Compassion and clarity in the sexuality debate

51ifbrf+N0LI took a break from the regular meetings of the Society of Biblical Literature last week in order to attend an ‘affiliate’ organisation meeting where David Gushee was talking about his change of mind about sexuality. Gushee isn’t that well known on this side of the pond, but has been a significant figure in the US as an evangelical ethicist. In 2014 he published Changing Our Mind arguing for evangelical acceptance of committed, monogamous same-sex unions as marriage. I am not sure that the book adds very much distinctive to the issues and arguments that have already been rehearsed, but reading a book is never the same as meeting a person, and so it proved last week.

Most of Gushee’s comments focussed on his story and his experiences, rather than any argument, and his story was a compelling one of courageous engagement. He recounted his personal experience of gay men and women who had been driven to despair or even suicide by what could only be described as a callous commitment to doctrine which paid no regard to the personal costs involved. His most moving story was his final one, and his shortest. ‘When he committed suicide, his family refused to bury him. So we did.’ Throughout his presentation, Gushee looked bowed and burdened, a little as though he didn’t want to be there, and didn’t want to be talking to us (a very mixed audience, with the whole spectrum of views) about this. It might have been that he was exhausted from this round of meetings; he has just come from debating with others in the Evangelical Theological Society which had probably been a much less congenial context. But I suspected that he was actually burdened by the realities he was described, and it weighed heavily.

If Gushee is correct that the choice is between a crushing and dehumanising belief in the ‘plain teaching’ of Scripture and the way that has been implemented, at great cost to gay people, by conservative evangelicals, and the compassionate response and rethinking the Gushee himself has exhibited, then there is no doubt at all that Gushee has made the right choice.


So the choice of dialogue partner was interesting. Ronald Sider was a generation older than Gushee, and had in fact been both mentor and inspiration to Gushee in his early adulthood. Sider is the author of Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, ranked as the second most influential Christian book of the last century, and so has long been an advocate of compassionate Christian engagement with the realities of the world around. At every point, Sider was at pains to agree with Gushee that the conservative evangelical American response to the gay community needed to change—except on the question of how we understand sexual relations and marriage. In response to Gushee’s story, Sider raised a series of questions, but the issues were not really engaged in the dialogue. I found the same when I asked my own questions in the open discussion. The question of celibacy had come up several times, and Gushee made the common point that celibacy for Christian single women was not the same as celibacy for gay people, since for women ‘there was always some hope’. I pointed out that that is not the felt experience of single women, and for those committed to endogamous marriage (marrying another Christian) statistically it could not be the case for all of them. Gushee simply did not respond to this point—and it seemed odd that the compassionate response to one situation was not carried over into an engagement with the felt experience in another.

1*AMBzvKQFuo4VwCN8Wt0xiQSomething similar happened with my second question. Gushee’s case rests heavily on an understanding of gay identity as being core to gay people, and (as is common in Christian discourse on this) this meant that a rejection of same-sex marriage amounted to a rejection of gay people. I pointed Gushee to Oliver O’Donovan’s argument in relation to the creation narratives, that far from rejecting the gender binary of Genesis 2, this in effect multiplies it, so that we need to assume there are four ‘genders’ (or more): straight men, straight women, gay men, and gay women, each with their own  essential identities as humans made in the image of God. I also mentioned research that didn’t support this, and the fact that secular campaigners appear to have abandoned this kind of argument some time ago. He responded that the idea of committed, monogamous same-sex relations was a challenge to secular positions, but didn’t actually touch at all on the issues of substance. It felt as though, for Gushee, the overwhelming experience of the emotion involved appeared to silence all other discourse and engagement with any actual arguments.

This kind of dynamic can be seen in the review by Gushee’s former colleague, George Guthrie, of the book. Guthrie’s response includes the profoundly personal:

As a member of the broader evangelical Baptist community, it would be all too easy to either remain quiet or simply dismiss David. But I cannot treat him so impersonally and condescendingly. Until 2007 David served as a professor of Christian ethics at Union University where I teach. During our years of service together, many of us knew him as an articulate, compassionate, thoughtful colleague and an outstanding teacher, one who held the historic Christian view on the topics of sexuality and marriage. For some of us he has been a dear friend with whom we ate, played, prayed, worshiped, served, and faced crises…. David, ever articulate, has always been at his best when calling for compassion, and I gladly join my friend in eschewing (as we always have) any form of violence, hate, or rejection of LGBT people as people. As I will note below, I also agree there’s much we in the church must do to live out biblical sexuality more faithfully and embody the gospel more authentically in relation to the LGBT community.

But he, too, highlights the lack of proper engagement at key points in the book:

But surprisingly, having pointed to the historic Christian argument on “creation order” and the answer to it as critical for his position, David does little to engage the key passages and fails to walk us through the “careful consideration” he’s promised. In fact, he covers the Genesis texts related to the question of sexuality in a single paragraph (82–83). We’re exposed neither to the details of the exegetical issues related to sex and gender nor to the rich tapestry and beauty of the overarching story (as with, for instance, Walter Brueggemann’s literary analysis of Genesis 1:1–11:29). There’s brief mention but no real engagement with the Hebrew terms for “male” (z???r) and “female” (n?q???h) in Genesis 1:27, which, as opposed to the terms for “man” and “woman,” very particularly express the binary nature of human sexuality. There’s no explanation of what the text means by the Hebrew neg?e? (the woman as one who’s “opposite but corresponds” to the man) in Genesis 2:20, nor of David’s view of “one fleshness” in Genesis 2:24. He probes neither the story nor its parts, so it’s difficult to see how this constitutes a “careful consideration” of what he himself describes as central to the debate.

Sadly, Gushee’s response to this is to tell again an emotionally loaded allegorical story—as if the emotion is the only possible response to serious points in the debate. I wonder if this dynamic actually goes back many years. Gushee is not the only American evangelical whom I have recently heard describe his own story of change of heart. He talked of ‘accepting the view of my tradition, and of my trusted mentors, without question.’ I have to confess to not once having ever accepted the views either of my tradition or of my trusted mentors ‘without question.’ I am aware that makes me an awkward companion, but for Gushee and others there appears to have been a strange collusion between a conformist culture and a particular personality, where asking questions becomes an all-or-nothing test of loyalty, rather than a healthy critical engagement of received wisdom.

At the end of the session, Gushee and Sider were applauded for modelling something like ‘good disagreement’. (I am not sure that that exact phrase was used, but for some reason it is on my mind.) But I am not clear it was such a good model. There was no agreement on a final position, despite agreement along the way. There was not much resolution on how the two views might live together, even if there was still warm personal friendship. Perhaps most critically, there was little actual debate about some of the core issues and their implications. Gushee’s compassion was compelling, but so was Sider’s compassionate call for clarity on the key issues. If in the UK there is to be any progress in discussion, we will need to exercise both compassion and clarity.

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194 thoughts on “Compassion and clarity in the sexuality debate”

    • To which they might reply: this appears to be a common theme in conservative argument—avoiding emotion and experience and instead relying upon abstract textual arguments…

          • Indeed. But the vast consensus amongst scholars on both sides is that the biblical texts are fairly clear both in their meaning and their implications.

            That is why, inevitably, people like Gushee don’t engage in the texts even in the way that they say they will, because in the end the mostly compelling position is to say ‘The Bible is wrong, or bounded, or ignorant, and ultimately we know better now.’

          • Quote: “…the vast consensus amongst scholars on both sides is that the biblical texts are fairly clear both in their meaning and their implications.”

            I don’t think this is true. It is not true for ‘meaning’ (hence divergent readings of Romans 1) and it is certainly not true for the implications.

          • Well, there are very significant revisionist scholars who are quite happy to agree that conservative scholars are broadly right on what the text means.

            That is worth noting.

        • My experience, in trying to engage exegetically with “conservatives” on this issue, is frequently one of being told I am using the Bible as a justification for a modern cultural trend, or told that the Bible is clear, dismissed as a liberal who doesn’t take the Bible seriously or as my main point of reference etc. Many will change the subject. In this particular context, “Bible believing” seems to translate as “don’t want to engage with what the Bible might actually say.”

          Of course, this is not always the case. Of course there are people with whom I can have an open discussion on topics concerning (homo)sexuality. I suspect most people on all sides of the debate are reluctant to engage with others, whether regarding the Bible, tradition, or experiences/reason.

          • Ian, I hadn’t actually read the whole thread before replying to Peter’s comment, then I saw you saying pretty much exactly the point I’d made – debate is shut down, by saying these texts are not open to debate.

            I have read may scholars who would disagree with you “that the biblical texts are fairly clear both in their meaning and their implications.” I am surprised if you have not done so.

  1. Ian: I think Jeremy Marks’ book ‘Exchanging the truth of God for a lie’ treads the difficult line, which your comment and Peter’s comment above points to, very carefully. I’m surprised more reference isn’t made to it. He explores the biblical texts AND his own experience in making the same move that Gushee has made.

    I think the two issues that conservatives don’t quite ever get about the liberal argument are: firstly that the texts can’t ever be read ‘simply’ – there is no one plain reading of scripture when it comes to this – and secondly: even if the texts did give a simple clear answer, that’s only one answer which has to be weighed alongside reason and experience. God didn’t stop speaking when the canon of scripture was closed and the word of God is not the same as the word of scripture.

    And I don’t see that as a ‘revisionist’ position at all actually. I simply see that as the position which Jesus took, and it is therefore thoroughly orthodox. Unless, of course, revisionist simply means looking again at the way Jesus did things, in which case being a revisionist is a good thing. I was always taught at school to revise things 🙂

    • Thanks for the note about Marks’ book. I think you are right: it has not had much impact on the debate.

      I don’t think you are right about the biblical texts; there is a pretty strong consensus on what the texts mean. Just because people dispute the meaning of a text doesn’t mean there is much warrant to dispute it.

      The view that Scripture ‘is only one answer’ amongst others is a common view, but I don’t think it matches traditional (!) Anglican views of Scripture, nor is it in line with Jesus’ view, as far as I read what Jesus said about Scripture. The key theological question (to which I don’t think I have ever seen an answer from a liberal point of view) is how God can say one thing at one time and say a contradictory thing at another. For evangelicals, diversity *within* Scripture is held in the context of God’s faithfulness and consistency. Once you suggest that God, through the Church or Spirit or tradition, is now saying the *opposite* to what is said before, I think you are moving into different territory. Has God learned something about biology that God did not know previously?

      It is certainly not the position that Jesus took.

      • Well:
        – ‘you have heard it said – but I say….’ makes it quite clear that a plain and simple reading of biblical texts and tradition is not the whole story.
        – The woman caught in adultery was not stoned…..
        – We have changed our mind about artificial means of contraception.
        All three are examples that fly in the face of what you suggest above Ian.

        Then you only have to look at some of the parables to see that Jesus was challenging a simple, plain reading of the bible and tradition.

        Revision is clearly a good, orthodox thing.

        • Andrew,

          I’m sorry to say that your logic falters badly. Christ simply established His demand, as God’s Messiah. for obedience of conscience, instead of mere externalised compliance with Moses’ Law. So…

          1. Jesus’ ‘but I say unto you’ declarations don’t exonerate those actions which Christ described as prohibited ‘of old time’, such as adultery, or murder, so why should there be a special pleading for same-sex relationships?

          2. In the NT, homosexual behaviour is certainly not prohibited because it is promiscuous and therefore different in nature from committed modern same-sex relationships

          The apostolic argument in Romans is that such acts compound the guilt of rejecting what should be inductively ‘understood by the things that are made’. As Christ did, St. Paul’s phrasing ‘against nature’ harks back to the Genesis archetype. The mutual commitment of the couple is irrelevant. In contrast, there is no NT condemnation of contraception.

          3. Had Christ said nothing after ‘neither do I condemn thee’, your example of the woman caught in adultery might support of your argument. However, for Christ to tell her ‘go and sin no more’ establishes the guilt of her adultery for which He granted her forgiveness.

          Perhaps, you should follow Gushee’s example and give conservatives the Hobson’s choice either to be guilty of goading gay suicide, or to give ground on Scripture. After all, the fear of repeating the populist backlash over Women Bishops will weigh heavily in the minds of the majority of the new General Synod.

          • David: there is no escaping the fact that Jesus went against the simple reading of scripture and tradition. That’s what led to the rejection by his own people.
            I’m not aware of many conservatives selling all that they have and giving EVERYTHING to the poor, but you may be different in that respect?

          • Andrew,

            Jesus went against a selective reading of scripture, such that when challenged by His detractors, He identified scripture elsewhere that contradicted their accusations. His accusation of the Pharisees traditions (Corban and ritual externalisms) were telling: ‘“And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? 4For God said, ‘Honour your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ 6they are not to ‘honour their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.

            You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:“?‘These people honour me with their lips,,but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ ” (Matt. 15:3 – 9)

            In contrast, Jesus’ commitment to the Genesis archetype of marriage can’t be dismissed as a merely human rule.

            In respect of giving everything to the poor, you are well aware that an instruction to one person cannot be extrapolated to formulate a Church-wide mandate.

            As an example from scripture, we read after Christ alluded to St. Peter’s martyrdom:

            ‘Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”

            Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” John 21:19 – 21

            In this narrative, we can distinguish between what the apostolic faith requires of all believers and, beyond this, what specific believers might be called upon to sacrifice.

            If anything, the call to sacrifice challenges a person’s self-concept and identity.

            Your example is nothing more than an attempt to denigrate conservative theology by means of gross caricature.

          • David you said: “…you are well aware that an instruction to one person cannot be extrapolated to formulate a Church-wide mandate.”

            Absolutely. Totally. Completely. I could not have said it better myself. Thank you so much for putting it so clearly. We are obviously in 100% agreement about that.

          • Andrew,

            And how is the apostolic doctrine of marriage an instruction to one person and not a Church-wide mandate? Perhaps because the Genesis archetype only applies to Adam.

            BTW, the question is rhetorical. Your resort again to ‘must-win’ sophistry is really not required.

          • David: let me assure you that there is no question of ‘must win’ and I apologise if it seems that way. There can be no ‘winners’ or ‘losers’ in this debate and I I hope you can agree with that as well. The matter is not a simple binary one and never can be.

      • But isn’t it the case that we humans have learned something about biology that we humans did not know previously (and certainly not two thousand years ago)?

        Could it be the case that while Scripture is unambiguously and consistently diminishing and disparaging of same-sex couples, God is compassionate and respectful and (not unreasonably) expects his Church to be compassionate and respectful too?

        Certainly, within the Church of England we are not suggesting that our message to same-sex couples in society is that they will be welcome only if they adopt a Living Out ethos – we now welcome them and don’t intrude into the nature of their relationships (we won’t even know if they are having sex or not, it’s none of our business). The Golden Rule may well supersede the ‘clobber verses’ in our current cultural context – and I can’t believe that God would have a problem with this.

        • ‘But isn’t it the case that we humans have learned something about biology that we humans did not know previously (and certainly not two thousand years ago)?’

          At the risk of repeating the train of discussions on other blogs, what are the advancements in our understanding of biology that alter the terms of this debate?

          I’d be grateful for links to scientific research with explanations of their relevance.

          • I think which evidence is relevant is going to depend on *why* you believe what you believe e.g. (conservatives tend to disagree with this, but it doesnt make it less true) there is overwhelming evidence that there is at least a substantial genetic (or epigenetic) component to sexuality and there is overwhelming evidence that sexuality is not something individuals have any power over.

            For example, if your beliefs are dependent on being gay as being “chosen sin” then your beliefs are at odds with what we know about reality.

            If your beliefs are that, say, gay sex is always and universally wrong regardless of “fairness” or negative consequences then these beliefs will not be at odds with that.

            I may be completely wrong about this, but in my life time I feel Ive experienced the majority belief switch from “being gay is a chosen sin” to “being gay is not a sin (but acting on it still is)” because of the advancement in communication, biology and sociology.

          • David: simply look at the history of sodomy laws. The fact that they have been repealed in so many countries is because we have revised our biology. Or do you want to suggest that oral and anal sex, to give just two examples, between male and female should be punishable and re-criminalised?

          • Pete J,

            Your assertion about evidence is vague. When you mention ‘overwhelming evidence that sexuality is not something individuals have any power over’, you should be able to show me even one example of this ‘evidence’.

            I can’t think of many prohibited behaviours that amount to a ‘chosen sin’.

            Surely, St. Paul’s account is more realistic in explaining the struggle under the inflexible law of God between the perfection that it demands and the moral weakness that typifies human nature: ‘So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!’ (Romans 7:21 – 25)

            St. Paul didn’t imply that he now understood his behaviour to be fully affirmed by God, neither did he consider himself incapable of repeating the very sins for which Christ had died to deliver him to God, but that Christ’s deliverance assured him of perpetual grace which would ultimately transform him (and, by extension, us) completely and irreversibly into the image of Christ.

            The words of the apostles lend no credence to the notion that heterosexuals are, by comparison with heterosexuals, spiritually ‘home free’. We are all saved through the persistence of God’s perpetual power and His perpetual forbearance of our persistent failures!

          • Andrew,

            So, what? Former sexual offences were not decriminalised on account of advancements in biological knowledge.

            In the NT, marriage is exemplified by congruence with the Genesis archetype, not as permitted by evolving secular legislation. Civil authorities provide for those who want an alternative to Christian marriage, without dictating to the Church what constitutes Christian marriage.

            The only sanction that the NT authorises the church to administer is the loss of leadership and fellowship, which is mirrored in heavenly disapprobation. Your reference to the treatment of sodomy as a sexual offence may have resulted from the influence of Christendom, but not from penalties authorised by NT scripture.

          • The overwhelming evidence is that nobody – to my knowledge – has wilfully changed their orientation, although thousands (millions?) worldwide spend most of their lives and cash trying…even to the point of death.

            The three largest ex gay ministries in the nineties all have closed down now with all their leaders stating that they had helped no one at all. The only one operating in the UK is now claiming that it never claimed to help people with orientation change, only with managing their sexuality, but a very public row over a bus advert kind of destroys their claim!

            Wheaton college in the US did a study recently. I’ll find it for you if you don’t believe me, They were investigating claims that Exodus Internationals orientation change therapy was harmful. Their study showed their was no short term harm, but also demonstrated that the therapy had not changed at all the orientation of any of the subjects.

            There is still huge pressure for gay people in the church to not only be celibate, but also change our orientation. I don’t speak for everyone, but I would certainly change if I could. I do not mean I have self hatred or a problem with being gay, I mean I would be treated a lot better and pretty much every aspect of my life would be easier.

          • David: you said “Former sexual offences were not decriminalised on account of advancements in biological knowledge.”

            Of course they were! They were decriminalised because of a truer understanding of the human body and condition, part of which is biological.

            Straight question: do you think oral and anal sex between heterosexual married people is ok?

          • To be clear why it’s biological: the sodomy laws judged that oral and anal sex between even a man and a woman were ‘unnatural’ and therefore were illegal. Our biology no longer views these things that way.

          • Andrew,

            The recommendation of Wolfenden to decriminalise homosexual acts was driven by concerns over the intrusion of police powers upon privacy, not biology.

            Hence, the report stated: ‘”The law’s function is to preserve public order and decency, to protect the citizen from what is offensive or injurious, and to provide sufficient safeguards against exploitation and corruption of others… It is not, in our view, the function of the law to intervene in the private life of citizens, or to seek to enforce any particular pattern of behaviour.”

            In contrast, nothing in the NT implies that the Church has a role in punishing sexual offences. The sexual incongruence of homosexual acts, as cited by Paul, is sexual conjugation between persons of the same sex. He provides no further detail and neither should we.

            The church has nothing more than the Article 9 right to determine its own beliefs, its own leadership and access to its rituals without state interference.

          • David: you need to look way before Wolfenden. Let me state again that acts such as oral and anal sex even between heterosexuals were considered unnatural and criminalised. So it is about biology. Do you believe they are unnatural? Or just neutral acts?

          • Andrew,

            You began by asserting thr cause of *repealing* or decriminalising sodomy laws, which you claimed was due to biological advancements, not the reasons for criminalising certain sexual acts in the first place.

            In the US, it was the unwarranted intrusion of the State upon private life that led to the decision of Griswold vs. Connecticut

            The Wolfenden recommendation about privacy was key to the decision to decriminalise sodomy, so looking away from that to the cause of criminalisation is merely an attempt to move the goal posts, which is hardly a fair argument.

          • No David. I was responding to your suggestion that our greeter understanding of homosexuality was not linked to our better understanding of biology. It very obviously is.
            I’d be grateful for an answer to my question.

          • Andrew,

            The question was ‘what are the advancements in our understanding of biology that alter the terms of this debate?’

            And it was you who cited the repeal of sodomy laws as a prime example, only to change tack and encourage me to look beyond the actual reasons for decriminalisation to the reasons for criminalising them in the first place.

          • Of course David. Because the reason for putting the laws in place hundreds of years ago was because it was though such acts, even between a man and woman were unnatural. Our advance in understanding is, of course, linked to increased biological understanding that such acts are not unnatural.

            But perhaps you think they are unnatural. Hence my question to you, which you clearly don’t wish to answer.

          • Andrew,

            You may choose to discount the explicit reasoning given by Wolfenden for recommending the repeal of sodomy laws, by deciding that ‘it is not the function of law to intervene in the private life of citizens, or to enforce a certain pattern of life’.

            The proof of my position is that where homosexual behaviour continued in public places, the law continued to intervene, rather than view anonymous homosexual gratification (that respect for sexual privacy was expected to curtail) as yet another natural expression of human sexuality.

            Whatever the legal evolution, the NT simply authorises the eventual sanctions of lost fellowship and authority for those who persist in pre-marital, extra-marital and same-sex sexual relationships. It doesn’t stop those who defy the church from making a civil marriage and enjoying the affirmation of the wider society.

            The NT was written long before the Church had the influence to criminalise private sexual behaviour. It also doesn’t contain detailed prescriptions about the manner of sexual copulation ^within the apostolic description of Christian marriage*. That is left to the Spirit-guided discretion of the couple themselves *within the apostolic description of Christian marriage*.

          • David you are still totally ignoring the point that way way way before Wolfendon was even thought of, people were punished for various sexual acts because they were thought unnatural. Our understanding of biology has developed such that we no longer think them unnatural. I’m not asking about spirit filled couples. I’m asking your opinion on whether these acts, and I’ve been specific about them, are unnatural or not. Why can’t you answer?

      • But isn’t the NT littered with examples of people doing what they thought the law was commanding them to do and then finding out that they should be doing the exact opposite?

        St Paul is the most obvious example, but I can think of several more. Clearly just comprehending the literal words of leviticus is not sufficient to know Gods law.

        Jesus said that the summation of the law and its highest commands were to love God and then to love your neighbour. I for one cannot see how you can include banning gay people from marrying in either of these. As you have stated, banning people from such relationships *can* have fatal effects, so it is clearly not loving your neighbour. It is also not loving God since in his Kingdom we will be “as the Angels”.

        On an entirely different note you mentioned that singles (actually you are wrong to say just women) are in the same boat. I agree to a certain extent, but having been a single (and assumed straight) person in the church and then an out (and single) gay person in the church, you get treated *a lot* better as a straight single person.

        Oh and I disagree that being gay says anything at all about your gender and I find that remark actually a little bit offensive.

        • Yes it is—because we are fallible interpreters.

          But the idea (proposed by Andrew G) that, because Jesus did not read the OT ‘literally’, then we are no longer bound by Scripture’s clear and consistent teaching is rather odd.

          Most people would classify Jesus’ (and Paul’s) reading as ‘theological’. That is actually just the kind of reading I would advocate.

          I don’t read Gen 1 and 2 ‘literally’ but theologically. The sex binary there is less about biology than it is about theological anthropology, and so is not easily overthrown by ‘new discoveries in biology’.

          I would also read Lev 18 and 20 both canonically and theologically, so there is no question of implementing it as law along with its punishments. It is about understanding how the Genesis creation texts were understood within that cultural context in relation to the demand for holiness, and seeing how it is then later appropriate by Jesus, the early church and Paul.

          The idea that Jesus’ example allows us either simply to ignore or to interpret these texts away is really rather arbitrary.

          • But then isn’t it arbitrary to junk Leviticus 19?

            I don’t for one moment believe that Leviticus 18.22 is in place to ban gay people from having a romantic relationship and to do so seems incompatible, or perhaps superceeded, given the law is hierarchical, by Jesus summary of the law.

            Since we are Christians shouldn’t we be taking Christs teaching about the law as paramount?

          • Ian: Can I recommend this article by Richard Beck to you?

            To quote:

            “….you have to own the fact that you are Protestants (as am I). Which means that you are never going to land on an uncontested “biblical view.” Protestants have never agreed on what the Bible says. Just look at all the Protestant churches. Underneath the conversation about the “biblical view” what you are searching for is a hermeneutical consensus, the degree to which your community can tolerate certain hermeneutical choices.

            Stretch the hermeneutical fibers too thin and the consensus snaps. People can’t make the leap. The view is deemed “unbiblical.” But if you keep the changes within the hermeneutical tolerances of the community the consensus holds and the view is deemed “biblical.” “

  2. Thank you Ian for this post.

    I have to admit, I’m troubled by your first question, which seems to reveal an desire to minimise the uniqueness of the suffering experienced same-sex attracted people, by suggesting that their position of celibacy is equivalent to the celibacy of single heterosexual Christian women. Clearly it is not. Single Christian women are not at risk of being ‘driven to despair or even suicide’ in the same way as same-sex attracted Christians. The traditionalist ethic tells single women that their sexual desires have the potential to be holy, but cannot be expressed. The traditionalist ethic tells attracted Christians the traditionalist ethic that both their sexual *and* romantic desires are intrinsically disordered and need to be suppressed. The difference here makes all the psychological difference in the world: it is the difference between experiencing frustration and disappointment (in the case of single women), and experiencing intense self-loathing and shame (in the case of same-sex attracted Christians). I’m troubled by those that cannot see the difference, since it seems to reveal a fundamental lack of empathy.

    Until those holding a traditionalist ethic can come up with a coherent theological and pastoral approach, which is able to account for the ‘experience’ of same-sex attracted people (in its fullest sense) and chart a path of discipleship which really ‘works’ for these people (clearly this is not the case currently), I do not see how it can be credible.

    • Thanks Andrew. I entirely agree with you, that these sets of feelings are not equivalent.

      But that was not the discussion. The discussion was around the impracticability of celibacy as a policy. My sense is that both parties in the discussion fail to take sufficiently seriously the celibacy of Jesus and Paul. Traditionalists take marriage as fundamental; in the same way revisionist take same-sex marriage as a non-negotiable goal.

      There are several groups of people who have come up with a ‘coherent theological and pastoral approach’ but they are consistently ignored in the discussion—especially by revisionists. See



      Providentially, today’s post on the latter is on celibacy!

      See also the earlier article

      • The BCP calls it the ‘gift of continence’. It was Dorothy L Sayers, through Lord Peter Wimsey who said: “as to the gift of continence, I wouldn’t have it as a gift”. That, I think, is where most people are.
        It’s not so much that celibacy/continence are inpracticable – it’s simply that they are not welcomed by most people.

      • Thank you Ian for your reply and for clarifying the discussion, which I perhaps misunderstood. I would note in passing that ‘same-sex marriage’ is not a ‘non-negotiable goal’ for all revisionists; I imagine many would be content with a position, short of embracing marriage, which defuses some of the damage done to same-sex attracted people by a traditionalist ethic – I’m thinking of people like Robert Song here.

        I would encourage you to consider why the people you mention – such as the contributors to the ‘Living Out’ project – are ‘consistently ignored’, as you put it. Could it instead be because revisionists have read their work closely (I speak for myself here) and found their conclusions deeply inadequate? To take just one example, the ‘Living Out’ / ‘Spiritual Friendship’ tries to force intimate, loving same-sex relationships into a category of “friendship”, when this category is plainly inadequate for describing the experience of people in these relationships (again, we confront the failure of traditionalists to adequately listen to experience). I would also note that the nuanced, thoughtful position taken by writers such as Wesley Hill is ‘ignored’ as least as often by conservative evangelicals as it is by liberals, as they repeatedly deploy stock-phrases such as “God’s plan for marriage” in order to avoid the hard task of actually *listening* to the experience of people.

        Thanks again.

      • Ian, the crucial difference is that, for Jesus and Paul, celibacy was a choice (and we don’t know the relationship history of either man). By contrast, lesbian and gay people have two grim choices: they can either avoid all sexual relationships for life; or enter into a marriage with a person for whom they may feel friendship, but no attraction.

        Likewise, a single straight person can hope for, and is free to seek, a relationship, and while they’re looking, feel no sense of shame about their sexuality.

        In any case, as noted below, there’s little point discussing this when it can make no difference to your position. You could accept that God’s placed gay and lesbian people in an intolerable position, and still say that, since it’s his will, he must be obeyed. As I understand your theological framework, you must say this.

        • My understanding of the traditionalist view, which it seems clear to me is supported by the Bible,
          is that God has indeed placed gay people in an intolerable position.

          Our only two options are to remain celibate, or to marry someone of the gender we’re not attracted to for the purely mercenary reasons of not wanting to be alone, or wanting to obtain children, or wanting to prove to the world that we’re “fixed” (often a mix of all three).

          These are the stark choices that confront us, made all the more intolerable by people like the author of this blog whose response to our distress is to shrug his shoulders and say “This is how God has ordained things, so stop whining, shoulder your burden and make your choice. And then off you trot to the leper colony of Living Out. They’ll know how to deal with you over there, because I sure don’t. And your constant whining is getting in the way of my enjoyment of all this endless bounty and happiness that God ordained for me. It isn’t my fault you drew the short straw! Deal with it and stop raining on my parade, why don’t you?”

          And that, in a nutshell, is how traditionalists model Christian compassion. The “I’m alright Jack, shame about you, but who really gives a damn?” attitude speaks volumes about their faith and the smallness, indifference and petty vengefulness of their God.

          • Etienne, first, I am interested that you agree the Bible supports the traditionalist position, which I agree with, against Jonathan Tallon.

            Secondly, I understand that this is deeply felt, but your comments are a sad parody of the ‘traditionalist’ position.

            If you really think that is what we say, and are not amenable to any contrary evidence, then I am not quite sure if there is any point in further conversation. The aim of this blog is to facilitate proper engagement, not simply to lob parodies at one another.

            Third, the idea of a chaste life being ‘intolerable’ is, perhaps, an indicator of how sexualised our society has become, and how far many Christians have lost touch with a pretty central strand of the Christian tradition. You would never have thought that we worship as saviour a single, celibate man

        • James – I agree, except that I dont think celibate relationships are as widely accepted as they should be. Some will not believe them (possibly because they believe all gay people to be promiscuous) and others will believe any form of gay romance to be sinful. So a celibate gay couple will therefore *still* face problems in the church even though they are following the rules. We have seen this at the highest levels of the cofe.

          However single and celibate gay people are often treated no better either. I would say in probably most cofe churches the gay congregant is best served by following what they believe to be right as they are likely to face hostility regardless.

        • James,

          The Hobson’s choice of homosexuals being condemned to celibacy or marriage with friendship, but no attraction is not borne out by the ‘lived experience’ of people like Peter Ould.

          The sexual fluidity among homosexuals as researched by Lisa Diamond makes your argument a false dichotomy.

          • If it were the case that all people with attractions to the same sex also had some attraction to the opposite sex, im sure the vast majority of such people in the church would choose an opposite sex relationship.

            Actually I would suggest there are actually a significant number of people in the church who are attracted to both sexes but have chosen a heterosexual relationship, but who are wisely silent about their sexuality.

            I can’t speak for everyone, but I don’t think anyone is actually arguing that the church should approve of same sex relationships because not being in a relationship is harmful. I think a lot of people find the churches teaching, and actually more its attitude, harmful because it implies gay people are of less value or have something inherently disordered about them. This is subtly different to what you are arguing against.

            I think it is harmful for most people to live in isolation and without relationship. Current church culture promotes marriage so much that it is actually difficult to be single in the church and not to face issues of isolation.

          • For every Peter Ould who claims to have been gay and then gets married to a woman and claims to be no longer gay, there are hundreds, if not thousands of others whom marriage has not changed.

            So what’s more likely? That thousands are completely wrong and only Peter Ould and the handful of others like him are right? That a man whose rigid, doctrinaire and arbitrary beliefs and notable lack of compassion (as trumpeted forth so confidently on his happily now defunct blog) that mark him out as someone for whom dogma takes precedence over all other considerations should be the archetype that all people with same-sex attraction should aspire to?

            Really? We all have to be like Peter Ould? Now there’s a proposition you’re going to have a hard time convincing anyone except yourself and Peter Ould of.

            If you’re going to use someone like Peter Ould as “evidence” that God effects miraculous transformations on gays if only they’ll submit and marry some random woman, then you’d better be prepared to meet with some pretty incredulous responses. There’s just too much evidence out there that he’ll say and do whatever he has to in order to support his rigid and unbending ideas. Put simply, he has no credibility.

            And if that’s an ad hominem attack, blame yourself for inviting it. If you offer a poster boy for God’s transformative power, you can’t complain when others tell you why your poster boy fails to convince. Your poster boy is a figure of fun in the LGBT community. Evangelical Christianity’s pet gay poodle snapping away on the end of his short leash pretending to be a Rottweiler. Hold him up as an example of what God can do for gays and don’t be surprised when we all fall about laughing.

          • Pete J,

            I think that you’re right when you say: ‘I think it is harmful for most people to live in isolation and without relationship. Current church culture promotes marriage so much that it is actually difficult to be single in the church and not to face issues of isolation.’

            Those who are in relationships and marriage have little time for those who spend most of their lives either in a secular wrk environment (where the Christian ethos is often rejected as prudish), or isolated outside of work for similar reasons.

            Church services and house groups may provide little more than passing acquaintance with others, which lacks the deep emotional connection of genuine involvement in a person’s emotional life.

            At the church that I attend, a young lady involved in youth ministry, who was tired of lonely singlehood, met and eventually moved in with her non-Christian boyfriend.

            The mistaken priority for our vicar was to head off any scandal of appearing to connive at pre-marital sex. So, she stripped this young woman of her church duties, pending an undertaking that she was no longer having sex with her boyfriend.

            What the ‘good’ vicar couldn’t do was to berate herself for the poor quality of ministry towards and fellowship for young people in her parish church, in which the average age is 50-odd.

            It’s at this point that most evangelical leaders fail badly. They might acknowledge that the church is failing young people, but that admission alone does not provoke them to take a temporarily less stringent line that would alleviate complete despair.

            Our vicar could also neither encourage the young lady to bring her new boyfriend to church in the hope that he might discover Christ for himself, nor advise her on how God has provided the pattern for sexual union should be fulfilled within the context of marriage, nor that her boyfriend’s intentions might differ greatly from her own hope for marriage, nor on how to share her faith respectfully and patiently with him.

            In many cases, the single young Christians to whom I’ve spoken are underwhelmed with the pool of potential partners thst they meet in church, when compared to some the smart, funny, intelligent and, dare I say, romantic non-Christian ‘go-getters’ out there. What they’re not prepared to do is to settle, forfeiting the latter attractive qualities in order to marry ‘in the Lord’.

            The balance that ensures that we lead with compassion, but don’t become overtaken with mawkish connivance is best explained by Jude: ‘And you must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives.’ Jude 22, 23

            If the ultimate intention is our eventual restoration to a pattern of life that complements the gospel, the patience of toleration without connivance is justified.

          • Etienne,

            Sexual fluidity is a fact. Again, the American Psychological Association’s definitive ‘Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation ‘we propose that, on the basis of research on sexual orientation and sexual orientation identity, what appears to shift and evolve in some individuals’ lives is sexual orientation identity, not sexual orientation’

            ‘Same-sex sexual attractions and behavior occur in the context of a variety of sexual orientations and sexual orientation identities, and for some, sexual orientation identity (i.e., individual or group membership and affiliation, self-labeling) is fluid or has an indefinite outcome.’

            ‘Gay men, lesbians, and bisexual individuals form stable, committed relationships and families that are equivalent to heterosexual relationships and families in essential respects.’

            ‘Some individuals choose to live their lives in accordance with personal or religious values (e.g., telic congruence).’

            ‘The available evidence, from both early and recent studies, suggests that although sexual orientation is unlikely to change, some individuals modified their sexual orientation identity (i.e., individual or group membership and affiliation, self-labeling) and other aspects of sexuality (i.e., values and behaviour).’

            But don’t let the facts get in the way of good rhetoric!

            Peter Ould may well be a figure of fun in the LGBT community. But, oh, the irony, when Peter ‘they’re not boys, if we lower the age of consent to 14’ Tatchell is lauded as their patron saint.

            You’d also have a lot more credibility here if most of the points you attempted to make on this thread were remotely relevant to the Church’s exercise of its religious freedom. You do realise that this is a Christian blog, don’t you?

          • David

            If sexuality is fluid as you say, then why I have I never experienced attraction to a woman? Why do presumably a majority of people never experience attraction to the same sex?

            I think your example is very relevant. I think a big problem for gay people in -particularly evangelical churches, but actually all churches – is we are generally assumed to be in a sexual relationship. Straight people are assumed sexually moral until proven otherwise, gay people are assumed sexually immoral until proved otherwise. There will be limits placed on how involved this lady can be in the church community, but those same limits (in my experience, actually usually harsher) will be placed on single gay people. How can you live in community, in “relationship” if you are banned from being a full part of that community.

            Ive been saying this for a while, but if those with a conservative view truly believed that view (and weren’t just prejudiced) they would be engaged in trying to change church culture so that it would be possible for lifelong single people to find spousal level support amongst their community.

            When I come home from a hard day at work I find no hug waiting for me. Im sorry if that is an irrelevant and emotional statement, but it is a true one.

          • Pete, the fact of sexual fluidity does not mean that everyone experiences change, only that you cannot guarantee that any individual will not.

            It’s a bit like saying ‘men are taller than women’. It doesn’t mean that every man is taller than every woman.

            In the conversation, we need to assume that people are generally literate when it comes to talking about aggregate research findings.

          • Ian

            That was exactly my point. If some people find that they are attracted to sexes that they weren’t previously attracted to, it does not mean that everyone will be. Actually in practise the vast majority do not experience this.

            So for the vast majority of gay (not bisexual) Anglicans, the church teaching means lifelong celibacy. This is a significant number and there is currently no support for celibacy in churches.

      • The difference I would recognise between a single-woman never finding a life-partner, and a single person with homosexual or bisexual orientation feeling they cannot form a relationship with someone they love, would be that in the former the person would be encouraged to seek and trust the will of God in whatever relationship they have or do not have, while in the latter the person would have the “will of God” imposed upon them from the church. Because, regardless of their conscience, if their potential sexual partner would be of the same-sex, they would be told it was wrong.

        It’s perfectly possible not to oppose this difference being actioned in the church and, as you say Ian, there are various groups supporting people who are in the position of having the church – rather than providence without the instruction of the church – imposing celibacy or abstinence on them. The question, therefore, for me, is not whether one form of abstinence/celibacy is more painful than the other, but how far it is right for the church to impose this on people when it is experienced as suffering. I’m not offering an answer just here, but I do think this is a central question: how far can the church impose celibacy or abstinence when “providence” has not?

        In Harriet Beecher-Stowe’s “Dred” (a much better novel than Uncle Tom’s Cabin) the solicitor who confirms that the legal document freeing Harry as a slave is a legal tries to comfort him by saying it is “providence” and he must accept it. Beecher-Stowe, of course, is exposing the irony that he thinks he is being sympathetic at the same time as it is he himself who is actualising this “providence.” Please don’t think I’m trying to draw an equivalence between slavery and sexual relationships – I’m not. But the point is that, as Beecher-Stowe is showing, their is a clear distinction between accepting suffering as providential, and adding to it by one’s own actions. How one answers the question I pose above surely depends not on whether others are already suffering, but on whether imposing suffering is, in this case, justified.

    • I am interested in where this comparison between Christian single women and their sexual desires with that of gay Christians both male and female comes in. Do straight Christian men live by a different standard? Are they let off the hook if they stray like the man who was with the woman caught in adultery? Or is this simply about demographics?

      • It is because there are a lot of young women in the church and few men, but it doesn’t take into account that not every make is attracted to every female and vice versa. I know plenty of straight men in the church in their 30s, 40s and 50s who are still looking.

  3. It often comes down to what is more authoritative and important – the felt experience of individuals, or the teaching of the Bible? How we decide this is affected by
    * our personality (are we “heart” or “head” people; do we tend to think independently or follow the crowd?),
    * our personal experience of sexuality and spirituality
    * our theological framework (are some theological issues really life-and-death important, or is all theology ‘adiaphora’ compared with living in peace?),
    * the weight of majority opinion,
    * the sanctions that society imposes on those who don’t follow majority opinion,
    * how much we have to lose by being excluded or disliked.

    Anything else?

      • I agree with you Ian: the way we decide what has authority, what “trumps” everything else, is a complex combination of factors. But I was following on from what you appeared to be saying in your piece, and also what Peter O said in his first comment. If what Scripture says comes first, then listening to experience is vital but the conclusions from this cannot override the conclusion derived from proper exegesis, no matter how authentic the testimony. And vice-versa – if experience comes first, then as another Andrew (above) says, no amount of careful interpretation of the Bible, appeals to tradition, philosophy etc can override how someone feels, and defines his or her identity. No matter how pastorally sensitive, intellectually rigorous and exegetically sound the ‘conservative’ presentation is, such a view of the Bible will always be seen as lacking in empathy and “not credible”, – even if presented by someone with same sex attraction. (Hence Andrew not being convinced by Living Out).

        Not sure where that leaves the project of “good disagreement”, with the two contradictory views of ultimate authority coexisting in the same church?

        • Andrew, like Ian I would be wary of putting ‘experience’ and ‘Scripture’ in such stark opposition: for me it is not a case of one “trumping” the other. Indeed, I would gladly agree that Scripture is our highest authority (being an evangelical by background, and as a good Anglican), and if I were convinced of a ‘conclusion derived from proper exegesis’, then of course this would hold sway over ‘experience’. The problem of course is that the interpretation of Scripture is not a straightforward as you and Ian are claiming; where there is uncertainty and ambiguity, it seems sensible to give some weight to ‘experience’ / ‘reason’ in determining what is likely to be the correct interpretation. Since ‘experience’ / ‘reason’ seems to point firmly in an “inclusive” direction (with, granted, a small number of dissenting voices among same-sex attracted people), I am prepared to approach the interpretation of Scripture with this in mind. For what it’s worth, my own view follows that of Loveday Alexander (set out in ‘Grace and Disagreement’) very closely.

          I add this not because I think you’ll agree with me, but because I think our views on ‘ultimate authority’ are not as ‘contradictory’ as you assume.

        • If conclusions have already be made from scripture then what’s the point in listening to experience? isn’t that just pretending to have compassion, when actually there’s none available?

          • It’s not about separating Jesus from scripture, but it is about giving the teaching of Jesus primacy. Rather than trying to find some sort of “best fit” theology that sort of fits each voice in scripture, we should be reading the whole of scripture from the perspective of Jesus teaching.

            For example we need to make sure we are understanding the character of God in OT narratives from Jesus, not imposing a character on Jesus that is derived from OT narratives.

  4. So as a member of the new synod, Ian, will you campaign for a change to a more compassionate attitude towards gay people?

    Are you happy with the status quo where treatment by clergy and other church leaders is a postcode lottery and in lots of places celibacy is not enough?

    • I will happily campaign for everyone to conform to the compassionate teaching position of the church as articulated, for example, in the House of Bishops’ statement from Feb 2014. Yes.

      • So are you saying that you will campaign for the church to change so that it’s practical pastoral care and respect for LGBT churchgoers is changed to fit the official teaching?

        At the moment it just seems to be up to individual incumbents and nobody seems to care if they follow the official teaching (which you may correct me says that single gay people should be treated as well as straight people and the faith of partnered gay people should be respected?) or even know it. Certainly it is not teaching that is well known outside the clergy!

        I think a question was asked at GS about the new wedding website which offers prayers for gay newly weds at any CofE church. I think you and I both know that is incredibly optimistic. The question was about oversight for this service,nbut the answer was of course – there is none! Is the CofE really expecting reform clergy to pray for the flourishing of gay relationships?!

  5. Compassion can only even be the application of love (truth) to a situation of sadness. If our heart leads us to stray from truth, then this also leads us away from compassion, towards fear.

    On a slight tangent: Ian, are you aware of Megan DeFranza’s work on ‘intersex’? If so, can we expect a review from you? I ask because she, Mark Yarhouse and David Gushee seem to constitute a kind of Evangelical bloc on these matters. Two down one to go?

  6. I’m sure we all get major league déjà vu from this, Ian. For whatever reason, you’ve decided the Bible ties your hands. That’s of course your choice to make. The Bible probably does condemn homosexuality in all circumstances. With that precondition, there’s no point debating the evidence, and vanishingly little point in debating exegesis (we can’t make the texts say what they don’t).

    The only question left is whether you could bear to stay in a church that allows its ministers to live in relationships you view as a “salvation issue”? If your answer’s “no,” you’ll do everything you can to stop a change in policy; if “maybe,” there’s something left to discuss.

    So is there any possibility, however slight, that you’d be willing to tolerate clergy in gay relationships? If not, you’ve staked out an absolute position, on which there can be no compromise. Either you prevail, or your opponents do.

    • James – I disagree. There are a huge number of issues facing the church of england regarding gay people (not to mention bisexuals, trans people and intersex). It is not just about whether gay clergy can marry!

      • Peter, of course not, but since the Church of England already (officially) tolerates laity in gay relationships, tolerating ordained people also does appear to be the red-line for traditionalists.

        • I would say actually that, although the Church of England officially tolerates gay congregants and says that those who are celibate or single should be fully involved in the life of the church, in practise its churches have a wide range of views (and often a wide range of views amongst leaders in a single church) from a bar on gay attendance to treating the gay person almost as well as a straight person…and all points in between!

          I think a really useful thing would be to get all cofE churches to have an Offical policy on gay people, publish it on their website and stick to it. I think this would massively reduce hurt caused by the church!

          i don’t think most traditionalists tolerate gay lay people (coupled or single) it is just that in their own churches they can currently have their own say, but the same is not true for ordained people.

          I think the issues facing gay ordained people are different than gay lay people. Obviously ordained people have much much more to lose and it is harder to leave, but I also think they have greater protection by official channels.

    • James, first, again interesting to notice that you agree with me, against Jonathon Tallon, that Scripture is clear.

      Second, I don’t think ‘having my hands tied’ is the right metaphor. I think many people have found scripture, with its rejection of sexualisation as the absolute value of human life, rather liberating.

      Third, I think that the issue is not so much about ‘salvation’ as about whether we continue to let what God has said in Scripture shape our understanding and our reflection on experience, or whether we will impose the grid of our experience on Scripture in a way which distorts and ultimately silences it.

      Fourth, it all depends on what you mean by ‘in gay relationships’. Again, I reject the collapsing of all meaningful relationships into sexual relationships.

      Do I think the Church of England can ever accept same-sex unions as on a par with marriage? No I do not. I am not sure that that is the end of every discussion, unless that acceptance is the non-negotiable goal for my conversation partner (s).

  7. There seems to be a lot of “weak” wording around this issue, to avoid hurting feelings. People struggling with disordered desires – whether sexual or otherwise – need compassion. But they need compassion not because those desires are not disordered – they are – but because the struggle against them is tough. We don’t do anyone any favours by saying “if your desire is so strong, maybe it isn’t really sin”. This was tried with divorce and adultery and fornication, and it’s been a moral and societal disaster.

    There’s no room for being pious about temptation, whether judgementalism on the part of those who are not so tempted or making excuses on the part of those who are. The Church is called to work together for holiness, and neither refusing mercy to those who fall nor making excuses for them will achieve this, but only struggling together against sin and relying on Christ’s strength. Our response to someone who says “I’m really struggling with this sin” should be “we’re here for you” not “maybe it’s not so bad”. That said, strong boundaries and wise laws are a first line of support.

    • I would say largely though the people who are struggle with mental and physical health because of these issues have internalized hatred, which *often* (but not always) is a direct result of what their church is saying and how it behaves towards gay people.

      I have to say you are demonstrating perfectly a stance of “celibacy is not enough”. If you create this scenario where someone cannot be, what we might call, “right with God” regardless of how much they strive then of course they are going to suffer from internalised hatred.

      And Im sorry but I think it is wild fantasy to suggest that *currently at least* a majority of conservative churches in the cofe are responding to gay people with “we’re here for you”. It is usually just a rejective response!

    • Andrew (a different one to me – apologies for confusion!), here is the point where I simply cannot follow the conservative argument you make: if homosexual desires (sexual, or romantic, or both? You haven’t been clear) are “disordered”, then why doesn’t God change them? You counsel gay people to “struggle against sin” but the problem, as Pete J points out, is that this creates a scenario where someone simply can’t attain holiness, because God is not in the habit of changing people’s sexual orientation, in the way that he might overcome other character traits (pride, guilt, anger, arrogance etc). Like straight people, as gay people grow into the fullness of life in Christ, their sexual desires will be refined and reordered – becoming less dominated by lust, and more aligned with the fruits of the Spirit, an expression of self-giving love and grace But the fundamental *orientation*, whereby romantic and sexual feelings are directed towards the same sex, is highly resistant to any sort of change.

      The question for conservatives is this: if God wants gay people to turn from “disordered” desires, as he desires them to turn from other sins, why doesn’t he enable them to achieve this? If a homosexual orientation is an expression of the “fallenness” of creation, why isn’t it overcome through participation in Christ? I’ve yet to hear an adequate answer to this question from conservatives.

      • Andrew (the liberal one). Your arguments for approval based on immutability, internal struggles and the negative effects of disapproval, are not well thought through …. We All Agree that there are some fixed sexual attractions – that some people experience – that they should resist and should (metaphorically) pluck out your own eye, cut off your own hand, etc

        • Actually not everyone, even in this comments section, believes that there are some fixed sexual attractions. The conservative viewpoints are just as varied as the liberal viewpoints.

      • Rephrasing: “If the desire to commit adultery isn’t disordered, why doesn’t God remove it?”. Or even “If the desire to commit theft / lie / envy isn’t disordered, why doesn’t God remove it?”. Your statement proves WAY too much – namely, that either you have no heart for struggling against sin, or that you don’t actually believe that the human heart is sinful. The first sets your desires against God’s, while the second denies one of the plainest and most fundamental teachings of Scripture.

        God promises that some people will die for the gospel, others will be imprisoned, or impoverished. Paul doesn’t devote chapters and chapters (if you’ll pardon the minor anachronism) of his letters to “putting off the sinful nature” because it is easy, but because it is hard. In the face of temptation, we are called to “stand firm”, to “be watchful”, and most of all “to pray”, because the Paul’s basic assumption is that we are weak, flawed and broken, and can only endure by God’s strength.

        I get it – in one sense it’s easy for a relatively wealthy, healthy, married guy to say “God wants you to stand firm”. I know what it’s like to struggle to be celibate, honest, gentle, and forgiving, and against laziness, envy, porn, and fornication. In contrast, there are sinful desires that I don’t struggle with, and I haven’t personally experienced being tragically abused, or lonely, or hungry. But the cause of holiness is not aided by me making excuses for you surrendering to your evil desires, nor you excusing me in mine. Tell me that your struggle is hard, and how I can support you in standing firm. Don’t tell me that your struggle is hard, and ask me to bless your giving up. Instead, tell me how I can help “strengthen your weak knees” and aid you to “strive … for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:12-14).

  8. Ian, thank you for another excellent post.
    I do not have the expertise to contribute to this debate from a theological point of view. However from a relationship point of view, I often find myself thinking that not having our own way is by no means the end of the world! Currently some LGBT people are not happy with the church’s teaching on marriage and they would like the church to change its teaching to suit them. In a different context, there was a time when I felt very frustrated about the teaching of the Catholic Church on intercommunion. I participate in communion at our CofE church, yet at my mother’s funeral in an RC church I was not able to share in the Eucharist, though I did receive a blessing. At my mother’s funeral mass the priest said that he felt sad that there were people present who take communion in their own churches but who were unable to share in the Eucharist on that occasion, and that he continued to pray for church unity. His words were a comfort to me – but I still could not share in the Eucharist at my mother’s funeral. My mother was a ‘cradle Catholic’ who was excommunicated for marrying my father ( a Baptist). She was received back into the Catholic Church 11 years before she died.
    I really don’t think that we can reasonably expect any church to change just to suit us, frustrating though the status quo may be from our point of view. I realise that sexual identity and attitudes to intercommunion are two very different things, but my focus here is on realistic (or unrealistic) expectations of the established church.

    • I can’t speak for all gay people, but I’m not so worried about the church’s teaching on marriage per se…I can legally marry and the church can’t stop me. I think pretty much all gay people would like the whole church to improve its treatment of us and at the very least be as liberal as the Offical COFE teaching on us. Internalised hatred is still being cused by harmful teaching and it should stop.

      • ‘Internalized hatred’? I’m not sure that I understand what you mean by this.
        We have some gay people in our church, but I am aware of no hatred between them and anyone else. A gay couple was invited to my (heterosexual) daughter’s (church) wedding this year, and there was no hatred between them and anyone else – on the contrary, there was much goodwill, despite differences in beliefs on the subject of gay marriage. I have read about homophobic hatred but I have never come across it in our family, church or neighbourhood.

        • Sorry I don’t mean hatred between individuals…

          By “internalised hatred” I mean a deep-seated loathing of self, when a person is unable to change their attractions away from the state that church teaching often describes as disordered…does that make sense? It is much more likely amongst closeted gay people than out gay people, which is why gay people are often encouraged to “come out” because it usually massively improves mental health.

          • Pete J
            Thank you for your reply.
            If I were in your position I am sure that I would find it very difficult and painful.
            My own position is that I am incapable of dissociating sexuality from procreation – I have three adult children and six grandchildren and I also had two miscarriages. I am also incapable of dissociating sexuality and procreation from mortality. When our first child was born I was deeply aware that, if things followed the natural order ( which, tragically is not always the case), our child would outlive us, and I looked at our little child and thought, ‘I will love you til death us do part’. This awareness of mortality was deepened by the fact that my grandfather died eight weeks before our daughter was born. We all have our eternal hope in Christ, and believe in the resurrection of the body, but in the meantime our bodies are mortal. I totally accept the church teaching that marriage ( and therefore sexuality) is for the procreation of children, though I am aware that some couples, for various reasons, remain childless. I feel sad that, where there is same-sex attraction, the deep link between sexuality and procreation seems to be broken. This is the way I see it – as I wrote in a previous post here, I do not have the expertise to comment on this from a theological point of view.

          • What might help is to think of the difference between sexuality and sex. Sexuality is about who we are attracted to. (Please don’t be offended by me saying this I don’t mean to imply lust or anything) you might be in the supermarket and choose to go to a checkout with a handsome guy on the till. This may be conscious or subconscious. It is nothing to do with the love you have for your husband or your children and nothing about the sex you had to make those children.

            Sexuality governs a huge range of our actions and interactions. Sex sells, but an even larger proportion of adverts uses sexuality rather than sex. How many sofa ads show a smiling male/female couple?! Church is full of heterosexuality.

            Because it is a huge part of our lives, to be told that every one of these thoughts, subconscious actions etc was sinful and wrong can have a very damaging effect on someones mental and physical health. And there is no biblical evidence that homosexuality is a sin, since the bible only condemns certain sexual activities, not just being alive whilst being attracted to the same sex.

            You can even do a thought experiment. Recognise every time your sexuality comes into play in a single day and think about what it would feel like to be telling yourself every time either that you are evil or that you were put together wrong.

        • I have replied to your reply below, but just to add…

          Why can’t attitudes to sexuality be a matter of personal conscious? I mean im not actually stopping you from having your view, yet campaigners, such as Ian, are trying to limit my ability to live by my own conscious (and faith) because they say it is offensive to them.

          To take an extreme example – would you be opposed to me being allowed to marry (in church/not in church) even though it really does not impact your life in anyway?

          • Hi Pete, I think that most of the points you have raised have already been covered elsewhere by people with more expertise than I have. I believe that intimate sexual relations belong within marriage and that marriage is ordained by God for the procreation of children.If we think of marriage as just a matter of personal choice which does not ‘impact’ on the lives of others in any way, then we might all just as well have private marriages and not bother to have church weddings, or even state marriage ceremonies for that matter. If we insist that marriage is a private matter but also insist on having a wedding ceremony in church with the full blessing of the church, aren’t we acknowledging that marriage is not just a private matter, but that it ‘impacts’ on other members of the Christian fellowship, on the community, and on society itself?

          • Pete J

            The reality is that LGBT organisations are enforcing their views on everyone else whether they like it or not. So to suggest, as you have:

            “Why can’t attitudes to sexuality be a matter of personal conscious? I mean im not actually stopping you from having your view, yet campaigners, such as Ian, are trying to limit my ability to live by my own conscious (and faith) because they say it is offensive to them.”

            Is, unfortunately completely untrue.

            If matters were actually left personal conscience (which is probably what you actually meant) would be much agreeable and closer to what was promised than the deceitful reality that is now present.

          • Which views of “LGBT organisatations” have you been forced to adopt? I guess employers are not allowed to sack us for being gay and landlords are not allowed to throw us out for being gay – these things still happen Ofc, but are harder. Is this what you mean?

            If *even you* are in favour of making acceptance of gay people a matter of personal conscience (appologies for my state education) – then why is there so much opposition to this in the church?

        • I disagree that my points have been covered elsewhere.

          I can sort of understand why you would be impacted if I got married in church. I have a number of questions for you, but please don’t feel you have to answer them.

          1. If I got married outside the church, would that impact you, and if so, why?

          2. You link sexuality with having children. Do you stop having a sexuality when you are too old to have children?

          3. Is there a lifestyle that a gay person could adopt that would make him or her as acceptable to you as a straigt person?

          4. Can I also ask where you would draw the line for gay people. You are clearly opposed to marriage and sex, but what about dating, holding hands, kissing?

          5. Do you think gay celibate people should be allowed into leadership positions in the church?

          • Hi Pete,
            Thank you for your reply. I think I might be able to understand why you have asked these questions but, with the exception of your fifth question, I don’t really want to answer them here. In answer to your fifth question, as far as know there are already some church leaders who are gay and celibate, and I have no objection to that.
            On a slightly different theme, I am very interested in conversations about translations of the scriptures, and I have recently started attending a course in NT Greek. I have great respect for those who translate (and those who have translated) the scriptures and, as a beginner in NT Greek, I am becoming more aware of the subtleties and complexities, and of some of the ambiguities and apparent ambiguities. I think we need to trust our church leaders and academics with the ongoing informed and sensitive discussions they have about the scriptures, of which by the way, one of the most important passages for me is the Lord’s prayer, and especially ‘Your will be done’ – i.e. not my will.

          • I would be interested to hear the view of Ian Paul or David Shepherd on question 4 that Pete J posed to Christine above:

            “Can I also ask where you would draw the line for gay people. You are clearly opposed to marriage and sex, but what about dating, holding hands, kissing?”

          • I am happy to draw a line on what constitutes a ‘sexual relationship’ when you can draw a line for me on how many bristles one has to have before it can be called a beard.

            This kind of line-drawing might be interesting, but I have never found it particularly helpful.

          • Ian – but this kind of impossible line drawing is exactly the difficulty that gay people face in the church. We have to guess where exactly the line is before we aren’t welcome any more…and whether we will be believed or not.

            If you believe (as I think you’ve said you do) that gay sex is a sin, not gay romance or gay orientation, then it is really important that you are able to define what you mean by gay sex. This is especially true if different levels of acceptance of an individual are going to be set on this basis (as is currently the case in official church teaching).

            This is of course happening on a different level for celibate partnered clergy. Many clergy, and others, in the church either believe this isn’t really good enough, even though church teaching says it is, or believe them to be lying about their relationship.

          • Sorry thats rubbish Ian. Straight people do not face repercussions from their church for holding hands with their partners. Generally their love lives are allowed to be kept private.

        • Thanks for your answer.

          I think there’s a danger with just going along with what we are told, because what if they are wrong? What if they are harmful?

          As I said before there’s a huge amount of disagreement amongst church leaders on this topic. The majority are opposed to marriage for gay people, but then there’s a huge variety of belief and practise within that. Who is right? this leads to the problem of having one church leader telling you you’re welcome at church and another telling you you’re not.

          Justin Welby is all over the place on this issue. He is calling the church to repentance over its treatment of gay people one minute and then moving the church to a more conservative position the next. I realise he wants to please all sides, but I think he is going to have to choose between those who would exclude and the excluded at some point

  9. “No man is an island”

    To speak truth to someone is to love them because when someone is so caught up in a web of deception then their only real hope of salvation is for someone to be truthful otherwise they remain caught up in that deception and cannot get out. So to speak truth to someone is to love them, it is not actually being hurtful at all.

    We should not actually be surprised by what happens everywhere of constantly changing the subject and the details for it has started to happen here as well. If the subject and details change then it is a way for some of avoiding the truth.

    Jesus is, and was, and has never been, against gay people but he does speak the truth to them.

    There are no clergy or ministers of the Church who knowingly are against gay people but they are imperfect human beings and we do make mistakes. All along we are simply trying to speak the truth to people as compassionately as possible. Yet compassion doesn’t change the truth and compassion ultimately cannot hide the truth. For if compassion hides the truth then it is not compassion at all because that person cannot be saved by having the truth withheld.

    Similarly the Church is not against gay people but it is also a human institution and subject to mistakes, but it is not against gay people.

    Clergy and ministers should support and proclaim the gospel and believe in the doctrines of the Church. If clergy and ministers then they are not actually clergy and ministers at all for they only have two options: 1) Argue for change in places like Synod and have it debated within the church or 2) leave the church.

    The worrying stage now is that Jesus’ words are being rejected as well as Scripture by some. They are not separate. Jesus told us Scripture is true and used Scripture. It is true that he warned us by his example of taking one part of Scripture and ignoring the rest and we should be on our guard against that mistake.

    On this thread a number of responses want to say that gay people are the victims yet “No man is an island” and so what is really happening is that the gestures are made on the basis that gay people are somehow separate to everyone else involved. That is the unstated part. It is, of course, not true. For every action discussed there are consequences and others who have to be considered to avoid replacing one victim with another.

    In Christianity even Saints are fallen and imperfect people and that is true, genuine and absolute equality. The words of St Paul have been given here again. Even Saints need the mercy of God just as much as the rest of us.

    Jesus and Christianity seeks to ultimately save people by speaking the truth to them.

    • Clive: as David Shepherd makes clear above “…an instruction to one person cannot be extrapolated to formulate a Church-wide mandate.”

      What you are actually talking about is your particular version of the truth. David Shepherd and I have actually been able to agree on a previous thread that the kind of objective truth you think that your version aligns with doesn’t actually exist this side of heaven.

      • Andrew,

        I specifically distinguished a direct instruction to one individual (such as, St. Peter’s call to martyrdom) from what the NT enjoins upon every Christian. This demonstrates that when Christ called upon the Rich Young Ruler to sell all of his possessions, it was not a church-wide mandate. The same cannot be said for the doctrine of marriage.

        Nevertheless, instead of including my qualifying example, you lifted one sentence out of its context, quoting it as inadvertently concurrent with your own position. That is sheer sophistry.

        Your belief in the rightness of your cause cannot justify separating one sentence in my comment from the rest of it.

        If you can justify that, then you can easily exonerate the accusers who had no problem turning Jesus’ metaphorical reference to his body into a literal intent to destroy the Temple at Jerusalem. The ends will never justify such unworthy means.

        • That’s interesting because the early church did seem to follow that instruction (they had everything in common and when Peter encounters the beggar at the gate he has no money)…

          • Pete J,

            Yet, St. Paul permitted the Corinthians to exercise discretion in providing voluntary financial relief to the Macedonian church.

            The instance of early communalism in Acts Is no proof of a church-wide mandate.

          • If we had more communalism in church communities, gay people (assuming they were allowed to be involved) would be better treated.

            Maybe the rot had already set in by Corinthians?

            I think it is interesting how quickly people figure out reasoned logic why they are keeping the law and why others aren’t.

  10. But the church isn’t telling St Paul he isn’t allowed to play in the worship band because he’s a danger to children.

    I disagree that speaking truth is loving people. I don’t think it is wrong to do so, but I think it rarely displays love. If you think about the “sinners” whose lives Jesus turned around, he just loved them *first*.

    The bible doesn’t say “speak truth it is loving people” it says “speak the truth *in* love”. Jesus came with “grace and truth” which means that the truth doesn’t come with consequences. Telling people they aren’t welcome because they are gay or that they are condemned because they are gay, especially when unsolicited, is definately not what scripture tells us to do.

    I strongly disagree that all clergy are not against gay people (I have met a few!). I would cite Melvin Tinker as he has spoken his views in public. It is worth noting that the church is not just clergy and people like Andrea Williams are campaigning against inclusion of gay people.

    I agree that how much compassion you can give someone is linked to what you believe about them. I also wonder if compassion is a higher Christian value than truth, because it is a form of love. I once asked a non-affirming fb discussion group if they would consider changing their views on gay people in order to better love them. It didn’t go down well!

    I think your claim that people are rejecting the words of Jesus is ridiculous. Im sorry if that is rude of me, but both ‘sides’ are fundamentally about seeking truth, else what is the point? The pro gay side gets accused of rejecting Jesus teaching on divorce and the anti gay side gets accused of rejecting Jesus teaching on the law and love. I was thinking that we could both be wrong, but I’m not sure how it is possible that we are both wrong.

    Oh and I don’t understand how someone is meant to be believe a doctrine while campaigning to change it?

  11. David Shepherd said:

    ‘The available evidence, from both early and recent studies, suggests that although sexual orientation is unlikely to change, some individuals modified their sexual orientation identity (i.e., individual or group membership and affiliation, self-labeling) and other aspects of sexuality (i.e., values and behaviour).’

    What this means is that gay people never actually stop being gay, but they can be brainwashed into denying who they are, and into pretending to be straight, and even into believing that this is the right thing to do.

    That admission tells me all I need to know about David Shepherd.

    Evil masquerading as Christian love always outs itself in the end.

    • Etiienme,

      You do realise that you’ve simply repeated my *quote” from the APA study. As such, it reflects their considered position and not my own.

      The fact that you’ve undermined a quote from an organisation that actually supports same-sex relationships shows just how jaundiced you’ve become.

      You can’t even distinguish the words of your allies from those of opponents in debate. That’s truly pitiful.

      • You used that quote as “proof” that gay people can change their behaviour and therefore should. You believe that we should subject ourselves to a lifetime of isolation and loneliness in order to appease your make-believe god, and that any evidence pointing to this being functionally possible makes it obligatory.

        In other words you’ll stop at no manipulation or stratagem to impose celibacy on us as a moral imperative. Your will must triumph, mustn’t it?

        Pity for you that it doesn’t, and that society has moved beyond the demonisation of the LGBT community and using it as a scapegoat for all its ills. You can’t whip up hatred against us any more and that outrages you. Who will you take all your spite and spleen out on, I wonder?

        • David, you asserted, “Sexual fluidity is a fact,” then as evidence, posted up a quote that said gay people’s sexual identity can change. Since there’s no change in sexual orientation (simply, they’re still homosexual, but don’t identify as “gay”), this isn’t sexual fluidity as normally understood.

          You may be using “sexual fluidity” in an idiosyncratic way, but if so, can hardly blame people for not sharing your meaning!

          • James,

            Firstly, there is nothing idiosyncratic about my use of fluidity when that very meaning is cited in the scientific research. Neither is it really my fault that the term is loosely bandied about by some here only with reference to sexual orientation per se.

            Secondly, as the APA study notes: ‘Although affirmative approaches have historically been conceptualized around helping sexual minorities accept and adopt a gay or lesbian identity (e.g., Browning et al., 1991; Shannon & Woods, 1991), the recent research on sexual orientation identity diversity illustrates that sexual behavior, sexual attraction, and sexual orientation identity are labeled and expressed in many different ways, some of which are fluid (e.g., Diamond, 2006, 2008; Firestein, 2007; Fox, 2004; Patterson, 2008; Savin-Williams, 2005; R. L. Worthington & Reynolds, 2009.

            The paper then explains a different approach to the earlier therapies of helping sexual minorities to accept a gay or lesbian sexual identity:

            ‘We define an affirmative approach as supportive of clients’ identity development without a priori treatment goals for how clients identify or express their sexual orientations.’

            ‘Thus, a multiculturally competent affirmative approach aspires to understand the diverse personal and cultural influences on clients and enables clients to determine (a) the ultimate goals for their identity process; (b) the behavioral expression of their sexual orientation; (c) their public and private social roles; (d) their gender roles, identities, and expression; (e) the sex and gender of their partner; and (f) the forms of their relationships.’

            In contrast with this more diverse APA-recommended approach that could include establishing telic congruence as a legitimate client-determined goal, you appear to favour the former method of just helping sexual minorities to accept or adopt a gay or lesbian identity.

      • Just related to your post to James. I wouldn’t say that I have a gay “identity”. Im frequently told that by conservative Christians who tell me that I’m wrong to have that identity. By using the adjective “gay” about myself I just mean that I am only attracted to members of the same sex. It is a useful label since so much of society (I don’t mean this in a bad way, but you probably don’t notice) is geared towards explicitly straight people, but it doesn’t define me. In some ways I fit a stereotype/identity – I don’t enjoy sport – and in others I do not – Im quite messy.

        I find the place I have the “identity” is in the church as this is the only place where Ive been actively treated differently because of it.

        I think also in your APA quote the word “some” is *really* important. None of the gay people I know have experienced change in their orientation (that is which sex(es)) they are attracted to.

        This really matters if church acceptance requires orientation change. It also matters that straight Christians know that “not being gay” is nothing like giving up alcohol. It is maybe more like being struck by lightening – ie rare and you don’t really have control over it.

        If the church is going to say “you can be accepted once you’ve been struck by lightening” then it cannot claim to be preaching a message that is for all and it certainly can’t claim to worship a compassionate God.

  12. Imagine feeling this from your family or religious community,” the letter states. “‘If you stay, you must accept celibacy with no hope that you too might one day enjoy the fullness of intellectual, spiritual, emotional, psychological and physical companionship. If you pursue a lifelong partnership, you are rejected.’ This is simply not working and people are being hurt. We must listen and respond.”

    This is a quote from a large evangelical church in the states which changed its stance on gay people this year. The ball is in your court, CofE.

  13. I’m not a Christian but I follow this blog from time to time as my marriage is often discussed on it. I’ve picked up that emotions and feelings are clearly ranked much lower than theology on this site (which I find extraordinary) but, be that as it may, I would like to understand a little more of where David Shepherd is coming from and so would like to address a question to him:

    David, I believe I am right in my understanding that you are a black man living in England. Unless you have been extremely fortunate, I imagine that you must have experienced racism. Could I ask you to share with the commentators on this blog some instances of that and how it made you feel? I don’t want to get into a discussion about how race and sexuality may or may not be different categories but the experience of being discriminated against as a result of those characteristics are probably not dissimilar.

    Until the age of 45 I had sailed through life apparently belonging to every privileged group one could name and had never experienced discrimination of any sort. I’m not trying to claim that what I have experienced as a gay man living in the UK in the 21st Century is in any way comparable to what black people have suffered through the ages – it isn’t. But it is thoroughly unpleasant nevertheless – and gay men in some other parts of the world are far less fortunate than I.

    I suppose what I am trying to do is to find some common ground between myself and you, David. If your experiences, if any, of racism have left you feeling anger, injustice, humiliation etc., perhaps you could accept that those experiences are analagous to what is experienced by gay people in the Church of England? If you do, then you may understand more why your views are attacked by some of the more outspoken critics on this site and may be able to exhibit some of the ‘compassion’ of the title of this blog.

    • Laurence,

      I think your question deserves more than a knee-jerk response, so please be patient as I mull over my answer.

      In the mean time, I thought I’d share this pertinent dialogue from ‘A Time to Kill’ with no apologies for the n-word:

      Jake Tyler Brigance: We’re going to lose this case, Carl lee. There are no more points of law to argue here. I want to cope a plea, maybe Buckley will cop us a second degree murder and we can get you just life in prison.

      Carl Lee Hailey: Jake, I can’t do no life in prison. You got to get me off. Now if it was you on trial…

      Jake Tyler Brigance: It’s not me, we’re not the same, Carl Lee. The jury has to identify with the defendant. They see you, they see a yardworker; they see me, they see an attorney. I live in town, you live in the hill.

      Carl Lee Hailey: Well, you are white and I’m black. See Jake, you think just like them, that’s why I picked you; you are one of them , don’t you see?. Oh, you think you ain’t because you eat in Claude’s and you are out there trying to get me off on TV talking about black and white, but the fact is you are just like all the rest of them. When you look at me, you don’t see a man, you see a black man.

      Jake Tyler Brigance: Carl Lee, I’m your friend.

      Carl Lee Hailey: We ain’t no friends, Jake. We are on different sides of the line, I ain’t never seen you in my part of town. I bet you don’t even know where I live. Our daughters, Jake; they ain’t never gonna play together.

      Jake Tyler Brigance: What are you talking about?

      Carl Lee Hailey: America is a war and you are on the other side. How’s a black man ever going to get a fair trial with the enemy on the bench and in the jury box?. My life in white hands? You Jake, that’s how. You are my secret weapon because you are one of the bad guys. You don’t mean to be but you are. It’s how you was raised. Nigger, negro, black, African-american, no matter how you see me, you see me different, you see me like that jury sees me, you are them. Now throw out your points of law, Jake. If you was on that jury, what would it take to convince you to set me free? That’s how you save my ass. That’s how you save us both.

    • Laurence,

      Firstly, thanks for posing your question in a way that exemplified care and sensitivity without a single hint of presumption.

      I’ve decided to give your approach a chance (no doubt, courting greater hostility 😉 and to relate a few key experiences, some of which you might consider to be analogous to what is experienced by gay people. After reading your question, I actually wondered about the comparative lack of overt racism that I’ve experienced. My upbringing, work specialty and lifestyle have allowed me to thrive and remain relatively unaffected by the more obvious expressions of prejudice.

      Sure. In a few disagreements, I’ve been surprised when some white people resort to prefacing their insults with ‘black’, or have imitated rap culture lingo and gestures in mockery. Do a few young idiots driving past and making monkey gestures count as racism, or just sheer ignorance?

      In other cases, it would be useless to cite racism, especially when the difference in treatment might be attributable to a plausible alternative explanation. Perhaps, there are parallels between this and your experience.

      When I asked my wife (who is white) what she thought, she reminded me of the everyday situations that she noticed more than I did. These would include the comparative frequency with which rail staff painstakingly scrutinise my season ticket (but not hers), or how hotel and restaurant staff look past me to ask her for details of a reservation that I had just explained was booked in my name.

      Again, there are plausible alternative explanations for such overly suspicious, or dismissive behaviour. Yet, whatever the real reason, what strikes me most is the lock-step solidarity of so many white acquaintances who feel duty-bound to maintain only the most innocuous interpretation of such events. To them, racism is now the most improbable motive for a difference in treatment by white people.

      For some white acquaintances, my mention of being passed over for promotion can always be explained as just a personality conflict. Even when the evidence is incontrovertible, it’s apparently no different from the hardships experienced by obese, or ginger-haired people. In short, citing racism is either a fabrication, or a storm in a teacup aimed at attracting unfair sympathy.

      So, despite a history showing a propensity for exclusion, the very notion of inferior treatment by white people is generally assumed to be a ploy aimed at evoking and exploiting more sympathy for prejudice against my race than any other form of discrimination. To my mind, this represents the most insidious and pervasive form of prejudice.

      So, the foregoing might be a basis for common ground. I don’t doubt for one moment that the church is run by a bunch of narrow-minded white blokes who exercise considerable influence on both laity and clergy to maintain the status quo. They may permit a few high-profile diversity appointments to placate the wider political reality. Yet, as evidenced by monitoring statistics, they pay little no more than lip service to minorities, adding phrases, like ‘encouraged to apply’.

      Despite fairly explicit guidelines, the so-called discernment process just produces more of their own kind. So, yes, I can see that, for myself and Jeremy, enduring continued racism and homophobia in the church is not unlike cancer-survivors living on a reclaimed toxic waste site.

      Despite the overt senior-level assurances to adopt published safety guidelines, the mere history of contamination generates a sense of intolerable foreboding for those who are just in remission from the disease of prejudice. If the site’s toxicity is implicated in our relapse, the renewed promises to review their procedures regularly will be no comfort.

      Nevertheless, here’s one more experience that is tangentially akin to the Church’s dilemma.

      To paraphrase your own comment, I don’t want to get into a discussion about how they may or may not be different categories but the experience of being discriminated against as a result of those characteristics are probably not dissimilar.

      It’s that many blacks had hoped that Idris Elba would be cast as the next James Bond, a role for which he had been tipped.

      For a moment, leaving aside the moral qualms over such a violent misogynistic character, the traditionalists would assert that 007’s Scottish-Swiss heritage is relevant to the role (e.g. the family seat of Skyfall) and that casting Elba as Bond would be implausible and unauthentic.

      Revisionists would, no doubt, highlight the importance of fresh direction and diversity: that, given the readiness with which the Bond franchise has abandoned other nuances of the Ian Fleming novels, why should 007’s race be so important?

      Legislation, such as the Equality Act 2010, is of little help because, while permitting under-representation to be taken into account when casting, it notes that ‘the need for authenticity and realism might require someone of a particular race, sex or age for acting roles’, which puts certain roles out of reach.

      With or without starring as Bond, I’m sure that Elba will continue to be a very successful actor. That’s not a cop-out. I’m really neither convinced that casting a black man as 007 will be the blow for diversity that some hope it will be, nor that he would be an ‘Uncle Tom’ for not insisting that the script be re-written to give licence to advance a particular front of our identity in the collective consciousness.

  14. In my home diocese, we have recently held discussions about the possibilities of “Good Disagreement”. There’s enough comment here on the issue of substance, and I’m put in mind of Oliver O’Donovan’s despairing cry, “Enough – away with your arsenokoitai”. Two things impacted me very much in our debates:

    1. It simply will not do for us conservatives to claim that experience does not colour our interpretation. It does – I remember a discussion on the remarriage of divorce in our church’s council which voted 15-2 for the traditional view; the 2 were divorced, but no less committed to Scripture than anyone else. Those taking a revisionist position on the substantial issue want to defend their right to be seen as Scripture-honouring. There’s been a real change since the days when the revisionist (on other grounds) Richard Harries could write in the Church Times: “let’s face it, the evangelicals are right in saying that the whole tendency of Scripture is against a revision of the traditional view”. Many were the voices in debate saying, “But we honour Scripture, too”. If one believes one honours Scripture, it’s not going to be mind-changing to have some conservative too quickly saying, “No, you don’t”.

    2. It seemed to me that this debate has now moved clearly into idolatrous territory. Again, I don’t mean the debate about substance, but rather the process of debate. Part of the rage that I and other conservatives feel is that “the authority of experience” is sweeping all before it, and “the authority of a book” is discounted. Again, I do not mean that it is discounted in these comments and responses, but, in a popular context (and we had public as well as restricted debates), “I’ve got a brother who is gay” can lead comment made in a meeting, and it trumps all other comment, just because of human experience. Hooker’s stool (which was never an equal-legged one) has now acquired a clear fourth leg, experience, and in “theology from the pew”, this triumphs over all else. I don’t believe that we conservatives have really begun to tackle that near-metaethical issue. If we don’t, it will obliterate us.

    • What you are describing is Wesleys quadrilateral, which suggests that you are surrounded by first wave evangelicals.

      I think “Ive got a brother who is gay” can massively impact reading of scripture. For example if you had no contact with gay people, you could read Rom 1 and believe that all gay people had made a deliberate decision to turn away from God and towards an idol. If you had a gay brother who was seeking the Lord and you knew he had no idols at home, you would know the former interpretation of Rom 1 to be false.

      We believe in a real God and true scripture, so it is important that our interpretations of scripture match reality.

      You might think my example fanciful, but I was told only today by a conservative (probably not cofe) that scripture clearly said that same sex attraction/being gay was a choice and that I was a liar for saying that I had had no choice.

      • ‘For example if you had no contact with gay people, you could read Rom 1 and believe that all gay people had made a deliberate decision to turn away from God and towards an idol.’

        You couldn’t if you read it properly. There are plenty of other ways of reading Scripture aright.

        • Ian

          I wasn’t asking if you thought the views of people like Melvin Tinker were the correct way of reading scripture. Ofc everyone thinks their own interpretation is correct. I was pointing out that experience of real life gay people can correct people’s assumptions from reading scripture.

          If you had never met a Cretan before you might well assume from the bible that they were all lazy. I don’t think I have met one either, but I doubt that to be the case.

  15. “I am happy to draw a line on what constitutes a ‘sexual relationship’ when you can draw a line for me on how many bristles one has to have before it can be called a beard.

    This kind of line-drawing might be interesting, but I have never found it particularly helpful.”

    Thanks Ian for your reply above. You might not know where the line is exactly, but some things must be clearly on one side or the other for you. Do you believe it to be sinful for two gay men to kiss on the lips? Or is not clear to you which side of the line that would fall on?

      • The point is to find out what your view is, because it seems rather vague at the moment. So I’ve asked a specific question in the hope of obtaining a less vague answer. I’m glad that you have a view on the question. I’d be grateful if you could let me know what it is.

        • John: I’ve asked David Shepherd and Ian similar kinds of questions before. I even ask David Shepherd on this thread. Best of luck getting an answer!

          • As I indicated, best of luck getting an answer. Ian would prefer to delete comments rather than answer questions.

        • I just don’t think I understand this obsession with the infinitesimal. It’s not something I am interested in; it forms no part of responsible pastoral engagement. I just don’t know where it is coming from, or what it’s purpose is.

          If you asked me ‘When did you stop beating your wife’ then I’d probably give a similar answer. It proves nothing.

          • But it isn’t infinitesimal if you find for example you are no longer permitted to teach in the Sunday school because you were seen kissing your boyfriend. If the church, nationally, or locally is going to place restrictions on gay people that it doesn’t on straight people, it needs to be very clear what they actually are.

          • That’s exactly right Pete J and it is, of course, the reason I have asked David Shepherd a very similar question earlier in the thread. The Church, at least in some parts, clearly does treat gay people entirely differently to straight people but loves to pretend a: that it doesn’t and b: that even where it does it is a ‘loving’ thing to do.

          • Pete J,

            The 2005 HoB pastoral statement on Civil Partnerships stated:

            ’20.The Church should not collude with the present assumptions of society that all close relationships necessarily include sexual activity. The House of Bishops considers it would be a matter of social injustice to exclude from ministry those who are faithful to the teaching of the Church, and who decide to register a civil partnership. There can be no grounds for terminating the ministry of those who are loyal to the discipline of the church’

            Although there is no ordination process for authorising Sunday School teachers, the closing paragraph of the HoB pastoral guidance on same-sex marriage makes a vital point:
            ’28. The Church of England has a long tradition of tolerating conscientious dissent and of seeking to avoid drawing lines too firmly, not least when an issue is one where the people of God are seeking to discern the mind of Christ in a fast changing context.’

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

            The continued participation of LGBT laity in Sunday School teaching should probably be viewed as part what the HoB describes as being ‘welcomed into the life of the worshipping community’.

            Yet, it would contradict the ‘long tradition of tolerating conscientious dissent’ to expect Ian to suggest a policy on whether kissing or holding hands should be permissible. Despite your frustration, that is decided by parish-level pastoral discretion, not church-wide policy.

            In the midst of the current discernment process, that would be ‘drawing the lines too firmly’.

          • David – see that’s interesting that there *is* official teaching on this which I see as pretty clear that gay people are not even meant to be asked about their sex lives, let alone assumptions made.

            I can tell you for sure this teaching is either unknown or is being ignored on a widespread scale. It isn’t just the reform churches.

            This is why I think, if the postcode lottery of treatment of gay people is to be continued, that local churches should have a stated policy on how they treat gay people … And they should stick to it!

            If the Church of England stuck to its own teaching on gay people, I doubt there would be the crisis we are currently in because bad treatment is seen as a fruit of bad theology.

          • Pete J,

            I’d probably just clarify that there is a distinction between this pastoral guidance (which permits pastoral discretion) and the official teaching of the church, as embodied in canon law and liturgy.

            The latter represent theological consensus that has not been reached in respect of same-sex relationships.

            The pastoral guidance draws upon this quote from the pastoral letter from the Primates of the Anglican Communion in Pentecost 2003:

            ‘The question of public rites for the blessing of same sex unions is still a cause of potentially divisive controversy. The Archbishop of Canterbury spoke for us all when he said that it is through liturgy that we express what we believe, and that there is no theological consensus about same sex unions. Therefore, we as a body cannot support the authorisation of such rites’.

            The same careful process of synod debate to reach consensus has attended every change to the church’s official teaching, whether contraception, church remarriage after divorce, or women bishops.

            The current guidance only addresses laity and clergy, but not unlicensed lay ministry, such as Sunday School.

            The latter exists at the discretion of the leadership, who, in years gone by, could have just as easily removed a divorcée from such a role on even scant evidence of involvement in a non-marital sexual relationship.

            Perhaps the most appropriate precedent for the situation that you describe was the case of John Reaney, who successfully sued the church for sexual orientation discrimination. The bishop should have accepted his solemn promise to conform in future to the teaching of the church, instead of rejecting him on the basis of his previous homosexual relationships.

            I think that all leaders (not just ordained) should be prepared to declare that they will abide by the church’s current official doctrine, while observing due process for either securing a favourable pastoral accommodation or amending canon law through General Synod.

            Female clergy and divorcees were prepared to abide by church doctrine while campaigning for change, so why should there be a special pleading for LGBT people to be exempted from it in advance of Synod debate?

            BTW, your subjective offence can’t be taken seriously in a reasoned debate. Especially, when you don’t express offence on reading the characterisation of traditional marriage supporters as ‘scribes and Pharisees’. Do you really think that your sexual minority status gives you special credence?

          • David

            I am saying that for non-ordained people (and maybe include lay readers in that, Im not sure) treatment of gay people is decided at a local level. I am not talking about blessing marriages etc. I am saying there is official church teaching on this, but it is not being followed and treatment is a postcode lottery. You seem to agree with me on this.

            I havent argued for special treatment (if I may quote myself

            “If the Church of England stuck to its own teaching on gay people, I doubt there would be the crisis we are currently in because bad treatment is seen as a fruit of bad theology.”

            ), but I think if it were made clear in every local church to both gay and straight people how gay people should be treated at that church then a lot of hurt could be avoided. I am not saying that needs to be the same policy at every church. I am not saying gay people should have a special pleading.

            I dont know which “offense” you are referring to? On this blog I can only find me saying that I was a little bit offended by Ian’s suggestion that I am not a man because I am gay and calling any expression of romantic love by me ‘sinful’. I was intending neither of these as an argument, subjective or otherwise and I appologise if I gave that impression. I have been offended by nothing you have said.

            I dont think my sexual minority status gives me special credence. I would LOVE for the church to treat me as a normal human being – or even as well as a remarried divorcee. In terms of this discussion, my sexuality only means I have knowledge/experience of what being gay actually means and of how the church actually treats us at a local level.

          • Pete J,

            You claimed that you were ‘deeply offended’, not just ‘a little bit offended’ by Ian’s comments.

            Ian really hasn’t suggested that you’re not a man because you are gay. That’s a blatantly slanderous accusation.

            In terms of offence, I just wanted you to distance yourself form the reprehensible ‘scribes and Pharisees’ characterisation of traditional marriage supporters. Instead, you’ve only focused on what you’ve perceived as offensive to your orientation.

            I agree that the current guidance stating that LGBT laity should be ‘welcomed into the life of the worshipping community’ may still not prevent parishes from demoting or excluding even celibate LGBT laity from non-ordained ministry.

            While this is wrong, until the CofE re-establishes theological consensus on the moral implications of same-sex sexual activity, local parishes may be suspicious of whether LGBT individuals are truly prepared to abide by current church doctrine on sexuality pending the due synodical process for amending it.

            Such suspicion might be mainly due to homophobia, but is also partly due to the current mood of LGBT defiance of current church teaching on sexuality.

            In terms of, say, Sunday School ministry, would you be prepared to abide by current church doctrine on sexuality until due synodical process might amend it?

          • Hi David

            I’m sorry that I wasn’t clear.

            I was slightly offended by this statement in Ians original article-

            “…far from rejecting the gender binary of Genesis 2, this in effect multiplies it, so that we need to assume there are four ‘genders’ (or more)…”

            I was deeply offended by his statement that gay kissing is sinful.

            I havent called anyone a Pharisee. I dont believe that being opposed to gay people marrying makes you necessarily homophobic or a legalist. I think that most people who are legalists or homophobic are probably opposed to gay people getting married. I’m not that interested in the issue of gay marriage, because gay people can already legally marry. Realistically that is not going to change.

            I should also clarify that the Sunday School example was an abstract example and not about me. I know real life examples of people who’ve been stopped from being on the flower rota, playing in the worship band and offering prayer ministry because they were gay. In none of those cases were the people sexually active.

            You ask for me to abide by church doctrine. Actually church doctrine (I think) says standards for clergy should not be demanded of laity(!). I am no longer a part of the church of England. I am not a Sunday school teacher or in any form of named ministry. I dont want to put my personal difficulties down on a public forum, but my ecclesiastical challenges have all been about my orientation alone and not my behaviour. I would consider abiding by any rules, but I need to know what they are in advance and how I can expect to be treated in return.

            You talk about due synodical process, but the church agreed to listen to LGBT people in 1991 when I was 9 years old(!) and they’ve begun to discuss it only because it is too late.

          • Pete J,

            The experience that you relate of lesbian and gay people being relieved of flower rota, worship band and prayer ministry duties rings true.

            You’re right that the CofE committed itself to a listening process a long time ago, but have really not addressed this by setting clear enforceable expectations for the treatment of even celibate LGBT people. There has been far too much focus on how clergy should engage with same-sex marriage.

            Instead, the CofE should implement policies that prevent the local religious quarantine of racial and sexual minorities as contagious lepers. Flower rotas, the worship band and prayer are all part of the life of the worshipping community.

            In contrast to this homophobia, Rev. Kit Chalcraft, a twice divorced clergyman, was reinstated by his bishop after protests by his parishioners.

            The way forward is for the CofE to establish consistent expectations for all involved in non-ordained ministry, a code of practice, appeals process and an ombudsman in relation to LGBT mistreatment. If the CofE is serious about tackling homophobia, the ombudsman would have power to initiate disciplinary action where clergy have connived at the homophobic mistreatment of celibate LGBT people.

            But that’s a big ‘IF’. I’m not on General Synod to campaign for this, whereas Ian Paul is.

  16. All,

    I thought it might be helpful to group the main revisionist arguments that have been presented here “that the biblical texts are fairly clear both in their meaning and their implications.”

    Although, I would like to see each addressed, I think it’s an important for Christians on both sides of the debate to demonstrate genuine listening:

    Provisionality of all NT scripture in the light of modern and compassionate understanding of same-sex attraction

    The NT merely establishes an emerging principle for us to follow: that any previous divine injunction, whether OT or NT, is provisional to the Golden Rule, especially in ensuring that we don’t apply an injunction that is more onerous upon others than it would be upon ourselves.

    The Hobson’s choice of celibacy or straight marriage is viewed by revisionists as inflicting misery, rejection and despair on those whom they understand to be incapable of heterosexual attraction.
    Jesus’ ‘But I say unto you’ sayings are a precedent for the church to contradict previous settled doctrine, especially when it becomes onerous and draconian towards specific categories of people.

    Christ’s non-condemnatory approach towards the woman caught in adultery set the precedent for the church to exercise leniency in dealing with those same-sex sexual relationships.

    The charge of traditionalist hypocrisy for only approving divergence from NT scripture where it exonerates them

    Traditionalists are happy to relax the stringent application of more onerous NT passages of scripture to their own lives, such as ‘Go, sell all your possessions and give to the poor. Come follow me and you shall have treasure in heaven’

    The church has already repealed blanket bans on contraception, divorce after re-marriage, so why not same-sex marriage?

    The argument of unfair imposition

    That, given that the majority of LGBT individuals are unlikely to change, the church unfairly imposes the stark and inequitable choice of ‘imposed’ celibacy or heterosexual marriage on just one category of sexual orientation, whereas single heterosexuals have the freedom to to choose a partner who is congruous with their orientation.

    While there is a counter-argument that single heterosexuals are also expected to maintain celibacy before marriage, at least one of those options will be congruous with their sexual orientation, i.e. straight single people can seek marriage with the immediate prospect of not just finding friendship, but also a mutual attraction that is congruent with orientation.

    The argument from a modern understanding of nature

    That the scientific evidence proves that genetic and epigenetic factors are involved in same-sex attraction; so thst it is not self-chosen. Therefore any resultant identity, expressed through values or behaviour, is also not chosen and should be permitted as morally neutral

    Scientific advancements in biology have enabled Western society to abandon the ancient criminalisation of sodomy as unnatural. Ergo, if such behaviour is now deemed to be natural for heterosexuals, it is only homophobia that sustains the notion that the same behaviour between homosexuals engaging is unnatural.

    If traditionalists reject homosexual copulation, is homosexual dating, or kissing also unacceptable?

    • “If traditionalists reject homosexual copulation, is homosexual dating, or kissing also unacceptable?”

      David, my question about gay men kissing on the lips was not part of an argument. I was simply asking if conservatives consider this to be sinful. Ian has said that he has a view on this, but it’s a secret. Do you have a view, or is it a secret too?

      • John,

        Thanks for the clarification. Nevertheless, I will only answer your question once you’ve distanced yourself from Andrew Godsall’s scurrilous characterisation of ‘traditionalists’ to be scribes and Pharisees.

        If complete agreement or mere liberal solidarity makes that impossible for you, this comment ends all further discussion of the matter between us here.

        • Sadly David, you don’t seem to quite understand the word ‘irony’.

          Of course it’s a scurrilous characterisation – just as your lengthy, wordy summary above is a scurrilous characterisation. And then you come back with a comment that is worthy of a 10 year old in the playground – ‘I am only answering John if John says he won’t be in Jack’s team any longer.’ For goodness sake!

          • Andrew,

            How strange that your so-called liberal view should treat a distancing from a single offensive remark of yours as defection: ‘not being in Jack’s team any longer’.

            You’re all over the place with this again. Just can’t maintain a consistent argument, can you?

          • David: maybe you could just answer the question that three people have put to you in different ways? That would be one way forward…

      • My view isn’t a secret, and it seems rather paranoid to label it so. It is self-evident common sense.

        In our culture, is kissing on the lips part of a sexual rather than platonic relationship? Clearly yes. Do I regard it as sinful if a married man kisses a woman who is not his wife on the lips? On balance, probably yes.

        Do I think we should do our pastoral theology by rules and regulations on the minutiae of particular actions? No.

        I am not sure there is anything further to be profitably discussed here…

        • Ahh..that’s the way. Answer a different question than the one actually put to you. It will be bound to give clarity…….

        • I asked if you believed it was sinful for two gay men to kiss on the lips, and you still haven’t answered that question.

          I was hoping to ask some follow-up questions but that hope is being frustrated. Let me try anyway:

          If your undisclosed (but not secret) answer is yes, then is it also sinful for an unmarried heterosexual couple to kiss on the lips?

          If your undisclosed (but not secret) answer is no, then is it also ok for an unmarried heterosexual couple to kiss on the lips?

          • I think that is Ian Paul for “yes two men kissing romantically is a sin”. I think theological colleges must teach people the art of never saying quite what you mean as quite a lot of clergy seem incapable of clarity.

            I think his views highlight that the current official teaching of the cofe is pretty impossible to believe all of and have a consistent theology of on this.

            If you believe that gay sex is a sin, then (really no offense to anyone here, but I don’t know how else to put this) you are likely to be the sort of person that sees any sort of romance as on the road to sex/marriage … So, if you have this view of romance, then it is kind of impossible to approve of CCPs, but disapprove of marriage. It also makes it difficult to accept gay people, who have not declared themselves celibate, as “in good standing” with the local church.

            I have to say I personally find Ian’s remarks deeply offensive and I can see why he was reluctant to make them public!

          • To John: I don’t think it is sinful for a man and a woman to be in a relationship that involves sexual intimacy. In our culture, kissing on the lips is a sign of that. Therefore I have no problem with it.

            I do not believe that it is part of God’s plan for holy living for two men to be in a relationship that involves sexual intimacy. In our culture, kissing on the lips is a sign of that. Therefore I do have a problem with it.

            I am unclear why this is either controversial or obscure—but I find this conversation quite bizarre, since you appear to want to do sexual ethics by having the equivalent of a car maintenance manual. It really is very strange indeed.

          • To Pete: I think I have now become completely fed up with the emotionalism, manipulation and projection represented by your comments.

            If you are ‘offended’ by my views, then you have bought into the culture of offence in our culture which takes ‘offence’ whenever anyone has a different view. I’m afraid that ridiculous intolerance is not welcome here.

            The idea that I am embarrassed to have my ‘offensive’ views known is absolutely laughable, and I’d thank you to stop projecting your feelings on me.

            Please don’t comment here again until you can do it in a sensible, reflective and respectful way.


        • Ian – I take issue with your remarks.

          You were asked several times (not by me) about your view on gay people kissing and failed to state a clear answer several times. If that is not reluctance then I don’t know what is. I think it is important to be clear about our beliefs.

          I do not think being opposed to gay marriage makes someone necessarily a “Pharisee” or homophobic. However, I am personally offended by your view that for me expressing romantic love in any form would be sinful. I have been deeply offended by some of your comments before (linking acceptance of gay marriage to heterosexual divorce and linking church growth to the orientation of church leaders). This is why I stopped commenting, but I had your blog advertised at me on this subject and it sounded like you might be beginning to understand that this stuff is not just theory, but when translated into the local church hurts real people. So of course my comments are emotional. We have an emotional God so I make no appologies for that.

          I am also offended by you characterising my comments as manipulating. I would love for you to take seriously the need for culture change in the church. Is that manipulation? I would love for you (and others in the church) to actually answer a question you are asked.

          • I’ve got no doubt as to your ‘offence’; but you need to move on to engage in the issues. The idea that I won’t change my mind only because I don’t ‘take something seriously’ is again an absurd argument. I don’t want the change you desire because I think you are mistaken, and I believe I have really good reasons for that.

            Take your foot off the emotional gas if you want any decent engagement.

          • What I mean by “taking it seriously” is time and again I and others have pointed out bad treatment of LGBT in churches and you either claim it doesn’t happen or there is no proof. In your blog this time you seem to acknowledge that bad treatment *does* happen (at least in the US).

            To my mind treatment of LGBT people is much more important than whether gay people are allowed to marry in church or not, yet there never seems to be any discussion on this. The ABC keeps telling conservatives in the church that they need to “repent of their homophobia” but I haven’t yet seen any action taken on this.

            As Ive stated elsewhere I think a really useful thing would be for each local church to have a stated policy on LGBT inclusion and expect everyone to stick to it. Gay people would know how welcome they were before becoming involved and the wider church would know what was acceptable behaviour.

    • David

      Thanks, I think this is a good summary, but I have a minor issue on two of the points you raised.

      1. I hope no one here is suggesting that gay (by which I mean those *only* attracted to the same sex) people should go into heterosexual marriages, i.e. The hobsons choice is celibacy or celibacy.

      2. I think the scientific advancements have told us that being gay is not a choice and so it is impossible to class merely being gay as deliberate sin. I think this also may lead us to revise who we think the target is of certain passages of scripture (!)

      However I don’t think it really tells us anything about how gay people live their (our) lives.

      • Dear Pete J

        You wrote:
        “2. I think the scientific advancements have told us that being gay is not a choice…” but actually scientific studies continue to show that being gay is a choice for some people and real science doesn’t support your assertions at all.

        … but then when did actual science bother you?

        • Sorry Clive I disagree. There is overwhelming evidence (twin studies, DNA identification, sibling studies) that genetics is at least a component in sexual orientation. Very few people actual claim to have made a choice in this and, when you question such people, you usually discover they are talking about behaviour and not attraction.

          The comment you are responding to was actually me trying to refine David’s summary of the “revisionist” argument. I don’t think we should change our attitude to gay behaviour because of better scientific understanding of sexuality. I think it tells us more what “gay” is and not at all how “gay” should behave.

          • Pete J,

            Only twenty per cent of identical twins are both homosexual. The twin studies that you cited were criticised for self-selection bias.

            Even if genetics is a component of sexual orientation, it does not follows that orientation is genetically determined.

            As I explained before, there is a wide range of unconsciously adopted behaviour that is still amenable to change, Such behaviour does not result from explicit choice. Both environment and interaction are key factors that Inform behaviour. These should be addressed, instead of blaming genetics at every turn.

            A key part of sexual orientation identity is coming out. Your personal narrative indicates that, despite having a same-sex orientation since puberty, you did not adopt the same-sex behavioural identity until your early thirties. That itself is indicative of identity change.

            Even if, for you, coming out was not a fully conscious decision. Nevertheless, for many LGBT individuals to whom I’ve spoken, it was a decision accompanied by affiliating themselves with other gays in the community,

            The APA report explains that it is safe for a person to explore the many cultural and social influences on their lives and how they impinge on sexual identity.

            It is also safe to agree therapeutic goals for achieving congruence of sexual orientation identity with religious values.

            This means that the Church need not accept that it is harmful for a person to pursue such goals that accord with current doctrine. Therefore, the Church should be under no obligation (based on an immutable homosexual behavioural norm) to change its doctrine to accommodate same-sex sexual behaviour.

            What I don’t buy is the notion that all homosexual behaviour is completely hard-coded and is dangerous to challenge through sensitive personal pastoral engagement.

            There may be exceptions, but they shouldn’t be the basis for dictating church-wide teaching, liturgy and pastoral policy.

          • *All* twin and sibling studies show that if you have a twin or sibling who is gay you are much more likely to be gay than a person drawn at random from the general population.

            Geneticists have also identified an area of DNA that might govern sexuality and another set of geneticists have correctly identified peoples sexuality from their genes alone at a rate of 70%.

            I am not saying there is overwhelming evidence that genetics is the only factor. Im saying there is overwhelming evidence that genetics is a major factor.

            To clarify – without talking too much about my sex life on a public forum (!!) – by coming out I merely meant that I told people that Id only ever been attracted to the same sex. Id obviously been aware that I was gay the whole time. It is *not* about behaviour.

            I know only a few other gay people in my town and they are little more than acquaintances. I was not motivated by solidarity with them.

          • Pete J,

            I’ll now challenge you to cite even one study that supports your conclusion.

            In contrast, here’s the verdict of Dr. Whitehead of the eight major twin studies in Australia, the U.S. and Scandinavia:
            ‘The first very large, reliable study of identical twins was conducted in Australia in 1991, followed by a large U.S. study about 1997. Then Australia and the U.S. conducted more twin studies in 2000, followed by several studies in Scandinavia, according to Dr. Whitehead.

            “Twin registers are the foundation of modern twin studies. They are now very large, and exist in many countries. A gigantic European twin register with a projected 600,000 members is being organized, but one of the largest in use is in Australia, with more than 25,000 twins on the books.”

            A significant twin study among adolescents shows an even weaker genetic correlation. In 2002 Bearman and Brueckner studied tens of thousands of adolescent students in the U.S. The same-sex attraction concordance between identical twins was only 7.7% for males and 5.3% for females—lower than the 11% and 14% in the Australian study by Bailey et al conducted in 2000.

            In the identical twin studies, Dr. Whitehead has been struck by how fluid and changeable sexual identity can be.

            “Neutral academic surveys show there is substantial change. About half of the homosexual/bisexual population (in a non-therapeutic environment) moves towards heterosexuality over a lifetime. About 3% of the present heterosexual population once firmly believed themselves to be homosexual or bisexual.”

            “Sexual orientation is not set in concrete,” he notes.’


            Genetics is not a major factor. or determinant of sexual behaviour. You only want it to be so as the basis for asserting that homosexuality is hard-coded.

            So, which twin studies are you referencing?

            Also, your personal experience cannot dictate church policy when independent scientific studies show a completely different pattern of sexual identity development for lesbian and gay individuals.

          • I’m sorry David, but Dr Neil Whitehead is hardly a neutral observer. He has links to a number of organisations such as Exodus. Put simply, I wouldn’t trust his interpretation of the studies. For example, the Bailey et al (2000) study found that for identical twins, if one twin had a homosexual orientation, then there was a 0.51 (male) or 0.49 (female) chance that the other did too. This is consistent with (but not proof of, because the study was not powerful enough to distinguish between environmental and genetic factors) a large genetic component in sexual orientation. This is backed up by these figures being a little over double the findings for non-identical twins.

            The Bearman and Brueckner (2002) paper looked at adolescent (13-18 year olds) romantic same-sex attraction – this produces different results from asking about either orientation or behaviour. It is not therefore comparable to Bailey et al.

            Langstrom et al (2010), based on every adult (20-47) twin in Sweden, found male genetic component of same-sex behaviour to be 0.34-0.39 of the variance. For females, 0.18-0.19.

            This latter study shows clearly a genetic component to same-sex behaviour.

          • Folks, unlike some other exchanges on this thread, this is a helpful one. One suggestion, and one qualification.

            (Radical) suggestion: I wonder if it might be possible to collate research/insights from David and Jonathan (now there’s a pairing) to produce a post here listing what the science has actually said. I think there is much fog here, and it could do with clearing.

            Observation: I still worry that there is a bit of a false dichotomy here. David is saying ‘Genetics is not everything’. Jonathan is saying ‘Genetics is not nothing.’ My understanding, as far as I have read the research, is that both are correct.

            We would also need to include recent research on epigenetics, which adds another dimension.

          • Johnathan,

            Even if you discount Dr. Whitehead through guilt by association. Ian’s right about the false dichotomy. Your final assertion that ‘there is a genetic component to same-sex sexual behaviour is does not fully reject my own position that ‘genetics is not a *major* factor or determinant of sexual behaviour’.

            To quote from Langstrom: ‘d. “Although wide confidence intervals suggest cautious interpretation, the results are consistent with moderate, primarily genetic, familial effects, and moderate to large effects of the nonshared environment (social and biological) on same-sex sexual behavior.’

            This is consistent with my position. Moderate is not major. Nevertheless, I’d be happy to help collate the relevant research in conjunction with your own sources.

            I’d also be grateful if you would engage with both the research on the fluidity of sexual orientation identity and the APA’s therapeutic recommendations which go beyond simply encouraging sexual minorities to accept a lesbian or gay identity.

          • I was careful not to state any dichotomy (disclosure – my first degree was in cognitive psychology, and one area I studied was the debate about the inheritability of intelligence, which has some similar issues). Whether one calls 0.34-0.39 of the variability ‘major’ or ‘moderate’ is a personal matter, which is why I prefer to stick to the actual numbers where possible.

            My personal view is that the heritability of sexuality is independent from its morality.

            As for fluidity in sexual orientation, the most recent paper I know of is Mock & Eibach (2011) ‘Stability and Change in Sexual Orientation Identity Over a 10-Year Period in Adulthood’. This indicated that the most stable sexual identity is heterosexuality. Male homosexuality was also relatively stable. Women’s bisexual and homosexual identities were more fluid, and the least stable identity was male bisexuality. Specific percentages here are probably less useful, as the numbers involved were small in some sub-groups. For example, the number of males identifying as homosexual identity was 21 at the beginning of the study, with 19 still identifying as homosexual ten years later (1 identified now as bisexual, one as heterosexual). By contrast, out of 17 males who identified as bisexual, 9 still identified as bisexual ten years later (with 4 now identifying as heterosexual and 4 as homosexual).

            It is also important to note that this study was on how people identify themselves, and not on either romantic attraction or on sexual behaviour, which may produce different results (see Savin-Williams & Ream, 2006, which makes this point forcefully).

            Ian, I’m intrigued and flattered by the idea of a proper post on the various research, but at the moment I don’t think I’ve got the time to do it justice. If I do, I’ll get back to you.

          • Jonathan,

            Thanks for the reference.

            In the interest of completeness, that study also reported that the number of females identifying as homosexual identity was 11 at the beginning of the study, with 4 still identifying as homosexual ten years later (4 identified now as bisexual, 3 as heterosexual). By contrast, out of 17 females who identified as bisexual, 6 still identified as bisexual ten years later (with 7 now identifying as heterosexual and 4 as homosexual).

            Given that Mock & Eibach performed regression analysis on the sample, I see no problem with stating percentages: ‘At Wave 1, 2,494 (97.42%) reported a heterosexual identity, 32 (1.25%) a homosexual identity, and 34 (1.33%) a bisexual identity and somewhat more than 2% reported a different sexual orientation identity at Wave 2.’

          • David

            The fact is that the *worst* of these studies that you can quote still shows that if your twin is gay you are at least twice as likely to be gay than the general population. So I will cite 2002 Bearman and Brueckner (even though it was 15 years ago when it was much less socially acceptable to self-identify as gay).

            I put that Whitehead guys name into google and hes apparently attached to an extremist anti gay group in the States … a bit like going to Piers Corbyn for climate change advice!

            I will also cite this


            which reports on scientists narrowing in on gay genes (I trust the new scientist more than right wing extremists for scientific news)


            – although warning this hasnt been peer reviewed yet (Does Dr Whitehead get peer reviewed?) – says they have been able to predict sexuality using genetics (actually I think epigenetics) alone with 70% accuracy.

            All this is largely irrelevant. It doesnt matter why I am gay. It does matter a lot – at least to me personally – how the church treats me. Scrabbling around in the dust for evidence that Ive somehow *chosen* this is stupid.

          • Pete, any view will look stupid if you don’t listen to it.

            Demonstrating that ‘orientation’ is formed by the environment, and not solely by genetics, does not imply that it is ‘chosen’—and David has nowhere suggested that.

            It does mean that ‘orientation’ is a product of our culture and context, rather than our culture being a response to genetic ‘facts’. That is very widely attested.

          • Ian

            Unsurprisingly I completely disagree with your post.

            I do not know what caused me to be gay. I can be fairly certain from a wide range of different scientific studies that biology makes a significant (or maybe total) contribution. I’m sorry, but I think it is either stupid or malicious to say the scientific research says otherwise.

            I’ll repeat. Even the worst study shows that you are at least twice as likely to be gay if your twin is than a random member of the public.

            If we are coming at this from an assumption that orientation isnt chosen, then how does nature vs nurture inform a Christian response to gay people? Why is it helpful to discuss it?

          • Pete J,

            What you’re missing is the impact of shared environmental factors on twin. Bailey’s Australian twin study estimated this from the data to be 41%, whereas the Swedish study led by Langstom at 17%.

            Even genetic and shared environmental factors are moderate compared to the impact of non-shared environment on sexual orientation.

            Your response confounds sexual orientation with sexual orientation identity. The latter has been shown by independent research to exhibit fluidity. The American Psychological Association endorses this fact.

            Your final question asks ‘if orientation isn’t chosen, how does nature vs. nurture inform a Christian response to gay people?’

            Firstly, since environmental factors have a greater impact than genetics, it means that the assertion of genetic determinism is false.

            Secondly, it would mean that a better analogy to sexual orientation is a person’s native culture. There is evidence that some people may be more predisposed towards religion than others. Nevertheless, we should assume that a person born in Utah must be a Mormon. If they are, they probably haven’t chosen to become a Mormon, nor consciously decided to elevate Joseph Smith to the status of a true prophet of God.

            Does an inclusive church policy against xenophobia mean that, as a welcome to people from all walks of life, Christianity should be syncretised with elements of the Mormon faith? No.

            Is everything said by Mormons about God untrue? No.

            Should every current church member, who mentions either growing up in or having visited Utah, be relieved of all ministry duties pending an investigation of whether they are practicing Mormons who need to repent of their Joseph Smith heresy? No.

            Should the CofE affirm Mormonism as an extension of Christianity on the basis that some of its beliefs are consonant with Christian virtues? No.

            Should church leaders ever explain how Mormon beliefs differ from the apostolic tradition of Christianity as part of a teaching series comparing various religions with our faith? Yes.

          • Pete J,

            One correction of my text above: ‘Nevertheless, we should *not* assume that a person born in Utah must be a Mormon’

          • David

            If you orientation was controlled only (majority?) by environmental factors then surely the correlation between twin orientation would be FAR higher? Most twins are raised together and probably are together for most of their childhoods.This smacks to me of people trying to explain away evidence they dont like.

            I am not sure what you mean by environmental factors? Do you mean being surrounded by stimulae promoting homosexuality – perhaps analogous to your child of a Mormon who grows up to be a Mormon – or do you mean more cryptic environmental factors (maybe something like being around men/women too much).

            I think the first one simply does not happen for the vast majority of gay people. We live in a world bombarded with heterosexual propaganda. Pretty much every TV drama, comedy, and film features a heterosexual romance as a major plot point. The vast majority of pop songs are about heterosexual romances…can you even name a gay love song? A huge number of adverts use either straight sex, or straight family life to promote their wares. And of course the vast majority of gay people have straight parents who want them to also be straight.

            The second one is a bit of a “go-to” argument when psychologists dont have a clue. It is used to try to explain a number of other conditions…so I personally dont give it much credence.

            I dont really acknowledge this idea of a sexual orientation identity. I dont see my orientation as my identity any more than I see having brown hair as my identitiy. I dont think most gay people would distinguish between their sexual orientation and their sexual orientation identity. *However*, I would agree that there is a problem with any study that relies on people to self-identify (or even someone else to identify them) as gay. I think it is more of an issue for behavioural studies (someone who is out enough to answer a survey is not going to behave in the same way as someone who is closeted) than this sort of stuff, but the problem exists. There are other ways (e.g. Kinsey test, eye response rate and brain shape) but none of these are 100% reliable either.

            So in response to my question about how this informs a Christian response you are saying

            If being gay was proved to be environmental then Christians should teach that, say, gay relationships are wrong.

            Are you then saying if being gay was proved to be purely genetic then Christians should teach that gay relationships are OK?

            I just dont get why discovering either of these extremes to be true would have an impact on Christian teaching or practise…except maybe if it were only environmental factors the church might decide to punish the parents instead of the gay people (!)

          • Pete J,

            All that I’ve done is to refer to the same twin studies that you claim support your position.

            So, now, when the independent research cites the greater influence of environmental factors, you assert that ‘it smacks of people trying to explain away evidence they don’t like’.

            If you are going to refer to twin studies, you really need to read the scientific papers for acquaint yourself with the terminology, such as environmental factors, instead of surmising about what you think the researchers introduced with dubious motives.

            ‘I really don’t acknowledge this idea of sexual orientation identity’. Of course, you don’t. Clearly, as a gay man, your experience is meant to override the scientific research and the collective experiences of the lesbian and gay study participants, but only when it doesn’t support your conclusion.

            So, let’s leave it there. It’s useless debating your selective self-serving acceptance of independent peer-reviewed scientific research. Hurray for twin studies…but only when the discover what Pete J wants to hear.


      • Pete J,

        Your sexual attraction may indeed be oriented towards the same-sex. Nevertheless, the scientific evidence is that it is through socialisation and interaction that a person adopts the values, behavioural norms and even stereotypes. This is known as sexual orientation identity.

        These values and sexual norms of the wider group to which a person decides they belong plays a greater role in determining actual behaviour than sexual orientation itself.

        It’s the values and sexual norms that exhibit fluidity, even if a person declares to have always been same-sex attracted.

        The reason for the fluidity is that identity in the broadest sense is a compromise between the norms of our numerous group affiliations. That’s why the APA now recommends an approach that goes beyond just helping sexual minorities to accept or adopt a gay or lesbian identity.

        The scientific evidence also contrasts sharply with the notion that a person’s orientation should predicate their sexual behaviour and choice of life partner.

        • Ive felt this way since puberty and didn’t come out until my early thirties. Throughout my life most of my friends have been socially conservative Christians…so I just don’t buy your theory about socialisation etc, because they aren’t at all consistent with my own life.

          Ive only ever been attracted to the same sex. That’s what I understand by the term “gay”. It doesn’t mean Im closed off to being attracted to the opposite sex (would that I could!) and it isn’t my identity.

    • Yes – that’s such a generous and subtly nuanced summary of a different view to yours David. You’ve obviously listened *really really* carefully.

      The traditionalist rationale can obviously be summed up much more simply: it is to follow the example of the scribes and pharisees as they are portrayed in certian passages in the Gospels.

      • Andrew,

        Oh well. So much for equal generosity, eh? Could resist that spiteful caricature of all who oppose revisionism proves that you obviously haven’t listened, could you?

        There is a self-righteous irony in your own mean-spirited, oversimplified and thoughtless characterisation of all opposing revision to be mean-spirited, oversimplified and thoughtless!

        The ‘scribes and Pharisees’ caricature signals an obvious end to any further debate here with you. And that’s fine. You should really think about posting to the like-minded caricaturists on Thinking Anglicans.

        • Sadly, David, your caricature of everything that had been said here by those you label ‘revisionists’ had already signalled an end to meaningful debate, so I didn’t need to do it.

          I would still value an answer to my very straightforward question some time back on this thread when you have time.

          Maybe you should think of posting at ‘Vitriol online’ – your caricature would fit well there also.

          • Andrew,

            I actually happy for you to correct where my summary mischaracterises the ‘revisionist’ position.

            It included a reference to you previous question about the naturalness of oral and anal sex between heterosexuals.

            So, you can either engage with where my summary diverges from what different revisionists actually posted, or just accept that others here, like Jonathan Tallon, James Byron, David Beadle and Pete J are far better equipped than you to engage further in rational debate.

          • Perhaps this interaction should be put on pause. I think most reading this thread, from any point of view, would find this characterisation of David’s position quite astonishing. There appears to be a major failing of communication somewhere along the line.

          • David: your caricature summary did include a reference, yes. It still failed to answer the very clear question put to you. Clearly you have your own reasons for doing so.

            Your summary diverges in so many ways, sadly, but you only actually need to read the exchanges further up the page to understand where.

            The fact that you then resort to ad hominem says a good deal. I’m sorry you do that.

          • Andrew Godsall, I am not prepared for this site to be one where you continue to post your sarcastic, disrespectful and destructive comments.

            You are welcome to comment if you can express things in a reflective, self-aware and respectful way. Otherwise, please keep them to yourself or find somewhere else to post.

        • Just for the record – I do not believe that the ‘traditionalist’ position is like that of the scribes and pharisees. My clear position is that David Shepherd’s scurrilous characterisation of the liberal postion, which I unashamedly hold, is akin to the attitude of scribes and pharisees. That is a very different thing.

          • Andrew,

            Pete J said of my summary: ‘I think this is a good summary, but I have a minor issue on two of the points that you raised’

            John’s response was to clarify that the last question that I mentioned was not part of an argument.

            My summary was not, as you say, of the liberal position. It was, as I remarked, ‘to group the main revisionist arguments presented here’. It was never intended or held forth as summarising the liberal position and, given that explicit restriction of the summary to comments made here, it cannot be a scurrilous characterisation of the liberal position to which I did not refer.

            Therefore, your ‘scribes and Pharisees’ characterisation is faulty and it makes your own charge baseless and scurrilous.

          • David: Then I’d be delighted to hear your distinction between ‘liberal’ and ‘revisionist’ and look forward to it.

          • Well the thing is that there is no “revisionist” argument or “conservative” argument. Actually there are thousands of distinct views. The line is drawn between the two at whether gay sex is ever “OK” in the eyes of God, but there are plenty on both sides who think that position is either too liberal or too conservative.

            Therefore Im not sure it is possible to list the main arguments for each side as they will vary massively from person to person.

          • Pete J,

            As I stated, all I sought to do through my summary was to ‘to group the main revisionist arguments presented here’.

            At some point, General Synod will have to summarise (or authorise a study group, like Pilling, to develop a summary of) the main arguments for and against the Church-wide affirmation of same-sex sexual relationships.

            These will no doubt be informed by the outcome of the Shared Conversations.

            Synod should not be faulted for its inability to catalogue every conceivable shade of religious and scientific position on the matter.

          • David

            Sorry I wasnt faulting synod or yourself and I know what you were trying to achieve.

            I was just trying to point out that there isnt *a* liberal position and *a* conservative position.

  17. It is a shame that one side of this discussion has descended into rather scathing sarcasm. Whilst this is in some ways enlightening, I don’t think it takes the discussion forward, so I think it is time to call it a day on this exchange.


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