Where would you go?

          • Since disestablishment the Church in Wales has effectively become a liberal Catholic church as most conservative evangelicals like you left it long ago. In most Western nations where the Anglican church is not established eg the US, New Zealand, Canada, Scotland and Wales the Anglican churches there are overwhelmingly liberal Catholic and in the US and Scotland now even perform full same sex marriages

  24. T1
    “The Church of England was created to be the established church, that is its core purpose…”

    I think even Henry VIII might have admitted that churches have a ‘core purpose’ more to do with God than with any earthly nation. But yes, establishment is a very important purpose of the Church of England. The question still remains – is establishment God’s purpose at all, or was it the purpose of a Tudor despot effectively seeking to exploit the church, indeed to exploit God himself, for his own worldly purposes?

    “The Articles make clear the King is the Church of England’s Supreme Governor and its governance by the monarch and Bishops is not repugnant to the word of God”.

    The Articles may SAY that – whether the word of God really agrees with the Articles could well be a different matter.

    • It may be true that if in the 19c the C of E has been formally idisestablished ( and there were from time to time efforts made by Dissenting groups to achieve this, though they never succeeded) it could well have fragmented ( there were a few evangelical splits, though only the FCof E ) remains. So the present C of E is ( phenomenologically speaking) an unstable amalgam held in a legal framework as Cheslyn Jones wrote in the report Christian Believing. But because the Cof E has always been far more decentralised historically it avoided the many schisms within Methodism or something as serious as the Disruption in the C of Scotland. Unfortunately with declining numbers / clergy / money, it is difficult to see how you can sustain a National Church without a church tax as the poorly attended Scandinavian Churches do. The next 20 yrs will be crucial because the growth / energy, such as it is is mostly in smaller more conservative / charismatic/ evangelical fellowships unimpeded with the baggage the C of E carries especially it’s historic buildings. I suspect the bishops etc al are genuinely puzzled as to what to do best in this situation and the inner tensions of the C of E make a national policy/ strategy very difficult ( the Abps Council not withstanding) . At the moment we don’t really know what the future will bring tho a clerical wag told me it might follow the Austro- Hungarian Empire and just implode!

      • Here is a simple suggestion: require that all bishops actually do believe the doctrine of the Church they lead; stop the endless and fruitless debates on something that will not change; and focus instead on preaching the gospel.

        I really don’t think it is that complicated…!

        • The problem is that is a simplistic suggestion. It totally ignores the realities we need to face.
          1. The Articles, to which you seem devoted, are not compulsory for clergy to believe in detail. We have been over this so many times. Clergy give general assent, acknowledging that the Articles are historic. They are. And just as we have rearranged our historic buildings to accommodate different styles of worship, our response to the Articles has similarly changed. I do not believe all of them, have never believed all of them, and have never been required to believe all of them. The same will be true for most of the bishops.
          2. The endless debate will not stop until either we reach some settled position, or there are so few people left that no one cares any more. We are very nearly at that point. Your own church might have lots of young people but a. That is not typical, and b. They will mostly be sexually actively any way, whatever you might say about it.
          3. The doctrine of the CofE is not easily summed up by reference to a few simple things. Reports have been written about doctrine over the years and they have never found full acceptance and never will. No matter what you think the historic position might be, everybody knows that the CofE has been made up of several parties, factions, sectors, call them what you will. If it simply becomes a Conservative Evangelical Church it won’t be the CofE. And we will need about 6 dioceses and become like the Free Church of England. Pretty much dead.
          4. The Gospel is there to be preached. There isn’t one way of doing it, and yours is not necessarily the best. (This is a general point to everyone Ian, and not just to you.)
          5. The CofE as we currently have it is going to have to die. It’s not sustainable even if we all became conservative evangelical- which is never going to happen anyway. But death is part of our gospel and is followed by resurrection. Have faith.
          6. The Bishops are a lot more monochrome and a lot more boring than they were 40 years ago. This desire for uniformity has already stifled the episcopate. That’s one of the reasons the CofE is now so tedious and boring.

          • ‘The CofE as we currently have it is going to have to die.’

            That is quite a statement Andrew. What do you think will replace it when its dead?

          • Exactly. If anything did replace it it would be a liberal Catholic church as while conservative Anglo Catholics could easily go to Rome, liberal Catholics couldn’t until the Vatican accepts women priests, remarriage of divorcees as well as prayers for same sex couples (though Pope Francis seems to now accept the latter).

            Conservative evangelicals could equally easily become Baptist or Pentecostal or independent evangelical, so whatever replaced a disestablished C of E would likely be liberal Catholic

          • “That is quite a statement Andrew. What do you think will replace it when it’s dead?”

            I’m not too sure Chris. I guess the historic buildings will become part of something like the National Trust, but probably not before they have become somewhat derelict. In terms of the actual Church, I hope it will be a good deal more human and a good deal more divine. Right now we simply have a little club with different styles depending upon where you happen to live.

          • “That is quite a statement Andrew. What do you think will replace it when its dead?“

            Chris I have also been recommended this book which addresses the statement I made earlier. Be assured it isn’t just me who is saying this.


            I look forward to reading it. Currently I’m reading Jim Wallis’ excellent book about the rather frightening rise of the Christian Nationalism in the States and the links to Trump. It should be required reading for all conservative evangelicals

        • Andrew Godsall ‘b. They will mostly be sexually actively any way …’ (with reference to young – and presumably unmarried – people attending the church where Ian Paul has pastoral responsibilities).

          You will have to answer to a Holy God for slandering His people in this way. But I expect you understand this and are prepared for it.

          • Jock I’m afraid I don’t believe in some angry old man sitting on a throne keeping a list of who has been bad and who has been good. I leave that approach to those who believe in Santa Claus.
            And it would also imply I’m not telling the truth. I understand that you have a very puritanical approach to sexuality but that is an extreme and rare approach. The CofE is about to ditch the dreadful Issues in Human Sexuality and is already clear that clergy do not ask intrusive questions about the personal lives of its members.

          • The National Trust will only take on historic grade listed buildings they can charge an entry fee for to maintain them. While cathedrals can just about get enough paying visitors to do so the average church in a village or market town probably couldn’t. Far better to keep out historic churches as churches for the local community, also holding weddings, funerals etc but also engaged in the local community hosting plays in the nave, cafes in the week, especially for the elderly and mothers and children, concerts, nurseries, even soup kitchens. Those which are too remote to do that could become private housing as some deconsecrated historic churches and chapels now are

          • Jesus is extreme and rare, then, and so are all the apostles and saints. Far be it from us to position ourselves anywhere close to them.

            Historic Christianity (an incredibly minority pursuit which no-one has previously heard of) is extreme and rare.

            Because the yardstick is 21st century Britain. It has gained the right to rule over other cultures by virtue of its moral excellence.

            And let’s invent a category of private lives, unknown in its contours to the New Testament, then we can be schizophrenic and also do exactly what our carnal desires want in private. Sorted.

          • Andrew – well, of course clergy don’t (or at least shouldn’t) ask intrusive questions, but you are the one who is making outrageous assumptions about what the answer is to the un-asked question.

            I’d expect that the fellowship that I.P. is involved in is precisely the sort of fellowship that attracts people who don’t do that sort of thing – and the sort of people who would do that sort of thing probably feel inclined to go either elsewhere or nowhere.

          • Well Jock you’d be wrong. The young people are university students and no different from others. They simply ignore the tedious stuff about sexuality.

          • Andrew – I’m a university lecturer. I like to think that I keep them so busy with their studies that they simply don’t have time for that sort of thing.

          • Oh that really naughty sort of thing.
            Jock – I am sorry but if the young people you teach focus only on your study programme then I worry for their well being.

          • You speak as a member of your generation of university students. The trouble is that your generation was more trivial and hedonistic than the average. Why you would want that, of all things, to be regarded as a norm…? It was not typical in degree, but even if it had been it would not have been at all laudable.

          • Christopher

            Please provide evidence for your assertion that Andrew’s university generation were hedonistic and trivial.
            More hedonistic and trivial than whom? Your generation? I believe you are younger than Andrew.

            Or is this another vague generalisation?

          • Christopher that’s really quite funny and of course, totally unevidenced as are most of your claims.
            I have worked with young people quite a lot and supported a university chaplaincy on an advisory board until relatively recently. It is important to know reality.

          • I knew plenty of people of that generation. The work ethic started emerging in the latter 1980s (yuppies) and with refining of GCSE methods over the years; with taking pride in high achievement (Matilda; Gabriella Montez). One can also chart degree results.
            And yet another point: ask yourself when student activism peaked.
            There are, also, many newspaper columnists of that generation. For them to say – ‘I don’t know what has got into these young people. They ought to be painting the town red and sleeping around’ is standard.
            And of course AbFab humour (generations: older more trivial than younger) wd otherwise fall flat.

          • What is ‘funny’ about it anyway?
            Are people not allowed to be accurate about their own generation of students? We were the same generation presumably.
            Hilarious, indeed, that one should be thought capable of assessing a few years of one’s own life.

          • Anecdotes aren’t evidence Christopher. As you are fond of pointing out.
            I’m of that generation. At university firstly from 74 to 77. It was certainly not a hotbed of trivia and hedonism. But then, it was Aberystwyth.

          • Christopher

            And the 80s were far more hedonistic and self indulgent. Have you seen the photos of Cameron al at Oxford?
            And the stories I could tell you about the Queen’s son!

          • It was of the 80s that I was speaking, but the 70s were doubtless at least as bad, by the various measures I already mentioned.

          • As for anecdotal evidence, there were at least four non-anecdotal types I *already* mentioned:
            -trajectories of degree results
            -work ethic and yuppiedom
            -rise in GCSE (and A level) results as a preliminary
            -trajectories of student activism taking time away from bookwork.

          • Sexual behaviour changed markedly on a large scale in the 60s-70s-80s. You would be the first to doubt that. Students to the forefront because of their age.

          • For ‘doubt’ read ‘affirm’.
            An entire social revolution does not count as an atom of evidence?
            For everyone else, it does.

          • Christopher you seem to have difficulty following a clear argument.
            You were asked for the evidence that the time I was at University was a time of hedonism and sexual pleasure. You mention anecdotal stuff and then say that there are four things that count as evidence in your post. You name them as
            -trajectories of degree results
            -work ethic and yuppiedom
            -rise in GCSE (and A level) results as a preliminary
            -trajectories of student activism taking time away from bookwork.

            I have asked you how these relate to the point about hedonism and sexual pleasure. Your response does not make any connection.

          • They all relate to how far how many students worked hard in the limited available time, and how far how many were, by contrast, self indulgent with their limited available time instead. The time being limited, there is a limit to how far they could have done both. But those who did one automatically had less chance of doing the other in the available time.

          • Christopher this is just laughable nonsense. You really want to call that evidence? It’s the kind of evidence that led Donald Trump and his followers to state that the 2020 election was stolen. It’s deciding what you think happened.

          • No, it’s just excluding deniable trends, excluding small scale trends, confining oneself to centrally relevant, undeniable and large scale trends on which everyone agrees, and then seeing what picture emerges.

          • Andrew, you might not be persuaded by him, but at least Christopher is offering some content. You appear to resort to insults. Can I remind you of the comments policy?

          • Ian then I apologise but I am genuinely confused. Maybe you can help. How are:
            -trajectories of degree results
            -work ethic and yuppiedom
            -rise in GCSE (and A level) results as a preliminary
            -trajectories of student activism taking time away from bookwork.
            .i.e. the four things that Christopher cites, evidence of an increase in hedonism and sexual pleasure amongst University students in the 1970s? [I was one of them but also working in my first career as a BBC sound engineer at the same time, so I was quite busy].
            I am confused as to how they are evidence.

          • More content would be:

            David Lodge novels. None would deny that they are semi based on fact or at least on contemporary social and university movements. Changing Places is set in 1969, Small World in 1979 That encompasses the 1970s as a whole. At this time the rot of the sexual revolution has set in so much that tutors are caught up in it; for the students it is taken as read. Loosely based on Birmingham, but eclectic in influence.

            Malcolm Bradbury, The History Man (1975) reflects the same campus period, and the same message. Loosely based on Sussex. Or Brighton or something?

            Karen Armstrong, Beginning the World (re c.1973) shows the same picture for Oxford. In fact, she was so ashamed of it and/or of the subculture it portrayed that she rewrote and effectively censored it.

            Posy Simmonds cartoons in the Guardian show what the polytechnic culture was like. Much the same picture.

            But anyone around in the 1970s knows a lot first hand anyway. Those around in the 1980s witnessed the residue.

            Contemporary films also reflect and capture and pickle in aspic the culture of the time.

          • Of the four things you list from me, Andrew, not one refers to the 1970s. The first and last refer to the difference (development) between the 1970s and 1980s. The second refers to the late 1980s defining themselves against the previous laxity. The third refers to the whole later period, and its cultural difference from the 1970s.

            But the main point is that *whatever I say you will find some way to disagree with it, and that can clearly be seen by co-contributors. If you disagreed 50 or 70 percent of the time, that might go together with honesty. If you do so 100 percent of the time, it is obviously deliberate.

          • As for ‘an increase in sexual pleasure among students’ I certainly did not mention that. Sexual revolution behaviour is more likely to go together with loneliness and stymie the smoothness of the story of anyone’s life development.

          • In fact, that Andrew and Penny come from that generation explains their core attitudes to an extent. Anyone taking a wider perspective will obviously understand how 1970s culture was highly separate from Christian norms. The only ones to fail to see this would be those to whom it was so close and natural and ubiquitous that it was part of the fabric of things. I.e. that generation themselves.

            Also to admit one should have not affirmed or participated in such attitudes is to write off a substantial part of one’s life, indeed to nullify and repent one’s precious peak and formative years. So people will go to great lengths not to do so.

          • Christopher. The moment you start making this about you or me you lose the argument. Try to look at facts, and not old novels or pop songs.

          • Christopher

            I can assure you that I (I can’t speak for Andrew!) led a wholly blameless life as an undergraduate, as did the vast majority of my friends.

            Corruption began in the 80s and continued through the increased libertarianism, selfishness, and individualism of the Thatcherite years.

            Neoliberalism has had more victims than permissiveness.

          • Corruption began in the 1980s?
            A posthumous pardon for Adam and Eve is the court verdict of the day, quite putting Donald Trump in the shade.

          • In other news, Karen Armstrong would be highly relieved that her memoirs were merely fiction and classify as a novel.

          • I worked as a BBC film sound engineer during my three undergrad years. I didn’t have time for much else!
            And if you want to read about student activism and how important it has been in terms of social justice and resisting Christian nationalism in the US then please read some Jim Wallis. What an inspiring evangelical he is.

          • You didn’t have time for much else. And since you were the only UK student of that generation, that settles the matter.

            As for activism, think of 1968 and how it became a defining feature. Is activism a good thing? Well, I often join with those fighting for right in various ways, and I am almost the only activist among them. Right being right, you fight anyway; are things achieved? – promotion of truth and coherent argument is always a step forward, and a lot of the recent advances have been because the incoherences exposed have been seen to be too great.

      • The Church of England has £8 billion in assets, more than any evangelical churches have or are ever likely to have regardless of their congregation growth. The Lutheran churches in Scandinavia still have a high membership and attendance for weddings, funerals and baptisms etc even if less so every week, just as some still attend their local C of E church to get married or their child baptised even if they only go at Easter and Christmas otherwise

        • “Only 3% of Danes…. the lowest rates of church attendance in the world.”

          You have been here before… Scandinavia has a small and constantly reducing church. There’s no real comparison with the CofE and it’s lack of state taxation from the general public.

          The CofE billions. It’s not cash you know, just washing around. I don’t think you can describe the ownership of these resources as if they exist ultimately independently/separately of parish churches (of any hue).

          • Firstly wrong, China for starters has a lower level of church attendance. Second, 71% of Danes are members of the Church of Denmark which conducts a third of Danish weddings and 80% of Danish funerals.

            The Church of Denmark as an established church is of course comparable to the established Church of England (which let us not forget was itself funded by tithes until the 19th century).

            The C of E has billions, some in parishes but some in investments and shares and some in rental income from properties let out

          • Simon/T1 can you explain to me what you think a ‘church’ is?

            IIRC, Jesus said ‘where two or three are gathered together, I am there’ not ‘where you have some money in the bank’…?

            He said ‘Go therefore, and make disciples’ not ‘Go and invest in the stock market..’?

          • Having a Parish church in every area of the country where people can gather is certainly an important way of maintaining disciples in England. Having significant funds in the bank which can then be spent on Parish ministry is also helpful towards that goal

  25. T1
    “It is also established religion which founded our oldest schools, universities, hospitals and funded and produced some of the greatest art and architecture humanity has produced. Non established religion can certainly lead to death, see cults like that at Waco”

    But where a church manages to achieve its more natural position of being a free institution tolerated by the state and setting an example of a tolerant state in general, it can still be responsible for schools, universities and hospitals – and often is to this day. The art and architecture thing is more ambivalent – rather too much of it can be a self-glorifying diversion from more important purposes for a church – not to mention producing a future burden for the later church having to maintain and conserve the stuff (and by the way I am very much into art and have been a painter myself – I’m not taking a general anti-art stance there)

    Waco? Or indeed Munster, though the often unrecognised irony at Munster was that those Anabaptists were not mainstream Anabaptists but were themselves trying very much to set up an established religion, a ‘kingdom of God on earth’ by military force, just like their Protestant and RC opponents. Biblical Christians would follow Paul of course with his clear declaration that Christian warfare is not of the physical weapons variety. A statement which established churches have to ignore or fudge in some way….

  26. 1. What is “church”?
    2. Who does it belong to?
    3. Into whose image is it formed, to be conformed?
    4. Our own- into the god of self, who is conformed into our own image?

    • Geoff
      1) The Church is the congregation of God’s people on earth. Note that the Greek word ‘ekklesia’ is the LXX rendering of the Hebrew word for the ‘congrgation’ of Israel. The NT ‘ekklesia’ is in continuity with (NOT ‘supersedes’) that OT ‘ekklesia’ but on a far wider basis under the new covenant.
      2) The Church belongs to Jesus (and unless you’re a Unitarian, therefore to God)
      3) The Church is formed/to be conformed to the image of Jesus/God.
      4) The Church is not to be conformed into the image of sinful man….

      I suspect your answers are similar??

      • Thanks Stephen.
        Self revelation of God, by God in and through Scripture renders much of the comments as presuppositions, as redundant, as sterile, as self absorbed, as creating, as conforming church and god in our own fallen image in self worship, as idolatry.

  27. All these questions about ‘church’ and ‘gospel’ – as if they meant something! Penelope over at ‘Thinking Anglicans’ gets to the heart of what the real concern should be! Penelope writes:

    “I also feel that there are two questions for the Church on this:
    why can’t we have a grown up conversation about sex and sexuality in which all interests can be talked about, including polyamory, kinks, fetishes, asexuality etc. Without having the vapours because an assumption is made that anyone wanting to discuss these in an ecclesial context must be promoting them.
    Secondly why do we assume that all queer folk seek to assimilate to heteronormative practices. Many do, which is why there has been a struggle for marriage, or, at least, the blessing of gay relationships. But not all queer people want to follow the assimilationist path. What does the Church have to say to them and to all who qu(ery) the goods of heteronormative scripts?”

    Spot on! Out ‘there’ , there are certainly more ‘straight’ folk into BDSM, polyamory, partner-swapping than there are gays. Who is reaching out to the swingers, the fetishists and the furries with the Good News that being a Christian means doing what you want to do anyway – without that awful guilt overhanging?
    Andrew Godsall took Jock to task above for his Puritanism. Andrew states on TA that he *loves Penelope’s work of ‘queering’ Christian sexual ethics and he is the ideal champion of what Penelope wants to do.
    Secondly, Penelope is absolutely right that lots of gay blokes don’t want this boring monogamy trap and want the fun of playing the field (using a condom, of course). Burn all those heteronormative scripts now!

    • James – yes, I think the C. of E. should take Mrs Slocombe’s theology of sexuality more seriously (the character from Are You Being Served).

      • Jock

        I’m afraid that’s about the level of your discourse on this subject.
        Not that James’ heavy-handed sarcasm is much better.

    • Actually James what I said – and I quote it exactly is:

      “I have had the privilege of reading Penny Doe’s thesis. Her exploration of the liminal space, and the consideration of that in the context of Holy Saturday is inspirational. Penny isn’t simply arguing for change in the CofE, but is raising fascinating questions about how we interrogate power within the Church. And what it means to be a human being trying to negotiate where that power lies. These are questions that we have failed to grasp for far too long.”

      But we know from previous experience that your preference is for stirring up hatred and disquiet. So it is no surprise you continue to act like a troll.

      • “privilege of reading”, “raising fascinating questions”, “questions we have failed to ask” – that’s what I mean by “loving Penelope’s work”, which plainly you do. Can’t see what’s “trolling” about this. Methinks thou dost protest too much.

          • You agree that you admire and esteem wgat she has done. That’s what I mean by “love”. Quite accurate, I think, and so do you. No “trolling”, just accuracy.

          • Telling people what they do or do not think in a provocative manner is classic trolling,
            Once you have read the book we can discuss it further.

          • Andrew, I would never call it a ‘privilege’ to read a book I didn’t like – I have read or matked enough dissertations to say otherwise. Your esteem and praise for Penelope’s ideas is evident in your own words. And that is because she eloquently expresses what you believe and affirm. Why are you embarrassed about this? Penelope wants to “queer” traditional Christian sexual ethics by subverting and questioning ideas she believes hateful, wrong and harmful. And you are in her intellectual debt. That’s what “privileged” means.

          • James, you have not read Penny’s book. So you can’t actually comment about what it does or doesn’t say.

            You can continue with your trolling. The only person it harms is yourself.

          • Andrew, of course I haven’t read her book – because she has embargoed Exeter University from putting her dissertation online (most PhDs can be freely read today) and I don’t have the money to read everything thst crosses my path. But I have read her long post in Thinking Anglicans and have a good idea of where she is coming from ideologically. I know what she thinks of the nature and authority of the Bible, the Ecumenical Councils and the Church Fathers, and the Feuerbachian rationalism and modern liberal personalism that underline her approach, so I have a good idea of how her ideas configure. You are pretty much in agreement with her approach.

          • Andrew, IIRC, it was Penelope who asked Exeter U to embargo putting the book online and she can undo this. If you want to buy me a copy, feel free. However, her thinking on the Pilling Report doesn’t really interest me that much. Rather it is her philosophical sources and how they shape her conclusions about the Bible, sexual ethics and her beliefs about sexual pleasure.

            I have determined that Penelope is a former Roman Catholic who is now shaped by Feuerbach’s rationalist critique of Christianity as psychological projection of old sex-based power relations (“patriarchalism”), as this was developed in the 19th and 20th centuries by Freud, Reich and Marcuse and their heirs in the 1960s to the 1990s, especially Foucault and Queer Theory, including attacks on “cisheteronormativity” and other denominated enemies of queer cultural Marxism. Elizabeth Stuart and others have charted this course a generation ago: Foucault and Reich meet Feuerbach.

            This is an intellectual journey I have seen paralleled a number of times in the past generation in my own area of research, Old Testament theology and history. I observed how scholars like Robert Carroll and Philip Davies became trenchant atheist critics of the Bible. Similarly I have seen Bart Ehrman go that way, from fundamentalist to atheist, and Richard Holloway (not a scholar, more a religious journalist and populariser of ideas) has similarly embraced atheism. My point is that Ehrman and Holloway have been consistent in following through on their philosophical and biblical convictions and Penelope needs to be courageous and consistent as well. Sapere aude, as Kant said.

          • Andrew: actually at 7.55 above I expounded the philosophical roots of Penelope’s thinking and why it isn’t Christian but Feuerbachian, leading to Foucault and beyond. If I am wrong here, you can explain why with evidence. If you know this philosophical terrain, you can engage with me and correct me.
            I think I am correct about the embargo.

          • As I have said several times, I am happy to engage once James has read the book. I have even offered to engage with him by e mail.
            This is not what Penny’s book is about. But of course he isn’t interested in reading it.
            It is quite normal practice for a publisher to ask that a thesis be embargoed if it is going to be published in another form.

          • James

            I embargoed the PhD, as I was advised to until the book was published. Several scholars have asked for access to it, which I have granted. You only had to ask!
            I will now lift the embargo, but as I’m in Greece at present it isn’t top of my priorities.
            However, as I have consistently pointed out, I am not particularly influenced by the people you accuse me of being influenced by. And some, like Foucault, and other secular thinkers, have had some influence on my thinking.
            As Aristotle must on yours if you are a Thomist. Insights often come from some very queer places.

          • Andrew

            Don’t you realise? James has determined that I am a former Roman Catholic who is influenced by a number of people I haven’t read, some I have and disagreed with and all of whom spook James’ modern fundamentalist approach to scripture.
            I don’t know how James ‘determined’ I am an ex RC since it’s not something I keep secret nor why he thinks I should be ashamed of some of the scholars with whom I am in dialogue.
            James seems to think that if one mentions something then one is promoting that thing. The problem with this fear of interrogation is that the church is cowering behind boundaries it didn’t even know it had 50 years ago fearful of the taint of secularism and conversations with the ‘other’. The sad irony is that far from eschewing secular mores the church has readily (and foolishly) embraced neoliberal models of growth, success and progress. It seems hardly aware that it has crucified those who don’t fit this neoliberal agenda and created ( or enabled) and ecclesial precariat. For people who claim to be faithful to scripture it’s about as far from the gospel as you can get. Yet we’re the apostates, according to this looking glass reading of the Bible and tradition.

          • Perhaps James is a prophet? Is that how he determined you were once a RC? But as you say, it’s hardly been hidden. I’ve known it for about 15 years and I’m sure it was never a secret.

          • [deleted]

            Penny, I’ve asked you to engage instead of resorting to insults so many times. Why is it so hard?

            Please stop it.

          • Ian

            Perhaps you could reflect on the rhetoric of James, Stephen, Anton, Christopher and Geoff; particularly James and Stephen before deleting my mild sarcasms again.

            Thank you.

  28. An assumption that anyone wanting to discuss these things must be promoting them. What does the Church have to say to them?
    Like Christopher you seem to have a real problem reading texts attentively and accurately. Your response is exactly the reason the Church can’t have grown up conversations about sexuality and ask if heteronormativity is an idol.
    Pa’s out, Ma’s out, let’s talk rude: pee, pooh, belly, bum, drawers.

    • I’m just quoting your own words, Penelope – you want the Church to say yes to ‘swinging’, AKA consensual adultery, as well as BDSM and whatever goes in the post-Christian faith. No surprise really, because your faith is post-Christian as well.
      A little while ago I correctly noted that your religion isn’t Christianity, it’s Feuerbachianism. I am glad you are honest, at least on ‘Thinking Anglicanism’, of where you’re ‘queering’/ ‘querying’ project is headed. Don’t be surprised when Christians robustly answer your attacks on the Christian faith.

    • Assuming one is ‘like Christopher’, one would have received a doctorate for reading texts attentively and accurately.

        • You say only negative things about my contributions. However, it is entirely unlikely that I would be specifically selected to go through all that education successfully and then go on to produce 100% poor material at the end of that, with no redeeming features. So we put it down to bias – that it is only your word that says that your summary is an accurate summary at all.

          • When you provide evidence for your assertion that Andrew’s generation was particularly trivial and hedonistic I’ll take you seriously. Otherwise it’s just a personal view.

          • And for help with providing that evidence Christopher I was at University in the 70s.

          • So read through the words of 1970s pop songs. Which age group were they aimed at? Student age. How many discs did they sell? Multiple thousands – an all time high.

            We are at the point when all censorship shackles are off (and student age is not a million miles from being the mode age to appreciate that), whereas the first glimpse of maturity being accepted by the mainstream was 1983 and the condemnation of PIE. Even that took that long.

            This was the decade of politicisation of tertiary education. When Baroness Cox was in fear of her life as a result. Check out the publications. Black Papers. Little Red Schoolbook. Revolutionary politics. Hedonism? Absolutely.

          • Christopher. Only 8% of the population went to University in the 1970s.
            So you are saying that this 8% are the only ones responsible for the hedonism and sexual pleasure that you are providing anecdotes about?

          • Certainly not. Rather, this was a feature of their generation, and the students were. obviously, included among the generation.

          • Christopher you were quite specific in your funny claim. You said

            “You speak as a member of your generation of university students.”

          • And yet all those 70s students grew up to be biblical scholars, BBC producers, and priests, whereas the students of the 80s became coke fuelled traders who ruined the economy and promoted disaster capitalism.
            I wonder which one was justified?

  29. You quoted my exact words where I wrote that people can’t discuss fetishes etc in an ecclesial context without being accused of promoting them. I stand by that statement.
    You then accuse me of promoting them!

    I asked why the Church can’t have a proper conversation. If the Church thinks fetishes and kinks are immoral, it needs to have the courage to say so. It also needs to explain why they are immoral for straight married couples and to provide evidence for that belief. I can see no biblical evidence for proscribing many sexual kinks, but perhaps I am missing something. I would need to be persuaded by some very good theology.
    Not that I believe the church will ever reach consensus on these ‘issues’, nor do I think consensus is a necessary telos, but being squeamish about conversations on sexuality makes the church look foolish, coy and unserious.

    At the last General Synod a bishop would not answer a question asking if any sex outside PIV sex is sodomy. He wouldn’t answer and the chamber giggled like a class of 9 year olds. It’s pathetic.
    I think you should withdraw your accusation that I support adultery and swinging. That is a figment of your overactive imagination. As is your assertion that I am attacking the Christian faith. I am working on redemption.

    The most egregious example of sexual immorality I have seen recently was the belief expressed on another post that forced marriage between captive women and their Hebrew captors didn’t involve rape. Now that is truly disgusting.

    • Penelope wrote: “why can’t we have a grown up conversation about sex and sexuality in which all interests can be talked about, including polyamory …”

      This means: ‘Let’s consider consensual adultery, aka swinging, as an option for Christians.’

      “…. fetishes, kinks….”
      This means: ‘Let’s consider BDSM, furries etc as an option for Christians.’ And why do you care about “biblical evidence” in any case? You have a highly critical (rejectionist) view of the Bible on sexual ethics.

      “… asexuality ….”
      I’m not sure how an absence of interest in sex is an “interest”. And what about “minor-attracted persons” as well as porn addicts? What would be a “grown up conversation” here? ‘Follow your joy’? Or ‘repent and follow Jesus’? You are in a very dangerous place spiritually, Penelope.

      • James ignores the immorality of rape but shudders at the thought of married couples engaging in consensual kink
        .He provides no biblical nor theological support for his belief but asserts that I have a highly critical view of the Bible. I don’t really know what highly critical means here. I can hardly criticise texts for doing what they set out to do.
        Again James finds reading texts rather difficult – ignoring as before that if the Church condemns polyamory, it should be able to give an account of why it does so. Does James believe that no evidence is required for the Church’s ethical positions? Of course one could hardly be surprised by the paedophilic strawman – not even a sexuality, but a common wedge used by those who have no better arguments.
        Silence on marital rape, but disgust at consensual fetishes suggests a need for repentance and inhabiting a dark spiritual place.

        • Penelope, I am an evangelical Anglican who believes that Jesus held a view about the Old Testament which you don’t hold (that it is the inspired and truthful Word of God), so this will lead to a different interpretation of certain texts which we are not likely to agree on. You think that Jesus was wrong about the nature of the OT and that I am wrong on the meaning of those texts. My view was expounded in a long post on another thread and I won’t repeat the argument here. Your rejection of my understanding and what Jesus believed about the OT are standard 19th century liberal arguments which go back to Feuerbach and to German rationalism generally. In addition, you have added the psychological personalism that has come to dominate secular western thinking, from Rousseau through Marx to Reich and Marcuse in the 20th century. I understand these points and where you are coming from.
          The Christian Church’s rejection of “polyamory” is simply based on the Lord’s call to purity and holiness, including the rejection of adultery. “Polyamory” simply means fornication and consensual adultery – which is what “swinging” is. That doesn’t call for much explanation to any biblical Christian – but if you want to “queer/query” everything in the Bible then celebrate the triumph of your will. But recognise that you are heart a Feuerbachian. Be courageous and follow Richard Holloway and Bart Ehrman consistently instead of half-heartedly as you do now.

          • And of course minor-attracted persons are a sexuality, although Penelope wants to deny this with a wave of the hand. There is an *enormous amount of scholarship on this which Penelope must know about, but a good start is ‘ALong Dark Shadow’ by Allyn Walker (University of California Press, 2022). We need a grown up conversation about this, just as the Cass Report has given us one on adolescent gender dysphoria.

          • Well James, we all get our influences from somewhere don’t we. You are, of course, of the rather recent tradition that was a reaction to 19thC Protestant liberalism – modern fundamentalism.
            I suggest you read Mark Casey Saunders ‘Defusing the Sexuality Debate’ – he’s rather good on the innovations of modern conservative evangelism.
            As for Cass being a grown up contribution to the debate – well if you really want to support research whose methodology has been thoroughly queried. Anyway, it’s a contribution, not the final word.
            As, no doubt, are the attempts (from both sides) to mark paedophilia as a ‘sexual identity’.
            I’ve never read Feuerbach, but at least I’m clear eyed about my ideologies. I don’t pretend that they all derive from a faithful reading of scripture!

          • Penelope, my “tradition” is a lot older than the 19th century: it’s the 16th century Reformers, especially Luther, Calvin and Jewel, and long, long before them, back to Hilary, Augustine and Athanasius. It’s what we call “the Great Tradition”, and its core is the Nicene Creed, the historical reliability of the Gospels (including the Gospel miracles of the Virgin Birth and the Bodily Resurrection of the Incarnate Lord), and the inspiration of Scripture. The contribution of the 19th and early 20th centuries (Hengstenberg, Liddon, Machen) really focused on countering the attacks on orthodox Christology that came from Schleiermacher, Strauss, Renan – and of course, much earlier from Reimarus.
            I should add that unlike most evangelicals, I have a developing interest in Thomism and philosophical theology, and particularly natural law. Here I continue to learn a lot from revisiting C. S. Lewis.
            I don’t know why you want to deny a sexual identity to minor-attracted persons. As Allyn Walker shows, many people do testify to this attraction as something very deep-seated in their personalities and not amenable to change. That should qualify as a ‘sexual identity’ in modern categories.
            Not many people today have read Feuerbach, but he was profoundly influential on Marx and Freud – as well as George Eliot, and like Schleiermacher, his influence reverberates down to this day among those who have never heard of him.

          • Well, snap. I’m a Nicene Christian who believes in the virgin conception and the resurrection.
            And my tradition goes back even further than Aquinas and Augustine.
            Of course I’ve heard of Feuerbach. I simply haven’t read him. I’m not very interested in 19thC liberal Protestantism, not its successors and certainly not in its reaction, which is modern fundamentalism.

          • You’re right – Gnosticism goes back a long way and is often seen as one of the subversive sources of ‘queer theology’.

          • You’re very insistent on attributing traditions to others with increasingly wild speculations.
            Although to be fair, your confusing gnosticism with queer theory is very funny.

          • “is often seen as one of the subversive sources of ‘queer theology’.”

            Often seen by whom? Where can I read about this connection James, it sounds fascinating!

          • One-line dismissals of multiple-hundred page tomes just put the dismisser in a trivial light; but that light is only exacerbated when they offer and contribute nothing of their own.

          • Christopher

            Gagnon’s written a book on gnosticism and Queer Theory?
            How have I missed this seminal work?

          • James’ statement was that “Gnosticism…is often seen as one of the subversive sources of ‘queer theology’”

            I asked where I could read about that. It wasn’t a dismissal. It was a question. No answer has yet been given. It’s quite a specific question. I’m not interested in Gagnon vaguely waffling about queer theology. I’m interested in what he has written about it in connection with Gnosticism.

          • And just to be clear why I think Gagnon is fundamentally wrong in general. I can do no better than quote David Atkinson on Fulcrum some years back:
            “…nowhere does St Paul talk about anatomy and Gagnon’s argument at this point is derived not from exegesis but from his own assumption of what is ‘natural’. In his concentration on anatomy and on the morality of sexual actions without reference to their context in a relationship, Gagnon gives no acknowledgement of the fact that, to some extent at least, context determines the moral value of actions. This is universally accepted in the heterosexual world, where married sexual love is recognised as wholly different in meaning from rape.
            One of my primary difficulties with Gagnon’s lengthy thesis is that the entire focus is on the morality of actions separated from any consideration of the contexts that give them meaning. To abstract behaviour from the whole context of a person’s motivation, relationships and moral vision fails to do justice to the biblical emphasis on ‘the heart’. It concentrates only on discrete acts, not the way those actions are woven into a person’s character and quest for moral values. It leads to a morality of rules, rather than to a personal morality of allegiance to the covenant Lord.“

            But this is merely background to answer the inevitable pile on about what is wrong with Gagnon’s work. My question remains: what has been written by him, or anyone, about the connection of Gnosticism and Queer Theory.

          • And I think here Atkinson is demonstrating his own prejudices!

            Paul’s argument in Romans 1 is precisely that it is the visible order of creation that manifests God’s glory (whether we think he is right on this is a separate question) and that is why he draws on classic Jewish arguments that the very form of the human body confirms God’s intention of marriage as the sexual union of the male and female bodily forms.

            And Gagnon (whatever else you think of him) pays scrupulous attention to questions of context; his whole discussion about the OT texts is meticulously located in the context of ANE and other ANE texts.

          • Well we disagree on all of that – which is fine. But it’s a side issue. You don’t answer the substantive question.

          • I don’t know what you disagree with. Paul sequence is

            . God has shown himself to humanity
            . He has done this through ‘things that have been made’
            . Fallen humanity has rejected this.
            . Therefore he has handed them over to their error
            . In particular, they have given up what is ‘natural’ (creation as God intended it).
            . A chief manifestation of that is same-sex sexual relations.
            . But it also leads to all sorts of immorality.

            On Gagnon, it is impossible to read his text and not note his attention to context.

          • Ian

            Christopher’s response is a non sequitur. Andrew asked James to cite a link between gnosticism and Queer Theory. Christopher replied with a vague reference to Cass (!) and to Gagnon, reiterating that the latter has written a multi-page volume. Which he has. But not AFAIK on a link between gnosticism and Queer Theory! It appears to be another strange generalisation.

          • I don’t care about that. I was answering a particular point in response to my comment. Atkinson’s assessment is manifestly wrong.

          • Ian. I disagree with Gagnon and you for reasons I have stated here and many times before. No need to rehearse all of that again. I was quite specific that it wasn’t the point of my question. I repeat
            But this is merely background to answer the inevitable pile on about what is wrong with Gagnon’s work. My question remains: what has been written by him, or anyone, about the connection of Gnosticism and Queer Theory.

            Your answer is that you don’t care. Fair enough. But James and Christopher clearly do so perhaps they can address the question.

  30. The reason for debating things like gender and race is that we claim in Christ there is neither male nor female, Greek or Jew. How can we say this in the face of the church’s history of gender and race discrimination? We are called to address these issue, rather than sweep them under the carpet, because we need to show repentance, we need to show we understand, we need to show we care. Do you think the church’s in Africa are unaware of race issues and the crime of slavery? The church seems irrelevant to people in this country largely because it fails to address these issues. It’s hard to believe that some Anglican churches still exclude LGBT people – I know of several where those people have been asked to leave. Little wonder young people aren’t interested.

    • Hi there Rachel. Thanks for your comment; just a couple of observations.

      First, yes, churches in Africa are very aware of the history of slavery. They know that it was endemic in Africa as part of their religious traditions, and that it was a regular part of inter-tribal warfare. They are also aware that it was only eliminated by British colonial power, and the gospel—one of the early contributions of missionaries was the elimination of slavery through their opposition to it.

      Secondly, the ‘church’ does not appear to seem ‘irrelevant’ to the people of this country. Church attendance is not declining, and in many areas appears to be growing. (See my article here: https://www.psephizo.com/life-ministry/is-church-attendance-in-england-and-wales-in-decline/ )

      Thirdly, many older and traditional churches are declining rapidly and will disappear in a few years. All of them are ‘inclusive’, in that they have changed their doctrine of marriage away from the teaching of Jesus and the historic position of the church catholic.

      The churches which are growing are attracting many young people—and almost all of them teach the historic view of marriage that it is between one man and one woman.

      Churches don’t grow by conforming to the mores of society. Hope that is useful comment.

    • It is highly unlikely that ‘some Anglican churches still exclude LGBT people’. It is likely that:
      (1) they do not accept in membership people who have sex outside marriage – but that is universal in Christian history and foundations, an international norm, and known to be – and one that makes coherent sense. Are there to be no standards at all. How low can the bar be set?
      (2) they do not understand or agree with the phrase ‘LGBT people’ at all. Surely you would not compel them to do so. Most countries and eras have not had it as part of their worldview, including those far wiser than our own in track-record. A recent synod showed just how undefined are some of these initials; a further problem is the grouping together of all of them when they are sometimes opposed to one another; and another is that behaviour is not an essence, though campaigners and ideologues try to make it so, so that they can employ the civil rights narrative and claim discrimination.

      • Many churches certainly do exclude queer people but are quite happy to include and offer the sacraments to straight couples ‘who have sex outside marriage’.

      • There you go again, Christopher, ignoring linguistics. How do we “agree with [a] phrase”? How do we have a phrase “as part of [our] worldview? Why is being “opposed to one another” a problem? Have you never heard (or used) ‘oil and water’, ‘pepper and salt’, ‘black and white’…? And I suppose you can “define” every word you use.

        • On your first point, one analyses phrases and sees whether they say something both coherent and accurate about reality or whether by contrast they either contain any internal self contradiction or are inaccurate or both. The former phrases we would naturally agree with, and the latter not. For example, we disagree with ‘square circle’. (Or maybe you don’t? I am sure you do.)

          Our worldview then comprises all those that are both coherent and accurate. Sayings cannot be accurate without being coherent but they can be coherent without being accurate.

          The last Synod but one (but two?) put things like T and Q under the microscope, as people were just blindly tacking them on when they were being ushered in that direction; and that is exactly how Trojan Horses work. What I meant by opposed is that you cannot have a coherent worldview that accepts all self-claimed identities as accurate, for the simple reason that that disallows the possibilities that anyone could ever be mistaken (or indeed lying, or indeed caught up in the culture). It only takes one of these. In the real world, each of us is mistaken several times a day. This too you certainly agree on.

          Your final point – Can you define every word you use? No – but the more you define the more accurate you will be, so virtue lies in the direction of more definition and vice in the direction of less. It follows that when a lot of definition is happening we applaud that rather than either regarding it as neutral or rejecting it. Also – definition is fundamental which is why it happens at the very start of writings and debates. And third and connectedly – avoiding definition is very often how the most fundamental mistakes happen.

          • Last July I think it was. Sam Margrave introduced some wrecking amendments mostly because he doesn’t understand Queer Theory. He was roundly defeated and at one point told to pipe down because he was trying to introduce new topics.

          • Christopher, you keep on demonstrating that you do not seem to understand how language is actually used in human communication. So how can I *disagree* with “square circle”. To me it seems completely appropriate to say:
            “When Christopher Shell assigns truth value to individual words or phrases he seems to be treating them as square circles.”

          • In other words Christopher you appear to be confusing *words*, *concepts* and *utterances*.

          • Rather than using the words ‘disagree with’, use the word ‘reject’ then. They are much the same. It all boils down to ‘see to be incoherent’. Very many phrases are, of course, incoherent; and any language that does not defer to prior reality is wrongheaded.

  31. Penelope Cowell Doe
    “Queer Theory” – that would be the theory that having urges and desires to do something is somehow ‘the same kind of thing’ as things that people ‘just are’ like black-skinned or blonde-haired. Which is self-evidently wrong because in the first place ‘gay sex’ is clearly something people DO and ipso facto CHOOSE, and in the second place human urges and desires are just not necessarily good, so ‘having urges and desires’ does not give a clear case that it is OK to live out the urges and desires without a great deal of further discussion…..

    • So, someone else who doesn’t understand Queer Theory.

      I’d recommend doing some research before attacking people for using a hermeneutic that you don’t understand.

        • Ian

          I did, on another thread. But it seems that some commentors would much rather make cheap jibes than engage with what I have writen.

          Anway, for what it’s worth, here goes:

          Queer is better figured, perhaps, as a verb rather than as a noun; a doing rather than a being. Since queer theory is disruptive, transgressive, and troubling, it can have no definitive logic, discourse, or end. Halperin apprehends queer’s slipperiness in his statement that the concept owns no stable reality:
          “Queer is by definition whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate the dominant. There is nothing in particular to which it necessarily refers. It is an identity without an essence. ‘Queer’, then, demarcates not a positivity but a positionality vis-à-vis the normative – a positionality that is not restricted to lesbians and gay men but is in fact available to anyone who is or who feels marginalized because of her or his sexual practices; it could include some married couples with children, for example … it describes a horizon of possibility whose precise extent and heterogeneous scope cannot in principle be delimited in advance.”

          • Is queer theory exclusively used in relation to human sexual behaviour and knowledge, or is is used in other unrelated fields of human activity such as politics, science or economics?

            Could you for example, queer quantum mechanics?

          • Penelope – ummm …. this is a joke, right? You’re saying ‘Queer theory …. can have no definitive logic,’ – and you’re surprised when people have no idea what it is supposed to be?

          • Thanks Penny,

            Does that description also work for queer theology? Can theology be as purely deconstructive as queer theory seems to be, or does it have to have a positive agenda as well?

          • Chris

            I honestly don’t know enough about quantum mechanics!
            But you could certainly queer science as a social construct. Queering is a methodology for interrogating constructs and ideologies.

          • A.J. Bell

            I don’t think it does. There needs to be something redemptive in queer theology and I think it has transgressive limits – there’s a tendency to reinscribe the patriarchal by positioning the feminine (side of God etc.) as ‘other’.
            But the best queer theologians, such as Althaus-Reid and Tonstad avoid that.

          • Interesting. That would suggest that you can’t really tar queer theology with the queer theory brush – at least not automatically. Although they’ll have their similarities, there are some pretty fundamental differences. Of course it also means queer theology can have its own flaws entirely of its own making.

          • A.J.

            Yes. I think queer theology has more methodological problems than queer theory; one of which is a reluctance to engage with queer theory!

      • Penelope
        This was actually a deliberate ‘misunderstanding’ on my part to draw attention to an aspect of pro-gay propaganda which is itself a huge misunderstanding of reality…. Thing is that due to hyperlexia I managed early in my life to at least mostly get over the autistic tendency to hyper-literalism, and these days I consciously play games with it. I find it a bit amusing, mind, that you are the one reacting here with excessive literalism….

        I simply picked up on the phrase “Queer Theory” to point out that the idea held by many gays that ‘gayness’ is comparable to ethnicity is itself a ‘queer theory’ in that not only is it held by ‘queers/gays’ but it is also ‘queer’ in the older sense of being a rather weird and off-kilter idea.

        • And it’s another sraw man. Queer Theory ahs nothing to do with ‘identity’. And, as people, keep pointing out, there is no such thing as ‘gay sex’. Queer folk and straight folk engage in sexaul intimacies, none of whichis peculiarly gay or straight.

          • I suppose you could argue that Queer Theory does have something to do with ‘identity’ in that it rejects it as a social construct.

            I do sometimes wonder if the hyper-conservatives are more aligned to Queer Theory than they let on. After all, they think that ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ are misleading, socially constructed identities that we need to free ourselves from. It’s just that whilst your average academic Queer Theorist may put an ideal individual freedom and choice to do whatever you want over that, the hyper-conservative Christian (say, a Rosaria Butterfield) overlays it with Scripture instead. If you do that when you think sexuality and gender are social constructs, you suddenly a moral map to socially construct straight sexuality and some strict, traditional gender roles for everyone.

          • Yes they are. A man doing something to another man is specifically (‘peculiarly’) gay – and so on.

            Of course, if you leave out basic dimensions like that, then eventually you can claim there is no difference. (Probably because you included the dimensions where there is none, and excluded those where there is some.) But in the real world all dimensions coexist.

          • “But it seems that some commentors would much rather make cheap jibes than engage with what I have written”.

            Nothing ‘cheap’ about the issue I raised, nor ‘straw-mannish’; it is a major civil liberties problem throughout the Western world being used by ‘gays’ to bully and intimidate in an ultimately improper manner – though I guess the ivory tower “Queer Theory” lives in is not bothered by such mundane issues.

            I did take the trouble to check on the Wiki entry for “Queer Theory” and it is about what I expected; it’s a good job I’m hyperlexic and familiar with the English dialect of “Sixsyllablese” also known as “How you speak/write to make nonsense sound impressive”. As you show in your reply to Ian above – even you might be worried by how that would come out in normal English….

  32. Christopher

    A man having tea with another man is gay?

    But, seriously, no. Men have sex with other men in prison all the time. It doesn’t make them gay.

  33. A.J.

    I think you’re right!
    Except that the average conservative only sees identities they don’t like as ‘socially constructed’. The normative is seen as being canonical, all else is choice and aberration.

    • I was thinking about the 1993 essay on sexuality by Dennis Prager (Anton has linked to it a couple of times) as well. In it, Prager, motivated by Jewish ethics that holds choosing to be celibate to be very problematic, argues that if a man is physically capable of performing the sexual act with a woman at all, he should be encouraged to marry a woman (irrespective of his orientation or how difficult he may find that act). Prager is, in effect, arguing that we ought to socially construct straight relationships because we have a divine mandate to do so.

      And of course, taking the ‘other side’ in this debate – that some people simply are gay, and ought to be able to marry each other because they should be living under the marriage sexual ethic in their gay relationships – is a very un-queer theory stance.

  34. Stephen

    Did Wiki, that great authority explain that QT has nothing to do with gay ‘propaganda’ or gay male ‘identity’?

    So, yes I’m afraid you are straw manning.

    • Penelope
      I don’t come at this from your academic standpoint but from various practical positions.
      One position is Anabaptism, thus a rejection of the idea of ‘Christian states’ – and in turn a rejection of criminalising people of other beliefs, including the LGBT community. Back in the early 1970s I was because of that one of the earliest evangelical Christians I know of to have supported the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK.

      Another position is a background in Law, though health problems got in the way of that becoming a career; I’m still interested in legal matters and particularly civil rights issues. Right now I’m practically concerned that certain ideas in the LGBT community are effectively leading to an assault on the civil rights of people who disagree with said LGBT community, and have led to the LGBT community having a position which is not true equality but actually an improperly privileged position in what is supposed to be a liberal plural society.

      And then there is autism and an awareness that an awful lot of people who identify as LGBT are also autistic – and I have an inside view on all kinds of ways that that can be relevant to that self-identification.

      And yes, I take the Bible seriously; much prefer that to making things up just to suit myself – though the fact that I’m Anabaptist does show that I do my own thinking rather than following conventional thinking.

  35. Yes. I think it is a rather nuanced debate (that is, there are more than two sides!).
    Obviously, from what I have argued here, I think the divine mandate to be straight and multiply is a false god. If it is portrayed as the only acceptable option, with celibacy being a poor second.

    There are gay assimilationists who desire all the goods of marriage in the yearning for what Butler calls ‘a livable life’. There are also queer folk who despise marriage as a heteropatriarchal institution (some straight folk do too), and want to explore different ways of being in community.

    The church cannot seem to accommodate either ‘group”at the moment – perhaps because it is offering stones rather than bread.

    • Penelope
      “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” – the result is of course a mess with lots of stuff disordered and ‘off kilter’, including various humans’ urges and desires. And of course just because people do things/enjoy them/have urges to do them does not make those things right.

      Whether you like it/wish it or not, God is in fact ‘heteronormative’ simply because that is how he designed sexuality. People are meant to love people, men loving men, women loving women, adults loving children, even humans loving animals – but sex is only actually appropriate between male and female and ideally in a married relationship. sex in the other cases is part of that ‘off kilter’ disordered stuff.

      I generally believe that for non-Christians their consensual sexual activities will unless really extreme be among the least of their problems with God and his problems with them; but for Christians it’s a different matter – Christians are supposed to trust God, and doing/encouraging ‘gay sex’ is a chosen act of not trusting, which in Christian terms is rejecting God. Telling God you know better than him is what a verse in John 3 describes as ‘choosing the darkness’ – which is not a good choice….

      • That is how you believe They designed sexuality. Heteronormativity is a prior commitment which you choose to impose on your reading of scripture.

        • Penelope
          You say “That is how you believe They designed sexuality. Heteronormativity is a prior commitment which you choose to impose on your reading of scripture”.

          No that is actually how God says in Scripture he designed it, a point confirmed by Jesus in Mark 10 and by Paul in Romans1. It is the ‘prior commitment’ of God himself, confirmed over and over again both in the few texts that address the matter directly and by the glaringly obvious that NOWHERE in the Bible is there any approval of same-sex sex – and seriously if God was OK with same-sex sex he would reallyhave to have said so explicitly as he glaingly obviously doesn’t.

          Rejecting heteronormativity is YOUR “prior commitment which YOU CHOOSE to impose on YOUR reading of scripture”. It definitely isn’t there in the Bible….

    • ‘Buggery doesn’t make men gay’ actually, that is not true. Research shows that experience does shape our sexuality and its development. Matthew Parris even said some years ago that, with different experiences, he could imagine himself as not gay.

      • Good point. I should have been clearer.
        I meant that the act doesn’t signify a man is gay (especially when performed in prison, war etc.)

          • What do we need to do to children and/or teenagers to stop them turning out gay, Christopher?

          • Both AJ Bell are (a) illogical and (b) unimaginatively culture-bound in their presuppositions.

            (1) AJ Bell assumes people ‘turn out’ ‘gay’ which is dangerously close to ‘turn out to have been…all along’. Which is incorrect. If you put together those who are sex starved at the likeliest age for that to happen and accept their own sex much as a dog accepts a table leg with those who are actively sought out by those who would derive short term pleasure from coupling with youth (not a few) that adds up to quite a lot. The predator or seducer then evilly says ‘Oh – you are gay now, so get on with it’ as though they had not caused all this themselves.
            (Cue someone to say I am saying option 2 applies to everyone. They do it every time, either through stupidity or not listening to former refutations or other reasons.)
            He asks a question to which he already knows the answer – stable (i.e. loving) families and stable (i.e. loving) cultures have a higher frequency of people’s sexual and other development not getting disrupted. And naturally always have had and always will have.

            (2) PCD yet again ignores earlier refutations. Forgetfulness or brainpower – which? The coining of ‘homosexual’ and ‘heterosexual’ (doubtless deliberately and cynically) frames all options as being much of a muchness (cue a lot of unwary people getting duped). Apart from the fact that each of us billions comes from one of these (now add the animals), and zero from the other. A consideration which is a mere trifle. But goodness knows what state a person needs to be in to need such an obvious point to be made. It is almost the most basic point of all in how the world runs.

          • I’ll ignore the disgusting reply to A.J. Bell.
            I’m not sure what your response to me means. I haven’t seen anyone who has ‘refuted’ any of the points I have made. Some have raised their own points of view and beliefs but no one has ‘refuted’ them.

            I think you know why the terms homosexual and heterosexual were coined in the 19thC. Certainly both contributed to the pathologisation of sexual identity. Or, at least the first did. Heterosexuality changed its meaning over time and became the unmarked identity; even adopted into Church teaching as a divinely ordained norm. Which is a bit of an innovation.
            You are right of course that these are not the only sexual identities. Sexuality is much more nuanced than 19thC science presupposes.

            Of course most animals reproduce sexually but that doesn’t determine their sexuality. You can’t be arguing surely that queer folk can’t be queer because they were produced by an act of PIV sex (or in vitro)?

          • (1) The reply to AJ Bell cannot be ‘disgusting’ since it had so many different and separate aspects.

            (2) Nor do you specify what was ‘disgusting’ about any one of these.

            (3) Nor whether all or only some of them were disgusting.

            (4) By ignoring each one of these, you inform us that you have no ready reply to any of them. Which probably means you hold the less good overall position. That would be the working hypothesis unless you show otherwise.

            (5) My main point to him (one of several) was that if you take (and I here list 2 subsets, *not the totality of self-styled ‘gay’ people)
            a. those who just want the best available sexual outlet at the age of highest sex drive (i.e. many people) and add them to
            b. those who are of interest because of their youth to older men in a culture without many sexual boundaries (also many people)…
            you end up with a lot of people – and indeed a lot of formative experiences which then become determinative for the future. But among those many, the classification ‘gay’ kicks in or becomes rooted after these events not before. Among people in general, of course, the vast majority of those who self-style thus in the unsettled years of adolescence will later settle down into the way they were made (Savin-Williams and Ream). But where their culture does not bother whether or not they do that, their number will be fewer.
            This (5) was a prime example of a main point you did not address.

            (6) Pathologise – the point has been made many times, and been undigested. Yet again. Everything has causes and origins. You are saying that an analysis that completely ignores these is actually a tighter and more rigorous analysis than one that looks into these. Very likely. Further, the idea of an analysis that has no place for origins and causes is an impossibility, since what could be more relevant, for the purpose of understanding, than context, origins and causes.

            (7) To repeat (and this is the second main point you did not, despite protestations, address, and moreover have previously ignored): ‘heterosexual’/’homosexual’ ignores the elephant in the room – that one is a miracle and produces miracles, one is 100% of the time the way that new life happens, one is in accord with core biological/sexual structure, whereas the other almost always bypasses these (bypasses womb, bypasses breast, bypasses sexual union, and to no-one’s surprise bypasses babies). But there is, in your analysis which mentions none of this, very little difference between the 2 ‘h-sexual’s. These footnoted differences are a mere trifle.

          • Forgive me. But I’m sitting here in 40 degree heat and haven’t the patience to explain to you why comparing queer people to dogs is disgusting and why the view that people born from the congress of a man and a woman should therefore be straight is risible.

          • If you don’t have the patience to engage, then don’t comment. The most actual insults from any commentators come from you and Andrew. It is outside my comments policy, and I’d like you to desist.

          • Ian

            I have been extremely patient with Christopher and others with their non sequiturs, their trolling, their insults, and their unpleasant rhetoric.

            As I said, it’s hot and I’m tired of juvenile point scoring and of being told, usually in the third person, what I am, usually something heretical. They need to grow up, and learn some self-discipline and courtesy.

          • Christopher,

            If you were right, and sexual orientation was neither some predetermined thing, nor something that “turned out”, you’re left having to believe that sexual orientation is either an illusion or something malleable and changeable. If a good number (many? most? all?) gay people (i.e. same-sex attracted if you prefer) simply believed they were gay because they had a gay sexual encounter and were then (falsely) told they were now gay and had to accept that, then wouldn’t that mean that the decades of work by the ex-gay movement and the associated “therapists” should have produced some results of actually changing people’s sexual orientation and same-sex attractions? Those success stories ought to be numerous and well-documented. Instead it proved to be a spectacular failure. Just look at the disasters that were Love In Action or Exodus International, or listen to people like Jeremy Marks, Paul Martin, Alan Chambers, Martin Hallett etc..



          • A.J. Bell

            Interesting that some comments insist that being gay is either a CHOICE or the result of being seduced by predatory older men, who in their turn …

            They never consider that if being gay is a CHOICE, it might be a moral CHOICE. Since sexuality is, shall we say neutral, it is not the acts themselves which are immoral, but the intentions behind them. For example, heterosexual conjugal sex is not moral if it is coerced.

          • AJ Bell

            You say there can only be 2 possibilities, if one discards the third possibility (I take it that ‘predetermined’ and ‘turned out [to be]’ refer to the same single possibility, though do correct me if I am wrong) which is the one that you yourself espouse.

            Impossible position. All you know is that you have so far thought of only 2 other possibilities. There is, as you will readily agree, no way of knowing whether you have yet thought of all the possibilities.

            Neither of those two was even the situation I outlined. Far from it: -Sexual orientation is certainly not an illusion – quite the contrary, it is a real, unmistakable and strong experience.
            -As for malleability (although I was not mentioning that above), yes – this is one ever-present possibility, seen more (certainly later in life) in females than in males. It is inescapable. Other aspects of our lives are malleable, after all (including our hormones, for Pete’s sake) so why on earth would this one not be? That is even before we get to the idea that *of course* some would be malleable if they later discovered an option that they preferred and would have preferred all along if only they had realised.

            No – what I was mentioning above (twice, and now thrice) was that people can have the following pathway to their life:
            (1) Born, male or female
            (2) Develop that to differing degrees – compare this to some males not developing their muscle power and then saying that this undeveloped muscle power is ‘the way I am’. Right. The way one is is to a great extent the way one makes oneself to be, or indeed *doesn’t make oneself to be.
            (3) Have formative experiences that are determinative of life and of identity.
            (4) Live the rest of your life in the light and under the influence of those formative experiences at formative ages.

            In the unending litany of (very often predictable and oft-repeated) misconstruals, you now have the idea that ‘queer people’ were compared to dogs. You are enforcing that people regard the phrase ‘queer people’ as meaningful; it is uncontroversial that there is no way you can enforce any such thing. That comparison was not made. Rather there was a general principle that if anyone at all (whatever their ideal desires) was ‘on heat’ they might sometimes resort to satisfying that with anyone/-thing at all that was to hand (the best available option). Got it?

          • I distinguish malleability on the one hand from adolescent confusion and unsettledness on the other hand. I need to make this point only because people are already doing appalling things like calling in traditional parents to schools and telling them their child is ssa when in fact she has scarcely at her tender age had the chance to form attachments other than with her own sex, and if she is healthy these attachments will be strong; these are the healthy lives that they are in danger of corrupting.

          • And even on top of that, there is a further misunderstanding from Penelope. The group whose behaviour (not exclusively) I was on this occasion comparing to that of animals was not ‘queer people’ at all even if such a category were coherent. It was any people at all who wanted or felt they needed a sexual outlet and achieved one with only the best available (which, of course, could be anything from ideal to grotty) – with inevitable psychological consequences; and/or any people who were seduced – again with such consequences.

          • As for AJ Bell’s point about Exodus and other organisations, he was speaking as though I disagreed. Quite the contrary. I agree strongly. We are talking here of something powerful and central to future identity, of playing with fire. The more advanced age (and we are actually talking quite young ages here) things are embedded, the less likely it is that they can be thrown off.
            Exactly the same applies to Christian conversion. The later in life someone converts, the more it will disrupt their existing lifestyle and life story, so the harder it is. So remember your Creator in the days of your youth. Exactly the same applies to marriage. The later you marry, the more acute will be the disjunction from single life. So the present trend (very unusual) for later marriage is a bad thing.
            Likewise the idea that you can easily be sexually indulgent and then stop being once the urge is less strong ignores the fact that all your previous behaviour is part of who you are and are inclined to be, and has been embedded to the extent that it has been habitual.

            Conclusion: Old habits die hard. But this is not a conclusion at all, and should not be dressed up as one. It is, rather, something we all knew already. So when people fail to turn successfully from a harmful lifestyle, that is (a) because there are in their own context no social pressures or taboos sufficiently compelling, so they are swimming against the tide – whereas success rates would be higher if there were; (b) because old habits obviously die hard.

            Others are successful, and it is great to listen to their stories. One cannot be impressed by your ignoring of them, which works against accuracy when debate is all about being in line with accuracy.

          • This any outlet behaviour may have been common among Iwerne youth. I can assure you that it was not in the circles in which I moved.

          • You want to agree that Exodus International, Love In Action, and other similar organisations were spectacular failures. But you also think we should listen attentively to their non-existent success stories. You’ve ceased making any sense Christopher.

            You’re clinging to this fantasy running in your head of gay people having some corrupting formative experience, then carry on for years, creating “old habits” that die hard. Folks like Love In Action had no shortage of teenagers shoved through their doors with no habits at all. If your hypothesis had any weight, those kids would have had their sexual orientation turned around. They didn’t. Your fantasy of how the sexual orientation of gay people is formed bears no relation to the actual experience of actual gay (or same-sex attracted) people, especially in the Church – there is no corrupting formative experience, or ongoing “old habits” reported by (for example) Wesley Hill, Greg Coles, Pieter Valk, Eve Tushnet, Ed Shaw, Vaughan Roberts, Justin Lee, Matthew Vines (or even me) before we told people who we were. You’re going to have to re-examine your hypothesis in some pretty fundamental ways.

          • You attribute to me the exact opposite of what I already said. You write ‘If your hypothesis had any weight, these kids would have had their sexual orientation turned round.’ But my hypothesis is that formative experiences are incredibly powerful! Which is why I agree with you not disagree on the sometimes low success rate.

            But I already said I agree not disagree, didn’t I? Did you read where I said that? It was actually my main point.

            But I am even more astonished that you said I applied this formative experiences idea to ALL who now call themselves ‘gay’. I have repeatedly said I apply it to SOME of them, not all. A good proportion. I mean – come on – even in my chapters in What Are They Teaching The Children? I list a large number of *different causes of presently-experienced homosexual orientation, not all of which will always be present (obviously).

            Somehow you have missed my two main points.

            When you say I make no sense, what you mean is that you have not yet digested what I said. Digest it first.

            A tip would be that if you begin by thinking everyone thinks either A or B on this topic, I will almost always think C.

          • As for ‘old habits’, change is progressively less possible (in any matter) the later in your life you get.

            Give me a child till 7 – say the Jesuits – and they were right. There is an age after which habit formation and change become more difficult.

            Particularly when a child hits adolescence, one sees for good or ill the effects of prior upbringing. It is in the pre-adolescence stage that character and habits can be formed. If you want to try later, good luck, but your success rate while not zero will be much lower.

            You are saying young people have no habits. They have many. In fact their options are more circumscribed and limited than those of adults, not less.

            But as for ‘nonexistent success stories’ you are claiming you know everything that has happened to anyone anywhere. Er – no, you don’t know everything that has happened to anywhere, and it is the highest hubris to think so. But it’s even worse than that, because much is in the public domain, and if you are not even aware of that then your knowledge of the science is so low that no-one needs to pay attention till you have read up on it.

            Core Issues Trust, Matthew Grech, Jones and Yarhouse, OK – but when we come to early molestation (for which every large study puts the rates far higher for those now claiming ‘gay’ identity than for others – see What Are They Teaching The Children?) it is hideous to say that everyone molested and feeling confused ssa feelings as a consequence of this mucking with their psyche should classify as something called ‘gay’ as a result of these feelings. These are infinitely precious children we are talking about.

          • As for Penelope’s comment, is the whole point of debate to her insinuations rather than reading what is said? If feminism has been accused of working off their chips on the shoulder (inevitable chips predicted in advance by the Christians) then this will always get in the way of debating a point. What is one supposed to say? ‘You have made your jibe; it brings in topics irrelevant to the discussion; its root in fact escapes one’? Working off sexual drive is the purpose of some nightclubs (which a high proportion of the young generation would be happy to attend, the Christians not prominent among them), and there are some sectors of society whose presence there would be so surprising as to warrant oh-so-excited tabloid exposes.

            Not through choice, Iwerne was only about my 6th most prominent milieu at university. But as it is the only one she knows about, never let the facts get in the way of a good insinuation. Which merely works against the feminist stereotype that women are no less statespersons than men, and no more exalters of malicious trivia than men.

          • I see. You’ve been caught out. So now you’re changing your story again. You’ve switched from this being about some formative sexual encounter of teenagers and young adults, to it actually being about some vague issue about how people are raised as very young children. This little thread started when I challenged you to say what it was we needed to do to stop children and/or teenagers turning out gay. You’ve previously been absolutely adamant that we cannot say young children are gay. Now you’re saying that their upbringing and (unspecified) habits are the formative experience, after much dancing around the subject, and attempts to distract with gross allusions to dogs in heat. And yet, still there’s nothing on what you think we should do. You’re a fraud Christopher.

            It’s somehow typical of you to feign upset that anyone should think agreed with ex-gay ministries and “counsellors” like Love In Action, and then immediately jump up to say ex-gay ministry and “counsellors” of Core Issues Trust are an example of what you do support. In your froth of indignation it didn’t occur to you that I might already be familiar with them and their “non-success”. Core Issues Trust are always quite careful to avoid saying that they can change someone’s sexual orientation. Everything is phrased as leaving a lifestyle, and rejecting the gay-straight binary. Similarly, Matthew Grech is careful to avoid saying his orientation has changed, and instead phrases his story as “leaving homosexual practices”. Quite different.

          • AJ Bell writes the following about the inside of my head, to which he claims privileged access and more knowledge than I have myself. Does anyone agree (a) that he has privileged access to this, and (b) that he knows my thought better than I know them myself?
            As follows:
            -‘previously…but now’
            ‘attempts to distract’
            ‘you’ve been caught out’
            ‘changing your story again’ [‘again’??]
            ‘switched [from A to B]’
            ‘dancing around the subject’
            So he says 7 times (once would do, and once would be the only number in the context of proper debate – so I wonder why 7 times) not that he thinks I am being dishonest but that I am irrefutably being. An easier explanation, and one that tallies with past experience, is that he does not understand what is written.

            Together with this he thinks (again on the assumption of privileged access) I am driven by emotion and not at all by reason (which approach served me well in research):
            -froth of indignation’

            Of all the people who would be likely to have even 1% access to my inner thoughts, one who often misunderstands what I am saying would not be the likeliest.

            On the individual points:
            (1) The habits of young children are not ‘unspecified’ but apply to most areas of their life so are innumerable, especially if they are well brought up.

            (2) You can see that I am talking *generally here about habits. That is because the principle that we were talking about is that ‘old habits [in *general] die hard’. 7 year olds already have old habits. Sexual habits are habits but are only a small subsection of them. They are not a small subsection very relevant to younger children.

            (3) I did not ‘previously’ say that young children are not ‘gay’: this is a given that I never thought of not believing: it is common sense. What is ‘previously’ about it?

            (4) Am I saying that upbringing and habits are now ‘THE’ formative experience? No – because there is no world and no life where there is only one formative experience. Most people have several. Therefore it follows that there is no such thing as ‘THE’ formative experience.

            (5) Even in my earlier post I spoke of two different ones: molestation on the one hand and surrender to second best (of which dogs were, and remain, merely the most obvious example – but have you digested this point, and the separate point that the comparison was between dogs and humans not between dogs and ‘gays’, and even then between behaviours not between living creatures?) because of desires on the other hand. And – to repeat – there are numerous other possible scenarii.

            (6) When I said formative experiences are powerful and determinative I was referring in particular to sexual debut. What could be closer to someone’s core identity?

            (7) If M Grech and Core Issues say that they are talking about behaviour and not orientation, they are only doing what most people have always done, having the perspective that most people have always had. Orientation has the sense of something inevitable, and if it were inevitable it would not be subject to percentage change, let alone large percentage change, caused by culture or circumstances or formative experience or any combination of these. Behaviour however can be charted by the sociologist because it is uncontroversial. It is unlike orientation in that it cannot be misidentified nor lied about.

            (8) You said I am not answering the question of what to do practically. I did not know you had asked. But one thing is for sure – whatever question you ask I will answer. My answer to this one: Stop giving out the present cultural messages; human (and animal) biology and union is (a) a magnificent thing worthy of thoughtful and reverent awe; (b) not to be treated with ‘base’ ingratitude. Wherever the present cultural messages are not given out, fewer problems result.

            (9) Chrysostom does not speak of what we call ‘straight people’ today. He assumes (on good evidence…!) that everyone is male and female and that they are constructed to act accordingly (sounds reasonable, if a bit obvious). So unlike what you say, his perspective rejects an array of separate orientations, rejects the need for the ‘orientation’ concept here altogether. Quite a large difference, in fact the largest that there could be, since the central concept is removed. It is not he that has this (odd?) perspective, but Paul the author and him and most other people.
            If you imagine (perish the thought) that men act like men, and women act like women (‘men’ and ‘women’ being differentiated precisely *sexually in the first place – these are the names for the 2 sexes, so it is a sexual matter), then naturally you will think that anyone who does otherwise is leaving nature behind. That is the default understanding. But for them it was more than the default understanding. It was the only understanding that had ever occurred to them. And more even than that, it is not clear that if anyone had suggested that it was not the only possible understanding, it is not at all clear that they would have agreed without an enormous wrench in their commonsense worldview. Why would they do that?

    • Penelope
      “Shouty caps are so convincing.” Fine – but on your side it would have been even more convincing if you had taken the trouble to specify all the places where the Bible explicitly approves of same-sex sex (not just love and physical affection short of ‘sex’). As it stands I think you would find that in most people’s eyes it would be clear that the Bible does reject same-sex sex and a person who says so is following the Bible’s teaching, not ‘choosing to impose their own prior commitment on their reading of scripture’, whereas it looks very much as if, with or without shouty capitals, you are trying to impose such a commitment on your reading.

  36. AJ Bell
    You said “What do we need to do to children and/or teenagers to stop them turning out gay, Christopher?”

    Two basic things, which they will only get from the biblically faithful.
    1) Understand that in a sin-affected world everybody faces temptations in all kinds of areas to do things God for good reason doesn’t want; and understand that those temptations should be resisted.
    2) Teach them that yes they can and should love people of the same sex, and that as physical beings interacting in a physical world yes there will be and should be a physical element to it; BUT that sex itself is heterosexual and no matter the temptation they don’t do same-sex sex.

    • What’s the good reason God doesn’t want same-sex attracted (i.e. gay) people not to have any sort of a same-sex sex?

      And just to be clear, you’re saying if we allow gay people to enter committed, loving, and physically affectionate relationships with other gay people of the same sex (e.g. civil partnerships) but without actually having sex (although it’s not totally clear where you draw the line), then they won’t be gay. Is that right?

      • 1) Strictly speaking there are no ‘gay people’, at least in the sense that the gays usually mean it of ‘being gay’ being like an ethnic difference. ‘Gay’ does not involve just being something with no choice, but involves ‘doing things’ (the sex acts) and by normal moral standards choosing to do them. Things people do because urges and desires are clearly a different moral category and it shouldn’t take genius to work out that just having urges and desires to do things does not automatically make them right.
        2) Rejecting the concept of a Christian state I am willing to let non-Christian people do according to their beliefs/worldview, and accept the state making provision for it including same-sex marriages.
        3) In theory Christians could enter a ‘civil partnership’ on a non-sexual basis. AIUI it is technically possible to do so now as a private contract. The state could set up such partnerships as a ‘set form relationship’ like a marriage with automatic benefits such as tax easements as part of the package for convenience.
        4) “..without actually having sex …. then they won’t be gay.” Regardless of exactly how you define the concept ‘gay’, they would not be *sinful* – same-sex love has always been OK, though there was a period from the late Victorian era when a bit of a moral panic rendered suspect many previously acceptable acts between men. The limits of what constitutes sex would seem to be basically anal sex, oral sex, and various acts which boil down to masturbation of the partner as a quasi-penetration.
        5) the ‘good reason’ is simply that the things same-sex couples have to do as a substitute for the heterosexual sex God designed are not actually sex in God’s terms anyway, plus issues about the attitudes with which they are done…. Remember I’m not proposing to legally in the state enforce conformity on non-believers.

        • Strictly speaking, a nun who is a virgin all her life will be gay if her sexual desire is directed at other women rather than at men. Strictly speaking, a young boy who has never had sex knows that he is attracted to other boys and not to girls.

          Strictly speaking God didn’t design one ‘heterosexual’ sex act since straight couples engage in all sorts of sex acts that aren’t ‘open to life’ and there is no indication in scripture that there is such a thing as ‘heterosexual sex’. As I keep pointing out, the belief that there is is something you are reading into the text.

          Strictly speaking, sex that isn’t PIV isn’t a ‘substitute’ for anything and certanly not for something divinely ordained.

          Strictly speaking, the Bible nowhere condemns masturbation, but centuries of poor and oppressive exegesis have led to Christians being tormented by wholly unecesssary guilt.

          Strictly speaking, sex used wisely and courteously is a gift and you are making it a millstone.

          • Penelope
            “Strictly speaking, a nun who is a virgin all her life will be gay if her sexual desire is directed at other women rather than at men. Strictly speaking, a young boy who has never had sex knows that he is attracted to other boys and not to girls.

            Strictly speaking God didn’t design one ‘heterosexual’ sex act since straight couples engage in all sorts of sex acts that aren’t ‘open to life’ and there is no indication in scripture that there is such a thing as ‘heterosexual sex’. As I keep pointing out, the belief that there is is something you are reading into the text.
            Strictly speaking, sex that isn’t PIV isn’t a ‘substitute’ for anything and certainly not for something divinely ordained.
            Strictly speaking, the Bible nowhere condemns masturbation, but centuries of poor and oppressive exegesis have led to Christians being tormented by wholly unnecessary guilt.
            Strictly speaking, sex used wisely and courteously is a gift and you are making it a millstone.

            Start with masturbation – I think you’ve misunderstood the point I was actually making, plus looks like you’re assuming I’m ignorant. Courtesy ‘hyperlexia’, while I wouldn’t dare claim to be within light years of omniscient, it’s also the case that it’s not very safe to assume that I’m ignorant or that I haven’t considered something deeply just because I’ve not yet gone deep in this context.

            I agree the Bible doesn’t condemn masturbation; though I think the practice/experience would have been somewhat different in an ‘unfallen’ world. Would have to say that in a fallen world it’s clearly possible for it also to be unhealthy in various ways. It can become obsessive, people can be too vigorous and risk injury, autoerotic bondage is clearly risky, and I suspect that some fantasies people might indulge in around the practice are psychologically unhealthy. But my point above was that mutual masturbation by a couple is so close to full sex it is almost certainly in Christian terms only appropriate to a married couple, and ipso facto not to a same-sex couple.

            I’m well aware that the ‘moral panic’ now some centuries ago which associated masturbation with the story of Onan was totally misplaced. What Onan did was only peripherally ‘masturbation’, the key thing is that he did ‘coitus interruptus’ or ‘contraceptive withdrawal’ in a context of ‘levirate marriage’; thus in effect he exploited that custom to enjoy sex with his brother’s widow while very deliberately avoiding the family duty of giving his brother a nominal/surrogate heir. Not a nice thing to do….

            “Strictly speaking” there are still, whatever you say, no ‘gay people’ as gay propaganda imagines, with ‘gay’ as something people ‘just are’ in the same way they may be ethnically whatever, or have this or that eye or hair colour. This is because, whether the people concerned do it or not, or even have the opportunity to do it, the point is that ‘gay’ is about the sexual act or the wish/temptation to do it, and therefore isn’t about simple ‘being’ but a much more complex matter, and indeed an issue far wider than just sexuality.

            Things people DO – and unless insane CHOOSE – are in a completely different category to things people ‘just are’ like their hair colour. Any underlying ‘being’ is not a morally neutral thing like hair colour, but a matter of ‘urges and desires’ which of course can be anything but morally neutral. Of course the ‘urges and desires’ can be good, even saintly – the urge to be a doctor healing in a war zone at immense personal risk for example. But clearly also ‘urges and desires’ can be evil; just for one example consider the urges and desires of one Ian Brady – they still haven’t recovered all the bodies of his child victims…. This is why the ‘gay’ claim that they ‘just are so’ doesn’t work, or not straightforwardly. Unlike hair colour, when dealing with ‘urges and desires’ it is really not possible to just say “I have these urges and desires so it must be OK to live them out/act them out”. Even with urges and desires good in themselves there can be occasions it’s not fitting to act on them. The situation is way more complex than the glib and superficial portrayal in gay propaganda.

            And to my mind a great deal of that superficiality and glibness comes from a failure by ‘gays’ to put their issues in the proper wider context of the implications of urges and desires in general, and the implications of ‘sin’ in general. ‘Gayness’ is not an isolated thing, nor does it follow different rules to other sins.

            Simply, the deal is that clearly humans do what you earlier described as ‘egregious’ things; and clearly God allows them to do many of those bad things. And it helps if one can provide a decent explanation of that situation, which is where redemptive arc hermeneutics comes in.

            Humans doing the ‘egregious’ things is because ‘urges and desires’ – and you only need to look at tomorrow’s news to see that clearly a lot of humans have very questionable urges and desires which do not come from God. The traditional Christian explanation of this, for example as explained by Paul in Romans 1, is that this comes about as a result of the Fall (and for present purposes it doesn’t matter whether we take the Genesis account literally or as an account in some other genre but still of valid truth – I’ve been known to compare it, though not exactly, to the way Animal Farm is an ahistorical but very useful account of the Russian Revolution). Because of that Fall, humans are out of joint with God and therefore out of joint with everything else, even with themselves … whence the questionable urges and desires.

            And yes, there is an element of “can’t help it” – not because the urges and desires are natural but because as sinners and out of joint with ultimate reality, humans are not in proper control of themselves. Simples!!

          • Can we put this ridiculous straw man to bed? The claim is not, and never has been, that because someone feels an “urge” they have an automatic moral right to act on it. The claim is that the arguments about appropriate channelling of sexual desire is a healthy remedy for sin found in marriage, applies to a gay couple as much as a straight couple. And furthermore that it really doesn’t work if you try to make a gay person attempt it inside a straight marriage.

            I get troubled by the straw man argument though. It’s looking at an individual person, and simply asks whether them fulfilling their “urges” is permissible or not. It’s a slightly disturbing way of looking at questions about marriage, sex and relationships. You’re ignoring the other person. Christian marriage does not allow a man to simply use his wife to fulfill his “urges”. St Paul is very clear in 1 Corinthians that marriage is a two-way egalitarian relationship – “The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife”.

            This is what you’re missing: as St Paul writes in Romans 13, love does no harm to a neighbour, and so love is the fulfillment of the law. That is the lens to apply to aid understanding on the question. Comparisons to child murderers, as well as being another example of your grotesque offensiveness, miss the point. Child murderers are extraordinarily harmful to their victims. There is no victim in a gay relationship: there are two people, who both gain love, companionship, and an ability to channel their sexual desires with each other.

            Both St Paul and Christ took pains to point out that there was no command to be celibate, that attempts to deny or repress sexual desire were problematic, and that marriage was a practical concession to deal with this.

            The “traditional” explanation you claim for Romans 1, is not the traditional explanation at all. You can go and read St John Chrysostom’s homily on it. He is very clear that the people being described as engaging in gay sex were what we would call straight people today – it’s a key point in the argument in his preaching that the people had no excuse that straight sex was not an available option for them.

          • No, because the idea about healthy channelling comes from the same source that has no knowledge of and would recoil from the idea of ‘a gay couple’.

            You selectively follow the source at one point and reject it at another.

            Hence (1) it is yourself and your own preferences that you are following, and (2) doing so all the while pretending to be following something scriptural – which says nothing for your honesty. (3) You think others will be fooled by this.

          • And to think Christopher that you have the audacity to criticise other people for not digesting your arguments.

  37. Ian, sorry, slightly slipped up while copying what I’d prepared offline. First three paras of my latest above are actually where I’d copied Penny’s earlier comment. My response proper starts with that second ‘Penelope’.

  38. AJB
    Responding point by point – and if you and Ian are agreeable I propose to put this response up on my own blog, including your comments with slight editing to preserve your anonymity.

    Can we put this ridiculous straw man to bed? The claim is not, and never has been, that because someone feels an “urge” they have an automatic moral right to act on it. The claim is that the arguments about appropriate channelling of sexual desire is a healthy remedy for sin found in marriage, applies to a gay couple as much as a straight couple. And furthermore that it really doesn’t work if you try to make a gay person attempt it inside a straight marriage.
    “The claim” is actually that ‘being gay’ is equivalent to being ethnically different, or say having blonde hair or brown eyes. And therefore that to challenge homosexuality is equivalent to being racist and is not allowable. Indeed so not allowable that ‘gays’ are entitled to legally sue and prosecute challengers, and that the challenges can be dismissed as irrational ‘hate speech’.
    And that claim fails precisely because ‘gayness’ rather clearly involves things people DO, the sex acts, and which they could have CHOSEN not to do. As with other such conduct, any underlying being is not as simple as hair colour etc., but is complex stuff about desires and urges to do the acts. ‘Stuff’, that is, which is totally inapplicable to the ethnicity etc. comparison; I mean, how does one ‘DO’ being black? OR meaningfully CHOOSE to be so? Or have urges and desires that can make a real difference to your ethnicity? This simple fact puts ‘gayness’ in a completely different moral category, not of simple ‘being’ but of “CHOOSING to DO because ‘urges and desires’”. And it should not take a genius to realise that while that category includes the positively saintly, it also includes lots of very questionable or downright evil and undesirable urges and desires.
    ‘Gays’ are trying to say that because they ‘are’ their urges and desires it must be OK to live them out and do them. But precisely because such things are in that different category it isn’t that simple, and indeed as I pointed out even things which per se are good may need further discussion about whether they are appropriate in particular cases – fancying a woman is fine, but if it leads to adultery…?
    You are right that the ‘gays’ are not explicitly arguing the wider idea ‘that because someone feels an “urge” they have an automatic moral right to act on it’. The problem is that they are isolating the sexuality issue from the wider category, indeed treating it as being in a different category, and are therefore simply failing to realise that their argument *implies* that wider idea. As in, if it can *automatically* be assumed that the urges and desires to do gay sex are OK, why not all the other urges and desires? As I say, because of the nature of ‘gayness’ as ‘DOING’, it is definitely in that wider category, and in that wider category things are more complex than ‘being’ a particular hair colour or similar.

    The rest of your point in this section depends on the false assumption about the category ‘gayness’ belongs in, and is therefore irrelevant.

    I get troubled by the straw man argument though. It’s looking at an individual person, and simply asks whether them fulfilling their “urges” is permissible or not. It’s a slightly disturbing way of looking at questions about marriage, sex and relationships. You’re ignoring the other person. Christian marriage does not allow a man to simply use his wife to fulfill his “urges”. St Paul is very clear in 1 Corinthians that marriage is a two-way egalitarian relationship – “The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife”.

    Or it can just as well be looking at the couple and asking whether their mutual urges and desires are permissible. As I say, once in that wider category the questions can properly be asked. I’m not using ‘urges and desires’ here in a pejorative sense; as I’ve said these things can be saintly and are not necessarily impersonal or mechanical – far from it! Just they can also be sinful and that needs to be considered. And also remember that I am a strong advocate of same-sex love – I just follow the scripture in saying that making it explicitly sexual is inappropriate.

    This is what you’re missing: as St Paul writes in Romans 13, love does no harm to a neighbour, and so love is the fulfillment of the law. That is the lens to apply to aid understanding on the question. Comparisons to child murderers, as well as being another example of your grotesque offensiveness, miss the point. Child murderers are extraordinarily harmful to their victims. There is no victim in a gay relationship: there are two people, who both gain love, companionship, and an ability to channel their sexual desires with each other.

    Yebbut – you must have a pretty low opinion of Paul’s intelligence if you think that by chapter 13 he would so essentially contradict what he said clearly in chapter 1!! Biblical agapE is about deep care and concern, not about slushy sentimentality, and Paul would surely *care* enough to not condone in the later chapter what he condemned as ‘shameful’ in the earlier passage.
    As for “There is no victim in a gay relationship”?? Part of my answer to this is something which I’ve said repeatedly and I’m fairly sure I said it in Ian’s blog some while back; that for those who are not Christian their consensual sexual acts will have to be pretty extreme to be their biggest problem with God or his biggest problem with them – but of course will still be part of their ‘sin’ problem as a whole. But the major point, which shows up more explicitly when people claiming to Christian are involved, is that in effect God is the intended victim – a purported Christian insisting on doing gay sex is in effect saying “I know better than God”, a position which is the essence of sin and of faithlessness/distrust towards God. And in turn the person doing that is harming himself by what in John’s gospel is described as ‘choosing the darkness’. A person wilfully disobeying God ‘victimises’ himself in a very serious way….

    On the comparison with Ian Brady you’re so busy being offended you’re missing the point. Which is that ‘gayness’ does belong in that wider category. I don’t know about you but I was alive in that time and I remember Brady being rather explicit in seeing himself as ‘living out’ things he ‘just was’ and ‘couldn’t help’ – talking, that is, pretty exactly as ‘gays’ talk about their situation. At least as an atheist Brady was not claiming “God made him that way”. Referring to him is a strong – but nevertheless valid – way of stressing the point that the ‘being’ of urges and desires is NOT the ‘being’ of hair colour or ethnic appearance. And note that you actually validate my point by seeing the need to raise the further point about Brady’s harmfulness – in this category, the rightness of urges and desires can’t be assumed, further discussion is needed.

    Both St Paul and Christ took pains to point out that there was no command to be celibate, that attempts to deny or repress sexual desire were problematic, and that marriage was a practical concession to deal with this.
    Again your argument here depends on the assumption that God ‘makes people gay’ and that gay sexual desire and marriage can truly be valid. There is an effective command to be celibate if not married – Paul’s point as far as I recall was about celibacy within a heterosexual marriage. More about this in the next point about St John Chrysostom’s teaching….

    The “traditional” explanation you claim for Romans 1, is not the traditional explanation at all. You can go and read St John Chrysostom’s homily on it. He is very clear that the people being described as engaging in gay sex were what we would call straight people today – it’s a key point in the argument in his preaching that the people had no excuse that straight sex was not an available option for them.
    This is one of the most bizarre interpretations put forward by ‘the gays’. As I understand it, it involves the following –
    1) That God intentionally made straight people and gay people, and for both he approves of them doing sex together.
    2) However he does not approve of the straight people doing gay sex – only the gay people are supposed to do that.

    One could reasonably ask – “and where does that leave the bi-sexual people?” But trivia apart, first do you fully realise the implications of God ‘making people gay’?

    In a Godless world, as atheists believe, everything just happens for purposeless and impersonal reasons, so hey, if you don’t want to do it with women and you do want to do it with men, well why not? Of course on a wider view atheism has considerable problems. As that Dawkins guy pointed out in his book “River Out Of Eden”, if atheism is true, then that purposelessness means there is no right and wrong or good and evil. In a brilliant wording of it, “We dance to the tune of our DNA – and our DNA doesn’t care…”

    However, if we are taking a Christian view, then to say God makes people gay and approves of it means something like this – that having created the very clearly designed heterosexual sexuality with the complementary anatomy, He then decides that He is going to deprive a minority of humans of that wonder, and give them instead the desires for the men to shove their male organs up other men’s shitholes, or down other men’s throats, or just play with each other’s organs…. And for women who don’t have the same anatomy, if anything even more bizarre options…. Does a loving or even simply rational God really treat people that way?

    On top of which having created these people – by the million over centuries – He then somehow managed in the two thousand years it took to orchestrate the Bible history and get it written down, to (A) completely fail to mention that He had created these people and approved of their behaviour, and (B) put in the Bible only a few texts which cover the point at all, all of which naturally read as condemnation of gay sex…. Again, would a loving God seriously treat people that way…?

    Also, BTW, given that I presume we are supposed in your view to recognise bi-sexuals as well, it would seem pretty impossible for even the people involved to distinguish the misbehaving ‘straight’ people condemned by Paul and StJohnC from the OK ‘gays’…

    I guess the question is, what would happen if you tried out your interpretation face-to-face with Paul or StJohnC? Would you get a reaction of “Well done you got it right” – or would you get a negative reaction that would make you feel you’d walked into a nuclear blast? All indications are that you’d get the blast and that it would make my ‘offensiveness’ look positively wimpy. There is no indication that they believed in these mythical gay people who God made that way and approves of. Every indication is that they believed God made humanity heterosexual as Jesus also says in Mark 10, and that the reason there are people who do gay sex is part of the distortion caused by the Fall.

      • AJB
        Fine – although obviously I will be publishing the substance of it in a different form at some point, just not in the answers to your comments format. The points made do remain valid, particularly the one that ‘gayness’ is NOT in that ‘being’ category.


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