Good disagreement?

DisagreementI spent last Saturday in London at a consultation organised by the Church of England Evangelical Council on (guess what?) the current debate on sexuality. The focus was a new book by Martin Davie, commissioned by CEEC, looking at all the major publications on the Bible and same-sex unions that have come out since the Church report Some Issues in Human Sexuality. The impulse for this research came from the Pilling report, which suggested that scholarship had shifted in recent years, and it was no longer clear what Scripture actually said or meant, though did not give evidence to support this claim. The invitation list included people with a wide range of views, some who would call themselves evangelical, some clearly not, and the whole spectrum of views on whether the Church should change its teaching.

I must confess that I was not looking forward to it. Yet another discussion, and more potential conflict—and on a day when I would much rather be having a lie-in, doing some gardening, and spending time with friends and family. In fact it turned out to be a very positive and valuable occasion.

The work Martin Davie had done was very good. The book is arranged in three sections, the first exploring and citing ‘revisionist’ approaches to the texts, the second doing the same with ‘traditionalist’ approaches, and the third evaluating the respective arguments. Martin was concerned both to allow the arguments on each side to stand on their own merits, and to separate his evaluation from the texts, so that they could be considered carefully.

The approach was not without its critics. I think we all felt that a simple polarisation of views into ‘traditionalist’ and ‘revisionist’ was always going to be slightly problematic, though probably necessary as a broad outline. There are many things about the ‘traditionalist’ view which I wouldn’t myself support, and I have gained insights from engaging with people who might be labelled ‘revisionist’.

The second main criticism was of Martin’s characterisation of our approach to Scripture. He suggested that there could be three main understandings:

  • It could be the case that the existence of conflict shows that the teaching of Scripture on this matter is inherently unclear and that therefore caution is required.
  • It could be that case that the scholarly debate about the teaching of Scripture on this matter is currently inconclusive and that for this reason caution would be sensible.
  • It could be the case that the teaching of Scripture is clear and that the conflict is due to the fact that the people on one side of the conflict have simply failed to interpret Scripture properly. In this last case caution would not be justified. The Church should declare the clear teaching of Scripture.

Many, perhaps most, of those who would like to see a change in the Church’s teaching proposed a fourth possibility: that Scripture is clear to the limited extent that it engages with the issue, but that what we are now considering (faithful, committed, same-sex marriage) is something that Scripture knew nothing of and therefore does not—indeed cannot—speak to. This suggestion appears to make assumptions in three areas:

  1. Social context. It assumes that the scriptural authors cannot have had any conception of committed and faithful same-sex relations.
  2. It assumes that modern conceptions of ‘sexuality’ (which mostly arose in the nineteenth century) fundamentally change our understanding of what it is to be sexual humans—and that this anthropology is superior to the theological anthropology that we find in Scripture.
  3. The authority of Scripture. All the people articulating this on the day expressed their belief in the authority of Scripture, but that Scripture was unable to address our present question in the way we are asking it because it was trapped in its own cultural world. But to claim this is in fact to make a statement about the nature of the authority of Scripture, and it is one that departs from classical Anglican understandings in this area.

To my mind, Martin’s work did demonstrate convincingly that there is no real case, based on what Scripture says and how it is interpreted within the Anglican tradition, for the Church of England to change its teaching position on this subject.

One of the most valuable things for me was (as I always find) to engage with people of different views face to face in a constructive context. Andrew Goddard had done an excellent job of both inviting a good range of people and creating a positive process for mutual engagement. We spend time in the morning in small groups of three or four, listening to each others’ stories of how we had engaged with this issue. There was a truly fascinating interleaving and interweaving of question of theology, philosophy, reflection and personal experience, and I felt I was being invited into a sacred space of other people’s experience. In the afternoon we were in different, larger groups, considering the issue in a different way, but it was equally illuminating.

From all these conversations one particular thing that came out very clearly for me—that the people with whom I don’t agree on the issue of sexuality have a wide range of views, and therefore my disagreement was often for very different reasons. There were a number of people with whom I had much in common regarding our core theological outlook, even though we differed on this particular question. It was therefore easy to have a constructive conversation about our reasons for differing. On the other hand, there were some people in attendance whose expression of Christian faith seemed a very long way indeed from anything which could be described as ‘historic Anglicanism.’ With these people I felt I had very little in common, and disagreement on the question of sexuality was the least of our differences!

This illustrates how engagement with this question can actually lead us on to conversation about much deeper issues of belief, interpretation and theology. It is this which makes the issue so important to engage with.

So can there be ‘good disagreement’ as we move forward? Despite all these positives, I am not clear that there can be ‘good disagreement’, and on the day it was suggested that the pain and challenge in the discussion could either be ‘birth pangs’ of something good and new, or indeed the pain of impending divorce. The position that has been reached regarding women in leadership is often cited as providing a model for ‘good disagreement’ and continued co-existence of conflicting views. I am pretty clear, though, that this cannot work, for three reasons:

  • First, as I have argued elsewhere, the nature of the biblical texts are quite different in the two cases. In relation to women in leadership, there clearly exist texts in Scripture which, at least on a surface reading, at some points affirm and at other points prohibit women in leadership. Both sides on that debate agree on this, so neither side could be seen as rejecting biblical teaching simpliciter.
  • Secondly, the nature of the question is quite different. It would be possible to have parts of the church with women in leadership, and other parts without women in leadership, and imagine that these two regimes could, in principle, coexist. But it would be impossible to even imagine the same thing happening on this issue. It could not be the case, even in principle, to have same sex unions as contrary to canon law (and therefore giving rise to clergy discipline) in one diocese, and not in another. Such a patchwork approach would never stand up in law.
  • Thirdly, this debate is not so much about whether SSM is right or wrong; the lines are clearly drawn (though a number of stories show that people can change from one side to another). The main discussion is whether or not the issue is adiaphora—whether we can agree to disagree or not. It is not possible to affirm that we can agree to disagree and that we cannot agree to disagree simultaneously.

It is far from clear that churches which are ‘inclusive’ on the question of same-sex marriage are in fact ‘inclusive’ of and welcoming to those who support the Church’s current teaching.

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137 thoughts on “Good disagreement?”

  1. For me, what follows from your argument is not a direct answer to the question above. Rather, what follows is its replacement by a different question: Is it going to be possible to find ‘good disagreement’ on the question of the authority of scripture? If the answer to that question is ‘No’, and your arguments about what scripture says are right, then it would follow that the answer to your original question is ‘No’.

    Now, as it happens, I’m not wholly convinced yet by your arguments about what scripture says. However, I also realise that I don’t have a vast amount invested in the outcome of those specific arguments. I have much more invested in the question of the authority of scripture – and confess that I believe that ‘good disagreement’ on that question is (theoretically) possible, but (practically) unlikely.

    • Thanks Mike. I would agree with you that this is the underlying question. What I have found quite interesting emerging from my discussions is the sense that modern anthropology, formed by what we ‘know’ from science, is so clearly superior to what might be called a biblical anthropology that the verses on same-sex activity are clearly trapped in their own cultural assumptions as to be irrelevant.

      In this regard, it feels to me as though such a position is without real parallel. It seems to ignore both the critique that Scripture might offer to our assumptions about the ‘science’ of sexuality (which is surely immensely value-laden) as well as exploring the place of the Scriptural texts in their own cultural context.

      For example, what do we infer from the fact that the OT texts are strikingly ‘conservative’ in their sexual ethic compared with other ANE approaches?

  2. Thank you for this, Ian.

    I would like to address (finesse?) the assumptions that you claim those arguing for a fourth position on scripture make (that it doesn’t address this issue directly).

    Assumption 1: The assumption does not have to be that scriptural authors could not have had any conception of faithful, committed same sex relationships. The assumption can be that these are not what is being addressed in the texts. Just because someone knows about a possibility doesn’t mean that they are addressing it on a particular occasion.

    Assumption 2: I’m not sure this is a necessary assumption. I would also argue that the so-called ‘traditionalist’ understanding of sexuality is not the ancient understanding of sexuality (Adrian Thatcher addresses this point).

    Assumption 3: The authority of scripture. I don’t see how saying that various passages are not addressing a situation directly undercuts the authority of scripture. This is true of many things (international finance, nuclear weapons, iphone manufacture etc). I am sure that scripture has many things to say about the issue – but I don’t think it does this directly.

    I can boil the argument down very simply: some biblical passages condemn same-sex activity in particular contexts. Does this mean that the Bible condemns all forms of same-sex activity in every context? This is a matter of interpretation, not authority. It is directly parallel to the debate over money-lending. Coming down on one side or the other is possible whatever one’s view of the authority of the Bible.

    • Johnathan,

      I’m sure that both ‘traditionalist’ and revisionist’ positions have changed over the years and that neither is completely monolithic.

      Nevertheless, the issue goes beyond whether scripture addresses or condemns same-sex sexual activity in every context.

      There are revisionists who go further to imply that simply because scripture might not be addressing or condemning all forms of same-sex activity, then we can invoke scripture elsewhere as a basis for affirming certain contexts of same-sex sexual activity.

      Even if, as you say, there may be an absence of direct condemnation, it does not give license to claim that it is therefore scripturally affirmed.

      • As a footnote in support of my point, we see that revisionists claim it is UNCLEAR whether any of the explicit denunciations of same-sex sexual activity could really be addressing PSF homosexual relationships.

        Yet, ‘Father Ron’ and many others are happy to affirm same-sex sexual activity on the basis of conjecture about what they see as the ‘likely’ trajectory of Christ’s reference to eunuchs.

        ‘In his homily about relationships (Matt.19, vv 11 & 12) Jesus speaks of ‘eunuchs’ – one of which categories includes those who are born so ‘from their mother’s womb’. Perhaps St. Paul and others were not ready for the possibility that this could refer to homosexuals who would not be disposed to beget children!’

        It’s no good for one revisionist to reject as out of context certain explicit denunciations of same-sex activity, only for another to contradict that principle by embracing Christ’s statement about eunuchs as an implicit prophetic affirmation of modern same-sex relationships (for which Paul wasn’t ready).

        While I’m aware that neither side of this debate can be homogenized, there is truly a need for revisionists to resolve among themselves the inconsistency between these contradictory bases of argument.

    • Jonathan, thanks for your helpful engagement in this. I have been away for a few days and not followed all the detailed discussion here!

      But it seems to me there are two inter-related issues of context.

      1. Can Scripture ever be read independently of its context? No, of course not. The very act of translation requires an understanding of context. This is a basic point of interpretation.

      2. Can Scripture, speaking in its context, say things which have trans-contextual significance? Whereas the first point is a question of interpretation, it seems to me that this question is one of Scripture’s authority and status.

      In light of that, let’s return to the three assumptions.

      On 1, I understand your point, but I am relaying what I have heard and read, including Loveday’s contribution to the Conversations. I quote:

      ‘Paul doesn’t condemn long-term, faithful same-sex relationships for the simple reason that he does not know them.’ (p 38).

      This statement (as you might agree) simply does not stand up to historical scrutiny. But it is a major plank of a good number of ‘revisionist’ positions, including for example Richard Fellows, who argues this here

      I think your suggestion, that they did exist, and that Paul knew of them, but that he is not referring to them, does stand up to exegetical scrutiny. If it was faithfulness (i.e. quality) and not other-sexed-ness (i.e. form) that he was concerned about, why does he not focus on this? He reference to ‘what is plain to them’ in Rom 1, and his (in effect) citation of Lev 18 in 1 Cor 6.9 makes it clear that he is referring to form and not quality.

      On assumption 2, it is striking that Scripture is culturally distinctive in its rejection of all forms of same-sex activity, which sets Lev 18 and 20 apart from other ANE cultures, and Romans 1 from other first century approaches. These distinctives are rooted in the created narrative ‘in his image…male and female’ which rejects desire as having a defining role in human identity. I agree with you that ‘traditionalist’ approaches have often missed this–but so do ‘revisionist’ ones.

      On assumption 3, reading the texts in their cultural context would make us more ‘conservative’ in our ethic than our culture (which SSM arguable is). But I don’t see how you get around the fact that all these texts are rooted in the male-female of the creation accounts. The only two options are to say:
      a. Genesis 2 is not about gender but about kinship (Brownson), or
      b. Scripture is not only to be read in its context but is trapped in it.

      Scriptural principles have much to say about finance, nuclear weapons and manufacturing. But for ‘revisionists’ to say (as was said to me last week) ‘Scripture cannot speak to our world because we have a new understanding of sexuality’ is the equivalent of saying ‘Scripture has nothing to say about finance because the biblical writers didn’t understand hedge funds.

      • Thank you again for engaging with my reply, Ian.

        I would agree with your first two points. Context is always part of scripture; scripture can speak trans-contextually.

        On assumption 1: I always hesitate over arguments from silence – hence I would hesitate before saying that Paul could not have known theoretically of stable, faithful, same-sex relationships. However, I would be surprised (to say the least) if they were at all prominent in either his or his hearers’ minds when discussing male same-sex activity, which seems to have been predominantly in that culture either abusive sex with boys or slaves, or part of the cult. (I think this is what Richard Fellows was getting at in his blogspot you linked to).

        On assumption 2, I disagree with your reading of Romans 1, and again note that the rejection of same-sex activity in the ANE is entwined with cult worship.

        On assumption 3, I would not say that ‘scripture cannot speak to our world…’. I would take a different line about how scripture speaks to our world from you.

        • Jonathan – When you say that ‘the rejection of same-sex [understand: sexual] activity in the ANE is entwined with cult worship’ – something which is sometimes true and sometimes not (and ANE is a large space over a large time-period!!) – can I ask 2 things:

          (1) How can something that is viewed as good or OK suddenly come to be viewed as bad when it is in a worship context?
          (2) Where in Hebrew culture is it viewed as good or OK in *any* context?


  3. Jonathan Tallon writes: “I can boil the argument down very simply: some biblical passages condemn same-sex activity in particular contexts. Does this mean that the Bible condemns all forms of same-sex activity in every context?”

    No, Jonathan, this is mistaken. The Bible doesn’t specify “particular contexts” at all. The condemnations are general. Nowhere does the Bible EVER speak positively about homoerotic behaviour or desire.

    No amount of public soul-searching can change this fact.

    • Perhaps I haven’t been clear enough. The Bible is always written in a particular context. Every time we come to study the Bible seriously, we always have to take the particular context into account, whatever the issue we are considering. This is exactly what Ian does in his Grove Booklet; it is exactly what every responsible interpreter of the Bible has always done, from the early church onwards. Sometimes it is easy to decide that what was written in that particular context does have universal force (love the Lord your God…). With other passages, making links to today is less obvious as it is so linked to a particular context (‘When you come, bring the cloak that I left…’).

      You clearly think that the condemnations can be generalised. This is what is under dispute.

      I also think that calling any process an ‘experiencefest of hurt and offence’ is unhelpful and unfair. I note that you have deep suspicions about the whole process – so do those who completely disagree with you, some of whom suspect strongly that the whole process is designed to avoid any change, but along the way requiring an openness about their lives that isn’t reciprocated.

      • My apologies. The second half of my reply above should be directed to Don Benson’s comments, and not Brian’s.

      • “You clearly think that the condemnations can be generalised. This is what is under dispute.”

        It’s the other way round isn’t it? The text reads as a general condemnation. You think the condemnations can be specified. *That* is what it under dispute.

        • No, it’s not the other way around. Any responsible Biblical interpretation will want to take the context seriously. Sometimes, not doing this can seriously mislead you. (Unless you are offering a radical reader-response model – this isn’t the methodology that has traditionally been used in evangelical circles).

      • Jonathan – you are getting close to denying that the biblical authors can make general statements as well as context-specific ones. Just trawling through most such authors is enough to refute that quickly, General, non-context-specific, statements abound.

        • And how do we interpret a statement as specific or general? We check the context. I am not suggesting anything unusual here – this is how the Bible has been approached by everyone from Chrysostom to Calvin to Ian Paul. This is particularly incumbent upon us where there is disagreement within the church.

          • Of course, but in this case, we are dealing with (in Romans) a paradigmatic sin that is taken to sum up Gentile depravity and (in 1 Cor.) something that can appear on a general vice-list without further qualification. Both at the general end of the spectrum, no? Does not study of the context (something that is always essential) back up that point?

        • Responsible interpretation always notes that statements are made within a context. But the question here is whether or not Paul’s statement *only* apply to a particular context. Paul speaks generally about various matters that are not tied to a specific contextual situation. A failure to realise that would mean that Paul could never speak to our situation because everything he said is tied to a particular context. Romans 1:18-32 and 1 Cor. 6:9 (1 Tim 1:11) are general statements, not specifically tied to a specific context. They are true regardless of the context in which they are uttered.

          • Correct, Sean. Moreover, those who deny this fail to provide an analysis of whether the context seems more general or more specific. There is a kind of ‘everything is highly context-specific’ fundamentalism.

          • I would only observe that the move from the specific context to a general context when discussing Romans 1 is the very issue under dispute. Others disagree with this interpretation of Romans. What happens next when people disagree?

          • Jonathan, as far as I can tell (and please suggest literature that can correct my understanding if I’m wrong), the issue is whether or not Paul is criticising same-sex activity or whether he is criticising heterosexuals engaging in same-sex. Those who wish to argue that Paul is only criticising heterosexual engaging in same-sex must embrace the burden of proof and demonstrate how and why they have come to such a conclusion.

            That Paul links together male and female same-sex conduct is significant since female same-sex activity is very rarely mentioned in antiquity. The parallelism between male and female same-sex conduct suggest that Paul speaks of same-sex activity in general as being wrong – he sees beyond particular forms of same-sex relations, or same-sex relations only in particular contexts, and rather speaks of same-sex activity in general.

            See Preston M. Sprinkle, “Romans 1 and Homosexuality: A Critical Review of James Brownson’s Bible, Gender, Sexuality” Bulletin for Biblical Research 24.4 (2014).

          • Sean, I disagree with your reading of Romans 1. I would argue that Paul is referring to pagan worship – specifically goddess worship, which involved strange sexual practices by priestesses, & frenzied sexual practices by males (galli) who also cut themselves as part of the worship. This seems to fit Paul’s argument extremely well (he is talking about idolatry); is similar to other attacks on pagans (cf Wisdom); fits the Roman context (goddess worship important there) and fits the text of Romans (receiving the due recompense being the self-harming of the galli).

            This also has the advantage of being a traditional reading (it is how the earliest references to Romans understand the text).

            To consider that the reference to females refers to same-sex female activity is, I believe, a mistake. It would be an extremely strange argument for Paul to put first. Lesbianism is hardly mentioned in Jewish literature of the time (as you note). Additionally, it did not characterise the pagan world, which also either ignored or looked down upon lesbian relationships. Why on earth would Paul lead with this? It would have both Jew and Gentile reader scratching their heads. In contrast, pagan worship is clearly linked to idolatry and clearly linked to the gentile world.

            To summarise: in Romans 1 Paul is condemning idolatry as part of a stereotypical attack on gentiles. As part of this, (and as expected by Jewish readers), Paul condemns the frenzied sexual activities (which includes male same-sex activity) surrounding goddess worship.

            For a full presentation of this argument, see for example Townsley (2013).

            This is the specific context. To what extent we can then generalise from this will again be a matter of debate.

          • I think you’re assuming far more than can be demonstrated Jonathan. There is nothing in Romans 1:18-32 which makes that reading even remotely plausible.

            Secondly, Paul’s statements are built on Genesis. The language of idolatry in Romans 1:19-23 has deep roots in the creation account of Genesis 1-3. God, who is called “the Creator” (1:25), has been revealing himself “ever since the creation of the world” (1:20). Moreover, the use of “females” and “males” in Rom 1:26-27 (instead of “women” and “men”) almost certainly alludes back to Gen 1:27 (LXX). And, if you keep your finger in Genesis 1, you’ll see that Rom 1:23 clearly echoes Gen 1:26. Less clear, though probable, connections between Romans 1 and Genesis 1-3 are references to “the lie” (Rom 1:25), shame (Rom 1:27; cf. Gen 3:1, 8), knowledge (Rom 1:19, 21, 28, 32; cf. Gen 2:17; 3:5), and sentence of death (Rom 1:32; cf. Gen 2:17; 3:4-5, 20, 23). And it is this that universalises Paul’s argument. Same-sex activity is merely one example, according to Paul, of people who have rejected God. This is further illustrated in the general vice list of Romans 1:29-31.

            Townsley’s argument amounts to special pleading and an obfuscating of the issues. There is no denying that Paul references female same-sex activity, which Brooten notes (and further notes that female same-sex is not as rare as many assume). That it is not mentioned in Jewish literature is moot, it didn’t need to be for Paul to make his statement in Romans. Paul ironically joins the host of pagan writers who condemn such activity. Secondly, early Christianity unilaterally rejected all same-sex activity. See David Wright’s survey, “Early Christian Attitudes to Homosexuality,” Studia Patristica 18 (1989): 329-34

            How anyone could assume that a first century Jew like Paul could condone or affirm a particular kind of same-sex activity is beyond belief. See William Loaders volumes on Second Temple Jewish literature.

            As L. T. Johnson, Dan O’Via and a host of others have already demonstrated, this is a hermeneutical debate, not an exegetical debate. The question is whether or not Scripture’s condemnation of such activities applies today. The question is not did Paul condemn same-sex activity, because he obviously did.

          • I am surprised that you find that there is nothing in that reading of Romans which is ‘even remotely plausible’. The passage is talking about idolatry; what is implausible about references to idol worship (a common criticism of pagans by Jews) rather than lesbianism (never elsewhere used to criticise pagans by Jews to my knowledge)? Your reading makes Paul extremely unusual; my reading places him within a known context. Your reading has to explain why Paul mentions females first; my reading explains that.

            I am happy to agree that in 1:23 there may well be allusions to Genesis 1 (less convinced about Genesis 2-3). It could well explain why females and males are used in 1:26-27. However, this doesn’t affect whether or not these verses refer to pagan worship or not. You can see in Wisdom 14:23-26 how an attack on worship itself leads into a general attack on morality, as in Romans.

            You dismiss Townsley’s arguments without engaging with them. What, in particular, has Townsley got wrong? (He has two key articles: 2011 & 2013). You assert that ‘there is no denying that Paul references female same-sex activity’ – but I don’t think this is obvious at all. See also Miller (1995), or Banister (2009). Or see Clement of Alexandria or Augustine. Or Athanasius.

            To summarise: I believe that this reading of this passage is more plausible than the alternative. It makes better rhetorical sense within Paul’s argument, and has been understood that way by the first ancient commentators.

          • Jonathan, you shouldn’t be surprised. This is pretty much the consensus on Romans. Not many find that kind of argumentation plausible. Not even people who support the contemporary same-sex relationships.

            Yes, Paul is talking about idolatry, but the jump to a limited focus specifically on frenzied sexual activities (which includes male same-sex activity) surrounding goddess worship, is just special pleading and eisegesis. Yes, Romans 1:18-32 is like Wisdom 14 -> a general critique of pagan idolatry, which leads to a host of other sins (“For the idea of making idols was the beginning of fornication, and the invention of them was the corruption of life…”). Same-sex activity, is just one of the many consequences of exchanging God for a lie. Just because we lack Jewish references to female same-sex activity does not negate that Paul does condemn it here. Even many pagan critics condemn it, so it would be like 1 Cor. 5.

            I read Townsley’s 2013 and the grammatical foundation of his argument is weak. And even if we grant his conclusion that Romans 1:18-32 was *used* to critique those particular activities, that doesn’t mean that’s what Paul intended to communicate. If someone used Paul’s argument concerning porneia to suggest rape was bad, that doesn’t mean Paul limited his understanding of porneia to rape. Just that it can be used to deal with that. I’ll get to the other one soon, but it seems like he’s got an axe to grind.

            To summarise: There is nothing in the context to specifically tie this passage to the limited reference of frenzied sexual activities (which includes male same-sex activity) surrounding goddess worship. The whole passage is talking about pagan morality in general, and using Genesis as a foil to show how humanity as rejected the creator and the consequences that flow from such a rejection.

          • Just to clarify Jonathan, are you suggesting that Paul, a first-century Jew, would have thought same-sex activity in some contexts would be acceptable?

            And on reception history: The OT rejects male homosexual practice generally (Lev 18:22; 20:13). This rejection is continued in postbiblical Jewish sources (e.g., Wis 14:26; Ep Arist 152; Philo, On Abraham XXVI.135-36; Special Laws 2.XIV.50; Ps-Phocylides 190-91; Josephus, Against Apion 2.25 + 199; Sib Or 2.73; 3.185-87,594-600,763; 5.386-433; 2 Enoch 10:4; T. Levi 14:6; 17:11; T. Naph 4:1).

            The early church fathers continued the opposition (Aristides, Apology 17, against both male and female homosexual practice; Polycarp, Philippians 5.3; Apocalypse of Peter, where hell includes both male and female homosexual practitioners; cf. Syriac version
            of the Acts of Thomas 6.55; Apocalypse of Paul 39; Tertullian, De Corona 6.1; On the Resurrection of the Flesh 16.6; Clement of Alexandria, Paidagogos;; Chrysostom, Homily 4 on Romans).

            So I don’t think reception history favours your view at all.

          • Except, of course, it’s literally untrue. Idolatry does not in any observable way cause same sex attraction, or even evil living.

          • Sean – you claim my reading is eisegesis or special pleading. Yet you don’t address why it is wrong, or implausible. The specific reference I gave to Wisdom is an example which is a close parallel to Romans. It has specific references to ‘frenzied revels with strange customs’ (cult worship), which in turn leads to a general attack on morality. I don’t think it’s eisegesis to see a reference to idol worship in a passage about worshipping idols, which is also used as a reference point for idol worship by early Christians.

            You may not agree with my reading – fine. We disagree. The question again returns to – what next?

          • Sean, you are clearly following Talbert’s commentary on Romans, so you will be aware that the possibility of Romans 1:26-27 as referring directly to the cult is not considered, nor does Talbert discuss whether or not 1:26 does refer to female homosexuality (two separate issues).

            The reference to Aristides 17: as far as I can tell, this does not refer to female homosexuality, but to male same-sex activity and then to incest. I have been unable to track down the original language in the time provided, so I am going off an English translation here.

            Polycarp, Phil. 5:3 is referencing 1 Cor. 6:9.

            The Apocalypse of Peter does refer to female same-sex activity. It doesn’t appear to be referring to Romans. (In passing, I note that the condemnation is next to one for those who lend money at interest).

            Acts of Thomas 55 seems to depend upon the Apocalypse of Peter.

            Apocalypse of Paul 39 is again dependent upon the Apocalypse of Peter, though only referring to male-male activity (though also manages to condemn eternally any priest who has breakfast before celebrating communion).

            Tertullian, De corona, 6.1 refers to Romans 1:26 without expanding on it.

            Tertullian, On the Resurrection of the Flesh 16.6 refers to the priests of the Cybele cult (rather making my point).

            Clement refers to Romans 1:26-27 in a way which implies that he assumes the female use against nature involves males.

          • Of the writings quoted, only Chrysostom and Clement would be considered Fathers of the Church

          • Jonathan, I find this reading implausible because it’s special pleading. Wisdom may provide a parallel example, but it does not determine Paul’s intent/referent in Romans 1:18-32. There is nothing in Romans 1:18-32 to make the referent limited to frenzied sexual activities in goddess worship. It is eisegesis when you try and limit the reference to idol worship into one specific form of idol worship. Paul is talking about Gentiles in general.

            I’m surprised you can’t see Rom 1:26-27 as a reference to female same-sex activity, it’s blatantly clear. The references to early Christian literature are but illustrative. 1 Cor. 6:9; 1 Tim 1:10 with the use of ???????????s further confirms the view of early Christians. Can you provide a single reference to early Christian literature (or Jewish) that supports same-sex activity?

            But I suppose my original, and more important question stands: are you suggesting that Paul, a first-century Jew, would have thought same-sex activity in some contexts would be acceptable?

            What happens next is what always happens. Scholars continue to thrash this out (like they have) and over time the community of scholars will land on a particular position. 2000 years of reflection seems to suggest that historically, people have landed on a particular view and it is only now that society has swayed so far from it’s heritage, and that we have given way to reading strategies that impose our understanding on the ancient world that we often feel free to rewrite history to suit our own ideological convictions.

          • Sean, you say that it is ‘blatantly clear’ that Romans 1:26 refers to female same-sex activity, yet in doing so are ignoring the early church writers who understood it in a different way. You claim it is eisegesis to see Romans 1:26-27 as referring to cult worship, despite close parallels in Wisdom and early Christian writers using Romans 1:26-27 as a reference point when talking of the cult. How can you be sure that it is not your own modern reading strategy that is misleading you here?

            Your other question (which was not the original one, which was about understanding a specific context of scripture before seeing if it applied generally) is about what Paul would have thought as a first century Jew. I have qualms over this approach, for two reasons. First, it ties us to first century Jewish sexual ethics. This means that the church today should preach against:
            oral sex within marriage;
            sex during menstruation;
            marriage where one partner is infertile;
            marriage of people beyond the menopause.
            However it should allow polygamy (specifically polygyny).

            Secondly, it assumes that Paul is a typical first century Jew. To which the answer is, yes, but…
            …atypical in declaring that the time for the Law was past, and the only Law was the law of love, which fulfils the law.
            …atypical in not depending upon the Law when arguing ethical matters, but asking about what builds up and edifies individuals and the church, or basing it on being ‘in Christ’.
            …atypical in being a profound, flexible and original theological thinker who has influenced the whole course of history.
            What would Paul think and do, if he were transported to our time, understood our context, and were faced with the situation over faithful, stable, same-sex relationships is the right question. I suspect we will answer that differently. So now how do we handle that difference?

          • Johnathan,

            Your inferences extrapolated from first-century Jewish sexual ethics are false.

            The creation paradigm preceded the giving of the Law. In reference to marriage, Christ harked back to the pre-Mosaic archetype as the basis of his judgement concerning divorce for causes other than sexual immorality.

            Therefore, your qualms are ill-founded. In respect of ‘it was not so from the beginning’, what aspects of the Genesis archetype, apart from respective genders, do you consider to be an unnecessary return to OT legalism?

          • Jonathan, first up thank you for taking the time to engage with me on these issues. While I strongly disagree with your conclusions and how you get to them, I am grateful for the time and effort.

            My understanding of Romans 1:26-27 is based on the entire argument of Romans 1:18-32 and it’s place within the argument of Romans as a whole. The consensus of commentators throughout history have rightly understood the text as a reference to female same-sex activity. I think the text is clear. I think some Patristic commentators may have used this text for different purposes, but that does not negate nor determine Paul’s intent. I think that Paul’s use of females here is a reference back to Genesis and is rhetorically shocking for the audience(s). There is enough evidence from magical papyri, astrological texts, medical texts and so forth to show that female same-sex activity was unacceptable to the Romans. And Paul’s point is that this is what happens to a world that rejects God. They embrace attitudes and actions that go against YHWH’s creative design (i.e., what is “natural”).

            I think the parallel of Wisdom 14 is helpful but again it doesn’t determine Paul’s referent. I see Wisdom critiquing Gentile behaviour in general, nothing specific. Same with Paul.

            As for application, I don’t see the church bound to “Jewish” sexual ethics but rather specifically bound to “New Testament” sexual ethics. Jewish and other early Christian sources provide good historical material within which to understand the New Testament, but for the church today it is the New Testament which is authoritative. Since the New Testament unequivocally rejects all same-sex activity, a church wanting to be faithful to Scripture must also reject same-sex activity. Those who have opted for other sources of moral authority (i.e. experience) are free to do so, but shouldn’t try and co-opt Paul for support of a view he was clearly against. I appreciate the honesty of Luke T. Johnson when he writes: *The task demands intellectual honesty. I have little patience with efforts to make Scripture say something other than what it says, through appeals to linguistic or cultural subtleties. The exegetical situation is straightforward: we know what the text says.*

            So, the Old Testament rejects same-sex activity. The New Testament rejects same-sex activity. The church historically has rejected same-sex activity. The Old Testament affirms sexual activity between one man and one woman bound in marriage (polygyny is criticised in Deut. 17:17, just because there are references to it does not make it acceptable). The New Testament affirms sexual activity in marriage between one man and one woman. The history of the church has affirmed this. The trajectory is clear. The church has a choice, either remain faithful or give up the scriptures and embrace the “whatever feels right to me” ethic. To cite Johnson again, *I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good.*

          • I’ve just reread Townsley and his comments on Chrysostom are unconvincing. If you read Townsley he’s quite careful not to overstate his evidence, using language like “may make more sense in the context of the popular stories about the bacchic goddess cults,” or “apparent references…” He probably knows that he can’t make a more confident statement than that, because there’s no evidence or reason other than a hypothetical possibility. His appeal to specific sexual cultic rituals is nothing more than special pleading as Chrysostom and his audience were likely very aware of a variety of sexual misconducts in their city. Why limit it to specific sexual cultic rituals when Paul and Chrysostom offer a variety of critiques of sexual deviancy. Furthermore, just because similar language is used doesn’t mean it has the same referents. Take his first two examples: dogs (????), eunuchs (?????????). Are we to suppose that Paul is talking about a specific class of queer sacred sex workers in Philippians 3:2 just because the word ‘dog’ is used? Is that the referent in Matt 19:12, because the word eunuch is used? I’d fail my students if they presented me with such weak arguments. A reading of James Barr would help him on words and their semantic range and meaning in specific contexts.

            Furthermore, Townsley doesn’t deal with Ambrosiaster who is quite clear that Rom 1:26 refers to women. See Theodore S. De Bruyn, “Ambrosiaster’s interpretations of Romans 1:26-27.” VChr 65 (2011) 463–483. So it seems there is clear patristic evidence for the view that Rom 1:26 refers to women having same-sex relations.

            Thanks for the discussion Jonathan.

          • I’ve just reread Townsley and his comments on Chrysostom are unconvincing. If you read Townsley he’s quite careful not to overstate his evidence, using language like “may make more sense in the context of the popular stories about the bacchic goddess cults,” or “apparent references…” He probably knows that he can’t make a more confident statement than that, because there’s no evidence or reason other than a hypothetical possibility. His appeal to specific sexual cultic rituals is nothing more than special pleading as Chrysostom and his audience were likely very aware of a variety of sexual misconducts in their city. Why limit it to specific sexual cultic rituals when Paul and Chrysostom offer a variety of critiques of sexual deviancy. Furthermore, just because similar language is used doesn’t mean it has the same referents. Take his first two examples: dogs (????), eunuchs (?????????). Are we to suppose that Paul is talking about a specific class of queer sacred sex workers in Philippians 3:2 just because the word ‘dog’ is used? Is that the referent in Matt 19:12, because the word eunuch is used? I’d fail my students if they presented me with such weak arguments. A reading of James Barr would help him on words and their semantic range and meaning in specific contexts.

            Furthermore, Townsley doesn’t deal with Ambrosiaster who is quite clear that Rom 1:26 refers to women. See Theodore S. De Bruyn, “Ambrosiaster’s interpretations of Romans 1:26-27.” VChr 65 (2011) 463–483. So it seems there is clear patristic evidence for the view that Rom 1:26 refers to women having same-sex relations.

            Thanks for the discussion Jonathan.

          • Thank you for engaging as well, Sean. I fear this may be my last contribution on this thread – other duties press.

            I think your interpretation of Romans is plausible and consistent. However, I also think my interpretation is more plausible and also consistent. I disagree with Luke T. Johnson.

            By the time of Chrysostom, I believe the church was beginning to condemn all forms of same-sex activity, including female-female. I think you see the interpretation of Romans 1:26-27 changing in this period (late 4th, early 5th century). Townsley does deal with Ambrosiaster (I think in his 2011 paper). He points out, (as does Theo’s article) that the first recension understood Romans 1:26 as referring to unnatural sex between women and men, not women and women. Ambrosiaster later changes his mind. The article argues that this shows that the interpretation of Romans 1:26 was not fixed during this period (370s-380s), as Augustine’s use of it also shows.

            On sexual ethics – the issue is how a first century Jew would have understood these. Deuteronomy 17:17 was clearly never taking as forbidding polygyny (and seems quite specific advice for kings). Monogamy is a virtue which the church took over from the Roman culture, not the Jewish.

            On ‘dog’ in Philippians – I think it is an interesting possibility. ‘Dog’ on its own isn’t really enough to reference the galli, but it’s in the context of self-mutilation. This at least allows the possibility of a contemporary understanding that as a possible allusion.

            Regarding New Testament sexual ethics – as you know, I don’t see the New Testament as unequivocally condemning all same-sex activity. I don’t think there are any references to female same-sex activity, and the references to male same-sex activity are in a culture where the overwhelming reference points are either part of cult pagan worship, or abusive relationships between (usually married) men and boys or slaves. I think that consideration of faithful, stable, same-sex relationships between committed Christians is something that the church has not seriously considered until the present day.

            Within this approach, the authority of the Bible is not at stake. Disagreements reside in the interpretation of the Bible and the implications of the interpretations.

          • Call this a footnote to my last post…

            The Greek version of the Apocalypse of Peter refers to same-sex female activity. But the (older and original) Ethiopic text is about cult worship:
            ‘These are the worshippers of idols… …these are they who have cut their flesh as apostles of a man: and the women with them… and these are the men who defiled themselves together as women.’
            Translation from The Apocryphal New Testament, ed. J. K. Elliott, OUP.

            Thus the original apocalypse only links same-sex activity with the cult, and doesn’t reference female same-sex activity at all. The Apocalypse of Peter is generally considered to be a second century writing.

          • Thanks for your reply.

            I must confess that I’m still baffled by the fact that you think that the early church only began to condemn all forms of same-sex behaviour by the time of Chrysostom. This is highly improbable for two reasons: Early Christian sexual ethics emerged from Jewish thinking which had always condemned same-sex activity. Secondly, the evidence itself of early Christian writings condemned same-sex behaviour by actual negation (Rom. 1:24-27; 1 Cor. 6:9; 1 tim 1:10) and by positive statements regarding marriage between one man and one woman.

            Deut 17:17 does prohibit polygyny, as does the Genesis account of marriage between 1 man and 1 woman. There are thirty-three clear examples of polygamy in the Hebrew bible. That alone should give us pause when we consider the time-span of these writings. If you actually read the narratives of these polygamous relationships, you’ll see that the narrative logic is that they are bad. Jacob has two wives and two concubines, a situation which creates family heartbreak, envy and, ultimately, attempted murder (Gen 29-37). Gideon has many wives and many sons (Judges 8:30). This results in civil war and wholesale slaughter in Israel (Judges 9). Every account of polygamy ends in disaster. The narrative itself render polygamy bad. Secondly, while the instructions are to the king many Old Testament scholars have pointed out that the king is to be the model Israelite. See further R. M. Davidson, Flame of Yahweh: Sexuality in the Old Testament (Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 2007), 177-212.

            I find the notion that early Christianity got its idea of monogamy from Roman culture pure nonsense. All references to marriage build on the Genesis paradigm and show no signs of influence from Graeco-Roman culture.

            Early Christianity’s condemnation of same-sex activity is unequivocal. See David Wright’s survey, “Early Christian Attitudes to Homosexuality,” Studia Patristica 18 (1989): 329-34. There is no evidence or reason to link this with cult worship or abusive relationships (despite Dale Martin’s protestations to the contrary). This should hardly be a surprising fact since Christianity emerged from Judaism.

            Is it possible that early Christians held that some forms of same-sex activity were ok? When we consider Jewish views, when we consider the negations of early Christian teaching within the context of the positive teachings regarding marriage, when we consider that there is not a shred of evidence to suggest anything remotely positive regarding such relationships, then we must conclude that it is certainly not possible that early Christians held that some forms of same-sex activity were ok.

            Even if, for the sake of argument, I conceded that your reading of Romans was plausible, that would still not be enough to validate other forms of same-sex activity because Paul’s argument is that such activity goes against the created order. It is unnatural because it goes against God’s design for humanity. And that theological logic is enough to provide us with reasons to suggest that Paul would never have approved of such activity then or now. And neither should we.

            Thanks again, take care.

  4. Ian

    Despite the reports and the books, the ‘hurt’ and the ‘coming out’, the personal experience and the ‘sharing’, only one simple truth is at issue: has homosexuality always been a part of God’s intention for some human beings or not? There must be a clear answer to this and I believe, along with many others, that there always has been.

    Things like ‘my personal experience’, perceived ‘hurt’ or ‘ill treatment’, are not on their own a sound basis for revisiting or revising well proven doctrine, especially when offered up to further a particular cause; however they can have a powerful effect on those who hear such testimony because lack of a favourable response is easily portrayed as further insensitivity. That whole approach can amount to emotional blackmail.

    It seems obvious that the Church of England hierarchy no longer wishes to uphold its orthodox scriptural view on homosexuality but, because it cannot yet say so openly, it seeks ‘good disagreement’ in order to pave the way. And it seems a central plank of ‘facilitated conversations’ is indeed going to be an experiencefest of hurt and offence on behalf of revisionists. This approach is not honest; it makes me nauseous just to think about it. We all know it is a devious route which will exhaust and frustrate all who travel on it, and it will end nowhere for it doesn’t seek a certain doctrinal end.

    But I have huge admiration for those few stout souls who have done the spade work on this issue, who stick to sound doctrine and who are now prepared to endure the whole dreary 2 years of ‘good disagreement’ in the knowledge that things cannot end happily for this ill conceived process.

    PS I hope you can soon catch up on the garden Ian.

  5. Ian, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. The two opinions cannot co-exist within the church.

    From where I’m standing, it seems the ‘revisionist’ (for want of a better word) side tend to call traditionalists homophobic, bigoted, unloving, unaccepting, on the wrong side of history etc. Not all, but that seems to be the clear message that comes across.

    On the other side, traditionalists – such as myself – think that those who condone and practice same-sex acts are leading people into unrepentant sin, which is a very serious state (Heb 10:26-31; cf. 1 Cor 6:9-11). I just can’t conceive of a church which would officially exclude people from the kingdom of God. (This is a different kettle of fish to women priests/bishops, which is a matter of church order – I think it should rightly be considered a secondary issue, if not exactly adiaphora).

    There is simply no middle ground in between to inhabit. And, having read around the subject quite a lot over the last few years, I really do think it comes down to a question of Biblical authority: there is no getting round what the Bible says and has always been understood to say about marriage.

  6. I’ve thought for a long time that the two cases – SSM and women in leadership – are different from each other in kind. One is about church order, it seems to me. The other is a much more fundamental question about our identity, the nature of Christian anthropology, and the meanings of holiness and sin. I can’t see us ever agreeing about this, although I do think that the facilitated conversations are important for both sides, giving everyone a chance to listen and learn from those with whom they disagree.

    But I feel uneasy when I wonder how this will end.

    • Gail, what do you mean by ‘how this will end’. Massive denomiations like the Catholics and most Pentecostals have, like most Christians throughout history, never seen it as being a controversial issue. The press reserve their deepest contempt for those (e..g, the Anglicans) who shilly-shally more weakly and in the process waste/divert precious time and money.

  7. Ian,

    Could there be a fifth possible understanding for the conflict on this subject? Namely that the Scripture is clear on matters of sexuality and same-sex relationships, but some people are unwilling to accept it.

    I know that’s a rather provocative suggestion, but I think it merits consideration. The gospel does require us to put God’s ways above our own. Could that be too much for some? I was reminded me of the parable of the rich young man, who turned away from Jesus because of his wealth (Matt 19:22).

    • It is a provocative suggestion because it assumes the worst of those with whom you disagree. It suggests that they are knowingly ignoring what scripture says for self-interest.

      Might it not be possible that some genuinely don’t think the matter as clear cut as you do? Consider David Gillett (one of the patrons of Accepting Evangelicals). He trained at Oak Hill (evangelical theological college). He taught for St John’s Nottingham (evangelical theological college, and where Ian Paul also taught). He was principal of Trinity Bristol (evangelical theological college). He was happily married until sadly widowed a few years ago. Would it be fair to describe him as changing his mind on this issue because of self-interest?

      We have had an accusation on this thread that ‘revisionists’ tend to call ‘traditionalists’ homophobic and bigoted, unloving and unaccepting. Can’t we accept at least that each side might be arguing in good faith?

      If that is not the case, then there is certainly no scope for ‘good disagreement’. I doubt if ‘bad disagreement’ will serve the kingdom better.

      • Jonathan, indeed, and I was only suggesting it as a possibility. I’m the sort of person who likes to explore all options. I am fully aware that many do not see this matter as clear cut.

        Here’s another provocative suggestion – I will consider two hypothetical people called Fred and John. Fred has one leg longer than the other and walks strangely, John is homosexual. It doesn’t matter whether they were born like that or became that way, that’s who they are. We would never dream of telling Fred that if can’t walk normally, he must stop walking. So why do we tell John that if he can’t have heterosexual relationships, he must not have relationships? But both Fred’s walk and John’s homosexuality are not God’s plan for people, they are consequences of the fall, yet we seem to treat them differently.

        I don’t know if this is a valid analogy, but it raises lots of questions. Dave said (below) that our world is marred, and this is something we have to live with and work out the practical implications.

      • Jonathan, it is I who made the accusation that ‘revisionists’ tend to use labels like homophobic, bigoted etc. I’m afraid this is my experience – I’ve met very few people who think well of ‘traditionalists’, even while disagreeing with them.

        “Can’t we accept at least that each side might be arguing in good faith?”

        Not sure this is possible – let me try to explain what I mean. I believe that God has created the world in a certain way, that God doesn’t just give arbitrary commands but that those commands reflect in our experience of the world. In other words, I believe in natural law (which I think forms part of Paul’s argument in Roms 1-2 e.g. Rom 2:14-15). So, what is right and wrong is written on our hearts because God created us in his image, and although the Fall has corrupted us somewhat, we still retain deep down knowledge of what is good (even if we don’t do it).

        So let’s consider the two options:

        (1) The ‘revisionists’ are right: God’s intention was always for homosexual practice to be acceptable, good, holy, virtuous, etc. (I think this flies in the face of the Biblical evidence, but let’s park that for now.)

        If this is indeed the case, then surely any objections to it are simply bigotry? If God blesses same-sex relationships, to oppose them is to stand against God. There is nothing in nature or in our experience which should prevent us from accepting same-sex relationships, and so any objections to it can only be based on prejudice.

        (2) God’s intention was for marriage to be between one man and one woman for life. If this is written on our hearts and in nature, then anyone who argues against this view is doing so in spite of God (and their own conscience) rather than with God.

        I suppose it’s similar to the question, can you be an atheist in good faith? I’m sure that most atheists genuinely believe that their arguments are irrefutable proofs against God. But ultimately we know “the fool says in his heart, there is no God” – because the knowledge of God is plain to them (Rom 1:19). In other words, the atheist convinces himself of his own rightness ‘in good faith’, but on the other hand it is not ‘in good faith’ because his own conscience testifies against him.

        It seems to me that the accusations of homophobia, bigotry etc. by certain revisionists are actually a smokescreen: I think that shouting accusations at traditionalists is a substitute for moral rightness. I think deep down many revisionists know that their arguments do not stack up, so they have to substitute shouting down those who they disagree with. I’d be really interested to see a comparison of the same-sex marriage ‘debate’ with the American civil rights movement, for example.

        I’m sorry if I’m not describing you here, this is not intended as a personal criticism, but rather a general comment on the way the debate seems to be conducted as I see it.

        • I think the problem with the way you have put this is that it polarises the debate in an unhelpful way. If you are correct in the way you put it, then the ‘revisionists’ are right to call the ‘traditionalists’ homophobic and bigoted. Given that ‘revisionists’ believe that they are right, if someone else is wrong you allow them no other option but to think that.

          But you are assuming that the fall has not marred our ability to discern correctly on every matter. Because your logic applies to every moral dilemma. Is it ever possible to have a ‘just war’? Or are all Christians who are not pacifists not only wrong, but deliberately, knowingly wrong but concealing it from themselves? (Or reverse this, and the pacifists are deliberately ignoring God’s will).

          On all sorts of issues, we accept that it is complicated to decide God’s will (who to vote for on May 7th, for example). We don’t polarise it in the way you frame it. Why do we have to just for this issue?

          • Hi again Jonathan,

            “If you are correct in the way you put it, then the ‘revisionists’ are right to call the ‘traditionalists’ homophobic and bigoted.”

            Indeed. This is the crux of the issue. Where do you disagree with my logic?

            I don’t accept that my logic applies to *every* moral dilemma or aspect of Biblical interpretation. Of course it would be madness to polarise every debate in this way, and I think there are issues which Christians can legitimately disagree about. So why sexuality?

            Because sex and sexuality is such an important, basic part of being human, being created male and female is fundamental to our identity. I simply can’t believe that God would leave us in the dark on this area – especially an area where the church has by and large spoken with one voice, except for our current culture which has gone mad about sex and personal fulfilment. I’m not trying to make sex a “red letter sin”, but the Bible speaks about it as a serious matter. Think about 1 Cor 6:18, or how Christ’s letters to the churches in Revelation talk about it (e.g. Rev 2:14), or Paul’s epistles often major on it e.g. Eph 5:3, 12, or how much of Proverbs 1-9 is about sexual fidelity. I could go on and on.

            If revisionists say ‘the issue is unclear’ this means: (1) God is apparently incapable of giving us clear instruction on an issue which the Bible describes in such serious terms; (2) the ‘traditionalists’ think this issue is serious enough to exclude people from the kingdom of God. Surely if the issue is genuinely unclear, the best pastoral response is to not encourage people into it, just in case?!

            Do I think the Bible allows for various opinions on just war, pacifism, voting etc? Yes. But these are a long way off being as fundamental to what it means to be human as sex and sexuality.

          • Correct – the only things that are polarised are people’s ideologies and preferences, which are irrelevant to the debate proper.

            Those who are genuinely seeking the truth will always converge on all the undeniables.

          • Even revisionists would not argue that we should avoid being “polarised” when it comes to on sexual behaviours that they see as “sinful”!

            It seems clear to me that revisionists are just arguing for more dialogue and openness because they expect that it will weaken opposition and, with all the cultural and legal pressure on Christians to approve of homosexuality, open the way to a vote in GS (allegedly expected in Spring 2016) to nable the church to accept same-sex sexual relationships.

            Once SS sexual relationships are accepted, my guess is that the current charm offensive will displaced by the same sort of nasty bile that has been spat at our Anglo-Catholic and conservative evangelical brethren and sistren ever since the priesthood was openned up to women: “They are sexist and the church’s toleration of them is an insult. and does harm to women”… ditto “homophobia” and gay people (except the gay people who believe that same-sex sexual relationships are wrong!).

      • I also trained at Trinity under David Gillett and it was plain to me that he was moving in a liberal direction in several ways, as have others who taught at Trinity, like David Runcorn, who stressed (as David Gillett did) a broader approach to prayer and ‘spirituality’ than was traditionally the case in conservative evangelicalism. The worship in the chapel became more ‘catholic’ and ceremonial, and David G. himself was outspokenly opposed to ABWON when it attacked ‘interfaith worship’.The gay student with Aids whose case so moved Bennie Hazlehurst was also at Trinity at the time.

      • Dear Jonathan,

        To call anyone a name such as, to quote you and Phil, “homophobic, bigoted, unloving, unaccepting, on the wrong side of history etc” cannot be described at all as “arguing in good faith” – to use your phrase. Nobody calls other people names when acting in good faith, they listen and talk respectfully. Yet many pro-SSM people are simply labelling people as “traditionalists” and using the names.
        The reality is, however, that even St Paul (in Romans) complains of being constantly wrong before God in a multiplicity of things then we are ALL also wrong before God. As Christians we do not ask what it is that makes us wrong – that is pointless – Importantly, nor do we ask God to bless us instead of thinking that like St Paul we are wrong and saved only by faith in Jesus.
        So traditionalists believe that they are just as wrong before God as anyone else and just as in need of Jesus Christ as Saviour as everyone else – That is NOT homophobic, nor bigoted, nor unloving, nor unaccepting, nor even on the wrong side of history etc.

        • Clive, I entirely agree with you. If you read my posts carefully, you will see that I have been at pains to suggest that we assume that others with whom we disagree are arguing ‘in good faith’, and not to call each other names, whether ‘bigoted’ or or suggesting that the other side know ‘deep down’ that they’re wrong.

          The label ‘traditionalist’ is one I have used because Ian has used it (and he used it because others before him used it, etc). I don’t actually like it (or revisionist), but the use of the terms was meant to be as neutral as possible.

          There will be some on the ‘traditionalist’ side who are bigoted. There will be some on the ‘revisionist’ side who are disrespectful and don’t care about the Bible. I would just like both sides not to assume the worst of everyone on the other side.

      • Jonathan, people will always be swayed by social and peer-group pressures – that is not in the least surprising.
        We ought not to be focussing on people’s [provisional] conclusions, which are irrelevant in isolation, but on the strength or otherwise of the arguments they are based on, which is the whole point.
        Can’t we accept that each side might be arguing in good faith? (a) if they might be that must mean they also might not be. (b) How can an entire side argue in good or bad faith? It comes down to the individual, and an individual assessment simply has to be made in each case.

        There are ways of telling whether a reasonably-e=ducated person is arguing in good faith or not:
        -If they are arguing in good faith they will not so-called ‘agree to differ’.
        -They will understand and be able to repeat a point accurately before they ‘disagree’.
        -They will focus on arguments and not jump immediately to conclusions, bypassing arguments.
        -They will not use ad hominem.
        -They will not employ other logical fallacies.

        If we are to assume that everyone avoids doing all these things, then I don’t think that’s right. Often, very few people avoid them.

    • There’s a sixth view. Scriptural authority cannot be assumed but must be demonstrated. How can one even believe in anything that is simply *assumed* without argument?

  8. I think we are all living in a world marred by what many understand as the fall. Dare I say even our theology is marred?

    There are no easy pastoral answers. It’s now possible that an L/G married couple with an adopted child ( by one or both, one could be natural parent) might be attracted by God’s love and want to join a worshipping community. Would you stop them? Would you let them under certain conditions?

    • Dave, it depends what you mean by join.

      As I understand it, in the anglican sense, anyone can join a parish church and be a full member by going on the electoral role. The difficulty arises if L/G people want to do more than sitting in the pews. Then the church would have to make a decision, and I would guess this would depend on exactly what they were wanting. Serving coffee is one thing, leading a homegroup is another…

      With churches in the nonconformist tradition, they generally have more restrictive approaches to membership which may prevent L/G people from becoming members.

      I’d hope that no church would bar L/G people from attending, not least because we are all sinners in need of the Saviour.

  9. There are some quite big things we’ve managed to disagree on – use of statues, images and icons, prayer for the dead, views of the Lord’s Supper, divorce and remarriage, universalism, the nature of the atonement, etc – without the Church of England collapsing.

    If we can’t disagree on this particular issue (I’m inclined to think we can’t), then it’s perhaps not trivially obvious why. It’s not just that it’s an important issue.

    Is it because of the culture we live in? There is enormous pressure from the culture around on this issue. Does that external pressure make a difference?

  10. I am a gay Christian. I am much more interested in how people at church treat me than what the church’s official teaching is. It doesn’t really worry me that a bunch of straight theologians don’t understand what being gay is like, but it does upset me when/if this translates to me being treated in a negative way by priests and other members of the congregation. I think how we treat each other in church is a better discussion than how we disagree.

    Having said that the church also massively needs to accommodate gay people better. Just saying “don’t be gay” doesn’t work because it is impossible to change orientation. Saying “don’t have a relationship” doesn’t work because there is not currently any practical support for celibacy within the church … Only heterosexual marriage is lauded. “Don’t have a relationship” also doesn’t work because people who don’t like gay people tend to assume that you are regardless of whether you are or not.

    It is a frustration to me that the discussion on this topic is confined to two or three verses of scripture which are often interpreted to be opposed to gay sex, even though as the OP stated, sexual orientation has only been well understood for the past 150 years or so(!) and apparently the rest of the bible is irrelevant. It seems inconsistent to me that we are commanded to love, yet gay people are commanded not to love romantically. Straight people are encouraged to marry to avoid “burning with passion” but gay people’s marriages are an abomination to the extent that hookups are preferred to monogamy (since these can be repented of and forgotten about).

    On other subjects it is common to consider the fruits of a particular interpretation of scripture. Well we know from reality that negative attitudes by the church towards gay people often lead to severe anxiety disorders and suicide. We also know that gay conversion therapy does not have Gods backing since it has more fatalities than successes (I don’t think there is any evidence to suggest there has been any success at all)

    Given it is incredibly unlikely that the writers would’ve had any understanding of orientation, I think it is reasonable to assume that the writers of Leviticus/Romans etc assumed their audience were all straight (in fact romans 1 strongly implies he men described were married to women). Given this straight-framing, I don’t think it is unreasonable to interpret these passages as speaking out against sex outside of orientation i.e. Sex not used for the purpose of relationship/love. In these passages that meant idol worship, but a modern day equivalent might be homosexual rape as an act of war.

    I don’t really expect anyone else to follow this interpretation, but it does have the benefit of being consistent with the rest of scripture, which im not sure the anti gay interpretation is, and being consistent with reality, which the anti gay interpretation certainly isn’t.

    • Pete, thanks very much for your contribution—I really appreciate it.

      There are quite a number of things I would agree with you on very strongly. I agree that the valorising of heterosexuality as next to godliness is a real problem, as is the lack of support for people who are celibate. (It’s worth noting, though, that the vast majority of the celibate will be other-sex attracted). And of course people are much more affected by how they are welcomed than by the underlying theology, whenever that surfaces. (Here, I think you and I are in agreement against Steve Chalke. He has said to me that, regardless of my pastoral warmth, my theology is inherently ‘hateful to gay people’.)

      But there are several points on which I would disagree with you. First, this is not about ‘a bunch of straight theologians who don’t understand gay people.’ A number of the leading conservative commentators on this are themselves gay (though they would describe themselves as ‘same-sex attracted’) and they are speaking from their own understanding, not lack of it.

      Secondly, this isn’t about picking a handful of verses, but considering a deep and widespread theme in Scripture of what it means to be human made in the image of God, male and female.

      I think your comments on ‘orientation’ are interesting, in that they point up a key aspect of this discussion. I agree that we need to read Scripture intelligently, bringing to it our understanding. But I think the terms in which you express it suggest that the language of ‘orientation’ is a fixed and agreed understanding, and offers a superior and authoritative narrative of human sexuality to which the Scriptural account is inferior. I don’t think that this position stands up to scrutiny. For one, there is not that much consensus as to what ‘orientation’ is; for another, it is clearly not fixed in any absolute sense; for a third, many gay activists outside the church have abandoned this notion of ‘gay identity’ (though some clearly have not). And the Scriptural account actually sets itself against any notions of ‘identity’ which are not rooted either in the creation story of male and female, or in the new covenant notion of being ‘in Christ’.

      • Ian,

        Thank you for your reply. I am very encouraged that you agree churches generally provide support to heterosexual couples and married couples at the expense of everyone else. I read somewhere that a third of people in church are single, yet there is rarely any formal support. I agree that most deliberately celibate people will be LGBT, but I’m not sure why you think that matters?

        I’m aware that there are plenty of faithful gay christians who are opposed to gay relationships, but my point was really that I care more about how I’m treated by others in the church than what they think in their heads. I guess what I was trying to say is there is rarely much thought or discussion of how gay people are treated in the church, some of whom are incredibly vulnerable. It can be really demoralising when you only hear church leaders/theologians speak negatively about you and it can encourage others to treat you badly. Negative messages can also have very bad impacts on young people who are struggling to come to terms with their sexuality.

        Although I’m no expert, I think my comments about orientation DO reflect a fixed understanding about orientation by most people and certainly reflect my own experience. This understanding may be under disagreement in the church, but I think something along those lines is widely understood and accepted by the general public. And I completely disagree about orientation not being fixed in an absolute sense. Nobody seems to have changed orientation (some bisexuals experience a change in emphasis, but that’s not really the same thing) except for people who’ve undergone severe sexual trauma eg domestic abuse. Certainly my own experience is that Ive only ever been attracted to men and I don’t expect that to change. I might be wrong and there may be accounts of people experiencing some change, I don’t know, but certainly for large numbers of both gay and straight people they experience no change throughout their lives.

        I don’t really see how this understanding of orientation/sexuality conflicts with scripture since scripture doesn’t really talk much about sexual feelings and never about orientation. It is not that I think that real experience is superior to scripture, but I think the two must mesh together else we don’t have a real faith. John 1, for example, says that the earth was created by the same authority by which we are saved so discounting the real world as inferior or irrelevant when compared to scripture is kind of like giving scripture more authority than Jesus. Of course you can argue that my perception of reality is flawed, but our own perception or experience is our best judge of what reality is actually like… And of course that same perception of the world is stopping me from living as you would have me live.

        Jesus said that the law could be summed up as love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and your neighbour as yourself…where does banning gay marriage fit into that?! He also said that marriage would not be a part of Gods Kingdom so I don’t see why you think that heterosexual marriage is such an important part of being the image of God? And this kind of goes back to my previous point that the church only really supports heterosexual couples/families and ignores (sometimes rejects) everyone who can’t or doesn’t fit that mould.

        The only passages I can find that might be interpreted as being opposed to gay marriage are Leviticus 18/20 and -possibly- a generalisation of Romans 1. There is of course the single word in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy, but I think you would agree (?) that these just refer back to Leviticus and aren’t specifying some new laws. Even interpreting these as being opposed to all gay sex, it is hardly a widespread theme! I can find nothing to suggest that orientation interrupts our bearing of the image of God. There’s nothing physically different about gay people, nor does scripture suggest that since it doesn’t even mention orientation.

        I’m sorry I don’t understand your point about “gay identity”. I don’t have a stereotypical lifestyle or appearance. To me “gay” just means I’m attracted to men. I certainly don’t think it bars me from being male (if that’s what your suggesting?!) or being a member of the body of Christ. Indeed Galatians 3.28 seems to suggest that such earthly characteristics are ignored in the body of Christ! (I’m sure you disagree that we can extrapolate that list to include “gay”, but I AM a believer regardless of my attractions or your opinion.)

        I maybe wouldn’t normally say it because it is a bit rude, but I’m sorry but I do actually agree with Steve Chalke. You are campaigning against my future happiness and wellbeing – how is that not hateful towards me?! I’m sure that you would agree that marriage isn’t just about sex, but also provides support and companionship. If I lived my life as a single celibate, and I might anyway (though not deliberately), how can I have decent accommodation with today’s house prices? Who will look after me and take me to hospital when I’m ill? Who will give me a hug when Ive had a really bad day or comfort me when I’m grieving? Who will help with financial support if I loose my job? Who will give me a reason to look after myself? I recognise these questions go beyond just gay people, but if you are wanting to stop people from seeking this sort of support from a life partner, you kind of need to give us something in its place.

        • Dear Pete J,

          I have been in Church virtually every week and yet I have never heard anyone preach on marriage ever. Therefore I take it that your feelings actually express your vulnerability on this issue. I respect that but I don’t understand the promotion of heterosexual relationships over gay ones in Church. On the other hand I can clearly see society promoting heterosexual relationships over gay ones – Therefore your complaint seems better aimed at society than at the Church.

          You quote Jesus’ command to love but take it out of context and so you are not being consistent. Jesus actually makes submission to God HARDER.

          Consider how Jesus refers to the 10 commandments and talks about the command “do not commit adultery” which seems clear but Jesus then makes it even harder.
          In the sermon on the mount Jesus says (Matthew 5):
          27 ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

          Jesus is NOT saying that a man should love every woman that they see … he is saying the opposite, that we should be respectful as God is.
          Being a man is not a sin, committing adultery (i.e. doing) is sinful, and now Jesus is making it even harder.

          Therefore Jesus doesn’t simply say we should love everyone under all circumstances, he expects people to have an open heart to God changing them.

          The Church is not hypocritical when it maintains this distinction between “being” which is not commonly sinful and “doing” which can be sinful sometimes.

          • Hi Clive

            I don’t think I’ve heard many sermons on marriage, but ive been to a few weddings so ive heard a few (I’ve been to Christian talks on that sort of thing as well), but I’m sure you’ll agree that church should be more than just the sermon. My point was really that current church teaching, and the theology of Ian, demand that all gay people remain celibate/single. And indeed celibacy as a lifestyle is considered better than marriage by Paul. But this sort of lifestyle, by its very nature, does not include the support of a spouse and/or family. Go on any Cofe church website and there will be several named ministries for supporting and building up couples and/or families, but nothing to specifically support single/celibate people. I feel the CofE is saying I must remain single, but they aren’t going to actually support me in that difficult lifestyle….does that make sense? I also feel there is a bit of a difference between being single and having the “hope” of a relationship one day to knowing that you’re never going to be allowed any kind of relationship.

            My experience is different to you as the only place I’ve experienced conflict over my sexuality is in the church so I don’t agree that it is a problem with society, not the church. However I am aware that anti gay beliefs are not confined to the church so it is maybe just that Im more affected by the beliefs of others in the church than I am by those in wider society? I don’t think society is particularly good at affirming single people, but society is demanding I remain single either…

            I’m not sure I’d quite put it that Jesus makes submission to God “harder”, but I don’t disagree with what you said. My original point was not that Jesus was relaxing the law, but he was stating a summing up of the law. My point was that if our interpretation of the law doesnt fit with Jesus’ summary then our interpretation is wrong. I disagree that the context changes this meaning (see for example matt 22.40) unless you want to debate what the meaning of the word “all” is?

            Because Jesus says the law is all about love (love for God and each other) I think it makes it difficult to claim the law bans gay people from marriage, and I mean a loving monogamous relationship by that, because that interpretation seems at odds with what Jesus says about the law.

            Jesus’ teaching against looking at a woman with lust are about lust, not love. And that leads into adultery. Neither of the acts he talks about are loving, they are both abusive. I’m not sure that I would say Jesus is making the command harder, I would say he is just looking at the root cause (perhaps sexual objectification of women by men), but in practise it amounts to the same thing.

            My interpretation of how Jesus uses love is as a doing word…for example that we should be continually on the lookout to perform acts of kindness for others. I don’t think the feeling is so important. But I agree we should be open to being changed more and more into his likeness.

        • Pete, all those things can and should come from friends. In fact, friendship is the key to a lot of life’s apparent problems. It is only the sexual element that has always been objected to, and rightly since there are basic questions both about its very possibility and about its healthiness.

    • Pete J,

      Thanks for sharing your insights about what you view as the hurtful inconsistencies in church’s treatment of gay people.

      Your position on the explicit scriptural pronouncements against same-sex sexual activity explains that they are inapplicable to sex within one’s orientation. We would agree to disagree there, but only because your approach to other scriptures makes you sound inconsistent.

      For instance, while the theological jury might be out on these scriptures, you don’t apply the same care in suggesting that Ga. 3:28 could (or, at least, also should) apply to sexual orientation identity.

      Why is it that we should refrain from leaps of inference from Rom. 1 to modern homosexual relationships , when you can posit an affirmation of same-sex sexual identity from a scripture that has nothing to do with sexual behaviour, i.e. Gal. 3:28.?

      • Well I wasn’t really trying to be consistent per se. The bible doesn’t speak directly about orientation or gay relationships so I was trying to draw out from these verses what their implications might be for me (I’m not a theologian or priest so I apologise that Im not particularly skilled in doing this).

        I think either the Galatians verse fits my interpretation or it says nothing at all about gay people. It seems to fit with John 3.16, Romans 10.9, Gal 3.18 etc.

        “Why is it that we should refrain from leaps of inference from Rom. 1 to modern homosexual relationships , when you can posit an affirmation of same-sex sexual identity from a scripture that has nothing to do with sexual behaviour, i.e. Gal. 3:28.?”

        I’m assuming by “same-sex identity” Im going to assume you mean the same as what I would call “gay orientation”. I would like to stress the difference between orientation and behaviour. I wasn’t quite suggesting Galatians 3.28 affirmed gay orientation I was suggesting that a particular orientation isn’t a bar to salvation, just as other characteristics such as gender or race arent. It seems illogical that it would be a bar since that would mean Christ died only for straight people. The verse would also seem to imply that we shouldn’t discriminate within the church based on race, parentage, social status or gender. I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to add orientation to that list…why would a christian want to exclude people anyway we are called to bring the good news to all!

        This maybe won’t mean much as I have no way of proving it, but I have a strong Christian faith and am as certain as it is possible to be in my salvation because I am certain in my saviour. Therefore I know at least for myself that gay people can be saved.

        I don’t think we can make romans 1 cover modern gay relationships because it describes a very specific situation that is not at all like a monogamous marriage. It is the same as taking the David and Bathsheba passage and suggesting that all straight relationships are the same – adulterous, destructive and abusive.

        • Pete J,

          Thanks for your reply.

          I would first distinguish sexual orientation identity from sexual orientation. As the American Psychological Association’s report, Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation, indicates: ‘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 behavior).

          It further states: ‘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.’

          So, while I would strongly agree that sexual orientation itself is not a bar to salvation, sexual orientation identity (as described above) is neither wholly determined by sexual orientation, nor affirmed by scripture. If it remains, sexual orientation identity is a bar to salvation.

          You say: ‘the verse would also seem to imply that we shouldn’t discriminate within the church based on race, parentage, social status or gender.’ That’s correct. Nevertheless, none of these characteristics would be assumed to be conclusive determinants of a particular behavioural identity.

          The real issue is the erroneous belief that while a homosexual predisposition is no bar to salvation, then neither is homosexual activity. That presumption is precisely where I disagree with those advocating that the church affirm monogamous same-sex sexual relationships.

          Your last paragraph is begging the question. By referring to homosexual monogamy as monogamous marriage, you are simply asserting it as proven without actually proving it.

          Romans 1 describes the outworking of God’s righteous indignation against the world’s rejection of His transcendence: self-evident in the orchestrated beneficence of nature.

          St. Paul’s eagerness to proclaim the gospel again in Rome is driven by his knowledge that, without its hope, human society is consigned to esteem its reasoning above what is self-evident about God through nature.

          The result of that kind of reasoning is revealed in Greek word for ‘changed’ (ellaxan) which is used three times. Equally, the Greek word for placing into custody (paredoken) is also used three times of God’s just consignment of those who persist in their intellectual defiance of what could be naturally discerned.

          Abandonment 1: In idolatry, mankind changes (ellaxan) the glory of the immortal God into the likeness of mortal creatures (vs. 23).

          Abandonment 2: Verse 25 describes the resultant ethos of those: ‘who changed (met?llaxan) the truth of God with falsehood’, elevating what is created above the creator.

          Abandonment 3. The final concomitant of reprobation is again that society descends into changing (met?llaxan) the self-evident male-female conjugative function of human sexuality. Paul belief is that nature is teleological; that overt characteristics give evidence of purpose.

          So, what is overtly formed as mortal should not be re-purposed for false worship. What is overtly formed for male-female conjugation should not be re-purposed for same-sex sexual activity. The sexual re-purposing away from self-evident physical purpose is considered the misuse, and not the sexually predisposition to do so.

          That said, heterosexuality is far from exempt from critical scrutiny. We’re all in the same boat without the gospel.

          Nevertheless, your comparison with David and Bathsheba is faulty. While there are other straight relationships that have been wholly affirmed by God, there are no scriptures that affirm same-sex sexual activity.

          • Wow we are so far apart from this that I think “good disagreement” is the best we can hope for. I don’t think the aim of the discussion is that everyone should believe the same thing, more that we can better understand each other.

            Im afraid you lost me on sexual orientation identity?! I think what you are saying is that being gay isn’t a block on entering the kingdom, but acting on it is? Well obviously I disagree, but I’m pleased that you would let me in(!)

            I was saying that the church and people in it shouldn’t discriminate on sexual orientation alone (and especially not if the person is celibate for they have sacrificed more than most for their faith). Although I know there are plenty of Christians who believe that orientation alone is sinful, there’s zero scriptural evidence for this.

            I agree that gay marriage and relationships is a completely separate issue to orientation. I wasn’t trying to say anything about them from the Galatians verse. I’m sorry if I confused my message. But, incidentally, I think many in the church (even in the house of bishops) do not distinguish between being gay and being in an active gay relationship. Some seem to have a vendetta against anyone who is gay.

            ” By referring to homosexual monogamy as monogamous marriage, you are simply asserting it as proven without actually proving it.” I have no idea what this sentence means?! Are you suggesting I need to prove that gay marriages can be monogamous?!

            Thank you so much for asserting that we are all in the same boat. As gay people we are often marked out as particularly sinful. The only times I’ve heard of straight people being excluded from the church it has been over issues of safety, yet some think even those of us who haven’t sinned shouldn’t be welcome, because of our orientation.

            I don’t know a lot of theological words so I have to admit I didn’t understand every word of your exposition of Romans, but thank you for it. I personally don’t see myself as naturally straight (I understand that might be hard to accept) so I don’t feel that any relationship I might have would be a desertion of nature. In fact if I were to sleep with a woman it would be a desertion of my nature and a misuse of sex – it would have a bad motive. As you’ve probably worked out I don’t think I’d ever be likely to do either of the other two abandonments!

            I disagree with your assessment of my David and Bathsheba comparison, because there are no homosexual relationships in the bible full stop! Just because something isn’t in scripture does not make it prohibited – I would say usually the reverse is true. For example, hospitals are not mentioned once, but I think they are a pretty good thing! I could give you a long list, but you understand my argument.

            My main reasoning behind using David and Bathsheba was to demonstrate the difficulty of generalising scripture that describes homosexual sex acts to all gay people now. I’m not sure how widespread it is but I know that some believers think all gay people are God-hating idolaters, for example. It might also give an insight about how hurtful it can be when someone takes a negative bible passage to describe your love life and it doesn’t describe it at all!

          • Pete J,

            First, let me say that, while my postion would, no doubt, appear uncharitable toward your orientation, I’m enjoying the candour of our conversation.

            If imperfect predispositions excluded from the kingdom of God, I wouldn’t have a hope in hell. But then again, neither would anyone else. I think you’ll find that most who contribute here recognise that.

            I’m not saying that you need to prove that gay relationships can be monogamous. I am saying that to exclude gay monogamy from the scope of St. Paul’s denunciation, you’d need to prove that scripture (and not just the State) affirms it as marriage.

            Same-sex attraction may come naturally to you. Nature (phusis) in Rom. 1 is not what is characteristic to specific individuals. In Paul’s language, nature is the purpose can be inferred from self-evident and characteristic function. In terms of sexual activity, it is male-female conjugation.

            That Christians (whether heterosexual or homosexual) succumb to passions that stray from this ideal is evidence that those desires need to be redeemed, not that they are beyond redemption.

            You’ve said with a sound example of hospitals, ‘Just because something isn’t in scripture does not make it prohibited’. The issue here is that the scriptural prohibition is against same-sex conjugation. It’s irrelevant to that denunciation to highlight that the scripture has nothing to say about the relationship that might exist between same-sex partners.

            St. Paul describes covetousness as idolatry. St. John equates ‘friendship with the world’ to enmity with God.

            This indicates the reality of the tough decisons that all believers must make. We are all capable of God-hating idolatry, since we only have to prioritise any earthly desire above the will of God.

            No-one’s love life escapes negative scriptural scrutiny on the basis that it would be hurtful to do so.

            It must have been hurtful for the rich young ruler to discover that nothing short of abandoning the nobility of his parentage would allow him into the Kingdom of God. What proportion of humanity are called upon to disown their inherited family status?

          • David – sorry it wouldn’t let me reply to your latest…probably the thread has gone too deep.

            “I’m not saying that you need to prove that gay relationships can be monogamous. I am saying that to exclude gay monogamy from the scope of St. Paul’s denunciation, you’d need to prove that scripture (and not just the State) affirms it as marriage.”


            The people Paul describes are not in monogamous (gay) relationships so, since he is detailed and specific in his description, it does not seem to be a general statement and so I think more the onus is on you to prove that he is describing all non heterosexual activity. Actually I would suggest there is evidence that the specific people he is talking about are heterosexuals, or at least married to people of the opposite sex, since he says “their women”. Of course we know who he is specifically describing – the pagan sex-worshippers of Rome.

            I would also point out that homosexual celibacy is also never directly affirmed by the bible – so by your logic that could be equally bad! Don’t get me wrong – I think the bible says that celibacy is a good thing for all people, but it only actually talks about it within a passage about heterosexuals. By your logic you would also make me prove this applies equally to homosexuals. If we have to exclude any teaching that is not specifically related to/written to us then we need to say pretty much the whole bible has nothing to say to us as 21st century Christians!!

            Incidentally, the same passage (1 cor 7) suggests you should get married (only) to avoid burning with lust, but because current church teaching sees gay marriage as such a bad thing it is actually kind of promoting promiscuity amongst gay people, because hookups can be repented of and hidden. I don’t see how this teaching of Paul’s – that marriage is better than lust – is not allowed to be applied to gay people. In that case the church should at least be saying that gay marriage is better than gay promiscuity, but it is frightened of saying anything positive about gay people.

            I disagree with your assertion that homosexual activity is unnatural and heterosexual activity is natural. You seem to say it is because of self-evident and characteristic function. The trouble is that this sort of evidence is subjective and biased to our own prejudices. You say gay sex is self-evidentially unnatural and I say the opposite. I don’t think we can get into graphic detail – and im no expert in that anyway – but I also disagree for the same reasons on “characteristic function”.

            It is interesting that you say that passions that stray from the ideal need to be redeemed. I would not describe orientation in the way you have, but nevertheless… It doesn’t seem possible to change gay orientation either through self will, because we have no control over it, or through prayer, because God does not seem up for it(!). So this commonly ends up with the gay Christian either in a lifelong position of self-despair or with him being thrown out of the church for not changing quickly enough. The church does not expect us to self-redeem over anything else it considers sinful. The bible says that when we believe God works in our hearts to make us want to follow his ideal. So why doesn’t this work over being gay? There is of course a difference between being gay and activity, but you said that “passions” needed to be redeemed. If God is actually “OK” with gay orientation (and possibly action) it would explain why he is so reluctant to help anyone change their orientation.

            As I have said before I don’t think scripture is against all gay sex. You haven’t proved that it is to my mind and it means that your interpretation of Romans 1 to include all gay sex behaviour is directly dependent on your interpretation of Leviticus 18. So this creates a kind of closed loop where we are agreed that the bible condemns something (and are actually agreed that the something involves some sort of same-sex behaviour). What we are in disagreement over is what specifically, or generally, it condemns. I think it is sex outside of your orientation, because that is not purposed for love and, probably almost always, abusive in some way. You think it is sex with anyone of the same gender.

            Presumably you would be happy with celibate gay relationships akin to marriage? In practice the church frowns on these also and tends not to believe those who claim it. But that opens up the whole tricky area of how church authorities automatically trust heterosexuals to account for their love-lives, but are more skeptical when it comes to homosexuals. I doubt many straight laity have even been asked to account for their love-lives!!

            I get a bit worked up when straight Christians, who are saying I should never have a relationship, talk about “tough decisions”. This isn’t in the same ballpark as anything else or rather it is like EVERYTHING else combined, because it is abandoning your whole life. I think it is OK for Jesus to ask me to do that, but not for other Christians – especially if their natural inclinations conveniently fit church teaching(!). When I say “everything else”, it really is, and a lot of these things are unquestionably good, not just for me, but for others and the gospel. If I accept church teaching then I’m then in the position of choosing the lesser of two evils because the church says gay relationships are wrong, but I know that abandoning any thought of relationship will be very bad for me personally, will be bad those I love and will be bad for the gospel. For this reason I think the church should leave it up to individual Christians to sort their love-lives out with God and not demand certain behaviour. Even if you accept church teaching on gay sex then this decision is not clear-cut by any means.

            And remember that these “tough decisions” are much harder if you are gay in the church because you can’t count on people/leaders for support in the way you can if you are heterosexual. Partly this is due to homophobia, partly over-generalisation of church teaching and partly because most Christians have no understanding of being gay and what that means. For example, “Pastoral support”, intended to be comforting, can leave you feeling like you’ve been mauled by a tiger! The church needs to train priests in how to interact with LGBT people sensitively-or at least offer training.

            Because I don’t believe that active gay relationships are all condemned by the bible (and actually I think, from what you wrote about needing to prove extrapolation from scripture, you’d agree it is a massive stretch to believe so) it isn’t scripture that has a problem with any future relationship I might have, it is church teaching.

            I disagree that hurt isn’t admissible as some form of evidence since the bible asks us to test what we believe against its fruit (eg James 3.17, luke 6.43). The law of the Lord is also meant to be good. It seems clear to me that gay marriage is also good and the alternatives are bad. Good laws should have good outcomes. Going on fruit alone the church should embrace gay marriage immediately. The church of course isn’t even discussing allowing any blessing of gay marriage, it is only discussing how it stays together whilst a significant part of it strongly disagrees with its teaching on gay marriage.

            The rich young ruler, as I understand it, was asking how he could save himself. Actually we all need Jesus. If you think everyone should save themselves, then there are a lot of privileged rich people in the church who are not condemned by it, but plenty of gay people who are. Not really fair is it?! As Ive said elsewhere, it would be far better for the church to decide how it can better treat gay people in and outside of itself, than do a lot of theoretical navel gazing about gay marriage. NB please don’t take that as me saying I don’t want the church to approve of gay marriage, because of course I do, I just think that the actual crisis to hand is how the church treats gay people. The movers and the shakers seem oblivious to this.

          • Hi again Pete J,

            Let’s look at some of your comments:

            ‘The people Paul describes are not in monogamous (gay) relationships so, since he is detailed and specific in his description, it does not seem to be a general statement and so I think more the onus is on you to prove that he is describing all non heterosexual activity’

            The issue here is that you can’t read verses in isolation. St. Paul uses the continuous tense: ‘For the wrath of God is being revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who hold the truth in unrighteousness’ (Rom. 1:18) ‘All ungodliness’ means that retributive justice is not isolated to specific situations and individuals. It is a universal principle that’s at work in varying degrees in all human societies. St. Paul is just describing the full-blown symptoms.

            The full revelation of Jesus as Saviour through the gospel was granted as the only remedy to counteract this universal principle. It is the impetus for St. Paul to preach the word again in Rome:

            ‘That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” Rom. 1:18ff simply explains the depths that mankind would plumb without the gospel.

            One thing it highlights is that cataclysmic judgment (e.g. the bolt from heaven) is an exceptionally rare response from God (and easily parodied).

            Instead, St. Paul’s explains (and this concurs with Jesus) that, apart from God’s generosity in the gospel, retributive justice is being meted out upon our universal and very human refusal to respond appropriately to what is self-evident though nature about the supreme goodness of God. Retribution consists in nothing more than being handed over to the unyielding custody of thoughts that rejection what is equally self-evident through nature.

            So, in Rom. 1, the complete outworking of divine wrath (described as ‘being revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men) is not constrained to describe the behaviour of ‘pagan sex-worshippers of Rome’. St. Paul’s description is of the moral descent of entire societies to misappropriate everything that is self-evident: from the genuine worship of the transcendent God to the purpose for which male-female sexuality was created.

            You contend: ‘I disagree with your assertion that homosexual activity is unnatural and heterosexual activity is natural. You seem to say it is because of self-evident and characteristic function. The trouble is that this sort of evidence is subjective and biased to our own prejudices.’

            Your position echoes those who would also reject St. Paul’s argument that God’s supreme authority and power is inferred through nature. By intellect alone, you could reject St. Paul’s assertion of an inference from nature (full of anomalies and catastrophe) to idea of a supreme being.

            Consistent with this is rejection of self-evident and characteristic function inferring God’s approval of male-female conjugation.

            So, you could also disagree with St. Paul assertion (and atheists do) that God’s supreme authority and power are self-evident through nature), but you don’t.

            You’ve just chosen to suspend rationalism in one case, but not where it impinges on sexuality. In either case, St. Paul’s declaration is that the retribution for disputing the self-evident is revealed in the unyielding custody of predispositions. People are relinquished to do as they please.

            ‘homosexual celibacy is also never directly affirmed by the bible’. The qualifying adjective ‘homosexual’ only make homosexual celibacy a sub-set of the broader category of celibacy. You might as well claim that the ‘Australasian holiness’ is never directly affirmed by the Bible’ and that the authors wouldn’t have known about Australasia. If the over-arching category of behaviour, e.g. celibacy, is affirmed as the appropriate means of sexual restraint, then so are all sub-sets of it, including homosexual and Australasian celibacy.

            I think that I’ve responded to your interpretation of Rom. 1, but I don’t think that I can answer all of your points exhaustively and at once.. It might be better to respond to others tomorrow.

            What I do want to assure you is that I battle daily with the kind of emotions that Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount declares would put me in danger of judgment. I fail, I get up, I fail and sometimes I succeed, knowing it’s Christ succeeding in me.

            Yes, in contrast with your situation, you might suggest that I can, at least, conceal those emotions enough to be accepted and approved in church, but their acceptance, approval and pastoral support isn’t something I’m counting on.

            Instead, most of my confidences are between myself and the Lord. Occasionally, a God-sent mentor will come along, but they are few and far between. What I won’t do is try to rationalize those unruly emotions. They may be part and parcel of my make-up, but they are not part and parcel of Jesus’ explanation of God’s will for my life. It’s drawn from the only surviving description of His life and of those He chose to tell it.

          • I’m really struggling with your language, could you try to use less jargon please?

            Thank you for replying. I’m sorry for giving you so much to reply to. This is really personal to me because of things that have happened to me and friends as a result of church teaching/practise. I long for the CofE to be at least a safe place for gay people, even if the leadership can’t endorse gay marriage.

            I don’t disagree with your assessment of Romans 1, but Paul IS using the pagans around him as a specific example and to interpret this passage as saying that ALL gay sex is wrong you have to come at it having already decided that the bible is opposed to ALL gay sex. Paul never once attacks gay marriage. He doesn’t say gay marriage is against nature and neither does he say all gay sex is. What he says is the people in his example are acting against their nature.

            Paul doesn’t say “all gay sex is obviously wrong due to nature” he says that God is obvious due to nature. I reject your implication that acceptance of gay marriage is linked to a rejection Gods supreme authority – why am I even here? If I had rejected God I would have no need for the church’s acceptance of me or gay marriage.

            There is often a real problem with this passage, because Christians campaigning against gay marriage or rights or just against gays use the following logic – Romans 1 describes (active) gay people, therefore ANYONE who is (actively) gay is described by the passage and therefore is also an idol worshipper and has also rejected Gods authority. This – im afraid – is just rubbish logic. It doesn’t bear witness in the real world. All it ever achieves is to stop gay people from being able to attend church and therefore makes it harder for us to experience God. It is a great evil in the church that gay people are treated in this manner. The question “pick between the church and your orientation” is just stupid because we can’t change our orientation, so it is really a simple rejection.

            I disagree that to support gay marriage is to suspend rationalism. I think being opposed to it when it doesn’t affect you is irrational, actually!

            I’m not sure because I’m struggling with your language, but is your interpretation of Romans 1 actually that ALL gay people are such BECAUSE they’ve rejected God?! (Even though I think you’ll agree the passage is about people who are normally heterosexual) That’s really harsh and untrue and leaves no room for salvation for anyone born gay! If you accept that being gay is somehow not-ideal (and I don’t really although it is certainly harder) then throughout scripture it continually says that you shouldn’t accuse the afflicted as being like it due to their own sin. I’m thinking of blind bartimaeus (similar to gay people also because he was rejected by the religious leaders at the time and banned from the temple) and Job in particular.

            If homosexual celibacy is a subcategory of celibacy then homosexual marriage is a sub category of marriage. I don’t think you can say one subset is acceptable even though only a neighbouring subset is mentioned and yet in another case a subset is banned because it is isn’t specifically affirmed. I was not saying that I was making these distinctions, but I think, by definition, you have to make a distinction between heterosexual things and homosexual things in scripture in order to ban gay marriage. I think if you are saying gay marriage isn’t OK because it isn’t specifically approved of then you have to question if homosexual celibacy is OK because that also isn’t specifically approved of. I disagree that the general category of celibacy is approved of (if you are making distinctions between heterosexual and homosexual behaviour) because the passage is clearly talking to heterosexuals.

            I was really making this picky point because church teaching, and yourself, picks out all the negative passages about gay sex and applies them to all gay sex situations (and sometimes all gay relationships and sometimes all gay people). But then it also takes all the positive passages about relationships and people and believers and applies them only to heterosexuals. If you allow the whole bible to speak into gay people’s lives instead of just a few passages (whose exact meaning we disagree on) you get a very different picture of biblical teaching.

            Part of my church’s sermon today was about the importance of relationships in overcoming adversity. It was based around a man’s personal testimony and he said how his spouse and kids saw him through. Their faith and courage really helped him have faith and courage. How can it be right that these relationships are so important, and upheld by the church, for straight people, but gay people should be banned from them? (And in practise gay people are also shunned by many in the church who’ve only heard negative things about them and probably been told at some point that Romans 1 describes all gay people. This is a separate issue, but one I think is more pressing) How then are we to have relationship if the church does its best to stop us from having partners, children or friends?!

            Thank you for admitting your (what I consider VERY healthy) cycle of failure and reliance on Jesus. I really don’t understand why, if the rest of the church are allowed to live like this, why gay people are singled out as having to become perfect (at least in their sexuality) before the are accepted? Sorry I’m not arguing about gay marriage here, more about how gays aren’t accepted into many cofe congregations. In my own church Ive been told I’m welcome by the vicar, but in practise it isn’t that easy because not all the members of the congregation agree with that stance. And I wonder if a change in my relationship status would alter how welcome I am. There is no authoritative word from synod or hob etc that LGBT should be welcomed, only that we shouldn’t be allowed to have relationships. The lack of teaching about gay people, especially how we should be treated, is leaving a massive hole open for abuse and even just really casual anti gay remarks. These might seem like nothing to the speaker, but they can really destroy gay people, especially if they are said with the authority of the pulpit. We are two thousand years after Paul wrote “accept one another as Christ has accepted you”, most people are aware there are gays amongst us, and yet still how many CofE churches are genuinely welcome to gay or LGBT people?! There are very very few where we are genuinely counted equal with the straight people. And in discussions on gay marriage teaching I feel that our testimony is not listened to as a valuable source of evidence as many/most of the people maintaining the ban have already decided that they know us.

        • Pete J,

          It’s late, but a few key points.

          ‘What he says is the people in his example are acting against their nature.’ Well, no, they are not acting against what is personally self-evident any more than idolaters are rejecting what is personally self-evident. Universal wrath is being revealed because of man’s rejection of what is universally self-evident.

          When St. Paul uses the phrase for nature, phusis, it is not a personal trait, It is what is universally self-evident in purpose and characteristic in function. You’ve returned to the notion.

          The notion that you rubbish is that: ‘Romans 1 describes (active) gay people, therefore ANYONE who is (actively) gay is described by the passage and therefore is also an idol worshipper and has also rejected Gods authority.’

          Well, that’s not exactly what’s being said. When in Col. 3:5, St. Paul describes greed as idolatry, I doubt that you think it means that anyone experiencing greed is literally kneeling before a statue. He just meant that over-reaching greed involves devotion to something false that detracts from devotion to God.

          What we are saying is that Romans 1 explains the outworking of divine wrath. The witness of nature has been rejected by mankind. The word, nature, meaning, what the apostles saw as universally self-evident and characteristic functions of the physical realm. .

          Instead, heathenism (even the modern variety) is characterized by abandoning devotion to God for materialism, overtaken by earthly priorities, wants and desires. (As St. Paul shows, you don’t have to physically kneel before a statue to be an idolater)

          The consequences of divine wrath is for those societies (indicated by the repeated use of the plural) to give in to that which is against nature.

          Now, you can re-phrase nature to mean what comes naturally to you, all you want. That is not what St. Paul meant by the word.

          ‘If homosexual celibacy is a subcategory of celibacy then homosexual marriage is a sub category of marriage.’ The implication of this would be that we are discussing the State definition of marriage, which permits the sub-set. We’re actually discussing the Church definition of marriage that does not accommodate a homosexual sub-set.

          ‘ is your interpretation of Romans 1 actually that ALL gay people are such BECAUSE they’ve rejected God?! ‘ No. Rom. 1 is saying that without the gospel, we are all capable of every vice it mentions. Some of us may feel stronger in resisting certain temptations more than others, but, as with St. Peter, it only takes a particular set of circumstances for those tendencies to surface.

          ‘I really don’t understand why, if the rest of the church are allowed to live like this, why gay people are singled out as having to become perfect (at least in their sexuality) before the are accepted?’

          First, I’m not defending the CofE. Yet, I do think that it’s one thing to battle emotions that contradict scripture, to fail many times and to finally overcome through Christ. It’s quite another for me to claim that scripture affirms those emotions, or that the NT authors were not aware of the modern view of them.

          If I proposed a different kind of church, in which we all accepted the climb towards the lofty heights of Jesus’ moral standards, but promised to never abandon each other for any failure through weakness or ignorance, would that make any difference to the CofE? Could we all establish a new code of unrelenting mutual brotherly care that doesn’t compromise our high calling? I really hope so.

          Whatever arises from our future discussions, that’s the kind of church that I’m after.

          • Pete J

            Please don’t say you will agree to differ with David and in the next breath say you don’t understand what he is saying.

            It’s exactly that kind of thing that makes so many of us suspicious – since it makes no sense. How can you ‘differ’ from something you don;t yet understand? Let alone predict thta you always will differ from it!! Come off it, if you don’t understand it, then for all you know you might agree with it. You have to first understand it before you know whether you agree or disagree. Isn’t that an undeniable point?

            Agreeing to differ is so convenient, because it means that people can cling on to their own cherished ideologies and preferences without ever addressing counter-arguments. Honest people commit to addressing all counter-arguments, and if you ever find me not answering them (usually because so many different ones are put to me) just list those I have not addressed and I will address every single one.


          • Thanks for your reply

            I think the issue here is that my perception of what is natural and self-evident is not the same as yours.

            Sorry to be nit-picky but the church has banned gay marriage (or parliament has on its behalf) therefore the church must recognise gay marriage, in some sense at least, as a subset of marriage in order to be able to ban it. You don’t normally ban something that doesn’t exist. Actually maybe that last sentence could bring great freedom to the CofE – those that believe gay marriage is a sub-category of marriage are free to do so and those that don’t just don’t recognise the relationship as existing? Would that work?

            But again to have verses applying to relationships/marriage as not applying equally to gay relationships/marriage, you have to have already assumed that church teaching is correct, ie I think in you are arguing that heterosexual marriage is better than “burning with lust”, but gay marriage isn’t better than “burning with lust”, but to get to that interpretation you have to assume that gay marriage is a bad thing before you read the passage. Which means to get to that interpretation you either have to accept church teaching as read OR take the leviticus passage to be about gay people and an applicable law to modern Christians OR have a very particular interpretation of Romans 1 (which Im not convinced you can arrive at without first knowing church teaching).

            And really I think that is a major flaw, but not the biggest, in current church teaching is that you have to assume that it is correct to come to that view…im trying to say (badly, I appologise) that it is just a circular argument. And you take all the seemingly anti gay verses and say that they apply to all gay relationships, because it fits church teaching, and apply all verses that speak positively about relationships and say they can only apply to heterosexuals, because of church teaching.

            “Rom. 1 is saying that without the gospel, we are all capable of every vice it mentions”

            I think this is true. Our disagreement here would be that you think it describes any form of gay sex and I don’t. A terrible irony is that Romans 1 was actually written to tell the Roman Christians not to judge their pagan neighbours and yet it is mainly used by Christians to whack gay people over the head.

            I really like what you wrote about your vision for the church, but why can’t we have that church? What is stopping it? Leaving the gay issue aside, although this is related, what do you then do about theological differences over righteous living e.g. one brother might consider all killing to be sinful, whereas another might serve in the armed forces OR, more related to relationships, one brother might be divorced and remarried (and have a pretty good reason for it) and another might think all divorce is wrong. Do they start to try to kick each other out of church or threaten schism? I think this is a particular problem now because, people are less inclined to treat church teaching as ultimately authoritative, we have access to scripture and study tools like never before and, because there is less denominational loyalty, theological ideas bleed in from other churches. I actually think all these things are good and we should promote healthy discussion in churches and allow for disagreement.

            Variance in belief also does a really good thing in that it keeps the central ideas central, because we all believe in the cross and the resurrection, but maybe we don’t all agree on tattoos. If we allow variance in belief we don’t become a church mainly concerned with banning tattoos!

          • Christopher

            I’m sorry, but I haven’t been to theological college and so I don’t understand some of the long theological words, but that doesn’t mean I don’t understand the concepts or scripture. Ive managed to follow most of his points.

            Beinf able to live in community with those you disagree is an important biblical idea and very relevant for our time (see Romans 14 for example)

            If you don’t mind me saying you seem to like debate/conflict so it is difficult to understand why you are so opposed/shocked that there are differences between us.

          • Pete J,

            Your interpretation of what Rom. 1 means by ‘nature’ must be consistent. It would be worth reviewing how Greek scholars interpret it without reference to same-sex marriage. It goes beyond just what is customary to a particular era.

            In response to the ‘nit-picking’, I didn’t claim that gay marriage was non-existent, only that it was an inapplicable sub-set to exclude from Rom. 1. It was a response to your own assertion that: ‘I don’t think we can make romans 1 cover modern gay relationships because it describes a very specific situation that is not at all like a monogamous marriage.’ You were declaring that modern gay relationships are excluded on the basis that they are consistent with monogamous marriage as approved elsewhere by St. Paul.

            I’ve only highlighted that St.Paul’s understanding of monogamous marriage cannot be subject to our State’s recent redefinition of it to include the same-sex variant. We can’t infer that St.Paul’s prophetic denunciation would have excluded whatever the State re-defines to be marriage. In contrast, we can infer what St. Paul meant by the word ‘phusis’, i.e. nature.

            The lasses-faire approach that leaves the church recognition of gay marriage to congregational discretion doesn’t work.

            You claim that to get to the interpretation that the gay variant of marriage is a bad thing depends at least one of three flawed presumptions:
            1. Accept church teaching as read,
            2. Take the Leviticus passage to be about gay people and an applicable law to modern Christians;
            3. Have a very particular interpretation of Romans 1 (which Im not convinced you can arrive at without first knowing church teaching).

            I’ll address these in turn:
            1. If the premise under debate is ‘is all same-sex sexual activity against nature, as scripture defines?’, then it’s wrong to embed the necessity that nature must be as it is defined by current church teaching.

            Nevertheless, it would be equally wrong to assume that current church teaching is faulty by claiming that the scriptural definition of ‘against nature’ means whatever is personally uncharacteristic.

            2. The Leviticus passage (I assume that you mean 18) is a prohibition on behaviour. It is a limitation of law that it cannot prohibition a predisposition. That said, in 1 Cor. 10, St. Paul looks back to Israel’s OT history and declares that:’Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.’ (vs. 6) and again: ‘These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come.’ (vs. 11)

            In fact, it was Leviticus that prompted John the Baptist (whom Christ described as ‘a burning and a shining light’) to denounce Herod for re-marriage to his half-brother’s ex-wife. Do you think that incest prohibitions suddenly changed through the cross? No. But you do believe that there’s a special pleading for gay monogamy.

            3. St. Paul speaks prophetically about the witness of God’s supreme power through nature as universal and self-evident, echoing Psalm 19. It is mankind’s rejection of that universal witness that reaps universal divine retribution (‘against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men’). It’s why even before the giving of the law, all mankind was under sin.

            Now, an atheist might disagree with St.Paul, claiming that the testimony from nature about God far from self-evident; that nature bears witness to a ‘blind watchmaker’. They might further claim that few of the vices mentioned later on apply to them. All of that doesn’t change St. Paul’s declaration of a universal revelation: ‘that which may be known of God has been revealed to them, for God has shown it to them’. It is not a deductive argument, since it would be circular. Instead, it’s a prophetic insight from God Himself. The proof is in the inexorable moral descent of those societies.

            So, it’s wholly inconsistent with St. Paul’s concept of nature to claim, as you do, that his reference to ‘against nature’ means what’s personally uncharacteristic and unrelated to what he earlier asserts that God has made universally self-evident by His power in beneficent harmony of the entire natural world. In one breath, you can’t interpret nature to be universally self-evident at the beginning and then personally characteristic at the end.

            Ergo, you assert, on the basis that homosexual relationships are characteristic to your orientation, that the Rom. 1 denunciation doesn’t apply to you, since you’re only doing what’s natural to you.

            In plain terms, your interpretation of St.Paul’s description is nonsense, unless you can demonstrate why, within one reasoned train of thought, nature begins as referring to the universally self-evident and characteristic functions of the created world (Romans? ?1?:?20? NIV) at the beginning and only what is characteristic of specific human categories by the end (Rom. 1:26)

            ‘A terrible irony is that Romans 1 was actually written to tell the Roman Christians not to judge their pagan neighbours and yet it is mainly used by Christians to whack gay people over the head.’

            That’s just a pejorative association of the traditional position with homophobia. Insistence on a consistent interpretation of nature in Rom. 1 bears no resemblance to the use of a rhetorical violent bludgeon against gays.

            While St. Paul was seeking to provide graphic evidence of how both Gentiles and Jews were manifestly in need of the gospel, we contend over whether one part of that evidence is manifestly inapplicable to monogamous same-sex sexual activity.

            Your circular reasoning is that simply because gay marriage meets the criteria of monogamy, it’s, by that fact, excluded from the scope of St. Paul’s description of ‘against nature’. Once, you’ve done that, you can open the door to a host of other exclusions that dilute the hard sayings of scripture as being unreasonable.

            That’s why we contend over this so strenuously.

            In terms of church re-marriage after divorce, you should know that all those who want this must acknowledge that divorce is outside of the will of God. In respect of gay relationships, your position isn’t likely to acknowledge that.

          • Hi David

            Many thanks for your reply. Im sorry, I feel the need to apologise about the rambelly nature of my responses. I have managed to confuse the issue considerably. It wasn’t really my intent. Sorry ive repeated some ideas from before, but this is just to try to be clear what I am trying to say, so I hope you won’t get irritated that I’m just saying the same things again!

            The UK hasnt redefined marriage, it has just let more people take part.

            When I said that to ban gay marriage you had to accept at least one of three presumptions, I didn’t mean they were “flawed”, I meant that I think to accept any of them you need a degree of “take on trust” from tradition (which seems at odds with the rest of scripture and reality). I think the Leviticus presumption is the only one that isn’t really tenuous tbh.

            Forgive me, this is where I have caused confusion. I wasn’t saying that the Romans passage doesn’t condemn gay marriage because I have a different view of what constitutes “natural” to you. I was saying I don’t think the Romans passage condemns gay marriage because the situation described is so far removed from a loving marriage. I wasn’t saying that Romans doesn’t apply to me because I’m of a gay orientation, Im saying that Romans doesn’t describe all gay sex.

            Separate to that, I also disagree with your assessment of what is natural or not. Not just through personal characteristic (although certainly the medical and psychiatric professions in this country do not think there is something wrong/unnatural about gay orientation). In a more general sense, I would say gay orientation IS part of natural variation. I accept that Paul almost certainly had a different view of nature to me, but he almost certainly had a different view of nature to you too! I think, since there is homosexuality in nature (animals), that it is a bit of stretch to ban gay marriage based on claiming all gay sex to be unnatural.

            I do agree that God is self-evident from nature!

            Wow! Are you now saying that you consider mere orientation to be a sin??!! In which case, since I am damned regardless then I might as well get married and have a happy life? As I have said before I do think Leviticus 18.22 still applies, I just think we should take the original framing to be that of a heterosexual male…(NB it doesn’t say anything about women’s sexual activity, nor intersex people) I included the phrase about “having to assume it still applies” because I’m aware that this a fairly common understanding of the verse is that it is one that can now be disregarded. I would argue that Paul references this verse twice in his letters, so it seems to not be like some of the laws in chapter 19! Although I think it would be a great thing if Christians started doing a modern equivalent of 19.9, Im not sure that church teaching requires that I don’t wear man-made fibres or not eat black pudding or not trim my beard.


            It is quite offensive to compare gay relationships to incest (or bestiality, adultery etc). If you engage with other gay people on this issue, a less offensive way to ask this question is by saying “if we don’t accept the church’s interpretation of leviticus 18.22 then can we still accept the other sex prohibitions?” Or just don’t ask at all?

            Assuming you junk 18.22, which im not actually doing, all the other sex prohibitions cover abusive behaviour – Im no great expert on incest, but I imagine it is rarely/never a loving relationship, free from abuse & power. The situation is muddied by the fact that the bible contains incestuous (or at least what today’s church would consider incestuous) relationships that it seems to approve of (e.g. Abraham). Incestuous relationships lead to bad outcomes (three eyed babies?!). Of course a major difference with gay relationships is that banning from incest does not stop anyone from being in a loving relationship, but banning gay relationships forces gay people into isolation and, usually, exclusion, since they then necessarily have greatly reduced agency in a predominantly heterosexually coupled world.


            I brought up this issue partly to point out that church teaching seems to take all of the negative passages about abusive sex and apply them to all homosexual relationships, yet it also doesn’t allow anything positive written about relationships to apply to gay ones.

            If we are allowed to include gay people in suggesting that celibacy is a good thing, then why a few verses later does marriage, as a concession to not lusting, not also apply to gay people? Why is that church teaching is actually the reverse, ie it is better to burn with lust than get married?

            “The lasses-faire approach that leaves the church recognition of gay marriage to congregational discretion doesn’t work.”

            (I was really thinking about individuals, not whole congregations)

            Why not? This is not so far from what we have in practise now (excluding marriages of clergy). If you just look at the issue of gay marriage in isolation from associated impacts of this church teaching, you can get gay-married and remain in the church. Lots of people have done just this. This situation doesn’t seem to have caused many problems (except maybe from those who don’t want gay people in church anyway). Of course I would like to get married in church, and don’t really understand why I’m not allowed, but I don’t need the church’s permission to do it.

            I apologise for using the phrase “whack gay people over the head” I maybe should’ve said “condemn (active) gay people”. I didn’t realise it was such an offensive thing to say and I wasn’t meaning to apply that against you, just making a general point about how this passage is used. My point still stands that it is being used for almost the exact opposite reason of its original intention.

            Once again Im not suggesting that gay marriage is excluded from Romans because it fits the criteria of monogamy, Im saying that the Romans passage is nothing like a good gay marriage. It really clearly isn’t … I don’t know how you can persist in saying it covers all same sex activity. It is really really clear! If a TV is broken, it doesn’t make all TVs broken!!

            I don’t agree that I’m diluting the hard sayings of scripture (although church teaching against gay marriage is a lot easier for you to just accept than for me.) Im just interested in the truth of what scripture has to say to us today. Of course I have an iron in the fire, but that actually gives me better insight of the issue – if I accept that I serve a loving God who is good, how can I reconcile that with church teaching that says I must follow a lifestyle that I know will have bad consequences for me? How can I reconcile the church on the one hand saying I must lead this hard life – even though nowhere in scripture can I see any precedent of people having celibacy required of them – when it won’t provide me with any practical support?

            I didn’t know that about the CofE’s official teaching on divorce -I think it is incredibly draconian- but that it makes the church position on gay marriage even MORE dodgey since it is willing to hold some form of marriage service for heterosexual couples that it considers as adulterous, but not willing to even allow life-long faithful gay couples to marry. I wonder if these divorced couples are then able to participate fully in the life of the church? If that is the case I do not see how the church can justify its current position on gay marriage. Time for change 🙂

            Having said I was going to be concise and not introduce new arguments…

            While I was in leviticus 19 I noticed ‘Do not do anything that endangers your neighbour’s life. I am the LORD”. Arguably the current church teaching/lack of teaching around LGBTQI issues is doing exactly that. I have witnessed this in my own life, and people known personally to me, but recent cases in the public domain are those of Lizzie Lowe, Vicky Beeching and Jayne Ozanne,( if you want examples).

          • Hi Pete J
            I won’t get irritated. It’s a lot better for you to marshal your thoughts into sections. I’ll try to address each of these in separate responses.

            ‘The UK hasnt redefined marriage, it has just let more people take part.’
            Define means to establish the scope, limitations and meaning. Redefinition implies that the scope, limitations and purpose of marriage has changed. You disagree claiming that it has just let more people take part in the same institution.

            Well, let’s see. The purpose of marriage has always been to establish couples presumed to be in a responsible sexual relationship as the primary caregiving co-founders of a new family unit with legally protected autonomy from external interferences.

            Look at why marriage registration was imposed for the first time during the reign of Henry VIII. He had dissolved the Catholic monasteries that might have alleviated the hardship caused by a burgeoning population explosion. In 1538, there was a great demand for the authorities to provide for orphans. In order to limit this state welfare responsibility to those genuinely without parental support, the King’s Vicar-General, Thomas Cromwell tasked parish priests with responsibility for solemnising and recording all marriages, baptisms and deaths.

            Whatever marriage meant to the couple, parental responsibility could be fixed by the fact of a child’s BIRTH to a married couple, instead of probing the circumstances of its conception.

            This marital presumption of paternity continues today. It means that the law assumes that a child, born of a wife living with her spouse, is also that spouse’s legal offspring. The law will uphold this presumption of a spouse’s co-parenthood, unless there is conclusive proof to contradict this. It’s important to note that marriage was never intended to override the evidence of natural parenthood.

            In fact, read how the common law authority, Blackstone, links parenthood to the man and woman involved in the child’s natural conception: ‘The duty of parents to provide for the maintenance of their children is a principle of natural law; an obligation…laid on them not only by nature herself, but by their own appropriate act, in bringing them into the world’.

            Blackstone also explained the difficulty in the law trying to fix all parental responsibility through genetic proof:
            ‘Because of the very great uncertainty there will generally be, in the proof that the offspring were actually conceived through the same man; whereas, by confining the proof to the birth, and not to the conception, our law has made it completely certain, which child is legally recognised, and who is to take care of the child.’

            Today, despite advances in DNA technology, we still don’t want the intrusion on family privacy of testing every child to ascertain its natural parents. We still assume the spouse is the parent of any child born to the wife, *unless proof is presented to contradict this*. This last caveat makes the presumption *rebuttable*.

            So, here’s the issue. While the majority of married heterosexuals will have their own children, even their paternity is open to challenge by clear and convincing contrary genetic evidence.

            In contrast, in every State where same-sex marriage has been legalised, courts have eventually assigned a conclusive presumption of parenthood to the birth mother’s lesbian spouse that is never open to challenge by the child’s natural father. Same-sex marriage has undermined natural paternity.

            If the same-sex marriage usurpation of all claims of natural paternity is not a re-definition, it don’t know what is.

          • Hi Pete J,

            Romans and Nature
            ‘I was saying I don’t think the Romans passage condemns gay marriage because the situation described is so far removed from a loving marriage.’

            Isn’t that just another example of all too familiar modern self-justification? Middle-class churchgoers don’t believe that the warnings about Mammon could ever apply to them because they invent an exaggerated caricature of biblically denounced greed that is far enough removed from themselves as to relieve their consciences. You’ve done the same with the Romans passage by assuming that devoted same-sex monogamy is so far removed from what St. Paul simply describes as ‘against nature’.

            Paul declares that the offence is the contradiction of nature as inferred ‘from the creation of world’. As with Christ’s denunciation of divorce for causes other than sexual licence, St. Paul is referencing the Genesis archetype.

            In terms of nature, you assert ‘I accept that Paul almost certainly had a different view of nature to me, but he almost certainly had a different view of nature to you too!’

            Actually, my view of the natural order as originated by God in Genesis doesn’t differ from St. Paul. Christ’s issue with divorce for causes other than sexual licence was not that it didn’t concur with lifelong sexual unions to be found everywhere else in nature, but humanity. It was that divorce ‘was not so from the beginning’ referencing the Genesis archetype.

            You’ve decide to set aside one aspect of that archetype as no longer applicable.

          • Incest
            ‘Im no great expert on incest, but I imagine it is rarely/never a loving relationship, free from abuse & power.’

            Consider genetic sexual attraction. It’s a medically recognised form of attraction that occurs when close-family members are reunited in adulthood after separation in early childhood. There is no proof that it is typified by abuse and power. Genetic screening can eliminate problems of inbreeding depression.

            I remain opposed, but cousin marriage is permitted in many US States.

            According to the logic that you’ve presented, there’s no reason why these couples should not have their relationship recognised as marriage.

            While you consider the comparison with incest prohibitions to be degrading, there’s a sibling couple somewhere who, through no direct fault of their own, find their attraction and relationship condemned as probably abusive by your religious prejudices.

            Sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it?

          • I agree that the UK has changed the law so that gay people can marry and had to change various aspects of it – I wasn’t aware of the change in paternity, but was of some other things. That may involve changes to the law, but it doesn’t mean the word has been redefined. It would be better to make your point saying that the law has changed. Saying the state has redefined marriage makes it sound like all marriages have been altered and that it no longer refers to a monogamous coupling. I kind of see where you are coming from with making lesbian spouses the legal parent – do they really write “Father – Caroline Smith” on he birth certificate?! I guess there would be a lot of very different scenarios in which lesbian couples have children. I have no idea what the figures are, but I doubt many would be the scenario where children are being wrenched away from their fathers. But this is a bit off-topic as the church has very little say in how these laws are implemented. I wonder if people at the time complained that Henry VIII was redefining marriage?

            I’m not assuming that homosexual monogamous relationships are a long way from Paul’s description, I know it to be fact. I know/know of a few gay couples and none of them behave as in the passage.

            I don’t see how you can possibly know that your idea of nature doesn’t differ from Paul. Ours differ and we read the same bible.

            Of course the “archetype” of Adam and Eve isn’t applicable to gay people, but I guess for gay people you have to decide what is most important about this pairing. We can’t get heterosexually married…unless you suggest we get married to someone we aren’t in love with? God is motivated to create Eve for Adam because of Adams inherent need for relationship, since he, like us, was made in the image of God. I hope you agree that a need for relationship isn’t a weakness, but is the glory of God. Eve is a suitable partner for Adam. “Marriage” (im not sure if you want to call their partnership marriage or not) is created for the good of man, not man for the good of marriage. Allowing heterosexual marriage only either is in conflict with “it is not good for man to be alone” or is in conflict with the necessity to be suitably partnered. Why do you think gender is more important than partnership or suitability?

            Not that I will ever be in a position to do so, since I’m just an ordinary congregant, but I would, cautiously, ban incest due to deuteronomy 22 and because it leads to mutated children. It is also against UK law. I would worry that my theology condemned Abraham, Isaac, Seth etc. I’m no great expert on the theology of incest because when I read the bible Im concentrating on what it means for me and my life, but, incest is an entirely different topic to gay marriage.

          • Pete J,

            On this occasion, your entire response has been skewed to belittle the negative impact of the marriage status prioritising same-sex couples as co-founders of new family units.

            You may think it’s facetious to ask whether it reads, ‘Father – Caroline Smith” on the birth certificate. Yet, there are numerous case law examples demonstrating how the recognition of the same-sex couple as founders of a family unit have robbed natural fathers of their unsurrendered parental rights.

            It really can’t be off-topic when this is a direct impact of conferring marriage rights on same-sex couples.

            It comes as no surprise that, to you, only the introduction of polygamy would constitute a redefinition. You even question whether Henry VIII’s enforcement of parental responsibility was viewed by his contemporaries as a redefinition. Well, of course not. It simply universalised the responsibility of each spousal pairing as co-founders of autonomous family units.

            Of Adam and Eve, you say: ‘I guess for gay people you have to ask what is most important about this paring’.

            In contrast, Christ recited what was most important: ‘Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Matt. 19:4 – 7)

            In terms of infectious marriage, I’ve highlighted the phenomenon of genetic sexual attraction. You’d want the church to bless gay marriage, but even with genetic screening, you’d ban incestuous marriages based on the OT.

            It’s clear that all you want is a special pleading for gay marriage alone. Let’s leave it there.

          • Hi

            Thank you for all your replies.

            If I’m allowed special pleading it would not be for gay marriage, but for all CofE churches to be safe loving environments for gay people (at the very least those who aren’t partnered, since they have done nothing against church teaching)

            Much of the negative comments/condemnation, of course, happens one-one in secret, which is obviously difficult to resolve etc. Offical statements telling the whole church how welcome (or otherwise) gay people are to worship there can be very helpful. It is easy to assume that no one in the church is non-straight, but that might not be the case.

            Verbal attacks on gay people are nearly always taken much more personally than they are intended and can have a massively out of proportion effect leading to depression, anxiety etc or just making the victim feel excluded from the church

            So if you have any influence in your local church, I would say please please use it to be a loving environment for gay people. I think this should be the priority LGBT issue for the church, not worrying about gay marriage.

            Many thanks

          • Pete J,

            I would add my own support to those words. Whatever our respective positions, we have debated them respectfully. It may augur well for the tone of facilatated conversations.

            I think that we all need to take stock of your testimony regarding what happens to LGBT people who attend church.

            Despite the well-intended pastoral guidance, it would appear that the experience is ‘come not near to me for I am holier than thou’, while less conspicuous differences with traditional church norms are excused.

            Very few (if any) CofE churches subject their entire membership to a detailed scrutiny of their sexual lives before allowing any form of lay participation. So why start with ‘esay targets’, unless we’re trying to score quick moral brownie points?

            With a willingness to embrace personal cost for the gospel, let’s gather together around the following priorities:
            In all our churches, being voices of patient hopefulness and hands of endurance in our most neglected, depressed and deprived neighbourhoods.
            Providing protection from abuse, violence and inhospitality against the vulnerable and minorities of all kinds;
            Providing compassionate prayer and support, while discreetly committing our funds to medical aid and research in the fight against the plagues of our age, such as Alzheimer’s and Ebola.
            Establishing safe and fun youth environments in every neighbourhood where wise mentoring relationships can flourish.
            Compassionate listening that hears the voices of need in our communities and meets it with inconspicuous service.
            Fearlessly reasoned apologetics on behalf of our apostolic faith that will never be silenced by secularism, religious fanaticism, or political orthodoxy.

            Easily said and more easily forgotten. So, I pledge myself these priorities before God for the rest of my life.

    • Pete, you say it is impossible to change orientation. Yet the massive study by Savin-WIlliams and Ream showed that the vast majority (some 90%) of people who called themselves gay at 16 changed to heterosexual by 18. By that scientific measure, there are many more ex-gays than gays.

      You rely on a false dichotomy. (1) The content of church teaching and (2) how you are treated at church are clearly not an either/or. You will agree that this is a both/and. It is important for both of the two to be right. Come off it, anyone can see that the two are not alternatives to one another!!

      • Sorry I haven’t come across that study. Ive heard that sexual attraction can be confused amongst teenagers (ive no way of knowing how true that is, I didn’t experience this) though so it maybe isn’t that surprising that some experience that change. I’m incredibly skeptical of that 90% figure – it seems ridiculous! Im sure you will understand that these sorts of studies are always flawed because they rely on self identification of something that is considered shameful.

        Sorry, but I also cringe at these social studies being described as “scientific”. A key aspect of a scientific result is that it is repeatable, yet these – I think they are called longitudinal studies is that right – never come out with repeatable results.

        Are you REALLY suggesting that for every gay man there are NINE men who were gay as teenagers, but aren’t now and just keep it quiet?!

        Anyway with respect there is a massive difference between experiencing some shift as a result of maturing or abuse (not what your study is about but can also cause a change) and being able to change your orientation by will or through prayer. Through will you have to be able to have conscious control over your orientation and through prayer God has to be onside. I know of at least three massive ex gay ministries Exodus International, Love in Action and a UK based one, whose name escapes me, which all folded and their leaders all say now that they helped no one and that you can’t change orientation. In fact they all admit they caused great harm to some of their “patients”.

        I was actually suggesting that regardless of the church’s teaching on homosexuality I should be allowed to worship without abuse.

        However of course church teaching influences action, else what is the point?! The current church teaching leads to negative outcomes for LGBT people since it makes them/us ashamed of a characteristic we are powerless to change. I’m reluctant to talk more specifically about people known to me on a public forum, but you can google if you want to find out the sort of outcomes this is leading to. Personally I think that if church teaching was correct it would lead to good fruit.

        This article is about allowing CofE priests that want to to perform gay marriages. The church currently teaches me that I shouldn’t marry at all – and as I said it isn’t concerned with helping me deal with the consequences of that – but actually I can legally marry anyway so I guess it doesn’t effect me that much at all. But – I assume you are straight – it doesn’t affect you at all since it is very easy for straight people not to get married to same sex partners!

        • I am not suggesting that for every gay man there are 9 who were gay as teens. Let’s say the figure is 7.5 as opposed to 9. What is being measured is not orientation but self-identification. Orientation is taken to be a clear matter – studies like these demonstrate it to be the opposite: something very fluid and slippery, hard to pin down.

          (In any case, it is not me but the knowledgeable people who have actually done research on the ground who are suggesting this.)

          Yes, they are called longitudinal studies. This one was national – in USA, no less. So a large sample size, something infinitely preferable to the anecdotal ‘evidence’ one usually gets.

          I think there is very little evidence of the bad fruit you refer to in eras (multiple centuries, in fact) when this was not treated as an issue. It’s bringing it to the centre of people’s consciouness that makes people feel hard done by because it;s been suggested that they have an entitlement which it was not previously suggested that they had (nor did they complain about not having it).

          Re ex-gay ministries – all addictions are hard to break, we’d agree. But they become nigh-impossible to
          break in places and eras where society suggests they are not bad in the first place.

          The Whiteheads’ more recent study quote other studies that came to a simil;ar conclusion. I was quoting Savin-Williams and Ream from memory. Their figure was actually I think 75% swift about-turn for 17-21 year olds who had self-identified as gay.

          People self-identify as gay to rebel. Or because they have little (or little fulfilling) access to the opposite sex while they haveraging hormones, so must make do with next-best. Or because in certain societies this is presented as one of the ‘equal’ options available to them – which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy since such a message frames the way they end up thinking about what the options are.

          • So you are saying for every gay man there are SEVEN who once identified as gay? I’m sorry but that just comes across as rubbish. My best evidence for myself is my own experience. Ive know I was gay since at least 12 and never been attracted to a woman. I don’t fit any of your reasons why people identify as gay….

            …ive had plenty of access to women,, I have no reason to rebel (and kept my sexuality quiet for many years) and it has never been presented as an “equal” option. Since coming out I’ve spent quite a lot of time having to justify myself-as if it is something I chose!! It is very inconvenient for me and I would have a considerably easier life if I were straight, but I don’t hate God or myself for it

            My reason is because I am, and always have been, only attracted to men. I assume you have always been attracted to women? Therefore there are at least two of us alive for who, sexuality is fixed.

            I actually find your off-hand dismissal of the people who have suffered and died at the hands of ex gay ministries to be incredibly offensive. But actually severe anxiety-based illness (I know of one case where it lead to death) and suicide can be caused just by being part of communities where your orientation is unacceptable.

            It isn’t an addiction. To be an addiction there surely must be some act/substance to which you are addicted, yet a great many gay people never act on it and have never acted on it and many others live in monogamous relationships…hardly the behaviour of an addict! There is a thing called sex addiction, which both gay and straight people have. I would expect, given that gay people have only been socially acceptable in the UK for the last ten years or so, that this might be more of a problem for gay people than straight people (but as you assert that something like 10-30% of all people have called themselves gay at some point maybe they are all “gay”!), but you can’t say “some gays behave like that therefore all gays do”. All that gay is is being attracted to the same sex. Gay people are as diverse in behaviour as straight people are…though some of us are better dressed.

            Ive never heard of anyone who has deliberately “cured” themselves of homosexuality. Indeed pretty much all psychological organisations say that it is not a disease or addiction. In this country I think I’m right in saying that you would loose your license as a therapist if you offered orientation change.

            It isn’t just me saying that it is all the people who used to run ex gay ministries both here and in the states. They are the experts!

            I agree that this is much worse now than in years past. A certain part of the church seems to be waging a “moral” crusade against all homosexuals. We are the new Turks!

          • Hi I found the results table from the paper you mentioned. You are right that there is a lot of shifting between categories as the students age, but the numbers of boys saying they are only same sex attracted stay fairly stable at an adjusted percentage of 0.9% to 1.4% to 1%. At the final time stage they also asked for the boys to state their orientation and 1.2% said they were gay. For completeness the girls numbers were 1.4% to 1.0% to 0.6%

            0.4% corresponds to 7 individuals so these are tiny numbers. I’m not surprised by this there is no way I’d admit my orientation at that age!!

            With respect I think this study is a red herring. Even if it genuinely proves orientation shift during adolescence that does not mean the kids have any choice in the matter. And it is certainly not a license to bully gay people who are unable to change their orientation.

        • All we can do is go by the studies that are available. If there is better evidence than Savin-WIlliams/Ream for the actual ratio of self-proclaimed gays and self-proclaimed ex-gays, then just direct me to where that evidence can be found. Unless and until there is, we have to accept that as the best available, but there may be better – if so, direct me to it. Thanks.

          What will never be better is tiny-scale anecdotal evidence from random people.

          • Mock & Eibach (2010) Stability and Change in Sexual Orientation Identity Over a 10-Year Period in Adulthood.

            The study compared the incidence of change in sexual identity (self-described) over a period of 10 years. Heterosexual identity is stable; bisexuality is unstable (around half of people may change); female homosexuality is unstable (around half of people may change); male homosexuality is relatively stable (90% of people still identify as homosexual after a 10 year gap). Some of the female instability is swapping between bisexual and homosexual categories.

            The numbers involved are still small (eg the sample ends up being 21 homosexual males at the start of the study, one of whom after ten years identifies as heterosexual, and one as bisexual).

            This study suggests that male homosexuals are unlikely to change their sexual identity (95% still don’t identify as heterosexual after ten years).

          • In its report, Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation), the American Psychological Association acknowledges as scientific fact that: ‘Some individuals choose to live their lives in accordance with personal or religious values (e.g., telic congruence).’

            Its further recommendation is:
            ‘We encourage LIcensed Medical Health Practitioners to support clients in determining their own (a) goals for their identity process; (b) behavioral expression of sexual orientation; (c) public and private social roles; (d) gender role, identity, and expression; (e) sex and gender of partner; and (f) form of relationship(s).

            So, the APA does not subscribe to the efficacy of sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE). However, it does expect its membership, while having due regard to a person’s sexual orientation, to support people who may determine as a goal, that their behavioural expression and sexual identity should still be congruent with the values of their religion to which they belong.

          • Dear all

            I think unless these studies say 100%, or near 100%, in any direction they are not very relevant to the discussion because all they show is that some people are permenantly gay, which we already knew.

            Having been a gay teenager I think there are a lot of issues with this sort of self-identity study amongst minors. Actual orientation is not always perceived orientation especially amongst minors who don’t have much experience of their own sexuality (I don’t mean sex here I just mean inhabiting a body capable of sex and romantic feelings)

            Christopher, please don’t take this as an exhaustive list but ive thought of a few issues

            As a teenager

            1. You are in environment that is mainly straight and mostly you want to fit in/avoid bullying

            2. But you might have some reason to rebel (I remember one girl who pretending to be a lesbian for a term, but actually she had no such feelings just issues at home and came clean the following year)

            3. When I was at school section 28 was active so we were all taught we were heterosexual. At that age you tend to believe what authorative adults tell you even if there is evidence to the contrary

            4. If you are gay nobody tells you what attraction to girls is meant to feel like and you can confuse friendship for romance.

            5. Maybe things are better now, but when I was at school being gay was such a shameful thing that you might try to ignore it/pretend it isn’t true

            6. Adults are queuing up to tell you that “lots of teenage boys” have homosexual feelings and it is just a stage in development (I don’t think there is any actual evidence for this, but others may know better) so you can kid yourself for a few years at least that it is “just a stage”.

            These studies both on kids and adults would of course be so much more valuable if they asked their subjects WHY they answered diffidently. E.g. Did they think their orientation had actually changed or were they just mistaken before.

          • Jonathan quotes Mock & EIbach 2010 which confirms that once self-designated homosexuals reach adulthood they are more set in their ways – the real period of fluidity comes in adolescence.

            Truth is they will become progressively set in their ways both in matters sexual and non-sexual, matters beneficial and harmful alike. That is simply something that comes with getting older.

            Fluidity in the earlier period is one of the things that makes ‘orientation’ language (with the implication that people are ‘born this way’) very misleading. There are others:

            (1) If someone says they know they were born gay, they are disposed not to tell the truth in other matters as well as this. For two reasons. No-one remembers anything before they were about 2-3. And no-one is sexually attracted to anyone till much later.

            (2) Urban environment increases gay identification in men 708% (Laumann 1994).

            (3) College does so for women 800% (ibid.).

            (4) Molestation does so 200-800% (ibid.; WC Holmes JAMA’98, Jones and Yarhouse 2000, citing many other studies)

            (5) Cultural norms have a massive effect – the 2013 National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles found that the number of women reporting same-sex partners more than quadrupled in 20 years.

            (6) Effect of being parented by same-sex couples: Stacey & Biblarz, American Soiological Review 2001: 400% increase in lesbianism if raised by lesbians.

            (7) Identical twins: Several studies from around 200 converge: identical twins resist being gay when their twin is 89% of the time despite the fact that identical twins are prone to copy each other. JM Bailey Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 2000, Kendler & Thornton American Journal of Psychiatry 2000, and teh contemporary studies of Kirk 2000, Whiteheads 1999, 2006.

            (8) Limits to genetic influence: Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome Project, plays down genetic influence on behaviour. Genes cause only predisposition, nothing more. Any character-trait or behaviour whatever will be somewhat more correlated with some gene profiles than with others. And even where there is a genetic correlation that obviously does not make the said behaviour beneficial!

            (9) Tendency of media and debate-opponents studiedly to ignore -not even address let alone answer – all these points (and also the work of Savin-WIlliams and Ream on fluidity, already quoted).

          • Appologise it won’t let me reply to your latest so I’m replying here instead

            As I said before, and you seem to agree with me, I think all studies of sexuality in minors are problematic for a whole host of reasons. Front and centre is that there is an even stronger likelihood that reported orientation will not be actual orientation, but we seem to be in agreement over this at least.

            I disagree with this. There is no strong objective evidence to suggest either people are born gay or people become gay during childhood so to just dismiss people who claim to have been gay since birth as liars is horrifically offensive. Personally Ive only experienced attraction to men “my whole life”. What I mean by that is that Ive had attraction since 12ish – although I have memories of things that might be interpreted as same sex attractions before that – and had nothing obvious in my pre-12 childhood that might be considered as making me gay. That is just my personal experience and Im not asking you to believe me. I read an article in New Scientist that suggested a group of biologists were close to finding “the gay gene” – so who knows?! I think either discovering that people are gay from birth or discovering that it is purely environmental factors, to me, says nothing into the discussion on gay marriage. I would point out though that people who misrepresent studies about sexuality are likely to have a predisposition to do it again ????
            This is like saying “churches are a common place to find Christians”
            4. This could be because sexual trauma can cause a reversal of orientation (this is seen often in adult women who go through severe domestic abuse) and most people are straight?
            5. Again, this is a bit obvious isn’t it?! If something is disapproved of you either don’t do it or do it in secret. 20 years ago there were no civil partnerships and newspapers still used gay sexual slurs as headlines.
            6. This is laughable! Are you sure this is true? Or is it just if your mums are gay it is safer to come out than if your parents are anti gay?
            7. “Identical twins” aren’t biologically identical. They just aren’t! I see you have picked out a twin study with a low correspondence between siblings (I think a super average of these studies is something like 30% of gay twins have gay twins)…I think even if it is this genuinely low that’s still something like 5-10 times more likely to be gay than the general population which suggests to me some sort of biological cause. If it being gay were down to nurture or choice then I’d expect the correlation to be far higher…wouldn’t you?
            8. Ive heard this sort of thing before. I think it must be very difficult to communicate the link between genes and “pre-dispositions” to the general public, but I can assure you that being gay is more than a “pre-disposition”
            9. I would say that this is because our culture accepts that being gay isn’t a choice and orientation change by choice is not possible. Our culture does not now have a problem with gay people, after many decades of behaving appallingly. It is no wonder that they don’t ask the questions that you would like asked.

            I genuinely can’t tell from your posts if you are in favour of gay marriage or not? Most of these figures seem to agree with what is generally accepted (outside the church) that being gay isn’t a choice. Although I don’t think that says much into the discussion on gay marriage, it seems to be more positive than your previous posts.

      • Christopher, I have checked the study, and believe you may have misunderstood it. The study did NOT show that 90% of people who call themselves gay at 16 change to heterosexual at 18. The study compared sexual behaviour and romantic attraction, not self-identification. Self-identification was only asked in Wave 3 (at the end of the study), so there is no possibility of seeing if this changes from this study (it wasn’t asked at the start).

        The study offers no evidence that those who self-identify as gay can change orientation. It did not ask that question.

        • Jonathan, if someone is asked about their behaviour and attraction and says that they are one of those people whose behaviour and/or attraction is (currently) same-sex directed, how is that not a self-identification? It is giving information about themselves. You have lost me there. Do you think that being (or calling oneself) homosexual is something that has no connection to either behaviour or attraction? I would have thought those were the two most important factors bar none.

          • Christopher, the whole point of the research was because romantic attraction, sexual behaviour and sexual identity may differ from each other, and to advise researchers to be clear about which particular groups they should be targeting. The question also wasn’t about current behaviour or attraction, it was whether the participant had either participated in sexual behaviour or had a romantic attraction within a particular timeframe (before Wave 1, between Wave 1 and 2, etc).

            Thus it would be entirely possible to self-identify as gay, but not to be picked up by either of those two measures on this study (just hadn’t found the right person). Similarly, it would be possible to generally consider oneself heterosexual, but to have had one incident with someone of the same sex.

            I repeat, the study provides NO evidence that those who self-identify as gay can change orientation as this was not part of the experimental design. To suggest that it does would be to misuse it.

          • Jonathan, could you address my point.

            (1) My original point – Are not behaviour and feelings the main factors in determining a person’s orientation? If not, how can their orientation be determined in a more trustworthy way, if one leaves aside behaviour and feelings?

            (2) An additional point: Any self-designation would be on the basis of behaviour and feelings anyway. And any self-designation that was a mismatch with behaviour and feelings would be an inaccurate self-designation anyway.

        • In relation to Pete’s longer comment just above:

          (1) I don’t agree that studies about homosexuality in minors are problematic (where did I say that?), since at least they give some data and some is a lot better than none. Like anything else, there will be a certain degree to which they are problematic (not a majority degree) – but that’s nothing like so problematic as ignoring the data altogether would be.

          Your preface reverts to tiny-scale anecdotal evidence, which we don’t need since such evidence is already available on a much *larger* scale in the scientific studies, and it is on their basis that we assess.

          You seem to think that the two options are that people are gay from birth or not gay from birth. How black-and-white / misleading is that? (1) No child when born has sexual attraction at all, so what is ‘gay from birth’ supposed to mean? (2) It is highly likely that a minority of those who act that way later have a somewhat higher inborn predisposition that way. The majority (as shown by studies of molestation when young, urban and college environments, comparative cultures etc – see my long numbered comment) are affected by circumstance.

          4: Correct – therefore, saying that gay behaviour or self-claims reflect an ‘orientation’ in every case is highly misleading.

          5: This finding also shows that all sorts of behaviour which would not otherwise be there can be generated by a faviour able media.

          6: So large-scale scientific studies are laughable and the anecdotal ‘evidence’ of one person is not laughable? This (Stacey and Biblarz, American Sociological Review 2001) is more than a large-scale study. (1) It is actually a meta-analysis of all or most of the existing studies. (2) The 400% figure was acknowledged to be conservative and probably too low.

          7: As you will see, I did not cite one study on identical twins as you wrongly claim. I mentioned that four which roughtly agreed came out at the same time, and these postdated the earlier study of Bailey about 10 years earlier which (as he acknowledged in his later study) had a non-random sample and was therefore suspect.

          8: Your assurance – how am I to rate it in comparison with more objective, scientific, and large-scale data? How can you speak on behalf of others anyway? So we are back to one person’s anecdotal evidence.

          9: Anyone who avoids any questions (let alone several), when they are facing debate-partners who avoid none, automatically loses the debate. All sorts of theories can account for *some* of the data. The questions that are avoided are those which put the theory in trouble. The avoidance of such questions means that the theory can’t stand. I always pledge to avoid no questions.

  11. I very much agree with your reflections, Ian.

    Good disagreement simply makes no sense. We cannot have a situation in which official church doctrine is changed to suit the views of some in the CofE whilst alienating those of us who hold a conservative position on this matter. Apart from anything else, as Anglicans, liturgy is the prime vehicle for our doctrine. That means that if blessings of same-sex unions were to be sanctioned by the Church, then this would need an official liturgy agreed nationally by General Synod, and by creating a new liturgy, the Church would then be changing its doctrinal position on this issue for all members of the CofE.

    The only useful conversations I think could be had should be about pastoral care for those in our churches with same-sex attraction, but set firmly within the framework of the Church’s traditional teaching. Ed Shaw’s recent book, ‘The Plausibility Problem’, would seem an excellent starting-point for such discussions.

    As for the comparison that’s often made with the issue of the ordination of women as priests and bishops, this is a second order matter of church order; I don’t think many folk who do not support this would actually see ordaining women as a sin (certainly not conservative evangelicals, though some Anglo-Catholics perhaps might head in that direction…). In stark contrast, what is at stake in regard to homosexual behaviour is the fundamental question as to whether or not something is a sin. Even many prominent liberals concede that there is simply no way around the biblical theology on this matter, hence they look elsewhere for a sexual ethic which accords with their views.

    • Yes, I think you are right on this last point, and that is why I think groups like Accepting Evangelicals are just muddying the waters…Scripture is pretty clear, and you need to set Scripture aside to accept SSM. I really don’t think the C of E has ever done this before, at least not in this explicit way.

      • Ian, you clearly think that scripture is pretty clear. Others obviously disagree with you. Many will say it is unclear. Some may even say that it is clearly in favour of same-sex marriage.

        This means that the way you frame the debate is again disputed. You say that the CofE is being asked to set aside scripture. Others disagree with you. This dynamic is similar to that over women priests/bishops. Is the church going against the ‘clear’ teaching of the Bible, and church tradition?

        I have read some of the 18th and 19th century debates over slavery. Again, the same dynamic. Some argued that scripture was plainly seeing slavery as a normal, accepted part of the world – scripture was pretty ‘clear’.

        Scripture was also thought to be pretty ‘clear’ about money-lending.

        The question that faces us is what we do when some in the church thinks scripture is ‘pretty clear’ and others don’t.

        • Yes, I agree, and I don’t think there is an alternative to someone, in some sort of authority, making some sort of ruling on this.

          To take an analogy, we might have differing views in the C of E as to whether Jesus was divine in the sense of the Nicene Creed. There will be some who say Scripture is clear on this, and some who say that it isn’t.

          What kind of ‘process’ approach to such a question would give us a definitive position?

          • The very way you frame the question is itself part of the issue. Is this of the same level of importance as the divinity of Christ? Or is it less important? How much less? Who decides?

            The example is also a bit dispiriting – the church arguments over this raged for over 80 years, with opposing parties trying to get each other exiled, jailed, or killed. Trying to impose solutions (by either side) failed. What finally worked was one side of the argument being most convincing in the long run.

    • Pete J., I agree with your statement about the fact that straight people may just not be in a position to question the integrity of an innately gay person. This is the main reason why even Church theologians have no real basis on which to judge the behaviour of gay people. However, that will not stop them pontificating on what is ‘right behaviour’ for those who are intrinsically LGBT.

      Experience from the authentic clinical studies now available would tell the theologians that to be LGBt is not a choice. Therefore, the real question might be: “What does an LGBT person do about their sexual longings – for a monogamous relationship with a person they can truly love? Are they to be for ever condemned to a life of celibacy? Even the Church does not enforce such a life-style upon its largely heterosexual membership. In his homily about relationships (Matt.19, vv 11 & 12) Jesus speaks of ‘eunuchs’ – one of which categories includes those who are born so ‘from their mother’s womb’. Perhaps St. Paul and others were not ready for the possibility that this could refer to homosexuals who would not be disposed to beget children!

      • Thank you Father Ron

        This is really helpful in reminding us that God also welcomes those of us who do not fit into socially acceptable moulds.

      • Fr Ron, giving in to an addiction is not a choice either – it is simply a matter of one’s carnal nature getting the upper hand over (and/or being better fed than, and therefore stronger than) one’s better nature. However, it was a choice the first time one did it.

        So why should we not classify this as an addiction as well?

  12. Father Ron,

    Regarding eunuchs in the ancient world there is an excellent programme on this subject on BBC Radio 4. It can be listened to here (and I think downloaded)

    As in the present day iit must have been the case that some people were born in biblical times who were physically intersex or were clearly male except that they had undescended testicals into adulthood (which would make them look like a Roman eunuch) and would render the man unable to father children. I think it is a very speculative extrapolation to suggest that “someone born a eunuch” referred to a gay person. The majority of gay men are have normal physical attributes and are fertile.

    My own position on LGB and the scriptures is that you have to be very speculative to find a “undoubted” affirmation of LGB sexual activity. Indeed some speculation I find remarkable – such as the Roman Centurian who came to Jesus asking that his servant be healed. However, I know monogamous lesbian couples ( some christian some not) in civil partnerships who are incredible in their sacrificial love to others. All I can say is that we can only give account of ourselves before God ourselves and although I cannot see a clear scriptural endorsement for LGB sexual relationships, I am certainly not qualified to judge.

  13. Even by generally-agreed criteria, there are several major thing wrong with the idea of ‘good disagreement’.

    1. If (polarised) conclusions are presupposed, there is no onus on anyone to research honestly whether the evidence matches their own preferences or not (and – come off it – what are the chances of its doing so?). This breaks the cardinal rule of debate. A conclusion comes at the end – the last place it can come is the beginning.The unexamined assumption that everyone has ‘views’ is the problem. ‘Views’ can be on the one hand evidenced conclusions which can in theory even be arrived at in defiance of one’s personal preferences – or on the other hand they can be nothing but cherished ideologies or preferences. But there is all the difference in the world between those two kinds of ‘views’. Wrongly lumping them together is the root of the unclear thinking here.

    2.There’s no requirement on participants even to be familiar with, let alone address, the startling statistical evidence on the comparative average results of homosexual and heterosexual practice (in life expectancy, STIs, promiscuity, risky practices…). But those who don’t know the evidence are obviously not in a position to ‘conclude’ anything – much as my own ‘views’ on astrophysics would rightly be considered worthless. The same applies to the exegetical discussions of the last 2 millennia: there’s no apparent requirement to be familiar with them before stating what one’s ‘view’ or ‘conclusion’ is. What sort of ‘view’ or ‘concluison’ is that?

    3. It is impossible that an opinion-graph with peaks at both poles and none in the middle (i.e., the very opposite of normal distribution) represents honest reading of the evidence. Such a graph accurately plots people’s polarised ideologies and preferences as opposed to their evidenced conclusions, which last are the only thing that matters. Ideology is not evidence-based, and it is the enemy and opposite of scholarship. So why would the shared discussions embrace it???

    4. The homosexual issue is getting preferential treatment if it is the only issue where people are given the luxury of ‘good disagreement’. Whereas if it is not the only such issue, where to stop? – a chaotic free-for-all beckons.

    5. It is a strange selection of issue to receive such a privilege. There are plenty of controversial issues in theology, Christian living, exegesis. But through 2 millennia it has scarcely been noticed that this is one of them – if indeed it is. Even when that was finally ‘noticed’, the timing and cultural location of that ‘discovery’ are suspicious – could local cultural conformity be the driver here, as it is in most deviations from shared international Christian normality? It is passing strange that Christianity – in origin and essence so potentially counter-cultural – should be thus upturned and domesticated.

    I affirm what David Shepherd writes. It is sad that he should need to write such obvious things at all.

    • On point 4 – there are plenty of things that are allowed to be disagreed on within the CofE. It is known outside itself for being a “broad” church e.g. divorce, authority of scripture, different worship practises, dress code, women in leadership, other gender issues, contemporary acts of the Holy Spirit, which bible translation to use,

      • On point 5 – I think it is because we are now at a point on this issue where a) church teaching does not reflect reality – either teaching or our (maybe not your!) perception of reality is wrong b) church leaders are starting to struggle to know how to treat gay people well pastorally without ignoring church teaching and c) UK society is demonstrating a more Christian attitude to gay people than the church is

        • Dear Pete,

          A lot of politicians are working on the basis that if they repeat a lie often enough then it will magically become true! It won’t of course.

          We are told, and it is often repeated that society has moved rapidly / dramatically (substitute whichever word that you want).

          The Office for National Statistics as well as the survey published in the Guardian both show that while society in the UK has moved a bit towards gay relationships it hasn’t actually moved very much at all.
          In the USA, where it has been put to the vote, every state has voted higher than 60% in favour of keeping marriage between a man and a woman for the sake of procreation and bringing up the family.

          Therefore claims that “c) UK society is demonstrating a more Christian attitude to gay people than the church is” … just aren’t really true.

          Similarly we are told that marriage has changed. It turns out to be complete nonsense. The 1662 BCP service is, even now, still a valid marriage service which is documentary proof that marriage hasn’t really changed since 1662 if not earlier.

          • Oh I agree homophobia is alive and well amongst the British public!! But the secular laws are friendlier to gay people than church teaching.

            A few months ago, for example, the chief exec of the organisation I work for said that he welcomed diversity in his workforce as it led to better creativity and productivity. It would be amazing if either archbishop were to say something similar!

            Ive had no problems to do with my sexuality apart from in the church. I do work rest and play in bit of a educated young-ish bubble so I by no means come into contact with a cross section of the British public, but still it is possible to be a gay man in UK society and not be abused. Sadly that has not been my experience in the church. I was talking to a gay atheist friend and he claimed to have NEVER experienced any homophobia ever!! So I do think the church, particularly the Church of England which has a responsibility to everyone living in England, has a way to go on this.

        • Pete J, lazy accusations of ‘homophobia’ are part of what makes people fail to take points seriously. Anyone who is opposed to anything and gives logical/rational reasons why is said to be afflicted by hatred and/or fear. You and others know very well that that is not true. There are millions of things one can be opposed to for stated reasons without also hating or fearing them. You do know that really, surely.

          • But there is homophobia in British society…even the church acknowledges that. It is campaigning against homophobic bullying in schools. I don’t know how you can possibly claim it isn’t a thing!

            I don’t think you can have actually read what I wrote…what I was saying was that homophobia wasn’t confined to the CofE or Christianity. And yes it does go on in both of them.

            I recognise that this term is not appropriate to use in dialogue with individuals who have anti gay theology, but to say that it exists in the church and the world is only to agree with the Archbishop of Canterbury – hardly a gay rights activist!

    • I think there is much disagreement within each pole e.g. Some christians opposed to gay marriage will think that actually only gay sex is a sin, others will think any form of relationship, even celibate, is a sin and still others will think that just having the orientation (or same sex attraction) is a sin

      My point is I don’t think anyone at either pole agrees with the stated poles beliefs very much! I think the disagreement on this topic is actually much more varied than is being made out.

      But I think you are wrong about the conclusion as these talks are not about changing church teaching (unfortunately).

      We are in a situation which, as I see it, is there is official church teaching on this issue which a small group of clergy and larger group of churchgoers just completely disagree with. There is another group which thinks the church teaching is correct, but too lax, and needs to be part of a church where everyone believes the same. There is also the issue of how the church maintains its established status whilst rejecting anyone in a gay relationship who are now accepted by society, but can’t be fully accepted by the church. Some churches are blessing gay marriages (as much as they are allowed within the rules) others are turning away gay congregants at the door. Nobody seems to know which is correct.

      So the discussions are just to try and sort through this muddle and decide how we move forward without the church falling apart. I would certainly like church teaching to be changed but it won’t happen as a result of these talks

  14. Point 3. I can understand that you want a nice clear objective understanding of scripture, but we can’t have that since even the most scrupulous person will bring their experience to it. And I think rightly so because theology without application to real people is dead

    • Bring your experience to scripture? But how can something that happened in the 21st century be useful in interpreting a first-century or BC text? More likely to confuse the issue.

      And no: the whole point is that this is nothing to do with what people ‘want’. Wanting something will not make it true, and that is always my central point. Far from wanting a nice clear understanding of scripture, I am not sure I even see ‘scripture’ as a coherent concept. But with any text there are rules for understanding it which generally involve being able to understand a writer and their culture.

      The people of this century are not more ‘real’ than the people of other centuries. But they are further removed in time from these writings and therefore potentially less able to understand them easily.

      • Sorry I wasn’t implying the characters in scripture weren’t real. I was suggesting that the current arguments over gay theology weren’t interested in how they impacted real people.

        I think it is impossible to come to any text without bringing our own experiences.

        I’m a bit alarmed by what you are saying because it suggests that you don’t believe scripture has any relevance today?

        • You seem to think there is a single monolithic thing called ‘scripture’ which either is or is not relevant. But you are generalising about 66/73 different writings by about 50 authors in 10-20 genres!!!

          If anything is true therein, that has relevance. If anything is not true, that does not have relevance.

          How can texts be understood unless by people with knowledge of the languages and cultures? Without that, we will impose our own time-limited and culture-limited understanding with the result that 2+2 will equal 5. Our own experience will always be related in some way, but it comes way, way down the list of importance when it comes to **understanding** any texts. Whereas when it comes to **applying** any texts (which cannot even begin to happen till we first understand them), our personal experience is actually rather important.

          • I didn’t claim we shouldn’t consider the time and culture of the writings. Of course I agree 100%! But if the scriptures don’t also say anything about our lives/theology now then there is no point in reading them except as historical documents. I think you are being deliberately picky about my choice of words and it is not very helpful to the discussion in hand!

            Jesus lumped together the OT as “scripture” so I have no problem using that collective word, but I’m well aware the different books are written at different times and were gathered together in the 4th century

  15. Point 2. I agree entirely that there is a woeful lack of connection between these discussions and the real world. I would respectfully ask that you consider that the most obvious gay people are the ones you would most disapprove of. I am very boring! I have no grasp on the proportion of gays who have lifestyles similar to mine, but don’t tar us all with the same brush. Orientation is just orientation it doesn’t force us to follow stereotypes.

    I hope with the advent of gay marriage that we will start to see better life outcomes for gay people. I think the drugs promiscuity etc associated with being gay is a direct result of the rejection of society e.g. It is difficult to have a monogamous relationship if society says you aren’t allowed one!

  16. I would never dream of generalising about millions of people! That is why I go only by averages, as aggregates arise directly from averages.

    It’s no good saying ‘I think the drugs, promiscuity etc…is a direct result of the rejection…’. Is your thought based on statistical evidence or not? If not, what is it worth? As for rejection by society, every recent legal judgment that has pitted gays against Christians has found in favour of gays. So if Christians went on drug binges as a result of being clearly more sidelined than gays, would their sidelining be seen as a valid excuse for such behaviour? And would the behaviour itself be likely to come from Christians, or are Christians on average more mature than that? If so, why?

    • Hmmm well averages ARE generalisations. That’s what they are! And statiistics can hide a more complicated story e.g. It is probably true that if you select a gay man at random then he is more likely to catch an STI than a straight man. But, Ian said, and I agree that gay people are more likely to be celibate than straight people, so although a random gay man has a higher chance of catching an STI, he also has a higher chance of it being impossible for him to catch one. Do you see what I mean?

      And this sort of thing can be very offensive when interacting with people who are already sensitive about their sexuality.

      I think statistical “evidence” of a cause of negative outcomes for gays would have to be largely based on interviews ie anecdotal evidence. I agree my opinion isn’t worth much, but as I experience everyday what it is like to be gay, Id argue my opinion is slightly more informed than yours.

      I a) didn’t mean that drug binges were in anyway excusable and b) didn’t mean it was due to merely being sidelined, but even now it is difficult to for a gay person to feel they have a place in the world. I would think if you have an option to have a legitimate and respected life you are less likely to go in for hedonism.

      I have to say that it is very easy for “respectable” middle class Christians, whose lifestyles are lauded by their churches and whose faith convieniently fits their lifestyle (this may describe you it may not) to sit and sneer at the things gay people get up to as if they had no responsibility to them and mutter “thank you God that I am not like them”

      • Averages are generalisations? No more and no less so than any statistical data. But turning our back on statistical data means we have only very small-scale anecdotes left, and those are subjective and depend on who we happen to have spoken to. That could scarcely not be a much inferior option compared with large-scale statistical studies!

        Are you going to tell all the government departments who rely on statistical studies in order to make funding decisions that they should stop doing so and instead rely on one person’s anecdotes about a few people they happen to know?

        Are you going to tell scientists that they should abandon their statistical findings and instead ask one bloke down the road what he thinks?

        • Averages contain very little information and are a generalisation. ALL these studies are just anecdotal evidence. They have the benefit of a reasonably large sample size (although I reckon if I were doing a study on gay men I could manage to find more than 50 to interview!), but they don’t contain feelings or motives.

          E.g. A gay guy saying he’d chosen to be gay because he wanted to rebel against God would seem to agree with church teaching

          But a gay guy who’d tried everything to become straight and failed, but otherwise was a model Christian, would seem to contradict Church teaching

          Does that make sense? I think both can be useful, but I think the anecdotal is more valuable, in these discussions, because the statistical studies don’t seem to actual inform the debate…so what if for every gay man there were 7 more who identified as gay when teenagers? How does that actually tell us how to disagree well or what church teaching should be?!

          I would hope that “scientists” would ask the bloke down the road if their study was “what does the bloke down the road think”. That’s the point really these discussions are really about acceptance or rejection of gay people by the church. On a fundamental level we have to ask gay people’s advice because most straight people can’t even correctly define the word!

          • Generalisations can be made by someone who has not the faintest idea what the science says. Averages are the distillation of all the science.

            You can see that there is a very world of difference between the two.

      • On drugs etc does it not occur to you that we want outcomes that are in people’s best interests. You would sit there complaining about the fact that we were supposedly being self-righteous, when all we want is for drugs to be out of these precious people’s lives. Isn’t that obvious, and where does self-righteousness come into it?

        Even if a person who was **actually** self-righteous succeeded in getting drugs out of someone’s life, I would be very pleased that they had done so. Would you rather the person continued on drugs because it would be such a dreadful thing for a hypocrite (and who is not a hypocrite?) to be the one who got them off drugs?


        • I think you’re being very unfair here by claiming my original argument as your own! It is you who criticised me for claiming drug binges were excusable, implying I wasn’t being judgemental enough, when I never did! Do you want me to be judgemental or not? Or is it just that you are more interested in having an argument than actually discussing the topic?

          My original statement was that I hope the (semi) legitimising of gay relationships will reduce the number of gay people who are hooked on drugs. Not to excuse them, as you originally accused me of saying, but just because I want good things for gay people. I’m not convinced the church does at the moment!

          • Why use the word ‘judg[e]mental’ at all. It is a matter of factual accuracy that it is not in people’s best interests to take harmful drugs. Cannot one make a factually true statement without ‘judgmentalism’ being imported?

    • That’s a shame, because he quotes some in the church as saying that gay people are ‘an abomination’. Scripture does not say that, nor do any of the ‘traditionalists’ I know.

      So, yet again, you are demolishing a straw man for us.

      • Jane – thank you for posting this

        Ian – I think the trouble is that most people have no idea what church teaching specifically is and many – maybe even a majority- interpret it as all gay people are to be rejected.

        I don’t think you can just discount the negative impact of church teaching even if we except that CofE does not call gay people abominations.

        Either through positive teaching (how to treat gay people well) or through just going the whole hog and having full acceptance, the church really needs to address these concerns. For those in my generation – hardly any of whom go to church – knowing that Christians are “anti gay” is pretty much all they know about us. Regardless of what church teaching actually is (and everyone seems to think it is something slightly different) this is the message both ordinary worshippers and those outside the church are hearing from central command.


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