(How) should we engage with Living in Love and Faith?

This week saw the publication of the material in the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) project of the Church of England. The result of nearly three years’s work by a series of working groups under a coordinating group led by Chris Cocksworth, bishop of Coventry, it arose from the refusal by General Synod to ‘take note’ of a statement by the House of Bishops which prompted the archbishops to call for a ‘radical new Christian inclusion rooted in Scripture and historic Christian teaching’. It comprises a main book of some 420 pages (though the layout is very open, so it is not as long as it looks), a study booklet, and a whole series of videos which explore the issues around sexuality and faith from a wide range of perspectives. The content will take some time to digest; individual book chapters are available online to download for free, and you can also download a PDF the whole book [correction to my original post], though I have yet to receive my own printed copy.

In this piece, I don’t want to comment on the content itself (though I have read some sections, and from this sampling would agree with a view from outside the Church of England that it is something of a proverbial curate’s egg), but on the context in which we find ourselves. In doing this, I don’t want to be negative or disparaging; a lot of people have put an enormous about of time and effort into producing this, and I think it is possible that they have produced something unusual and even unique in enabling a level of respectful engagement that does not happen often in the discussions on this subject.

But I do want to be realistic, and so I am here offering five observations about the context that we are in, because I think these form, in their different ways, an understanding of the dynamic that will shape the outcome of future discussion.

1. We have been here before…sort of…

Depending on how long you have been involved in or following these discussions in the C of E, you might be thinking either ‘This looks interesting and new’ or ‘Oh no, here we go again!’ The reason for the second view is illustrated by the trail of reports (producing reports is one thing the Church of England appears to be quite good at) over the last 40 years or more.

  • The 1979 ‘Gloucester’ report on Homosexual Relationships from the Board of Social Responsibility was written as a resource for the House of Bishops, but was generally considered ‘too liberal’.
  • The 1987 ‘Higton notion’ at General Synod, which reiterated a ‘traditional’ approach to sex and marriage, and was passed with a clear majority.
  • The 1989 ‘Osborne report’, chaired by June Osborne, now bishop of Llandaff, which was the first to incorporated the testimony of gay Christians; it was not published, but the report was leaked in 1990.
  • 1991 Issues in Human Sexuality, a short document from the House of Bishops which I well remember debating in theological college when in training, which remains the current statement of the bishops, and it the expression of the teaching of the Church which ordinands are (in theory at least) asked to assent to when entering training and at the point of ordination.
  • 1998 The Lambeth Conference resolution 1.10 again stating a ‘traditional’ view.
  • 2003 The creatively title Some Issues in Human Sexuality, an extensive and theological exploration (which I remember debating in Synod), which set out five basic positions that the Church might adopt, noting that they were mutually incompatible and that the Church needed to settle on one or the other. Richard Harries, then bishop of Oxford, introduced the discussion by noting that Anglican theology was not based on a ‘three-legged stool’ of Scripture, tradition and reason but that tradition and reason offered ‘hermeneutical lenses’ through which we read and understand Scripture.
  • 2005 The House of Bishops’ pastoral statement on Civil Partnerships, in response to the introduction of CPs in law, which Andrew Goddard at the time thought would lead them into an impossible situation.
  • 2013 The Pilling report, from which Keith Sinclair, the bishops of Birkenhead, dissented.
  • 2014 The House of Bishops’ pastoral statement following the introduction of ‘equal’ (same sex) marriage in 2013, which again reiterated the inherited, current doctrine of the Church, citing the range of documents back to the 1662 BCP which articulated that.
  • 2016 The Faith and Order Commission report on Men and Women in Marriage, which does not appear to have been discussed very much as far as I can see.

Some of these, together with evangelical responses to them, can be found on this listing of historic documents.

The question from one ‘side’ of this debate is: will LLF be just another talking shop with no action, when it is action that is needed? And from the other side: will LLF be just another attempt to slide into a ‘liberal’ position despite the clear teaching of Scripture, and the largely unanimous view of the church in history and around the globe today?

In his fascinating review of the material at Living Church, retired Oxford professor Oliver O’Donovan does appear to think that this approach might be something genuinely new:

The first thing to understand about Living in Love and Faith (LLF) is that the conception is quite different. To confront the stubbornly unyielding disagreements on sexuality and marriage, there were good reasons not to follow the classic pattern. We face an emotionally fraught issue resistant to any kind of “expertise,” a synod entrenched in opposed positions, a church feeling constantly wrong-footed by a morally censorious society. The strategy, shaped by the courageous missionary and pastoral ambitions of the two archbishops, was to widen the discussion.

The question is: if keeping the discussion narrow in the past led to little agreement or resolution, what will be the effect of ‘widening’ the discussion. As O’Donovan goes on to note, the effect is actually to complicate the discussion—which might be necessary to give due respect to the different issues involved, but does not look very easily as though it will lead to clarify, unity or decision.

2. The timing could hardly be worse

The LLF material was originally planned to be published in June 2020, but was delayed because of the restrictions and challenges the came with the Covid-19 pandemic. There is a quite understandable feeling that, given the work that has been done, further delay could not be justified, and of course there is the constant pressure from those who think that the possibility of further change is just being ‘kicked down the road’ or into the long grass (can you do both at the same time…?).

The ambition of the project is that the ‘Next Steps’ group will be able to propose a way forward from November 2021, and that there will be some sort of proposal brought to Synod in 2022. But can these challenging issues really be discussed remotely over Zoom? If not, when are we likely to have the time, energy, resources and opportunity to have sensitive discussions about such a controversial issue? I would be surprised if anything much could happen before June 2021—though I could be proved wrong. I know that some diocesans are not confident of engaging with the material much before next autumn. Most clergy I have talked to simply shake their heads at the possibility of discussing this any time soon.

And what does the timing look like for the Church of England as a whole? Prior to the beginning of lockdown, many dioceses were looking into the abyss of long-term, seven-figure deficits, and needing to take radical action to address these financial problems. The challenges of the pandemic, which has seen unplanned giving fall dramatically, has exacerbated this. Immediately after Stephen Cottrell’s translation to York, Chelmsford diocese were talking about making around a quarter of their clergy posts redundant, and most dioceses are now looking hard at both their central staffing and ministry numbers.

In addition, we have the question of historic sexual abuse and safeguarding practice to deal with, as highlighted by the IICSA report on the Church of England.

And at a local level, the reconfiguration of pastoral practice forced on us by the restrictions of meeting in our buildings has, in some places, barely begun. Whilst some church leaders enthusiastically engaged with the challenge of moving to ‘online church’, with another lockdown and restrictions likely to continue well into next year (the possibility of a vaccine notwithstanding) continues to be a massive drain in time, energy and resources.

A large part of me feels that we need this debate on sexuality like a hole in the head.

3. The antagonism of ‘conversation partners’ is vitriolic

Four weeks ago, in anticipation of the publication of LLF, Simon Butler, who is Prolocutor of the House of Clergy in General Synod, commented on IICSA and linked child sexual abuse to the doctrine of the C of E on marriage. He praised those in the evangelical tradition who had changed their position on sexuality, but contrasted them sharply with those who support the Church’s current teaching:

Other evangelicals within General Synod, effectively kicked out of the Evangelical Group in General Synod (EGGS) for simply wanting to explore a line similar to Runcorn’s, have coalesced into a new group in which a different, honest expression of dissent can be aired, within a caring atmosphere far different from the stifling atmosphere of EGGS which, over my twelve years as a member, became increasingly reminiscent of a Soviet-style party meeting. It gives me no pleasure to admit I often felt afraid.

This comment, made by someone whose role is supposed to be representing clergy in Synod, about fellow Synod members, is at best disingenuous, and at worst shocking. I suppose it is one step better than calling us all Nazis, but it feels like a small step. In reality, the leadership of EGGS exercised great caution and refused to make EGGS a closed group; they showed hospitality to dissenting voices, even when those voices tried to dominate discussion, interrupting other people speaking in meetings and heckling. But it was clear, from an informal survey, that around 95% of the group happily accepted Church of England teaching on marriage and sexuality. Given that the vast majority of both evangelical and mainline scholarship has not been persuaded by attempts to re-interpret the biblical material, it was not unreasonable to clarify what an evangelical understanding of sexuality looked like. Other theological traditions are available!

In the last week or so Jayne Ozanne, a member of General Synod and high-profile campaigner change, has been reaching for the language of ‘abuse’ and criminality in the discussion about the Church’s doctrine on marriage. In response to an article about ‘homophobic’ Christian students and churches in Oxford, she commented:

(In the article, there was an account of a meeting with a group of celibate, gay Christians from St Aldate’s church, who exhibited the ‘worst kind of homophobia’ by being kind whilst still believing in the Church’s teaching that marriage was between one man and one woman. ‘I felt loved and abused at the same time’.)

On a Facebook group, in response to a call to mount an IICSA-style enquiry into the Church’s treatment of gay people, Jayne comments:

Really agree Martin, but personally I think it should be a public enquiry like IICSA led by a QC. I have been talking to certain folk about this…

These two are not voices from the margins, but from people who have been pretty much at the centre of the discussions in the C of E. LLF is seeking to build bridges and encourage serious and respectful discussion—at a time when leaders on one side are comparing those on the other side to murderous autocratic dictatorships and want to see them criminalised.

4. We have bigger issues to resolve

I had a fascinating conversation with an online friend on Facebook about a popular expression of God’s love and judgement in a leaflet, which he found absurd. He is an Anglican cleric originally from London who decided he was a universalist before he began ordination training. (There is no need to name the person, but he posted publicly so I don’t think that he is shy in his views). In response to some comments about ‘an abusive God’, I asked another person ‘Is the God of the NT abusive?’, to which my friend replied:

You didnt ask me but I would say that frequently in the NT, God is described in ways that most right-thinking people would now regard as abusive, yes.

I then followed up with a more specific question: ‘So do you think the Jesus of the New Testament is an abusive religious leader?’

Yes. I think that some of the words attributed to Jesus by the NT writers are abusive from today’s perspective. I see them as reflecting human understanding not God’s. To a large extent that may be the perspective of the writers but even if we knew for certain that Jesus said (and meant) everything attributed to him, I would still say that if it sounds abusive, it is abusive and reflect’s Jesus’s human understanding not his divine.

While I’m sure that sounds heretical and may be problematic in some ways, there are precedents (Jesus telling a gentile woman to go away and her challenging him. I know that’s debatable but isn’t everything?!) And it’s still less problematic for me than ascribing abusive behaviour to God.

Now, there are any number of directions we could go in exploring this theologically—can we separate the divine and human nature in Jesus? Can we be so confident that the gospels writers distorted the teaching of Jesus so badly? If we cannot know who Jesus is from the New Testament, can we know him at all? (On the popular reading of Jesus being racist in response to the Syro-Phoenician woman, see my exploration here.)

But for the purposes of this article I simply want to note that my friend and I stand on opposite sides of a very large theological chasm. If he thinks that the teaching of Jesus we find in the NT is ‘abusive’, how are we ever going to agree on the question of sexuality and the doctrine of the Church?

To change the metaphor: it feels as though we are trying to build a second-story extension on a house whose foundations are crumbling to the point of being almost non-existent. Oliver O’Donovan hints at this rather serious problem, though in a reflective, Oxford-style way of speaking, when he points out one of the omissions of the LLF book:

First, of the various complaints that may be raised against LLF from the conservative side there is one that I would take seriously, which is the way it talks about God. The theological matrix is familiar enough from church documents and homilies of these times: Love is the sole name of God, and “whoever lives in love, lives in God.” The Bible is a book about loving community, injustice is the sole sin, and the Eucharist the sole sacrament. Though undeniably inspired by scriptural and especially Johannine sources, the presentation of God is troubling for its loss of mystery and tension.

God as hidden, God as truth, God as judge: those warnings about the distance of the divine from the human cannot be ignored without the knowledge of God collapsing into a kind of consolatory knowledge of ourselves. With the loss of depth in our conception of God, of course, there goes a loss of depth in self-knowledge. Where there is no “Repent and believe the Gospel!” — no narrow way to enter, no cross to take up — the individual subject settles down to become a unit of society equal to all other units; “every human being regardless…,” with no challenge to self-discovery. What an older generation called existence, that is, the unique and incommunicable demand of living in coherence with oneself, disappears from view.

If our understanding of God is not central to our understanding of both who we are and what God calls us to, I think we have a problem.

5. There is no obvious end-point to which we can all assent

I was involved in a Zoom discussion about LLF on Tuesday with some members of the group and others who have a keen interest in its outcome. In response to discussion about listening to different views, I pointed out that the discussion in the C of E has, probably for decades, not really been about evaluating different views, but about whether the different views are in any sense reconcilable. Can we live in ‘good disagreement’, agreeing to disagree on this issue?

I feel very clear that we cannot. It might just be possible to live in a Church which, in some parts, does recognise and value the ministry of women in certain roles whilst, at the same time in other parts, does not recognise that ministry. Possibly. But it is simply impossible to, at the same time in the same institution, both celebrate certain patterns of relationship as the wonderful gift of God which teaches us about the nature of his relationship with us, and alongside this believe that it is a sinful pattern of relating to which the right response is a call to repentance. In fact, at one point the LLF book acknowledges this:

When we consider the experiences of other Christian churches, we find three broad approaches to questions of sexuality and marriage. One approach maintains the Church’s traditional teaching but stresses listening to and walking alongside individuals who live differently. The Church of England’s current official approach is similar to this.

A second approach permits local churches to respond in different ways. For instance, some might bless or conduct same-sex marriages, while others might continue to view them as wrong. One question, however, is whether this is possible without changing church doctrine, liturgy or law. Can a church bless or marry a same-sex couple while teaching marriage is between one man and one woman?

So a third approach is to change the church’s doctrine of marriage.

There really is no ‘middle’ way—and (as we have seen in the Anglican Church in the USA), if the Church does changes its doctrine, it would not be long before those who held to a traditional view would be prosecuted and expelled—probably for holding to teaching which is ‘abusive’.

Having reached the end of this longer-than-planned comment, I can understand if some people infer that I am suggesting we should not engage in the LLF process. I don’t think I am saying that. I will be reading the material, and offering comment and evaluation on the content, as well as contributing to resources that might help people address the issues.

But I want to be realistic about what might be achieved. O’Donovan comments:

LLF deserves to succeed. Its work has been done painstakingly and generously, and if it elicits the kind of engagement it seeks, it cannot help but change the mood.

I hope that part of that change of mood is to recognise the foundations that need rebuilding, so that the end result is a Church which is more faithful to its calling—its worship of God and its testimony to the world.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 

Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2.9–12)

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696 thoughts on “(How) should we engage with Living in Love and Faith?”

  1. Ian, I apologize if any of my comments have been over the top. I realize that, as we say over here, I do have a dog in this fight, and this makes me rather passionate at times.

    I do however agree with your suggestion that it’s time to draw a line under this comment thread. Neither ‘side’ (I actually believe there are more than two ‘sides’, but that’s a different story) is finding the other’s arguments persuasive, and that’s not likely to change.

    • I don’t actually think your comments have been at all out of line. What I would really like here is some proper engagement between different views, and I think you have offered that.

      What is not helpful on either side is the use of ‘gotchas’, or sarcasm, or the hijacking of the views of another in order to make one’s own point. I am slightly encouraged that *some* recent comments are doing this a little better, but still…

      My dilemma is that I cannot manage a conversation with 500 comments; the option is to leave comments on or turn them off.

  2. Again, the ‘reply’ option is not available to Kyle’s most recent reply to me, so I’ll just indicate that I’m replying to his of 6.53 above. Kyle, you said, “Your interpretation of ‘None of you can be my disciple unless you give up all your possessions.’ is as wrong as your interpretation of the verses that discuss homosexuality.”

    That’s the sort of statement that makes dialogue impossible (‘Your interpretation…is wrong.’). We’re not talking about the periodic table and the law of gravity here; we’re talking about scripture verses written two thousand years ago in cultures very different from our own, and there have been many instances down the years in which a widely accepted understanding of a text or texts has been challenged and overturned in the light of better scholarship or the findings of modern science. The arguments about whether the sun went round the earth or vice versa come to mind, or the issue of slavery (which was defended by folks in the American south on the basis of what they saw as ‘the clear teaching of the Bible.’). You even see it in the Bible itself. In our Daily Office Lectionary this morning we read James 2.14-16, in which James uses the exactly the same OT scriptures as Paul, but uses them to make the absolute opposite point to Paul about faith and works.

    So I’d like to suggest you use ‘I disagree with your interpretation’, rather than ‘Your interpretation is wrong.’

    And by the way, there are no ‘biblical verses that discuss homosexuality’. Please – precision is important here. There are verses that discuss men lying with other men, which is an action, not an orientation. The biblical texts show no awareness that same sex desire can be an innate condition. They always assume that it is an action a person has chosen, in deliberate rebellion against God. The use of the word ‘homosexuality’ to translate anything in the biblical library would be an anachronism.

    • Tim, “innate” means “existing from birth”. I don’t think any sexual desires are innate. That includes the paraphilia. Anyone could develop any desires, given the right (or wrong) circumstances. Romans 1 does talk about desires and Paul (like other biblical writers) does consider some desires godly and others not. How desires develop is an interesting question.
      Slavery/douleia is another discussion for another time, but I think you have misconstrued this (very diverse) matrr as well.

    • I began with simply saying what I thought of the Matthew passage. You then used that effort for charity as an excuse to essentially excuse me of hypocrisy saying (and I quote you in your entirety) “Ah, so we’re into ‘context’ and ‘different interpretations’ now. Apparently it’s allowed when it comes to money, but not when it comes to the clobber verses.”

      It is an utterly foul strategy – and I should point out that although ‘different interpretations’ is in quotation marks and following ‘context’ which is a word which I did use, I never said that; nor anything similar – and although ‘is wrong’ is in quotation marks in your post it is not a phrase I used. Although, of course I do think you are wrong. Do you think that I am right?

      The Bible does not teach that the Sun revolves around the Earth. I do not believe it was ever widely believed that the Bible taught that the Sun revolved around the Earth. Natural philosophy taught that the Sun revolved around the Earth.

      The Bible does not support slavery. The Bible abolished slavery. Yes, in the big push of Wilberforce but that was a regression. The Bible had changed slave societies (which was all societies) into non-slave long before. Can you twist the Bible to make it say what I want? Yes, but one can observe the twisting take place. And the example of the American South constitutes a very good reason to be strongly against such twisting even where there are vested interests or a desire to appeal to the rich and powerful in the world.

      The teachings of James and Paul are complementary. One needs faith not the saying that one has faith. (James correct a possible mis-reading of Paul; the Bible makes itself clear).

      I acknowledge and apologise for my use of the word ‘homosexuality’ where it simply was not accurate.

    • ‘And by the way, there are no ‘biblical verses that discuss homosexuality’. Please – precision is important here. There are verses that discuss men lying with other men, which is an action, not an orientation. ‘

      Absolutely. This is ‘The Bible and sexuality 101’. If we cannot even get these basics right, conversation is very difficult. More awareness needed!

      • ‘Clobber verse’ – which is the term that he used – is a term that refers (in the view of those who use the terms) to those verses that discuss particularly homosexuality. Now, I would agree that they do not discuss in fact homosexuality, but that is the term that proponents of the term ‘clobber verse’ use (that or Gay and Lesbian, LGB, but never same-sex acts or similar.) the briefest internet search (which I think I had to use to learn what Tim meant) shows that very clearly.

        If it is ‘The Bible and sexuality 101’ then can’t one assume that we are discussing the same thing and just assume that they are using these terms in a way that includes the practice – which is the way that the world seems to typically use it in (For example, Dictionary.com refers defines homosexuality as ‘ sexual desire or behavior directed toward a person or persons of one’s own sex.’) – rather than demanding to police language. We should not use the term ‘clobber verse’ because all scripture is God-breathed not because they don’t actually teach about homosexuality (which we idiosyncratically define as just the desire). Getting into that argument is getting into the weeds. And actually opposes quite strongly your comment policy. Surely, if I seek to learn from Tim I should not be having the argument of what ‘homosexuality’ means and demanding he uses my terms, but accepting that as a by-the-by and debating on the substantive point of whether a clobber verse view of the Bible is a valid hermeneutic.

        Genuinely, I think you should sincerely consider whether if a post along the lines:

        “Actually, there is no such thing as a clobber verse since those verses in question do not discuss homosexuality but same-sex acts”. Would in fact be in the spirit of your comment guidelines as currently constituted. Would it be first seeking to understand, engage and learn? Or would it in fact be a gotcha refusing to engage substantively in order to win the argument?

        It seems to me the latter. And if it is that sort of post that you want to encourage then I think that you ought to change your comment policy, stressing the need to make yourself clear and precise and making no concession to the terms of the interlocutor.

      • Emperor Galba was classified by Suetonius as homosexual in orientation – but there have been very many detailed studies of the topic in the Ancient Mediterranean.

        Homosexuality is a reality not a word. Same sex acts are a reality not a word. The question is how far the two overlap in Venn diagram style. The overlap is surely large, and yet some are treating it as though it were a 0% overlap.

  3. Holiness.
    It is after all known as Holy Matrimony; not for nothing. What is the scriptural basis?
    If it is holy, how does that relate to the Holiness of God and holiness in sexuality and sexual activity?

  4. And it really is time for the Church of England to separate on this matter with an equitable division of property.
    The division has already happened- very badly and unfairly- in North America in Anglicanism and is underway in a rather better way American Methodism is also preparing to split to put an end to the arguments and conflict. There is no point in wasting any more time money and emotional energy on this. As Gsmaliel might say, if sexual revisionism is of God, then churches embracing that ethic will flourish.

  5. Hi James
    “It really is time to go separate ways now with an equitable division of property”

    I am in general agreement with your view but I think it would be a mistake to ‘go our separate ways’ on this disagreement alone. Let me try to explain why.

    Speaking for the moment just about those who believe that the Bible is a trustworthy self-disclosure from God and regard themselves as evangelicals, these are some of the disagreements among us about certain truths. I state them in shorthand form for brevity, and in no particular order. I hope you see what I mean:

    Justification complete when we repent and come to Christ/ “Believers are already justified, because the eschaton has penetrated the present age. But in another sense justification will be completed only on the day of redemption (cf. Gal. 5:5)” (Schreiners Romans Commentary page 290, note 15)

    Sabbath observance

    Evolution/ 7-day Creation

    Gift of tongues today/gift ceased

    Ordination of women

    Does God wish all people to be saved and yet has devoted the reprobate to eternal destruction and wishes them to perish (See Calvin’s comment on Ezekiel 18:23 and Kuiper (God-centred Evangelism) pages 41 and 42)/ Or is the WCF right: “By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death”. Double decree rejected (Lloyd-Jones)/Double decree is true

    Supralapsarian/infralapsarian/The whole debate tries to dig too deeply


    Certain that not all will be saved/Possible that all will be saved

    Christian reconstruction – theonomy/not theonomy

    Eternal retribution for the unsaved/Annihilation after some retribution/Annihilation on Judgment Day

    Atonement doctrine of penal Substitution/PSA not true

    Belief that we all face from birth onwards the wrath and condemnation of God and are born with a nature inclined to evil/ Don’t believe that


    In my view some of these are more fundamental and important than the Human Sexuality disagreement. The actual position is that different evangelicals will have different views on most of these and we will all draw the circle of absolute essentials in different places.
    This actual position needs to be recognised and explored before there is any move to ‘go separate ways’.

    Phil Almond

    • There is also the question of whether it is legitimate for Christians to put on the uniform of their country and kill fellow Christians who happen to be wearing the uniform of another country that the state tells them is their enemy. In my view, that’s a far more fundamental issue than same-sex marriage. But my denomination includes both pacifists and military chaplains, and we share communion at the same altars.

      I mentioned earlier my view that there are more than two sides on this subject. I think it’s not only split between those ‘for’ and ‘against’ same-sex marriage. The affirming side also contains some who are okay with same-sex unions but not at calling them marriage. The non-affirming side seems to have differences between those who think homosexuality is chosen and thoe who think it isn’t. But more fundamentally, there are differences on both sides between those who think this should be a church-splitting issue and those who don’t. Personally, I work very closely in my own diocese with colleagues who disagree with me on this. And I’m happy to do so. What I have in common with them is afar more important.

      And with that, sisters and brothers, I will bow out of this conversation. God bless and guide us all, and give us wisdom and love.

      • And Tim knows that the Anglican Church of Canada – which has same-sex “married ” bishops- is now in (probably) irreversible decline, no longer even publishing statisof attendance. I perfectly understand that this is sensitive personal issue for him, but there is also the fact that Canadian Anglicanism is quite literally dying out and ot being renewed by conversions or births. Is it happy yo go the way of Christian Science and Unitarianism? Does anybody really think God is blessing the new sexual ethic?

        • James. The argument that a faithful church will always be growing and flourishing is very difficult to sustain through church history. Eugene Peterson warned this was based on consumerist theology and believed the church in America had been devastated by such assumptions. ‘Our methods of going about our business are, by and large, counter to the gospel. Everyone thinks if the Church is doing it right they’re going to have a lot of people. But the Church, when it has been alive, has never been popular. Never.’ On principle he only joined small churches.

          • I think that is an important qualifier; Churches as institutions can grow and decline for all sorts of reasons. Consumerism appears to be a significant culture factor in some of the megachurch movements in the US.

            Against that, someone reminded me of an article I had posted on FB from a few years ago: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/17/literal-interpretation-of-bible-helps-increase-church-attendance

            When culture has become more hostile to the claims of Christian faith, then in fact research (and common sense) show that those who are the more demanding are the ones that resist decline. Rodney Stark has also demonstrated this historical from the early centuries.

          • Of course I understand that point. But we are all inclined to pray in aid some external signs of support. “Of course I’m right – The Guardian/Daily Mail agrees.” Andrew Godsall always tells us that AMiE will fail. A Catholic will look at Protestant numbers and sneer etc. But I’m doing something a little more sophisticated- looking at demographic trends. They clearly spell death in one generation or less for the Anglican Church of Canada and I don’t think Tim can gainsay this. Half the parishes in England are on the same trajectory- because as they age, decline accelerates.
            I have never said a faithful church will always have large numbers. But I have said that sexual revisionism INEVITABLY leads to theological liberalism across the board and with that, a loss of evangelistic zeal and a zeal for holiness and prayer. Why? Because theological truth is systemic. It is no surprise to me that Brian McLaren is moving into unitarian universalism and Steve Chalke is headed that way – and “post-evangelical” Dave Tomlinson as well. Accepting homosexuality as a valid lifestyle for Christians will inevitably weaken spiritual life all round and will NOT attract new believers. Anyone who thinks differently simply hasn’t paid attention to TEC to SEC or to ACC. I implore all advocates of sexual revisionism to STOP disrupting the Church.

          • David, I think James makes a well founded point here.

            Can you point to any examples of a church which has affirmed same-sex relations and as a result stemmed the acceleration of declining attendance? I know of none.

          • Ian. You remind me of when I was challenged by someone 30 years ago after writing an article in support of the ordination of women. They claimed it was already leading to decline in the CofE and – look – the American church has been in steep decline ever since they went down that route!
            So my first response is to say I do not accept a single issue cause for what is going on in American churches. I do not agree James’s point is well founded.
            Nor do I not accept that church growth is measurable on a single issue basis over here either.
            But what comparisons could you suggest to make this reliable and meaningful – let alone statistically reliable? Church growth or decline in a church is always a complex variety of factors. Understanding is not helped by over-simplifying.
            So I am going to pass on this one. I really do not think not think this is a helpful approach.

      • Tim, I agree with you that the range of views is much more nuanced that polarised point-scoring (some of which is happening here in both directions) ever allows.

        For me, one thing I never do (and I discourage others from doing) is referring to ‘homosexuality’. This notion was an invention of the nineteenth century; it is contested on both ‘sides’ (see Lisa Diamond who thinks campaigning on the grounds of identity is not actually possible because it doesn’t stack up with the evidence of variability of sexual preference over time); and the Bible never talks about it.

      • James

        Thank you for your comment ‘Not much point in being in the Church of One, Philip’. I’m not absolutely sure I understand what you are getting at with that comment, but I think (please correct me if I am wrong) that you are meaning that my statement ‘………….and we will all draw the circle of absolute essentials in different places’ implies that we are each a unique church on our own. This makes me realise that I have expressed what I really think quite badly, or at least incompletely. Let me try again, repeating what I have tried to say elsewhere.

        The God and Christ of the Bible are both terrible (in their holiness, majesty, glory, righteousness, justice, wrath against sinners, sovereignty, reality and warnings) and wonderful (in their love, mercy, grace, pity, longsuffering, patience, compassion). And the message of the Bible, the Gospel, has two essential parts: the terrible warnings to flee from the wrath to come and the wonderful sincere, genuine invitation to all to submit to Christ in his atoning death and life-giving resurrection; to submit in repentance, faith, love and obedience. Both of those parts have to be believed, taught and preached to be faithful to the Bible.

        I can’t prove it, and would be humbled and put in my place to be proved wrong, but I surmise that the terrible part of that Gospel is believed , taught and preached by only a minority of Anglican Bishops and Ministers. Of course none of us believes in the terrible God and Christ unless and until we are convinced from above, and I pray that God in his mercy will send that convicting breath from heaven on us all. But if I am right in my surmise, this situation is the most serious failure of the Church of England as a whole and she is facing the prospect that God will require the blood of the unsaved at her hand.

        The LLF situation is an opportunity for those who agree with me to challenge the rest of the church, both evangelicals and non-evangelicals about this most serious failure. I want to see that challenge take place, perhaps by an open letter to all Ministers and Bishops, before there is any talk of going separate ways on the sexuality disagreement. Put it this way: suppose at the end of the LLF process the church reaffirms the ‘traditional’ view. That would leave this more fundamental and more important issue unaddressed.

        Phil Almond

        • Hello Phil,
          Your second paragraph is true strong meat, something along the lines of which (while not highlighting all aspect in one or two sermons) I listened to a couple of nights ago in the powerful preaching of Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones, starting in the book of Romans . It was far from winsome. Deeply offensive in today’s world, but I suppose it always has been, at once offensive and foolish.

          As for the remainder of your earlier comment with a list of agreed theological musts, for separation, I’d suggest if you must have them all, you’d not be in a church of one, (as James says) but in the church of Presbyterians.

          • PS Phil,
            I know of a strong independent reformed church which accepts infant baptism, dedication, and believers baptism. The elders are/were of all those persuasions.
            It would also accept “Tulips from Augustine”, but it wouldn’t immediately be recognised in preaching, as the preaching always centres on our LORD Jesus Christ, rather than isolating any one theological theme.
            I’m ever reminded of the aphorism that is traced to Spurgeon: if you find a perfect church don’t join it …or you will spoil it.

          • Geoff just to clarify. They were not musts for separation, but areas where there is disagreement. It was a plea for them to be recognised as the reality on the ground. It would surprise me if there was no such disagreement on any of them among Presbyterians. I am not after a ‘perfect church’ (Spurgeon was right) but I want Anglicans to face up to this big area where (if I am right) there is this big failure. If Anglicans end up ‘dividing’ (in whatever way) then let it be for reasons more fundamental and important than the sexuality disagreement (important though that is).

            Phil Almond

  6. Two encouraging and contrasting stories from the LLF roll out. An openly impatient ‘progressive’ expecting little finds themselves unexpectedly moved and challenged by fresh insights from scripture and the shared stories from all sides. Meanwhile the leaders of an evangelical church with a ‘Traditional’ viewpoint are so impressed with the material they plan to show the videos to their whole church on Sundays.

  7. Jesus seems quite coy in his response to sexual identity. I quote The Message version:
    10 Jesus’ disciples objected, “If those are the terms of marriage, we’re stuck. Why get married?”
    11-12 But Jesus said, “Not everyone is mature enough to live a married life. It requires a certain aptitude and grace. Marriage isn’t for everyone. Some, from birth seemingly, never give marriage a thought. Others never get asked—or accepted. And some decide not to get married for kingdom reasons. But if you’re capable of growing into the largeness of marriage, do it.”

    The reason some things are only discussed obliquely seems to be that Jesus did not let his burning eye dwell on them for too long. We should do the same.

    • Steve,
      1 Corinthians 7:
      Marriage is always, ( that is, NEVER NOT) repeatedly in terms of male and female (hence the adoption of the terms husband and wife in same sex marriage, perhaps?) But the key passage shows that Paul’s deep, first priority, concern, is that marriage or singleness should not interfere with the primary devotion to God, It is wisdom, so important because, “time has grown very short” (v 29).
      But this wisdom is,
      “for your own benefit”
      Why is that Paul?
      “to promote good order AND TO SECURE YOUR UNDIVIDED DEVOTION TO THE LORD” (v35) Apologies for my shouting, as I’ve not yet really worked out how to engage italics or bold or underline on this machine. Doh!

      To add this from Anglican minister Glenn Scrivener on 1 Cor 7.
      ” The way he thinks about it, the time is short and then we will really live. Not long now and we’ll inherit immortal bodies, explore a glorious new creation, be released from every burden and labour, and enjoy the ultimate marriage with Christ forever. Not long now until life really begins. The time we are are asked to stick at that difficult job, that difficult marriage, that difficult singleness, it’s only short -relatively speaking!”

      the grass is always greener,
      “that job, that relationship that set of circumstances. Those things will never satisfy.”
      “As we fight for contentment in Christ, it may be that the Lord will bring us out of our current circumstances. That’s great. But that is not our hope. Instead, we seek to know Jesus in the place where we are. We seek to witness to him in the here and now. And we take heart, the time is short. Soon and very soon, we are going to see the Lord!”
      From “Reading Between The lines, New Testament Daily Readings.

      To finish, if we think we, our marriage, our singleness, our career, our intelligence, our status, security our self identity, our financial status (rich or poor), strength, are necessary for our flourishing, wholeness; necessary to complete us, our lives, let us hear from Aslan to Prince Caspian.
      “If you had felt yourself sufficient, it would have been proof that you were not.”

      • Thanks Geoff,
        I think you put it perfectly. I agree. ‘We seek to know Jesus in the place where we are’
        But compromises still happen so that we are in danger of ‘shipwreck’ – as St.Paul said. Or like King David; unable to control his children. Stuff happens and we live with the consequenses. Regardless of whatever the CxE agrees to, people will inevitably ignore and privately do their own thing. ..not that they shouldn’t have club rules… just saying. Holiness must be innate in any group. It can’t be legislated for. We need a move of the Spirit. This blog has started me speaking in tongues for the first time in ages. That’s what we need…Him.

        On another note. I think Queen Victoria had the right idea when she forbade anyone to sit during a meeting until they had agreed a solution. How short these comments would be if it had to be all concluded by luncheon. And then we had to pass the butter to each other!

        • Revival, is that the word you are looking for, Steve?
          Count Zinzendorf and the Moravians revival spread and longevity must have been something to behold, as would those in times of Whitfield and Edwards.

          Please LORD, start with me and you and you and you.

          Until then there is Spiritual warfare in the heavenlies, even while we see it only on the earthly, horizontal level. And we are called to be faithful to the gospel.

          Now Revival would amount to messy church. and strenuously opposed ( Closed pubs in Wales!, the Welsh Revival)) It would be greatly opposed.
          Tongues: Dennis Bennet’s book, “Nine O Clock in the Morning”, recommended as part of Alpha course in !997, and provided on loan by the Anglican church, birthed in me a longing for the gift, as “deep calling to deep” Spirit to Spirit. deep Spirit induced groanings ( Romans 8), or to use a a title of a track by Van Morrison, “Inarticulate speech of the heart”, as my prayers were increasingly becoming “stuck” and somewhat anodine.
          Another book recommended, but beyond my funds, was “God’s Empowering Presence”, by Gordon Fee. I have his much smaller condensation, “Paul. the Spirit and the People of God”.
          I’m chastened by your comment, in neglect of the gift, but like you quite recently I was stimulated by prayerlessness to return.

        • Steve,
          Ian is holding onto a longer comment of mine, by way of moderation (it seems to happen a lot), but if I can return with one comment, about holiness being innate: it can only ever be “innated” by and through the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit, who will never lead in a direction in opposition to scripture. That is the test or measure. It is the Holiness of God indwelling. But and this is a big but, it is but a door ajar to a discussion about the Holiness of God and God the Holy Spirit and righteousness.
          As I’ve said above long ago in the comments above, or at least in a comment I tried to post this is true freedom, not to do as we want, will or desire, but to do and be as He wills and desires.
          For sure there will only but imperfection in this life, with failings, but lives lived will always to seek into be in one direction, only to honour and glorify God, not grieving God, the Holy Spirit, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption. Ephesians 4 v 30
          You may well know, far better than I, Spurgeon’s sermon on this text, readily available online.

          • I just meant by innate that unless there is a Holy Spirit indwelling, any agreement on doctrine is a waste of time.
            PS I’m not a theologian or legally trained, as you seem to be, but I think we are on the same page. I came to this blog of Ian’s hoping to discuss the book of Revelation as he has a very balanced approach. Since then I’ve been a bar fly listening in to all the discussions. I realise I can’t contribute much generally and I’m not getting anywhere with Revelation either.

  8. My observations on this are:

    – LLF has done something conservatives really didn’t want – it has openly and with the backing of the Bishops acknowledged the range of views on the issue among people with integrity and concern for truth. It has spelt out those views reasonably accurately and fairly.

    – It is now harder for conservatives to say that those advocating change in the church’s practices and policies are somehow extreme or non-mainstream.

    – It is now more plain than ever that the teachings of the church must come to accommodate the views of thoughtful Anglicans who desire change. On what grounds can only one group’s views continue to be represented in these circumstances? ‘Because they’re right’ is not a practical answer.

    – Those conservatives who seek to present a ‘traditional’ view on same-sex issues as commensurate with, or a proxy for, obedience, faithfulness and integrity look ever more desperate and disingenuous in so doing, when it is plain that disagreement on the issue exists among good people.

    I am personally happy for conservative churches to do what they want and advocate for what they believe. I am not happy for them to monopolise the church’s teaching and actions. If you cannot accommodate difference, walk away. It really is that simple.

    • I think that is a helpful observation James. But you are assuming that this issue is a ‘matter indifferent’, one of the adiaphora, and that we all know that. In fact, that is what this discussion is all about—whether or not it is a matter indifferent, and whether you can believe two contradictory things at the same time.

      I don’t think there is any evidence for either of these things—but for several decades that is the question that has been debated. We have known for a long time that there are different views in the C of E—actual belief in its doctrine as its stands, and denial of that doctrine.

    • My observations on this are:

      -LLF has done something the liberals didn’t really want – it has openly and with the backing of the Bishops acknowledged the range of views on the issue among people with integrity and concern for truth. It has spelt out those views reasonably accurately and fairly.

      – It is now harder for liberals to say that those resisting change in the church’s practices and policies are somehow hateful or a loud minority.

      -It is now more plain than ever that the teachings of the church must not come to accommodate the views of vociferous Anglicans who demand change. On what grounds can only one group’s views continue to be represented in these circumstances? ‘Because they’re right’ is not a practical answer.

      – Those liberals who seek to present a ‘progressive’ view on same-sex issues as commensurate with, or a proxy for, obedience, faithfulness and integrity to scripture and tradition look ever more desperate and disingenuous in so doing, when it is plain that disagreement on the issue exists among good people.

      I am personally happy for liberal churches to do what they want and advocate for what they believe. I am not happy for them to monopolise the church’s teaching and actions. If you cannot accommodate difference, walk away. It really is that simple.

      • My point being that all of these comments can simply be reversed, as they entirely depend on the perspective of the writer. I have changed only one or two words in each sentence. 😉 Everything that can be said of one group can be flipped and used to categorise the other….

        I hope this comes across as a humurous inversion of what you’ve said, as opposed to mockery. That is not my intention.

        • You seem to miss the point that the church’s current teaching and rules accommodate only the conservative view. So point 3 makes no real sense in your ‘flipped’ version. Point 1 flipped doesn’t work either – the liberal view has never been openly and fairly acknowledged at the top. Point 2 does work flipped- fair enough. Point 4 – liberals doesn’t do this in the same way. And the conclusion also doesn’t work- liberals are not monopolizing the church’s teaching – conservatives are and this is about keeping it that way.

          Your point misses the mark I’m afraid.

          I do like ‘E James’ though:)

          • “Well what it means is keeping in continuity with an aspect of the apostolic faith down the centuries and still held to around the world. Why should the C of E being split in this microsecond of history matter all that much?”

            But that’s to put the issue beyond any form of rational debate. No, in this day and age we discuss, agree and accommodate difference- if we don’t do this the inevitable result is conflict and attrition, no? Your view belongs to an age of despots who had the power to settle things one way or the other.

            You have to be realistic Ian. You cannot grant political privilege to a particular view in a human institution in 2020 on grounds that ‘it is right’ or ‘it is traditional’. It won’t work – people will demand change and eventually get it. It will be messy. It would be far better for everyone for you to advocate for mutual accommodation than to try to cling to the tenuous status quo and keep fighting.

          • All fair retorts.

            I was making the broader point (about the similarities and repetitive nature of large parts of this conversation) at the expense of precision (in terms of being an honest reflection of what you said). I’m not going to labor it. 😉

            While the comments may not be mirrors, I still maintain they’re all recognizably similar arguments in style and tone to what gets thrown ad infinitum back and forth in the debates.

            Would you accept that as fair?

          • Re your point:

            “One person’s ‘monopoly’ is another person’s ‘the Church actually believing something'”

            I take that point – but I do wonder what it means for the church to ‘Believe something’ when the people in it are hugely split on that issue. And when that split is not going to go away like a blip in history.

            It is plain to me that having the Church’s teaching going one way on this doesn’t actually represent the church believing something – it just represents the unjustified elevation of one of two views held.

          • Well what it means is keeping in continuity with an aspect of the apostolic faith down the centuries and still held to around the world. Why should the C of E being split in this microsecond of history matter all that much?

          • I take that point – but I do wonder what it means for the church to ‘Believe something’ when the people in it are hugely split on that issue. And when that split is not going to go away like a blip in history.

            It is plain to me that having the Church’s teaching going one way on this doesn’t actually represent the church believing something – it just represents the unjustified elevation of one of two views held.

            But you could say the same about Arianism. Or Donatism. Or docetism. Or Marcionism. And presumably you wouldn’t say that the Church’s teaching going on way on issues like those was just ‘the unjustified elevation of one of two views held’, would you?

            (I guess you could claim that those issues did turn out to be ‘a blip in history’… but I bet they didn’t seem like that at the time, to those caught up in the middle of them. How can we tell what issues that seem to us to be of massive, lasting import will seem to those in ten centuries’ time as a ‘blip in history’?)

          • Mat/E James,

            It must be recognised that playing “devil’s advocate” is advocacy of one, for only one! The one who feigns disinterest, above the fray, has an interest in the outcome!
            In Family law it used to be that the courts would recognise evidence of husband and wife living “separate and apart” under the same roof as “irretrievable breakdown of marriage” to award a decree nisi and then with the passage of 6 weeks. decree absolute
            Translated to the church there would be no communion at all, by living separate and apart under the same roof; there would be complete independent lives, with continued, mythering, harping and carping, sniping and fighting and white- hot -cold – shouldering, searing unresolved silence, a way of
            living neither wants.
            In marriage, if one party, thinks it is at an end, it really is no matter what the other wishes. Where there is incompatible lifestyles underpinned by divergent whole life existential beliefs there is no harmony: there is no glue of the gospel anymore.
            Like trying to put a cracked egg back into its shell, it is impossible. Vitriol is no oil and oil and water are emissible.
            You’ve changed is the heart grieving cry; you’re not the one I married.

          • Geoff.

            I wasn’t trying to play devil’s advocate, nor was I feigning disinterest! I fear you have misunderstood me. We would both agree that the matter is of immense importance, but the specific complaint I am making in the above comments is that I think that much of the commentary trivialises this, or the debate is so broad that the argument reduces to the same well-worn complaints/cliches and labels. I think we should avoid this.

            I’ve been commenting and engaging on Psephizo for some time, and my position is well-known (I think). I’d rather contribute humour and/or emphasise a different perspective, especially as so many other commentators are dealing with the real ‘meat’ of the issue, and repeating the same points had little value.


    • P
      And the crowd around Jesus fell silent for a minute while they tried to extrapolate his words. Then someone said, “Some couples choose not to have children.”
      and he replied, “that too”

  9. Hello Phil,
    It seems to me that you have been pressing this for a long time on this site, as a lone voice with reference to the 39 Articles and the Fall, which has a deep root in doctrine and it’s place, in who God is in Tri-unity and humanity/ preach/teach/doctrine/blessings/curses/ calling out/ election / covenants/ saving grace/ salvation, incarnation, cross of Christ, atonement, judgment resurrection, ascension, return and mission. Heaven/hell.
    It is all of one piece.
    As for Presbyterianism, I’m an outsider whose has benefitted greatly from teaching and preaching and writings from among their ranks.
    And while my knowledge of their history is extremely sketchy, it seems that they may have had more splits, than peas.

  10. By my count there are over 400 occurrences of ‘love’ in the LLF book. I wonder whether any of the authors have read Carson’s “The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God”?

    Phil Almond

    • Phil, I doubt it but stand to be corrected. If they had presumably that they would have drawn on what the points it contains and critiqued them.
      Is there not a bibliography, other than yours of course David Runcorn? Please, David, that is not to be meant or taken as a cheap jibe.
      I’m not sure Ian Paul has. If so he seems to have withheld comment or critique. I seem to recall, but not clearly, that Ian might have hinted perhaps a couple of years ago now, that he would read the small book.
      How about it Ian.? Surely, it is pertinent to LLF? Or are the points covered?
      Is there any depth of consideration of what “God is love” means and how that works out.
      Former Anglican, David F Wells in his book “God in the Whirlwind – How the Holy- Love of God Reorients Our World”emphasises it God’s love is “Holy- Love”.
      Here is the summary blurb:

      “We all struggle at times to hold together the holiness and the love of God, and can fall into problems such as liberalism and universalism on the one hand, or legalism and moralism on the other. However, what David Wells calls God’s ‘holy-love’ is right at the heart of the incarnation and cross of Jesus – and understanding how God’s holiness is inextricably bound to his love is what sets apart Christian spirituality from other spiritualities, what characterizes authentic Christian worship, and what defines our life of service in the world.
      Building on years of research and teaching, Wells offers a remedy for evangelicalism’s often superficial theology and weightless conception of God. He examines and offers solutions to two particular problems facing the contemporary church: the pressure to conform to cultural norms, and the danger of living in an age of constant distraction.
      This accessible, edifying and challenging volume helps us to cultivate a balanced vision of the meaning of God-centredness in our current context.”

      This whole topic reverts to Ian’s point about the centrality of doctrine in his reference to ODD
      in a much earlier short thread with David Runcorn, above.
      It seems to me that this is critical, doesn’t get ignored, sidelined or drowned out.
      It is perhaps a reminder, if one is needed.

      • David Runcorn refused to engage with my assertions that:
        1. Churches which adopt gay-affirming theology and (like David) believe there is such a thing as Christian same-sex “marriage ” go into irreversible numerical decline;
        2. Churches which adopt liberal sexual ethics also become theologically liberal ACROSS THE BOARD.
        That’s David’s prerogative- he doesn’t have to engage with anyone. But my points remain and I can cite a great swathe of evidence for these two claims.
        The decline of “western ” Anglicanism has been evident for 50 years and is only accelerating.
        The theological decline or embrace of liberalism by gay-affirming churches is also very easy to document. One only has to look at the pronouncements of Brian McLaren, Steve Chalke and Rob Bell to see that they are exiting biblical orthodoxy for a kind of unitarian universalism based on sentimental 19th century understandings of Jesus (Renan redivivus!) Now tinged with a bit of modern leftism. Dave Tomlinson is doing exactly the same. So it is highly ingenuous ( and not really honest) to imagine you can change a fundamental element of Christian doctrine – the nature of marriage- and think you won’t change the rest of the structure. It simply doesn’t work that way and there is now plenty of evidence to show why.
        My only mild surprise is David’s admission that he privately held “gay-affirming ” views in the 1970s while a student at London Bible College. I don’t know of anybody who was making an exegetical case for reinterpreting those texts in the 1970s, certainly not in the evangelical world. Of course there were always revisionist radicals around then, like John Robinson, Richard Holloway and Chad Varah , but they never claimed to be evangelicals. They were honest enough to say they thought the Bible was wrong in its teachings on sex. Steve Chalke Brian McLaren and Dave Tomlinson are finally catching up with them, and don’t pretend to be evangelicals any longer.

        • James (and Ian). I did not refuse to engage. I said the question, as posed, was impossible to answer meaningfully. That is different. Do me the courtesy of reporting my comments accurately please – as I seek to respond to yours.
          Countering your point 1 (a general unsustained assertion as its stands) I can point to one example of church decline/growth specifically linked to the adoption of a policy of welcome and inclusion towards LGBTi folk. St James and Emmanuel Didsbury did so quickly and publicly in 2014 after the tragic suicide of a young church member who secretly knew she was gay and thought God and the church could never accept her. All this is pubic knowledge. I have checked the numbers. At the time around 25 adults left because of this policy. In 2015 average weekly attendance was 97 adults and 45 children at the 10.30 service. In 2019 it was 170 adults and 36 children. An unexpected outcome of the inclusion policy has been how church membership is also now more ethnically diverse and also includes people with various disabilities.

          • I agree with you that individual churches can grow on this change of policy. But that is because (like all traditions) they select and attract people of that view. Some Metropolitan churches are large, and Steve Chalke’s Waterloo church is a good size I think .

            But the wider evidence is pretty consistent: in Western cultures, those national churches or denominations who are liberal on this issue are also liberal on a range of other things. And their declines accelerates. In the UK, the denominations who are resistant to decline are Catholics, new churches (eg Vineyard and New Frontiers) and black Pentecostal, all of whom are solidly ‘conservative’ on sexuality. In Nottingham, I think it is not much exaggeration to say that these are the *only* churches attracting young people.

            I cited specific research above in the Guardian article. Mark Regnerus has also demonstrated, through research, that Christians who are liberal on gay marriage are indistinguishable from the general population on a range of other ethical matters. https://www.psephizo.com/sexuality-2/same-sex-marriage-and-moral-debate/

            I found your earlier comment odd, when you claimed this was not clear and so you were bowing out. I think it is quite clear, and it is material, since we often here ‘Being seen as anti-gay damages mission’. There is little evidence for that, and much to the contrary.

          • Ian. Have I got this right? (Contra all James’s claims) you agree some affirming churches grow. Ah but that is because they are drawing in self-selecting particular groups of people. Not ‘real’ church growth then? But the ones in decline (‘the wider picture’) – well what do expect of something so Godless and unbiblical?
            You win both ways don’t you?

          • Regnerus’s findings will likely also apply to the very high percentages of Anglicans and Catholics entirely approving of sex outside marriage, according to LLF.

            Of course, many will have little knowledge of different sorts of cultures and eras other than their own, or of Scripture or of Christian tradition.

            This highlights that Evangelicals are absolutely accurate in their theory (which is partly an empirically observed theory) that nominalism is of no value. And looks to be of no power.

          • Have I got this right? (Contra all James’s claims) you agree some affirming churches grow. Ah but that is because they are drawing in self-selecting particular groups of people. Not ‘real’ church growth then?

            Surely the question is whether this ‘growth’ consists of bringing in people who previously didn’t go to church, or merely of cannibalising the more liberal members from other churches — in which case it is indeed not real growth?

          • David, you have become uncharacteristically irrational, careless and partial. It is odd; I am not sure why.

            We have been using the word ‘church’ here in two senses: the national church or denomination (as in Church of England or ECUSA) and ‘congregation’. Congregations can grow or shrink for all sorts of reasons; a wacky liberal quasi buddhist can lead a church into growth by being entertaining, caring and well organised, at least in the short to medium term. Who could deny that?

            And one of the criticisms of SDF church plants is that they might grow by transfer—which most would agree is not ‘real growth’. (The evidence actually suggests that is mostly not the case…)

            But the question is what happens when you aggregate congregations into larger movements and what happens when those movements shift their theological position.

            On that question, the research evidence is there and is quite compelling, as James and I have pointed out.

            I wonder if you will engage with that?

          • Ian, I think Professor Linda Woodhead, who specialises in research in this area, would outright disagree with you. But it doesn’t matter in any case, does it? If you were shown incontrovertible evidence that your position caused church decline, but you were sure this was being true to God, you’d carry on. Both sides in this argument would.

            As it happens, I think the CofE’s current position on sexuality is a tremendous drag on mission, creating a toxic ‘brand’. But I’m not advocating for change because of that, but because I think that change is right.

            Arguments about church growth are not the core here.

          • Thanks Jonathan. I think her book about the C of E with Andrew Brown was a ghastly toxic thing, so I am slightly sceptical. But I would be very interested to know if you can point me to a national church or denomination in the West which is growing on this basis?

            I agree with you that the church growth question cannot be definitive—though at the same time you claim that sexuality is a ‘toxic drag’. If so, how come the C of E is declining faster than those denominations that have a much clearer and more conservative line? Can you explain why the only young people in church in my city are going to those denominations—and the evidence suggests we are not unique?

            I my experience, the claim that an obscure Jewish teacher from 2000 years ago is the answer to all life’s problems is rather more of a challenge!

          • Hi Ian, I haven’t checked the stats lately on denominations, so I can’t answer your question. My impression is that all are struggling.

            I think the sexuality issue is a drag because it creates a toxic ‘brand’. How? Because the church is seen as homophobic. If people think you’re evil, they don’t bother talking to you in the first place. This makes a much higher bar that the church has to cross to gain trust and build relationships.

          • If people think you’re evil, they don’t bother talking to you in the first place.

            It’s not because they think the Church is evil that modern people don’t talk to it, it’s because they think — having little or no sense of sin or guilt — that it’s irrelevant. Have you not read ‘God in the Dock’?

          • Thanks Jonathan.

            It is quite curious that you haven’t checked the statistics. If you look around, you will see the point that James and I are making. Churches which have changed on this issue have I think uniformly seen decline accelerate.

            If a church is perceived as ‘homophobic’ and that puts people, especially young people off, can you explain why all those young people (a small minority of the population indeed, but many more than in most C of E churches) are going to Vineyard, Pentecostal, New Frontiers and FIEC churches?

          • “Can you explain why the only young people in church in my city are going to those denominations—and the evidence suggests we are not unique?”

            Ian, I’m sure that this time last year when the C of E Mission stats were produced you claimed that your own diocese have reversed the trend of decline and that your own church had young people attending. Is that now not the case? What has happened in the last 12 months if your own diocese and your own church?

  11. I ‘m a little unsure how to express this.
    With the affirming church such Chalke’s doesn ‘t the filtering process start before visiting the church attracting a certain demographic to the exclusion of others, whereas in some other churches evangelical, say FIEC, the filtering really begins within the church through preaching teaching, after and through missionary church planting: through discipleship.
    To my knowledge, when the home church movement had some influence a strategy was to grow an train and divide and split and repeat. I was dependent on group members inviting others along, to an informal setting.
    I suppose the filtering was done both at the invitation stage and then within and through the teaching in the small home group.
    I think that Ian puts his finger on it by looking at what is happening outside the CoE, which can give the impression of being so self absorbed, while at the same time being open to cultural influences, and those James traces, above, going with the flow with a rapid and rapacious assimilation.

    • There are some good points in it—but it is marred by the shocking, ignorant and (what an OT Hebraist friend of mine called) arrogant assumption that he can read the David-Jonathan narrative better than Hebrew scholars and translators. It is a travesty, and a naked (no pun intended) power play. People are already saying ‘Well, if an Oxford Professor thinks that, it must be right’.

      • Ian
        You don’t want comments on the CEEC video which is why you disabled them. I can see why. But surely you cannot critique the mote in Diarmaid’s article (I cannot comment since I’m not a Hebrew Bible scholar), without recognising the beam that some of the assertions in the video are – shall we say – questionable. And have been questioned.

          • What does that mean, Penny? Sometimes they are more so, sometimes less so, and sometimes equally so. You are saying that they are always equally so, which is not true.

          • And how about the errors of independent truth-seekers. The world is not divided into ideologues of one sort or another, and even if it were, that would be a good reason not to listen to them, surely?

          • “You are saying that they are always equally so, which is not true.“

            Penny is saying nothing of the sort. She is saying that sometimes they are equally so. And giving examples.

    • I thought it was good too. What I’m not so sure about is quite how useful the distinction between ‘understandings (plural) of marriage’ and ‘understanding (singular) of marriage’ is to this debate.

      On the one had I think the author is right, in that there is no singular, monolithic definition of ‘marriage’ that the church has unanimously and historically assented to. Divorce is a good illustration of this, and it’s a point well made, though I think he does injustice to a lot of Pauline scholarship by asserting that Paul is openly contradictory on the subject, but that’s another argument entirely….

      But on the other hand it is foolish to imply or pretend (as I believe the author does) that there is *nothing* consistent within said understanding. Even if we concede change, parts at least of the church’s understanding of marriage have been consistent; the dissenters few and/or insignificant. Just because some parts of an idea have changed, or been questioned, does not call into doubt the integrity of the whole thing.

      If you start applying this logic too broadly you end up with all sorts of nonsense. So it’s not helpful.

      • Mat,
        1 Cor 7 marriage is always referred to in terms of male and female (never not) regardless of the separate issue of divorce.
        For a comment re divorce, see a comment I made to you above.
        Sure, it doesn’t even attempt to look at scripture, but at divorce in the Family law context and reverberations into LLF.
        Does the prof. have a purpose of his own to serve in this matter, by entering the Anglican arena? That would not be without significance.
        I, for one, am thankful for Ian Paul’s vigilance and so for Andrew putting it up to reveal what is going on and the lengths to which people will go in campaigning.

        • Mat/E James,
          As an ex family lawyer, I posted this to you above,

          Mat/E James,

          It must be recognised that playing “devil’s advocate” is advocacy of one, for only one! The one who feigns disinterest, above the fray, has an interest in the outcome!
          In Family law it used to be that the courts would recognise evidence of husband and wife living “separate and apart” under the same roof as “irretrievable breakdown of marriage” to award a decree nisi and then with the passage of 6 weeks. decree absolute
          Translated to the church there would be no communion at all, by living separate and apart under the same roof; there would be complete independent lives, with continued, mythering, harping and carping, sniping and fighting and white- hot -cold-shouldering, searing unresolved silence, a way of
          living neither wants.
          In marriage, if one party, thinks it is at an end, it really is no matter what the other wishes. Where there are incompatible lifestyles underpinned by divergent whole life existential beliefs there is no harmony: there is no glue of the gospel any more.
          Like trying to put a cracked egg back into its shell, it is impossible. Vitriol is no oil and oil and water are immiscible.
          You’ve changed is the heart grieving cry; you’re not the one I married.

      • Great comment Mat. This observation of yours is key:

        ‘But on the other hand it is foolish to imply or pretend (as I believe the author does) that there is *nothing* consistent within said understanding. Even if we concede change, parts at least of the church’s understanding of marriage have been consistent; the dissenters few and/or insignificant. Just because some parts of an idea have changed, or been questioned, does not call into doubt the integrity of the whole thing.’

        There seems to be a complete deafness here. I don’t think any of us think that the practices and uses of marriage haven’t changed; the issue is the extent to which these practices form part of what we might call the ‘doctrine’ of marriage.

        • Appreciate the feedback, and while I agree there is a deafness here, I think it’s fair to admit it often goes both ways…

          While there is a tendency from one camp to wrongly (or dishonestly!) call the whole thing into question on the grounds of a handful of grey areas, there is equally a tendency for the reaction to falsely affirm the reverse: that the whole thing is crystal clear and there can be no dissent at all!

          The greatest value of LLF is that it neatly avoids either trap.

  12. Personal testimony and scripture.
    Let me draw out a comparison with the law and its application.
    People testify in court in relation to themselves, other an circumstance, situations, events. The law is then applied.
    The point? The testimonies do not interpret the law, the law interprets the testimonies.
    As with the law, so with scripture.
    Let’s be clear:
    1) this is the nub – the doctrine of scripture.
    2) scripture as we have it is uncorrectable.
    3) scripture can not be revised
    4) to seek to revise is to rewrite, to correct, even whilst disguised in the name of interpretation.

    This also emphasises the importance of the church not sleepwalking, but robustly resisting the changes to the law that would outlaw expressions scriptural opposition even in thought, belief, in preaching and teaching that are being campaigned for by Chalke and Ozanne.
    There is some indication in this article and comments of how vigorously any change in law would be prosecuted by those on the campaign trail as a part of a long -game strategy.

    • To add a fifth point
      5) revision in effect amounts to seeking to rewrite by codicil to the Last Will and Testament, whilst not having the testator’s authority nor the original autograph of the testator.

  13. From the responses on sites such as thinking anglicans to the CEEC video, it doesn’t really matter what is thought about LLF. It is clear that the orthodox teaching on marriage is thought to be irrational, illogical, unbiblical, homophobic, dangerous and a safeguarding issue.

    It has also been suggested that ‘progressive’ churches should openly flout the teaching of the church by blessing same-sex marriages if the teaching of the church is not changed.

    There is no way that the CofE can stay on the fence it, must choose and live (or die) by its decision.

    If the church delays, it may be that secular authorities overtake them. The new hate crime laws in Scotland could be used to make the orthodox teaching on marriage illegal.

  14. I agree that churches that take a liberal line on same sex marriage are in decline (with a few specific exceptions). I’m not convinced that this leads to liberalism on other issues though. As far as I can see, those promoting a liberal line on this issue hold credally orthodox views on the resurrection, incarnation, virgin birth, etc. They do not seem to have much in common with the likes of Holloway, Robinson, Cupitt, Jenkins, etc.

    • Well, I am wary of generalisations.

      But I have noticed how common it now is to say ‘Jesus was a first century Jew, a man of his time. So he was limited, and possibly racist, and had to learn how to move away from sinful views’.

      That is not credally orthodox!

      • Years ago, I heard John Pritchard giving a talk in an evangelical church, quoting Richard Holloway almost exactly to that effect: that Jesus was corrected of his ethnonationalist Jewish beliefs by the Syrophoenician woman. This was while Holloway was still an Anglican bishop and had not renounced Christianity. It was this incident that set me thinking about trajectories of thought and where liberalism leads. Like everything, development takes time for the consequences to appear, but we can at least learn from examples. Holloway’s apostasy (from a onetime Anglo-Catholic) is the signal example to me of this phenomenon. More broadly, I often recall that New England was once the heartland of American Puritanism and is now the least churched part of America. How did this happen? Some link this to the rise of transcendentalism and New Thought in the 19th century as Unitarianism took over from the old Calvinism, while immigration brought in great numbers of Roman Catholics from Europe.

    • There are some who visit this site that with probing as to beliefs, have supported Cupitt, continue to support John Robinson, do not agree the Tri-unity of God, nor bodily resurrection and may be neo-Marcionites, who do not see Jesus as God incarnate, fully man/fully God, but would claim to adhere to the creeds. They seem to have significant influence. Well-worn Christian phrases and saying are used without definition, content.
      The term evangelical has been rendered almost devoid of meaning, of substance, with really no regard to what the evangel is. Liberal theology and it’s tributaries also needs explanation.
      It would be fascinating to find out whether, how far there is a connection between liberalism in theology and espoused beliefs and the LLF, whether there is a preponderance of the direction of travel being from liberal theology to affirmation of SSM and the doctrine of scripture.

      • James and Geoff
        Indeed. But let us all watch ourselves lest we also be tempted and be aware of the beams in our own eyes. There will be some on Judgment Day whose straw and wood will be burnt up in the fire of Judgment but who will nevertheless be saved.

        Phil Almond

          • Hello Phil,
            Agreed with James.
            It is always a self reflective challenge about why I should seek to write/comment at all.
            Just today my wife and looked at 1 Cor 13 alongside Glen Scrivener’s daily readings.
            It is scripture reading reading us.
            “We often think the question, “,What is love?”. Perhaps a better question is “Who is love?”
            Love is a person who has
            Who is without sin? Jesus the Christ. We only really “have love” when we have Jesus.
            Simul Justus et Peccator.
            Without Christ as my saviour, my redemption, my righteousness, my King, my resurrection, my life; without my union with him, being judged, dying in his death, being raised in his raising, being seated in the heavenlies. I’d be sunk.
            There’d be no “Blessed Assurance”, there’d be no”to live is Christ, to die is gain.” as I was wheeled to the operating theatre, not knowing which side of heaven, I ‘d come out on.
            That I hope is the real underlying reason, I seek to comment: to continue to make Christ known. O how much I fall short.
            A Paul Oakley song that was popular in my early Christian life, was: It’s not about me, it’s all about you Jesus: as if I should do things my way: You alone are God and I surrender to your ways”

          • But those whose work survives the fire of judgment and who receive a reward will not be saved because of that. All who are saved are saved by grace, not works. But the 1 Corinthians passage is clear that some will receive a reward because of the quality of their works. Just ministers, perhaps? or all Christians? I think all Christians. I must have heard around 5000 sermons at evangelical churches since I became a Christian. I can’t remember the implications of this passage being thoroughly faced in any of them!

            Phil Almond

    • “I believe in freedom of speech…”

      “This person’s views offend me and they should face prison as a result”.

      Pick one.

      I hope you enjoy the dual ironies of having your comments deleted (presumably for the second time) because they incite and defame/label people; the very things you’re accusing Ian of.

      I also commend you for your cowardice, firstly for posting such things in the early hours when no one is around to moderate them, and secondly for risking the shutdown/deletion of this entire conversation by repeating comments we have all been warned to avoid.

      *slow clap*

        • I’m really unclear why you allow any posts with a pseudonym, or just an initial or one name. Posting in that way is cowardly and frequently leads to as hominem comments.

          • There’s a good reason for it. Zealots plough through the internet (and Twitter) looking for comments they disapprove of from people they disagree with, then use these a cudgel against them. There is also the nasty practice of doxxing, publishing names and addresses to encourage others to harass people at home or at work. The cancel and bullying culture is very alive and is used to drive people out of work. The removed comments illustrate this. Jayne Ozanne wants to do something similar: outlaw opinions she thinks wrong and harmful. She may have her way.
            Incidentally this is comment #666 on this thread.

        • As I tried to correct Ian Paul on earlier, it’s not your views that I’m complaining about, it’s about your abusive behaviours.

          I first went on the internet 30 years ago when I was student and everyone used a pseudonym. I used my favourite theologian at the time and have done for many years. I wasn’t aware that everyone used their real name here so apologies for that. But I’m known for using this moniker and it wouldn’t be that hard to find my identity if you want to.

          I work night shifts, some people have to. I think it reflects on the people you are that you judge me on that too.

          Strange when gay people comment their comments get removed. It’s part of the whole abuse of us on here I guess.

          • “I work night shifts, some people have to. I think it reflects on the people you are that you judge me on that too.”

            I withdraw my accusation of cowardice on the grounds of timing then, and sincerely apologise for making false assumptions, not that I expect you to accept it…

            I stand by my other comments.

          • I appreciate your apology. I have to be grateful for small chinks of light in the darkness on here. It’s a shame you stand by your other distressing comments though.

            People can only see what you’ve quoted out of the context in which I wrote them and you have even summarised something I wrote and put quotes around it as if I said exactly that!

            I think it is cowardice to delete someone’s post who has the temerity to walk into the lion’s den, and then label the post as “abuse” so no-one can judge for themselves whether the post was abusive or not.

            From my perspective, as I and many of my fellow gays have tried to explain, this whole blog is highly abusive towards LGBT people. Ian Paul either writes or commissions people to write offensive articles about us, and then encourages people to make torrents of abusive comments about us. When we even dare to respond, our posts just get deleted and labelled abusive!

            You only have to look at the amount of comments on other posts to see that this blog is aimed at destroying the lives of LGBTs in the church. Why pick on minorities? Why not do some good in this broken world?

          • I’ll try and summarise the points I made in my comments that were deleted because I think they’re important for people to think about:

            1) People in less tolerant countries might read these articles and comments and use them to deny LGBTs their rights.

            2) Freedom of speech is great, but when you’re publishing what people might see as hate material, then you have to accept that other people have the right to their freedom of speech and the right to reply

            3) Why spend all this energy attacking a minority of the population who might be as little as 2 or 3 percent?

            4) Articles that are published on here are often seen as inflammatory by the people referred to in the articles. We see it as abuse, so it appears deeply ironic when we respond negatively and our comments labeled abusive! Why write horrible things about people and then get all upset when they respond?

            5) Is it really appropriate for a minister of religion to be publishing such stuff? You might expect it of Nick Griffin or some other ‘phobe, but a minister of the established church? Really?

          • I’m not unsympathetic…

            A couple of responses, seeing as we’re on speaking terms 😉

            1. I genuinely don’t think I’m taking your words out of context, at least not deliberately, but to be clear to other readers yes, only the top line was actually a quote, the second is my paraphrase of what you’d written… I think it’s a fair summary however. You were quick to affirm your own support for free speech, while also expressing within the very next lines the desire to censor, if not prosecute, Ian Paul for speech with which you strongly disagree. I don’t think I’d go as far as saying that makes you a hypocrite, but it’s a difficult double-standard to maintain.

            2. Following on from that, we could argue the semantics of whether this blog amounts to ‘speech’ or ‘action’ if you like, but I’m not sure that really matters all too much. While I certainly can’t dispute that some comments here and elsewhere on Psephizo cross the line of acceptability, into either deliberate offense (or occasionally surprising ignorance), I don’t think you can argue that those comments are;

            A: especially common,
            B: directly endorsed/encouraged by the author, or
            C: advocated for by any of the articles themselves.

            I can think of only two occasions where someone has deliberately set out to ‘abuse’ or insult and demean someone for their sexual orientation (or that of their family) and on both occasions it was challenged, and in one case removed. In neither case was it the author doing the offending…

            Now I obviously can’t claim omniscience in the comments section, but the most people are usually guilty of are repetition, verbosity (he says, with knowing irony 😉 ) and a failure to listen, often to the point of rudeness. Things that have been true of the internet since the birth of the forum.

            3. You might have a case that these comment sections on larger more controversial topics could be policed/moderated a bit more rigorously (not saying I agree), but given the size and scope of this blog, and the fact it is a 1-man enterprise, I don’t think that’s realistic. This article alone has averaged nearly 3 posts an hour, every hour, since it was posted.

            From my perspective, while I can understand some of what you’re complaining about, I think to talk of abuse as characteristic of Psephizo is at best mistaken, and at worst defamatory.

          • More responses to your second comment that was typed while I typed mine..

            1) I agree this is a risk. I don’t agree however that this is either an intent of the author, or a risk for which he is in any way directly responsible. Do you have proof of this?

            2) I agree here too. I think you should have right to reply, you’re excersising it now in fact! One might argue that it is the language and manner with which you chose to use that right last time that is why you were censored, and the more moderated tone is now why your aren’t being.. 😉

            3) Putting aside the language of ‘attacking’, this is framing it in an incredibly unhelpful and narrow way. The debate isn’t about what restrictions and impositions one group are choosing to put on another, but about discerning the will of God and reflecting that in what the church teaches. This is why the implications are so important, and why it cannot be adiaphora.

            4) I agree, but this absolutely goes both ways. Ask Ed Shaw, or anyone in Living Out.

            5) It is appropriate for a minister of the church to uphold the teachings of the church. If he does not, he ceases to be a minister, and if the church ceases to uphold doctrines to be taught, well, you can see where I’m going with this….

          • Sorry, addendum.

            3.5) …which is why the LLF document (bringing us back around the actual subject of the article) is careful to note and discuss the significant impact on the effected minority, but spends the far larger amount of time and space discussing the bigger picture/framework of which the SSM debate is the crucial presenting issue, but far from the only thing at stake.

          • I think Ian Paul actually goes out of his way to be deliberately offensive and horrible to people in his articles or the articles he commissions! Let me just quote from this particular one:

            “3. The antagonism of ‘conversation partners’ is vitriolic”
            Here Paul deliberately has a go at Simon Butler and Jayne Ozanne. How do those people feel when they’re got at deliberately by Paul?

            Paul makes the point that Jayne is using the language of “abuse” and criminality. I tried to address that directly which no other commentator has done (and yes I’ve read all 666 of them!) So I agree with Jayne, people like Paul who publish inflammatory articles should be held to account for it. Freedom of speech is fine when you’re in the pub with a few like minded friends, but publishing these hateful articles (you can’t claim that this article isn’t hateful towards Simon or Jayne!) is wrong I think, and unlike you I think could be used in less tolerant societies to persecute LGBTs. As an aside to illustrate this, I know that another CofE minister from St Marks Battersea Rise was involved in an African country encouraging them to use the death penalty against LGBTs. The videos were on YouTube but they’ve gone now but I wrote to Rev Perkin directly to complain about it and I was met with the same derision from him that I encounter here I’m afraid.

          • Just trying to answer the rest of your points without trying to be too verbose…

            To reiterate, I think that when you look at the comments on other posts, you can see that this whole venture is aimed at LGBTs – if people were more interested in other issues there’d be more comments. Its a bit like all the vitriol aimed at Diane Abbot – its because shes a woman and because shes black. Its very transparent. So here people only comment because they’re homophobic – otherwise you wouldn’t get so many comments! Sorry if I’m not being very clear….

            (Your comment “*slow clap*” – sorry I’ve just seen it as I was scrolling up – is that really the way to behave when one of your victims dares to answer back? Yes, I know I should be happy with my one apology!)

            One of your points was about primary/secondary issues. Why is this such a big issue when it affects relatively so few people? Someone on Facebook made the point today that she would understand if the bigots went on about wealth all the time – something the bible talks a lot more about. I think its just homophobia. Again, look at all these comments: why are people so animated about 2% of the populace but ignore the things that our religion is most concerned about?

            I feel for people like Ed Shaw because I was there just like him at one time, as was Jayne Ozanne. We tried to follow what we were told by our ministers and we ended up in hospital. It really is abusive. But I won’t put Ed down – was he the one wrote in his book that he cries every night on his kitchen floor because God won’t let him have a boyfriend? So shocking. I was there too once so I really feel for him and the poor LGBTs currently in the church who are trying so hard to live up to what the church tells them to do but will eventually end up in hospital like us.

  15. James

    The driving people out of work is a false narrative, usually cooked up by groups like Christian Concern.
    And hate speech is already illegal under several UK laws.

    Phew comment #667

    • Clearly you don’t work in education or for the NHS or for the civil service nor serve as a school governor.
      Have a pleasant weekend.

      • Clearly you don’t know where Penny works or has worked and you should be very careful not to make assumptions ‘James’.

      • Until today I worked for Exeter Diocese.
        I suspect that the references you make to school governors etc. refer to the cases I mentioned which were taken up by Christian Concern. The school governor illicitly recorded a private meeting; the teacher ‘accidentally’ misgendered a child and then proclaimed they didn’t believe in trans children contrary to school policy. Most of these stories have a subtext and a strong whiff of martyr about them.

        Have a lovely weekend.

        • (1) You say ‘accidentally’ in inverted commas. In other words you think it is impossible or unlikely that a person can see a girl (or, in your worldview, which is so open to question, a birth-girl) in front of them and think it is a girl and behave accordingly.

          (2) As for not believing in trans children, millions of people don’t, in fact almost everyone didn’t till virtually a millisecond ago. You know this.

          (3) Your comment says that school policy dictates what you can believe, should believe, or do believe. Whichever of these 3 you mean, all 3 are absolutely chilling, Penny. Infallibility lives (in the shape of infallible school policies.

          (4) Your term ‘trans’ is not an intelligent term because it fails to acknowledge that two quite different entities (someone who has undergone surgery to change them from one sex to the other, and someone who says they are the sex their body is not) are being lumped together as though they were to all intents and purposes the same. And it always begs the question ‘trans-what?’ – this too you fail to acknowledge. But in terms of conformism your approach keeps in step, keeps in line, admirably (in the eyes of those who admire such things).

          • I said accidentally because the teacher at first send that misgendering the child was an honest mistake. They went on, however, to deny the existence of trans people and flouted school policy and guidelines to which they had assented upon being appointed. There is nothing chilling about assenting to certain conditions when taking up employment. In this case it was addressing children who were in the process of socially transitioning by their preferred pronouns.
            Today we mourn the death of Jan Morris. You might remember that she transitioned more than a millisecond ago. In fact over 50 years ago. There was no panic in 1970. Recent panic over trans people is manufactured outrage, whipped up by the tabloids and social media.
            You may believe trans is not an ‘intelligent’ term whatever that means, but it has been adopted to describe a reality for people who do not align with their assigned sex/gender. As you note the term covers a spectrum from people who have had full reassignment surgery to those who haven’t, from those who have a GRC and those who simply change their passport and driving licence.

        • “Most of these stories have a subtext and a strong whiff of martyr about them.”

          For what it’s worth, while I think James’ comment does reflect a general truth about the atmosphere in regards to ‘acceptable ideas’ in a lot of public sector work, I fear you are absolutely right about most of these higher-profile cases.

          They do tend to follow a pattern. A heavy handed or ill-informed response to an initial honest mistake is then escalated to the the point where both actors become gladiators fighting someone else’s ideological battle.

          And no one comes out of it looking very noble.

  16. What a marathon! thought I’d never get to the end of these comments!
    I recently came across John Piper’s teaching on Christian Hedonism & his website https://www.desiringgod.org/ He also has many videos on you tube.
    While I would disagree with other aspects of his teaching, this subject & its strapline – God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him – reasonates with me & is also relevant to this debate(heated argument)

    In a society where those who are not sexually active are often viewed with derision and pity (I am an OSA celibate) those with SSA react strongly to the idea that they are to be celibate.
    However the secret, as shared by those in the video – is finding your identity and satisfaction in your relationship with God/Jesus. I wish this teaching had more prominence in today’s church.

      • Here’s the more complete Piper quote

        “It’s right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases. God gives life and he takes life. Everybody who dies, dies because God wills that they die.

        God is taking life every day. He will take 50,000 lives today. Life is in God’s hand. God decides when your last heartbeat will be, and whether it ends through cancer or a bullet wound. God governs.

        So God is God! He rules and governs everything. And everything he does is just and right and good. God owes us nothing.”

        Adam: If it’s not God governing all life and death, then who do you propose is?

        • Actually, I am in agreement with ‘Origen’ here. What Piper is articulating is the doctrine of ‘meticulous providence’ which has not commanded the assent of evangelicals in general, let alone all Christians.

          It raises two crucial questions. If God is indeed in control of all, then how does God avoid being responsible for the evil that people do? And if God is already meticulously in charge of the world, what are we hoping for? The ‘eschaton’ represents the time when God is not merely Lord de jure but becomes recognised as Lord de facto. That must mean that this is not the case now.

          So who is in control? Because God defers his complete sovereignty (and hence we pray the Lord’s Prayer) then all sorts of forces are in control until and unless we submit to his Lordship.

    • In a church where those who are same-sex sexually active are often viewed with derision and pity some of those who are married or celibate strongly to the idea that they may be wrong.

      However the secret, as shared by Jesus in the Gospels, is finding your identity and satisfaction in your relationship with God/Jesus by not being self righteous and holier than thou. I wish this teaching had more prominence in today’s church.

  17. Hi, I’ve not read all the comments here but there was one matter I felt I had to speak out on. At one point you seem to characterize liberals / ‘affirming’ people in the church as claiming that the teaching of Jesus is abusive, or that Jesus is an abusive religious teacher. I’ve never heard any Liberal say that of Jesus, and I wasn’t convinced the person you quoted was really saying that either. It feels like a rather unconstructive caricature, and this could have the effect of exaggerating the chasm you speak of.

    • Hmmm…but I asked the person quite explicitly, ‘Do you think the teaching of Jesus as we have in the gospels is abusive’, and the reply was in the affirmative.

      What have I misunderstood?

      • Hi Ian. I wasn’t certain of his meaning, your question was whether Jesus was an abusive religious teacher as such, but his response only said ‘some of the words attributed to Jesus by the NT writers are abusive from today’s perspective’. It’s the difference between saying that ‘some’ of Jesus’ saying may be considered abusive and claiming he was an abusive religious teacher in general.

        More importantly, I felt that you were presenting this as a typical or illuminating example of a Liberal view of Jesus’ teaching, whereas to me it seems very untypical and highly unusual. I’ve never known any Liberal of any stamp describe any part of Jesus’ teaching as abusive, let alone describe Jesus as an ‘abusive religious teacher’.

        • Well, the reason I found those comments interesting is that I thought it was one particularly strong expression of this. (I am struggling to distinguish between an abuse teacher and someone who occasionally says abusive things.)

          But I am curious about coyness here. It is really common to find this kind of thing around the place; and liberals are not particularly coy about it. It is very common indeed to say that Jesus was racist in his response to the Syro Phoenician woman. Many argue that Jesus’ healing of the centurion’s slave showed his approval—but if that was a sexual relationship it was certainly ‘abusive’ in our terms.

          And someone is currently running a campaign to have anyone saying that sex outside male-female marriage is a sin classed as ‘abusive’ and therefore should be criminalised. I think that must include the Jesus of the gospels, mustn’t it…?

          • On the Syrophoenician woman, it is interesting that she is called a “Greek”, which means that she spoke Greek, as did great numbers of people in the hellenised part of the world. Jesus would have spoken to her in Greek, as Stanley Porter notes in his 1993 Tyndale Bulletin article. I have remarked before that John Pritchard used to cite Richard Holloway on this passage as evidence that Jesus had to be “corrected” on his racist bigotry. Yes, at least two Anglican bishops (one now an ex-Christian) have made this claim.
            On the centurion’s slave, I first came across the claim that this was a homosexual relationship in Gerd Theissen’s “The Shadow of the Galilean”, and this idea has been enthusiastically received by Professor (later Bishop) Elizabeth Stuart and others. Thiessen, at least, admitted in the novel that this speculation, not fact, but Bishop Liz appears to believe that Jesus encouraged paederastic slavery. Not sure if she thought that one through. But it is certainly true that paederastic (or ephebephilic) slavery existed in the ancient world. In Longus’s novel “Daphnis and Chloe”, from the first or second century and set in Lesbos, the parasite Gnatho tries to get his patron to give him the handsome lad Daphnis as his personal slave and love object. Greco-Roman literature from this time gives many other comparable examples of this practice.
            As for your third example, I surmise that would be a onetime member of the Archbishops’ Council …

          • Thanks Ian, well for me there is a clear difference between what is peripheral and what is the core thrust of someone’s life and teaching. Saying Jesus is an abusive teacher as such sounds like it’s about the main thrust and character of his teaching, I think that’s different from saying there are occasional aspects of his teaching which ‘today’ would be considered abusive.

            Jesus’ response to the Syro Phoenician woman is puzzling and does seem to be ‘racist’, but I think the core thrust of Jesus’ teaching was towards inclusion, and through its inner dynamic led to the full gospel for Jews and Gentiles and all nations as preached in Acts and by Paul. Also I think the New Testament shows approval of slavery as an institution, and again this is something ‘today’ which we would consider abusive, but I believe the NT’s main thrust is towards equality – in Christ there is neither slave nor free, we are all one in Christ Jesus.

            Just to be clear: I in no way endorse or support the criminalising of expression of views such as yours. However, I would admit that some of the views expressed in New Testament would not be acceptable today, e.g. where it says that slaves should suffer injustice at the hands of their masters without complaint.

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