Evangelical and affirming: pastoral accommodation?

Andrew Goddard writes: As set out in my shorter summary, I believe the three articles entitled “Same Sex Marriage & Scripture: Affirming Evangelical Response” which were commissioned by Jayne Ozanne for her Via Media blog are significant and helpful responses to the Oct 2018 letter from the Bishop of Blackburn and ten other evangelical Church of England bishops.  In the previous post I responded to David Gillett’s proposal for re-reading Genesis 2. I now turn to the second article of the three.

David Atkinson: Covenanted Friendship, Sex, Pastoral Accommodation, Blessing, Conscience

The inter-connection of the doctrine of marriage and the doctrine of created humanity is something of which Bishop David Atkinson, the second author, is acutely aware. As a result, his article and its theological method and conclusions are often significantly different. Recognising and exploring these differences opens up some interesting fresh lines of enquiry.  These are important for both those who initially seem broadly to share his conclusions (like the other two Davids) and those who initially seem broadly to reject them (like the 11 bishops).

Covenantal friendship in a fallen world?

The most obvious sign of a different approach here is perhaps the refusal to argue, in the way David Gillett does, for same-sex marriage.  David Atkinson warns the bishops against identifying “the wording of Canon Law and various Resolutions about heterosexual marriage with ‘the teaching of Scripture’” and rightly reminds us that “Christian understanding of the ‘Scriptural teaching’ on marriage and sexuality has developed”.  His concern, however, is not to find a biblical justification for same-sex marriage in the Genesis creation accounts and he explicitly writes that “Jesus endorses the Genesis teaching about humanity in God’s image, male and female”.  His concern is rather to ask “how is a Christian gay person to make optimum moral sense of his or her life?” and to encourage us to accept “freedom of conscience to disagree” in our answers to this question.

David Atkinson’s citing of Jesus’ teaching on divorce (on which his own earlier work proved so influential for many evangelicals) and description of it as “the best way of making optimum moral sense of a less than ideal situation” is striking.  It points to the fact that challenges may still be offered to the bishops’ approach without reworking the doctrine of creation to embrace a range of patterns of sexuality or redefining the doctrine of marriage to include same-sex couples.  Instead, in relation to the experience of gay and lesbian people, the challenge to the bishops may be raised in terms of how we best navigate the complexities of living as fallen creatures within a fallen world.  This would appear to be an approach that owes much to the writings of Helmut Thielicke and Lewis Smedes and results more in a form of what Oliver O’Donovan and the Pilling Report spoke of in terms of “pastoral accommodation”.

Similarly, David Atkinson explicitly does not argue for same-sex marriage.  He wishes instead to commend a form of same-sex relationship as “not incompatible with the doctrine of Holy Matrimony that is affirmed in Canon B 30”, suggesting that it is “possible for a gay couple to make an act of exclusive, loving commitment within a permanent covenanted relationship and to experience God’s blessing in doing so, and find their lives displaying the fruit of God’s Spirit”.  What is required therefore is “a broader evangelical theology of covenanted same-sex friendship than can be found in what the bishops refer to as ‘Anglican tradition’” not a new theology of marriage.

This approach raises a different set of questions and in turn is open to a different line of critical questioning.  My suspicion is that at least some, perhaps most, of the 11 bishops would be in agreement on the potential in the church exploring a form of “covenanted same-sex friendship”.  It is interesting for example, that Bishop Bill Love’s recent letter in the US opposing same-sex marriage rites is clear that

the Bible does not forbid two people of the same sex from loving one another in the sense of caring deeply or having a strong sense of affection for one another. Strong friendships are a blessing and gift. As already mentioned, God commands us to love one another both male and female. The Bible doesn’t forbid two people of the same sex from sharing a home or life together. It doesn’t forbid two people of the same sex from being legal guardians for one another or health care proxies for one another. All God has said through Holy Scripture regarding relations between two men or two women is that they should not enter into sexual relations with one another, and that marriage is reserved for the joining together of a man and woman.

The question is how that form of friendship is to be defined.  David Atkinson’s fascinating suggestion is that a canon could state

The Church of England also recognizes that there are circumstances in which an individual may justifiably choose to enter into a covenanted partnership, permanent, exclusive and life-long, with a person of the same sex, with the hope of enjoying loving companionship similar to that which is to be found in marriage. Such a partnership is not incompatible with the doctrine of Holy Matrimony that is affirmed in Canon B 30.

This makes clear that the relationship is “similar to” marriage and not marriage.  The similarities are seen in it being marked as “covenanted…permanent, exclusive and life-long” and being entered “with the hope of enjoying loving companionship similar to that which is to be found in marriage”.

The question of sex

In considering this proposal, one important question is why the partnership is “exclusive” and what is meant by this. This relates to at least two aspects.  One of the hallmarks of “friendship” as a pattern of life is that – unlike “marriage” – it is not “exclusive” in its focus but plural and diverse: we are to have many friends, but only one spouse.  The answer here may be that just as marriage has traditionally been seen as a particular and exclusive form of friendship, so this pattern of same-sex covenanted partnership is also a particular and exclusive form of friendship.  The two partners have other friends just as spouses have other friends but none of them are this sort of friend to either of them.  Their form of friendship with one another is, like the friendship of husband and wife, consciously and publicly qualitatively different from all of their other friendships (not least in it being, like the friendship of marriage, a covenanted and life-long friendship, unlike other friendships).

Much more contentious is something about which David Atkinson is almost wholly silent. When used of marriage, the word “exclusive” includes within it, even has a focus on, the clear sense of sexual exclusivity.  It is noteworthy that he describes the wording of the canon as “taking our cue from some wording in the forgotten 1979 Gloucester Report”.  Although he does not cite the wording he has in mind it would appear to be that found in para 168:

In the light of some of the evidence we have received we do not think it possible to deny that there are circumstances in which individuals may justifiably choose to enter into a homosexual relationship with the hope of enjoying a companionship and physical expression of sexual love similar to that which is to be found in marriage.

The most obvious and significant difference between this and his own proposed canon is the canon lacks any reference to “enjoying…physical expression of sexual love”.  What are we to make of this important omission?

Part of the logic is perhaps that (despite the arguments to the contrary proposed by Vasey whose 1995 work Strangers and Friends is cited), the traditional view of friendship – which distinguishes it from marriage – is the absence of exactly such “physical expression of sexual love”. Unlike many in contemporary society, the church does not support the idea of “friends with benefits”.  It is precisely the presence of such sexual activity in most same-sex unions that explains both why many of the advocates seek to call them marriage and why the bishops are opposed to their acceptance and liturgical celebration by the church.

Related to this is the importance, and definition, of chastity for Christians.  The bishops in their letter oppose any affirmation of a sexual union other than marriage because they believe in “faithfulness and chastity both within and outside marriage”.  This is a commitment which David Atkinson says he too affirms. On a traditional understanding of chastity, entering into “a homosexual relationship with the hope of enjoying…physical expression of sexual love similar to that which is to be found in marriage” is not in fact justifiable as such a relationship is not a chaste pattern of life.  Here again is an important area to explore further: what pattern of life embodies the virtue of chastity?  Concern that “chastity” was being used by some to include homosexual behaviour as long as it was within committed same-sex unions is what led the 1998 Lambeth Conference to accept an amendment to Lambeth I.10.  It was proposed by the current Archbishop of York and replaced “chastity” with “abstinence” so that the final resolution reads “in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage”. It was strictly a better wording also because, as in the bishops’ letter, chastity traditionally is right for all and takes the form of “faithfulness” ie sexual exclusivity for those who are married.

Given this distinction between David Atkinson’s proposed canon and the Gloucester Report, the question is raised as to the extent of real disagreement there is between his proposal and that of the bishops.  The bishops’ letter summarises their understanding of the tradition vision they uphold and ask the Church of England to uphold through the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) process in these terms:

  • sexual intercourse as “an act of total commitment which belongs properly within a permanent married relationship” (Lambeth 1988),
  • marriage as a union of a man and woman in a covenant of love marked by exclusivity and life-long commitment, and
  • faithful, sexually abstinent love in singleness and non-marital friendships

They describe this as “the teaching of Scripture” and claim that “it therefore expresses the character and will of God which is our guide in ordering our lives and in addressing public global ethical issues”.

David Atkinson warns the bishops that identifying this account of their vision with “the teaching of Scripture” is “too bold”.  It is, however, not clear from his argument in this article that his own understanding significantly departs from these three points.  Nor, on the other hand, is it clear that this three-fold vision defended by the bishops is inherently incompatible with David Atkinson’s proposed canon.

Responding to same-sex partnerships – How wide a gulf?

What then might be the continued difference between David Atkinson and the bishops?  It is perhaps that the bishops believe the likelihood of “physical expression of sexual love” within a “covenanted partnership, permanent, exclusive and life-long, with a person of the same sex” makes it impossible for the church to affirm the choice of such a relationship. David Atkinson, in contrast, either views such behaviour as chaste within such a relationship or holds that, although strictly a sin against chastity, it is not in itself a ground for refusing the partnership’s recognition in the terms described in the canon.  On this latter view the virtues of covenantal friendship being committed to are the focus of the church’s concern and affirmation not any sexual sin within that covenantal friendship (just as the presence of sin in various forms, including sexual, within all marital relationships does not give grounds for refusing to recognise specific marriages).

The article says little or nothing directly as to what recognition of same-sex relationships by the church might look like. However, the current discussions and the article’s focus on Jesus pronouncing blessings on the pure in heart and those seeking God’s justice as something that can be legitimately pronounced on those who are gay, would point to some form of church blessing.  The question left unaddressed is who or what would be blessed.  It is noteworthy that the examples appealed to in the gospels relate to individual people whose lives embody certain virtues.  The more difficult question is what pattern of same-sex relationship might be blessed by a church which is faithful to Jesus and to Scripture.  Here is where the analogy with remarriage after divorce (or, to parallel the blessing pattern, even a service of prayer and dedication for a couple where there is a surviving spouse from a previous marriage) is not as simple as some suggest. In the first place, although Scripture does have a place for remarriage after divorce, it does not for sexual same-sex unions.  In addition, in these cases there is no dispute what pattern of relationship is being solemnised or prayed for – it is marriage and in the service of prayer and dedication the couple need to affirm their relationship is marriage as the church understands it.  The dispute in relation to divorce is whether it is right to enter that new marital relationship during the lifetime of a former spouse.

As regards same-sex relationships, the six objections raised by Bishop Keith Sinclair in his dissenting statement to the Pilling Report (paras 476-481) still need to be seriously engaged with by those advocating the church should bless these.  In particular, his first point (para 476) captures the challenge faced by applying David Atkinson’s argument about blessing to support a new form of liturgical recognition:

…the Church cannot hold a public service for a couple simply on the basis that it discerns virtues and good qualities in their relationship. It must also be confident that the pattern of relationship it is affirming is in accordance with God’s will. It expresses that confidence liturgically by proclaiming a form of life which is in accordance with God’s will and asking the couple to affirm publicly that they seek to live faithfully within this way of life. This means that as long as the Church of England continues to ‘abide by its current teaching’ it cannot with integrity offer or formally allow a service for any pattern of sexual relationship other than marriage, even though Christians can recognize moral goods, such as love and fidelity, in particular non-marital sexual relationships and qualities of character in the partners. Good, compassionate pastoral care requires the Church to help people to respond obediently to God’s love by living rightly before him and thus it cannot be pastoral to affirm a form of relationship which is contrary to God’s will

One possible answer is that the “form of relationship which is in accordance with God’s will” is precisely that which the article proposes as a revision of Canon B30.  There are within Christian tradition forms of service for friendship and the making of brothers which may be looked to for guidance if that is so. Two main concerns about a formal blessing on such relationships would likely be the following.

First, the move from recognising that “an individual may justifiably choose to enter” such a relationship to “the church should formally celebrate such a relationship in its authorised liturgy” is one which needs careful justification.  This includes determining who would be eligible (for example, must there be a recognised legal union and could that be civil marriage?) and the definition of the commitments being made by the couple. This is particularly important given the lack of an explicit biblical authorisation or longstanding traditional theological understanding of the pattern of relationship and the opposition to it in some parts of the wider church.

Second, and more difficult, is the question discussed above of any sexual element to the relationship.  Here there would appear to be four broad options:

  • Acknowledgment of a sexual relationship within the liturgy, for example, in promises of exclusivity or descriptions (as exist in the marriage liturgy) of the nature of the relationship. This would go beyond the proposed wording of the canon, represent a change in the church’s teaching, and be unacceptable to very many as contrary to Scripture.
  • Commitment to abstinence. Were it, on the other hand, to be explicitly required of those in such unions that they promise to refrain from sexual intimacy it would be unacceptable to many, perhaps most, of those seeking formal recognition.
  • The question is then whether, like the proposed canon, the liturgy simply remains silent on this matter, in which case what is understood by it being an “exclusive” relationship would likely need to be set out.
  • Teaching but no vows.Rather than total silence, the liturgy could include reference to the church’s vision of “faithfulness and chastity both within and outside marriage” (for example in its preface) but not require formal vows to live in accordance with this.

Given the difficulties in agreeing any form of liturgy of blessing, two other options may be considered as a way forward. One would be to have no specific liturgy but to allow public prayers for same-sex couples.  The challenge here is that, although not as focussed and explicit as in relation to a formal liturgy, the same questions arise here as to what forms of relationship the church would recognise and how such recognition relates to church teaching and law.  That is why the bishops have been careful thus far to encourage private prayers but not public prayers for those in, or entering, same-sex unions.

Freedom of conscience and agreeing to disagree?

Another way forward, increasingly popular way answer to how to proceed is to refer, as David Atkinson does at two points, to “freedom of conscience to disagree”. Although he himself does not present this argument, this appeal is increasingly made in order to argue that clergy who wish to do so should be free to bless or marry same-sex couples while clergy who do not wish to do so should be free not to do so.  This common appeal, often linked to the affirmation of diversity or “radical Christian inclusion”, appears to be unanswerable.  Who is going to want to insist on denying freedom of conscience?  Its simplicity however masks a range of complex questions.

At a fundamental level we already have “freedom of conscience to disagree”.  That’s why there is so much debate in the church and why these three authors can write as they do.  What is therefore being asked for is more: the right to embody that disagreement through the church formally permitting or positively authorising certain actions which are currently prohibited as they are contrary to church teaching even though desired by many within the church.  The protest within this form of an appeal to freedom of conscience is not only that an individual should be free to dissent verbally from the beliefs of the wider body of which they are part and seek to change that body’s stance. That is already well established. The objection is that freedom of conscience is also lacking when an individual cannot act on certain beliefs because they are being constrained by the wider body.  Their conscientious beliefs, in disagreement with the beliefs and authorised practices of the wider body, therefore cannot be expressed in certain concrete practical actions (eg blessing or marrying a same-sex couple, marrying a same-sex partner while being an ordained minister of the church) or, if they are so expressed, there is the threat, or reality, of negative repercussions from the wider body.

Although this objection and request for what might be called a “mixed economy” of variable practices appears reasonable to many, it does create a number of problems which are rarely addressed.

Firstly, unless we move to a situation where there is total freedom of conscience, there will likely always be some who can make this sort of appeal for “freedom of conscience to disagree”.  So, were we to allow a form of blessing for same-sex couples but not a marriage liturgy there would still be those able to make this appeal.  The question is therefore not really whether or not there is freedom of conscience to disagree. The questions are rather (a) what the formal teaching should be and (b) what the limits are as regards freedom to dissent from that teaching.  In particular, how far that freedom extends in terms of acting contrary to what the church teaches and understands to be biblical teaching and what the consequences are for so acting.  An appeal to “freedom of conscience to disagree” does not give an answer to these issues.

Secondly, the move to permit (on the basis of freedom of conscience) people to act in the name of Christ and the church in ways that are currently forbidden is therefore very difficult, perhaps impossible, to distinguish from changing the church’s teaching.  So, when we moved to ordain women as priests and bishops we did not simply allow freedom of conscience.  We changed church teaching concerning whether these orders were restricted to men.  Similarly, if we make changes here we are doing much more than granting “freedom of conscience to disagree”.  Depending on the change we are saying, for example, “it is no longer the case that the only sexual relationship the church can approve is marriage” or “it is no longer the case that marriage is a union of one man and one woman”.  Simply appealing to diversity or freedom of conscience is again insufficient.  The question is whether or not a new teaching can be found that gives a substantive theological rationale for a greater diversity of authorised practice that can be widely recognised and accepted as authentically biblical and Christian.  David Atkinson’s proposed change to the canon with its explicit affirmation that this is “not incompatible with the doctrine of Holy Matrimony that is affirmed in Canon B 30” is an attempt to answer that important question which has otherwise received little serious attention.

Thirdly, any move towards those who claim they currently lack “freedom of conscience to disagree” inevitably creates a new group within the wider body who will find themselves having to claim that freedom. In this case, those who cannot in conscience bless any sexual relationship other than marriage between a man and a woman.  The standard answer here is that they will not be forced to do this and so there is really no problem.  It is though unclear whether those conscientiously objecting will be required to make their churches available for such ceremonies or, looking at the American context, whether bishops will be free to refuse to authorise such services in their jurisdiction.  There are also important practical differences between this proposed form of “freedom of conscience to disagree” and that which it is being claimed by those advocating for change.  Those seeking change are objecting that, because the wider body prevents them, they currently are not free to do somethingthey think they should do.  In a “mixed economy” situation what those refusing to marry or bless same-sex couples will be given is the freedom to refuse to do somethingwhich the wider body used to prohibit but now permits.  It is not surprising that this is not an attractive offer.  It will require individuals to act in ways that are increasingly viewed as unacceptable in wider society (echoed in David Gillett’s implicit description of this view as a denial of people’s humanity and equality) and even a form of abuse. The experience of those in churches which have taken this step adds further weight to their concerns about accepting such an outcome. It is therefore unsurprising that those who are offered this as the outworking of “freedom of conscience to disagree” prefer instead to consider, as the bishops’ letter notes, some form of ecclesial “visible differentiation” in which they are not isolated individuals free to refuse but a distinct body of people supporting one another in witnessing to a shared belief.

Fourthly, it may be that an additional, perhaps better, category to explore, rather than simply appealing to “freedom of conscience to disagree”, is therefore that of “faithful and conscientious dissent”.  This leads to questions such as the following, whatever view one holds or wishes the church to hold:

  • What is required of a wider body in response to those within it who conscientiously dissent from its stance and seek to change it?
  • What, in turn, is required from those expressing such dissent and seeking change in order for it to be respectful and faithful to the wider body?
  • Are the answers to these questions the same when the dissenters are those challenging long-held traditional beliefs and practices and when the dissenters are those holding traditional views and unable to accept recent developments and innovations?
  • In what ways do the answers differ depending on what the focus of dissent is and the nature of the changes which are being sought? Here the question of different levels of doctrinal significance and adiaphoraneed to be considered and are themselves, of course, highly contested.
  • What might we learn from (a) how we have answered these questions in relation to women priest and bishops and from ideas of “mutual flourishing” and the Five Guiding Principles, (b) how other churches have handled these questions in relation to sexuality eg the Church of Scotland attempt to uphold traditional teaching as a body but then giving a greater space for ordered dissent in relation to appointment of ministers?
  • Can we agree on answers to these questions together – or at least explore them together – given the seeming intractable nature of our differences but the desire (at least in most cases) to recognise that on both sides there are members of the one body of Christ?

The summary introduction can be found here. The first response, to David Gillett, is here. The third response will be linked here when published.

Revd Dr Andrew Goddard is Associate Director of the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics (KLICE), Cambridge and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Anglican Studies, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California.

Follow me on Twitter @psephizoLike my page on Facebook.

Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, would you consider donating £1.20 a month to support the production of this blog?


Signup to get email updates of new posts
We promise not to spam you. Unsubscribe at any time.
Invalid email address

If you enjoyed this, do share it on social media (Facebook or Twitter) using the buttons on the left. Follow me on Twitter @psephizo. Like my page on Facebook.

Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, you can make a single or repeat donation through PayPal:

For other ways to support this ministry, visit my Support page.

Comments policy: Do engage with the subject. Please don't turn this into a private discussion board. Do challenge others in the debate; please don't attack them personally. I no longer allow anonymous comments; if there are very good reasons, you may publish under a pseudonym; otherwise please include your full name, both first and surnames.

63 thoughts on “Evangelical and affirming: pastoral accommodation?”

  1. The despairing and utterly destructive behaviour within western “civilisation” is the total destruction of the family that is embedded within the blatant redefinition of marriage.

    When sex becomes just a game and all meaning is removed then the idea exists that friends could be involved in sexual relationships and not just married couples. So marriage ceases to be linked to sex.

    The Lambeth quote above remains right:
    “sexual intercourse as “an act of total commitment which belongs properly within a permanent married relationship” (Lambeth 1988),”
    ….it is just NOT what western “society” wants to either hear or believe any more.

    Marriage was about a family – and family was more than just children. Children could, or might not, be part of it.

    The car crash we are heading for is that so many scientific studies now clearly show that children given to same-sex releationships do NOT do as well as those in basic heterosexual (or whatever the term is) couples/families.

    • Clive, so let me see if I understand you correctly:

      1. You are obsessed with western civilisation which, to judge by your use of quote marks, you doubt is “civilised”. Have you tried the “eastern” version? Or even any other?
      2. You think a few non-heterosexual people have the power to cause the “destruction of the family”. Really?
      3. You think sex has become “a game” and that this alone means “all meaning has been removed”. I know plenty of games that seem to mean a lot to their participants.
      4. You only believe in sex inside marriage. I think that boat sailed some millennia ago. Indeed, there never was such a boat!
      5. You have issues with society too. Sorry, “society”. You seem not to like large groups of people.
      6. You think marriage “was about a family”. Is it not anymore?
      7. You think we are “heading for a car crash” because your conservative views are not being heeded generally. Yet, presumably, you believe in people’s freedom to hold others?

      But worse than any of this you make the astounding, and unsupported, claim that those not from heterosexual families “do not do as well” as those who are. Obviously, you will need to back that up with evidence which you can supply if you wish. But more important to me would be to ask why this even matters? We are here talking about basic civil freedoms. Whatever you may wish we DON’T live in a theocracy and unless the apocalyptic Jesus descends on the clouds of heaven a la 1 Thessalonians 5, which he is free to do at any time, then we probably never will do. Arguing from centuries past as if the world had not moved on is the very definition of blindness. Pardon me if I find your sudden concerns for the life outcomes of those from non-heterosexual partnerships somewhat dubious.

      • I don’t know what you mean by ‘heterosexual families’. If you deny that all families are so-called heterosexual, you place culture above biology. But everyone knows which of culture and biology is more foundational/scientific and less fluid, and it certainly ain’t culture. Culture is not even equal to biology here, so to attempt to make it superior will be agreed to be inaccurate.

        If people stick to the food and exercise demanded by their biology they will do far better than those who don’t. If people deny their very biology itself, what sorts of outcomes can be expected?

        A high proportion of people who end up not with mum and/or dad are in that state because of conflict and/or immaturity in individuals and culture. These are things that any normal person would want to minimise. You on the contrary accept them without question and expect others to do the same (!). So when we see conflict (which will often involve abuse and/or control) we should just let it happen without taboo or shame? Is that what the more successful cultures do?

        • The term “heterosexual families” is not mine Christopher. I used Clive’s to address him in his own terms. Take it up with him.

          Are you preaching the success gospel now? I missed the beatitude “blessed are the successful for they have carried out God’s plan.” And I never realised so many conservatives cared so much about what non-standard folks did. Perhaps we should ask that guy who snubbed his family to wander around the countryside completely reimagining what familial bonds actually were what he thinks? Well, should he ever make a reappearance we can.

          I don’t think it can be just me who finds it wonderfully ironic that all the folks who preach “traditional family” have totally overlooked that their figurehead seemed less than interested in it himself. Do we imagine he was checking sexuality first before talking about the kingdom to them? If Dale Allison be right in his millenarian ascetic version of Jesus then he was somewhat less than standard himself. Do we imagine that in the parable of the feast, where GOOD AND BAD ALIKE were invited in after the preferred guests had demurred, there was a burly doorkeeper saying “Sorry sir/madam, you just don’t fit here, wrong sexuality. No feast for you!”? This is exactly the scandal of that parable and its one which all the “the Bible tells me so people” need to grapple with.

          PS I’m unclear about your biology comments. Is this fixed and heterosexual in your thinking?

          • I do think Dale Allison’s 1998 proposal is excellent, but it tells us more about who Jesus had to be sociologically or was wanted to be by his countrymen – rather than about who he was in himself.

        • Success normally means power and wealth etc, which I never mentioned. ‘Successfully’ is a fairly redundant word. ‘Successfully abiding by the natural order of things’ is the same as ‘abiding by the natural order of things’. Which is obviously something we should do.

      • Andrew, you are very welcome to contribute to discussion here. But can we all please make sure we are engaging with the actual case being made by others?

        You are right to ask for evidence of Clive’s claim about parenting, which I hope he will provide.

      • Dear Andrew

        a) It is NOT me who is obsessed at all …. I never even used the word
        b) sex and procreation were inextricably linked – and now they are not
        c) The outcomes for children are fundamentally supported by science

        I am going to stop at that point because I despair at the idiocy of your replies.

        • You are free to do that Clive although if you quote “so many scientific studies” and then can’t reference even one I feel that may undermine your case not to mention any credibility you may have been looking to achieve.

          • Since Andrew you gave such an incoherent response you’re not in position to do that anyway and the double irony here is that in the last item when Christopher Shell quoted the scientific evidence it was apparent that those who didn’t want to hear simply dismissed it. Particularly Andrew Godsall who replies below.

          • I suggest you check that item Clive. Christopher Shell had not, by his own admission, even heard of the more recent scientific evidence.

          • The truth is that I certainly had not heard of the latest scientific evidence in this particular one of the ten or twelve areas under review. That Andrew equates this with not being aware of the latest science, period, is evidence of an inaccurate way of speaking, deliberately or otherwise. I gave reasons above that the factor cited was unlikely to be relevant. Andrew was requiring that sufficient changes took place already in utero to only one of the 2 babes that were inhabiting the same womb (yet if they were in the same womb they would generally undergo the same changes). These changes would have to be, by coincidence, in the one area of his special interest. Not likely.

        • I, like wise, am astonished at Clive’s comments and thank you Andrew Lloyd for the way in which you have quite carefully asked questions. (And I do think you were engaging very carefully with his actual case).

          Clive you make one point here that is staggering:
          b) “sex and procreation were inextricably linked – and now they are not”.

          Contraception in various forms has been around for quite a long time and even methods of natural family planning have allowed for the link to be broken. Sadly there are no women contributing to this debate here presently, but if they were I’d hope that they might be rather more robust in their replies to you about this point. Reliable contraception has transformed the lives of women for the better. That’s a good thing isn’t it?

          Maybe you are just weird about sex but actually what the Church of England teaches (because it’s in the marriage service that is used most of the time) is that sexual union is not just about children, but is about delight and tenderness.

        • Thank you both Andrew’s. You made the points I wanted to make, so I wasn’t going to comment.
          But, Clive’s comment about sex and procreation needs addressing. And not just as a woman. In 1930 Lambeth separated sexual intimacy from procreation. For 88 years straight couples have been able to enjoy sex which is not necessarily procreative. Since the advent of the Pill and other reliable contraceptives, couples have been able to do this safely and inexpensively. In some couples, one or both partners are infertile or suffer from reproductive failure. This has nothing at all to do with so-called gay marriage. For all couples, straight and gay, there are many ways of being generative and familial, only one of which is biological reproduction.

          • Dear Penelope

            In my original post I wrote:
            “Marriage was about a family – and family was more than just children. Children could, or might not, be part of it.”

            That last bit ….Children could, or might not, be part of it…..is the bit you clearly took no notice of and don’t appear to now.

            With respect 1930 (which is actually recent) the obvious question ism what was the state of things in the more than one thousand nine hundred and thirty years before that?….and even pre-Christ?

          • Clive: pre 1930 the situation was pretty appalling for women. They had barely got the vote and were unable to access reliable forms of contraception so making sexual intercourse a risky matter.
            Would you advocate returning women to that state?

        • Clive

          I was answering your 1.14pm reply re sex and procreation once being inextricably linked.
          Before 1930 the state of things was pretty terrible for women and children in most, if not all, societies. Constant pregnancy and childbirth, the very great risk of dying in childbed, marital rape, risky and illegal abortions, marital rape, high rates of infant mortality, children being sent into field or factory at little more than infants, child neglect, incest, and, in some societies, the murder of inconvenient or disabled infants. Post 1930 much has improved in the lives of women and children in western societies. D.G.

      • Andrew – on your original 7 points.

        2. Causing the destruction of the family? Certainly contributing strongly to it. How? Firstly, operating outside family structures. Secondly, treating their freedom to do so as a civil rights issue (whereas it is probably primarily a pleasure seeking issue). Secondly, necessitating that if such things are allowed to their minority, it would be unfair to deny them to anyone else. A high proportion of script-writers on things like Sex and the City, Desperate Housewives (which treat fidelity like dirt and normalise certain attitudes in society by virtue of their vast audience) are homosexual.

        4. When you speak of a boat having sailed, whereas you are speaking of facts on the ground in some cultures (largely those who are taught that such things are normal!), Clive was talking of what is best and right. These are 2 different topics, so your confusing them together was inaccurate.

        7. The fact that people have freedom to hold views is a different question from whether those views are self-contradictory or not. It is not much good having the right to hold views if the views in question are not coherent. As in 4, you are confusing 2 different questions.

        • Christopher, I would strongly dispute that those not identifying as “heterosexual”, whatever you think about such categorizations, operate “outside family structures.” As far as I can see they operate within reconfigured ones. If there are those who don’t like this and count “family” as something fixed, determinative and unchanging over time then that is their problem as they have just, by their own choices, set themselves outside of history. No one is outside history.

          In relation to the boat having sailed I was not making a cultural point. I was making a factual one. People have had all kinds of sexual relations since there were two people to have sexual relations with each other. This should not be controversial as a matter of fact regardless of what you think about it morally.

          People have a right to hold self-contradictory views and are not forced to abide by your, my or anyone else’s logic. You seem to keep thinking that if someone’s view doesn’t make sense to you, or even within itself as you see it, then they have some responsibility to change it. I, on the contrary, neither believe nor agree with that. People can have views for whatever reasons they like. Or for none at all. As a matter of fact.

          • The fact that you use such an unexamined word as ‘views’ suggests you may not have thought this through. This word is used for unevidenced preferences and also for hard-won research conclusions – but there is all the difference in the world between the 2. So ‘views’ has such an impossibly wide range of meanings that it cannot be used without qualification. You offered no qualification, which seems unthoughtful.

            As mentioned, having the right to hold an opinion (whether of the researched or unresearched type) is not denied by anyone! But it is not much good having that right if the opinion in question is self-contradictory or at variance with the facts, or both.

            What you may not have addressed is that people will call something their opinion or view when it is nothing but their wish! No-one honest or scholarly puts that anything like on a par with hard-won research conclusions.

          • In addition, what is the force of referring to facts on the ground? First, people are known to be already aware of facts on the ground!! Second, facts on the ground point in different directions (your implication that they do not is possibly the weakest -and also, unnecessarily, the most despairing – part of your case). Third, is the idea ‘live with it’ / ‘get over it’? In that case, when we think of Syrian refugee camps, Guantanamo, London shootings, MPs’ expenses scandals etc (all which are most certainly facts on the ground) should our attitude be ‘That’s the way things are – Live with it!’. No, and obviously no. Therefore your case falls.

      • Hi Andrew,

        The “destruction of the family”, which Clive describes, is in terms of the shared, social meaning of the institution.

        As one writer explains: “Institutions are manifestations of a society’s normative formulations; they embody society’s judgments about the desirability of actions, events, and products…Social sustained meanings with action manifestations are institutions. Clearly, there must be a shared stock of knowledge that defines and
        sustains institutions. When actors perform or events occur in unexpected or doubt-creating ways (i.e., contradicting available meaning), “that part of the social order here read institution] is, for the time being, no more.”

        The baseline “classical unities” of marriage are as follows: A parent is part of a unit, joined by marriage, of two people, whose union created the child.

        This is the basis upon which the legal presumption of legitimacy rests. So, marriage is the means by which the law provides automatic contingency for facilitating and positively supporting a child’s entitlement to be reared by its natural parents.

        You wrote: “Here we are talking about basic civil freedoms”, but, in Schalke and Kopf vs Austria, the European Court of Human Rights, ever at the vanguard of LGBT advocacy, upheld the Constitutional Court ruling that:
        “Neither the principle of equality set forth in the Austrian Federal Constitution nor the European Convention on Human Rights (as evidenced by “men and women” in Article 12) require that the concept of marriage as being geared to the fundamental possibility of parenthood should be extended to relationships of a different kind. (…)

        “The fact that same-sex relationships fall within the concept of private life and as such enjoy the protection of Article 8 of the ECHR – which also prohibits discrimination on non-objective grounds (Article 14 of the ECHR) – does not give rise to an obligation to change the law of marriage.”

        Childless straight couples have long resorted to subsidiary routes to parenthood (adoption, parental responsibility orders). In contrast, the advent of same-sex marriage has legitimised the demand by same-sex couples for marriage’s contingency for joint primary parenthood to be bestowed on them at cross-purposes to the law of marriage facilitating the child’s right to be reared by both of its willing and responsible natural parents.

        This inevitably leads to the law endorsing the kind of wrong-headed conclusive presumptions of same-sex parenthood that the following article describes: https://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2012/09/6197/

        Far be it from the teachings of the Christian faith to facilitate the re-purposing of marriage to precipitate such a travesty of parenthood.

        • Hi David

          As we have, I hope, agreed before, there are legal and moral issues with adoption, but even more so with surrogacy and sperm and egg donation – for straight and gay couples.

          But that wasn’t my point. When Lambeth severed the link between sexual intimacy and procreation, the consequence was that sex could be seen to serve other purposes, irrespective of whether it was reproductive. This has had benign consequences for many straight couples, as well as gay ones.

          • Hi Penelope,

            As you say, there are “legal and moral issues with adoption, but even more so with surrogacy and sperm and egg donation – for straight and gay couples.”

            However, all of these are subsidiary alternatives to marriage’s contingency for assigning joint primary parenthood to spouses.

            This is where same-sex marriage is “at cross-purposes to the law of marriage facilitating the child’s right to be reared by both of its willing and responsible natural parents.”

            Lambeth making allowance for contraception does not sever the link between sex and procreation entirely. In most states which have legitimised SSM, marriage law has been amended to treat same-sex couples who aren’t procreative as if they were by bestowing them with marriage’s contingency for joint primary parenthood.

            That travesty occurs, even if, as you say, “sex could be seen to serve other purposes”.

  2. The main point I take from David Atkinson’s letter (I quote from the letter) is this:

    “I believe we must not give Lambeth 1.10 the status of Holy Scripture, or even the fortieth of the 39 Articles; nor assume that the legal framework of Canon B 30 is all there is to ‘the teaching of our Lord.’”

    Whatever view we hold on the the issues under discussion I think we all should be able to agree on this.

    Picking up of Clive’s point above we must also add that scientific consensus does not have the status of holy scripture either.

    • But then again, Nick, “scientific consensus” and “the status of holy scripture” are only a matter of which groups of people you talk to.

      • Of course there may be disagreement over what is scientific consensus. There may also disagreement over how scripture holy scripture is interpreted.

      • And of course there are differences of opinion by some on the status that should be given to holy scripture. But they ares still not the same.

        I would stake the view that holy scripture, properly interpreted has a higher status than other sources. Of course the properly interpreted part is the most difficult.

        • Nick, I don’t think so. The most difficult part is demonstrating that scripture’s “status” is anything other than rhetorically achieved. In other words, it is only itself a “consensus” which depends on who is asked. Personally, I would not want some bible reader telling me things about human sexuality because they have read a passage in a book and have a certain view about its authority. That is the definition of irrelevance to any and all but those who share the same view of the authority of said book.

  3. I think it is naïve to think that proponents of SSM in the CoE will accept any kind of ‘pastoral accommodation’. Their aim is to achieve the full status and acceptance of gay marriage including its sexual connotations and all that proceeds from it.

    • Yes, I think you are right. In which case it is interesting to reflect on why Jayne is hosting David A’s proposal, unless she sees it as a staging post onto something else–which, as Andrew points out, David himself rules out.

    • I suspect that you are assuming a homogenous viewpoint amongst proponents. I would have assumed a variety of views: some will see David Atkinson’s proposal as a solution; others will see it as at least progress, and hope for further progress in the indefinite future; and others may even reject it as a proposal on the basis that it does not go far enough.

    • Chris
      No, of course, the majority* of us won’t, in the longer term. Inclusion means inclusion on equal terms as beloved children of God; not inclusion as long as some remain children of a lesser god, only entitled to marriage lite.
      *There are, of course, among the affirming, also:
      Those who don’t agree with marriage for same-sex couples, but would prefer a different kind of covenantal relationship;
      Those couples who have entered a civil partnership for legal reasons, but don’t believe in marriage;
      And other nuanced positions.

  4. “Another way forward, increasingly popular way answer to how to proceed is to refer, as David Atkinson does at two points, to “freedom of conscience to disagree”.”

    Tricky thing that. Presumably it needs some substantive support not mere personal choice? Can I choose significantly different theological stances on other things on the same basis.? Can I be a Swedenborgian? That’s two thirds of the Trinity… so a majority….

  5. Thanks Andrew.

    One aspect of these potential covenanted friendships not mentioned is children. Bill Love’s letter doesn’t say whether ‘the Bible doesn’t forbid’ friends from adopting children together (or obtaining children by other legal means such as sperm donation or surrogacy). I don’t think the position in relation to children should be taken as read in the current climate: if we want to be clear that Christian teaching is that only married couples may adopt or raise children together then we need to say this I think, and we need to say it in this connection as one of the most fundamental purposes of marriage in God’s will is to be the proper and best context for the welcome and nurture of new human life.

    Permanent, exclusive (I’m not sure what ‘life-long’ adds to permanent?) covenanted partnerships seem to me ethically inappropriate. Given the documented fluidity of sexual desires, particularly among women, it doesn’t seem wise to endorse a form of relationship that effectively stands in place of marriage and prevents those within it from ever entering into marriage (I suppose this point disappears if both partners have taken vows of celibacy, though how often will that be the case?).

    Also, given its imitation of marriage and the current cultural context, is insisting that such marriage-like arrangements remain celibate (and without children) really likely to be sustainable? It’s effectively what we have now for CofE clergy with the acceptance of celibate civil partnerships, and these are already treated very much like marriages, and the situation could hardly be described as sustainable (https://www.psephizo.com/sexuality-2/is-the-bishops-policy-on-civil-partnerships-sustainable/). Isn’t it really just another slice of salami, another piece of the barely-disguised Trojan horse?

    • Quote: “Christian teaching is that only married couples may adopt or raise children together.”

      I must have missed this in the canons of the church. So widows can’t raise children? Should divorced couples be forced to hand children over to the state? What will you do when same-sex couples who have already adopted children come to your church – advise them to get married? Or advise them to dump their children on social services?

      • I was using shorthand. I meant may set out to adopt or raise children together; obviously unfortunate circumstances (desertion, death) may result in a different context arising that no one would (or should) set out to create.

          • I didn’t say it did. But it is a principle of natural law that God wills all children to have a mother and a father. This is why the presence of a mother and a father, and especially their own, can be shown to be the best context statistically for children to thrive.

        • Will

          I am surprised that, as an evangelical (perhaps you are not one, that is my assumption), you should equate ‘Christian teaching’ with holy scripture. That is not snark. I am genuinely interested why you place so much emphasis on natural law, which I have always associated with catholic theology.

          Natural law isn’t my field but I don’t see why it’s a principle that God wills all children to have a mother and a father. How do you get there?

          • By “natural law” of course. As far as I can make out from Will’s own website, full of articles as conservative as they are right wing, “natural law” does service in Will’s theology as covering everything he can’t find an express biblical quote for. Of course, I stand to be corrected by the man himself.

    • And it’s only a Trojan Horse if it sets out to deceive. As I commented above, the majority of affirming people hope, pray and lobby,quite openly, for marriage in Church. Pastoral accommodation -which is fairly insulting – would be (for most) a step in the right direction.

    • ‘if we want to be clear that Christian teaching is that only married couples may adopt or raise children together then we need to say this I think’

      – Ive never read that in Scripture. I see nothing wrong with a single person adopting children, given the alternative of the child remaining in ‘care’. It may be the ideal situation to have a couple, but that is not living in reality as there are simply too few couples who want to adopt. It would be much better for the child to feel loved by a single parent than none.

      • I didn’t say it is explicitly in scripture. But it is a principle of natural law that God wills all children to have a mother and a father. This is why the presence of a mother and a father, and especially their own, can be shown to be the best context statistically for children to thrive. Adoption is permanent so if ‘single’ people adopt (and these ‘single’ people could have partners of all flavours – they’re single not celibate) then those are children who will never have a mother and a father in a normal family set up. You accept it’s not ideal so you just need to recognise that therefore it shouldn’t be imposed on a child but they should be given the opportunity to wait for a loving mother and father. Otherwise how do you avoid supporting gay adoption as better than care? Comparing things to care gets you into all kinds of dubious lesser of two evils thinking that causes havoc with sound moral principle.

        • Does natural law have the ‘status of Holy Scripture’ or is it like the Canons of the Church and the decisions of the Lambeth Conference? If the former how do we know what it says?

          • Do you doubt that God wills every child to have a father and mother?

            When the bible speaks of the wisdom that we find in the fear of the Lord it is referring in part to the natural law that God has written on the hearts of all mankind. We must live according to wisdom as well as according to scripture – we are not fideists – though not in ways contrary to scripture of course.

          • Your hierarchy of knowledge is Anglican, but that presupposes that Anglicans are the people best in a position to say what the hierarchy of knowledge is. Are they?

            Testably-accurate (and noncontradictory) representation of reality has status. Scriptural writings become scriptural in the first place because people discover them to represent reality accurately. So reality always comes first. (As Sanders notes, Paul held believers to be in Christ according to reality, not according to either Scripture or the-accepted-way-we-do-things-in-this-religion.) The connection between reality and natural law is close.

        • As I said I agree a married couple is the ideal. But we live in a world of non-ideals. A loving single parent is, in my opinion, much better than a child remaining in a care institution. There is no debate about that. Would Jesus have been unsuitable for adopting a child given he was single his whole life? What about all those parents who lose a partner through death? Are they only acceptable parents if they find another wife/husband? Or dont you accept this is the reality of life?

          It’s all very well saying God ‘wills’ for children to have both parents, but even God allows the non-ideal, eg divorce.

          • So why do some societies produce so many more non-ideals than others? Does that not undercut the idea that this is *simply* ‘the way the world is’?

          • A loving single parent is not better than a child remaining in care for the time being for the straightforward reason that being in care is always a temporary arrangement pending adoption (and thus not one endorsed as the right context for raising a child, for the precise reason that it is not ideal and no one thinks it is) whereas adoption is permanent and thus must be endorsed as the right context for raising the child. That difference is crucial. I could not endorse a ‘single’ person (as I say above, single does not mean celibate and could involve any kind of romantic arrangement) as a suitable context for adoption as it rules out the child having either a mother or a father in a normal family context, and that should not be endorsed.

          • Quote: “A loving single parent is not better than a child remaining in care for the time being for the straightforward reason that being in care is always a temporary arrangement pending adoption (and thus not one endorsed as the right context for raising a child, for the precise reason that it is not ideal and no one thinks it is) whereas adoption is permanent and thus must be endorsed as the right context for raising the child. ”

            This is nonsense of the most dangerous kind, as if acted on it harms children. It is putting ideological interpretation of what natural law might be over and above the needs of the child, and ignoring evidence and best practice. It betrays an ignorance of the realities of outcomes for children in care. Adoption is only ever allowed if it is in the best interests of the child (and not the prospective parent(s)). Single people and gay couples adopt precisely because it is clear that adoption in these cases is in the best interests of the child.

          • There isn’t any ‘what natural law might be’. Natural law is so extremely un-obscure that every single child ever has had one dad and one mum. That is an awful lot of billions of children to get a 100% reading from. The higher the percentage, and the higher the sample, the more justifiably we can say ‘natural law’. So this (not new) ”finding” is at the top of the pile. Natural law is also un-obscure in matters of good diet, good exercise, etc..

          • Christopher, you are confusing nature (what is) with natural law (what ought to be). I think Will has gone far astray in trying to cross that gap.

            You are also ignoring a rather important exception to the ‘every single child ever has had one dad and one mum’ – Jesus.

      • Dear PC1

        Scripture does not say that ONLY married couples …..

        Your words were:
        “‘if we want to be clear that Christian teaching is that only married couples may adopt or raise children together then we need to say this I think’…

        Scripture is saying what is the hope or ideal.

        Saying the “only” X can do Y not only doesn’t help at all but is actually wrong.

        Nor is “adopting” a child the same as “raising” a child. You can raise a child in your family without bringing in the issue of adoption. Adoption is only a question of taking responsibility and caring for a child who is not your natural child.

        • Hi Clive – those are not my words, I was quoting Will Jones and disagreeing with him! I know it’s easy to lose track of who is responding to whom on this blog!


          Peter (PC1)

  6. ‘The Church of England also recognizes that there are circumstances in which an individual may justifiably choose to enter into a covenanted partnership, permanent, exclusive and life-long, with a person of the same sex, with the hope of enjoying loving companionship similar to that which is to be found in marriage. Such a partnership is not incompatible with the doctrine of Holy Matrimony that is affirmed in Canon B 30.’

    Any objective person reading that would conclude approval of same sex sexual relationships, but just dont call them ‘marriage’. It’s clever words with no connection to reality. I have yet to meet a gay couple who think gay sex is good in God’s eyes who dont have, well, gay sex. Ive also yet to meet a non-sexual gay ‘couple’ who have a ‘permanent, exclusive and life-long partnership’ – most people would view such a committed friendship as unhealthy.

    Im rather tired of the seemingly continual discussion on this, with some parts of the church sadly bending over backwards to accommodate ‘modern’ views on gay sexual relationships. I have not found any of the pro arguments convincing, particularly those given to ‘explain’ both Old and New Testaments. And Ive been looking at the subject for quite a long time.

    And before you ask, Im not straight.

  7. You make a number of points, all of which seem accurate to me. It does show that there is an enormous amount of dishonesty about, which I have been trying to blow the whistle on for some time.


Leave a comment