Christian doctrine and Schrödinger’s Cat

Erwin Schrödinger was one of the pioneers of quantum theory in the early 20th century, and Schrödinger’s Cat was a thought experiment designed to explain the paradoxical principle of ‘quantum superposition’ in one particular theory of quantum physics. This theory suggested that sub-atomic particles could be thought to be in two contradictory states at the same time, but the thought experiment links the state of such a particle to the release of poison to kill a cat in a sealed box—and if the particle can be in two states, we would have to think of the cat as both alive and dead at the same time. We can only know which is the reality when we open the box and see what has happened. (The idea has been used to suggest that contradictory things can co-exist, but in fact Schrödinger’s point was that the cat cannot be both alive and dead, which suggests that the theory itself is incoherent.)

But the illustration has seeped into popular culture, and a great example of this comes in an early episode of The Big Bang Theory. Penny has been asked by Leonard, and she cannot work out whether this is a good thing or not—whether the fact that Leonard (who is short and nerdy) is so different from her previous boyfriends (large, athletic and unfaithful) means the relationship will actually work out or not. Sheldon comes to her rescue with the illustration of Schrödinger’s cat.

Just like Schrödinger’s cat, your potential relationship with Leonard can be thought of as both good and bad. It is only by opening the box that you will find out which it is.

In this case, living with a contradiction helps Penny to resolve her dilemma—but such contradictions do not always have such positive outcomes, as I was reminded when I heard about the establishment of the Ozanne Foundation by Jayne Ozanne, well known as a campaigner for LGBT+ rights and a lobbyist for changing the Church of England’s teaching on marriage. The stated aim of the Foundation is:

We therefore work with religious organisations around the world to eliminate discrimination based on sexuality or gender in order to embrace and celebrate the equality and diversity of all.

But there are several groups whose diversity will not be celebrated. The most often forgotten group comprises gay Christians who accept the historic mainstream Christian understanding of marriage as between one man and one woman, and so see sexual relationships outside this context as sinful. One of the trustees of the Foundation is Steve Chalke, who told me over dinner that by holding the historic position I was ‘hateful to gay people’. He presumably thinks that gay Christians who hold the same view are likewise ‘hateful’, so it is hard to see how the Foundation is going to be celebrating the diversity of their presence within the Church. This is particularly disturbing given this group are constantly marginalised and ignored in debates which directly affect them and their commitment to faithful witness. Rejection of this group is also significant in the light of patristic interest in the subject of virginity, which was seen as theologically important not simply because it was counter-cultural—even incomprehensible to surrounding culture—but because of its relation to the incarnation (Jesus was single and celibate), the apostolic witness (so was Paul) and Christian eschatological hope (in the resurrection we will be ‘like the angels’ (Mark 12.25 = Matt 22.30 = Luke 20.36). Like Schrödinger’s cat, the Ozanne Foundation is both diverse and equal, and narrow and unequal at the same time.

Something similar can be seen in Jayne’s own exposition of her role in a recent post on her Via Media blog.

Do you believe in Spiritual Blindness?  I must admit, I do. I define it as something spiritual that happens to people, often because of something that has happened to them in their past, which then stops them seeing what everyone else can see plainly. Sadly, you can’t rationalise with people when they are like this, it’s almost as if they’re wilfully blind to the truth.

It is really striking to see, in someone claiming to be interested in ‘good disagreement’ and ‘celebrating diversity’ such a sharp polarisation of the world into good and evil, as sharp as anything I have read in any Reformed Calvinist commentator. Jayne is the one who sees, whose view belongs to the majority who all agree with her, who is rational and open to debate and discussion. She alone is courageous in her commitment to honestly facing reality. I do, in fact, agree with Jayne in some of her assessment. I don’t think there is much doubting her personal courage and commitment (I likewise personally admire Peter Tatchell for his extraordinary personal courage in pursuing the cause he believes in) and I think Jayne has been through some horrendous experiences born out of pastoral ineptitude and flawed theology. But Jayne then couples that with classifying those who disagree with her as blind, irrational, incapable of reasonable debate, and wilfully resisting the will of God. Once again, we meet Schrödinger’s cat: Jayne is both inclusive and exclusive, both interested in and oblivious to the idea of ‘good disagreement’.

It is also incredibly unfortunate that Jayne uses a physical disability to demonise those with whom she disagrees, identifying without any qualification blindness with wilful sin. Not surprisingly, this was deeply offensive to disabled Christians, as Katie Tupling challenged Jayne on Twitter:

What was really sad is that, having been challenged, Jayne refused to apologise. Her justification was that ‘it is term that Jesus himself uses (Matt 15:14) as does St Paul (2 Cor 4:3-4) and one traditionally associated with people unable to see certain things that others can.’ Now, that would be a good justification for highlighting the gender binary of Gen 1 and 2 since Jesus cites that in Matt 19.4, as well as Lev 18.22 which Paul cites in 1 Cor 6.9. Somehow I doubt that Jayne will be quoting these quite so much. And it is striking that, when Jesus does use blindness as a metaphor for sin in John 9, he first detaches sin and disability (correcting his disciples sharply) at the start of the narrative, and then deconstructing the metaphor as applied to the Pharisees at the end: they are guilty because they can see but refuse to believe, a theme that recurs (inverted) near the end of the gospel. Katie Tupling’s conclusion from this exchange was another Schrödinger’s cat moment:

The clearer foundation to her position is articulated in one of the comments on the blog. In response to a ‘Mr Harris’ who points out that love and judgement (and so repentance for sin) are both prominent throughout Scripture, Kevin Scott responds:

Well Mr Harris, there is a well-respected and ancient view that God can only love. Yes, that flies in the face of a lot of Scripture, but it makes perfect sense and it is consistent. It is just possible that all the Divine vengefulness and righteousness we read about in Scripture has been projected onto God by writers who would rather like God to be that way (for other people).

Our Parish Church is dedicated to John the Baptist – the man who got it spectacularly wrong. He came preaching about God’s judgement and retribution which was about to be visited on earth by the Anointed One; he used words like fire and axe to describe the action of the One who was to come. And then, almost with irony, the Scripture says: ‘And then came Jesus …’

So it looks as though Jayne is both an ‘evangelical’ and a liberal, who both believes in and disagrees with what Scripture says about God.

To complete our clowder of cats, Paul Bayes, the bishop of Liverpool, has signed up as Chair of the Ozanne Foundation. Paul was one of the most vocal members of General Synod, and the most vocal bishop, in July debates, and committed himself to pursuing ‘radical Christian inclusion’ with the permitted limits of ‘the Christian Scriptures and church’s teaching’. Whilst Paul was clear on his own position, he was also clear that he would continue to uphold the Church’s teaching on marriage, and he confirmed this both in public and private. And yet he has now agreed to be Chair of a group which not only seeks to drive a celebratory coach and horses through this teaching, but believes it to be hateful, spiritually blind, and wilfully disregarding the command of God.

So the question is: Is Paul Bayes now working within the teaching of the Church, or outside it? Is he upholding the vow he made at his ordination as a bishop, to ‘teach the doctrine of Christ as the Church of England has received it, will you refute error, and hand on entire the faith that is entrusted to you?’ or the opposite? Given the divisive nature of this issue, and the evidence that it is already creating divisions in Liverpool Diocese as elsewhere, is Paul committed to ‘promote peace and reconciliation in the Church and in the world; and will you strive for the visible unity of Christ’s Church?’ or is he committed to split the Church because he believes this issue is more important than truth and unity? Or, like Schrödinger’s cat, is he seeking to be all these contradictory things at the same time? If so, then he diocese will be united and divided, and his clergy will be torn between loyalty to him and loyalty to the teaching of the Church of England—to which they themselves made a similar commitment at their ordination. I suspect they would all be grateful for some clarification from Paul about whether the cat is dead or alive—all it would take is to open the box and tell us where he stands.

The root of all these contradictions comes from the controlling term ‘radical Christian inclusive’, unhelpfully introduced by the Archbishops in a rush to respond to the February snub of the bishops’ report on the debate on sexuality. As Edward Dowler highlights with precision and a commendable lack of contradiction:

The ironic result is that the language of inclusivity itself comes to be used as a means of defining groups that are in and out. As one writer puts it, ‘Toleration despises bigots, inclusiveness shuts out excluders, and diversity insists that we all line up to support it.’ Once a directory is compiled of those parishes or other organizations who define themselves as ‘inclusive,’ then this automatically implies that those who are not featured on the list do not share this identity. The very term ‘inclusive’ thus comes to be used as an instrument of exclusion, effectively creating ‘in’ and ‘out’ groups.

As long as this term is deployed, then we will find Schrödinger’s cat everywhere we look—and in the end, the Church of England will both exist and cease to exist.

In case that thought is too depressing, let’s end on the entertaining note of Penny and Sheldon’s exploration of relationships.

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126 thoughts on “Christian doctrine and Schrödinger’s Cat”

  1. A friend at work is involved with local politics where he lives. He was pleased this week to be able in a council meeting to accuse his opponents using a word invented by a former resident of the town. The word describes the holding of two mutually contradictory beliefs: doublethink. It seems to be a feature of the (post-)modern world.

    • It’s a feature of immature thought of all kinds. The ability to do joined-up thinking does not come overnight. But we ought not to promote people who cannot do it. Doubly not, insofar as their ”views” may not have anything to do with what they believe to be true, but only with what they want. Quite different.

  2. I think you weaken your argument with the anecdote about Steve Chalke describing you as “hateful” because you hold the historic view. That would strengthen the case if Chalke was speaking to a same-sex attracted Christian who held the traditional view, but since you are (I assume, I admit, on the basis of your family life…) heterosexual in orientation, it’s a bit of a distraction from the main point in that section of the blog….

    Otherwise, as usual, excellent!

    • David, I personally think it was a very helpful anecdote and insight – exposing clearly how those of us who hold to the historic orthodox view on this are perceived and labelled and accused – as Haters. Ironically it is those of us who hold the historic orthodox view who are the object of bilious hate.

      • I suppose there’s also something wrong with describing something substandard as lame? Or someone who only hears what he wants to as selectively deaf? Or someone powerless as impotent?

        Or indeed to say of something that has been broken that it has been disabled?

        I’m afraid I don’t sign up to this attempt to make ordinary descriptive terms taboo because of connection with disability and misfortune. It’s the fact that they refer to something not working properly that they serve their descriptive purpose. Trying to police ordinary language and make people feel bad for how they talk does not serve your cause.

          • Ok: if someone is visually impaired/blind, it’s not their fault or doing. It’s imposed.
            If someone sins, it’s their fault/doing.
            So, if I’m described as “spiritually blind” it indicates I’m not at fault, I literally can’t see spiritual truth…

          • However, the phrase “spiritual blindness” actually means a wilful or ignorant disregard for things spiritual, ie a sinful action…
            Thus, a disability becomes a metaphor for sin…
            & the d/Disabled community are objecting, & defining this as ableist language…

          • So, what I think Jayne O was meaning, in non-ableist language, is “a wilful disregard for, or learnt ignorance of, spiritual and moral life” …

          • Thanks Katie. That’s a fair point. Blindness suggests lack of culpability for an unfortunate condition, so the parallel with a culpable spiritual state is imperfect. You would need something like ‘wilfully blind’ to be accurate, or perhaps better ‘closes their eyes’.

            What do you think of a phrase like ‘his cultural prejudices blind him to their plight’? This seems to a be mixture of unchosen condition (how his culture has made him) and blameable condition (it is still prejudiced and morally problematic). Perhaps this is more what Jayne has in mind?

      • I find the word “yes” very offensive. It implies that you know all the truth and things are only right if you claim they are. The word “yes” has been used to convict people of crimes they were not guilty of. It can be very upsetting for people to hear that word so kindly avoid using it.

        Obviously I’m making a point! 🙂
        I had presumed you were doing the same and didn’t really have a problem with the use of ‘blind’ to describe inabilities beyond physical blindness. It seems not.

        I think it would be wrong to describe all spiritual blindness as being of itself a sin. I think this is a misunderstanding. I think Jayne’s definition is narrow and misleading. Instead, I’d point to the parallel between physical blindness and spiritual blindness. The two are linked by an inability to perceive the physical/spiritual reality of a situation: simple as that! It’s a good use of language and imagery as the physical often helps us to understand the spiritual. I ‘see’ no problems with its use.

          • Jesus used the word repeatedly for spiritual blindness. Parable of sower. Blind leading blind. John 9.

          • So essentially we ought to give JH more authority than JC?

            I don’t think Jesus disparaged physical blindness, which is not a sin. John 9 init.. It cannot be helped, it is no-one’s fault.

            He did disparage wilful spiritual blindness, for the reason that it it can be helped and is someone’s fault. I think that position makes sense.

          • It’s not a playground game. JC is right so JH can’t be. Hull was commenting on the ‘ableism’ of the gospels, saying, I think, that he couldn’t have been a disciple since he wouldn’t still be blind.

    • It is a very different thing to say that someone is ‘like a blind person’ and comparing their state to an unalterable physical condition about which they can do nothing, and saying that someone is ‘acting blindly’, possibly due to some other factor that renders them unable to see (the other meaning of blind) such as a dark room or a blindfold.

      Jesus clearly meant the latter, as did Jayne. The Pharisees he rebukes are not like blind people, for whom he has compassion, rather they are people who can see (or could) but have chosen to not only blind themselves, but claim the sight to lead others.

      • So I agree with Ian. What makes the comment ‘offensive’ isn’t that Jayne was being disparaging about blind people, she wasn’t, but that when fairly challenged she didn’t listen.

          • (A) CEN letters 6.11.15 Jayne Ozanne denies that homosexual desires are more promiscuous than heterosexual, **and proposes that no contrary view be allowed to be published**. (The latter injunction the editor did not stick to, of course.)

            Desires aside, homosexuals’ acting upon the said desires is certainly more promiscuous (even in these present times, forsooth). Tellingly she cites no evidence to the contrary.

            This call for censorship of peer-reviewed science is unreasonable to the 5th degree.

            First, most uphold freedom of speech, even for lies and abuse. But she is calling for no freedom of speech even when truth is spoken – and even when that truth is the truest kind of truth (one based on years of research). She is saying that both in theory and in practice she is happy to ban truthful, accurate material that comes to inconvenient conclusions. And there will always be some of that (or, in the present case, quite a lot of it).

            Second, all agree that arguable positions can be published.

            Third, the position to which Ms Ozanne objects is not just arguable, but a scientific/statistical consensus.

            Fourth, this particular consensus is especially clear-cut, involving as it does massive discrepancies between heterosexual and homosexual behaviour.

            Fifth, by what right does anyone ask for a ban **without citing a single piece of contrary evidence**? And far more than **one** piece of evidence would be needed of course, to outweigh that on the other side.

            (B) In ‘Unbelievable’ with Justin Brierley on Premier Radio, JO debated the excellent Robert Gagnon. She began by saying that she had researched extensively in his area of expertise in the past, but suffered from bad memory and had now forgotten all the details.

            (C) By comparison with other websites, via media bans a high amount of comments.

            It cannot be repeated often enough: inability to engage damages one’s chances of winning any debate. It is actually a worse performance than engaging but losing. It amounts to not even turning up at the tournament. Simply saying ‘It’s not a tournament’ is no good: debate is about seeking (and hopefully sometimes finding) the truth. Spin, selectivity, cherry-picking, bias are all banned.

            In this case, there is not just (1) inability to engage. There is also (2) banning others from so doing. Two serious things.

          • It is for such reasons as this that I believe that this is all about power, not tolerance or truth or inclusion or anything else – as other commenters are demonstrating.

            It is very much in order to call ‘foul’ against power manoeuvres. We also agree very much with JO that love (which is always intertwined with truth) is paramount, and would wish to regard (and interact with) her as an esteemed sister and partner-in-arms in debate.

  3. Part of me can’t help but suspect this article was written simply to use the collective noun for cats (a clowder), and that the formation of the Ozanne Foundation provides the justification, rather than the motive.. 😉

    In all seriousness, I find the stated aims of the organisation far more worrying than the fairly generic calls for inclusion that accompanied the announcement. The latter can be dismissed as standard jumble-speak and jargon, but the former mask the true intentions of such a group. they have 4 stated charitable objectives:

    “Education – the advancement of education for the public benefit regarding human rights around the world, particularly within religious organisations that are opposed to non-heterosexual relationships, by commissioning, conducting and publishing research, providing education materials, organising events and other activities.”

    “LGBTI human rights – the advancement of LGBTI human rights around the world, particularly in areas where religious intolerance towards the LGBTI community leads to active discrimination within society, by raising awareness and providing information.”

    “Equality – the promotion of equality and diversity within religious organisations around the world, particularly in the area of LGBTI and gender equality, through the provision of activities and information.”

    So, activism then? Activism described as education no less? Am I also cynical to expect, as I do, that the scope of the Ozanne Foundation is not in truth worldwide, or international, but that this phrasing is meant to avoid stating the obvious: that the “religious organisations” are but one, the CofE. All the trustees are English, based in England and have a sphere of influence almost solely within the border of the UK. This is not the formation of a group genuinely interested in expanding influence overseas….

    The fourth is just as troubling, given the first three:

    “Conflict Resolution – the promotion of good relations inside religious organisations which hold conflicting views regarding sexuality and gender issues by the provision of activities and information that foster understanding for the public benefit.”

    What good relations can be achieved, when the group has explicitly stated that such “conflicting views” implicitly consitute both a denial of human rights and a working against the public good.

    By couching their aims in absolute terms they are ruling out compromise, and proving Ian Paul’s point, that they have no understanding of, and no intention of pursuing, ‘Good Disagreement’.


      • Article 2 Right to life
        Article 5 Right to liberty and security
        Article 8 Respect for your private and family life, home and correspondence
        Article 9 Freedom of thought, belief and religion
        Article 10 Freedom of expression
        Article 12 Right to marry and start a family
        Article 14 Protection from discrimination in respect of these rights and freedoms

        In fairness Will I agree that there is no specific human right unique to LGBT people, but I don’t think that was what is meant. It is clear that universal, basic, human rights are not experienced equally by LBGT people on a ‘world scale’, and that is what’s being argued against. In this at least, they are right.

        My complaint however is that while this is true worldwide, it is fundamentally not the case in the UK. If you are a homosexual or transsexual in the UK you might well be facing prejudice and/or discrimination, but no one can deny any of your fundamental rights without facing the full force of the law.

        This is why I am complaining about the wording of these aims as somehow ‘international’ as it means they can frame the debate as if something is true of the UK which it profoundly isn’t.

        • It is well established in international law that there is no human right to sex or to same sex marriage so whatever the experience of people there is no infringement of human rights by denying the legitimacy of these things. Christians are under no moral obligation to support the affirmation of LGBT lifestyles in public policy under the rubric of human rights or anything else.

          • I would agree with Katie—yes, it is problematic, and needs qualification. But what is quite unacceptable is a refusal to listen to the perspective of someone who finds this offensive, as Jayne did. I just cannot find the words to express the supreme irony of this, not least because it makes it nakedly clear that what is at stake here is not ethics, nor truth, but power.

            I have included in the post a comment I had planned to make about Jesus’ use of blindness as a metaphor (or not) for sin in John 9.

        • Just to clarify, Mat – those rights don’t add up to a right to same-sex marriage, to sex (of any kind) or to ‘sex change’. Human rights are not a libertarian charter. There is no human right to commit crime or more generally to engage in conduct contrary to the moral law (of which crimes are the most serious subset). Human rights are the entitlement side of the moral law (the counterpart to human responsibilities) and they cannot contradict the moral law without undermining the whole ethical enterprise (you can’t have a right to do what is wrong). They ensure human liberty within the good and the reasonable and protect it from unjustified encroachment by the state and other actors; they don’t guarantee licence to engage in criminal or immoral activity.

          If we permit immoral sexual practices it is not because there is a human right to them (there cannot be a human right to immoral sexual practices any more than there can be a human right to any immoral conduct) but because we have decided on other grounds (e.g. respect for privacy, the social benefits of toleration etc.) that we do not wish to enforce certain aspects of the moral law by legal sanction.

          This is why the application of human rights ideas to the LGBT agenda is not appropriate.

    • ‘By couching their aims in absolute terms they are ruling out compromise, and proving Ian Paul’s point, that they have no understanding of, and no intention of pursuing, ‘Good Disagreement’.’


    • We read things through a filter of our own opinions.

      1) If I put different filters on I can see them two ways. I can see that they could be read to assume a right of LGBT people to get religious organisations to change their opinions on matters of doctrine or force them to do something they believe is wrong.

      2) However, with a different filter on I can see that LGBT people around the world (including the UK) are sometimes denied such basic of rights as freedom from fear and that the way some religious organisations express their views sometimes gives others a moral excuse for hate. Equally – and I can only speak for Christianity here – churches ought to be able to welcome LGBT people into their congregations even if they hold a view that such relationships are wrong. Jesus welcomed all people sinners and righteous. In short I can read those objectives as supporting the idea of ‘good disagreement’.

      I note that nowhere in the objects is there any requirement to support same sex marriage.

      I would also disagree with the implicit assumption that chairing an organisation means you have support with the views of all the other members of that organisation in an organisation of this nature there will be a variety of views and perhaps that helps them foster a good disagreement.

      • Perhaps Nick.. You are certainly being fairer than I am.

        I think if I was being truly objective about it (and I confess, I wasn’t) I would argue that both points are true. However I do think that 2), being an important and emotive issue, is used here to mask the groups actual priority of 1).

        I will also add that I am happy to be proved wrong. If the OF do look outside the UK, and outside the CofE especially, to combating hate and fighting for LBGT justice where those human rights are being denied, then I will gladly apologise and eat my hat.

        However, if you cannot see the “requirement to support same-sex marriage” in this, well, I don’t know what to say. Everything I have read by Jayne, or heard her say and write, including the book “Journeying Together…” takes this issue (of SSM) to be the ‘Trophy’, for want of a better word, that thing that demonstrates she has succeeded.

        Lastly, I am not arguing that the trustees shouldn’t share a common aim, or that they should all be of one mind. I am for instance pleased to see both a legal and medical expert in the list, and though I cannot say with confidence, at least 1 biblical scholar*.. My point is that the make-up of the trustees appears not to reflect the scope of their declared objectives.

        Is that fairer?

        *or at least, someone with a post-graduate understanding of church matters.

        • “However, if you cannot see the “requirement to support same-sex marriage” in this, well, I don’t know what to say. Everything I have read by Jayne, or heard her say and write, including the book “Journeying Together…” takes this issue (of SSM) to be the ‘Trophy’, for want of a better word, that thing that demonstrates she has succeeded.”

          I think you are coming at this with the filter of knowing Jayne’s views on SSM that is not what the words of the charitable objectives of the foundation said. It is what they do not say that is important here.

          If the foundation’s views were those of its eponymous founder, then you would be right to question whether Paul Bayes could chair it while holding to the church’s teaching. However, as I said in my comment, the views of one member of an organisation does not determine the policy of the organisation.

          • But….

            It is called the Ozanne Foundation!? Forgive me for assuming that the aims of the group would be the same as the person who gave her name to it, and who leads it, and whose picture is on the front page. ..

          • Matt

            “It is called the Ozanne Foundation!? Forgive me for assuming that the aims of the group would be the same as the person who gave her name to it, and who leads it, and whose picture is on the front page. ..”

            Charity law does not work like that. All the trustees have a say and they must work to the objects of the charity. No trustee has any greater say, just because her name is on the letterhead.

          • It may work like that from a legal standpoint, but that’s not usually how charities with a clear activist (in the sense they want to push for change) agenda seem to operate…

            You get an individual who wants to achieve something..
            They set a series of objectives, geared towards achieving it..
            You find a group of others that shares those objectives, or is sympathetic to them..
            You create an organisation around that person and those objectives.

            Of the trustees who’ve made statements/announcements re the OF, all have expressed support for person, mission and intention of the founder….

          • I am with you on this one Nick. And I want to point out to Mat that Jayne did not write ‘Journeys’. She edited it but was only one of a variety of contributors. It was never a campaigning book for equal marriage. Had it been I would not have been able to be one of the contributors. Like several others in the book I am still carefully working out my thinking on that one.

          • “Jayne did not write ‘Journeys’, She edited it but was only one of a variety of contributors.”

            Sorry David R, yes, an important distinction.

            She did however publish deliberately in time so as to leverage opinion in the run up to general synod, thus clearly showing that while the book does not lay out the argument in favour of affirming SSM in explicit terms, it is nonetheless meant to encourage a favourable view of that argument, or at least of it’s adherants. I read your piece in it shortly after publication, and am still impressed (in the sense that it is memorable) by it.

            As I said to you at the time ( I was and am willing to defend the book as having something valuable to add to the conversation; what I am not prepared to do is pretend it is objective, or without a clear bias/agenda. I am sorry if I was too dismissive about it in my comments here.

        • Matt,

          I also think we should not assume that hate crime against the LGBT community is just outside the UK. It happens here as well, just as racist hate crime does.

          • My apologies then, I did not mean to imply that. I thought I had been clear: while direct infringement of the rights of LBGT people certainly happens in the UK, it IS criminal. This, as opposed to other countries, where it is not.

  4. Thanks for a thoughtful, clear and well-written blog, as usual. I entirely agree that the marginalisation of same-sex attracted Christians who hold and live the church’s traditional position is lamentable.

    • Oh, please. Living Out, True Freedom Trust, Christian Concern. And Sam Allberry being the first gay person invited to be on the Archbishops’ teaching document group. Marginalisation? Lamentable?

  5. Thank you….I read of the the launching of this ‘Foundation’ but it was so depressing I put it out of my mind over Christmas.

    I can see absolutely nothing of ‘Good disagreement’ in it – assuming there is something good to be found. I can see it where the evidence of scripture could be reasonably taken two ways but this; “Well Mr Harris, there is a well-respected and ancient view that God can only love.” etc seems to be the kind of straw that snaps the back of even a dim witted biblical camel.

    Isn’t it a simple and undisguised short-circuiting of any further debate in the CofE? And is it not clear that Paul Bayes is now campaigning against the Orthodox view that he signed up for? He can do that…but not as diocesan bishop surely?

    Is there anything to be done or, like it or not, is this another nail on the CofE’s coffin? If we are blind is it to the death that is creeping on us, slowly but surely? At what point does it become a church to leave for those who are trying to remain faithful to God?

    • Well the ‘evidence of scripture’ IS taken two ways by clergy, bishops and laity in the Church of England and BOTH sides claim reasonableness.

      Good disagreement certainly doesn’t mean that only side of the debate is free to claim to be right. It ought to mean that we have at least a respectful diversity of views which could perhaps in due course lead to a diversity of practice where some are free to bless or marry homosexual couples and none are compelled.

      Sadly I think this is a vain hope (though one for which I still pray) and when the cat is out of the bag, sorry box, one side will claim victory and dissenters will leave or be expelled.

      • Drew,

        I think you’re missing the point somewhat when you claim that a “diversity of practice” is a middle ground. It’s not a middle ground, it’s the revisionist view. The traditional view is that the doctrine of the Church of England should remain the same on this issue and the revisionist view is that it should change to allow for same-sex marriages.

        A true middle ground would involve both (1) same-sex couples in the church practising chastity and (2) the church accepting such couples into the fold. That would be a compromise which would work with both groups. Many churches, both liberal and conservative, are very open to such a compromise. But the kind of rhetoric we see in Jayne Ozanne and Steve Chalke does not move in the direction of such a compromise.

        • That’s no compromise or ‘middle ground’ but a complete ‘win’ for the traditionalist morality – which isn’t going to happen any more than the Church of England changing its doctrine of Holy Matrimony. Without true compromise in a ‘mixed economy’ the Church or England will split.

          • If you don’t think it’s truly a middle ground then you have no idea how much of a culture shock it would be for many conservative evangelical churches to accept celibate same-sex couples as normative in the life of the church. It’s absolutely huge. Such a compromise would involve a great deal of sacrifice and a big culture change on both sides.

            The sort of “compromise” you’re suggesting would involve one side (the revisionist side) making no sacrifices at all and other other side (the traditionalist side) sacrificing what they consider to be a fundamental and non-negotiable church doctrine.

          • Hi Drew,

            Apologies, didn’t see your reply. When i said that i don’t think the modern construct of sexuality is a “given” i mean i don’t view it as a fundamental or constitutive part of who we are. This is more a claim about meaning than it is about biology. You can find a biological cause or trigger for pretty much anything, including for many things which both of us would consider morally questionable, but that says very little about what is important or meaningful to human identity.

            When it comes to questions of fundamental meaning though, what is it that persuades you that sexuality is important? The early church seemed pretty ambivalent about sexuality, preferring celibacy and viewing childbearing as the main purpose of marriage. What makes you want to turn this on its head and make procreation an optional extra?

        • What is the need for same-sex couples at all? That is not human biology. People of the same sex can have close or covenant relationships (often indistinguishable from friendships) in threes, fours, and also in different threes and fours simultaneously. What is this restriction to one single relationship – and a twosome at that? There is only one thing restricted to a twosome, and that (a) is child-generation, (b) must involve one of each gender.

          • Chris, I’m sure we can both of us produce our ‘experts’ either way. Mine is Michael Bailey who states that ‘male sexual orientation is ‘inborn’ and very resistant to change.’ None of that says it isn’t also fluid to some extent.

            Choosing to use the word ‘given’ I am being non-commital about any mechanism or causation – I am simply saying that it is not learned. I think it’s a ‘given’ and as resistant to (external) change (learning) as something like left or right handedness, probably even more so.

          • What is the need for same-sex couples at all? Well, just the fact that some people – only a small minority, I grant – are sexually attracted to, and fall in love with, people of the same sex, with whom they naturally wish to form committed relationships. In that respect they are just like the great majority, with the difference that the latter are sexually attracted to people of the OTHER sex. That shouldn’t be too difficult to grasp. If you’ll excuse my use of an appalling cliché, it’s not exactly rocket science.

          • Drew, I could not disagree more. Let me list my disagreements.

            (1) You are affirming the dishonest habit of quoting people who inhabit the ‘side’ of the debate that we happen to like. But you know as well as I do that that is dishonest. We have to see the whole debate. Not to be comprehensive is to be biased and untrustworthy. If you put me in the box of quoting only those positions I ‘like’, then you identify me with that which I most hate. Ideology.

            (2) Michael Bailey was instrumental in one of the 4-5 studies c2000 that established that around 89% of self-styled homosexual male identical twins has a self-styled heterosexual twin. The number is around 87% for females. Bailey’s earlier study (10 years earlier) had produced a more sensational figure that turned out to be misleading. From memory, this was because of the very particular nature of his recruiting ground.

            (3) You are correct in saying that male homosexuality is deeper-rooted than female.

            (4) I would not think that you are correct in implying that babies can be homosexual. No-one can even remember anything before they are around 2 or 3 years of age. And no-one is sexually attracted to anyone at all till several years after even that.

            (5) Why put ‘experts’ in inverted commas? Some people are genuine experts.

          • Chris, clearly babies have no obvious sexual attraction in ether direction. Bailey points out a particular group of male babies that are raised as females but retain their attraction to the female sex as proof that sex-attraction is ‘inborn’ and not learned.

            Can you cite any evidence that sexual attraction can be learned or taught? I’m certainly not saying that it is 100% genetic – but it is not 100% taught,learned or environmental either. If it is not learned behaviour it is, in some sense, given or innate.

            In the end we are arguing about words that we apply to people. What we should be doing is asking them what they think,. When did you learn, or decide on your sexuality?

          • Drew – basing your argument in SSA being innate or given implies:
            1) You will only support SSM for the exclusively same sex attracted as anyone who also experiences natural sexual attraction is not in the situation which you think justifies SSM – but I assume this is not your position, it is certainly not that of the LGBT lobby in general
            2) you will logically need to be supportive of the expression of other similarly innate dispositions even though many such expressions are obviously morally objectionable

            Matthew Parris wrote a Times piece in 2012 rejecting the innateness argument for same sex relationships for these reasons and I agree with him on this. It is demonstrably not a sound basis for accepting same sex marriage (or anything else).

          • Drew, you speak of something so nebulous as ‘sexuality’ but simultaneously fail to refer to the clear biological evidence of people’s bodies. Therein, in my view, lies the main shortcoming of your perspective.

          • Fortunately, sexuality is not determined, only, by human biology, or we would only have piv intercourse when the female is fertile and would desist after the menopause.

        • The compromise the revisionist side makes is allowing the traditionalists to say ‘no’ in their own churches rather than insisting on their preferred solution across the whole church (as you are suggesting as a ‘compromise’ from the other side.

          As for not having any idea “how much of a culture shock it would be for many conservative evangelical churches to accept celibate same-sex couples as normative in the life of the church” all I can say is that once, to my great regret and repentance, I owned that label and shared those views. It is possible to get over the ‘culture shock’.

          • Drew,

            That’s not a compromise because it doesn’t take into account the core demands of both groups. The compromise that I have suggested accomplishes that. The revisionists want loving, same-sex relationships to be accepted in the life of the church. The traditionalists want the Biblical teaching about marriage and sexuality to be upheld. It is possible to have both of those things, if both sides are willing to work at compromise.

            But by and large, I have not observed any real willingness to compromise on the part of the revisionists. Clearly they are not satisfied with loving, same-sex relationships being accepted, they want more than that – a change in the formal definition of marriage.

          • Drew,

            Out of interest, were there any particular scriptures which led you to your change of view on the issue? Were there any passages which convinced you that the Bible permits sexual relations outside of male-female marriage?

          • Chris, in one sense that would be no. I agree that the Bible makes no affirming statements about sexual intimacy between persons of the same sex, either within or outside of committed relationships.

            However, I am convinced that none of the negative texts oft quoted to rule such acts out are directly relevant to our understanding of sexuality today as a ‘given’ element of who people are and to whom they are emotionally and sexually attracted. So those Bible verses are all still important in leading me to the conclusion that the Church (even if the Bible appears not to) should permit and affirm such sexual relations within the loving and committed context of civil same-sex marriage. So I’d argue that we should at least offer Services of Thanksgiving and Dedication after a civil same-sex wedding to such couples – where priests and congregations are content to do so.

            Note that I believe this is a deliberately nuanced position of compromise because I recognise that the Church is not going to redefine its teaching of Holy Matrimony as a life-long, loving commitment between one man and one woman – at least not yet.

          • But sexuality is not a ‘given’ element of who people are. The modern view is that human sexuality is incredibly fluid and therefore cannot constitute an essential characteristic of human persons. I fail to see how (in scripture or in modern thought) “sexuality” as an identity construct is quite as important as some make it out to be. The case for that has not been made and is obviously false for the vast majority of human societies throughout history.

      • I don’t have a problem I principle or practice with scripture being taken two ways but this ” “Well Mr Harris, there is a well-respected and ancient view that God can only love.” is scripture vacuous,

        Paul Bayes’ siding with OF is hardly compromise or an aid to unity through compromise. Bishops a symbol of unity? Really?

        I can’t see the future and am concerned about what it might look like for the CofE. I’ve been a member for 57 years and ordained for over 40 years but I cannot put unity above everything else. I don’t think that is scriptural. I suppose it might mean attending a faithful (in my view obviously!) local church but having nil to do with anything diocesan. I’m deeply sad about it all. The kingdom of God will not fail but what shape will it take?

  6. I suspect that the vast majority of gay people really do think that Christians holding a traditional view about homosexuality are hateful. Is that what Steve Chalke was saying? It doesn’t mean that you are hateful – but isn’t it asking too much to expect them to accept that expounding this position is simply being truthful and loving?

    As for Bishops I know that at least one has agreed with me that we can’t possibly greet same-sex couples with ‘a call to repentance’ and I wonder how many of them would not dodge the Tim Farron question just like a christian politician. No doubt someone will do that telephone poll of Church of England Bishops sooner or later….

    Anyway, the cat will eventually get out of the box and then no doubt both sides will declare the live cat belongs to them. I can’t see these mutually contradictory positions holding together much longer.

      • Again, though, there is a clear difference between saying that you are being ‘hateful to gay people’ in a deliberate and calculated (ie nasty) manner and you being perceived as ‘hateful to (ie by) gay people’.

        I would hope that no Christian is being deliberately hateful to anyone whatever their views on homosexuality but, sadly, I concede that this may often be the case (on either side). I still imagine that many gay people are unconvinced that traditional Christians are ‘speaking the truth in love’ and many do believe (some with ample reason) that they are hated for their sexuality.

        • Not only does one look for the ability to make this kind of crucial distinction (as opposed to lazier trotting out of cliches) but one looks for the independent thinker rather than the one whose phrases are reminiscent of the way the debate has already been framed.

  7. Can I suggest that people watch this from BBC Newsnight ( Ignore, if you want, the stuff about Brexit and watch from 1:24 onwards.
    I am really not sure which way to think. I want to take the Bible seriously, but, if this BBC clip is correct, there is a choice to be made.
    How do we present Christianity if many of those who need to hear will start from the basis presented here about Generation Z “… much more socially liberal, so that things regarded as moot by older groups are no longer up for debate … Gender, racial and sexual equality are expected, and brands which don’t share this stance cannot be expected to be considered by Generation Z.”
    Churches generally have moved on from gender and racial segregation, but why does the issue of sexual equality out-rank the biblical commands to carry out mission. This is a very real choice. Which aspect of biblical teaching is the more important? I do know that mission in my local area was severely damaged by members of a conservative church refusing to work with a person who was gay.

    • There’s no dilemma between fidelity and mission as there is no indication that orthodoxy results in a failure to grow or accelerated decline (whereas there is some indication that revisionism and syncretism contribute to lack of growth and accelerated decline). See e.g .

      Revisionism also contributes to schism in large historic denominations which has a substantial impact on their vitality (and finances).

    • There has always been a tension between inexperienced but energetic youth and experienced but weary older age – perhaps it’s magnified in these rapidly changing times. But these descriptions are as generalised as any other, and there are lots of different factors which determine how and why we think and feel as we do at any particular age. Aaronovitch, who is not a neutral observer, didn’t trouble himself to quantify the many older folk who are Remainers and the younger ones who raise a cheer for Brexit. It’s certainly not a black and white picture!

      On the other hand Christians, if they are to be faithful to what has been revealed to them, have no choice but to give first priority to the eternal perspective; and that is always going to place them in that awkward position of never being right there in tune with the zeitgeist. And, almost by definition, the zeitgeist is that happy bouncy place where younger people are most likely to be found.

      Only some sort of Faustian pact is ever going to make things easy for Christians; and that is much the same choice as faced a certain carpenter from Nazareth out in the desert. The question is, ‘do I truly believe God will honour my faithfulness to what seems (in my miniscule segment of time here on earth) a hopeless situation?’

      Yes we must be wise and certainly not graceless in how we engage with people, but above all we must be faithful (and the two are not at odds); he may allow us severe testing but he will honour our faithfulness to the truth with a crown of life. Against that and with great respect, what Jayne Ozanne thinks, or anyone else of any age for that matter, counts diddly-squat.

      • (1) Young people have lived long, but old people have lived longer. Undeniable fact.

        (2) Old people have more wisdom on average. The only way to deny that is to say that people leak wisdom. Or that the more you live, the less wisdom you get. So all our babies should be called Solomon (or Sherlock, as one actually was in 2017).

        (3) Today’s young people are tomorrow’s old. So if you treasure the young today, you do so only to ignore them tomorrow. It’s the same people.

        Is the idea of saying that the opinions of the young are worth more to demonstrate that one is ”right on”? Down with the kids? Has still ”got” ”it”?

        • Christopher,

          Without denying that age can bring some wisdom, I have met some pretty stupid old people and some really wise young people. As an example I know some old people who want the church to stay exactly how they like it (e.g. BCP services) and do not really care whether that advances the gospel. Is that wisdom?

          • Hi Nick

            Are you responding as though I had not used the phrase ‘on average’: because I did use that phrase. But even if I had not used it, the vast majority of what we say to each other is generalisations within which ‘on average’ is taken as read.

            Of course there are exceptions, which is why we take ‘on average’ on board. But my points (1), (2), (3) remain basically true, don’t they?

          • Christopher,

            Apologies it is true on average. Though quite a few churches do seem very full of older people with the attitude I described.

            The trouble is the on average people are not the difficulty – it is the outliers that cause the problems.

          • “The trouble is the on average people are not the difficulty – it is the outliers that cause the problems.”


    • “I want to take the Bible seriously, but, if this BBC clip is correct, there is a choice to be made.” Seriously and with respect…what’s the choice?

    • Yes, I was being serious. I suspect many readers of this blog will have made this decision without realising. It is my experience that mission is best done with people you know. I have found this to work best when your church attendance is local to where you live, so the geography of your home links with the geography of your church.
      If you travel miles to your church you will have decided to break the link between home location and your church. I assume you have good reason to break this link, but this is one aspect of the choice that I was referring to. Why do you pick a church miles from where you live? Why do the factors behind that decision become more important than worshipping in the community where you live and where you could be much more effective missionally? In effect, you will have decided that your choice of church (what the worship is like, a conservative view of sexuality, etc.) is more important than mission. This is the choice I was asking people to think about.
      I wasn’t thinking about revising Canon Law or debates in General Synod. I was thinking about specific people in a specific location and how you and I, as individuals, make choices about our church preferences and how these choices affect our mission.

      • Thanks TJ…. I understand this “In effect, you will have decided that your choice of church (what the worship is like, a conservative view of sexuality, etc.) is more important than mission. ” and think it’s important. Find a perfect church etc.

        But some issues are not separate from what one thinks mission consists of are they? Doesn’t there come a point where mission, as we see it, is compromised, diluted beyond help, unloving in hiding Gods truth?

        I took your choice to seem to be ‘obedient to the scripture’ or ‘disobedient to the scripture in order to fit in’. That’s a dangerous route surely? I apologise if this isn’t what was meant.

  8. God, our Triune God, is love, flowing from within the Trinity and it is only ever Holy Love. It is only in that holy, righteous union with Christ is there true unity in diversity. And that Holy-Love is supremely demonstrated in the Cross of Christ. There is no love of God without the cross, which Chalke photoshops out of existence.
    Even within the last few days, Chalke continues to diss God’s self revelation in scripture, from (pre-creation -see John 17), to Creation through Revelation and consequently the image of God in male and female, from the first Adam to the last Adam Christ and a new humanity in him.
    At the simplest level the question is this: can a supernatural infallible Triune God communicate infallibly to and through, fallen, fallible human beings throgh scripture? Yes, he can. Yes, he has.
    To equate spiritual blindness, with physical blindness is to make an error of category. Jesus, that is, his identity as Emmanuel, I am, was hidden in full view.

  9. It was good to read this – and I love the video clip!
    I think that the traditional and revisionist beliefs about marriage are fundamentally irreconcilable and that the cracks in the church are deepening and widening. We could eventually find ourselves standing at the edge of a ravine on one side or the other – or end up falling into the ravine! I hope Paul Bayes makes a clear and faithful decision about where exactly he wants to stand.
    I am disappointed in Steve Chalke. I only met him once ( at Spring Harvest in Minehead back in 1995) and I thought he was great then – he seemed to have a big heart for disadvantaged people. Unfortunately many people seem to be influenced by him and now seem to think it is OK for people with traditional views about marriage to be regarded as ‘hateful’. When I read the ‘Christian Today article in which Steve claimed that traditional readings of Genesis fuel erosion of confidence in the Bible I found that my confidence in Steve was eroding, not my confidence in the Bible. On the subject of ‘inclusion’, I can’t say I would want to be included in a church where leaders were speaking in that way about traditional readings of Genesis, and where people with a traditional attitude to marriage were described as ‘hateful’!

    • He *was* great then.

      The extent to which people are accepted by the establishment has a massive effect. As soon as George Carey became Abp he became positive to David Jenkins, John Habgood, anglocatholicism, etc.. Radicals who become bishops lose their radical edge. Michael Green was known as the bishop-maker because of all the bishops he had taught and mentored – but he did lament that a lot of them lost their radical edge along the way. Steve Chalke has been honoured by HM Government, by charity funding and so on. One cannot easily be accepted so close into the heart of the establishment and still not sell out to their more questionable dogmas, given that those dogmas are so zealously (if incoherently) held as to be shibboleths. This did not apply to Mother Teresa, bless her. She was feted everywhere, but still began many speeches by speaking powerfully against ‘abortion’. The listeners ignored that bit.

      • It’s mostly just: life has been benevolent to me, so I will be benevolent. I think Abp Carey’s positive attitude to be a good thing. Perhaps I’m unduly demanding on this, but I am always on the lookout for truly honest people who are capable of disagreeing strongly with friends and agreeing strongly with adversaries on occasion – that is a test of honesty: the ability to separate personal loyalties from factual issues.

      • Thank you for that, Christopher. It does seem that, in trying to be kind to some, Steve, doesn’t realise how unkind he is being to others. I like your example of Mother Theresa – she seemed to keep a good balance between ‘soft love’ and ‘tough love.’

        • Yes – that together with social-deviance-intolerance. I have noticed for some time that there are very many people who seem incapable of being in what they perceive to be a social minority or a minority among their peers. As soon as they seem in danger of being in a minority they jump ship to what is perceived to be the new majority position. This is why so many politicians’ Damascus Road experiences on same-sex marriage
          -all by coincidence took place
          -AND all by coincidence happened around the same time,
          -which just so happened to be a time when that was in the news.

          • ‘ …very many people who seem incapable of being in what they perceive to be a social minority or a minority among their peers.”’ I,n the secular world this does not surprise me, but given that Jesus called us to take ‘the narrow way’ I am disappointed when Christians, and especially Christian leaders, choose ‘the broad way.’

          • Steve Chalke was never a profound thinker but an activist with a youth following and a journalist’s turn of phrase.
            As you say, he was honoured by Blair and New Labour and the farce of ‘Honours’ is really a way of saying what is acceptable to the current government.

            Look how Diarmaid McCullough got a Knighthood.
            For what? For being an Oxford professor who made a few TV programmes or being a gay ex-Christian Oxford professor?

            As for Jayne Ozanne, she is a very emotionally labile person who owes her prominence to being promoted by George Carey to the ill-fated and pointless Archbishops’ Council.
            Who had forgotten her resignation from the council with dire apocalyptic words about the future of the C of E?
            Or her recent #metoo claim that she was “raped by a priest” – but of course she wasn’t going to say who … From a time in her life, of course, when she didn’t think she was a lesbian but harboured hopes of marrying this man. Can no one else see the contradiction here?
            This latest publicity exercise has only one aim in mind, to remake the C of E according to the gay agenda.

            Stand back and look at these things and you are witnessing the death throes of the C of E. During Williams’ catastrophic time at the helm, attendance plummeted and there is no reversal under the managerial class installed to replace him. On the current trajectory the C of E will be gone from most of England – and Jayne Ozanne and Paul Bayes (and Alan Wilson) will have helped it to this end. There will, however, be a good number of African Pentecostalists, free churches and Polish-born Catholics – and Muslims, lots of them. If the Ozanne Foundation still exists then (I doubt it – do you remember that famed alumnus of St John’s Nottingham “Archbishop” Jonty Blake and his Open Episcopal Church?), they will still have plenty of work to do furthering “LGBTI rights”. But somehow I don’t think the local mosque (now in what was once St Saviour’s) will welcome its ‘educational work’ among Muslims.

          • Certainly it is not right that people should pay particular attention to what Steve Chalke says on biblical topics. The idea (a fallacy) is that being an excellent entrepreneur, fundraiser, focus for Christian social work – makes someone a Bible teacher worth listening to above more trained Bible teachers. It doesn’t, of course – and this looks like the Christian version of the cult of celebrity. (SC would not claim to be a Bible scholar of any note – but why then does he step up to participate in debates on the topic?)

            I have to be careful here, since I do not see how anyone can honestly avoid being a purist re the meaning of the Bible, in that when we gather in our home groups to study what a passage means we will often be doing no more than matching it up with our life experience (together with interpreting it in the light of other Bible passages in translation) – which is not, technically, what it *means*: what it means is something that in many cases cannot be studied at all without the historical and linguistic background knowledge.

            David R’s last comment I don’t necessarily agree with. Sometimes in life there are topics where a bleak assessment is the accurate one. Just as there are also times when a rosy assessment is the accurate one.

          • Good points, Christopher. I am concerned that some of SC’s followers treat him as an ultimate authority when he says that the Genesis creation account is poetry/allegory, and not to be taken literally. When I commented on a twitter thread that this is an opinion, not a fact, one person tweeted back that it *is* a fact and that I’d better read a better Bible commentary! I am more inclined to the view that the Genesis account is in the Hebrew style of ‘elevated prose’, but I acknowledge that this is also an opinion. When I was teaching, differentiating between opinions and facts was on the English syllabus for year 8 pupils – maybe it still is. I tend to hope that adults will know the difference, but…

            I agree with your last two sentences – we can’t begin to deal with a problem if we don’t acknowledge that the problem exists.

          • Thanks – yes, differentiating between opinions and facts is crucial. I hope it is on the curriculum.

          • Men ask why women don’t report abuse, or why they wait for years? I think Brian has just given you the answer

  10. I’m pretty sure that when Liberals (theologically or politically) use concepts like good disagreement, diverse, tolerant, inclusive, respect, or equality they are by no means thinking of Everyone!

    • QED. It’s not unknown in others. It’s just really odd when it goes under the label of ‘liberal’. The ultimate intellectual double think?

    • Tolerance is typically limited to the tolerant as part of an insistence on reciprocity and mutuality – all those who tolerate all will be tolerated, the rest undermine this social framework. The problem is that tolerance is only a good thing when part of an objective moral framework that respects human nature and the moral law. By itself it is obviously nihilistic, atomistic and socially corrosive.

      • Should we tolerate intolerance? I think it doesn’t fit the ‘Golden Rule’ nor the Categorical Imperative.

        Anyway, I think mere tolerance is overrated and a grudging minimum. What’s needed is an appreciation and a valuing of diversity….

          • Guess that depends. Certainly tolerance has its limitations. As with forgiveness I’m quite good at handing it out because I know I need more of it than most – that’s the Golden Rule bit.

        • Presumably Jesus on judgment day is intolerant and does not appreciate diversity when differentiating between sheep and goats?

          • Simon No – I think the issue is who he thinks are the sheep or the goats. There are lots of jokes about religious groups in heaven housed behind high walls so they do not see who else is there, because they like to think they are the only ones.

          • Personally I wonder why Jesus had it in for goats. I’m quite happy with either. As a parable it reminds us that we really can’t be certain which side we are on and perhaps ought to leave that to the judgement of God.

            Anyway, I’ve just spent several weeks reminding people that ‘God is coming with judgement – coming with judgement to save you!’ If that’s an example of God’s intolerance then we have little to be worried about and everything to anticipate hopefully.

          • Some years ago western missionaries were expelled from Ethiopia during the revolution and only returned after some years wondering how the church had survived. They had more than survived but there was touching literalism to their obedience to scripture. They had stopped keeping goats because, although it was not clear why, they were obviously under the judgement of God.

  11. You ask Bishop Paul to clarify his position. It seems to me abundantly clear, both from his words in General Synod and his alliance with Jayne Ozanne’s new foundation.

    Are you really asking by what right Bishop Paul takes this position, given that it differs from current Church of England policy? If the Church of England is, as we never stop hearing, ‘episcopally led but synodically governed’, surely it is not just Bishop Paul’s right, but his duty, to lead the Church -so far as he is able- in the direction he believes it should take? In other words, it is for bishops to propose, but for synod to dispose.

    Bishop Paul became a patron of Liverpool Pride last year, but I know of no instance where he has flouted canonical law, eg by officiating at LGBT weddings.

    • ” If the Church of England is, as we never stop hearing, ‘episcopally led but synodically governed’, surely it is not just Bishop Paul’s right, but his duty, to lead the Church -so far as he is able- in the direction he believes it should take? In other words, it is for bishops to propose, but for synod to dispose.”

      Is this what’s meant by ‘episcopally led”?

  12. Simon…I’m not claiming that. I’m questioning its validity.. I’m unconvinced that one bishop acting on his own is what is meant by ‘episcopally led’. Adding my own doubts that his direction is untrue to scripture makes it the opposite of faithful

    I can remember when the role of bishops was ‘banged on about’ as a focus of unity. Whither that in Liverpool? To be fair to him he’s not the only bishop who does his own thing.

  13. I can’t help thinking that this debate would be a lot easier if people listened to what people they disagree with actually say rather than what they think they wanted to say.

  14. Ian – I completely misread you – I didn’t notice the speech marks and so didn’t register you were quoting above – day off, brain freeze – my apologies. Actually, I don’t mind a bishop doing his/her own thing, if that thing is upholding Scripture and tradition – I really do mind if it aint – pax

    • Simon 🙂 No problem…

      Actually I agree with what else you have said. There’s nothing wrong with innovation or experiment, individuality or even oddity. (I hope so or I’m doomed! 😉 )

      Isnt it the ‘upholding scripture and tradition’ as ‘one of the ‘faithful team’ that marks episcopal leadership? That doesn’t stop anyone reevaluating traditional interpretations but it does give an all round context for doing so. Otherwise isn’t it just doing your own thing? ‘I’m a bishop now so I’m my own authority.’

      There’s also how these things are perceived outside the church.The last thing that PB has signalled is that this is open to debate still. He’s declaring it a settled issue…whether he thinks so or not.. Though I think he must think it is. Why else give it your imprimatur?

  15. Even Queen Victoria was enjoined to ‘encourage, advise and warn’, not just to listen. If the job of bishops is merely to parrot the findings of General Synod, then it must be debatable whether we need bishops at all.

    I do look for moral leadership from my bishop. I may not always like the direction the bishop is attempting to take the diocese in, but I do not want bishops to be muzzled…

    • “If the job of bishops is merely to parrot the findings of General Synod” That’s a false dichotomy.

      Do we need bishops at all? I think so but I’m not convinced that the CofE job interpretation or deployment is the only way (right way?) of doing this.

  16. After my words about Steve Chalke and others, David Runcorn ask me, ‘Is there anything good out there you can encourage us with?’

    The Word of God is always ‘out there’ and it will encourage us if we bring it ‘in here’. But that’s a big ‘if’.

    Do I take pleasure in the directions the Church of England has taken in the last 20-25 years? Not at all. As one who has been involved in this church for most of my life, it grieves me that I have seen it only decline and fail to bring the transformative message of the Gospel to the nation; but worse than that, it has lost its way and has nothing to say to the indigenous population that is turning its back on Christianity and the immigrant population that is doubling down on Islam.

    So what is the point of the C of E? To repeat the socio-political bromides of the liberal-left with a selective religious gloss (‘God wants us diverse people to be inclusively nice to each other’)? Yet who has greater contempt for the Church than the kind of people who spend their time on The Guardian’s ‘Comment is free’? And all the liberal-left sorts who are chosen as bishops through the nomenklatura of the C of E will and can do nothing to reverse this.

    As for Steve Chalke: he simply demonstrates what can be achieved by a charismatic youth leader with a gift for rhetoric, publicity and organisational ability but most of all, a powerful self-belief – as well as profound lack of evangelical theology.
    We have seen this already in Rob Bell and Brian McLaren – men who have not only exited Evangelicalism (a profound theological and spiritual system they never properly understood) but who are leaving orthodox Christianity itself for … what? Most likely the Church of Oprah.

    Steve Chalke’s ability to parody the evangelical doctrine of the Atonement and now the Bible show that he is on the same trajectory:

    And Jayne Ozanne – another self-confident, voluble person – can only end up at the same destination.

    But what do you want me to say, David? That the way out of this cultural and spiritual morass is to keep on making the same mistakes?

  17. I’m taking the liberty of posting here the whole of the Matthew Parris piece I link to further up, as I think it highly relevant in responding to the ‘innateness’ argument which still seems to be the principal basis on which revisionist arguments in the church are based:

    Who’s totally gay? There’s no straight answer
    Same-sex male attraction used to be something you do, not something you are. We are not two separate tribes

    Matthew Parris, April 21 2012, The Times

    On the margins of bigger news in recent days have been three little stories that caught my attention. The Mayor of London has reportedly stepped in to stop a Christian evangelical group advertising on London buses their claim that people can be “cured” of being homosexual.

    And Chris Birch, from Wales, has testified to turning from being heterosexual to being gay, after suffering a stroke when he broke his neck at the age of 26. Meanwhile, in a letter to The Times this morning, 15 senior figures in the Church of England — bishops and others — support gay marriage and see “God’s grace at work in same-sex relationships”.

    It seems that, depending on your point of view, God, a stroke or a broken neck can turn you gay, help you to be gay or make you straight. On one thing, though, these opinions all agree — people can change.

    And (gulp) I think that’s true. I will be misinterpreted; I may give comfort to wrongheaded evangelicals; gay friends may think I’m letting the side down … but I do believe that male sexual orientation is less fixed than we suppose. It may alter. We gays fought that idiotic “section 28” on dishonest grounds. Homosexuality can, as the statute implied, be “promoted”. So can heterosexuality. It always has been, with much success.

    At once must come the qualifications. I don’t think that everyone is alterable. I don’t think change is possible without shelving part of one’s nature. I think that it’s generally unwise to fight a strong orientation unless it would lead to hurt. And I absolutely don’t think that homosexuality can be “cured” in the sense of expelling some kind of disease from the system.

    But what I do believe — know beyond any shadow of doubt — is that the previous century took Western thinking on sexuality in a very false direction, and that this has seriously skewed the way in which we think about sexual attraction. It’s difficult even to discuss it in the language our parents bequeathed us. We are not two tribes — the straight and the gay.

    It’s inherently most improbable that evolution would have produced two entirely distinct models of the human male, and it hasn’t. That view is quite recent. Prejudice against male homosexual behaviour is as old as Man, but the categorisation of a whole section of males as “homosexuals” (or indeed “heterosexuals”) was 20th-century and it’s simply a mistake.

    Before the late Victorians and for almost all recorded history, humanity described male same-sex attraction as a kind of habit, a diversion to which any man might be prone and into which any might be led — something men do as opposed to something men are. Some were known to be more prone to this habit than others, but the elevation of a habit to the status of an identity, “gay” or “straight”, would have struck our ancestors as weird.

    It is weird. It flies in the face of the evidence staring us in the face. Try an experiment. Imagine that a majority of men are more straight than gay, a minority more gay than straight. Imagine this in terms of a scatter-graph from left (straight) to right (gay), with some very close to one end, some very close to the other and plenty spread between them. Imagine that those at either pole can feel little if any attraction to the other; but that those between the poles can, depending on where they are, feel weakly or strongly the attraction of both poles. Add to this picture a strong and unremitting social pressure to be considered (and consider yourself) as being at the left-hand (straight) end.

    What would be the result? Everyone who, without making themselves too frustrated and miserable, could live a straight life would move towards the left in their behaviour and self-description; a minority who felt they just couldn’t would cluster (partly for self-defence) into a sort of ghetto at the right-hand end. And all the pressure would be to “make your mind up”, ie, shift towards the nearest pole.

    Consider how much observed behaviour my hypothesis explains. It explains why in self-description the apparent straight-gay dichotomy has arisen. It explains why until about yesterday there didn’t seem to be many gays, and suddenly they’re everywhere. It explains how throughout history most men with homosexual inclinations have married, many happily, many with a fair degree of physical attraction to their wives; and all of them down the ages with every reason to shut up about it. And it explains the strange and unwitting conspiracy between the world of macho heterosexuality and the world of gay pride to make a no man’s land — to deny the very existence — of all that territory in between. For different reasons, neither side wants to believe they could ever have been located there, that they ever had a choice. Bisexuality has been the love that dared not speak its name.

    That my hypothesis has explanatory power doesn’t of itself make it true; evidence is required, yet the hypothesis explains why systematic evidence would be hard to gather. Asking men about their own desires — or studying publicly observable behaviour — is likely to deliver skewed results.

    Do I then have anecdotal evidence? I hate talking about my own sexual behaviour and my experience is hardly extensive, but I’ll say only this. Without ever seeking the type out, I’ve slept with as many men who considered themselves basically straight, lived basically straight lives and in some cases (I think) really were basically straight, as with men who were self-identifying gays.

    This is not my experience alone. Most gay men manage the considerable intellectual contortion of believing that there’s nothing they could do to alter their own sexuality while at the same time believing (not without evidence) that there’s quite a lot they might do to alter a straight man’s sexuality (“five pints of lager” is the usual prescription). As for altering a gay man’s sexuality, women would know most about this, and women don’t talk. Even I, who feel myself to be exclusively gay, know from dreams and from occasional involuntary physical reactions that shelved somewhere in my unconscious must be a strand of heterosexuality. Millions of gay men will have the same experiences.

    But most will be disinclined to mention it. Both sides — straights and gays — have strong reason to deny (not least to themselves) that they ever had a choice: the straights because gay inclinations were disapproved of; the gays because infinitely their most persuasive way of commanding tolerance has always been the (I believe) subtly self-oppressive: “It’s the way I am — nothing I can do about it — part of my identity — it isn’t my fault.”

    “I can’t help it”. The very words carry a kind of whimper. I hate this plea. It isn’t accepted as an argument for paedophilia and shouldn’t be. I’d want to be gay whether I could help it or not. The day that the battle for homosexual equality is won and over will be the day a man, straight or gay, can boast that he chose.

      • Hello Ian and all,

        I realise this may just be too late, but wanted to attempt a response. Thanks for copying Matthew Parris’s article here, Will. I’m curious, though, as to why various of you think this is such a good piece – Ian, would you (or indeed anyone) be willing to sketch an argument to explain? I ask because I’m not sure I see how it helps your argument.

        I don’t doubt that one of MP’s basic points is true – that men aren’t simply divisible into ‘straight’ and ‘gay’ camps (if you will). But (a) is that news – especially now when quite a few people label themselves bi or bi-curious, etc? And (b) in a sense, so what: if sexuality is fluid, surely that cuts all ways? Moreover, despite Parris’s last sentence, I note that he himself is not saying that his own sexual desires were a choice, nor that he feels he could change them. He says of himself that “I…know from dreams and from occasional involuntary physical reactions that shelved somewhere in my unconscious must be a strand of heterosexuality. Millions of gay men will have the same experiences”. He gives no support for his claim about “millions”, but more importantly, dreams and occasional involuntary reactions don’t amount to actually having sex with a woman, let alone marrying and building a life together.

        I wonder if the point of MP’s that some of you particularly favour, is where he says that social pressures have an influence on sexuality? But again I note that he offers no evidence for this (granted he says evidence would be hard to gather). More broadly on the point about identity: sexual health professionals talk in terms of MSM (men who have sex with men), acknowledging the fact that men who don’t identify as gay/bi still have sex with other men. I can’t help thinking this undercuts any argument that identifying as gay makes you more likely to have same-sex sex (I think you have argued along these lines, Ian?).

        I would also be curious to hear how those who like MP’s article, would square it with the way you read Romans 1…

        I think there’s some truth in his article but it’s a bit of a ragbag and not that well supported. Just who exactly is arguing on the basis of ‘I can’t help it’? MP gives no examples. I’m not aware of any ‘revisionist’ the central (or supporting!) plank of whose case is, ‘I can’t help it’. I can’t help thinking this piece is less helpful to a conservative case than some may imagine…

        in friendship, blair


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