Is change in the Church’s teaching on sexuality inevitable?

I really like Francis Spufford. I loved his book Unapologetic, in which he seeks to give an emotional, rather than rational, ‘argument’ for the Christian faith. It includes a perfect summary of the dilemma that Christians have in talking about sin and forgiveness, noting how the word ‘sin’ has been degraded into the idea of eating one too many ice creams, whilst the reality of human error is written all over our culture, in a phrase he abbreviates as HPtFtU. It is not only beautifully written, but offers robust, appealing and thoroughly humane response to the glib assertions of the ‘new’ atheists.

But I also like him in person. We are both members of the General Synod, and during the ‘Shared Conversations’ about sexuality, we were in a small group of three together, and had the most fascinating exchanges about the reasons for our different views, and whether they could co-exist with mutual respect. I wish those conversations could have continued.

Francis has written a characteristically engaging and nuanced piece in the Christian Century on why he changed his mind about same-sex marriage, and why he thinks the Church of England can and probably will change its mind too. It is just as interesting, nuanced and humane as his other writing, but I think it makes three very large mis-steps in its argument.

Spufford gets much right in his argument. He is right to point out the stark difference now between the Church’s understanding of marriage, and how rapid that change has been. He is also right to note that the legal change came about quite pragmatically, with a right-wing Conservative Government wanting to land on an issue which they thought would not alienate their core vote, but which demonstrated to others that they were not the nasty party. He does not notice, though, how effective certain individuals have been in that, nor indeed that Britain has one of the gayest parliaments in the world, with around 9% of sitting MPs being gay or lesbian. Compared with the best estimates that around 2% of the population are consistently same-sex attracted, and you can see the influence that the group has had.

I don’t think Spufford is entirely right in describing the change as ‘arbitrary’; we need to think about changing attitudes to the body, the radical change in women’s roles, changing views on marriage, and in particular a diminishing in our culture of the importance of having children, as all contributing to a massive revision of what Western culture thinks sex is. When sex is, to a large extent, a necessary activity which might bond a couple together but which is inextricably linked to procreation, then there is no question that sex must be between a man and a woman, and so in Christian theology (as well as in past Western moralistic outlooks) marriage must be as well. But when sex becomes a pleasurable activity, rooted in personal choice, apparently undertaken by individuals as uncoerced free agents (which of course is never the case), and when differences in social roles arising from the differences in bodily form between men and women are viewed at best with suspicion, and when having children is an optional extra for those that choose it and can afford to do so, then marriage logically can be between any two (or more?) people.

But Spufford traces the changing shape of the debate very well.

I’m suspicious of the tendency among liberal Christians now to try to deal with remaining opposition just by glaring at it and bombarding it with our moral disapproval. Wedge strategies for achieving change can be very effective. First you ask for compassion for those an existing moral rule condemns; then you convert compassion into tolerance, tolerance into acceptance, acceptance into a new normal; and then, when 51 percent of people perceive the situation the new way, you pivot promptly and suggest that disagreement is now intolerable, illegitimate, of a piece with famous cruelties of the past.

If he is right about this, then almost all of the discourse that I encounter from those in the Church who want to see change here must be ruled out of order. He is quite right to say that:

We’re arguing about ideals of behavior, about what the shape of holy living ought to be in the light of conscience, scripture, doctrine, and Christian history. And that is always a legitimate thing to do. I think it behooves those of us who have changed our minds to continue to show our own working rather than to talk about bigotry.

The showing of working is precisely what is missing in most discussion, and Spufford showing much of his working is what makes this both engaging and, for myself and other readers, unpersuasive.

Spufford notes the good reasons for the Church not to change its mind on doctrine, rooted in the conviction of the consistent and unchangeable nature of God. That quickly puts paid to the common but theologically lazy argument, ‘Well, the Spirit said one thing then, but the Spirit is saying something different now.’ He also gives due weight to past understandings, and the enormous work that changing our understanding now would involve.

[T]he arrival of same-sex marriage does rely, for its justification, upon a major and historic change in Christian understanding. For almost all of Christian history, almost all Christians have agreed that nonheterosexual sex is inherently sinful. It was condemned in Mosaic law, and then the condemnation was reaffirmed for the early church by the apostles…Yet even when it was being treated as a venial or trivial sin, it still was seen as a sin. There was no area of un-sinful gay sex corresponding to the un-sinful zone of straight sex within marriage.

And this is the underlying issue still. If gay sex is always a sin, you cannot agree that a sexual, companionate marriage between people of the same sex is fit for blessing. Because you can hallow a vow, but you can’t sanctify a sin. That would be an impossibility, a self-confuting contradiction.

He does not detail what this would involve for the Church of England—not only a revision to canon law, and to liturgy, but also a change in the Church’s relationship with the Book of Common Prayer, which most would see as a basic change in the definition of the Church of England. Other provinces in the Anglican Communion had already detached themselves from their historic moorings in this way, before they considered the subject of same-sex marriage, and the fact that the C of E hasn’t done this sets it apart.

This is where we get to the meat of Spufford’s argument. We should note from the outset that his own ‘change of mind’ is something quite different from what he is suggesting the Church might do. He changed from someone who ‘didn’t find anything troubling in the knowledge that our gay friends were sexually active’ but rejected same-sex marriage on the grounds of terminology and classification. The C of E’s doctrinal position is currently that sex belongs within marriage between one man and one woman, and sexual intercourse outside that context is to  met with a call to repentance.

But it is in his reading of Paul that things begin to get really interesting.

I see that there is a specific force to Paul condemning “men who lie with men” in the context of a slave-owning rape culture where high-status men felt entitled to help themselves to human flesh of every variety. I see that this Romanized and Hellenized Jew, expanding a Hebrew message of grace and dignity into a Greco-Roman world with a grossly transactional view of sexuality, wouldn’t have had before his mind’s eye any models at all for relationships between men, or between women, that were marked by mutuality.

But I’m not convinced by the next step, in which it’s argued that the rule against gay sex was therefore never really intended to apply to sex between loving equals. I don’t think we’re really saying that Paul has been misunderstood for two millennia. I think we’re saying that Paul was wrong.

Spufford’s argument is quite nuanced here, and I needed to read it twice or more to understand his position. He appears to be rejecting the weak argument that Paul is only condemning exploitative same-sex sex in the ‘boo’ texts, and agreeing (with the majority of commentators) that Paul is actually rejecting all forms of same-sex sexual activity. I think he is correct here; in 1 Cor 6.9, it is notable that Paul avoids the common Greek terms erastes and eromenos which designated the penetrating and penetrated partners in anal sex, and instead coins a term, arsenokoites, based on the prohibition on same-sex sexual activity in Lev 20.13. In other words, the implicit but clear case Paul is making is not about the context of such activity, but the creation principle behind it which is the form of humanity as male and female. Similarly, in deploying his coined term again in 1 Tim 1.9, Paul does so in a list which looks a bit like a rehearsal of the Ten Commandments; Paul is treating this aspect of sexual ethics as core, not peripheral, and in doing so he is in line with other Jewish commentators of his day, including Jesus. When Jesus condemns porneia, sexual immorality, then this must be taken to refer to the list of prohibited sexual relations in Leviticus, including same-sex sex.

But Spufford then appears to think that Paul was incapable of imagining same sex relationships of mutuality. This seems to rest on the notion that the ancient world was dominated by exploitative relationships, and (ironically) appears to involve a projection of modern morality on ancient perceptions. For most Greeks, the erastes/eromenos relationship was not considered ‘exploitative’, since the younger, penetrated partner, undergoing this experience as part of his growth and development, would in due course become the older, penetrating partner to a different younger person. This was not about one group exploiting another, but about a kind of patronage at one stage in life. And if Paul was able to imagine the kind of radical mutuality in which both husband and wife exercise mutual authority over one another (1 Cor 7.4), and in which women could represent him (Rom 16.1), teach him, and be outstanding apostles (Rom 16.7) in a doggedly patriarchal world, why could he not imagine mutuality between two men in a sexual relationship?

Tom Creedy helpfully reminds us of comments made by Tom Wright on our reading of Romans 1 back in 2002:

Paul’s denunciation of homosexual practice in Romans 1 is well known but not so well understood, particularly in relation to its place in the argument as a whole. It is too often dismissed as simply firing some Jewish-style thunderbolts against typical pagan targets; and it is regularly thought to be dealing only with the deliberate choice of heterosexual individuals to abandon normal usage and indulge in alternative passions. It is often said that Paul is describing something quite different from the phenomenon we know today, e.g. in large western cities.

This is misleading. First, Paul is not primarily talking about individuals at this point, but about the entire human race. He is expounding Genesis 1-3, and looking at the human race as whole, so here he is categorizing the large sweep of human history as a whole – not, of course, that any individuals escape this judgement, as 3.19f makes clear. Second, the point of his highlighting of female and male turning away from natural usage to unnatural grows directly out of the text which is his subtext, here and often elsewhere: for in Genesis 1 it is of course male plus female that is created to bear God’s image. The male-plus-female factor is not of course specific to humanity; the principle of ‘male plus female’ runs through a great deal of creation. But humans were created to bear God’s image, and given a task, to be fruitful and multiply, to tend the garden and name the animals. The point of Romans 1 as a whole is that when humans refuse to worship or honour God, the God in whose image they are made, their humanness goes into self-destruct mode; and Paul clearly sees homosexual behaviour as ultimately a form of human deconstruction. He is not saying that everyone who discovers homosexual instincts has chosen to commit idolatry and has chosen homosexual behaviour as a part of that; rather, he is saying that in a world where men and women have refused to honour God this is the kind of thing you will find.

When Spufford says ‘I think we’re saying that Paul was wrong’, he is not merely rejecting Paul’s view on this one issue. He is rejecting Paul’s understanding of biblical anthropology, of the importance of creation, and of the way in which God reveals himself in the world, as well as the way in which he uses the Old Testament, and sees continuity between Jewish beliefs and those of the early Jewish-Gentile communities of disciples. And, of course, we are not merely saying ‘Paul is wrong’, since we do not have the whole of Paul before us, but only that which was, from the beginning, considered to be not merely Paul’s opinion, but writings that were seen to be on a par with the ‘God-breathed’ Scriptures of Israel. If we are going to accept Spufford’s claim, we will need to reject the belief of the XXXIX Articles which receive Scripture as ‘God’s word written’ (Article XX).

‘We’re saying that Paul’s views on gay sex belong with his views on women wearing hats’ Spufford concludes with a flourish. Except that Paul’s discussion of head coverings in 1 Cor 11 is notoriously obscure and complex, when the text on same-sex relationships are consistent and comparatively clear. And Paul’s goal in the discussion is to allow women to pray and prophesy in the assembly; there is no comparable aim in relation to sexual ethics. And the conclusion of Paul’s discussion is that ‘women are given hair in place of [anti] a head covering’ (1 Cor 11.15). So it is not such a good comparison after all.

Spufford then moves on to compare the proposed change on marriage and sexuality with changes in the past on

clerical celibacy, the use of pain relief in childbirth, the acceptability of studying human anatomy, the acceptability of translating the Bible and of putting it in the hands of laypeople, praying for the dead, contraception, divorce, and whether a man can marry his deceased wife’s sister…

and of course lands on women’s role and the question of slavery as the two most important. There is something vital here, and it is the case that people on ‘my side’ of the discussion can easily underestimate the significance of such changes at the time. But I also think Spufford makes the comparisons too easily; for most of these issues, the shape of the debate was quite different from what we are facing. The accepted view was a function of culture and tradition much more than explicit biblical texts; they were not usually articulated in the explicit doctrine of the Church; and the change came about by re-reading and re-appropriating the teaching of Scripture. When we get to the point of saying ‘Scripture on this point is wrong’, then something quite different is going on.

The debate about women’s ministry has always been complex. On the one hand, there are texts which appear, on a surface reading, to agree with the patriarchal context of the first century (such as 1 Tim 2.12 and 1 Cor 14.34) and thus allow such patriarchy to continue. But alongside that, there have always been texts which stubbornly refuse to submit, such as the example of Priscilla teaching Apollos and being a founder of the church in Ephesus in Acts 18, the mutual exercise of authority in 1 Cor 7.4, and the sex-blind distribution of all the gifts by the Spirit ‘as the Spirit wills’ in 1 Cor 12. There is no such complexity in the biblical texts on same-sex sex.

And this is why Christian history has repeatedly flirted with allowing women to teach and exercise authority, but has never before our day done the same with sexuality.

On slavery, when Spufford says that:

Christians spent the first millennium and a half of the church’s existence gradually arriving at the idea that Christians should perhaps not enslave other Christians, only to collapse promptly into an abyss of moral squalor in the face of the New World and its temptations…

he is quite wrong. Rodney Stark, in Bearing False Witness shows how the theology of Aquinas effectively eliminated slavery from Christendom Europe, and that it returned under the influence of Muslim incursion and the enslavement of Africans by other Africans. The struggle was not in finding an obscure biblical warrant against the practice, but in failing to be shaped by biblical teaching that all humans are made in the image of God, against cultural and commercial pressures that would claim otherwise. If ‘the Holy Spirit was guiding this particular work of realization’, then the Spirit was doing so by taking us back to Scripture, not by telling us that ‘Scripture is wrong’.

Spufford’s last move is in fact two moves in one. First, he makes the distinction between principles and rules.

The pattern is this: where a rule and a principle are in conflict, the principle in the end prevails. In the end, with much heat and shouting and foot-dragging and confusion, we always set aside the rule, or remake it, in order that we may live more fully by the principle.

For the sake of the principle of the equality of souls before God, we set aside scripture’s rules for slavery. For the sake of the principle of compassion, we set aside Genesis’s prediction (which for centuries looked like a rule) that Eve and her descendants should bring forth children in pain. For the sake of the principle that the gifts of the Spirit transcend human stereotypes and human gradients of power, we set aside the rules preventing women from answering when the Spirit calls them to minister.

There are several difficulties here. For one, that was not really how the Church changed its mind on women’s ministry; a key part, for those for whom Scripture was authoritative, was to see actual examples of women exercising ministry, rather than seeing a biblical principle trump a biblical rule. (For a good worked example of this, see Dick France’s Grove booklet on the subject, comparing the debate about women’s ministry with the debate about same-sex sex.) For another, it suggests that Scripture itself has difficulty making this distinction, which I don’t think is true.

But the biggest problem is the assumption that consent, mutuality, and commitment are the principles of sexual ethics, and who you have sex with is a mere rule. That has never been the case in Christian sexual ethical discussion in the past, and it is an idea that appears to be firmly rejected by the biblical texts themselves. If the creation of humanity as male and female has any significance, if procreation is in fact an integral part of what God called humanity to, if sex is more than a pleasurable expression of commitment, but actually reflection something of God’s intention in creation through the intimate union of two different bodily forms, then the male-female distinction belongs to the principle of sex, not just to its ‘rules’.

By making such a distinction in such a way, Spufford is actually smuggling in a whole host of assumptions about what sex is, what it is about, and what it is for, without admitting it. He is here failing his own principle of ‘showing his working’.

And his method falls down when he comes to consider what he sees as an application of this idea in the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15. In fact, as I have shown before, it is no such thing. The admission of Gentiles in the Israel of God was indeed a seismic shift, but it only took place at the confluence of definitive and consistent proof of experience, the agreement of key leaders, a careful reading of Scripture, and an agreement that this fulfilled the eschatological intentions of God. As I commented previously:

This confluence of revelation from God, testimony of experience, agreement between those of very different perspectives, the apostolic wisdom of a respected leader, the location of the experience in the scriptural account of the purposes of God, and the minimising of disruption and difference, might then offer us some kind of framework for decision-making in the contemporary context when faced with a sharp difference of view.

But, against that, we also need to note that the admission of the Gentiles was seen to fulfil, in OT terms, the ultimate goal of the eschatological purposes of God, indeed the whole point of the story and history of God’s election of a special people for himself in the first place. They were always to be a light to the world, that all people would be drawn to the presence of God enthroned in Zion, and the whole earth filled with knowledge of the glory of God. To that extent, this event is unrepeatable, so the example here needs to referred to with caution. In particular, it means that citing this example as justification for a contemporary change in the church on a specific issue would require us to argue that our issue was one which we can find expressed in the OT as an eschatological goal of God’s purposes in redemption—which is asking rather a lot.

And, in his careful study of the episode, Andrew Goddard makes some parallel observations:

If this is the rationale underlying Acts 15 then the significance for its use in the current debates over homosexuality is revolutionary. The failure of ‘revisionist’ advocates to consider the limits placed on Gentiles by the Decree has always been a problem in their argument. The seriousness of that problem is now deepened if the Decree is based on Lev 17 and 18 and the prohibition of porneia therefore rooted in Lev 18.26. Among the ‘detestable things’ prohibited by that text are the male homosexual acts described in Lev 18.22. There is now strong evidence that viewing homosexual practice as acceptable for gay Christians is not only to push the analogy from Acts 15 further than it logically can go. To make such a claim would in fact explicitly contradict one of the requirements placed on those Gentiles who entered the church as Gentiles. (p 21)

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196 thoughts on “Is change in the Church’s teaching on sexuality inevitable?”

  1. we will need to agree that, on a small but important point, which gives a window into the whole question of what biblical anthropology looks like, the Bible is simply wrong.

    And this is the key, really, as far as I can see: if the Bible is wrong about something like this, what reason is there to think it’s right about anything?

  2. Ian you appeal to authority in scripture, of course, but you also appeal to authority in the 39 Articles and the Book of Common Prayer. Whilst those two are part of our ‘historic formularies’ it is quite clear that we have moved on from both of them in a number of ways.

    I have referred to a variety of views about the Articles before but it is worth saying again that a variety of views about the Articles both corporately and individually are permitted. I have quoted this before:
    “In 1968, a report on Subscription and Assent to the 39 Articles was produced by the Archbishops’ Commission on Christian Doctrine. Focusing in particular on the approach to Scripture set out in the Articles, it called for the then current Declaration of Assent to
    be changed, so that it would ‘not tie down the person using it to acceptance of every one of the Articles’, and would leave open ‘The possibility of fresh understandings of Christian truth’, while also leaving room ‘for an appeal to the Articles as a norm within Anglican theology’ “

    The Declaration of Assent was changed to allow this variety of interpretations. So whilst you may appeal to the Articles as a norm, I’m free to say that they present an historical view from which we have moved considerably.

    When it comes to the BCP, it is again an historical document. You will often say that our doctrine springs from the way we pray. The truth is that hardly anyone uses the BCP, especially in its original version. Most of those in training for ordination will experience the BCP, typically, at Choral Evensong when they go to the Cathedral in preparation for their ordination service. They will never, or hardly ever use the BCP Communion service in its unadulterated 1662 version. Much less will they use the Marriage service in its 1662 form. My guess is that you have probably never used it much either. I have been asked for it once in 33 years, and when I pointed out exactly which words would be used it transpired that the couple really wanted 1928/Series 1.

    Our liturgy and doctrine in the C of E has moved on a great deal since 1662. Any appeal to that era as the norm for what should be believed by all in 2021 is mistaken in the same way that asking people to use only handwriting with quills and never use a word processor or any form of social media is mistaken. The medium shapes the message. The medium in the C of E is no longer the 39 Articles and the BCP.

    • Ian you appeal to authority in scripture, of course, but you also appeal to authority in the 39 Articles and the Book of Common Prayer.

      I don’t see any ‘appeal to authority’ of the 39 articles in the article above.

      What I see is a claim that Spufford’s position is incompatible with the 39 articles, and therefore adopting it would require the Church of England to officially and explicitly repudiate the 39 articles, as it is incompatible with them.

      Your (Mr Godsall’s) position seems to be that the Church of England has already repudiated the 39 Articles, and therefore this incompatibility is no barrier to the adoption of Spufford’s position: it would merely be making explicit and official what has already occurred.

      Neither of you are appealing to the authority of the articles; and both of you seem to agree on the fundamental point that Spufford’s position is incompatible with the 39 articles. What we seem to have is a disagreement over whether the Church of England has officially repudiated the 39 articles or not.

      Given that, could we agree that the current situation, where the 39 articles seem to have been repudiated implicitly by practice but not explicitly by official statement, is the worst of all worlds, and the Church of England should, as soon as possible, come down off the fence and make an official, clear statement on whether or not it does repudiate the 39 articles?

      • (A statement which does NOT admit a ‘variety of interpretations’, that is, but which is clear as to what is and is not considered an authoritative statement of what the Church of England believes)

    • ” The medium in the C of E is no longer the 39 Articles and the BCP”
      Whether this is true or not, the above statement takes us beyond the remit of this particular post. The author makes reference to one particular article – twenty; and to one particular phrase re Scripture – “Gods Word written”! Has Scripture, therefore, ceased to be an essential ingredient of “the medium”?

      This particular post deserves to be widely read and (in “true sermonic “fashion?) for three reasons:
      First, it provides a thoroughgoing scriptural and theological analysis of the traditional understanding of marriage and in so doing confronts one particular counter argument in a way that ,while giving due respect to that argument, refuses to retreat behind an evangelical piety seeking to avoid “rocking the boat”.
      Secondly, in terms of its content, the post raises the issue of procreation as an integral aspect of the whole debate. In this egaliterian, contraceptively- orientated age we need to remember that being made in the image of God, the act of procreation literally embodies that truth. The spiritual/physical/ psychological unity of male and female, reveals more clearly God’s love and his purpose for our fallen humanity, than that proffered in contemporary society of the atomised individual whose real “centre of gravity” resides in the inner spaces of his or her longing for self -fulfilment.
      And finally, I acknowledge that although this is not part of the script of this post; nevertheless,concentrating as it does on the biblical interconnection between sexual attitudes and practices on the one hand and familial considerations on the other raises, I believe, other issues – not least the one that is continually swept under the carpet – abortion.

      The Christian Gospel clearly teaches the indivisibility of life. The current preoccupation with rights may have its place, but it has led to a situation where, in spite of our bleatings about the sanctity of all life, we appear to have developed an almost morbid preoccupation with the termination of life at both ends of the age spectrum.The Gospel concerns “abundant life” – life in all its fulness!

    • Your comment is rather bizarre Andrew. Don’t you know your canons? They make explicit reference to the BCP.

      B 30 Of Holy Matrimony

      1. The Church of England affirms, according to our Lord’s teaching, that marriage is in its nature a union permanent and lifelong, for better for worse, till death them do part, of one man with one woman, to the exclusion of all others on either side, for the procreation and nurture of children, for the hallowing and right direction of the natural instincts and affections, and for the mutual society, help and comfort which the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.

      2. The teaching of our Lord affirmed by the Church of England is expressed and maintained in the Form of Solemnization of Matrimony contained in The Book of Common Prayer.

      3. It shall be the duty of the minister, when application is made to him for matrimony to be solemnized in the church of which he is the minister, to explain to the two persons who desire to be married the Church’s doctrine of marriage as herein set forth, and the need of God’s grace in order that they may discharge aright their obligations as married persons.

      A change in our understanding of marriage will require a. new liturgy b. new canons and c. a repudiation of the BCP.

      • Ian: bizarre is one of your favourite words isn’t it! Perhaps not surprising in the light of your own bizarre comments and understandings.
        Yes, I know my Canons. Yes, they would need altering. Wouldn’t be the first time Canons had been changed though would it! They would simply have to allow for a similar variety of interpretations as is permitted when interpreting the 39 articles. The BCP, as an historic formulary, could be appealed to as the norm for our doctrine. But so could fresh understandings. In any case, we simply don’t adhere to what that Canon says when it comes to remarriage in Church following divorce. Change has already happened.

        You neatly sidestep comments about the articles but I’m afraid exactly the same will apply to the BCP as has happened to the articles. It’s not bizarre. It’s just what has already happened.

        • but the point is the BCP *does* define our doctrine, according to canon law. Your claim that it is a mere historical relic is clearly untrue.

          And we do follow the canons on marriage. If remarriage after divorce with a previous partner still living contravened the belief that marriage was lifelong, then the canons would have been changed. They were not.

          • You are simply ignoring what I write because it suits you. Let me stress it again. The BCP is one source of our doctrine. A revised Canon would have to stress the possibility of fresh understandings of Christian truth while also leaving room ‘for an appeal to the BCP as a norm within Anglican theology’ “ Exactly as has happened with the articles.

            You may think that about remarriage after divorce, but not everyone agrees with you.

          • The BCP is one source of our doctrine.

            I didn’t think Ian was saying that the BCP was a ‘source’ of Anglican doctrine — surely the only possible source of doctrine is Scripture? — but that the BCP sets out what Anglican doctrine, as derived form Scripture, is?

            That is, the BCP is a result of Anglican doctrine, not its source.

            A revised Canon would have to stress the possibility of fresh understandings of Christian truth while also leaving room ‘for an appeal to the BCP as a norm within Anglican theology’

            How exactly could that work? How can you have ‘an appeal’ to a ‘norm’ which only some people in the discussion respect as a norm, and others think is outdated nonsense?

            The whole point of an appeal is that you have to make the appeal to something that all parties to the dispute respect. That’s the point of an appeal court: when you appeal a decision you have to reach, eventually, a court which both parties agree has the authority to decide the matter once and for all, like the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary.

            It would be a nonsense to appeal a decision if one side were to say that they would respect the judgement of the appeal court but the other were to say they were going to ignore it if it went against them because the judges had old and outdated views.

            Exactly as has happened with the articles.

            But we can see now just what a mess the Church of England has got itself into by not being clear on what exactly the status of the Articles is, whether they have been officially repudiated or whether they still are an accurate summation of doctrine!

            You simply can’t have a norm that can be appealed to that is also allowed to be ignored by those who disagree with it. If people can disagree with it, then it simply isn’t a norm that can be appealed to in order to settle a dispute. It’s just one more bit of text.

    • The oath one takes specifies that you acknowledge that the BCP and 39 articles “bear witness to the faith [as revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the Catholic creeds.” That witness and how it is expressed is rooted in a particular historical context. That does not negate the underlying truth to which these documents witness.

      In the present context, the opening of the BCP service for the solmnization [sic – not ‘blessing’] of marriage roots this ‘honourable estate’ firmly in creation – as discussed in this post.

      We might “move on”, but is this changing the way we witness to the truths of the faith, or is it changing that to which we witness?

  3. It’s a shame that those who are committed to honouring the traditional Christian sexual ethic will now only have the choice of a “family values” evangelical church and a cult-like monoculture that only appeals to a minority of people who do express an interest in spiritual matters.

  4. This is an offshoot comment, but the thing about women covering their heads seems to me to have hijacked the argument about what women are ‘allowed’ to do in the Christian assembly. What so many people appear to have missed, is that because women are filled with the Spirit, they normally are expected to pray and prophesy in public assembly. Wearing hats became the focus of attention, instead of noting what women were doing in worship.

    And yes, to your other arguments: I’m still waiting to be persuaded by a liberal thinker about same-sex marriage. So often, the comments and articles are very emotional in nature, and don’t deal with the issues so many of us have with this.

      • But you both ignore Paul’s very clear prohibition in 1Tim 2:12
        “I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.”
        Paul is clearly forbidding something here. He was wrong.

        Paul was clearly wrong about the imminence of the parousia. There isn’t any way around these two things.

        What’s the issue about saying that Paul was wrong? I don’t understand. Paul isn’t God incarnate. How could he be correct about everything?

        • Gosh, are you saying you really have read none of the literature on this verse? Not even my Grove booklet?

          Paul is prohibiting the aggressive use of teaching to domineer men—check the AV translation. The Greek verb authentein cannot mean ‘to exercise authority’. See my discussion here, extracted from the Grove booklet.

          Part of the reason why the debate on sexuality is so intractable is that some of the dialogue partners don’t appear to be familiar with the basic elements of earlier discussion.

          Where does Paul say that Jesus is going to return in his lifetime?

          At least we are clear that you do not believe that the NT is your authority in all matters of faith and doctrine. And therein lies our disagreement.

          • Yep. I’ve read what you wrote. I’m not convinced by it. And not everyone is. Paul is clear that women many not teach.

            As to Paul’s expectation of Jesus’ return in his lifetime…..surely you have read *some* of the arguments referring to this?

            We’ve had the discussion about sources of doctrine before. They are Scripture, Tradition, Reason, Experience.

            You fail to answer the key question. Let me put it to you again.

            What’s the issue about saying that Paul was wrong? I don’t understand. Paul isn’t God incarnate. How could he be correct about everything?

          • ‘Paul is clear that women many not teach.’ You are using the word ‘clear’ about one of the three or so most obscure verses in the NT, in reference to a sentence that includes a hapax word which is even rare *outside* the NT? And the claim that Paul is ‘clear’ contradicts the straightforward narrative elsewhere?

            I think we must mean two different things by ‘clear’.

          • And still you side step the main question. You simply can’t bring yourself to answer the question can you?

          • I am not avoiding the question, and I would thank you to observe house rules and avoid patronising and trolling comments.

            Paul is not Jesus, and in the NT we don’t read ‘Paul’. I say above:

            ‘And, of course, we are not merely saying ‘Paul is wrong’, since we do not have the whole of Paul before us, but only that which was, from the beginning, considered to be not merely Paul’s opinion, but writings that were seen to be on a par with the ‘God-breathed’ Scriptures of Israel. If we are going to accept Spufford’s claim, we will need to reject the belief of the XXXIX Articles which receive Scripture as ‘God’s word written’ (Article XX).’

            If you want to make snarky accusations when I have answered the question in the piece, you can go and comment on someone else’s blog.

          • But that’s rather simply a version of fundamentalism. It’s akin to saying, as one of your contributors so frequently says, that God must spill ink over any errors that people writing the bible at any point of its transmission have made so that they can never see the light of day. It’s option one of the possible approaches to scripture that LLF identifies. That document also identifies that option as being outside the mainstream of CofE/Anglican tradition.

            The answer you are giving, in so many words, is that by saying Paul is wrong is to say that your whole pack of cards must fall down because your God is too small to survive any admission of anything slightly messy. It has to be neatly packaged. Tightly controlled. Policed.

            And it certainly isn’t to reject that particular Article, although note what the C of E has been saying since the late 1960s about the Articles. The Articles are not inerrant. Nothing Francis Spufford says, and nothing I say denies that scripture is God’s word written. But just because a road map doesn’t tell you everything you might encounter on the journey doesn’t mean the whole map is inaccurate. What it can never tell you about is the traffic jams and accidents that you might encounter on the route. It won’t tell you about the wonderful sights you might see.

          • your whole pack of cards must fall down because your God is too small to survive any admission of anything slightly messy

            I’m not sure you can really claim anyone else’s conception of God is ‘too small’. After all you are on record as saying that you don’t think God can even affect the forces of nature, and you can’t have a God much smaller than that.

          • Re your discussion ‘can-women-teach-part-ii’. It seems parti pris to me.

            (1a) on hesychios. The dictionary (LSJ) confirms that the noun means ‘rest; silence, stillness’. Luke/Paul are not using the word in some novel way. In Acts 11:18 and 21:14 we have the verb, not the noun, and ‘they/we were silent’ is the proper translation. To argue that it cannot mean not saying anything because the same people later say something seems to me bizarre.
            (1b) What we have in I Tim 2:12 is the noun, which occurs elsewhere 3 times in the NT, yet you don’t discuss any of the 3 other instances. II Thes 3:12 and I Tim 2:11 are very similar in thought, and I Tim 2:11 – let a woman in quietness learn in all submission – is part of the context for I Tim 2:12. How can an objective study simply ignore the previous verse?
            (1c) You discuss the word ‘submission’ in relation to Eph 5, saying it ‘comes from the same root as hupotasso and should be distinguished from the idea of ‘obedience’. Actually, it is that very word (the verb) that occurs in Eph 5 (5:21, 5:24). The word in I Tim 2:11 is the cognate noun, hupotage.
            (1d) The verb occurs again I Pet 3:3: ‘Wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some [husbands] do not obey the word, they may be won… by their conduct.’ Do you not think it would be proper to discuss this scripture alongside what Paul says?

            (2) I would have no objections to translating authentein, as you suggest, as ‘usurp authority’, thus: ‘… nor to usurp authority over a man’ (as per the AV).

            (3) You do not discuss I Tim 2:13-14. Again, as with v. 11 and I Pet 3:1, why not? This is where Paul gives his reasons, and they come from Gen 2. You may regard Gen 2 as mythology/poetry, but Paul evidently does not, and as a responsible scholar you have to deal with that. I can recommend listening to Tim Keller and Don Carson on the subject.

            I am not surprised that Andrew is not convinced by your argument.

          • In fairness I must withdraw the charge that I Tim 2:13-14 is not discussed in relation to v. 12, since these verses, I see, are discussed at

            Readers may judge for themselves whether the suggestion that these provide ‘a corrective both to myths about Artemis, who was created first and only subsequently took a male consort, and possible misunderstandings of Paul’s own teaching’ is a satisfactory exegesis.

          • I point out once more that the meaning of ‘kephale’ used by Paul with reference to the husband-wife relationship in Ephesians 5 and with reference to the man-woman relationship in 1 Corinthians 11 is determined by the context of its use in Ephesians 5:23-24:
            ‘But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives to their husbands in everything’. Ephesians 5:21 cannot possibly be understood in this context to mean mutual husband-wife subjection because in this context that would imply mutual Christ-church subjection. Attempts by Ian and especially by Alan Padgett (‘As Christ submits to the Church’) to show that in some sense Christ does submit to the Church don’t work.

            See post Phil Almond August 28, 2014 at 3:42 pm #at:

            Ian Paul challenged my view on a thread and I replied to that challenge. The ball is in his court.

            Phil Almond

        • Exactly – Paul can be either right or wrong, but the occasions where he is wrong are not coterminous with those where we would wish him to have been wrong. In the present instance he was spectacularly right (see below).

          The leap from ‘the Bible can be mistaken’ to ‘I can choose not only which particular texts are mistaken but also in which particular way they are mistaken’ fails in logic.

          • I think the point that Andrew is making is that Paul believed Jesus would return very soon, for example, and indeed saw certain events such as the rise of the man of lawlessness (Nero) as evidence of that. From what I remember from your previous comments, you clearly believed Paul’s belief was wrong (you said for example that Paul’s emphasis on a very near parousia in his letters petered out as time went on). I asked Ian Paul the obvious question then as to the implications of that on the authority of Scripture, but he failed to answer, presumably because he doesnt agree with your view, though I think you are right. How else can you explain Paul’s instruction for single people not to marry because the time was ‘short’ – as I said in a comment, any church leader today saying the same thing would be laughed at.

            The problem is that Paul’s apparent view of Jesus returning very soon affected what he wrote in his letters, leading to such instructions as above. So Andrew is quite right to ask the question – if Paul was wrong on the parousia (and the only reason we know he was wrong is because it still hasnt happened 2000 years later), is it not possible he was wrong on other questions?

            I disagree with Andrew on the issue of same-sex relations (Paul is only one witness on that question), but I think he has asked legitimate questions.


          • I think the logic here is very complicated, unnecessarily so. (1) Why would anyone doubt Paul was fallible in the first place? (2) Why should he be fallible in just those places *and*just those ways where we might wish him to be, (3) especially when we have an instance where the evidence points precisely the opposite way, that his warnings were spot on?

  5. Here we go again. But the topic is undoubtedly important. Once the Church agreed with Darwin et al. that man, and all other animal life, was not created but rather a product of impersonal, natural evolution, an attack on the social reflection of the created order was bound to happen sooner or later. So while I agree that the implicit but clear case Paul is making is not about the context of such activity, but the creation principle behind it, the problem is that all conservative opposition to the current revisionism is baseless, because the creation principle is seen as merely theological and not grounded in anthropological, palaeontological reality. The scientific (natural-philosophical) basis from which the attack on orthodox theology is mounted is implicitly conceded.

    The Tom Wright quote is also a propos, both in underlining the fact that Paul’s teaching is grounded in Genesis and in illustrating that modern exegesis of Paul takes place within a theological bubble, where ‘biblical anthropology’ is in a world of its own. Ask Wright whether he believes that the universe in fact came to be as Gen 1-3 says it did and his answer will be no. Ask any evolutionary biologist whether man could be said to be a ‘created’ being and his answer will also be no. Theologians are simply not being honest about the contradictoriness of their real beliefs. They don’t actually believe, as a matter of historical reality, that all humans are made in the image of God. The phrasing ‘are made’ rather than ‘were made’ is itself a give-away. Is creation Genesis 1 still going on?

    When Spufford says ‘I think we’re saying that Paul was wrong’, he is not merely rejecting Paul’s view on this one issue. Nearly all Anglican theologians believe that Genesis is wrong, so Spufford can hardly be criticised on grounds of unorthodoxy. Nor can he alone be criticised for not receiving Scripture as God’s word written. The ways that theologians wriggle out of the plain meaning of Gen 1-3 are similar to the way others wriggle out of the proof texts on homosexual behaviour. Those who accept the evolutionary account of man’s origins should admit that the Bible is wrong rather than pretending that it is all a matter of interpretation and pointing the finger at Spufford, Ozanne et al.

    Husband and wife exercise mutual authority over one another (1 Cor 7.4), and in which women could represent him (Rom 16.1), teach him, and be outstanding apostles (Rom 16.7) The scriptures quoted are not accurately reflected in the sentence. The first refers to the authority of each marriage partner over the body of the other, because they are one flesh; in other respects, the man has authority, as the NT says several times (Eph 5:23, Col 3:18, I Tim 1:11-14, this last passage being grounded in the created order, not the patriarchal context of the first century). Rom 16:1 commends Phoebe as a worthy servant of the Church; Paul is not saying that Phoebe in particular or women in general can ‘represent’ him, whatever that means. And Rom 16:7 does not say that Andronicus and Junia were outstanding apostles. All this goes to show that patent misinterpretation of Scripture is to be found on both sides of the argument as they are currently aligned.

    • Thanks Steven, but an odd comment I think.

      ‘Ask Wright whether he believes that the universe in fact came to be as Gen 1-3 says it did and his answer will be no.’ Not so. He will say ‘yes’, and so will I. Not believing a poetic text is to be read literally is not the same as ‘not believing’ it.

      The literalistic meaning is not the ‘plain meaning’. The plain meaning of a poem is the poetic meaning. This is really part of ‘How to Read the Bible 101.’

      ‘in other respects, the man has authority, as the NT says several times’ No it doesn’t. It is notable that, unlike 1 Cor 7.4, the word ‘authority’ entirely absent from the verses you cite. The word ‘head’ (‘kephale’) is a metaphor, and unlike in English it is not a metaphor for ‘authority over’.

      ‘The first refers to the authority of each marriage partner over the body of the other’. In biblical anthropology, where humanity is a psychosomatic unity, to exercise authority over someone’s body is to exercise authority over them.

      Does the ‘creation order’ make the first thing created have authority over the second, or the second over the first? The adam is made before the women in Gen 2, but all humanity is made after the rest of the world in Gen 1.

      • Kephale is a metaphor and unlike in English it is not a metaphor for ‘authority over’. Yes – although kephale is metaphorically used for entities that wield authority, whether or not the authority is part of kephale’s meaning.
        If (Eph 4.15) a body is to grow up into its head, then that means that the head is to be thought of as being on a higher level than, or further advanced than, the body. To call anything a head is, among other things, to give it dignity.

        The same applies in spades to 1 Cor 11.3 – if it says that woman is to man as Christ is to God, then what does that mean & imply? Whether or not authority is the mot juste, it cannot be a million miles from that. How does the one stand in relation to the other? As within the concept ‘arche’, it frequently happens in biblical theology that no distinction is made between source (and biblically Adam is the source of Eve) and rule (sure enough: ‘and he will rule over you’).

        ‘Cybernetic’, the Greek-based term that joins together brain activity with rule/direction/’governing’, is based on our newer understanding of the brain as seat of thought which commands the body parts. But Paul is already treating the head as the body-part with chief dignity, even the body-part to which all the others answer and/or in which all the others cohere.

        • Yes I have to agree. People have tried to explain away many of Paul’s comments on women, but it is hard to argue against what you have said. Paul appears to put woman – man – Christ – God (Father) in that order, and they are clearly not on the same ‘level’. Of course it may be ‘woman’ should really be translated ‘wife’ and ‘man’ husband, which then has different implications.

          But I suspect Paul’s understanding, based largely on a typical Jewish literal view of Genesis 1 & 2, reflects just that – the standard view at the time.

      • Yes, modern theologians have gone over to the hermeneutically peculiar position that Genesis 1 et seq. (ending where?) is a ‘poetic text’. They have persuaded themselves that it is acceptable to believe that Israel’s belief that Yahweh had created the world – and therefore, as God Almighty, was different from all other gods – rested on a fiction. Yahweh’s command that Israel observe the 7th day as holy because he rested from his creation on the 7th day was also based on a fiction (indeed Ex 20:11 itself must just be poetry). In characterising Gen 1-2 as a poetic text, you’re implying that it therefore does not matter that what the text says is incompatible with your understanding of the literal truth of how the world came into be. Gen 1-2 can give a completely false picture (e.g. its all happening ‘in the beginning’, its taking just 6 days, the earth in existence before the sun, photosynthesising plants before sunlight, plants before marine animals) and yet still, in some other sense, be true. If that is your view, I just can’t see why you’re so exercised over the interpretation of I Cor 6:9. If the ‘literal’ – literalistic, sorry – meaning of words and sentences does not matter, why not give Francis Spufford et al the freedom to interpret Scripture as they see fit? Did God actually say the words in Gen 3:14-19 or not. If he did, was he intending them to be understood literally or not? If he didn’t, are they left with any significance at all? If ‘man is made in the image of God’ is a ‘teaching’ based on poetry, how can that be a basis for saying that slavery is immoral? Or do you just mean immoral in a non-literal sense? What content are you actually giving to ‘the creation principle’ if the principle is just poetic?

        As Chris Cook has argued, ‘The texts that are explicit concerning same-sex relationships… were written in a pre-scientific culture. They are amenable to very different interpretations now, just as are the Genesis creation narratives.’ You and he are walking the same road.

        I would also question the idea that a Hebrew text written as poetry implies that it operates in a domain where literal truth does not apply. Large sections of the prophetic books are written as poetry, including predictions about the future. Are you implying that e.g. ‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opened not his mouth’ had no real reference to the future, because notions of truth and facticity simply don’t apply to poetic texts?

        Apart from the failure to identify the genre of Gen 1 et seq (it’s clearly not poetry), your defence leaves Jesus (Matt 19:4 etc + Rev 10:6), Peter and John (Acts 4:24, II Pet 3:4f), Paul (Rom 1:20 etc) and the writer of Hebrews (Heb 4:3), who all read Gen 1-3 ‘literalistically’, as also needing to read ‘How to Read the Bible 101’. Not to mention the erroneous declarations of the 24 elders (Rev 4:11 – more poetry, I suppose) and the angel who cries “Fear God” (Rev 14:7). This may be a small price for ensuring that you yourself are not mistaken, but in my view this puts the approach beyond the bounds of orthodoxy.

        The word ‘head’ (‘kephale’) is a metaphor, and unlike in English it is not a metaphor for ‘authority over’. So you say, but as with the contention that Gen 1 is a poetic text, it would be nice to have more than assertion by way of argument. By the same token, Eph 5:23 does not mean that Christ has authority over the Church. Again, this does not seem orthodox.

        • What Chris Cook writes makes no sense. If things were written in pre-scientific culture, it is not the *interpretation* of them that is wrong. They may be factually wrong or right (i.e. at times their *scientific grounding* will be inadequate), but so far as the interpretation goes, the interpretation is unaffacted. It is not clear that he understands what ‘interpretation’ means.

    • “Nearly all Anglican theologians believe that Genesis is wrong”

      Might I ask if the parable of Good Samaritan is right or wrong?

    • On Pheobe (Rom 16.1-2), I note that she is described as diakonos. That word does not really mean ‘servant’ as explored in great detail by John N Collins. It was the word for a particular role in the local church (c.f. Phil 1.1, 1 Tim 3.8-10). [Of course, all leadership in the church should be ‘servant leadership’] Also, she is described as a prostatis. While this word only occurs in this place, it is cognate with the verb proistēmi, which is used in 1 Tim 3.4 for how a candidate to be an overseer should ‘manage’ (ESV) his household. prostatis is sometimes translated ‘patron’. If this word is considered in a first century context, one should recognise that is reflects significant power and influence. Roman society was based very much round patronage.

      On Rom 16.7, that this verse does seem to imply that the named people were deemed apostles is evidenced by the changing in some translations of the name Junia, a relatively common name, to Junius which is a name unattested in any ancient source. The only reason for making this change is the unacceptability to some of a female apostle.

      • I accept both these points, with the reservation that Andronicus and Junias probably exercised their apostolic ministry together, as husband and wife. In any case I have no biblical issue with women proclaiming the gospel and attesting as witnesses the resurrection of Jesus (thinking of I Cor 9:1), whether singly or with their husbands.

    • Can you please tell me which Anglican theologians in the period 1859 to 1870 actually believed that a literal understanding of Genesis (4004BC and all that) was correct? Perhaps, too , you could list those who before 1859 thought the earth was ancient?

  6. It is inevitable that when anyone has been accepted by the mainstream (e.g. being shortlisted for the Booker Prize; receiving gongs as did Steve Chalke; moving in the circles of artists, actors and musicians; etc) that:

    (1) their stance on SSM will be the ‘approved’ one (but *whose* approval is sought, if anyone’s, and why are those particular people the ones one is eager to please?). The mainstream are almost 100% here, the public far less (they became 50% with extensive prompting and shibboleth tactics; then the normalisation of legality in and of itself provides a further rise. Many people are desperate to avoid being in a minority. But that does not apply to *thinking* or honest people).

    (2) they will have a Damascus Road experience whose chronological graph precisely mirrors the enforced shift in law and culture.

    What is not said is that, had FS concluded otherwise, that would be absolute curtains for his career in the public eye. Because of the bullies who disparage education in favour of what a little voice in their head is telling them to say.

    (3) The world is full of 1000s of NT scholars. So why put other hats (two-pennorths) in the ring before what the former say has been digested?

    (4) Point (3) really hits home on the topic of the acceptability of slavery, where so much has been written already that FS is unaware of, and so many points have already been answered. The large-scale differences are plain:
    In the NT slavery is understood to exist and is at times accepted, at others criticised; the trajectory is away from it; later on it is smashed. In the NT homosexual sexual practice is condemned; the proposal is that it now be accepted nay celebrated. So there is a difference between the 2 cases in:
    (a) the scale of the proposed shift: its about-turn 180-degree nature – transferring the entire distance between the categories virtue and sin (slavery, by contrast, was never seen as a virtue, whereas homosexual sexual practice has been seen as a sin);
    (b) making a sin a non-sin is different from making a non-sin a sin. The former is more explicitly telling God what to think, correcting God; the latter is just cautious or following an existing trajectory.

    (5) The point about biblical anthropology (and, further, about the interconnected biblical theology as a whole) is strong and correct.

    • I haven’t time to think through the points Ian Paul makes above, but one thing I can tell you right now: if I were ‘desperate to avoid being in the minority’, I wouldn’t be a Christian in 21st century Britain, and I certainly wouldn’t be publishing books of Christian apologetics.

      • if I were ‘desperate to avoid being in the minority’, I wouldn’t be a Christian in 21st century Britain, and I certainly wouldn’t be publishing books of Christian apologetics.

        I haven’t read the book of apologetics (though I was very impressed by Red Plenty and admired Golden Hill), but I would point out that how much being a Christian in 21st century Britain puts you in the ‘minority’ can vary greatly depending on whether you are the kind of Christian who is acceptable to the mainstream (Giles Frazer, Richard Coles, Kate Bottley, etc) and who is therefore invited on God Spots, panel and game shows, where they can be gently patronised and have their Christianity treated as a cute little affectation, or whether you are the kind who… isn’t.

      • Yes I agree. Your treatment is considerably too nuanced (e.g. your awareness of the liberal scare tactics) for you to be classed with the crowd, and I would not class you thus. However, my several other points are among those that tend not to be addressed:
        -The Damascus Road conversions all happened at the appropriate cultural moment within a sweep of thousands of years, and that seems to many just too convenient or too coincidental to be true.
        The new pro-homosexual cultural- stance did indeed come precisely when HIV had shown itself to be a killer. This is counter intuitive.

        Why would the biblical stance on which we do a volte face be one that is inevitably accompanied by vast promiscuity and equally vast epidemics of STIs?

        How could anything that is impossible to conduct safely without contraception be part of the natural pattern? Russian roulette?
        It would seem one of the last candidates for that.

        And how would Paul’s day have known what was required visavis contraception, not knowing about microbes?

        Some of the several points.
        My sister is certainly a fan, as you know!

      • An addendum. Your Christian Century piece makes the point that you come from a particular generation of students; in other words (it is implied) belonging to that generation means conforming to the norms and stances of that generation. My point being, of course, that this sort of conformity (when in Rome… / when in the 1980s…) is subject to the criticism that it is not a *thinking* stance. After all, it follows that if one had belonged to a different generation, one would have had different norms; accordingly, one’s present norms and conformity have no authority, just fashionability. And where one lapses into that sort of conformity at one point, one may do so later too. So I’d highlight a weakness in the argument here.

        The explicit mention of a figure (approx. 15 years of believing in SSM) either places one on a scale of acceptability (not only does one believe the acceptable thing, but does so from conviction not as a result of the social pressure that was in the air 2012-13, and with long standing) or is simply useful orientation.

        As for time lag there is no time limit on addressing points.

  7. The harmfulness of homosexual sexual practice is something easily seen in reality, and this can be counted as an instance where the biblical texts ‘get it right’.

    For something to be sinful merely implies that there is a sacred prohibition on it, not that we can say what precisely is wrong with it. For something to be harmful means that we can say precisely what is wrong with it. And it is right that harmful things should be in addition classified as sinful, because of the precious status of those people that they could potentially harm.

    Here we are dealing with something harmful which is therefore also rightly classified as sinful.

    Harmful how?
    (1) FS must realise that approval of homosexual sexual practice leapt when it was seen to be capable of producing a worldwide epidemic on the highest scale. And others (the other STIs and anal cancer and throat cancer) on smaller – but still large – scales. But how would he assess the illogicality of that leap. Is it marketing or spin, or if not then what?

    (2) For it was not secret unorganised homosexual practice which soon led to the AIDS epidemic, but rather the opposite: the epidemic directly followed upon such practice being able to become more public and organised. And therefore widespread.

    (3) It is fruitless to say that the harmful practices are equally found among male-female couples (among whom they are indeed equally out of place) without addressing the point that the disease harvest is far, far greater among men who have sex with men. Those who are seemingly content for that harvest to continue thus – and since we are 50+ years into the sexual revolution no change seems likely – are cruel.

    (4) Any practice which *requires* contraception cannot be in tune with nature. That is obvious.

    (5) Contraception technology would not have been around in Paul’s day. They did not know about microbes. Anyone who affirms that homosexual sexual practice should have been conducted in Paul’s day between 2 men cares absolutely nothing for the future health or life of those 2 precious men, and is cruel. What would they have known about what would or would not kill them?

    (6) Among pairs of men, monogamous and lifelong are both vanishingly rare. There would have been no need for things to be otherwise either in Paul’s culture or now, since we are talking about being outside the family structure.

    (7) But being outside the family structure means living in a state of irreconciliation or estrangement.

    So we see that the same problem arises as ever – people are speaking in the abstract without seeing clearly what physical realities are being spoken about.

    • Christopher

      The only sexual practice which ‘requires’ contraception is male/female PIV intercouse which may result in pregnancy.
      As usual your list is just an example of conservative scare practices.

      • If that is a summary, it says absolutely nothing about any disease.

        It is therefore a summary of the highest inadequacy.

        However it does mention one perceived disease – pregnancy.

        So all the precious sacred people we see walking around are actually diseases.

        The people at the outbreak of HIV, Herpes, HPV and other epidemics may have pooh-poohed people that they thought were trying to ‘scare’ them. Those people were trying to save their lives and their fertility etc..

      • Plus, of course, if male-female ‘required’ contraception, as you assert, how does anyone ever get born? 7.9bn mistakes and counting?

          • In some cases yes, but I am talking about the dead bodies of those who contract STIs because of presentations like yours which make no reference to contraeption for disease-prevention, as though that did not exist. As though the possibility of death was neither here nor there in importance. A bit like a dad saying ‘Son, if you want to play Russian roulette, it’s your choice. I won’t hold you back.’.

          • I think people are aware that some uncontracepted sex acts are risky.
            Nevertheless, some engage in acts like barebacking.
            My opinion is unlikely to have any effect in this matter.

          • HIV/AIDS, anal cancer, throat cancer would be the more obvious killers; all the others contribute to worsened health which equates to shortened life.

          • HIV no longer kills in the global North, and those cancers (not always caused by sex) are common among straight people.

          • (1) Great! They are not *always* caused by sex so plough straight ahead. That’s all right then.

            (2) So it’s fine if both straight and gay are dying. Silly me for thinking it is the exact opposite (neither of them dying) that would be fine. It came from your own lips.

            (3) HIV/AIDS typically kills. In and of itself. Medical respite can in time be created at vast expense, but that says nothing of the actual effects of HIV/AIDS, which are so lethal that they always have to be counteracted.

            (4) So long as the global north is ok, then that’s cool. (Meanwhile the south breathes its unheard and unmourned death rattle.) Compassion? Even slightly?

          • Christopher

            No one is recommending risky sex.
            Any more than anyone is recommending smoking or excessive alcohol consumption.
            Prohibition doesn’t work.
            Campaigns which raise awareness of the risks can work, as the decrease in smoking shows.
            Most people in the global North are aware of the risks of all these things.
            Sadly, people in the global South are often not.
            It isn’t good that HIVis still a death sentence in the global South. But it simply isn’t in the global North. And the drugs are no longer expensive (though again too expensive in the global South. Which is the fault of neoliberalism and colonialism, not the disease).
            And people can be infected without transmitting that infection to others.
            Which is good news.

          • Your last bit reads
            ‘People can be infected…which is good news.’

            Is that what you mean?

            Prices come down depending on govt subsidies, NHS etc.. It was by no means cheap to develop, test, multiply the drugs.

            If prohibition does not work (a well known unthinking cliche), why do we have any laws?

            But we do not just have any laws, we have multiple thousands of them!


            You are still inhabiting a secular normality wherein one speaks of something called ‘sex’. This was only the case when secularism gained the upper hand. Previously it was understood to be restricted to the marital bed, and obviously that made it a private matter, so the word was not used. Peter J Williams at Keswick did an analysis that showed this sudden increase.

            And again, your idea that the issues are ‘risky’, ‘nonconsensual’ and ‘unprotected’ is entirely unChristian – for Christians the issue is whether the sacred [blood-]covenant is maintained.

          • Christopher

            The good news is that people can be infected with HIV and lead perfectly healthy lives and cannot pass the infection on to partners.

            Or would you rather they were ill and infectious and died?

            Prohibition (on alcohol) certainly didn’t work in the US. Nor on illegal drugs. Drug taking has actually increased since most drugs were made illegal.

            It doesn’t really matter whether the word sex is now used more than it once was. People talk about sex a great deal more than they used to. Research has shown that they actually enjoy less of it. Sexual intimacy has never been limited to the marriage bed. And to assume that it once was is a fantasy.

            I have no wish to live in a theocracy. Most people take part in risky activities. It is
            good to mitigate risk. It is even better when sexual intimacy is safe and consensual. It is not very long ago that a married woman could be legally raped by her husband. That this is now unlawful may be a secular gain, but it is, nevertheless, a good one.

          • Or would you rather they were ill and infectious and died?

            Would it not be best of all if they were not infected in the first place?

            Prohibition (on alcohol) certainly didn’t work in the US. Nor on illegal drugs.

            We haven’t, in this country at least, ever really tried prohibition of drugs. The drugs laws we have are simply not enforced.

            It is even better when sexual intimacy is safe and consensual. It is not very long ago that a married woman could be legally raped by her husband. That this is now unlawful may be a secular gain, but it is, nevertheless, a good one.

            Nobody suggests it’s not. The point is that while consent is a necessary condition for sex to be moral it is not a sufficient one. There is plenty of consensual, immoral sex out there.

            Though that might be hard to understand for someone who thinks one-night stands can be moral.

          • Penny, you are descending into binary thinking.

            A theocracy would be a good thing anyway – since God’s ways are best. Either they are or they aren’t. If they are, they benefit people and are the option that should be chosen.

            But in the present instance we are not even talking about a theocracy. (Note in passing that ‘I have no desire to live in a theocracy’ is a cliche, and cliches are rarely thought-through.) We are just talking about laws and norms that uphold principles that are to people’s long term benefit. Plenty of societies have enshrined those principles, and our own did within living memory – without being anywhere near being a theocracy. As you know.

          • From your own mouth: ‘The good news is that people can be infected with HIV….’.

            You couldn’t make it up.

          • Whoever said that sexual intimacy had ever been restricted to the marriage bed? No-one made that point. They made the point that the degree to which it is or isn’t, within the same society, can vary massively and has varied massively in different eras.

            You are wanting all or nothing, which as you know cannot possibly happen in a world of 7.9bn people. A second instance of binary thinking. And a second (after ‘theocracy’) of straw man – claiming that people have asserted what they have not asserted.

  8. the use of pain relief in childbirth

    It is a small point, but when I looked at this a while back (so, sorry, cannot quote sources off-hand) I found that:
    – it seems that no source can be found for a condemnation of pain relief in childbirth based on theological grounds (i.e. Genesis 3).
    – that some might do so was suggested by a proponent of such pain relief, who countered the argument.

    (This was early to mid-nineteenth century)

    There was opposition, but it was founded on misogyny not theology.

    So this is another good example of how the basis of “the Church changed its mind on this issue so why not same-sex relations” is so often false.

    • It’s another side issue I suppose (apologies if it’s a step too far) but my own handling of the “curse” of pain in childbirth is that it is another symptom of the disturbance of harmony with God/creation. That, in effect, it’s a consequence…God is declaring the result not causing it…

      Happy to receive alternative readings…

    • We set aside Genesis’s prediction (which for centuries looked like a rule) that Eve and her descendants should bring forth children in pain. ‘Should’ as inferred from the Genesis narrative is a predictive, not a moral, ‘should’. Like the prediction that the snake would crawl on its belly, i.e. lose its legs, there is ample palaeontological and evolutionary support for this. Lizards are related to snakes and predate them. As human cranial capacity increased relative to total body size, the width of the birth canal did not compensate, so the baby’s head became uncomfortably big.

  9. This is a useful and careful analysis.
    To expand on your helpful “biggest problem” paragraph. The principle Spufford implicitly appeals to is ‘anyone has the right to do what they like to/with someone who consents’ is not in fact an EQUALITY principle at all, but a LIBERTARIAN one.
    This is a significant elision, undermining his argument, because libertarianism is not a self-evident good, and certainly not a biblical one.
    In fact, the principle he applies, perfectly illustrates the error that they “worshipped and served created things rather than the creator” as explained in what you quote from Tom Wright’s ‘big picture’ reflection on Romans 1. His line is not new, but rather is the same old failing of human nature which scripture forensically exposes.

    • It is ‘everyone did what was right in her/his own eyes’ (Judges init.) which is the precise opposite of godly living in which the self is liable to be the enemy.

  10. I am reading Jonathan Sacks’ books “Covenant and Conversation”, and this evening I am reading the (long) introduction to the book on “Leviticus. The Book of Holiness”. On p27, there is this:

    “Nothing is more disruptive of social order in the long run than sexual anomie. Human offspring have by far the longest period of dependency of any life form and therefore depend on string and caring families. The relationships within the family – husband and wife, parent and child – are the most common metaphors throughout Tanakh [the Hebrew Scriptures] for the relationship between God and the people. This goes to the heart of Judaism as a religion of fidelity, loyalty, and the love which brings new life into being. Judaism is neither hedonistic nor ascetic. It is about the consecration of desire. That is what is at the heart of the two codes of forbidden sexual relations in chapters 18 and 20.”

    We, as Christians, rightly inherit this view of the world, and surrender it at the peril of ourselves and society as a whole. There is a teleology in sexual activity beyond the relationship of the two participants. This purpose (or these purposes) cannot be met in sexual activity between two people of the same sex.

      • I agree. Let us pray that this view will prevail. But let us also note (contra Ian Paul) that the asymmetry and analogy of the God-Church relationship and the Man-Woman relationship rules out the ordination of women as well as same-sex attraction and practice.

        Phil Almond

        • Since men are the church and not God, I don’t see how this follows.
          Both sexes and, indeed non binary people can represent Christ because that’s what the Incarnation means.

      • See also:
        ‘Is Marriage an “Architectural Doctrine” of the Christian Faith?’
        on The Gospel Coalition website.
        I do hope and pray that these lines of thought are being taken on board by the LLF project.

        Phil Almond

      • No we aren’t. Rabbinic Judaism is younger than Christianity.
        And Orthodox Judaism is only one of the modern traditions of Judaism.
        This claim co-opts or colonialises another religion.

        • Thank you Penny. Some accuracy about modern Judaism. Without mentioning the fact that some strands of Judaism affirm same sex marriage:
          “Judaism views marriage as a sacred responsibility, not only between the partners, but also between the couple and the larger community. Our Movement recognizes and celebrates marriages, whether between partners of the same sex or the opposite sex. We therefore celebrate today’s decisions on gay marriage by the Supreme Court.”

        • Thank you Penny. Some accuracy about modern Judaism. Without mentioning the fact that some strands of Judaism affirm same sex marriage:
          “Judaism views marriage as a sacred responsibility, not only between the partners, but also between the couple and the larger community. Our Movement recognizes and celebrates marriages, whether between partners of the same sex or the opposite sex. We therefore celebrate today’s decisions on gay marriage by the Supreme Court.”

  11. Can you please tell me which Anglican theologians in the period 1859 to 1870 actually believed that a literal understanding of Genesis (4004BC and all that) was correct? Perhaps, too , you could list those who before 1859 thought the earth was ancient?

  12. I am referring to Steven Robinson’s odd comm ents on Darwin which overlooks the fact that virtually no anglican theologians accepted a literal Genesis when Darwin published in 1859 and held to an old earth from decades before.

    • As you are now indicating, and as a historian of such matters, you already knew the answer to the questions you were putting. They are, however, beside the point.

      The age of the Earth was not the subject of Darwin’s 1859 book, and it is not a question pronounced upon in Scripture. I was referring to the crucial question whether God created the heavens and the earth and everything in them, including man, and whether, as is implicit in the concept, he finished his work of creation ‘in the beginning’. This is what Darwin challenged.

      As every Christian should, I try to ensure that my understanding of Scripture is in line with Jesus’s, especially on this point of creation, since it was through him that the universe was created, as the Nicene Creed also says. Abandon this foundation, and the whole edifice of NT thought crumbles. Western civilisation itself crumbles. Man becomes free, in his own eyes, to reinvent what it means to be a human being and what it means to be male and female. Marriage has no special meaning. A man can think he is trapped in a woman’s body or a woman think she is trapped in a man’s body. They can surgically alter their bodies to agree with their thinking. Males can lie with males and females with females. And theologians can find justification for all this on the grounds that “we know better now”. This is why Ian Paul, Francis Spufford and Chris Cook, along with most of the other contributors on this page, are all drinking from the same cup. They don’t believe in creation as biblically and scientifically understood, and consequently “like the Genesis creation narratives, the texts that are explicit concerning same-sex relationships… are amenable to very different interpretations now.” Whether one appropriates the different interpretations available (Ian does in relation to SSM but not creation, Francis does in relation to both) becomes a matter of personal choice rather than a consistent adherence to the integrity of biblical revelation. We have sown the wind, and are reaping the whirlwind.

      The creation of heaven and earth and/or man is referred to in 16 of the 36 books of the Old Testament and in 13 of the 27 books of the New Testament. It’s no small matter. I have listed the relevant scriptures in the link under my name.

  13. Francis Spufford says that if he were anxious not to be in a minority (and we are in agreement that he is not one of those many people who show that very common anxiety) he would not be a Christian in 21st century Britain.

    The last census (2011) gave 59% Christian (next being 5% Muslim). The same year’s annual population survey gave 63.1% Christian (4.8% Muslim). The 2018 British Social Attitudes Survey gave 38% Christian (6% Muslim). Although the questions are phrased in different ways, and not every survey has given a ‘none’ option, to date being a Christian is the most common and mainstream grouping with a lead of 600%+ over its nearest ‘rival’.

    Internationally, Christians are the largest and most mainstream group.

    This leads to the question – why then consider them a beleaguered minority? The reverse of the truth (though note the substantial decline in the UK – which is not a typical country internationally – and in Europe and indeed USA).

    The only ones who would consider them a beleaguered minority are those who have swallowed whole the picture put out by the British media, who are the chief body that sets the tone of what is perceived as normal.

    Maybe there are also pockets of population (e.g. metropolitan, university, media & journalism, arts) where the people one meets bear this picture out. But it could never be legitimate to extrapolate from such a self-selecting and atypical sample.

    Most of us know only 0.00001 percent of the population. So any conclusion based on the people we know and talk to will be wrong (or, if correct, correct by accident).

    The question being – how can the largest grouping by far be classified as a beleaguered minority?

    • Addendum – the 600+% lead is over other religions – the nones bid fair to outstrip the Christians in the 2021 census always assuming they have not done so already (see BSA Survey 2018).

      • What has Andrea Williams to do with it? She is defending those who are badly treated and lose their jobs – would you walk by on the other side?

        The reason they are badly treated and lose their jobs is that they are ruled out of court when in fact they belong to the very large group already identified.

        So the same question should be asked of the auithorities as is asked of Francis Spufford – why are you treating the largest grouping internationally (religious or nonreligious) and by far the largest religious grouping in the UK as though they were out of court? Mostly they are just committing the ‘crime’ repeating what almost everyone thought till yesterday, to the ears of those who seem incapable of defending their position (or too arrogant to do so).

        • Because she and the egregious Christian Concern constantly play the narrative that Christianity in the UK is persecuted.
          You’ve just done it yourself implying that the media, especially the Guardian, is anti Christian.

          • I never imply anything! What on earth would be the point when one could say things straight out? One would just give the impression that one was devious or sly and not straightforward.

            They don’t play out any untrue narrative. When the Christians certainly are being unfairly treated or persecuted – in measurable ways like losing their jobs for petty or nonsensical reasons (events which cannot be denied) then CC helps whereas some others pass by on the other side.

          • Christopher
            The events can be denied.
            CCs narrative is always that people lose jobs or positions because they are being persecuted for their religious beliefs.
            Scratch the surface and it is always either much more complex than the presenting issue or the ‘victim’ has broken the law/terms of their contract/conditions of their employment.
            Believing that people deserve to lose their positions for illegal or immoral behaviour isn’t passing by on the other side; it’s opposing CCs nasty agenda.

          • Considering they have had hundreds of clients, your utterly inaccurate idea that the same one ‘narrative’ applies to all these hundreds, and that secondly it is ‘always’ the case that there is more than meets the eye, is breathtakingly wrong.

            What was Bernard Randall’s nasty behaviour?
            What was his illegal behaviour?
            What was Kristie Higgs’s nasty or illegal behaviour?
            What was Joshua Sutcliffe’s?
            What was Nigel and Sally Rowe’s?
            What was Richard Page’s?

            I shall be extremely interested in your answers.

          • Christopher

            I didn’t write that the behaviour of these people was nasty (though sometimes it was)
            Bernard Randall was not dismissed. He is suing the school, so we should not discuss the case.
            Joshua Sutcliffe has been dismissed from two schools for breaking their policies.
            Nigel and Sally Rowe weren’t dismissed; they took their son from primary school because there was a trans child in his class.
            Richard Page lost his appeal because, despite being a magistrate, he opposed a same-sex adoption which are legal.

          • Inaccurate in almost all cases.

            (1) The rule of not discussing live cases means that there is never a point in time when the antis are able to be put to the test on whether they can defend a case. Which is convenient. For them.
            Bernard Randall’s non transgressions were now over 3 years ago. That is a long time to dictate or impose silence. Good people will never be silenced in speaking up about truth, rights and wrongs.

            (2) Breaking school policies?? What in the world prevents school policies from being illogical or cruel? In fact, there is not the slightest logical reason to think that they are likely to have more in their favour than the actions of a teacher of conscience.

            This is fundamentalism pure and simple. The infallibility of school policies. Critical spirit would be appreciated.

            (3) The Rowes did not leave for that reason, but because that particular minority way of looking at things (and again you speak like a fundamentalist as though no other ways of looking at things exist) was being enforced, despite going against nature and biology and both short term and long term health.

            (4) Richard Page was in line with both evidence and common sense.Unlike his opponents who defied evidence in favour of unreal wishful thinking ideology. And cruelly wanted to deprive a child of either a mum or perhaps a dad.

          • Christopher

            I wrote that people had either broken the law or contravened employers’ policies.
            You asked me what they had done.
            I answered
            Now you start a special pleading because you think their bigotry is ‘common sense’.
            All the cases you cite had done that.
            Apart from the couple who took their child from school because there was a trans child in his class. Which they were free to do. No one stopped them.
            You can believe that they were right and that all the others were right in their decisions to ignore the law/break the terms of their contract.
            But these breaches caused their various dismissals.
            If you agree to conditions of employment you are meant to abide by them.
            If you cannot abide by them, you leave.
            You don’t then sue your employer for conditions which you initially signed up to.
            Well not unless you are a hypocrite.

          • “1) The rule of not discussing live cases means that there is never a point in time when the antis are able to be put to the test on whether they can defend a case. Which is convenient. For them.
            Bernard Randall’s non transgressions were now over 3 years ago. That is a long time to dictate or impose silence. Good people will never be silenced in speaking up about truth, rights and wrongs.”

            Christopher: I think you will find that on this very website Bernard himself found it was better to keep silent because of the fact that his case was live. I don’t think you do him any favours by wanting to go against his wishes.

          • Penelpoe, there are several different ways in which what you say is not true.

            (1) Many people signed up for their present jobs long before wokery came on the scene at all. It got sprung upon them as a later development, and gradually. So your picture is inaccurate.

            (2) You speak of ‘bigotry’ (an unintelligent term which needs unpacking and needs details) across the board. However, the individuals in question were in tune with science and common sense. This is why I speak of your fundamentalism. You seem to believe that ‘policy’ is infallible. So I must press you on that. Why would you believe it to be infallible? It has happened many times that policy has been less scientific and justifiable than its detractors. Do you agree or disagree that the people who make the policies in the first place range from intelligent to not very intelligent?

            (3) You repeat ‘they took their child from the class because there was a trans child’ when you know that that point has already been answered. You are trying to enforce (and have no authority to do so) the idea that there is such a thing as a ‘trans child’ and that people are compelled to believe that. The reason that they withdrew their child was a totalitarianism comparable to your own totalitarianism displayed in this instance. It was the exalting of policy or law above science and reality, which is a very serious matter. I hope you are not among those who say ‘Well it’s there in the law so (regardless of whether the law is a good or bad law, coherent or incoherent) you had better obey it or else.’. Would you have said that to Gandhi or Martin Luther King or Mandela? Because on the present evidence that is what you would have done.

          • Christopher

            You are trying to enforce, and have no authority to do so, your particular construals of science and common sense.
            They are merely your interpretations.
            They are not shared by many scientists and anthropologists.

          • Er – it is clear that if I *say* I am female that is not scientific fact, but more pertinently there is actually not even 1% science within it.

            Common sense is the things that children know perfectly well, but some silly adults pretend they don’t know, when they know perfectly well that they do (would they only turn truthful). Hence the story The Emperor’s New Clothes.

          • Christopher

            I am afraid that your emotionalism and generalisations, using nonsensical slurs like ‘wokery’ and speaking of common sense which ‘all’ children share, but ‘silly’ adults do not, gravely mar your arguments and prevent any serious engagement with you.

            If you were, as you claim, a truth seeker you would not be writing in the manner of a Spiked article. Polemic is not scholarship.

          • They are merely your interpretations.
            They are not shared by many scientists and anthropologists

            Anthropologists aren’t scientists, though. What do actual scientists, like biologists, think?

          • But the ideology called wokery is real – it is part of reality.

            Silly adults are a phenomenon – they are part of reality.

            I say ‘all’ children because there is in reality an age when no child is capable of being disingenuous.

          • Christopher

            Now I know you read the Daily Mail I am not at all surprised that you believe there is an ideology called ‘wokery’. Even the once august Sunday Times has fallen prey to this cheap populist click bait.
            But believing in populist tropes and in vast generalisations like ‘common sense’ and ‘all children’ is very far from scholarly.
            What, indeed, does all children even mean?
            All Christian children?
            All Jewish children?
            All white children?
            All children of Asian parentage?
            All children with divorced parents?
            All children from the global North?
            All children from the global South?
            All poor children?
            All rich children?
            All neurotypical children?
            All neurodiverse children?
            All healthy children?
            All ill children?
            All male children?
            All female children?
            All children with VSCs?
            All children with red hair?

          • Now I know you read the Daily Mail I am not at all surprised that you believe there is an ideology called ‘wokery’.

            Well, I mean, there is, you can’t deny it. It’s the ideology based on Theory: the fundamental basis of the ideology is that everything’s a social construct, and the world is made up of overlapping power structures and matrices of oppression.

            You don’t think that ideology exists? Because, I mean, I could point you to thousands of web pages or books or scholarly articles based on that ideology. It clearly exists and is becoming more and more influential.

            What, indeed, does all children even mean?

            I’m guessing it means ‘all children’?

          • ‘Now that I know you read the Daily Mail…’
            1. How much are we supposed to respect the thought of those who constantly come out with both cliches and shibboleths?
            2. All you know is that I know what the Mail says
            3. You must also read it (or know what it says), else how could you possibly critique it in any way? Hence you must be precisely in the same position as me. Difference is, I do not criticise you for it.
            4. To read would not be to read exclusively anyway. Someone might go to the library and (because they did not trust journalists) read 5 or 10 papers.
            5. Given this particular paper’s many justice campaigns I would have thought you would be a supporter in some aspect.
            6. As to wokery, you don’t need to use that term. The phenomenon the word describes is pretty ubiquitous; you say it doesn’t even exist; in that you will not have many takers. Call it something else if you prefer.

          • However, the only thing you have heard me say previously about its content was a strong criticism (of its women’s pages). To indulge in cliche is to position yourself at a low level of debate which is akin to losing an argument.

          • As to ‘all children’, there are some generalisations that are accurate and some that are not. The generalisation ‘all children begin by being more instinctive than rational’ is one of the accurate ones.

          • Christopher: I find it hilarious that your generalisations, which are many and varied, always seem to be the ‘more accurate ones’ whereas others generalisations are always to be scorned.

            I’m not at all surprised you didn’t ‘get’ Unapologetic. It shows the mind of someone with a great deal of emotional intelligence.

  14. I think your view of sex is very sad and damaging. Sex is not just for procreation, it was never meant to be for just that, I think thinking otherwise is shortsighted. There are an abundance of creatures in the natural world that have sex for pleasure, including gay sex. There’s also an abundance of creatures for whom sex is a chore and even fatal…and yet we can experience pleasure from sex as humans. I say can because obviously sexual abuse is a thing. Besides all of that sex is about joining with someone else in a special way, not everyone can reproduce and the concept of sex being just for reproduction isn’t even biblical.

    I think your interpretations of the “boo passages” are incorrect, but I don’t think Paul was wrong…I just don’t see how any of these passages are relevant to gay marriage. The evidence that these texts are solely about exploitative relationships is vast and based on not just the biblical texts.

    But most importantly I just want you to know that your words bring pain, self hatred, and depression. They cause others to try and take their own lives. There is no good fruit in what you’re saying and how you’re doing it. This is a repeat of history, yet another people group to be persecuted by the world and church. I don’t care that the church didn’t start certain persecutions, they put their hands in it and they are a part of the problem. People like you make others think only of death and pain when the word church is used.

    • (1) As for sex not being only for procreation, I think everyone agrees (straw man argument, therefore?).

      (2) ‘Sex’ being neither good nor bad intrinsically but wholly dependent on context – I utterly agree.

      (3) ‘Boo passages’ – this is an imposed classification and therefore cannot be justified. We would all dearly love if our pet vices were classified otherwise, but that does not make the passages that deal with them susceptible of receiving a public and universal name like ‘boo passages’.

      (4) The way that the passages are relevant to gay marriage is: if gay sex is not a good thing in the first place, then gay marriage must be ruled out. There is not a prospect of the statistics whereby we understand the reality of gay sex ever becoming other than very harmful.

      (5) Evidence that the texts (all of them, viewed as a single unit?) are about exploitative relationships?
      -But why then would they be cited in lists of general vices, so general that only a handful qualify? (Where one is listing only 10-20 vices, what space could there possibly be for obscure or recondite ones?)
      -Why, secondly, would no evidence be given for your point – just an assertion (is the apparent grounding in the male-female Genesis pattern absent?) ?
      -Why, thirdly, would the 1 Tim list seem to run through several of the 10 commandments, which are all very general?
      -Why, fourthly, would sleeping with one’s own gender be used as the one paradigmatic sin to highlight Gentile depravity?
      -Why, fifthly, is there so much verbal echo of Leviticus (as David Wright pointed out) which has a general not specific condemnation of sleeping with one’s own gender?

      It is to avoid the patterns of early death and disease, and the depression caused by promiscuity (something that is by far highest among men that have sex with men) that these points are made, because anyone who cares would want to prevent them.

    • Hear, hear.
      I agree with almost all of Francis’ article except his belief that St Paul was wrong.
      I think Paul knew as much about homosexuality as he did about vacuum cleaners.
      It’s also rather odd when he is co-opted to buttress those who opine that sex is primarily for procreation. Paul clearly doesn’t give a fig about reproduction (given that the end is near). He thinks marriage is for lust.

      • Except that – of course – homosexual sexual practice was a prominent part of the ancient world whereas vacuum cleaners were no part of it.

        • Same-sex sex was. Though not as popular in Rome as in Greece.
          Not the same thing as ‘homosexuality’. At all.

          • I didn’t say ‘homosexuality’. But in any case the Venn diagram overlap between ‘homosexuality’ and homosexual sexual practice would be large. Also: that word can be used in the sense of practice.

      • Paul’s beliefs on marriage were much higher than ‘lust’. He considers marriage as a modelling the relationship between Christ and the church and rooted in creation principles. Any attempt to understand 1 Cor 7 must take into account Eph 5.

    • This argument can equally be applied to the biblical declaration that we are all sinners and will be judged as such. Further since following Christ demands fundamental ‘dying’ in all of our lives then it is painful for all. Ongoing dying to sin is a painful process. Only faith that it is the way to life enables us to transcend the depression it would otherwise cause.

    • Have queer “pain, self hatred and depression” become less common and fatal as the queer lobby has waxed and the Church has waned or more common or fatal? It isn’t even close. The queer lobby is breeding enthusiasm and then leaving people adrift as they see their lives as pointless mutilation.

      In the America, the drunk would blame the Poles when he lost their job. Now, the queer lobby drunk on power blame the Church for the wake of destruction that they are leaving. Scapegoating is wrong. The numbers and the trajectories simply do not make blaming the Church for the pain, self hatred and depression remotely credible. You can make ‘just so’ stories, and you can make a narrative of your life looking back. But one can make stories and naratives about anything, the facts on the ground don’t support these just so stories.

      (The ‘best’ example of the church being at fault is the case of the teenage girl in a conservative church (that has since become inclusive). But in the story the church did nothing wrong, did not even know the girl felt that way. It was the queer lobby that told her, and propagandized to her that she could not trust her church, she could not trust her parents, or her friends, that she could not trust anybody but the gay movement, and that she may as well kill herself. Which she did. It would be like proving the dangers of foreigners by pointing to a case of a person being run over as he crossed the street to avoid one.)

      Pain, self-hatred and depression are a result of the fall. They are everybody’s – in differing amounts – lot in this world. The Church points to Jesus. Jesus is the answer. The queer lobby points to Moloch. Moloch (or hedonism, or gay encounters, or sexual relationships, or romantic relationships, or cosmetic surgery, or anything but Jesus) is not the fullness of life.

      Gay people are five times more likely to be MPs. They are a constant feature on TV. They are a constant feature on the radio. They are not suffering a great persecution. What they are persecuting is a wave of imitation and suffering.

      • Tell that to the gay couples and gay men still being beaten up (and killed) for being gay.
        Tell that to the gay youngsters still undergoing conversion therapy.
        Tell that to the gay people thrown on the street by their parents.
        Tell that even to the gay celebs who get social media pile ons and hate mail every day.

        • When was the last gay man killed for being gay in this country? We can argue about the other points (for which you have not provided any evidence for, nor defined your terms), but you can’t argue with corpses*. Show me the corpses.

          (* Although, of course, the queer lobby often points to the executions of rapists, pederasts and child molesters as the great homophobia of times past. That’s why we need names name, to back up the (generally untrue) claims.)

          • So, according to you, only corpses* ‘matter’?
            Being abused, spiritually, emotionally or physically doesn’t?

            *Michael Causer, Gerry Edwards et al in the UK.
            Many in the US.
            A young man, recently in Galicia.

          • Also you cannot argue with the letter written to Richard Coles after the death of his partner, rejoicing that David was now burning in Hell.
            But, yeah, gays are doing fine.

          • So, according to you, only corpses* ‘matter’?
            Being abused, spiritually, emotionally or physically doesn’t?

            The point is that anything else can get caught up in definitional arguments. It’s why when criminologists compare crime rates between countries or across times in the same country, they only look at the murder rate: because reported/recorded rates of other crimes can vary according to definitions, police priorities, moral panics, political campaigns, etc etc. But a murder is a murder.

            Michael Causer, Gerry Edwards et al in the UK.

            So none at all in the last ten years? Is that what you’re saying? None? Zero?

            Many in the US.
            A young man, recently in Galicia.

            The question was about the UK.

          • Also you cannot argue with the letter written to Richard Coles after the death of his partner, rejoicing that David was now burning in Hell.

            Why would anyone ‘argue with’ it? There are unpleasant people in every society who will write horrible letters to people for any reason, or for no reason. It’s part of living in a fallen world. Until Christ comes again such people will exist.

            The point is that such behaviour is not tolerated by our society.

          • Why? What’s wrong with being gay?

            Why does that imply there’s anything wrong with being gay? When people note that men are over-represented in Parliament relative to the proportion of men in the population, are they saying there’s something wrong with being a man?

    • Hi Jeremy

      Im not sure how wise it is to appeal to the rest of the natural world to justify one’s view of same-sex sex. Quite a few creatures can behave in ways humans should never behave, Im sure you know the examples. Im also not convinced that other creatures have sex ‘just’ for the pleasure. The impression I get is that it is a natural instinct that in most cases leads to the propagation of the species – Im not aware of other creatures using contraception! Then again, Im not David Attenborough or the more aesthetically pleasing Steve Backshall.

      As for “The evidence that these texts are solely about exploitative relationships is vast and based on not just the biblical texts” Im afraid that is simply not true. Preston Sprinkle, for example, has written about non-exploitative same-sex sexual relationships in the ancient world in his book ‘People to be Loved’. He gives some examples at: .

      Ive heard the ‘exploitative’ or ‘idolatrous’ arguments a number of times from those supporting gay marriage etc, but they are just untrue and not based on reality. I think it’s sad when people continue to use misleading arguments in trying to persuade others of their position. It’s important for all concerned, regardless of one’s view, to be honest and truthful.

      But yes some words and attitudes can bring pain, self-hatred and depression. Ive experienced all, though that’s hardly unique to gay men or women. We are all looking to be accepted and loved. I agree that some Christians can appear to be very judgmental and condemning. Sometimes I think if only God would change reality for a single day, when all the straight people in the world wake up to find their sexual attractions to their wife, husband or the opposite sex in general is condemned by the church and society (at least until recently). Perhaps such an experience would silence their tongues, at least a little.

      But in all of this, I remain convinced that God does not ‘approve’ of gay sexual relationships, despite the pain and loneliness that can sometimes bring.



  15. I believe that acceptance by the media-dictated mainstream depends to a great extent on falling into precise categories.

    If you are homosexual and vocal, you will be lapped up by the Guardian.

    If you are homosexual and Christian you will be lapped up, period.

    If you are pro-homosexual and Christian, you will be given airtime, to reinforce the idea that Christians are often pro-homosexual.

    If you fulfil the stereotype that Christians are frumpish you will get airtime.

    So we should be very grateful for the clarion voices (the Ben Shapiros and Andrea Williamses and CBRUKs) who manage to force their way in through the clarity of their vision.

  16. I must plead tone-deaf or colour-blind on Unapologetic, as it is one of the three books that everyone said ‘you must read’ but I read from cover to cover and missed what they had obviously found. The 3 books are:

    The Shack (though it has strengths in conception and atmosphere)
    Velvet Elvis, by Rob Bell.

    • The book is called ‘Unapologetic’ but the subtitle is twice apologetic for no good reason. ‘Despite everything’, ‘surprising’. Why would it be so surprising that the most followed way of all would have a lot to be said for it?

      And a third instance of being apologetic is to speak of merely ’emotional sense’ rather than ‘sense’ – quite different from CS Lewis. Sense is a rational thing primarily anyway.

      The status of emotional sense is considerable (it is after all a form of sense) but I would not change my life for something which made emotional sense only, since there is clearly something that makes actual sense of the universe in all dimensions, and that thing would be by definition superior to the thing that made only emotional sense.

      • Great stuff, Christopher.
        There was a time a few years back now when a book, Emotional Intelligence, was flavour of a couple of months in management circles.
        But how finite and and passing emotions are, with some degrees of instability, variability.
        What is more there are Godly emotions and desires and unGodly. (Religious Affections – J.) Edwards
        Only sense based on an enduring objective reality outside ourselves will survive humanity and death, reality of bodily resurrection.
        It is that sense which precedes being Surprised by Joy, true Godly emotion, a desire of our restless heads and heart, fulfilled, replete. God gives himself, Father, Son and Spirit.
        Or as put, by AW Tozer, “Man the dwelling place of God.”

  17. To say Paul got it wrong both denies the teaching of Scripture regarding its own accuracy and authority and leaves the in a quagmire of subjectivism.

    That is not to say our interpretation of Paul is necessarily right nor that everything Scripture says is easily understood.

    Take an imminent coming. It is not simply Paul who teaches imminency (coming soon) so also does John and James and of course Jesus. We’re all wrong? If so faith begins to crumble. Is it not better to ask if there is a way of understanding this that we have missed? And how are we to factor in contrary verses of a ‘delay’ in his coming.

    These are not simply ‘in-house’ issues. They are foundational matters and the answers given impinge on whether we are in the house or outside.

    If I cannot trust Scripture on matters of practice then how can I trust it on matters of faith. If it gets lifestyle wrong and requires correcting then it cannot be trusted when it describes the way to life.

    • To say Paul got it either right or wrong is just not making sense of what the material actually is. These are letters from one of the earliest Church leaders to fledgling churches. It was what Paul thought/was advising/ *at that particular time*. We know Paul disagreed with Peter on significant matters. We know Paul was headstrong. We pay particular attention and added it to scripture because the documents tell us about life in the earliest Church.
      But Paul matured during his own lifetime, and would have matured even more. He may have changed his minds about a variety of things. The context of other situations later in history may have persuaded him to offer other advice/thought. God’s mind changed during the course of time, so it’s pretty obvious that Paul would have changed his mind about things as well.

      Of course ‘scripture’ tells us that scripture is bound to be correct, useful, all of that. But it’s a very circular argument. Scripture is bound to say that. Isn’t it?

      Not everyone views scripture in the same way or through the same lenses. LLF has very helpful stuff to say on this matter.

      Paul was doing to the equivalent of a bishops letter to the diocese. Bishops change their minds. So with Paul. It’s in the bible because of the time/context it was written. It’s wonderful that we have a snapshot of that time, but we are not bound in chains by it.

      • As usual your universalist, revisionist view, of scripture is showing, Andrew.
        “Bound in chains by scripture” is a classic quote from you.
        Of course it doesn’t compete with an extrapolation Penelope’s view as Paul had no idea about vacuum cleaners he had no idea of human nature and sexuality. So, the revisionists can now wed their dirt collector!

        • The other way round Geoff.
          Since homosexuality was a creation of the 19thC St Paul would have to have been extraordinarily prescient.

          • Since homosexuality was a creation of the 19thC

            What happened in the 19th century that suddenly meant some men were sexually attracted to other men and some women were sexually attracted to other women, when before that women had only ever been attracted to men and vice versa? Was it a virus? A solar flare? Some kind of cosmic radiation burst? A meteorite?

          • Who mentioned the word homosexuality? Paul was well travelled, had his eyes open.
            Anyway, for all those who seek change, if they really believe it was prohibited by a genuinely Good God,
            as not being in their or others best interests, was sinful, would it make one iota of difference to them, their life?
            Is their God only ever affirmative? In sexual proclivities, or anything else for that matter?
            Is their God infallible? Omniscient?
            Could such a God communicate infallibly to and through fallible humans, to reveal himself and human nature?
            Jesus is both Revealer and God Revealed of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
            It is he who Paul encountered, he who Paul revealed.

          • Dear S

            What I believe Penelope means is that before the 19th century there was no concept of “a homosexual”, but only men and women who might do heterosexual acts or homosexual ones. This is affirmed by persons as different as Rosaria Butterfield, a militant lesbian English lecturer who underwent a radical Christian conversion and married a pastor (in her testimony Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert), and the gay world’s best known intellectual, Michel Foucault, who noted the change in his History of Sexuality (vol. 1, part 2). The shift in the 19th century is traced to the Romantic movement.

          • What I believe Penelope means is that before the 19th century there was no concept of “a homosexual”, but only men and women who might do heterosexual acts or homosexual ones.

            A homosexual is a man or woman sexually attracted to members of the same sex. Is Penelope really claiming that there were no such people before the nineteenth century? Or that people didn’t know about them? But in that case, why is the practice forbidden in the Old Testament? Why bother to forbid a sin if nobody is tempted to commit it? Surely the very fact it is mentioned proves that even in the time of the writing of the books of Moses it must have been known that some men were tempted to have sex with other men — ie, were (what we now call) homosexual?

            the gay world’s best known intellectual, Michel Foucault, who noted the change in his History of Sexuality (vol. 1, part 2).

            Foucault of course was an abusive paedophile concerned with justifying his perversions, so hardly an impartial source.

          • Penelope is talking nonsense. In Suetonius, Galba, that emperor is classified by type as a homosexual (a fixed state). This is just one example I happen to know of. That means that his desire went in that direction. I.e. orientation.

          • Dear S

            Calm down! I am making a point of information. I share your view of Foucault, and you can find my view of the present issue in my reply below to Andrew Godsall. If you want to dispute what I say about the notion of “a homosexual”, you need to take it up also with Rosaria Butterfield, who is a scholar and a conservative evangelical (she even believes that worship should sing only the psalms) and has a spectacular testimony.

          • For the record, the first appearance in history of the word ‘homosexual’ is in a publication in Saxony in 1869. It was the coinage of a German journalist seeking a more neutral word to replace the discriminatory and negative terms currently in use to describe people erotically attracted to those of the same sex. The word itself does not appear in the Bible at all. It first appears in an English bible translation in the new RSV in 1946 when the American editorial committee chose it to translate (and merge) the two Greek words arsenokoitai and malakos in 1Cor 6. No record exists of why they thought this word appropriate for the task but subsequent translations tended to follow suit and began to use it for other Greek and Hebrew words or phrases. At the time in most of the States same-sex relationships were a criminal offence, treated as a mental illness and widely condemned as morally degenerate. And this, only a few years after the Nazis had castrated or killed unknown numbers of ‘homosexuals’ in concentration camps. So this word entered bible useage within a wholly negative social context and with a current history of quite appalling violence. This word needed using with much more care – and it still does.

          • Just because a particular word was used at a particular date, why are you illegitimately deriving from that the idea that the concept was previously absent? It certainly was not. The concept is a simple and ubiquitous one: one who characteristically and endemically desires sexual congress with their own gender.

          • ‘why are you illegitimately deriving from that the idea that the concept was previously absent?’ I am not actually. My point is that words do not mean the same thing, or express the same thing or accurately translate the same thing everywhere and at all times.

          • They certainly don’t, yes. But if the concept of someone drawn sexually to their own gender is a concept of longstanding, as indeed it is, then the points made are invalidated.

          • ‘the concept of someone drawn sexually to their own gender is a concept of longstanding’. Of course it is. But in one time and place it may lead to stoning. In another time and place to blessing and marriage. My point, to repeat, is that this can be, and actually is, understood in very different ways – as our exchange here illustrates. That’s my lot here Christopher.

          • That has shifted the goalposts of the original discussion, which you seek to terminate unilaterally (on what superior authority? – after all, the issues remain live, so why avoid them?) within about 4 moves, as so often.

            The original discussion was about whether ‘homosexuality’ is present in the Bible texts. It is a word referring to a sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is the same thing as desire in a particular direction. Said desire does indeed appear in the Bible texts. Secondly, it is improbable (and indeed inaccurate) that such a basic concept never occurred to anyone before the 19th century. It is therefore not clear how the reference to the 19th century is relevant.

          • Christopher,

            Be pleased, not angry, if someone says they are not going to reply. You can then respond with a sharp question concerning the matter at issue.

            In which regard, I am suggesting that human sexuality is more fluid then either hardline ‘homosexuals’ or ‘heterosexuals’ like to think. Historic naval life and prisons show that men who ordinarily prefer women will resort to men if they cannot contain their lusts. Also it is not unusual for teenage boys to feel some confusion for a while. In the past they moved on and contracted marriages that seem to have been as happy as any, but today they are encouraged to go down a route that is medically more hazardous.

          • What a strange and judgmental response. I am avoiding nothing. I have been publishing, speaking on, exploring on this subject for years – including on these threads. I am terminate nothing here. Nor can I. You are entirely free to go on debating at length. I have offered a contribution here and have tried to politely clarify what I meant in response to you. I think I have got as far as I can and am happy to leave it there.

          • Christopher is talking nonsense. Suetonius could hardly have used a word which was invented by Karl Maria Kertbeny in the 19thC. (See also David’s comments below.) He must have used a word which Christopher interprets as meaning homosexual. Probably anachronistically.
            The invention of homosexuality pathologises sexuality in a new way. Foucault, whom I see mentioned above, argued that, far from being sexually repressed, the 19thC was obsessed with scientia sexualis
            St Paul could not have read Suetonius, nor (Kertbeny). Nor is it at all probable that St Paul knew anything of equal same-sex relationships.
            I am not an expert on this, so I refer you to Professor Helen King on this.
            Read her article on Pausanias and Agathon.

            Speaking of someone in the 3rd person and accusing them of speaking nonsense, when your own argument is weak and implausible is extremely rude.

          • Suetonius could hardly have used a word which was invented by Karl Maria Kertbeny in the 19thC. (See also David’s comments below.)

            Also he wouldn’t have been using English. But the question isn’t whether he used the precise word but whether the concept was known.

            He must have used a word which Christopher interprets as meaning homosexual. Probably anachronistically.

            Any evidence to back up that ‘probably’?

            Foucault, whom I see mentioned above, argued that, far from being sexually repressed, the 19thC was obsessed with scientia sexualis

            But Foucault was an abusive paedophile concerned with justifying his perversions, so we can hardly take his arguments on the subject as being impartial.

            Nor is it at all probable that St Paul knew anything of equal same-sex relationships.

            Why not? How do you know that Paul, for example, did not encounter, while in Corinth, perhaps, some same-sex couples? He might well have done.

          • If people say they are not going to reply, then

            (1) they are not interested in following a topic through to get at the truth of the matter

            (2) they consider themselves above their interlocutor, being the one who calls the shots on when we start and finish

            (3) are able to ‘pull out’ as soon as the first challenging question comes up.

            1-3 apply in spades when the point at which someone pulls out is after 2 short comments, after which they say they have said all they can(!). It is most confusing.

            The more we proceed, the more we refine, and the closer we get to truth. Which is what good people like.

      • Of course ‘scripture’ tells us that scripture is bound to be correct, useful, all of that. But it’s a very circular argument. Scripture is bound to say that. Isn’t it?

        I have no problem with people rejecting that, but ought they to call themselves Christians? We get the Virgin Birth and Resurrection of Jesus from scripture, after all, and if the latter is not true then our faith is in vain… O hang on, that’s scripture too…

        • We get the Virgin Birth […] from scripture

          I never thought to ask Mr Godsall if he believed in the virgin birth. We know he doesn’t believe that Jesus calmed the storm, and I’m still not sure whether he thinks the resurrection happened as he refuses to come clean on whether he thinks Jesus actually had his recorded post-resurrection chat with Thomas, even though he likes to quote it a lot.

          But perhaps Mr Godsall could state for the record whether he believes Jesus was born of a virgin, conceived without a male sperm, or whether he follows Herr Bultmann in thinking that no intelligent person in this day and age could possibly believe such a thing.

          • Hi S
            I am reading the bible in a year. Recently read nehemiah. This book always bothered me. Should it be better placed in the apocrypha I thought. Mainly because of his attitude to other men’s beards. Sometimes however being exasperated is understandable. Thumbs up.
            Ps am on a sort of holiday.

        • Anton: you might find it helpful to look at the section on ‘How do we hear God ‘ and especially scripture in the LLF document. Here is the link: pages 266 and 273 will help you with your questions.

          In terms of people believing various things, the Creeds are what will help you as the clearest statements. They begin ‘I believe…’ and ‘We believe…..’ with various clauses quite clearly expressed after that.

          The Church of England also has a webpage entitled ‘What we believe’ and you can see that here

          Hope this all helps you a little

          • Andrew,

            I asked only one question and that rhetorically, but p266 & p273 of LLF are title pages with nothing addressing the matter. Did you mean other pages?

            I read LLF when it was published (longer than the New Testament!) and I recited the Creed regularly in what was then my local parish church through the 1990s. I remain a believer in Jesus Christ and the truth of His scriptures. These have been under attack ever since Eve was asked “Did God really say…” in Genesis 3:1.

          • It’s the sections following the titles Anton.
            I’ve no idea what you mean when you claim that scriptures are under attack? I don’t have the first clue how that could be a *thing*. I understand the concept of people having different interpretations.
            It looks like you are claiming that Eve was an actual character and actually said those words you quote. Do you actually believe both of those things? Ian Paul is very conservative when it comes to scripture generally but would say that part of scripture is poetry rather than factual. (Which is not to say it doesn’t communicate what the writer believed).

          • It is not my aim to cause offence deliberately but I don’t believe you do not know what the phrase “the scriptures are under attack” mean. We have had bishops who have questioned the Virgin Birth and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. I have no problem with atheists outside the church, but those who take a salary from the faithful while peddling doubt are worthy of the sharpest words of Jesus.

            People certainly have different understandings of scripture, but that is not the same thing. Some of these understandings are complementary, some contradictory. Where they are contradictory, at least one of the opposed views is wrong.

            If you want poetry, look at the Psalms. In the genealogy of Jesus in Luke 3, if the early figures are not flesh-and-blood, how can they beget the later figures who are?

          • Anton: I’m sorry but I do not know what ‘the scriptures are under attack’ means. I understand what you say about people not believing particular scriptures. I don’t see that attacking them. Jesus was accused of not believing various of his scriptures by his own people. I don’t see him attacking them.

            You haven’t really answered my question about whether Eve was literally a real character as described in the Genesis narrative. I assume your appeal to a particular Genealogy means you do however. That approach to the Genealogies is also fraught with problems.

            And I wasn’t seeking poetry. I was making the point that even very conservative biblical scholars see the early Genesis narrative as poetic rather than literal. You are free to disagree. You simply enhance the point made by LLF that there are a whole range of approaches to the scriptures within the Anglican tradition, even though you now say you are outside of that tradition yourself.

          • Yes I affirm that I believe Eve was a single flesh-and-blood human female. Now please answer my question: how can the genealogy in Luke 3 run between flesh-and-blood figures 21 centuries ago and supposedly mythological ones much farther back, ie how can the latter beget the former?

          • To believe that you would need to believe that the genealogies are accurate. If you believe that,….How would you explain the radical differences between Luke and Matthews genealogies?

          • To believe that you would need to believe that the genealogies are accurate.

            As we’re on the subject of genealogies, do you believe in the virgin birth?

          • Andrew,

            For two reasons. A family tree running backwards in time from an individual is a 2-dimensional entity: the individual of interest has two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, etc (although you will start finding some people appearing more than once, the farther back you go). A lineage, in contrast, is a 1-dimensional entity which arises by making a choice of the mother or the father at each generational step backwards in time. Matthew and Luke are free to make differing choices of which lineage to pick out of the tree. Also, ‘begat’ does not necessarily mean “is the genetic father or mother of”; there may be generational gaps, for it is legitimate to say that my paternal/maternal grandfather begat me without any mention of my father/mother.

            Please now answer my question: if you consider the earliest figures in at least one of these genealogies not to be flesh-and-blood, how can they beget the flesh-and-blood figures who appear in these genealogies 21 centuries ago?

          • They can’t Anton. That’s rather the point. Welcome to the fascinating world of biblical criticism.
            And you can’t reconcile the genealogies in that way.
            (S will tell you that the genealogies are simply scene setting and not intended to be accurate. )
            You then have to decide where in the Hebrew bible myth becomes fact.
            And you then have to decide if scholars like Marcus Borg (and many others) are right about the genealogies.

            What you sometimes have to say is ‘I believe. Lord, help my unbelief’

          • And you then have to decide if scholars like Marcus Borg (and many others) are right about the genealogies.

            Marcus Borg, according to you, was not a Christian. You have said a Christian is someone who believes in the creeds; the creeds affirm the virgin birth; Marcus Borg denied the virgin birth.

            Do you believe in the virgin birth or do you, like Marcus Borg, deny the virgin birth (and therefore by your own definition are not a Christian)?

          • I could request a proof that the two genealogies cannot be reconciled by the means I have explained, for this is purely a matter of applied logic; but I infer that you consider the Bible factually wrong somewhere about who begat whom. This makes me wonder what else in it you consider it factually wrong – or, to paraphrase those whom you quote, a myth that does not correspond to material fact. Do you believe that the Virgin Birth is not material truth? Or the Resurrection? Please include in any reply a Yes or No regarding each. If you do believe that these are material truth but the genealogies are not, what is your hermeneutic for deciding which ‘myths’ correspond to material truths and which do not?

          • Do you believe that the Virgin Birth is not material truth? Or the Resurrection? Please include in any reply a Yes or No regarding each.

            Best of luck to you…

          • Anton: I have said many times before that I do not need to cross my fingers at all when I say the creeds. So that would be yes to both.
            I regard the creation story as mythological, as do the majority of Christians, I have explained that even conservative biblical scholars like Ian Paul regard the creation story as mythological.
            You can’t apply logic to the genealogies and believe that Christ had no earthly biological father. The only logical genealogy is the one that John adopts.

          • Oh and hermeneutic:
            Anglicans, however, do agree that their beliefs and practices, their authority, derive from an integration of Scripture (the Holy Bible), Reason (the intellect and the experience of God) and Tradition (the practices and beliefs of the historical church).

          • So that would be yes to both.

            Yes you believe in the virgin birth? So you think Marcus Borg was wrong about that then?

            How do you square that with your belief that God is incapable of affecting the operation of natural forces? Surely a God who can cause the generation of an embryo without the action of a sperm would be easily capable of the manipulation of air currents required to calm a storm. But you have stated before that don’t believe that God can calm a storm.

            How do you reconcile those two apparently contradictory positions?

          • Please explain how your hermeneutic causes you to decide that Jesus really was born of a virgin and really was resurrected but Eve never existed except as a mythical character. I might add that Jesus and the apostle Paul seemed to think Adam was flesh and blood.

          • I’ve explained my hermeneutic Anton. Scripture, tradition, reason. It’s part of the tradition since the earliest times to believe in the virgin birth and the resurrection. The virgin birth is only tangentially scriptural. Tradition has seen the Genesis narrative as mythological.
            How do you equate the genealogies which you describe as being logical, with a person who had no earthly father.

          • It’s part of the tradition since the earliest times to believe in the virgin birth and the resurrection.

            It’s also part of the tradition since the earliest times to believe in miracles like Jesus calming the storm, but you’ve been explicit that you don’t believe in that because you don’t think God can affect natural forces.

            So again: how do you square the virgin birth with your disbelief in miracles?

            You mentioned elsewhere on this page Marcus Borg; Borg was explicit that he didn’t believe in the virgin birth. Do you think he was wrong about that? Do you think that, therefore, Borg was not a Christian (because he didn’t believe in the creeds)?

            You have also on another page referred approvingly to Bultmann. Bultmann also denied the virgin birth. Do you think Bultmann was wrong about that? If so, is that not fatal for the whole ‘demythologisation’ project? After all, if Jesus really was born of a virgin, then that’s at least one actual miracle that cannot be ‘demythologised’, isn’t it?

          • You have said that you use scripture, tradition and reason to decide that Jesus is a real flesh-and-blood figure but Adam and Eve aren’t, but you have not said how. Please do so.

            Do Jesus and Paul take Adam to be a real flesh and blood figure?

            In anser to your own question, are you perhaps forgetting that Matthew’s genealogy terminates as follows: “Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah” and Luke’s begins “Jesus was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli…”?

          • Anton: who was present to witness the creation of Adam and Eve. Indeed, who was there to witness the creation of anything that Genesis reports? Reason does not suggest that anything reported in that early part of Genesis could possibly have been witnessed. The creation narrative is mythological.
            The birth and life of Jesus were quite different matters. We have witnesses.

            Full marks to Luke for his parentheses but the rest of his genealogy traces Jesus back through his (as was thought) father. The genealogies are not intended to be accurate.

            I think we have gone as far in this exchange as we can. But thank you!

          • Who was present in the Garden of Eden to record what was said? God, of course – the same witness to the creation of the universe in the preceding narrative, and who made sure that the earthly author of the earliest parts of Genesis knew what had happened. To call it myth is to take an anthropocentric view of the one book that tells things God’s way.

        • Anton: the LLF document has some really useful things to say about Scripture and it’s well worth looking those up.
          As to belief: the Creeds are a summary of what we believe. Subscribing to those creeds is what puts Christians in a particular tradition of whether they are Christians. Oh, and following Jesus Christ of course!
          The Church of England has a useful page on ‘What we believe’ here.

          • As to belief: the Creeds are a summary of what we believe.

            The virgin birth is part of both the Apostole’s Creed and the Nicene Creed. Do you believe in the virgin birth?

  18. I respect, though I profoundly disagree, with commentators arguing for a change in official teaching on SSM, et al. If they are sincerely convinced that they are right, and believe that God’s will is for change then they can and should agitate for that change, vociferously even, as to do otherwise would be intellectually dishonest and unfaithful.

    What I cannot respect however, is the notion that what’s being asked for does not constitute change in any way, or a significant deviation from an/the established understanding.

    Granted, the CofE does not have a single doctrinal statement along the lines of the Catholic CCC*, easily referencable and binding on all of it’s clergy (under threat of sanction). But what is the canon law of the CofE, the 39 articles and the declaration of assent, the BCP and the liturgy if not the nearest comparable things to this?

    I genuinely can’t understand being able to view these things as some sort of optional ecclesiastical guidebook with plenty of room for detours..

    To put it bluntly, if the CofE has nothing, no gold-standard, no higher authority to which people can appeal to settle matters of internal dispute then what are you all even doing!? Any attempt at unity is both pointless and functionally impossible! If the only binding authority is scripture itself (and even that seems debatable for some) then go and join a free/independent church, you’ll have a much easier and more productive time of it.


    • Mat: to quote directly from the Anglican Communion website


      “An important caveat is about this question is that if you ask three Anglicans about doctrine you’ll get five different answers! Anglicanism’s greatest strength – its willingness to tolerate a wide variety in Anglican faith and lifestyle – is also the thing that provokes the most debate among its practitioners.

      Anglicans, however, do agree that their beliefs and practices, their authority, derive from an integration of Scripture (the Holy Bible), Reason (the intellect and the experience of God) and Tradition (the practices and beliefs of the historical church). This ‘three-legged stool’ is said to demonstrate a ‘balance’ in the Anglican approach to faith contrasting it with Roman Catholic and the Protestant doctrines. The term via media when used in reference to the Anglican tradition generally refers to the idea that Anglicanism represents a middle way between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism.

      Rather than saying Anglicanism is Protestant – like Lutheranism or Calvinism – rather it would be more accurate to say it is catholic (believing it is still part of God’s one Church and having bishops as Church leaders) but reformed (in that it shares the principles of other Christian Churches that broke away from the Roman Catholic Church in 16th Century) in what has become known as the Protestant Reformation.“

      The gold standard you seek is surely the Creeds?
      In terms of settling internal disputes – we have an extremely useful model in what happened with our dispute about the ordination of women. The five guiding principles which emerged at the end of that debate show how the dispute was resolved. As you saw at the time, people were able to argue *from scripture* that it was against the word of God to go ahead with that innovation. Their position was acknowledged and they are never forced to accept the ministry of a woman.
      So – what you are asking for can be done.

    • It all boils down to priestcraft. Some, whatever their belief or lifestyle, deeply feel that to have a priest perform rituals adds legitimacy to their chosen way of living. A good example is found in Judges. To me the paradox is that liberals need priests.
      And do I care?
      Time I took my leave.

  19. People love to claim that Jesus never spoke on homesexuality, only Paul, but scripture is clear, Jesus came to fulfill the law, not to abolish it, and Jesus was against any and all sexual immorality. Jesus obeyed the voice of the Father; that was all he was about. He was certainly not about his own human needs and desires. If he was, he would have never died to save us all. We are called to lay down our lives, as he did.
    And as another single friend of mine pointed out, “why should they be allowed to have sex and we can’t?” If we begin to make exceptions for gay relationships, then we have to abolish all of the rules against sex outside of marriage…fornication, affairs, and so on. This is clearly not what God intended.
    I’d also like to point out that God’s rules are there to protect us. Didn’t syphilis come from sex with sheep? And as a single woman, as far as sex goes, I have learned the hard way that God is always right. He did not tell me not to have sex to hurt me, or to keep some pleasure from me, but to protect me. Because sex, outside of God’s commands, like all sin, parades as an angel of light to lure one in, but then grows into something horrific intended by Satan to devour you. We are called to be Holy. We are called to be pure. We are called to be living sacrifices. We were not called here to fulfill any and all human passions and desires. All chaos will break out if we ignore God’s laws.
    And as far as the Gentiles go, God always grafted people in. Strangers were always allowed to join God’s people so long as they shared a scriptural belief, i.e. converted, there were people in Jesus’ own geological line who were not Jewish from the start, aka Rahab, Ruth…so God pointed to all of humanity being allowed to be saved through Jesus’ sacrifice if they, we, believe, from the beginning. And that is no surprise. He created us all in his image. So the gentile being grafted in was always nothing new, but part of God’s ultimate plan for humanity from the start.

  20. The most natural explanations for diversity of opinion are wishful thinking and incomplete understanding. Good disagreement seeks to make a virtue of these. But it is clear that neither is a virtue. Therein lies the flaw.


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