Is ‘Living in Love and Faith’ just a way to force compromise?

Andrew Goddard writes: This is the second of three articles exploring responses to Living in Love and Faith, particularly among evangelicals committed to the current teaching and discipline of the church. The first piece engaged with the recent detailed account and critique of LLF offered by Martin Davie arguing that his primary objection is that LLF fails because it was wrong to do what it set out to do. A final article will offer ten questions that might help constructive engagement with the LLF resources.

A common evangelical critique of LLF is that its approach is intended to lead the church to a position where a diversity of different viewpoints are recognised as legitimate and we simply “agree to differ” rather than maintaining current teaching. This article argues that while this could be the outcome of LLF and is what some involved hope it will achieve it is not fair to portray this as the rationale behind LLF or the only possible outcome from working with its resources. Instead LLF tries to identify where and why we differ and asks us to consider how significant these differences are and their consequent implications for our life together. Drawing extensively on the LLF book, the article highlights seven areas where important disagreements are identified and shown to be related to our differences over presenting issues regarding identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage. These seven areas have in the past often not been considered seriously in our conversations and debates and this can lead to us talking past each other or misrepresenting one another’s views. It then summarises the book’s proposal of 3 levels of disagreement which need to be considered in relation to these various disagreements. From this perspective, LLF’s account can enable a more fruitful discussion of these matters but also shows us the theological and practical challenges we face if we are to maintain our current degrees of communion with one another. These challenges arise because of the range and depth of our theological differences and their practical implications in relation to the patterns of holy living that the church should commend.

The eight areas of disagreement are:

  1. Gender identity in relation to creation and the fall
  2. Diversity
  3. Sin
  4. Repentance, dignity and equality
  5. Inclusion and exclusion
  6. Culture and mission
  7. Scripture
  8. Levels of disagreement and conscience

In my earlier article I explored Martin Davie’s recent critique of the LLF book and in particular how much of it arose from his belief that the LLF process should have delivered something quite different – a clear, unambiguous restatement of current church teaching and refutation of alternative views. Under the surface here, but very much above the surface elsewhere, is a concern among many who support current teaching that the failure to approach the question in the manner Martin recommends has a reason: LLF is designed in order to lead the church to abandon that current church teaching and its outworking in pastoral and liturgical practice and the disciplines expected of its leaders. In particular, the belief is often expressed that LLF paves the way for the church formally to permit and authorise doctrine and practice which it has, throughout its history, rejected. Martin claims that “The issues of what church political agenda may underly LLF, and what theological understanding of the nature of the Church of England this agenda reflects, fall outside the scope” of his book (Living in Love and Faith: A Biblical Response, 63, n4) but earlier highlights these concerns:

The danger of a rightly charitable methodology – presenting viewpoints in their best light and ensuring a tone of ‘good disagreement’ – is that it can lead to a naive optimism that awkward, angular disagreements of theology and practice can somehow be dissolved. There can also lie some wishful thinking that disagreements can be softened through giving space for patient listening to the ‘other side’ and through helping people to be less wedded to their own personal convictions. If the wishful thinking comes to pass, then the ‘best outcome’ from those who desire consensus is to drive the church towards a dissolution of its biblical convictions (Living in Love and Faith: A Biblical Response, 61).

Others are more blunt. In the starker words of a recent review of another of Martin’s publications: “it seems clear that the whole process of LLF discussions and its material is aimed at coming to the pre-programmed conclusion ‘let’s graciously agree to disagree’”.

It cannot be denied that some of those involved in LLF believe the Church of England must follow such a path and that there is some urgency for it to do so. However, I can honestly and wholeheartedly say, that I do not believe that this is in any sense the “pre-programmed conclusion” or the intended purpose or the inevitable outcome of the LLF materials and process. In fact, there is much within the book and wider LLF resources that highlights the reasons why, far from being the simple and obvious outcome to our disagreements, there are major problems with such a next step.

For me one of the features of my involvement in LLF was that it brought to light and articulated not only where we have much in common across our differences but also both the breadth and the depth of the disagreements that are connected with our disagreements in relation to identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage. Far from attempting to paper over the cracks by minimising our differences or presenting them as simply alternative readings of a small number of biblical texts, the LLF book (and the course based on it) draw attention to a range of disagreements and require us to consider their potential implications for our life together. In the words of the bishops right at the start of the book – “The roots of these disagreements relate to Scripture, doctrine, ethics and the nature of the Church, including the Church of England” (LLF Book, 1). This is quite a significant list!

Because the discussion of these differences is scattered throughout the LLF book and other materials, they are easily missed and even Martin Davie’s book-length response largely ignores them. It is therefore worth drawing them together and highlighting a number of the key statements and discussions. These are significant because, as noted earlier, one of the aims of LLF is to help us identify our agreements and our differences and so consider them, and their implications, better. The LLF materials do not seek to decide between these differences or to propose an alternative to them. What they do is articulate a general agreement about where key differences are to be found. In addition, to varying degrees, this agreement on where we differ also helps to explain, perhaps even agree on, the reasons why we disagree on some key issues in relation to identity, sexuality, marriage and relationships.

1. Gender Identity and Transgender: Creation & Fall

One of the areas which appears early on in both the book and the course and where differences proved perhaps most difficult in producing the LFF materials was in relation to gender identity and transgender. This in part perhaps arises from the fact that Christians – like wider society – are still struggling to understand these realities and the various experiences of people who identify as trans. It was the one place where even what words we were to use became a major struggle within the LLF team. This is briefly captured in the course where both the booklet and the graphic in the video highlight that “Language in this area is controversial” (LLF Course, 24). The book explains this in more detail:

The second aspect of identity that we want to explore is gender. Before going any further, however, it is important to recognize that almost every part of the discussion below is controversial. There is no neutral terminology available. Every way of talking about this material is ‘theory-laden’: it assumes a particular way of understanding the subject matter. We have therefore had to make choices. We have chosen to use a set of terms and distinctions that are used in many scientific and academic discussions in this area, and that are important to many trans people (that is, people who identify as transgender – see below). They are regarded by many trans people as necessary to do justice to their experience, and as avoiding assumptions that are seen as discriminatory. There are, nevertheless, serious discussions about many of these terms and distinctions. Some in the church, and in wider society, defend them; others dispute the understandings of gender that they appear to assume. We will highlight some of the questions this raises along the way, and return to them later in the book. We don’t want the choices we have made in this section to pre-empt those discussions (LLF Book, 92).

Although particularly difficult in relation to gender identity, as recent events in ACNA have illustrated (which I’ve discussed here) there are similar disagreements among traditionalists in relation to terminology concerning sexual orientation. The LLF materials do not address this other than noting “Some prefer not to use the language of ‘orientation’ or to describe it as a matter of identity, speaking instead about being ‘same-sex attracted’” (LLF Course, 25; see also the book’s “Note to the reader”, xi).

One factor in these differences is different understandings about the phenomena being discussed. This is why the passage quoted above had to be included even in the more descriptive Section Two of the book before we get to Christian understandings. However, another more serious problem relates to theological interpretation and evaluation of the phenomena. Central here is the Christian understanding of both the goodness of God’s creation and all humans within it and also the reality that we do not experience ourselves or creation as wholly good due to the Fall and human sin. This reality is why the gospel we have received is a gospel of redemption, salvation, recreation, transformation. In the words of session 2 of the course:

The creation story speaks of the God-given diversity of creation. Human beings, too, display this wonderful diversity. Each of us is unique. Our bodies, personalities and abilities differ. Yet each of us is created and loved by God. We echo that love when we love one another in all our diversity. We fail to echo that love when we deny that diversity or treat others as inferior.

Some of the differences between human beings are not matters to celebrate, however, but are fractures or distortions. The difficulty is that, in the Church, we disagree about how this applies to sexuality and gender. What some see as God-given diversity, others may see as forms of brokenness (Course, 20, italics added).

2. Diversity

That contrast between “God-given diversity” and “forms of brokenness” signals what a significant difference this is not just theologically (in terms of different understandings of Creation and Fall) but pastorally, existentially and practically. Diversity, and “the heart of sharp Christian disagreements in this area” is explored in some detail in Chapter 10 of the book which looks at being human (Book, 197-201). After noting areas of agreement in relation to the diversity in God’s good creation and the fact that we are all broken and sinful, it is noted that “We live in a world broken by sin – and many Christians hold that some of the variety of the human body and experience in the areas of sexuality and gender is a result of this breaking” (198). This view has “deep roots in Christian thinking, and it plays a central role in the church’s disagreements about gender and sexuality” but it is also “a claim that many will find profoundly upsetting and offensive” (199). This difference underlies some of the major challenges we face in creating braver, safer spaces to discuss together across our differences.

In relation to what it means to be human, although there are many important areas of agreement, as LFF explores, there are also “deep disagreements about whether certain aspects of human experience, in the areas of gender and sexuality, are to be viewed as reflecting the goodness and God-given diversity of humans as created in God’s image, or as marks of the brokenness of that created image which God is working to restore” (217). Here is one of the deeper differences that makes simply “agreeing to differ” far from simple: how is it possible for a church to say it accepts both of these views as legitimate and the basis for its teaching and ministry?

This raises the question of our differences in relation to sin…

3. Sin

The book explores sin later in its discussion in Chapter 10 about being human and it helpfully does so within the context of our redemption from sin through dying and rising with Christ. It is quite clear about the seriousness of sin:

the very fact that God is love means that God stands implacably against all that rejects and betrays that love. The same God who is said in Scripture to be love is also said to be judge – and God is judge because God is love. God is not indifferent to our distortions, rebellions and betrayals. God’s face is set against them; God’s wrath burns against them. All of human life takes place against this horizon of God’s judgement (Book, 212)

Later it warns that we can “fail to take sin seriously” and that “We can be squeamish about what the Bible says about God’s wrath and judgement, failing to take seriously the way in which God stands against sin, and God’s promise that, ultimately, it will be given no place, no footing, in the new creation” (215).

It also notes that Christians today – like Scripture and Christians in the past – understand the nature of sin in various ways. In another section of the book which was frequently amended in consecutive drafts because of its importance, complexity and diversity of views it sought to represent, this is illustrated (212-4) with no less than ten interrelated summaries of what is meant by sin. The challenge – and a contributory factor to some of the specific differences in relation to identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage – is that we have different ways of understanding and connecting these different conceptions of sin. So…

Some, for instance, see talk of the ‘God-given ordering of creation’ as another way of saying that God made human beings for love, and that we become who we were meant to be by the right ordering of our love. For others, it is a way of saying that we need to follow all the instructions of the one who made us and our world, and not just those that focus on love, if we are to flourish, live well, and become the creatures that God intends us to be (214).

After helpfully drawing attention to seven different ways in which we need to take care in how we speak about sin (214–5), the book notes that across our differences there is agreement that:

Christians are called to bring all that they are to the journey of discipleship. For each person, and each community, that will involve challenge and transformation, the conviction of sin and repentance. Following Jesus does not leave us as we are. This is as true in the areas of identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage as it is in any other area of our lives – but the question we still have to ask is how exactly this drama of sin and salvation plays out in these areas (216, italics added).

4. Repentance, Dignity and Equality

The agreement on the need for repentance leads into major disagreements over what shape that repentance should take. In particular, whether some calls to repent represent a rejection of the central Christian belief in the equal dignity of all people made in God’s image. Here again the book explores the importance of dignity in some detail in a discussion which has been warmly welcomed by Marcus Green (part of the LLF team) and other LGBT Christians. It then notes that while the current teaching of the church affirms this alongside a traditional sexual ethic, there is disagreement about whether this position is theologically coherent or lacks integrity:

One of the areas in which there is disagreement in the Church of England, however, is in the relationship between the two sides of this claim: the call for all to repent and be transformed, and the equal valuing of all people as the objects of God’s love. For instance, you may recall from Chapter 7 that the 1991 report Issues in Human Sexuality claimed both that ‘Homosexual people are in every way as valuable to and as valued by God as heterosexual people’ and that ‘Homophile orientation and its expression in sexual activity do not constitute a parallel and alternative form of human sexuality as complete within the terms of the created order as the heterosexual’.

For some, there is an irreconcilable tension here: homosexual people are told that they are of equal dignity, and yet that there is something incomplete about them compared to heterosexual people, and that they are excluded from a whole realm of intimate relationships that are open to (and highly valued by) others. Many lesbians, gays, bisexuals and others have experienced this as a relegation to second-class status and as a denial that they can belong as fully as others to the body of Christ. Others agree with the report that both of these principles need to be upheld and that they cohere. Any person is as valuable to and as valued by God as any other, no matter what they desire or do, but some patterns of human desire – here sexual orientations – and some forms of human conduct – here patterns of sexual behaviour – are more in tune with God’s purposes for human beings than others (196).

5. Inclusion and Exclusion

These differences in our understanding concerning what it means to be human then have important consequences for our understanding and practice concerning what it means to be church. This is the focus of the next chapter (Chapter 11) of the book. In particular, the consequences relate to one of the key terms used in relation to the sort of church we seek to be, captured in the Archbishops’ commitment, at the start of the LLF process, to “a radical Christian inclusion” which is referred to at the start of the focussed discussion of this (223, also see their Foreword, especially vii).

The main discussion on this in the book is – perhaps surprisingly – entitled “Inclusion and Exclusion” (223–30) as it became clear to us as we worked together that there is, “an unavoidable negotiation of inclusion and exclusion in the life of the Church of England” (226). This arises because “To be welcomed into the Church is to be welcomed into a community devoted to the pursuit of a distinctive pattern of life together…it is clear from the New Testament that the Church’s devotion to this distinctive way of life – to a life that embodies and communicates God’s abundant and holy life – can lead to some forms of exclusion” (223).

The disagreements noted above are therefore not simply intellectual, theological debates. They have a significant, practical impact on our common life together and thus our patterns of communion. They do so because although we can all “agree that the Church ought to be a community where everyone is welcomed. No one should be made to feel excluded simply because of who they are…The Church should be a community of mercy….The Church should be a community of grace…” (228)

we disagree about the patterns of behaviour that are consistent with this community’s calling. We disagree, therefore, about the kinds of change called for from the people who are welcomed into this community. We disagree about what it would look like for someone to work persistently against the life to which this community is called. (228).

The reason why simply saying “we agree to disagree” is difficult (and further evidence that LLF is not simply advocating this) is summed up in the acknowledgment that we are having to answer questions such as “what is compatible, and what is incompatible, with the life of Christ’s body? How are we to discern what is holy – what embodies and communicates the loving kindness of God?” (229). In other words,

How is the Church of England to handle deep disagreements about these matters – disagreements about which forms of life are to be commended as holy and fitting for those in Christ, and which named as sins from which one needs to seek God’s grace and power to turn away? (229).

This again highlights the theological and practical significance and depth of these disagreements and the difficulty of simply saying we can accept incompatible views as able to be officially approved by the church. This is because these differences, when brought together with those discussed above, lead to very different practices and experiences in relation to our life together:

If I have transitioned, and have experienced that as a deep liberation, and a church says, ‘You are welcome here, but your involvement will be limited while you still live as a man’, I am very unlikely to agree that the Church is actually willing to welcome me as the person I believe myself to be. Or suppose I am a lesbian in a long-term relationship, and a church says, ‘You are welcome, but you won’t be eligible for a role in leadership while you are still in that relationship – or at least whilst it is sexually active.’ I am very likely to experience this as another form of rejection and exclusion, especially if I notice that no such questions about sexual activity are asked of my straight friends, and that nobody criticizes those friends when they say how central those relationships are to their identity and their well-being.

Yet for those of us who do believe sexual relationships between people of the same sex are sinful, or that transitioning gender is a rejection of God’s good intention for us, the making of distinctions like this is unavoidable. It is a normal and necessary feature of the welcome that the Church extends to all. If the Church is understood as the community of those who follow the way of Christ, and if that way truly is incompatible with these behaviours, then it is necessary at some point to communicate that such ways of life are sinful and subject to God’s judgement. That means communicating God’s call to repentance as the means of being fully included in the life and ministry of the Church (228-9).

These very different patterns of inclusion and exclusion within church life are already being lived out within the Church of England as is made evident from the story films produced by LLF. Different forms of this are, for example, briefly mentioned in the two stories of same-sex couples within the course. In session 3, in the story of Julie and Alice we see two women who cannot marry in the church and one of whom was not able to train for ordination but is able to serve as a licensed lay minister. In session 4, in the story of Gerhard and Andrew we see a couple who had a service in Keele Chapel after their civil marriage but one of whom had to step down from leading a home group in their local parish because of their same-sex marriage. It is far from clear that seeking to combine different understandings of inclusion and exclusion in these practical ways has theological coherence, ecclesial integrity, widespread support, or pastoral justification. It is also far from clear how simply saying “we agree to disagree” overcomes or avoids such problems.

6. Culture & Mission

The implications of our disagreements about these areas arise not only in relation to the internal life of the church but also in relation to the church’s mission in the world and response to developments in wider society. Although not as fully explored in LLF, their existence and potential significance – and the feedback from this into the life of the church – is explored when LLF considers how we might listen to hear God’s call in wider culture (Chpt 16, especially 348ff). The problem is that sometimes Christians “hear God calling them to challenge something they believe to be wrong in the cultures around them” while sometimes “a challenge from outside the Church, or a Christian’s involvement in practices or movements beyond the Church, can send Christians to look again at their Scriptures, to look again at Christ, and to see with new eyes a distortion within the life of the church” (349). The difficulties arise when – as appears to be the case in relation to affirmation of same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage and gender transition – these opposing interpretations arise among Christians in relation to the same area of life. It is here worth quoting the discussion in the LLF book at some length as it sets out how great a challenge this can be to the unity of the church and how hard it is simply to “agree to disagree”:

Disagreements of this form can present even greater challenges for maintaining communion. They often lead to appeals to reorder our common life together in Christ. Those pressing for this change will understand the call to be generated by a discernment of the Spirit, blowing wherever the Spirit wills, drawing us in surprising ways deeper into the teaching of Jesus. For those Christians who disagree, it can appear that what is being proposed amounts to being blown this way and that by the winds of the prevailing culture.

These tensions can at times be heightened when the critiques are understood (or simply strongly felt) by some Christians to relate to matters which are central to the gospel and Christian identity. It might be that some well-ingrained habit of Christian speech or practice that Christians have thought part of the whole package of being Christian is now being identified by some as something not actually required by the gospel, or even as something opposed to the gospel. It might be that hallowed aspects of the church’s fellowship, liturgies, or ways of reading the Bible have been found to be at fault and to be obscuring rather than communicating the good news of God’s love in Christ.

The most serious difficulties arise when some people hear God calling them to make changes within their church in order to be faithful to the gospel, but those changes cannot be recognized by other Christians as consonant with what God has said in Christ and Scripture. Those other Christians might even view the proposed changes as implying a different gospel. This perspective may arise from Christians living in the same culture and wrestling with the same questions. It is even more likely to be the reaction of those living in very different cultures who may interpret what is happening as amounting to a capitulation of the church to the surrounding world (349–50).

7. Scripture

The references to looking again at Scripture, ways of reading the Bible, and the need for consonance with what God has said in Scripture point to another form of disagreement which seems to be particularly significant in understanding and seeking to address our differences in relation to identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage: the nature and authority of Scripture.

This area is explored in some detail (which cannot be done justice here) in Chpt 13 of the book. This is the first and longest chapter in Section Four which asks “How do we hear God?”. The church’s traditional understanding of Scripture’s teaching is summed up in the fourth session of the course with the statements that “The Bible speaks only about marriage between men and women, and takes for granted the connection between sex and procreation. It calls for unmarried people to remain celibate” (Course, 48). In relation to sin, the course also notes in session 3 that “For Paul, sexual immorality is a serious matter: ‘whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body’ (1 Corinthians 6.18)” (35). This needs to be related to an important area in which, over-arching our differences, LLF was able to propose a deep agreement about Scripture – that “God uses the Bible to draw us into holiness” (Book, 276). This – which is placed alongside the equally important and significant agreement that “God uses the Bible to witness to the saving work that reaches its fulfilment in Jesus” (276) – is vitally important because, “God’s great purpose is that we ‘may share [in] his holiness’ (Hebrews 12.10), ‘the holiness without which no one will see the Lord’ (Hebrews 12.14)” (276). To disagree about holiness and what the Bible teaches on holiness is therefore serious if drawing us into holiness is one of the two great aims of Scripture on which we are agreed. Indeed, it could be argued, on the basis of LLF’s account, that disagreements about this are therefore similar in significance (at least in principle) to disagreements over what Scripture says about God’s saving work.

To understand why, despite our agreements about God’s purposes in giving us Scripture, we nevertheless do disagree about issues concerning identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage, we need to acknowledge our differences about how we see God speaking to us in and through Scripture. This is another major criticism of Martin Davie who claims that “The LLF book lacks clarity about the nature and authority of the Bible”. This is because he thinks that in setting out a spectrum of seven different views (which it does on pp. 295-7 as part of a wider discussion, from what would be crudely labelled more “conservative” to more “liberal”) it allegedly “does not reach any overall conclusion, leaving the reader with the impression that any of the approaches mentioned might be acceptable”. The book does though offer a guide to “evaluating the voices” (297-302), refers to “deep disagreements” (302-3), and explores how the spectrum of views relates to “The Church of England’s position” (306-8).

In this discussion it rules that the two extremes are “beyond the mainstream of the church’s conversation about the Bible’s authority and purpose” (298). It does this on the basis of their seeming denial of either the human (view 1) or divine (view 7) contribution to Scripture. It also notes that, for all that the others share in common, “the disagreements between them are serious. Each may think that one or more of the others is in serious error: that they have mistaken what the Bible is, misunderstood what it says about itself, and failed to recognize in it God’s true purpose” (299). In particular it sees a significant step being taken between view 4 and view 5 not least because from view 5 onwards it is argued that “the Bible can teach us not to follow something that looks like a clear biblical teaching” (307). Martin Davie sees the more significant step being taken with view 4 when he claims that “in the end only the first three approaches it outlines are compatible with historic position of the Christian Church, rooted in the teaching of Jesus’ himself”.

Although LLF does not (for the reasons noted in my earlier response to Martin’s critique) make a similar judgment as to whether and if so where such an important line can be drawn it does make clear that the discussion is not just about personal views all of which we can see as acceptable. We also “need to ask whether there are limits to the approaches to the Bible that should be allowed to shape the teaching and practice of the Church of England” (306) in the light of its canons and the formularies which they point to as key, under Scripture, for determining church doctrine. It asks (recognising the view Martin articulates), “Does the official teaching of the church rule out the approaches advocated by these speakers –speaker 6, possibly speaker 5, and maybe even speaker 4…?” (307). Here, rather than criticising LLF for not being as clear and determinative as some might like, it would be better to welcome its realism and honesty. It creates the opportunity to engage with these key deeper questions about the nature of Scripture and its authority in relation to the teaching of the Church of England. It raises the question as to whether or not the Articles and Canon A5 are being rejected by many (though not all) of those pressing for change in relation to sexuality. As LLF notes, these are not new questions and the differences captured across the spectrum of 7 views have proven impossible to resolve. One the challenges we face is that these irresolvable differences are a major factor in creating irresolvable differences on the presenting issues which are the focus of LLF.

The importance of these differences for questions concerning how we determine our response to same-sex relationships in the light of Scripture is succinctly captured in the questions raised against the traditional teaching in Session 4 of the course:

For some decades, however, increasing numbers of Christians, including Anglicans, have offered alternative readings of Scripture. Do these texts only condemn abusive or predatory relationships, not faithful, committed same-sex relationships? Whatever their original meaning, can we still apply them today? Do they not arise arise from pre-scientific and outdated understandings of human sexuality and very different cultures (with, for example, no biblical words directly equivalent to ‘homosexual’ or ‘same-sex’)? Does the fundamental biblical message of love not override these prohibitions and call for affirmation of loving, committed same-sex relationships? (Course, 49).

The first of these raises questions about what the text refers to when read in context. A rejection of traditional teaching on these grounds would, in principle, be consistent with more conservative views higher up the spectrum set out in the book. The other questions, however, are open to rejecting the original meaning of the texts by an appeal either to superior understanding on our part or to the fundamental message of Scripture which overrides the texts. These approaches depend on accepting views of Scripture found among speakers 5 to 7, views which, LLF recognises, some Anglicans not only reject but see as ruled out by the Church of England’s official teaching.

LLF acknowledges that it has sought to describe but not resolve the “multiple forms of disagreement” that are found in relation to different approaches to Scripture (308). It is also clear that “recognizing how intractable these disagreements are does not mean that they are not serious, or that we can simply give up on the task of evaluation” (302-3). But just how serious are these disagreements about Scripture and the other disagreements we’ve outlined? And how do we think about this question and its implications? This leads to the final area where LLF makes an important contribution…

8. Levels of Disagreement & Conscience

In session 5 of the course, and in Scene Four of the conversations of Part 5 of the book (405-12) questions are explored concerning our life together given our disagreements. The course offers a summary of the more detailed discussion found in the book (Chpt 11, 230-4) which is itself a summary of the much more extensive analysis found in the earlier work of the Faith and Order Commission published in Communion and Disagreement and discussed in supporting papers. Here three different categories are proposed which the course sums up as follows:

It can help to think of three broad types of disagreement. In the first kind, some Christians warn others they’re contradicting the good news of Jesus or the Bible’s teaching. In the second, the differences are seen as less serious, but still sharp enough to make living and working together as one church difficult, perhaps impossible. In the third, Christians still view each other as wrong, but accept this as a diversity that can be held within a church’s shared life (Course, 58).

LLF, in setting out the various areas we’ve discussed where we find ourselves disagreeing, is asking  the church to do a number things in response: to set these disagreements in the context of our many agreements, to seek to understand and learn from each other across our disagreements, to discuss our disagreements better that we have done in terms of tone and substance, and to see if we can “move through the disagreement to fuller agreement in the truth of the gospel” (231). As we move through the process of discernment and towards “making whatever decisions are needful for our common life regarding matters of identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage” (The Bishops’ Appeal, 420) we will also need to give particular attention to how serious these various disagreements are. A further challenge here is that sometimes “people disagree not only about the issue at hand, but also about the category of disagreement that they are having” (231):

I might believe that our disagreement jeopardizes my ability to recognize you as sharing the same faith – the faith handed down from the apostles onward. You might believe that it does not extend that far but that it does make it difficult for us to continue to be members of the same church. A third person might take it for granted that we should be able to respect one another’s opinions on the matter and carry on within the same church. In such a situation, it will be hard to find the right ‘register’ for our conversation. All that is likely to be made much worse if the difference in perception is not acknowledged or reflected upon (231-2).

This statement is followed by the sobering warning:

This kind of disagreement – where we can’t even agree on how deeply our disagreement cuts into our ability to be church together – is likely when we are facing the kind of disagreements described in this and the previous chapter. We have noted disagreements about how the boundaries of the Church’s life are drawn, or about the nature of inclusion in the Church. Those are, in effect, disagreements about how we decide which matters are crucial to the life of faith, or to the life of the Church, and which ones are in some way secondary. They are often, in other words, about where to draw the lines between the categories of disagreement listed above (232).

Sometimes an attempt is made to short-circuit these difficult questions by an appeal to conscience but, as LLF notes in its discussion of conscience, this is to ask of conscience something it cannot deliver:

It is important to recognize that an appeal to conscience cannot be used to treat every issue as one on which Christians should simply ‘agree to differ’….We may also want to conclude that some issues are too central to the gospel to be matters on which we can agree to differ (359)


LLF arose because of decades of increasingly deep and bitter differences over issues of identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage. One of the challenges we face is that we also differ over the significance of these specific differences. This is succinctly captured in the conclusion to chapter 11 about being church which seeks to map our disagreements onto the 3 categories of difference we have just explored.

Are our differences over identity, sexuality, relationships, and marriage in the most serious category? Well, for some who hold the traditional teaching this is “an integral part of Christian discipleship” and so those who “encourage other people in the name of the church to disregard it are advocating a path that leads away from following Christ. They are leading people away from communion with Christ and making them subject to Christ’s judgement. While they persist in that teaching and behaviour, they have separated themselves from the body of Christ” (232). Similarly, some who oppose current teaching view it as an unjust rejection of the full inclusion of LGBTI+ people and see this as “incompatible with the way of Jesus Christ” such that perpetuating this exclusion “in the authoritative actions of a church” means people have “betrayed the bonds of love and put themselves out of Christ’s company” (232).

Even if the differences are not viewed as this serious some – again across the spectrum of views – will argue that “a church such as the Church of England needs to be consistent, and needs to be able to communicate its teaching on these matters clearly and coherently” (233). Those who hold this view are likely to believe that “if people continue to disagree about these matters, we won’t for long be able to remain in a single ecclesial communion together, at least not without some significant differentiation within it” (233).

Yet others, however, “struggle to understand why this disagreement should be in any category other than the third”, especially given the fact that “learned and devout Christians”, including bishops and archbishops, hold different views. They will tend to favour the “agree to disagree” approach and hold that “provision should be made for a variety of opinion and of practice” (233).

Another challenge arising from the work of LLF – one less directly and explicitly raised and addressed – is that, as we have seen, our differences over identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage are interwoven with, in some cases perhaps dependent on (or even driven by) our differences over many other important questions. As is noted in the final session of the course – “We disagree about which patterns of life, which ways of being the Church, are good, and which are in some sense fractured or distorted” (Course, 54). In fact…

Our differences over identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage…are differences about what it means to live a holy life. They are differences about the nature of our welcome and how that relates to the distinctiveness of the life that we are called to live as people of God. For some, they are about the interpretation of the Bible and of how we understand the Bible’s authority. For some, they are about questions of justice and fairness (Course, 58).

We therefore need to consider how these differences – we have explored seven of them – and what LLF has to say about them also map onto the 3 categories of difference. There are various inter-connections between these seven areas and in particular many of them have a bearing on a matter the importance of which LLF stresses in various places: holiness. As we have seen, LLF argues that we can agree that one of the two purposes for which God gave us Scripture and uses it is to “draw us into holiness” (276). Holiness is therefore, not surprisingly, also viewed as central to the identity of the church – “This community is called to live a life that echoes and communicates God’s holiness” (221, referring to 1 Peter). This is why, if the Church of England continues to teach that “marriage between a man and a woman, held together by promises before God and the wider community, is the only proper context for a sexual relationship” there are important practical consequences of this. These include that, while “those living in sexual relationships other than marriage are to be welcomed into the life of the church and should not be shamed or condemned” nevertheless “growing in Christ and walking the path of holiness will involve recognizing the need to live differently in this area, as in other areas, of their life” (256).

LLF thus concludes that “questions about identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage are questions about holy living: what behaviour, what forms of relationship, what patterns of community life echo to the character of God? What ways of living can embody and communicate God’s life? What ways of living shine with God’s love?” (222).

Once the specific disagreement over the presenting questions are set in this context and connected to the various questions we have explored, drawing on LLF, it becomes much more difficult to argue that our differences are best viewed as in the third of the three categories. As such, while LLF does not rule out an “agree to differ” solution as the best way forward for the Church of England, neither does it push us towards that next step. Indeed, its careful delineation and analysis of our various differences, as summarised here, appears to show both how theologically and practically difficult it will be to maintain our current degree of communion with one another.

Revd Dr Andrew Goddard is Assistant Minister, St James the Less, Pimlico, Tutor in Christian Ethics, Westminster Theological Centre (WTC) and Tutor in Ethics at Ridley Hall, Cambridge.  He is a member of the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) and was a member of the Co-Ordinating Group of LLF.


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274 thoughts on “Is ‘Living in Love and Faith’ just a way to force compromise?”

  1. There is indeed a “God-given” diversity. Humans beings generally fall into one of two biological sexes – male and female. The male and the female come together to procreate. This is not the only conceivable arrangement. God could have created a race which had no sexual differentiation and each member of which was capable of giving birth to a clone. That would certainly have limited the diversity!

    So we have just the right amount of diversity and we don’t need to extend it with imaginary categories. If a man thinks that he is woman, this is very much a case of “brokenness” rather than extra diversity.

  2. Could it be suggested that the 8 areas start in the wrong place.
    The doctrine of God is paramount.
    Has that been considered at all?

    • I think the doctrine of God sits just behind each of these issues. For example: what does it mean for God to be our creator? In what way is God holy? What distances us from God? How has God spoken? How does he relate to his people? and so on…

      • But does that not presuppose who God is; which God? The Triune God of Christianity a God of unity in diversity, or a unniperson god?
        In this, I think Dr Mike Reeves in his popular level book, The Good God gets it exactly right to start with the uniqueness of the Triune God of Christianity , God as Father, in triune relation, before God, in triune relation, as creator.

        • But does that not presuppose who God is; which God?

          I think that might be the point: it’s by looking at the differences the various camps have on the eight specified areas of doctrine that the differences in their ideas of God will be exposed and made explicit.

          It’s very easy, when asked a question as broad as, ‘What is your doctrine of God?’, to reply in (fairly necessarily, due to the scale of the question) vague terms, meaning that two people with very different ideas of God could each come up with something that the other could assent to — despite the fact that both of them mean different things by the words, and their actual ideas are incompatible.

          But focusing on a concrete issue, and demanding precision of language, makes that a lot less of a danger, as differences will be brought to the fore — and then those differences can be fed back into the discussion of God which, as pointed out, sits behind all those issues.

  3. This is a very comprehensive and well articulated analysis of the issues. I just hope it gets wide circulation within the CofE.

  4. Thanks once again to Andrew for a concise, lucid, and inclusive summary of what is going on with LLF. Whilst I agree with Andrew (and against Martin Davie) that LLF is not pushing us towards an ‘agree to differ’ conclusion, it is not presenting a viable alternative to that conclusion. And neither does Andrew here. I am not sure that anyone believes it is possible to maintain the current status quo.

    I think it is in our approach to scripture that the fault lines are clearest. I am glad that LLF highlights seven approaches and suggests that those at either extreme are beyond the C of E teaching. Andrew, however, notes this:
    “It raises the question as to whether or not the Articles and Canon A5 are being rejected by many (though not all) of those pressing for change in relation to sexuality. As LLF notes, these are not new questions and the differences captured across the spectrum of 7 views have proven impossible to resolve. One the challenges we face is that these irresolvable differences are a major factor in creating irresolvable differences on the presenting issues which are the focus of LLF.”
    Again, I agree. But nowhere does Andrew, or anyone else I have read, propose any creative way of approaching that challenge. Perhaps the only creative way to approach it is to live with it? Just as we live with the challenge of living together as different ‘tribes’ within one Church. I can’t see there being any way that seven approaches to the scriptures will become one. What we need to encourage is greater openness in conversation.

    I was involved for some time with a scriptural reasoning group involving representatives from the 3 Abrahamic faiths. For the existence of such groups we owe a debt to to the late Dan Hardy (my tutor many years ago) and David Ford (another teacher of mine). It is worth a little research about the practise. I believe we need to explore scriptural reasoning as a model for our life together in the Church of England as we approach the challenge Andrew identifies in regard to scripture.

    • I was involved for some time with a scriptural reasoning group involving representatives from the 3 Abrahamic faiths. […] I believe we need to explore scriptural reasoning as a model for our life together in the Church of England

      Couple of thoughts on this.

      Firstly, most strikingly, is it not worrying if the only model you can think of for keeping the Church of England together is to adopt a technique designed to be used among people from different religions? Does that really send a message of unity, if (essentially) people are so divided that they may as well be form different religions entirely?

      Secondly, I was curious as to what ‘scriptural reasoning’ involves, so I read this:

      The impression I came away with from that was that a lot of the value in the ‘scriptural reasoning’ approach comes from the scriptures in question being unfamiliar to many of the participants; both as participants are exposed to scriptures with which they are unfamiliar, and as they gain new perspectives on their own scriptures through observations of those who are approaching them with fresh eyes, and therefore possibly seeing things to which familiarity has blinded them.

      How does that transfer to a situation where all the participants will be intimately familiar with all the text under discussion — indeed, where they might be bringing the same texts to discuss? How would a ‘scriptural reasoning’ group work if all the participants bring out the exact same text, but they have contradictory interpretations of it?

      (It occurs to me this may have happened — has it ever happened that a Jewish and a Christian participant arrived with the exact same text, say one of the songs from Isaiah, but with different interpretations? How did that go?)

      Finally, the ‘scriptural reason’ approach seems founded on the idea that it is ‘not about seeking agreement’. I can see how that would work if the participants are coming from different religions. But when all the participants are supposed to be from the same religion, and therefore with whom one at least nominally ought to agree at some level, then surely, inevitably, there will be, on all sides, an element of trying to convince, or persuade, the others of your case’s correctness, that simply wouldn’t be present when meeting those with whom one would not expect any agreement at all? And won’t this element of trying to put forward a convincing case, rather than simply listen, derail the whole process, as it’s introducing an element alien tot he ‘scriptural reasoning’ approach — indeed one that seems quite deliberately excluded form it because of the possible disruptive effects?

      • S: thanks for your observations.
        The sad truth is that many if not most church members are not as biblically literate as they were even 30 years ago. So reading scripture together is a good thing. As LLF notes, there are perhaps seven broad approaches to scriptural interpretation, and SR would help people across the traditions become familiar with different approaches. The aim is not to convince others of a ‘correct’ approach but to understand different approaches in a climate where, for decades, it has not been possible to find any ‘correct’ approach that might be agreed on.
        It’s also clear that we would not be just addressing texts that relate to sexuality – of which there are a very small number anyway – but a wide variety.

        Your point about different religions doesn’t matter. In SR those from both the Jewish and Christian traditions are reading the same Hebrew Bible. The respect and joy of coming to different understandings of the same texts is very moving.

        SR is a method of reading and understanding- not a way of settling arguments.

    • “It raises the question as to whether or not the Articles and Canon A5 are being rejected by many (though not all) of those pressing for change in relation to sexuality.”
      So where and when are the answers to that question being debated? We already know Andrew Godsall’s answer, e.g . Andrew Godsall April 8, 2021 at 5:00 pm on another thread (Andrew Goddard’s first article):
      “Very simple answer to that pertinent question Geoff. The fences were put up to settle a civil war. Only a tiny handful care about that particular war any more, and many many more than a handful hang their heads in shame at the reasons the war was fought in the first place. The fences have, in fact, rotted away in the last 400 years and are no longer standing in any case”.

      Perhaps Andrew Goddard can point us to where and when that question is being debated?

      In the LLF book on pages 317-318 there is a section headed ‘The Articles of Religion’. It mentions the new form of the Declaration of Assent introduced in 1975 and quotes from the Preface to it and from the Declaration. It then concludes with
      ‘Opinions around the Church of England differ about the implications of this form of the Declaration for appeal to the Articles in disagreements like ours. Similarly, although the church’s canon law says that the doctrine of the Church of England is ‘found in’ the Articles and the other historic formularies, recent legal cases have raised similar questions about the implication of that wording for the Articles’ status in the church’s disputes.318’
      I am clear that a thorough engagement with LLF will involve the relevance of Article 9 (The Fall and Original Sin) of the 39 Articles for this whole debate. This raises the question of how that Article and the wording of the Declaration of Assent should be understood and the Articles’ status in the church’s disputes. In my view a key question is whether an appeal to Article 9 is absolutely rock-solid from a legal point of view in the light of the legal case referred to in note 318 of the LLF book

      “(Arches Court of Canterbury, In Re St Alkmund, Duffield: Judgement (2012) Fam 51; available at duffieldstalkmund2012appeal.pdf (accessed 10/03/2020). Citing also Re St Thomas, Pennywell (1995) Fam 50, section 58; and Re Christ Church, Waltham Cross (2002) Fam 51, section 25)”.

      This refers to a Consistory Court appeal concerning an item of church furniture but includes several references to the Articles. This is an extract :

      “Then in Re Christ Church, Waltham Cross [2002] Fam 51 at para 25 the same chancellor said:
      “ … the Articles of Religion are now to be seen primarily in the same way as the other historic formularies, although Canon A 2 of the Canons Ecclesiastical 1969 states: “Of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion. The Thirty-nine Articles are agreeable to the Word of God and may be assented unto with a good conscience by all members of the Church of England.” They are no longer a definitive formulation of Anglican doctrine, even though they bear witness to that faith.”
      (h) In other words, “the Articles of Religion are no longer seen as definitive arbiters of the doctrine of the Church of England” (per Chancellor Bursell, QC in Re Christ Church, Waltham Cross at para 24). With this we agree and would point out that the view expressed by Sir Jenner Fust in this court in Gorham v Bishop of Exeter (1849) 2 Rob. Ecc. 1, 55; 163 ER 1221, 1241 (“Prima facie, …the Thirty-nine Articles are the standard of doctrine; they were framed for the express purpose of avoiding a diversity of opinion, and are, as such, to be considered, and, in the first instance, appealed to, in order to ascertain the doctrine of the Church.”) preceded the repeal of the 1571 Act and was necessarily based upon the wording of the relevant Canon then in force.
      25. It follows that, although Dr Pickles believes and is entitled to affirm (as he does) that his own theological position is still defined by the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, other clergy of the Church of England may equally affirm that those Articles are not for them the definitive arbiters of the doctrine that they are required to believe. This is of importance not only for all clergy who have to make the Declaration of Assent with a clear conscience but also in relation to the jurisdiction of the consistory court. In so far as it may, the consistory court must strive in the exercise of its faculty jurisdiction to ensure that any decision it makes permits the proper reflection of the doctrinal beliefs of the priest and congregation. Equally, however, it must strive to ensure that nothing is done in the exercise of that jurisdiction which may limit the proper reflection of the doctrinal beliefs of a different priest and congregation within the confines of the same ecclesiastical building.”

      I have asked Church Society whether there are any similar cases and whether the cases in Note 318 have ever been challenged. I have not read in detail all 45 pages of the Judgment but on a quick analysis I don’t see that the phrase ‘…in particular…’ in Canon A5 is given its due weight.

      Phil Almond

  5. Wonderful analysis and comments that have certainly shaped my views. As I reside in the United States, I find the issues facing the CoE quite relevant. In some ways I perceive the CoE situation to be a few years in our future and and others, a few years behind. Determining the level of divergence in thought and practice that can be accepted before unity cannot be maintained is important. I am not aware of the number of children that attend the CoE, but as a practical matter, it would seem that “being church” with children differs significantly from “being church” with primarily mature adults who have reasoned through issues and then may have come to differing opinions. As a parent, I have underestimated the influences of church life on kids, who absorb practices and opinions like sponges, some contrary to what I might have preferred. This does not mean that kids should be completely sheltered from diversity (God-given or by brokenness) but there is a degree of age appropriateness that needs to be considered by the parent and is yet another obstacle in achieving unity in the local church.

    • “I am not aware of the number of children that attend the CoE”

      The most recent ‘Statistics for Mission’ published by the Church of England relate to 2018. ‘Average child weekly attendance’ was 119,700, or approximately 1% of the under-18 population of England. This figure represents a fall of 42% from the 2010 statistics. National and diocesan initiatives to reverse this massive decline would appear to have failed completely, though it could be argued that the figures might have been even worse without them.

  6. Doesn’t Andrew Godsall’s proposal suggest that indeed the place to start is the doctrine of God, that is the uniqueness of the Triune God of Christianity?
    If some input from the Hebrew faith were sought, it would be from Messianic Jews.
    The cross-referencing, comparison and contrast, differences and similarities in morality between the Abrahamic faiths, in the eight areas of disagreement would make for an interesting study, but it would be reasonably foreseeable that it would likely exacerbate and polarise even more the disagreements highlighted by Andrew Goddard.

  7. “the goodness and God-given diversity of humans as created in God’s image, or as marks of the brokenness of that created image”

    I ponder at length what is this ‘male and female’. Is it a separation of two different characteristics of each created human, (in which case, perhaps we should say ‘male or female’) or does this phrase indicate a combination of both in each human? Is each human created in God’s image and likeness, or only the whole of humanity? The phrase ‘male and female’ is ‘zcr unqbh bra aotm’, which I will elaborate using the Hebrew synonyms of zcr and nqb, ‘the one who remembers and the one who is pierced, created he them’.

    Note how we look upon ‘the one who was pierced’ as male. Maybe we are wrong. After all this ‘he’ takes up our full humanity in himself and we are his body. We all remember, not just the male, and we all are pierced, not just the female.

    • Is each human created in God’s image and likeness, or only the whole of humanity?

      Surely both? Each individual human is created in God’s image; and also humanity as a whole is created in God’s image?

    • You raise some rather big questions here. First, are homonyms always connected by etymology? Is the rose in my garden called a rose because it rose from the earth?

      Secondly, do words mean their etymology? I think that is called the ‘genetic fallacy’.

      Thirdly, because someone does something that might be characteristic of the other sex, does that make them the other sex?

      I am not sure that any of these things follow on from one another.

      • Yes Ian – thanks for bringing this work LLF to my attention. It is good to see that you are in contact with many of my colleagues and acquaintances – Phil Long and Dairmaid MacCulloch among them. It was good to hear you at the recent conference we were at when I had virtual jetlag.

        Is a rose a rose by any other name? I have not heard of the genetic fallacy. But you will see my comment on rock climbing in my answer to David Runcorn even if it doesn’t get approved. I am sure that ‘getting it right’ is wondrously difficult and yet must be easier than we make it sound.

        I love your questions and promise to ponder them. As Northrop Frye once commented in his book, The Great Code. We need fuller and better questions rather than answers. Because answers consolidate the level of learning where it is and thus inhibit the development of further growth.

        1. It is my thought that words are connected by sound. I have translated always with special attention to repetition of sounds where Hebrew repeats sounds and avoidance of the same when Hebrew does not repeat sounds.
        2. meaning – I agree we look for ‘meaning’ but it is a mean word. The arithmetic mean is only one aspect of a complex collection of numbers. _My_ meaning for a passage is similarly a reduction of many possible readings. We search for ‘meaning’ but we can do it for reasons of self-security and power and often end up imposing our meaning on others. I want to avoid this lest I become just another local tribal warrior. Here’s a sentence I came across that I wrote in 2019 – the trope has occurred repeatedly in my thoughts. “Meaning is a word I avoid because it reduces sense to a mean. There is sense. And there is signification, but there is not just ‘potential for meaning’, but rather a multiplicity of potential meanings. The need to reduce them to one is an act of power rather than of love.”

        3. I have many friends in the Churches who are homosexual. I sang the music of Britten, I am a tenor like Pears, my own sexuality was from a boys’ residential school and my musical training from a priest who was the product of 1000 years of inter-generational trauma. Who am I to judge to condemnation a tender relationship between men or women. Yet I do it anyway. But my judgement is not part of the theological rules that I would force anyone to follow. And those who use force, like the Taliban tribal warrior who says “They will have peace when they follow our rule of Islam” – these are anathema to me. I do judge them. Deficient, biased, power-hungry, and brutal. If this is God’s image, I will have none of it. The Churches deserve my condemnation for imitating such a ‘rule of law’ – my law or death is hardly the character of Yahweh in Psalms 146.

        I have many friends, clergy, and laity, two-father families with adopted children – who are not now conforming to a rule that would have left them bereft of sexually normal relationships for them. This is not to say that it is impossible for those who are or feel themselves to be homosexual cannot faithfully father children, nor that pursuing such desires would be necessarily good for them. I am a child of the ’60s but such ‘free-love’ is not my policy either. I myself have children and grandchildren through whom the Mystery that I worship has given me joy and fulfillment, and I understand fear for those we love if I understand anything in that time of plague that has come nigh us. I also know the love of Christ that is above all knowledge. Such love does not pursue power at the expense of the integrity of others. God knows how to save.

        • Bob,
          I too am a child of the 60’s and I’d suggest that if the Church needs to repent for generational sin it is for the boomer generation 1946 -64.
          What chimed with your comment was that I and fellow law student friends thought we were the bees knees as we sure knew how to question.
          But even as you question the question of meaning in your comment, you can not do anything but ascribe meaning and come up with rules and laws, absolutes: it is impossible to do otherwise. And your comment has to have meaning to make any sense, even if nonesense remains nonsense no matter who says it. And the purpose or meaning of your comment is to make and settle on one main point.
          And yes we are a product of our upbringing, but the transformative Gospel upsurps.

    • Bob I find your comments here really thought provoking. Male or female/male and female. Thank you. Can you point me to where I could follow up more on the Hebrew synonyms and images of piercing and creating you explore here. They are new to me. Thanks again.

      • David, I am glad you find it thought provoking. Synonyms and homonyms are both the bane of translators and the stuff of word-play. I have confined myself to observing patterns and translating by pattern recognition with as little cross-mapping of Hebrew roots to English glosses as possible. My translation is laid bare by the concordance I have laid out in a fixed form. It is Bob’s heart online. So you can find male and female and their Hebrew homonyms there. Here’s the address for female: The entire blog, 402 posts, was published at the fixed address then one puts in the first two characters of the stem nq.html then the bookmark #nqb – very simple. You can also use the glossary of every gloss I used in my translation of the Hebrew Biblical canon – just with the find function – and get the link automatically to the ‘raw data’ of the Scripture.

        There is a child I know who loves to climb rocks. He doesn’t begin to understand their composition except by feel and balance. He is full of trust that he will not fall and says to Grandpa – Don’t worry Grandpa. – That’s what I feel like since I started climbing these language cliffs. The faith is in the doing.
        Because he attached himself to me, so I will secure him.
        I will set him on high, for he has known my name.
        God bless.

    • regrettably – my own mind shifts between what is recalled and what I have observed in the Hebrew. My association is false between the pierced in the ‘female’ in the phrase male and female, and the pierced in Zechariah 12 as cited in the Gospel. In Zech, the verb is thrust through – so being a different root dqr, I have no call to make the association through English glosses. Sorry about that. The image stands in Genesis. I am simply out of line to draw any theological or particularly English Christian terminology from it.

  8. If anything, it would point forward the piercing on the cross of the last Adam, Jesus and a new humanity dominion kingdom, in Him as part of whole canon biblical theology.

  9. Thanks for a very clear and well-argued post.

    It is sometimes said that the differences amongst us in the Church are essentially of three kinds. Some are written in pencil and are matters of style (e.g. worship music, how church officers dress etc.). Some are written in ink and are matters of substance giving rise to denominations (e.g. mode of baptism and understanding of the Lord’s Supper). Others are written in blood and are sine qua non, non-negotiables (e.g. the Trinity, the deity of Christ etc).

    For those at the liberal end of the theological spectrum, I suspect many would put sexual ethics in the first category because they centre on lifestyle choices about which reasonable people can surely live and let live.

    For those at the evangelical end of the theological spectrum, I suspect most would put sexual ethics into the third category because they are sub-points of the non-negotiables of the authority of scripture, the gravity of sin, the necessity of repentance for salvation and the reality of new creation. Such cannot be mere denominational emphases about which we can charitably agree to disagree, still less superficial preferences, but fundamental components of revealed Christianity.

    • Hi John

      I think LLF is potentially a good place to discuss what different people think about this and to find out what people really think, as opposed to what you think they might think! I’m at the liberal end of the theological spectrum, but I would put sexual ethics into the third category, along with authority of scripture, the gravity of sin, the necessity of repentance for salvation and the reality of new creation. But, then, I probably understand each of those things in a slightly different way to you. With regards sexual ethics, I don’t think that a faithful, publicly committed same-sex relationship is sinful. But I think we’d agree on a lot of thing sthat are sinful.

      With blessings


      • Daniel
        I wonder how many of those who “don’t think that a faithful, publicly committed same-sex relationship is sinful” believe that Article 9 is true?

        Phil Almond

        • Phil:

          To be honest, I’m not sure of the relevance of your question, but I’m going to assume that you consider this to be engaging well with my comment, even if I can’t fully understand why. In all honesty, I suspect most people don’t spend time looking at the Articles, and I haven’t taken a long time to look at them.

          Truly, I am not sure what I think of original sin (is this Article IX, from That creation is broken in some way seems clear, and that we are all sinful, likewise. But, I am not sure what to make of the story of Adam… I find it difficult to take the story as anything other than a parable (that would be the scientist in me… I doubt that most of the first 11 chapters is “literal”). That doesn’t mean the story of Adam doesn’t express some truth to me, but rather I don’t think of it as literal (in the sense of “this really happened”). So, already I have some problems with the Article, about how to interpret it.



          • Hi Daniel
            Thanks for your prompt and frank reply. The relevance of my question, as I see it, is as follows:

            I have to start by saying that there are two questions to be considered: firstly, is the doctrine of the Fall and Original Sin set out in Article IX the doctrine of the Church of England? According to the LLF book the answer is ‘no’. Note 318 of the LLF book includes the statement, “It follows that, although Dr Pickles believes and is entitled to affirm (as he does) that his own theological position is still defined by the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, other clergy of the Church of England may equally affirm that those Articles are not for them the definitive arbiters of the doctrine that they are required to believe”. I am waiting for Church Society to clarify whether the legal arguments used by the LLF book have ever been challenged. Please see my post to the thread on Andrew Goddard’s first article (Philip Almond April 8, 2021 at 2:09 pm).

            The more important second question is whether the doctrine of Article IX truly summarises what the Bible says. In my view the answer to that question is ‘yes’, based on what St. Paul writes in Romans 5:12-21, Ephesians 2:3, Romans 7, Galatians 5:16-21 and what Jesus says in John 3:3-6, and the Psalmist writes in Psalm 51:6.

            The relevance of Article IX to the LLF project is:

            ‘To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him?’

            These words warn us to tread very carefully when we consider the illustrations about God used in the Bible itself. But such illustrations are given for our learning and we have to take them seriously. One such illustration is the use of marriage:

            God’s relationship with his people illustrated by faithful marriage and adultery, sometimes with explicit sexual imagery.

            Christ’s sacrifice for the Church and the Church’s submission to Christ the model for the husband’s sacrificial love for his wife and the wife’s loving submission to her husband.

            The fruit of the womb which results from the act of love between husband and wife a picture of the fruit of the Spirit which results from the Christian’s and the Church’s faithful submission to Christ. Those in Christ, male and female, (whether married, remarried, single, divorced, separated, widows, widowers) are all ‘female’ in this relationship.

            This is a remarkable constellation of asymmetric interrelated pictures. Francis Schaeffer says somewhere to the effect that these are surely pictures that we would not dare use if God himself did not use them.

            In the light of these pictures it is inconceivable that same-sex attraction and fulfilment could have been part of the ‘very good’ pre-Fall human nature described in Genesis 1 and 2, and it therefore must be a result of the Fall and therefore sinful. But heterosexual attraction and fulfilment in marriage clearly is ‘very good’ and part of pre-Fall human nature.

            In my view this is one of the strongest arguments for the view that according to the Bible heterosexual marriage is the only place for sexual attraction and fulfilment.

            Phil Almond

          • Thanks Phil, for a comprehensive reply, which seems (to me) to go a long, long way beyond discussion of Article IX!

            Honestly, I don’t think I could respond in detail to all your many points without getting into just the sort of tit-for-tat exchange that Ian has asked us to avoid. But, as briefly as possible:

            – I’m not an expert in the Articles and the authority they confer within the Church of England. I think it’s important to note that we should always return to scripture as a higher authority.
            – However, I agree that, so far as I can tell, Article IX tries to give a summary of some of the passages you mention – in which case, it is open to rethinking and reinterpretation in the light of any fresh understandings of the same scriptures and their Biblical context. I don’t believe that the church in any age has arrived at a full and complete understanding of the Bible. So, for example within Article IX, I think there is possibility of fresh understanding in the light of scientific understanding of creation in as much as it sheds light on historical Adam or “the fall”; I’d also note that it makes strong use of the Pauline technical term “the flesh” which needs interpretation.
            – I simply don’t agree with you that the Biblical metaphors carry moral weight in the manner you suggest. Can I leave it at that, as regards the second half of your post?

            But I do know from this, and your many other posts, that you consider these matters with substantial concern for scripture, and an eye for detail. May you be blessed.


          • Hi Daniel
            Thanks for your recent post. Just to say in this post: It is beyond dispute that Paul in Romans 5:12-21 says, in 5:16 and 5:18, that one sin has resulted in condemnation for all humanity. He must be referring to the event in Genesis 3. So even those who believe that event is ‘figurative’ have to accept what Paul says unless they are willing to say that he got it wrong.

          • Hi Phil:

            As Tom Wright says in his “for Everyone” commentary:

            “Paul does not discuss, and nor shall we, the question of what actual events lie behind the highly coloured account of Genesis 3. Suffice it to say that the idea of a beautiful and good world, spoiled at one point in time by human rebellion, remains basic to all Christian, as to all Jewish, thought.”

          • Hi Daniel
            Re your quote from Tom Wright. Does Tom Wright agree, and do you agree, that the sin of the one man has resulted in the condemnation of all?
            Phil Almond

          • Not sure what Tom would say, but I am not sure that is what Paul means. Paul seems very clear that we are responsible for our own sin, not that we are responsible or to be punished *for* the action of a progenitor.

          • Hi Phil

            The subject of Andrew Goddard’s original post has to do with whether the outcome of LLF is predetermined. I see our current discussion as being very much driven by your own agenda, and hardly related to the original topic. We are skating close to, of perhaps beyond, the limits set out by Ian. So, I am not very comfortable with continuing, and this will be the last reply I will give on this exchange (indeed I had hoped I had closed it down in my last reply).

            I can’t reply for Tom Wright, or even for my interpretation of Tom Wright, without spending considerable time rereading sections of books. I’ll not do that.

            For me: My thoughts on this are not set in stone. But here are the drift of my present thoughts. Please refrain from pulling them apart, I’ve already said I will not reply.

            There are two creation accounts in Genesis 1-2:4 and 2:5 to end of 3. It’s not obvious to me that they are straightforwardly related, one to the other. They are by no means the only creation accounts in the Bible, they just happen to be the two accounts that were placed at the start. As a scientist, I cannot understand either of these accounts as “what literally happened”. I cannot decide on their relation, if any, to actual “historical” events.

            When writing Romans 5, Paul may well have had in mind that there was indeed “One Man” Adam (but to be fair, there was also in the Genesis account “One Woman”, Eve, and she had a hand in the narrative as well!). I can’t see that there is anything much in Romans 5 that depends, theologically, on it being “one man” that sinned (though Paul makes significant rheotorical use of it). So, if Paul were to learn that it wasn’t exactly “one man” involved then I do not think he would have been upset, or that he would think it invalidated what he was trying to say in the passage.

            So, no, I am not sure of the phrase “the sin of the one man”.

            On “has resulted in the condemnation of all”. As I said above, there seems according to the Bible to have been some event, or set of events, (or perhaps even some more gradual process?) involving human disobedience, whereby “sin” (a force?) entered the world. The result was that we all sin, and so were in a perilous situation worthy of condemnation.

            So yes, I agree with the “has resulted in condemnation”, but I am uncertain as to the precise mechanisms involved… Romans 5 does not discuss them. I am certain that the net result is that sin is in the world, and that I in fact do sin repeatedly, and that I need rescue and forgiveness: in that sense it doesn’t really matter whether it is by some “original sin” mechanism as understood in some doctrine, or some other way.

            Finally, I do not think there is anything at all to be gained by speculation, via angled theological and scriptural mirrors, about a hypothetical “pre-fall” state and exactly how that state might have looked.

            With blessings


          • Ian
            Re Romans 5:12-21. What then is your exegesis of Romans 5:16 and 5:18 and could you still make the Declaration of Assent re Article IX?

            Phil Almond

          • Daniel
            You posted:
            “Finally, I do not think there is anything at all to be gained by speculation, via angled theological and scriptural mirrors, about a hypothetical “pre-fall” state and exactly how that state might have looked”.

            God has revealed this about the “pre-fall” state
            “And Adam said, This [is] now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.
            Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.”
            Not hypothetical.
            Phil Almond

  10. Thanks for this article, I found it very interesting. Having read the book and been through the course, I do agree with the central thesis of the article, that the outcome of LLF is not predetermined. It can’t be so, because of the nature of the disagreements and because of the firmly held views on both sides, and because we are human. There are certainly those on both sides of the disagreement who consider that no other option, other than their own preferred one, is acceptable, and that any form of compromise is impossible.

    And, LLF seems to me quite honest about these problems.

    I think there are several stages to “we agree to disagree”, and several places we can end up.

    First: “we agree that we disagree”. This much seems clear? I hope we can progress beyond that.

    My minimal hope is this… that we can discuss these matters so that we understand each other’s point of view correctly. It is sad to see caricatures of “the other”, or extreme and minority views being used to lambast the more moderate and careful majority. For example, despite being “liberal”, I am not trying to conform to the world; I am very serious about the problem of sin. We are better than arguing like this, I hope.

    I would like it to be that we can get to the point of acknowledging that there are many on the other side of the disagreement who have arrived at their position faithfully, prayerfully, and with attention to authority of scripture, even if we disagree with their conclusions. That would be real progress.

    After that, I don’t know.

    It seems to me also, that there is genuine fear, on both sides, and that this fear is driving a lot of the debate. Love casts out fear.

    • Thank you so much for this Daniel. I think that my proposal for scriptural reasoning as a method is one positive way of helping love to cast out fear. It would indeed be real progress to acknowledge disagreement in the way you suggest.

  11. On some issues there can be a spectrum of views. For example, what degree of inequality of wealth should be considered acceptable. On other issues there cannot be a spectrum of views. A society can be more or less equal but two people cannot be more or less married. So there are only two responses to the question of gay marriage and they are Yes or No. And someone who says No cannot pretend that his position is not diametrically opposed to that of someone who says Yes.

    A similar dichotomy applies with the transgender issue. If a man claims that he is really a woman then his claim must be either accepted or rejected. Interestingly, in this case there is an attempt to disguise the dichotomy with gender “neutral” pronouns. I doubt whether this will work, since languages are resistant to that sort of tampering. I can try saying something like, “I was talking to someone at the bus stop the other day and sie said to me…” but there is an inescapably jarring note. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were all “sie” rather than “he” or “she”?!

    So the Church is not like a political party thrashing out the details of its manifesto. It can’t appear to please everyone while hiding the details in the small print.

    • Except of course the C of E does this endlessly. A woman can’t be a priest and not be a priest. A couple can’t be divorced and not divorced. Clergy can’t be priests or not priests. We have both holy tables and altars, depending upon tradition. We reserve the sacrament in some churches, and even honour it in Benediction or carry it in procession on Maundy Thursday – both done frequently by its bishops despite whichever Article says you can’t do it.

      There are numerous examples of polar, diametrically opposed differences. There have been for a couple of hundred years. It works.

      Plus we have had homosexually active clergy and laity in office for a long time. It was far easier to be homosexually active clergy 35 years ago. The climate of don’t ask don’t tell simply allowed people to get on with it. And they did. Things have got far more difficult for homosexually active clergy since 1991. It was simply a fact of C of E life.

      • “The climate of don’t ask don’t tell simply allowed people to get on with it.”

        Well, that’s the key question, isn’t it? It was possible to avoid the issue. Now people are forced to take a definite stance. A split would be unfortunate but can these dichotomies really be tolerated indefinitely?

        • I think it is one of the important questions, but not the key question. I think the key question is about whether sexuality is a defining issue of our Christian life or one over which Christians may legitimately differ. I think the latter. You think the former.

          Another question raised is who forced the position where people had to take a stand? In my view, it has been the conservative approach that has forced the issue. Although I know bishops who still take the don’t ask, don’t tell approach, and they make this plain to clergy who are in civil partnerships, for example. So things are very unclear. Many who are liberal on this issue are happy for it to remain unclear. Some don’t like the lack of integrity this places them in. Others who are conservative do things like raising a complaint under the CDM. So life is quite complex all round.

          • I think the key question is about whether sexuality is a defining issue of our Christian life or one over which Christians may legitimately differ

            I don’t think that is the key question, actually. I think there are broadly three views:

            1. Scripture rules out same-sex relationships.

            2. Scripture does not rule out same-sex relationships.

            3. Scripture rules out same-sex relationships, but that doesn’t matter because we know better than the writers of scripture.

            It seems clear that groups 1 and 2 can co-exist within a church, which each trying to persuade the other of their case as to which is the correct interpretation of scripture, but that groups 1 and 3 (and arguably groups 2 and 3) cannot co-exist.

            So the key question is not whether sexuality is a defining issue, the key question is whether those on the ‘same-sex relationships are okay’ side are in group 2 or in group 3.

            Would you agree with this characterisation?

          • I think it’s more complex than that actually S. There is a further grouping – which is where I find myself – that says that scripture rules out abusive and unequal same sex relationships, but is unclear, perhaps ambivalent, and perhaps even positive about loving and faithful same sex relationships. And in that group are those – and again I am one of them – who respect that some come to a different conclusion and find themselves in what you all Group 1.

          • I think it’s more complex than that actually S. There is a further grouping – which is where I find myself – that says that scripture rules out abusive and unequal same sex relationships, but is unclear, perhaps ambivalent, and perhaps even positive about loving and faithful same sex relationships

            I don’t see how that’s ‘more complex’ at all, is seems to me to fit pretty squarely and simply in group 2, does it not?

          • It doesn’t seem that to me actually, but in that case you have no real issue with accommodation. As you say, “It seems clear that groups 1 and 2 can co-exist within a church, “

          • We should be doing what scripture commends not what it ‘doesn’t rule out’. The latter (if it applied in this case, which it obviously doesn’t) would be a case of trying to see how much one could get away with. Which is not a God-honouring attitude but a calculating and self-centred one.

          • It doesn’t seem that to me actually, but in that case you have no real issue with accommodation. As you say, “It seems clear that groups 1 and 2 can co-exist within a church, “

            Indeed. As long as the argument is, ‘that’s not what the writer of scripture meant’ then there can be co-existence.

            It’s when the argument shifts to, ‘the writer of scripture did mean that, but they were wrong because they didn’t know what we now know / their own psychological hang-ups made them incapable of being right on this matter / etc’ that co-existence becomes impossible.

          • Not really. Why would the writer of scripture always happen to agree with the ‘interpreter”s preferences?

          • Not really. Why would the writer of scripture always happen to agree with the ‘interpreter”s preferences?

            Not sure what you mean? They wouldn’t, of course. The point is that as long as both parties are trying to work out what the writer of scripture actually meant, then they have a common purpose, and so can co-exist. They are on the same mission.

            Think of it like, say, two scientists. The definition of science is that body of knowledge about the natural world that hasn’t yet been falsified by experiment. So long as they are both trying to find a theory which is not falsified by experiment, then they can co-exist. They may disagree, such as the great and bitter debates between the steady staters and the big bangers, but they are still engaged in the same project.

            But if one of them decides to ignore experiments and just come up with speculative, unfalsifiable theories, then they are not doing science any more, and there can be no co-existence within science. There’s a split. (You can see this in, say, some bits of psychology and the social ‘sciences’ which are no longer actually doing science).

            Similarly, two people both trying in good faith* to figure out what the writer of scripture actually meant are both Christians even if they disagree, just like the big bangers and steady staters were all scientists even though they disagreed.

            But if one decides that what the writer actually meant doesn’t matter — or even that it matters, but isn’t the end of the matter because it’s just one point of view and we might know better now — then they are no longer doing the same thing and co-existence is impossible, just like those social ‘scientists’ who come up with unfalsifiable theories are no longer doing science.

            * the ‘in good faith’ bit is important, and I don’t dispute that some may be arguing in bad faith, which I suspect may be what you mean here. But we should always remember that it is possible to disagree in good faith, and not fall into the trap of thinking our on view is so obviously correct that the only reason someone could disagree is that they are being dishonest or malicious, and assume that it is the case that our opponents are arguing in good faith unless there is strong evidence to the contrary.

          • It is undoubtedly possible to disagree in good faith. It is also unwarranted to assume that people are acting and speaking in good faith – in some cases they may be so far down the road of situation ethics and ideology that they do not even notice that they are not.

            In Plato’s Meno, Socrates teases out that a slave actually knows far more than he thought, because from the things we do know can be deduced all sorts of other things. From unarguable first principles, much proceeds. That is very different from unsupported assertions, particularly those that further a preferred ideology.

          • It is also unwarranted to assume that people are acting and speaking in good faith – in some cases they may be so far down the road of situation ethics and ideology that they do not even notice that they are not.

            It may be unwarranted, but you should still always do it, just like you should always argue against the strongest version of your opponent’s case. Because the object, remember, is not to be right but to find the truth.

            Therefore all that should matter is pitting the strongest versions of the strongest arguments for each position against each other. It doesn’t matter whether the person making the argument is making it in good faith or not: a weak argument made in good faith is still a weak argument, and a strong argument made in bad faith is still a strong argument.

            Someone arguing in bad faith may still be right, even if only by accident. What matters, always, is the strength of the argument, not the motives of the person making it.

          • You surely cannot deny that both of the 2 matter.

            What you recommend I would naturally do anyway.

            The difficulty lies with the polite assumption that people are in good faith. The unscrupulous can abuse this assumption in order that their stances (which may be both baseless and selfish, and generally will be in instances where they are not in good faith) be equally respected at the table. You have not proposed a way of countering that.

          • The unscrupulous can abuse this assumption in order that their stances (which may be both baseless and selfish, and generally will be in instances where they are not in good faith) be equally respected at the table. You have not proposed a way of countering that.

            Surely the counter is obvious? Simply demonstrate that they are baseless. It’s usually not hard to do in a way that will convince any impartial observer.

      • I am not sure lumping all these very different things together is particularly helpful.

        The Formularies of the C of E clearly rule out practices like Benediction, so those who indulge in them are breaking their own vows and contradicting the teaching of the church they belong to. Similarly with those in active same-sex relationships.

        Women are ordained in the church, and their ministry is recognised, but provision is made for those who do not recognise what the church as a whole does.

        Remarriage after divorce with the previous partner still living is allowed under certain circumstances, and there is no provision for those who refuse to recognise this.

        They are all quite different issues, in terms both of their presentation and the response.

        • The fact that different issues are treated in different ways is an argument for accommodation isn’t it? The C of E can adapt to circumstance.
          In the case of marriage in Church after divorce, clergy may decide in conscience that they do not wish to officiate.
          Provision can quite easily be made for those who do not wish to officiate at the marriage of a same sex couple.
          In the case of benediction, I doubt any bishop would wish to work up a CDM case as bishops themselves officiate at such services. Ask any bishop of ‘The Society’. Even decidedly Protestant bishops turn a blind eye to clergy using the Roman Missal, as you have acknowledged.

          Accommodation is of course already made, as laity live under quite different guidance to clergy. And where do the clergy emerge from? The laity of course. The current situation will have to change one way or another.

          • In the case of marriage in Church after divorce, clergy may decide in conscience that they do not wish to officiate.

            But they can’t — and this is the key point — decide in conscience that they do not regard a remarried divorcé as being validly married to their new partner.

            Provision can quite easily be made for those who do not wish to officiate at the marriage of a same sex couple.

            But provision cannot be made — at least I can’t see how it could be made, perhaps you have a suggestion? — for those who do not think a same-sex marriage is a valid marriage.

            In the case of benediction, I doubt any bishop would wish to work up a CDM case as bishops themselves officiate at such services. Ask any bishop of ‘The Society’. Even decidedly Protestant bishops turn a blind eye to clergy using the Roman Missal, as you have acknowledged.

            Do you think an official policy of ‘turning a blind eye’ is good governance?

            I’m pretty sure that if it turned out that, say, a school, or a government department, had a semi-official policy of ‘turning a blind eye’ to a number of members of staff deliberately ignoring bits of their conditions of employment there would be an outcry.

          • I think, in fact, that anyone in good conscience can decide to regard anything in any way they wish can’t they? What stops them? I was not aware there were thought police stopping people regarding things in particular ways.

            Good governance. Hmm…. governance is frequently the art of the possible isn’t I?

          • I think, in fact, that anyone in good conscience can decide to regard anything in any way they wish can’t they? What stops them?

            The threat of disciplinary action if they mention their views (either in conversation or from the pulpit), maybe? Or if they organise a ‘married couples’ event and exclude same-sex married couples because they don’t regard them as validly married?

            Or are you suggesting that this ‘accommodation’ would include vicars being allowed to preach in their sermons that same-sex marriages are not valid? Because if it does then I can’t see the liberal side being very happy with it; on the other hand if it doesn’t it isn’t really ‘accommodation’ at all, is it, it’s just adopting a policy of recognising same-sex marriages as valid but with an opt-out for clergy from actually performing them.

          • Good governance. Hmm…. governance is frequently the art of the possible isn’t I?

            Do you think that would fly if the government used it as an excuse following, say, a lobbying scandal? ‘Look, this stuff is going to happen, so either we have a policy against it that just gets more and more complicated as people find inventive ways around it, or we turn a blind eye, and we decided to turn a blind eye as governance is the art of the possible.’

            I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t wash with the public, who would say that if you have a policy then people should either abide by the policy or be disciplined.

            The alternative of having unwritten rules, and turning a blind eye (until it’s expedient not to) is rife for abuse.

          • “ it’s just adopting a policy of recognising same-sex marriages as valid but with an opt-out for clergy from actually performing them.”

            Exactly the position the C of E is currently in. Same sex marriages are valid. The C of E (in this case the clergy, as they are the only ones in the C of E who officiate at weddings) has an opt out from actually performing them.
            Anyone is quite free to say they don’t think such marriages are valid. But marriage is a legal thing, so saying it isn’t valid doesn’t make that so. A marriage in church has two major parts. It’s a legal ceremony, in which the clergy can act as Registrar, and a blessing of the union. Clergy are currently free to offer appropriate prayers with a same sex couple to bless their union. They simply can’t act as Registrar.

          • Exactly the position the C of E is currently in. Same sex marriages are valid.

            Begging the question. They are legal, but the law of the land doesn’t determine whether they are valid. The law does not define reality: if Parliament were to pass a law tomorrow declaring all dogs to be birds (which, due to Parliamentary supremacy, it absolutely could do), my field spaniel wouldn’t suddenly be able to fly, would he?

            But marriage is a legal thing, so saying it isn’t valid doesn’t make that so.

            Again: question-begging. The whole point at issue is that marriage isn’t just, or even primarily, a legal thing.

          • Definition of Valid: legally binding due to having been executed in compliance with the law.

            These marriages seem pretty valid to me.

          • Definition of Valid: legally binding due to having been executed in compliance with the law.

            Which is definitely question-begging: you’ve just assumed the conclusion you want to reach, that anything which is a marriage in the eyes of the law is also a valid marriage in God’s sight.

            But… what if it isn’t?

          • Oh and by the way I haven’t assumed anything here or ‘begged the question’ (your new favourite phrase?) about anything. I have carefully considered the possibilities and weighed the evidence and come to a conclusion based on that work. If other evidence comes to light, I will reconsider. I respect that you too have weighed the evidence and come to a different conclusion. That’s the whole issue with LLF – with the same question people have come to different conclusions.

          • Something you’ll need to take up with God then S. as views differ on the matter!

            Why do you say ‘take it up with God’ as if I disagree with God on the matter? I don’t disagree with god, so I have no need to take anything up with Him.

            Oh and by the way I haven’t assumed anything here or ‘begged the question’ (your new favourite phrase?) about anything. I have carefully considered the possibilities and weighed the evidence and come to a conclusion based on that work.

            You may well have, but in this discussion you have been using ‘Definition of Valid: legally binding due to having been executed in compliance with the law’ as a premise.

            As this is precisely the crux of the dispute, you are including the conclusion in your premise: the very definition of begging the question.

            If you want to continue using that definition of ‘valid’ you will have to present a convincing argument for it.

            However I note that you have dragged the topic away from the point, so let me just clarify: you are suggestion that this ‘accommodation’ you are after would involve clergy and laity who disagree that same-sex marriages are valid being prevented, on pain of disciplinary action, from expressing and acting on those views, either from the pulpit or in private conversation?

            If no, how is this ‘accommodation’ worth the name? I certainly wouldn’t feel very ‘accommodated’ by that. Do you think anyone would?

          • Andrew Godsall wrote:
            “Anyone is quite free to say they don’t think such marriages are valid. But marriage is a legal thing, so saying it isn’t valid doesn’t make that so. A marriage in church has two major parts. It’s a legal ceremony, in which the clergy can act as Registrar, and a blessing of the union. Clergy are currently free to offer appropriate prayers with a same sex couple to bless their union. They simply can’t act as Registrar.”

            Well NO – For any Christian who believes in Jesus Christ at all (the meaning of the word Christian) marriage is from God and is NOT from the state.
            The State can do what it likes – that doesn’t make it marriage in a Christian church.

          • Who would have thought that Johnny Nash could express things so well in his 1972 hit record. But then again, it’s amazing how potent cheap music can be!

          • Who would have thought that Johnny Nash could express things so well in his 1972 hit record.

            I’m afraid I can’t see how that relates to the question of the nature of this ‘accommodation’ you envisage, could you explain?

    • David:

      I’ve been pondering your post. In may ways, I think I agree with you. We can’t pretend that the views are not diametrically opposed, because they are. And the church cannot pretend to be pleasing everybody, because there is, logically, no position the church could take on this that would please everybody. We have to be honest here.

      So, here is a reflection on how this plays out “on the ground”. I will think about my own local church. I believe my church is fairly representative, in that there are a spectrum of views on the topic. I can think of church members whose close family are in same sex relationships, for example. I know that there are others who would take a much more conservative stance. The views of my vicar, and my views, are (as you put it) diametrically opposed on this issue. This is not necessarily a small matter: I’ve been worship/music leader in the church for well over 20 years. To “split” on this issue would (I think) be to split right down the middle of the church.

      To an extent, we have got away for many years with a conspiracy of silence on the issue: we don’t talk about it, and we focus on things that we can work in unity on. But the silence is not healthy. How, I think, do those whose close family members are in same sex relationships feel about it? I suspect that my vicar himself feels constrained in what he can say on the issue, for fear of rocking the boat and upsetting people.

      So, positively, I think that LLF is designed – if properly implemented – to break the unhealthy conspiracy of silence. If the silence is not addressed, then there are constant tensions, under the surface (I can assure you of this).

      Now, it might be that you feel lucky enough to be in a church where the whole congregation can speak with one voice on the topic, and where it may be viable for a split in the C of E not to split the congregation in two. But, I really suspect that the same conspiracy of silence exists, and that there will be those in every church who feel they must stay quiet, for fear of rocking the boat.

      So, I absolutely agree that we can’t pretend, and we can’t please everyone. But, neither can we stay silent.

      • Andrew and Daniel, who is forcing the issue? I think developments in society have forced the issue. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” used to be the attitude of society as a whole and now it isn’t. The facts are hard to ignore if your vicar is actually in a civil partnership. Are conservatives being unreasonable by making a fuss? I think the penny dropped for me quite recently with the upsurge in transgender activism. I honestly find it difficult to comprehend what I’m hearing. And it makes me think that in the past when I generally ignored the issue of homosexuality I may have been wrong to do so. It seems to me that society is moving in a direction that is increasingly at odds with Christianity.

        The situation is not the same with these issues as it is with other theological disputes. Developments in society don’t force the Church to confront internal disputes over more arcane theological issues – although there may be a slight caveat there with something like Original Sin and evolution.

        • Always check how people are ‘framing’ a question. To speak of ‘homosexual’ and ‘heterosexual’ invites an equal-alternatives narrative – no mention of the fact that one is in accord with biology and the other not, nor of the second fact that such minority language is of recent date. Then secondly there is the adoption of civil-rights narrative as though we were speaking of an inborn or essential or immutable state. No-one will quarrel with civil rights – which fact leads many special interest groups to adopt it. Thirdly look at the record (shrinkage) of denominations that have allowed a foot in the door, and been unsure of themselves and/or compromised with the prevailing culture.

          There are tactics behind all this – see Kirk and Madsen ‘After The Ball’. They are so blatant that they do not even bother to hide their tactical intent nor the fact that at times it is mendacious and plays fast and loose with the facts as a means to a desired end.

          • Always check the way in which language is being used. To say of heterosexuality and homosexuality that “one is in accord with biology and the other not” is merely an inaccurate and emotionally charged way of stating something which has never been in dispute (at least not by any reasonable person), viz. that one is potentially reproductive (although not invariably so) while the other is not.

            Check also for non sequitur arguments. To say that people in a given category have, or should have, exactly the same civil rights as everyone else does NOT carry any implication, one way or the other, about whether that which characterizes those people is necessarily “an inborn or essential or immutable state” – a fact which becomes patently obvious when we come to consider, for example, people’s right not be discriminated against on the ground of their religious beliefs.

            That ordinary human rights apply just as much to homosexual people as to anyone else, and are not a privilege reserved to the heterosexual majority, is a view which was around long before Kirk and Madsen. It is a perfectly reasonable one – and, I maintain, the correct one – and it certainly isn’t invalidated by any misstatements or faulty arguments used by Kirk and Madsen or by any tactics suggested by them. I read their book some years ago, and can now remember very little about it, except that I strongly agreed with some parts of it and disagreed equally strongly with others. I have yet to come across any other gay person who has read it.

          • “one is potentially reproductive (although not invariably so) while the other is not.”

            And that is no small matter. There is a bond between a mother and her child that arises from the knowledge that the child has come from her own body. There is also a (potential) bond between a man and a woman whose child is the product of both their bodies. I say “potential” because that bond will be lost if the relationship breaks down, which, sadly, is all too common these days. But if the man and woman stay together, as God intended, then they share something that no same-sex couple can ever share.

          • Whether people have read Kirk and Madsen or not, its programme has been implemented precisely. It was a plan for the 1990s and it was implemented in the 1990s. Maybe they just extrapolated from the way the social/media tide was heading.

            So if one is potentially reproductive, what has the other to show for itself that can compare with that? I cannot believe you cannot see the asymmetry, for you surely can.

            On civil rights, who ever disputed that all people have civil rights as human beings? – which is nothing to do with my point. My point was that people are opportunistically using the civil rights narrative which is about all people as though it was about all behaviours. That could not be a more different thing.

          • Christopher Shell:

            I don’t know what particular measures were implemented in the 1990s which you think shouldn’t have been, but whatever, their rightness or wrongness is in no way affected by whether or not they tallied with Kirk and Madsen’s programme.

            I can see that heterosexual behaviour is potentially reproductive, whereas homosexual behaviour is not, and I can and do accept that as a fact of life without expecting the latter to have anything to “show for itself” to compare with reproduction.

            I’m glad that you agree with me that civil rights apply to homosexual people as much as they do to everyone else.

          • (1) The 1990s – no measures but a media jamming campaign.

            (2) If it has nothing to show for itself then on what basis can people be expected to accept that it is an acceptable way to operate? It has never not been known to be associated with both high rates of STIs and high rates of promiscuity (not to mention life expectancy and rates of unssafe practices). Those invariable concomitants would suggest the very opposite – that it is something inappropriate for acceptance in society.

            (3) I do not accept the category ‘homosexual people’. There are categories of behaviour and of present desire though I would not use that term for either of those.

            (4) Were you thinking that I was wishing to deny civil rights to some humans??
            This would be a worryingly inaccurate level of understanding.

          • Christopher Shell:

            (1) I’m not sure what you mean by a media jamming campaign. If you mean campaigning in the media for fair and equal treatment, and for an end to unjust discrimination, that is an absolutely legitimate activity.

            (2) Speaking for myself, I am content to accept that homosexuality is the natural sexuality of a small minority and will remain so, without asking whether or not it has anything to “show for itself”.

            (3) By homosexual people I mean those whose erotic attractions are specifically and consistently to people of the same sex, just as by heterosexual people I mean those whose erotic attractions are specifically and consistently to people of the other sex. You are free to categorize people in any other way that you wish – or not to categorize them at all.

            (4) I didn’t say that I thought that you wished to deny civil rights to some humans. I said that I was glad that you agree with me that civil rights apply to homosexual people – as defined above – as much as they do to everyone else. If that is a misunderstanding, then by all means say so.

          • (1) A media jamming campaign in 2 senses. Bring up the topic of homosexuality frequently. And allow only one stance on it.

            It can only be fair and equal treatment if there is a category of ‘homosexual people’ in the first instance. No-one has the right to bypass that most important of all debates relating to this topic. There is a category of ‘people who are now homosexual in desire’ which overlaps strongly with a second category ‘people who are now homosexual in behaviour’. How they became that way is all-important, because the unquestioning will just assume they were homosexual as babies, which is both odd and unlikely.

            (2) But if it has nothing to show for itself why do you treat it as an option that is equal to something that *does* have something to show for itself? These are precisely the ways in which we discover whether or not things are indeed comparable and equivalent.

            (3) For ‘are’ substitute ‘are now’ – so you are bypassing the question of causation. Yet that is the most important question of all. It is wrong to force others into the selective only-certain-questions-should-be-addressed straitjacket. It is not only biased but suspicious – people are going to wonder *why* others are so particular about which specific questions they avoid, and (rather bossily) expect/demand others [to] avoid.

            (4) Civil rights did not fall from the sky like the great stone of Artemis. They vary from culture to culture – their existence is not absolute but is welcome. However, again you are expecting us to accept the category ‘homosexual people’ without saying why this is not potentially a temporary category and therefore not an essential one, like for example ‘smoker’, ‘lover of jazz’.

          • Christopher Shell:

            (1) People are free to bring up a topic frequently if they wish; no-one can stop them, and no-one should be able to. I was around in the 1990s, and to the best of my recollection, the topic of homosexuality was brought up most frequently by people of your way of thinking. No particular stance on it was (or now is) forbidden. To be sure, people who disagreed with each other on the subject often did so loudly and by no means always politely. ’Twas ever thus.

            People’s moral right to fair and equal treatment does not depend on the objective existence of any particular category or categories to which they claim to belong. If, for example, I claimed to be a reincarnated ancient British druid, the actual existence of such a category would not be a prerequisite for my right to fair and equal treatment, nor would disbelief in its existence provide any justification whatever for denying it me. Neither does that right depend on what causes people to be in a given category, or on whether or not they were in it as babies. I entirely agree, by the way, that the concept of people being homosexual as babies is both odd and unlikely. (So also is the concept of people being heterosexual as babies.)

            (2) I have never treated homosexuality as an option. I know perfectly well that it isn’t, just as I know that heterosexuality isn’t an option either. People do not choose their sexuality; they discover it. They choose their sexual *behaviour*, of course; that has never been disputed – at least not by any reasonable person.

            (3) The question of causation is a legitimate and interesting one, but it is of no practical urgency. Heterosexual people have never needed to know what caused their sexuality in order to be able to get on with their lives and relationships. Homosexual people don’t need to either.

            (4) I see no more reason for civil rights to be affected by whether the category “homosexual people” is temporary or essential, than for them to be affected by whether the category “heterosexual people” – or indeed any other category – is temporary or essential.

          • (1) Editorial policy in many media organs meant a distinct shift in the narrative being pushed around that time, often focussing on the scientifically false ‘born this way’. What is so wrong is the way that this public and ubiquitous debate was anecdotal and ideological (boo to both). And never thought even to mention what the science says or what the statistics say (an even greater boo). Ought the latter not to be fundamental? In desperation I finally phoned up a phone in and said ‘GIve me one minute and I will try to give you as much science as I can’. Limiting people to one minute – they take brief points and then cut you off – sums up the whole thing, doesn’t it?

            If we are not sexual as babies (odd thought, and not especially pleasant) then it follows that people should stop using the mantra ‘race, gender, sexuality’. This is linking together innate with non-innate, and looks like a deliberate tactic. Do you agree with the continued use of that mantra?

            There are trillions of things that are non-innate. So why out of all those trillions of things is it always ‘sexuality’ and ‘gender identity’ that get elevated to company with the innate, so confusing the issue and muddying the waters?

            (2) Option – no-one ever mentioned option. Often our past history ‘forces’ us to act in certain ways, but it is obvious that some of those ways will be helpful and some harmful. Do you agree with the party of people who want to have that question out in the open or with those who high-handedly block it?

            (3) Casusation is key in understanding what exactly is the phenomenon we are talking about. Censoring talk of causation is suspicious in and of itself, but will also prevent accurate understanding. If for example someone has a certain psychology because their father abandoned their family, then that is highly relevant, and their father’s actions and the effects of those actions need to be both counteracted and healed.

            (4) You are perhaps confusing civil rights as human individuals and civil rights as members of a given category. Some categories are well defined (female, Chinese) and others less so. So it is not clear, given fluidity and non-innateness, how far ‘homosexual’ qualifies as a clear category in the first place. It is vague as between behaviour and desire, and it may be culturally influenced, and so on.

          • If we are not sexual as babies (odd thought, and not especially pleasant) then it follows that people should stop using the mantra ‘race, gender, sexuality’. This is linking together innate with non-innate, and looks like a deliberate tactic.

            I’m afraid this argument doesn’t hold water. There are things which are innate, but don’t manifest until later in life. Just look at the Duke of Cambridge’s retreating hairline. So the mere fact that babies aren’t sexual doesn’t in itself mean that their sexuality, which will only manifest in future, isn’t innate.

            (I’m sorry to keep banging on at this, but I think you weaken your case by resting so much on your idea that sexuality isn’t innate: the fact is that it doesn’t matter whether sexual orientation is innate, because the mere fact of something being innate doesn’t mean it is moral, which is the point you should be making).

          • Christopher Shell:

            Thank you. As I expected, you have not really replied to my points. You have simply tried to waffle them away with side issues.

        • Dear David

          I’ll try to answer constructively.

          Who is forcing the issue? Well I think it’s being forced a little from all sides, really. There is some pressure from outside church, that we should respond to a question that appears to them to be one of equality and justice. I think it is this aspect, rather than one of permissiveness, that is the main driver from outside. They perceive (not without justification) that we are morally in the wrong. This is an unusually uncomfortable place for the church to be in. There is, of course, a strong pushback from the conservative side, who perceive morality in a quite different way.

          I don’t think it helps, necessarily, to dig back to “who started it?” In any conflict there is perceived slight on both sides. A: You did such and such. B: Well, we did that because you did this. A: well that was because of what you did first. And so on. We are where we are.

          I do think that part of the church’s role is to rethink the message of Jesus into every age and society. We are not closed to the outside world. Sometimes, we do need to respond by changing ourselves.

          But, I do recognise the pain and fear caused by realising that this particular issue does cause us to reconsider other aspects of our faith, and yes, I think this is one reason why it is so difficult.

          Your highlighting of “evolution” as being a similar one is exactly right: it does cause us to think about original sin, the role of death, how we interpret Romans 5, etc. In this particular case, I think a stronger faith emerges from the process. It simply will not do, on this particular issue, to say that evolution can’t have happened because otherwise I’d need to rethink all these lovely Biblical doctrines. Speculatively, I could imagine other issues that might potentially cause such a rethink:

          – The issue of overpopulation and how it affects environmental resources.
          – Artificial intelligence.
          – If we ever discover higher life forms on other planets (in my view, unlikely, just because of distance and time involved if nothing else).
          – The issue of truth in politics, and whether the church should take a stand.

          Internally within church there have been frequent revolutions… Andrew highlighted some. I think more recently of Tom Wright’s Biblical rethinking of the doctrine of Justification, which I’d note seems to contradict some of the Articles (for example).

          Finally, I can offer some (but not complete) sympathy with regards to your difficulties over gender issues. I do find it, also, really hard. My children, and my students, have reprimanded me on several occasions.

          • Daniel, I acknowledge that those on the opposite side to me see themselves as defenders of morality rather than permissiveness and, to be honest, that makes me even more confused, especially over transgenderism. However, I also note that the majority of such people are atheists rather than Progressive Christians, or, at least, that is very much the impression I get. And that is something I take into account.

            P.S. I’m sure we could have a fascinating discussion on the theological implications of AI and alien life, but we’ll probably have to save that for another time.

          • Hi Daniel
            “I do think that part of the church’s role is to rethink the message of Jesus into every age and society.”

            You are proposing to change it.
            The Tom Wright example: many, including me, are convinced he is mistaken.
            Phil Almond

          • Dear Phil:

            “You are proposing to change it.”

            I don’t think that comment is helpful, or constructuvely engaging, or accurate.

            “The Tom Wright example: many, including me, are convinced he is mistaken.”

            Yes, I’m aware that Wright’s take on Justification is not at all universally accepted. This is one reason why I thought it might be a good example to put to David Madison. It is an example arising wholly within the church, indeed within the Evangelical community. It would be difficult to argue that Wright is not attempting to be Biblical, even if he might be mistaken. But, if Wright’s proposals are accepted then they do require a reconsideration of a number of traditional doctrines, including justification, final judgement, the work of the Spirit. So, although not a perfect parallel to the current discussion, it does share some common features (including that we two would find ourselves on opposite sides!). I hope we can agree on those observations.

            With blessings,


          • Please understand that Tom Wright’s position on justification appears/is different from those of others largely because he includes the all-important context which they omit. Yet to include it is, by definition, a superior approach to omitting it.

            Often in life the crucial matters are one or two steps away from the centre of the topic under consideration; because of their importance they greatly impact that topic.

        • The so-called elite and the media are pandering to the woke minorities but the backlash in society started recently when Kier Starmer visited a Church in London doing good things and Starmer praised their work and then the Labour party machine, led by Momentum, roundly and severely criticised him because Momentum perceive all Christians as anti-LGBT. The claim was rubbish, but putting that aside, Prince Philip died a couple of days later, a well-noted Christian, and the Labour party then said nice things about him and revealed themselves as total hypocrites.

          Then for the funeral service the media has happily reported woke people as saying the mourners were too white.

          Except these were mourners and all the woke minorities revealed is just how hateful and incredibly badly behaved they are.

          What is apparent today is that people like the Queen and Prince Philip are part of our society, their views do represent a proportion of our society and that there is massive support for such basic Christian even if not matched in Church membership.

          These latest events have finally shown that the majority of society is not anti-Christian at all and is sick of the bad behaviour that they see around them. The question now is only if the alleged-elite take the noticed that they should of society showing what they really think by their actions.

  12. I’m grateful to Andrew for another lucid explanation, from his perspective, of why LLF should be digested and wrestled with rather than dismissed.

    Just two points which I don’t think have been mentioned yet:
    One is that sexual ethics is not just about personal preferences and behaviour, but central to how we view the human self, creation and the nature of reality itself. Part Martin Davie’s critique of LLF is that it does not take the ideologies of the sexual revolution (with their roots in anti-Christian enlightenment philosophy) sufficiently seriously. It may be that societal insistence on conformity to these ideologies (as we are seeing for example in attempts to ban all forms of ‘conversion therapy’) will make it impossible in the near future for the Church of England to do anything other than change its doctrine and practice. What will be the function of LLF then?

    Secondly, is there not a danger of this being a discussion between people in a very small section of English society: middle-class educated white moderate liberal Anglicans talking to middle class educated white moderate conservative Anglicans? Andrew’s strong reaction to, and dismissal of, the contributions from Nigeria and ACNA effectively rules out any wider discussion with Christians around the world, many of whom take position 1 in LLF’s outline of seven approaches to reading the bible – and which LLF rejects. For conservatives in the C of E especially, there might be a problem of painting oneself into a corner if options for dialogue are restricted to theological progressives from the same cultural background.

  13. “Andrew’s strong reaction to, and dismissal of, the contributions from Nigeria and ACNA effectively rules out any wider discussion with Christians around the world, many of whom take position 1 in LLF’s outline of seven approaches to reading the bible – and which LLF rejects.”

    I think that is a very valid point. My response is that I am happy for those in Nigeria and the ACNA to take the approach they do, and make their contributions, so long as they are happy for the more liberal contribution to be made as well. They don’t seem to allow at all that liberal voices are part of the Church worldwide. That becomes a significant stumbling block.

    • No. So often what you say is that people *begin* ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ and everything else follows from that. That is tantamount to having the right to *begin* with a wish-list, regardless of evidence. Nothing could be less justified.

      Scholars are never ideologues – they are (a) truth-seekers, (b) not polarised, (c) nuanced. You are saying that the people we should be listening to are none of these 3. We ought not even to begin listening to them. They should do their homework first. Otherwise we are prioritising people who have not done homework (ideological ‘liberals’ or ‘conservatives’ or ideological anything else) over those who have – and no-one could find a coherent justification for doing that.

      A debate-blog is the last place one ought to have to make the basic point that evidence is all, and ideological positions are both dishonest and incoherent (because how can they possibly apply to every issue under the sun?) and probably psychologically based.

      As Iain Duncan-Smith used to say when people came to work for him and started spouting what they believed in or thought they believed in – be led by the evidence alone.

      • Sorry Christopher, but I believe you miss entirely the point of what I was saying.
        Evidence is, indeed, all.
        The evidence is that, for many decades, as LLF and Andrew Goddard in his piece here point out, those who disagree on this matter – who come from many different theological and Church *tribes* – have been unable to settle this matter conclusively.

        There is much *evidence*, and LLF sets out a great deal of the evidence that has been put forward. That is its strength. Andrew Symes makes the point that Andrew Goddard is not much inclined to accept contributions – evidence if you like – from Nigeria or the ACNA. Andrew Goddard must answer for himself on that. My point is that I am entriely happy to accept the evidence from those places, but simply ask that they don’t reject those who come to a different conclusion as having no valid voice. Evidence at present is that they do so reject them. LLF does not, and that is perhaps the reason that Andrew Symes is questioning Andrew Goddard’s stance on the matter.

        • The answer is staring you in the face, from your own lips.

          They ‘come from’ ‘tribes’. In other words, they are bound by their origins, their presuppositions, their ideologies, their psychologies. You put these irrelevant and contingent things *prior* (sic) to any actual discussion, any research (and yes, there have been plenty of both). Is it any wonder that things are in a mess?

          No wonder, if they are so uncritical of all those things, that there is a polarisation. Never in honest or scholarly discourse is there polarisation. But there will always be polarisation when some are seeking what they want and others are seeking the truth.

          • Not at all what I am saying and again you misunderstand. They have arrived at their ‘positions’ – as you have arrived at yours – after studying the available evidence. They are far from uncritical, in the same way that you are far from it. They have arrived at a different conclusion.

          • You did not address 2 things.

            (1) You have many times said that all or most people cannot escape their biases. So if they are not escaping their biases, why should we listen to what they say? We can listen to 2 groups of people only: (a) trained scholars who are trained to be objective, (b) people who have found themselves changing their mind (as opposed to being overwhelmed by the surrounding culture) which is always a good sign of honesty.

            (2) I put out a plea in CEN several years ago for people to even show that they were aware of the counter arguments. It is vanishingly rare to find people that are.

            (3) When there is scholarly debate, there is never polarisation. There is nuance. Yet here we have polarisation. So we have collectively not progressed beyond the sub-scholarly level, albeit many individuals are well beyond that stage. Consequently it is premature in the case of many individuals to speak of conclusions. Conclusions are by definition what come at the end of the process.

          • Thanks Christoper, and you make three valid criticisms. Let me try to address those as best as I can.

            1. I think it is hard for people to escape their biases and I certainly observe this in the way you write. But trained scholars are indeed what helps with that and the LLF teams certainly had trained scholars as members. I have certainly heard of those who have changed their mind in the various different directions in this particular matter.

            2. LLF has done an excellent job, I think, of putting argument and counter argument and Andrew Goddard has highlighted that in both of his articles so far. Maybe they read your article in CEN!

            3. I don’t think we really do have polarisation in LLF. There is plenty of nuance in the text. In the case of the chapter on scripture, for example, seven different approaches are considered. Nuance is really important with the issue of human sexuality, and it is regrettable that it has too easily become about those who are pro change and those who are against. In terms of conclusions, clearly the C of E has yet to come to any conclusion about the particular matter. But LLF makes the point that over decades people have come to their own conclusions based on the evidence it sets out. My own conclusions about scripture and inspiration, for example, are based on work done at University on a degree programme. But such conclusions care always provisional until further evidence is provided. A mark of good scholarship, as you remind us here, is the ability and willingness to change ones mind.

          • I am glad we are on the same page here. What do you mean by ‘it is hard for people to escape their biases, and I certainly observe that in the way you write’?

            I have no ‘views’ – I just go by statistics, science, logic and common sense. If the statistics change, so does my position thereby change. Likewise with the science etc.. Show me how it is possible to do more than that.

          • Christopher think you. I don’t think it helps us, or constructively engages, to have some kind of personal critique. Suffice to say that your obvious disgust at what you believe homosexual males engage quite obviously, in your comments, clouds your judgment about any activity that homosexual males might get up to. You also completely ignore what might constitute lesbian activity. One thing that LLF helps us all understand is that sex is something much greater than sexual intercourse and that is just as much the case for same sex married couples as it is for opposite sex married couples.

            You appeal in your comment above to the use of common sense. I agree. In the case of human sexuality scholarship is clearly important but so is emotional engagement. LLF does a grand job of bringing scholarship and common sense and emotional engagement together. Scholarship does not necessarily trump these other approaches when it comes to sexual relationships but in your comments you are inclined to suggest that it must do.

            I hope this helps a little. Everybody has biases, and I am often reminded of mine. It is helpful to be so reminded – and I hope we can do this in a gentle, kind, respectful and common sensical way.

            Every good wish


          • “Suffice to say that your obvious disgust at what you believe homosexual males engage quite obviously, in your comments, clouds your judgment about any activity that homosexual males might get up to.”

            There is an assumption that disgust is an inappropriate response. Perhaps that is wrong. I imagine that those who are liberal on other matters nevertheless feel some revulsion at the idea of incest. There are “scientific” reasons for avoiding incest (concerning birth defects of children resulting from such unions) but I think there is more to it than that. In spite of the success of LGBT campaigners in “normalising” homosexuality, people still have a sense that human sexual behaviour requires boundaries. Some things are natural and some aren’t. The boundary that marks incest off as unnatural remains but the one marking off homosexuality has been largely removed. So when is disgust appropriate and when isn’t it appropriate?

          • “So when is disgust appropriate and when isn’t it appropriate?”
            But you might equally ask that question about the intimate behaviour of an opposite sex married couple. Do you find their oral sex disgusting? Do you find their anal sex disgusting?
            The trial in the case of Lady Chatterley dealt with many such questions.

          • But in this case the question is not so much what is being done as who is doing it. The thought of a brother and sister together makes people queasy. The thought of two men together would probably have made most people queasy not so long ago. Now things have changed. LGBT campaigners would see that as victory, an overcoming of prejudice. But, presumably, it’s not because they want an end to all taboos.

          • What disgust? Chapter and verse please.

            I do indeed have disgust but it is never part of my argument. It is something emotional and therefore bears no weight. I suppose God may have put it inside us as a safety measure though.

            No disgust is relevant. Just statistically-based opposition. Every time you engage with me on this, best to begin maybe with that thought – statistics everything, emotion nothing.

            That you should summarise my relentlessly statistical position as though it was emotional shows how much the discipline of listening is needed.

          • Disgust disguised as statistics perhaps…….
            The emotional bears all kinds of weight. LLF does a good job at reminding us of that.

          • David

            I have no revulsion about sexual intimacies between consenting adults. That is not to say that all consensual sex is moral. Adultery and infidelity are sinful.

            Incest is, of course, revolting when adults prey upon children to whom they are related; it is also gravely sinful.

            I suppose some gay rights campaigners want to ‘normalise’ homosexuality, in the sense that homosexual people should have the same civil rights as heterosexual people. Many nowadays though would query the assumption of cisheteronormative culture which deems gayness to be ‘other’ and, therefore, neither normal nor acceptable.

            Some men appear to be disgusted by male homosexuality. I suspect that they find the idea of anal sex (which not all gay male couples do) icky and/or are disturbed by the idea of a male being penetrated – one of the reasons behind the Levitical prohibitions I believe. Male on male rape is, of course, a humiliation enacted upon prisoners.

            Men seem less disgusted by lesbian sexual intimacy. Again, scripture shares their lack of interest and proscription.

            To the best of my knowledge and imagination, there is in any case, no such thing as gay sex. Gay couples enjoy no sexual activity which has not also been enjoyed by straight couples. All sex is normal (which is another social construct) which is not to say that all sex is good.

          • Penelope, you (rightly) say that incest is revolting when adults prey on children, but what about a sexual relationship between a brother and sister who are both adults – setting aside possible concerns about pregnancy?

            I would also like to ask what you consider the moral basis of sexual relationships to be. Perhaps you think that sex should take place between two adults in a committed relationship. But why is that? Why shouldn’t there be sex without commitment? You say that adultery is sinful. Presumably, that is because adultery involves the betrayal of the other party in a committed relationship. But if there is no committed relationship then there could be no betrayal.

            Now, I know what one possible answer might be. Without committed relationships there would be chaos. But the threat of chaos is ever present. Serial monogamy is one step from chaos. Homosexual relationships are always prone to chaos, since promiscuity is much more prevalent in such relationships.

            It seems to me that the Biblical ideal is the only bulwark against chaos.

          • David is obviously right. Why can’t people see what is staring them in the face – that if the recreational view of sex is adopted then violations of sex thereby ‘become’ less serious. Whereas everyone who suffers such a violation knows how extremely serious it actually is. Consequently those who promulgate the recreational view have a lot to answer for.

            So do those who seem to advocate ‘commitment’ but (a) never define ‘commitment’, (b) don’t seem to see that commitment already exists in the shape of marriage, (c) turn a blind eye to the fact that actual commitment levels in cohabitation relationships plummet, to everyone’s loss and damage, (d) have no alarm bells ringing at the vagueness of it all, whereas my alarm bells would immediately ring if something were vague.

          • Andrew has just said that I rely on statistics as a cloak for the real reason for my opposition: namely my disgust. Note what he is saying here.

            (1) That I am dishonest – having gone to great lengths to be honest and objective so that anyone will testify I am one of the least ideological and am always coming up with independent positions.

            (2) That I have gone to the lengths of gaining a higher degree only to be as emotion driven and irrational as the average person in the playground.

            (3) That there is some better source of accurate knowledge than statistics. If so, one has only to name it.

            (4) That no-one can fail to be emotion driven. Quite a generalisation.

          • Gay couples enjoy no sexual activity which has not also been enjoyed by straight couples.

            Yet again this is question-begging, reducing ‘sexual activity’ to the level of the merely physical. It leaves aside that the ‘one flesh’ union of the two halves of humanity, male and female, is a significant part of the whole sexual act, which occurs on both a physical and a spiritual level, which is entirely absent from a same-sex sexual act, and means that the same physical act performed by a male and a female is qualitatively different from that act performed by two males or two females.

          • Since gay couples enjoy no sexual activity that has not been enjoyed by ‘straight’ couples (quite untrue, by the way, since the gender of participants makes at least some difference which you fail to acknowledge) then how on earth do they end up with so very much worse disease statistics? The latter part is what makes the difference – the former is in the realm of theory (what one might expect a priori) and is rendered redundant by the reality of the latter part.

            The argument that a prioris have any weight when we already know the realities is manifestly bogus.

          • Christopher: indeed, no one can fail to be influenced *to some extent*by their a priori stance on these matters. That stance comes to us from our emotions, our upbringing, our education etc. Your own denial of your disgust is concerning as it suggests you are not fully aware of how you have come to your definite conclusions. I am clearly not saying you are dishonest. I am suggesting that you are not fully aware of the biases your bring to the topic.
            These are emotional matters, and so of course everyone has an emotional reaction to the matters at hand. LLF is clear about this, even if you are not. The fact that you are not is of some concern.

          • Andrew – I would class a fair bit of your reply as nonsense, but will explain why:

            (1) First, it is possible to compensate for known biases deliberately – a bit like a golf handicap.

            (2) Second, some people are so in love with the truth that to allow biases would be a betrayal of all they stood for. Is this a class of people that you allow to exist? – for surely they would exist whether people allowed them or not.

            (3) It is impossible that I deny my disgust, since I own it at 9.10 yesterday (see above). The opposite, then.

            (4) Statistics remain statistics quite independent of any disgust or lack of it. Do you agree with this point. The former are part of a debate, the latter are not. The statistics on male homosexual STIs, promiscuity, life expectancy and unhealthy practices are far more than sufficient for me or anyone else to be opposed to what they do. That’s why I don’t see where disgust comes in. Could you explain this point?

            It’s a bit like smoking. Take two people one of whom was disgusted by smoking and the other of whom was not at all. The statistics would be precisely, precisely the same for both these 2 people, and they would cite the same statistics. Do confirm to me that you get this point.

            (5) You tell me what I am aware of. That is to say that someone who is 0% inside my head knows better about such matters than someone who is 100% inside my head. Does anyone agree? It could come across as patronising (something best avoided in civil society) but it is the irrationality that weighs more.


          • Christopher: another reply that is simply full of the emotional I’m afraid and it makes it impossible to engage. Besides which this is now way beyond the scope of the topic.
            I have, as you say, 0% knowledge of what’s in your head. All I can go on is what you so often write, which is irrational fear – real fear – of homosexual practice of which you *seem* (note the word – again, I can only go on what you write) to have rather little knowledge.

          • A reply which emphasises *statistics* first and last is called ’emotional’ and ‘full of fear’. Readers, please note.

            Had I emphasised *emotions* first and last, that too would have been called ’emotional’ and ‘full of fear’.

            So it is clear that you will never say that you believe that anyone is focusing on statistics, however often and emphatically they do so. *Everything* is emotional and full of fear.

            Do you therefore believe that everyone is focusing on emotions, and no-one in the world is actually focusing on statistics, even though they are the most relevant thing?

            How would you know such a startling and unlikely thing to be true? The people in the world are many and diverse in their emphases, aren’t they?

          • S

            I wouldn’t know.
            And, I suspect, unless you are bisexual, you wouldn’t know either.

          • I wouldn’t know.

            Yet you seem pretty sure when you’re insisting. Perhaps given you admit you don’t know, you should stop being so forceful?

            And, I suspect, unless you are bisexual, you wouldn’t know either.

            How would being bisexual help? I’m not talking about what it feels like — it might well feel exactly the same, but be entirely different in essence.

          • David (and Christopher)

            I entirely agree about chaos – both for society and for individuals.

            Which is why I support the extremely conservative institution of marriage (equal marriage).

          • Hi Penny

            Great that you support equality in marriage. So now we may (ahem) ”look forward” to:

            threes and fours being just as able to marry as twos
            children being able to marry just like adults can
            aged adults being able to marry children
            (that is even before we go so far as Caligula and his horse).

            Think of all those bigoted people who would somehow see something wrong in any of that. Phobes, the lot of them.

            However, if you think equality (a universal concept) should somehow apply to one group alone (in defiance of the English language), then that is just more evidence that people are obsessed with gayness and screen everything else out. Gayness is everything. Pride or Gay Pride – no difference. Rainbows – all encompassing. Change the toilets even if there are actually (as is extremely likely) no ‘trans’ people whatsoever in the school. And so on.

          • Penelope, there is a problem with that. A society in which gay marriage becomes a possibility is a society which has largely given up on marriage anyway. Same-sex couples were demanding the right to marry at a time when fewer heterosexual couples were marrying, when marriages were ending sooner and when divorce was being made easier.

            It is very hard to imagine a revolution that would reestablish the place of marriage in society. In fact, the acceptance of homosexual relationships would act as a barrier to that. If gay sex is OK then serial monogamy, at least, is OK. That is how most people will see it.

          • Exactly. The decline of marriage (however defined – not that all definitions are coherent) and family life always seems to go alongside a rise in alternative sexual lifestyles. (a) Is this a coincidence? (b) Spot which of the 2 options is Christian and which is not.

          • David

            I find that a very odd argument. Marriage is in decline, so gay couples marrying will make it decline further?

            Nor do I know who ‘most’ people are who would see aerial monogamy as a consequence of same-sex marriage. Surely that is idle and mischievous speculation.

          • No, Penelope. A society in which marriage is in decline is one in which homosexuality becomes more acceptable and gay marriage therefore becomes a possibility. And, no, again, it is not that gay marriage makes serial monogamy more acceptable; it is that if homosexuality is acceptable then serial monogamy can hardly fail to be acceptable. There is a simple equation: more permissiveness means less faith in marriage and more acceptance of what used to be considered unacceptable.

          • Hi Penelope

            you are speaking as though people are making ‘arguments’ and theories about what happens – whether gay marriage is part of marriage culture or not.

            It is illegitimate to make arguments or theories about what ‘would’ happen given that we already know what *does* happen.

            What does happen is that gay marriage arises only in cultures whose marriage culture has been compromised and is on the decline. You say it ought to bring a revival in marriage? But the reality is it does the opposite. The take up rate is small and is accompanied by a falling off in marriages generally because of the long term compromising of the institution.

            If you say gay marriage revives marriage, where is that happening statistically – or where is the opposite not happening, in the real world?

          • Christopher

            Firstly, same-sex marriage is not an ‘alternative’ lifestyle; it is a conservative institution open to gay couples as to straight couples.

            Second, for someone who claims to be a truth seeker and a supporter of statistical evidence, you are very prone to whataboutery. Since straight monogamy hasn’t led to polygamy, there is no evidence that gay monogamy will. Indeed, polygamy probably led to monogamy – in elite castes, anyway.

            There will always be outliers who marry their horses, or cultures where it is ‘normal’ for a man to rape his wives’ slaves, but gay couples wanting to embrace the conservative institution of marriage are unlikely either to emulate or to inspire these excesses.

          • Same sex marriage is not open to ”straight” couples.

            If some consider these to be 2 separate institutions, then asserting otherwise will not carry any evidential weight.

            Largely ”same sex” people do not wish to marry, but they want to have what they see others have – it is a matter of principle.

            If it is a conservative institution how come it did not even exist till 8 years ago? It gives a whole new meaning to the word.

          • Permissiveness means less faith in marriage, so a Conservative government introduced same-sex marriage and Christians are campaigning to celebrate same-sex marriage in the CoE?

            Your argument has no logic, you are simply using permissiveness and the instability of straight relationships to throw shade at gay people. You also seem to be arguing that homosexual people do not deserve the same rights as heterosexual people. This is a profoundly unchristian belief.

          • Christopher

            You write that my arguments are illegitimate and then claim a) that most same-sex couples don’t want to marry, and b) that something only 8 years old cannot be conservative!

          • There may be a pretence that introducing same-sex marriage shows a respect for marriage in general – but it is just a pretence. The reality is that marriage has been progressively devalued at the same time as homosexuality has been promoted as an “acceptable” option. It is no consolation that among the smaller number of people who are getting married now, some are gay couples.

            The Biblical ideal has been rejected and what do we have in its place? Do we have a society which takes marriage as seriously as ever but has extended this to include gay marriage? No, we have a mess.

          • Christopher

            I’m sorry, you’re (b) is nonsense. Something which was introduced yesterday can be conservative if it is conservative in intent and effect. Things don’t need to have existed since time immemorial in order to be conservative.

          • What is it conserving? It cannot conserve something that has never been there.

            Nor is there anything intrinsically good or bad about conserving. It entirely depends on what it is that one is conserving.

    • Is there an assumption here that black churches and black voices (which, I agree, the white church does not listen to), are invariably conservative?
      This is not the case, as those attending the Dismantling whiteness conference yesterday, would demonstrate.

  14. If I may give a couple of examples from outwith the CoE:
    1 Not long after SSM was legalized in England and Wales, I heard of a Methodist congregation who walked out in protest during a service led by a minister who advocated SSM. They started their own church, so I understand.
    2 In a URC church I was part of there were three prominent women who had openly homosexual adult children. They all supported their children. One nevertheless remained faithful to orthodox beliefs. Two, against the eldership, who were opposed to SSM, started informal teaching in favour in their homes, one coming explicitly under the teaching of Steve Chalke. She admitted that she had become confused over the theology of the cross of Christ. The elders put a stop to it and they left.
    3 I’d draw out two main points from this:
    3.1 It seems that the question over SSM runs far deeper, as Andrew Goddard’s article draws out, than sexuality, and it would be interesting to know any, correlation, statistically, between those who diverge from protestant Christian orthodoxy (liberal, for the want of a better term) and those who accept and advocate for same sex activity. Chicken or egg? Or is it both/and? And to press this point as others have, how far the influence and effect and entailments of the “boomer generation” (but starting earlier) on the so-called sexual revolution and the explosion of post-modern philosophies and the imperial self has been brought to bear and considered in LLF.
    3.2 Discipline. How is that approached in the CoE? Is there little to no discipline over doctrinal differences? Just asking. Are there any stats on church discipline and the categories, geographical location, diocese differences. From all I’ve read on Ian’s blog, including comments, it would appear to be nigh impossible to discipline on matters of doctrine, with any consistency across Anglicanism or even the CoE, unless it is set against or within current societal categories such as equality, abuse, gender, sexuality, race.

  15. Andrew, thank you for such a clear and well-argued case.
    It will be helpful as I start to do the LLF course and engage with the book in the next few weeks, with other clergy from my Deanery,

  16. Evolution has been mentioned a couple of times now, but if it is to be considered relevant to the present discussion it is worth, at the very least, taking note of the latest developments in evolutionary theory. At a Royal Society conference in 2016 the following was said: “But in the past decade, without much notice by general audiences, a more wide-ranging debate has arisen from different areas of biology as well as from history and philosophy of science, about whether and in which ways evolutionary theory is affected, challenged or changed by the advances in biology and other fields. As usual in such cases, more conservative perspectives and more progressive ones are in conflict with each other, with differences ranging from minor to intense. A rising number of publications argue for a major revision or even a replacement of the standard theory of evolution [2–14], indicating that this cannot be dismissed as a minority view but rather is a widespread feeling among scientists and philosophers alike” (

    The references to ‘philosophy’ are important, and demonstrate the unavoidable partnership between science and philosophy when it comes to the study of origins. Richard Dawkins himself tells us: “The present lack of a definitely acceptable account of the origin of life should certainly not be taken as a stumbling block for the whole Darwinian world view.” (The Blind Watchmaker, 2006)

    If we want to know what really drives the “Darwinian world view” we need look no further than the man himself: “I have lately read Morley’s Life of Voltaire & he insists strongly that direct attacks on Christianity (even when written with the wonderful force & vigour of Voltaire) produce little permanent effect: real good seems only to follow from slow & silent side attacks.”;query=1872;brand=default

    Darwin’s “slow & silent side attack” has been more successful than he could have ever imagined, but this great pillar of modern Western thought is crumbling in the face of new discoveries. It is about time the Church wakes up to this.

    “But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female” Mark 10:6

    • I dont believe a philosophy underpins evolution, though some have tried to align the two. That’s like saying a philosophy underpins the laws of physics. Rather they just describe what has been observed. Evolution is, I believe, the mechanism by which God used for life to develop on earth, ultimately leading to mankind who could then understand it. Yes atheists have conveniently latched onto it because in their view it does away with the necessity of special creation, but then they are just assuming that evolutionary mechanisms simply arose spontaneously. I think not. So atheists cannot point to evolution and say therefore no God. At least some atheists accept that.

      I havent read the Royal Society paper but I will do so. However I would be very surprised if reputable biologists or others with ‘relevant’ expertise (Ive noticed many of the writers who criticize evolution but endorse ID are very often non-biologists) are seriously arguing that the current view is wrong and should be abandoned, but rather modifications should be made to our understanding. That is what science is about, modifying understanding of the world and the universe based on further discoveries.

      I would also just note that the origin of life question is largely separate from the validity of evolutionary theory, as the latter is based on life existing in the first place. I suspect a divine ‘spark’ may indeed be needed for life to begin, but even that cannot be assumed – it’s quite possible God designed this universe such that life would develop at the given time in certain specific environmental conditions. God is the ultimate creative Being as evidenced by this amazing Universe – quantum mechanics anyone?!


      • Peter: here I think we agree!

        For my contributions in discussions above, “evolution” is really just one aspect (a biological one) of a set of scientific themes, which would further include the undoubted age of the Universe and of the Earth; the gradual emergence of life on Earth; roles of order and chaos, and I’m sure many others if I set me mind to it. In each of these themes there is room for nuance, but I see the overall picture as being clear.

  17. David ‘There may be a pretence that introducing same-sex marriage shows a respect for marriage in general – but it is just a pretence.’ I just can’t make sense of this. Who is pretending? And why would anyone even bother if they don’t believe in it? The Christian couples I know – straight and gay – who are marrying (or civil partnering) are doing so because they believe in marriage, seriously intend ‘to forsake all others’ and want the world to know.

    • David, the point was made that a Conservative government introduced gay marriage. In this case I think that the Conservatives were pretending to be conservative. You can imagine a world in which marriage is taken seriously but also made available to gay couples as well as heterosexual couples. However, imagining is all you can do. The world that we actually live in is one in which it is possible for gay couples to marry but in which marriage is taken far less seriously than it used to be.

      This could have been predicted. The Biblical view is that marriage was instituted by God and was intended to be between a man and a woman. Once that view is rejected, trouble is the result. Allowing gay marriage is a further rebellion against the Biblical view.

      So, ultimately, those who think they are being conservative by endorsing gay marriage are pretending to themselves (if they are Christians) that they are not defying God.

      • David. Thanks for your response. You write – ‘The world that we actually live in is one in which it is possible for gay couples to marry but in which marriage is taken far less seriously than it used to be.’ Well I agree Cameron was an opportunist in bringing in the Equal Marriage Act. I also agree that there is widespread loss of marriage as a founding social institution in our society. But for that very reason I actually think it also means that those choosing to enter marriage (straight and gay) are more likely to be serious about it. That is certainly my experience among Christian and non Christian friends.
        I recognise we strongly differ on whether gay people can marry (or indeed express anything good or gospel in this world). I believe they can. I encounter Christ’s grace and truth in those I know. And, as in all things, I seek to base my views on theology and scripture.

          • Greetings Ian. I hope you had a good Easter. Not sure how your question to me falls within your rules – ‘engage with the content of the post’? I acknowledged then that you responded to me in that previous discussion. I am simply not able to respond at any length here. If you want to lift this and paste it into the previous blog discussion, I am fine with that.
            Forgive me – this has to be brief and I will struggle to sustain a fuller debate at this time. But let me briefly respond to your post to me on March 18, 2021 at 9:34 am
            I broadly agree with your a, b, c.
            I think d remains an open question. We do not know. And where that is the case, we need at least to ask what predisposes us to opt for one reading rather than any other. I think it possible that the wider narrative of the scriptures allows us to faithfully proceed ‘beyond the scriptures’ at this point (cf Howard Marshall).
            e and f – yes, vice is condemned. It always is. But what we are debating today is not vice (which all still condemn) but faithful, loving, committed etc … Staying with f – I do not find anywhere in Paul an ‘absolute prohibition on SSS relationships’ – only vice and abuse.
            g you acknowledge your reading could lead to an acceptance of SSS. I think they do. When Jesus speaks of man and woman he is talking about man and woman. I don’t see grounds for attaching to his words unspoken prohibitions or judgment on faithful expressions of human commitment he does not directly address.
            Much more to be explored on both sides … grace and peace.

          • I was quite happy for you to reply on that post; I asked here because you were posting here and it was a way for you to see the question. If you want to paste your answer where I asked the question, we could continue the discussion there.

        • “But for that very reason I actually think it also means that those choosing to enter marriage (straight and gay) are more likely to be serious about it.”

          But what they are serious about is the new meaning – where marriage is simply a “lifestyle choice” rather than a prerequisite for starting a family with no possibility of an easy divorce. If marriage means falling in love with someone and living with them for as long as that romantic relationship lasts, then yeah gay people can also do that.

          • Joe ‘what they are serious about is the new meaning – where marriage is simply a “lifestyle choice” ‘. What ‘new meaning’? Lifestyle choice? I am talking about Christians here, are you? And being able to have children is not a prequisite for Christian marriage anyway. But even if you deeply disagree with the idea of ss marriage what makes it so difficult to believe that a Christian gay couple are making the vows with same serious intent and sincere commitment as straight fellow believers and with no intention for ‘easy divorce’ if it gets tough (a reference I confess I can make no sense of ).

          • “that a Christian gay couple are making the vows with same serious intent and sincere commitment as straight fellow believers”

            Nobody doubts this. But for a Christian to support the possiblity of same-sex marriage requires the definiton to be restricted to a “sincere commitment”.

            And as for gay men (Christian or not) conforming to the monogamy bit… well wouldn’t that be a turn up for the books!

          • “as for gay men (Christian or not) conforming to the monogamy bit… well wouldn’t that be a turn up for the books!” There are times when I actually pray that gay friends will not be reading the discussions here. This is one of them. But is is not untypical. The tone too often on these discussion threads is hostile, disrespectful, judgmental and lacking any supportive compassion for those seeking to follow Christ and who happen to be gay. It really needs challenging.

          • And as for gay men (Christian or not) conforming to the monogamy bit… well wouldn’t that be a turn up for the books!

            Yes, this is really uncalled-for. While it is true that gay culture has historically been much less focused on monogamy than the mainstream, firstly, that is no longer true — an issue of Cosmo or Marie Claire or, for that matter, Teen Vogue these days is just as much propaganda for promiscuity than anything that has ever come out of gay culture. Once seemingly an outlier, it’s clear that in fact gay culture was a harbinger, and there’s nothing about it that makes it inherently more susceptible to permissiveness than heterosexual culture plus reliable contraception.

            And secondly even if it were still the case we need to remember that ‘gay men’ are not a homogeneous uniform mass any more than any other group. Ascribing attitudes to people based on their characteristics, as if all black people, or all gay people, are interchangeable, is exactly what the identity politics mob do. Let’s take the high road here instead of descending to their level.

          • David and S, I agree with you about the tone and expression of the comment.

            Nevertheless, there is a residual issue here, and it is one that most of us avoid. In my reading I have found that a consistent theme in non-church discussions of gay sex is that promiscuity is actually a part of what it means to be gay, which is why marriage is often in those contexts derided as a ‘tired, heterosexual institution’. A simple example is the biography of the TV presenter Alistair Appleton, who comments:

            ‘It wasn’t until I left the matrix of the English Motherland and headed into the warm belly of the Cold War, post-Wall Berlin, that I was able to discover guilt-free sex.

            There on the nudist beaches of Wannsee and in the gay street festivals of Motzstrasse; in the plush gay clubs buried like ruby-velvet jewels in the grey decay of the East; in the clannish, exclusively male Gay Scene of that city, I found that my dirtiest dreams were pretty mainstream and for the first time in my life I could chat openly to other men about those communal sexual pursuits: flirting, fancying, sharking, hunting and getting your heart broken.

            And that’s when I was able to say: yes, I like this. I like talking about it. I like giggling like a teenager about it. I like standing at the bar jawing about it. I like the other people who share this with me. And that was my real coming out: a coming home to a sense of community I never had, the brotherhood of boys.’


            Some years ago, this was recognised in discussion, and part of the debate was that encouraging same-sex marriage would at least help gay people be protected from this assumption of promiscuity.

            But it is clearly a reality for most, as shown by the sky-rocketing of STDs in the US—almost exclusively amongst men having sex with men.

            I agree that we need to avoid assumptions about groups, and pejorative comments like the above. But it is utterly naive to think this isn’t actually an important issue.

          • In my reading I have found that a consistent theme in non-church discussions of gay sex is that promiscuity is actually a part of what it means to be gay, which is why marriage is often in those contexts derided as a ‘tired, heterosexual institution’.

            Right yes. But. Those aren’t the only contexts in which marriage is described in exactly those terms, are they? Exactly the same view crops up in feminist circles; Marxist groups; etc etc.

            So the question is: is there anything inherent in ‘gay’ culture which leads to the conclusion of the denigrating of marriage and the promotion of promiscuity? In short, does the correlation — which I agree is undeniable — indicate a causal relationship?

            And I don’t think it does, and here’s my reasoning.

            On a purely biological level, leaving aside spirituality and morality, what is the essential difference between homosexual and heterosexual sex? Well, it’s that one can result in pregnancy, and the other can’t. And this is a huge difference. Pregnancy is a big deal. Medically, it’s incredibly risky — less risky these days than it used to be, of course, but still, even today it’s not unheard of for women die in childbirth or through complications of pregnancy, and being left with life-affecting conditions is even more common. Socially, it’s impossible to hide (unless one seeks an abortion, which, again, medical risk and, before about sixty years ago, legal risk too) and defines the rest of one’s life.

            Obviously most of the risks are to the woman who gets pregnant, but having a bastard child turn up could be embarrassing, and potentially ruinous to the man, too.

            This was a powerful incentive to moderate one’s sexual activity. Probably the most powerful non-moral incentive — the only other would be the risks of contracting a sexually transmitted disease, and we know from rates of such among heterosexual men before antibiotics were available that that wasn’t a particularly powerful incentive.

            And it’s an incentive — a risk — that just doesn’t exist for homosexual encounters.

            So that’s my contention: that the connection between gay culture and promiscuity is not anything specifically to do with being homosexual: it’s just what you get when you remove the risk of pregnancy from sex.

            It’s a theory. Is there any evidence for it?

            Well, what have we seen over the last six decades or so but a vast social experiment in what happens when you remove the risk of pregnancy from heterosexual sex? And what have the results been? Well — as I wrote above — what we’ve seen is, well, the gay-ification of heterosexual culture. Your quotation from Alistair Appleton — does that not read just like something that could come right from the pages of modern Cosmo, say in an article about a heterosexual woman moving from a culturally conservative environment to a big city?

            In fact, isn’t it basically exactly the plot of Sex and the City?

            So I think inasmuch as you’re ever going to get a falsifiable theory and a massive social experiment to test it, that’s what we’ve had.

          • Ian. But this discussion is not about ss promiscuous behaviour ‘out there’ is it? (But the reasons for that also need more careful analysis. Whether heterosexual sexual behaviour would be much different and its patterns of relating any more stable if had endured the kind of sustained, repression, isolation, hostility and persecution that gay communities have endured for so long is at least an open question). LLF is an attempt to explore human sexuality and relationships in the context of committed Christian discipleship and gospel living. It seeks to welcome and listen to all voices. But I find it hard to imagine that folk from Living Out, for example, feel welcome, let alone understood or respected, in these discussion threads.

          • David R,

            My comment was playfully sincere. I’ve had enough conversations with affirming Christian gay men to know that the monogamy talk is either aspirational (they would like it to be true) or a facade (one that easily triggers a “How very dare you!” response when challenged).

            Sure, gay men fall in love; they hope it will last; and they often remain emotionally invested in a relationship for decades but when it isn’t working out sexually anymore, they make other arrangements. I have yet to meet a Christian gay man who on being told that “John and Dave are now in an open relationship” reacts by saying “That’s wrong!”. It might not be what they want for themselves (at that moment) or they might recommend monogamy as a psychologically healthier option but it isn’t an ethical thing (at least not when they talk amongst themselves – what they feel they have to say in church is a different matter). Similarly affirming Christian gay men don’t view pornography as a problem unless it is something illegal or watching porn interferes with their daily life. Their sexual ethic is the same as non-Christian gay men – meaning do what’s right for you and don’t judge others – which certainly includes monogamy but doesn’t exclude alternative arrangements.

            Of course, lesbians are different again.

          • The reason why *male* gay relationships are different from a male-female relationship is because, well, it involves two men. If you are going to suggest that the dynamics of such a relationship are the same, then you are going to need to assume that men and women have a similar attitude to sex and sexual relationships. I think most people would find that inherently implausible—we just have to look at the statistics for male sexual offending versus female sexual offending.

            More particularly, the research evidence shows:

            ‘Another investigation by evolutionary psychologists conducted across fifty-two nations, six continents and thirteen island nations involving 119 scholars reports that the male preference for greater sexual variety is, as they explain, “cross-culturally universal” and “true regardless of statistical techniques used . . . regardless of the participant’s current relational status or sexual orientation.” The desire for more than one sexual partner is:

            Eight times greater for men than women in North America
            Nearly seven times greater in East Asia
            Six times greater in South America and Western Europe
            Five times greater in Southern Europe, the Middle East, South Asia and
            Four times greater in Eastern Europe, Africa, Oceania
            On average, men are nearly three times more likely than women to report being “strongly seeking” more than one sexual partner “in the next month.” Scholars in Australia discovered that only 4 percent of women engage in extra-marital affairs without any desire for that relationship to grow emotionally. Men and women are different.’

            The links are in this First Things article:

            I do find it extraordinary, in this age of #metoo, that we even have to discuss whether men and women are sexually different.

          • And there is a whole, quite recent, book on this:

            Wide-ranging research suggests that partners in gay male and bisexual relationships do not necessarily expect monogamy, or see it as an important issue. Although the frequency of gay male and bisexual non-monogamous partnerships tends to be widely acknowledged in social science literature, these relationships have rarely been explored in more detail.


          • The reason why *male* gay relationships are different from a male-female relationship is because, well, it involves two men. If you are going to suggest that the dynamics of such a relationship are the same, then you are going to need to assume that men and women have a similar attitude to sex and sexual relationships.

            Ah, okay. Slight miscommunication there then. I thought the comparison was between people who were attracted to members of the same sex, and people who were attracted to members of the opposite sex. And I stand by that: I don’t think there’s any reason to think that gay men are naturally more promiscuous than straight men, or lesbians naturally more promiscuous than straight women.

            But yes, if the comparison is between men and women, then that’s a different thing and I think you have a point there.

          • Ian

            But that’s the point isn’t it? And one I gave addressed on here. Many gay men and women do think marriage is a tired heterosexual institution. Many straight people do too. And good luck to them.
            However, many Christian men and women, gay and straight, desire the joys and discipline of marriage. Communion with Christ in the Body of Christ.

          • Ian. One of the Church of England principles for these debates is ‘talking with, not about’. We agree not to discuss ‘them’ as an absent ‘other’. So far on these threads we continue to do just that – talk about ‘them’ – stating opinions on their most intimate desires, quoting their statistically observed behaviours. Quoting all this material here is simply amplifying a preoccupation with the worst of ‘their’ sexual behaviour. This is not what LLF is modelling – and quite right. And what do Christians who happen to be gay make of all this as a self descriptor of their most intimate longings, desires and selfhood – though it a massive ask for them to turn up here and be so vulnerable? I am not naive. I recognise important issues here. But I remain very uncomfortable with much of the content and focus of this discussion.

          • However, many Christian men and women, gay and straight, desire the joys and discipline of marriage.

            I think there’s a quite important point buried here, in the unstated assumption that people get married because they ‘desire’ something. It’s a very transactional view of marriage, as something which you enter because you want to gain something from it, namely ‘joy and discipline’.

            It’s quite a modern view of relationships, that, that a relationship exists for the benefit of the individuals in it, and one that I think could do with being brought into the open and not left implicit and unchallenged.

          • David, I am not talking ‘about them’; I have cited the people’s own comments, and given a link to their own biography. I am including their voice.

            And I am not pointing to ‘the worse of them’. I don’t think that, for example, Alistair Appleton thought was he was describing was bad or immoral. And I haven’t labelled it as that.

            I was responding to someone commenting that there is no difference between the sexualities or relationships in the two contexts, and I was pointing out that, outside the church, this basic difference is completely uncontested and assumed, since the evidence for it is overwhelming.

            And it is not irrelevant to the question of whether ‘same-sex marriage’ is in fact a parallel to marriage as previously understood.

            I think members of Living Out feel a good deal more welcome here than they do in the discussions of those who want to see the church change its teaching. Some of the criticism of those who took part in the CEEC video was truly shocking. And I have been invited to consider being a trustee of Living Out, so I am not very worried on that score.

          • David: “what do Christians who happen to be gay make of all this as a self descriptor of their most intimate longings, desires and selfhood”

            So there you go ignoring your own advice and talking about ‘them’ – but it’s flattering so it’s OK? It’s quite easy to find out what sexual ethic gay men conform to by asking the right question. Plenty of gay Christians choose to be monogamous and might even think monogamy is the best option for everyone but they really don’t consider it as a moral requirement – if their friends choose any of the various other alternatives, they don’t try to shame them with concept of sin. Of course, if you are a straight guy you will only be getting half the story.

            Ian is correct about the causes of ‘promiscuity’:
            gay males = not constrained by any woman
            heterosexuals = constrained by one woman
            lesbians = constrained by two women

            Marriage equality hasn’t changed the sexual ethic of gay people one bit – it is still based on autonomy (what the individual wants) + consent. Gay Christians are only different to the extent that they *opt* for monogamy.

          • ‘Marriage is a tired heterosexual institution’ is an acceptable position?

            (1) Then why has it been so much more popular than other options?

            (2) Why are you treating ‘tired’ (which is essentially an argument, sorry non-argument on the basis [!] of fashion) as having any weight. Everything needs to be new. Let’s get a new sun. The sun must be cold, for it is old.

        • David, imagine a married man who meets another woman, falls in love with her and is tempted to leave his wife. The man’s love for the other woman may feel as real to him as love has ever felt to anyone. This raises an interesting question. Assuming that the capacity to feel love is a gift from God, would God allow this feeling to arise when it is not appropriate? The answer appears to be Yes.

          That is why I have a problem with the point that you made about the apparent sincerity of some gay couples. They may have feelings that seem very genuine to them and they may *think* that making a long-term commitment is the Christian thing to do. But we must allow for the possibility that they are simply mistaken. As you say, one’s judgement on that will depend on one’s interpretation of Scripture and on theological considerations.

          • Thanks for your response David. The comparison you are making here is between a married man drawn to an adulterous relationship with a couple who are in love and free to choose to commit to each other in faithful marriage. The situations are very different are they not? I don’t assume all feelings are God given or wisely acted on. They an hopelessly mislead us . But the married man is plainly facing an ethical issue that the other couple are not in my view. But we are agreed that ‘interpretation of Scripture and theological considerations’ are crucial to all this – though we disagree where that leads. Thanks again.

          • The situations are very different are they not? I don’t assume all feelings are God given or wisely acted on. They an hopelessly mislead us . But the married man is plainly facing an ethical issue that the other couple are not in my view.

            Well, that’s exactly the point of disagreement, isn’t it? Some people think they are facing an ethical issue of the same kind; you think they are not.

            But what we have established is that their feelings and motives are no guide to us when deciding which view — yours or the other peoples’ — is correct. Feelings can, as you write, ‘hopelessly mislead us’. So you can’t base your argument for your view on the nobility of their feelings or the sincerity of their intent to forsake all others, or anything of that nature. All of that could be, in your words, ‘hopelessly misleading’.

          • Can I just note that the tone of this discussion is overall much better than has been managed on previous threads, so thanks to all. I hope we might maintain this.

      • David M

        I agree with David R that Cameron is an opportunist. But I still believe that marriage is a conservative institution. And that gay people marrying is a conservative choice. It is, after all, for both straight and gay couples a rejection of polyamory, promiscuity, infidelity and a desire to live, faithfully and generously through good times and bad.
        Sometimes the desire and the discipline fail, for both straight and gay couples because we are broken people in a fallen world.

        I am not conservative politically, socially or religiously. I do support equal marriage in the sight of God, whose Word I am not defying.

  18. “The reason why *male* gay relationships are different from a male-female relationship is because, well, it involves two men.”

    That is the crucial point. Given the chance, men are more likely to seek sexual variety. If the variety that they seek is with other men then they will have more opportunity to satisfy this inclination. Women exert a restraining influence on men. This takes us back to the question of complementarity. Basically, women are good for men. This is an old-fashioned view to be sure, but a valid one.

    This is why we need to look at the bigger picture. Shouldn’t gay couples who are committed to each other be able to marry? It may seem like a reasonable request. In theory we could argue for gay marriage as an attempt at damage limitation. But first we have to realise that it *is* an exercise in damage limitation. The dynamic of (male) homosexual relationships is such that there will always be a great potential for damage. Secondly, to allow gay marriage is to give society’s approval to an inherently problematic type of relationship. I don’t think this can be justified. Certainly not from a Christian perspective.

    • Complementarianism is a very modern notion, though it has its roots in some sub platonic ideas. Adam recognised the new being as flesh of his flesh, i.e. a being alike to him.

      Nor did Eve exert a restraining influence on Adam. The notion that women are more virtuous than men is another modern myth.

      • “… the notion that women are more virtuous than men is another modern myth.”

        Except that it isn’t. I was also puzzled when you said that many people see marriage as a “tired heterosexual institution” and “good luck to them”. That suggests that you see marriage as optional. It might work for some but others will need to work out arrangements that are suitable for them. Is that what you were suggesting?

        • If you think women are more virtuous than men, read some Church Fathers.

          Of course, marriage is optional. Some are called to celibacy. And many people are not Christian (nor Muslims or Jews). And they have every right to their own opinions on the matter. Unless we are to start persecuting heretics once more.

          • People certainly have the right to make their own choices. The question is whether a sexually active life without marriage is a good choice. The Christian position, I would have thought, is that it is a bad choice. But perhaps you disagree.

          • That article contains the following quote:

            “An even clearer picture emerges when one examines the dark side of personality: for instance, our normative data, which includes thousands of managers from across all industry sectors and 40 countries, shows that men are consistently more arrogant, manipulative and risk-prone than women…”

            The bit about men being more “risk-prone” is particularly relevant. It is what we often observe in male homosexual behaviour. So if self-restraint is a virtue then women in that respect at least are more virtuous.

          • David M, three observations.

            First, the idea that ‘self restraint’ is a supreme virtue is a modern idea…and one that our culture is not consistent in holding. In most parts of society, this is not the one that is rewarded.

            Secondly, self restraint is lauded as a virtue in Scripture, but alongside other virtues, like courage, discipline and commitment to truth, which many might see as virtues that men excel at more.

            Thirdly, it is worth noting that most of the things that form the basis of the modern world—building roads, obsessive technical research, fighting wars and so on—are not brought about by ‘self restraint’ and have been done mostly by men.

          • I don’t disagree with that, Ian. And it isn’t my aim to argue that women are generally more virtuous than men. The point was being made that men were more sexually impulsive than women and Penelope responded by saying that the supposedly greater virtue of women was a myth. I don’t know why she would have said that unless she was denying that women were any more virtuous than men in that particular respect. If she was indeed denying it then she was wrong.

          • Indeed. I do find it odd in these discussions when people appear to be unaware of some basic realities of sex difference that, outside the church, no-one would even think to dispute.

          • I cited Roger Olson’s fascinating thought experiment some years ago:


            Interesting but there is one observation I would make in regards:

            ‘Could this be why nobody is saying that any discipline or profession would be “better” if more men were in them?’

            It may not be the case now, but certainly in the past I can think of one profession where exactly that observation was made: primary school teachers, an area that was (and presumably still is?) heavily female-dominated. I remember efforts being made to recruit more men to this profession, on the grounds that it was unhealthy for primary-school age boys not to have male role models in their school.

            Anyone else remember this, or know if this case is still being made?

          • I don’t know why she would have said that unless she was denying that women were any more virtuous than men in that particular respect.

            Well, I mean, if one was being uncharitable one could suggest it was deliberate rather than accidental misdirection: an attempt to make it seem like one was rebutting the claim ‘women are less sexually impulsive than men’, but not in fact doing so; actually rebutting a similar, but trivially false claim, ‘women are in general more virtuous than men’, that nobody was actually making.

            But of course to do this deliberately — to attempt to shift the subject in the hopes that nobody would notice that the argument you were rebutting was not in fact the argument that was actually being made — would be to argue in bad faith.

            And we must assume that our opponents are arguing in good faith, and therefore that this shift in subject was unintentional, and merely point out that the rebuttal does not address the point being made, as I did in

      • Adam recognised the new being as flesh of his flesh, i.e. a being alike to him.

        Flesh of his flesh: made of the same stuff, and yet different. Each complete on their own, and yet also part of a distinct, greater union. Like the father, the son and the holy spirit. A two-in one, you might even say, made in the image of the three-in-one.

        The notion that women are more virtuous than men is another modern myth.

        I don’t think anyone has suggested that women are more virtuous than men. Just that they are partial to different vices.

        • They might be more virtuous. Or less. Or equally. But the idea that they ‘must’ be of precisely equal virtue (and – get this – with no evidence provided) is a non-starter.

          Complete ignoring of the promiscuity levels of men who have sex with men is not a basis to say anything true.

          • They might be more virtuous. Or less. Or equally. But the idea that they ‘must’ be of precisely equal virtue (and – get this – with no evidence provided) is a non-starter.

            Are you seriously suggesting that you think women might be more or less in need of salvation than men?

            That would be quite a radical theology if you are.

          • It is as it is. If creatures are (or are at present) more or less open to virtuous or unvirtuous behaviour than other creatures, as a result of their inborn make-up, there is nothing that any of us can do about that. Men are massively more prone to murder. That inequality may or may not be symptomatic of a more general inequality, but there is no reason to suppose average parity. Let alone to impose it ideologically. Which is not to say it does not exist. It is one of the possibilities.

          • Men are massively more prone to murder.

            Well yes, that’s undeniable. But that doesn’t mean women are more virtuous than men; just that they are partial to different vices. As I wrote above.

            That inequality may or may not be symptomatic of a more general inequality, but there is no reason to suppose average parity. Let alone to impose it ideologically. Which is not to say it does not exist. It is one of the possibilities.

            Well, except that there’s nothing in the Bible to suggest that women sin less, or have less need to repent, than men. You’d think if true it would have been at least hinted at by God.

          • Yes – but not everything in life is swings and roundabouts. The thinking sometimes goes – ‘Women *must* have other vices to balance out men’s murder rate’ but the logic escapes one. I have no idea whether one sex is more virtuous than the other, nor by how much, nor which sex that would be, nor how one should calculate such a thing.

          • The thinking sometimes goes – ‘Women *must* have other vices to balance out men’s murder rate’ but the logic escapes one. I have no idea whether one sex is more virtuous than the other, nor by how much, nor which sex that would be, nor how one should calculate such a thing.

            Actually the logic goes ‘women and men have the same propensity to sin — the same propensity to hate, to envy, to lust, etc, but because of their broadly different physical and psychological attributes these sins manifest themselves in different ways: for instance being physically stronger, a man who hates is more likely to murder the object of their hate while a woman might instead spread lies and slanders to harm them.’

            Which seems perfectly logical to me.

          • Of course. But no-one knows that the 2 sexes are equal in their propensity, nor that they are equal in their sin. Nor that they are not equal. Nor how to calculate any of hat.

  19. You only have to look at awful programmes like Love Island to see that heterosexual promiscuity, at least before marriage/living together, is now common and I would argue is the often perfectly acceptable way to behave for young straight people, both male and female. To argue that gay sexual relationships are significantly more promiscuous, with gay people having many more sexual partners doesnt seem to stand up to reality now, if popular culture is anything to go by.

    As for Allister Appleton’s comments, it should be noted that Berlin has been well known for a long time for its extremes when it comes to expressing one’s sexuality. Freddie Mercury at one point spent some time there, and it caused concern by his fellow Queen band members as to the effect it was having on him. I hardly think Berlin can be used as ‘typical’.

    In the end, the question is not whether promiscuity is good in God’s eyes, it isnt whether straight or gay, but rather is even a single gay sexual relationship good in His eyes? How a Christian or church answers that comes down to what you believe Scripture teaches and whether it is still relevant today. Arguing certain relationships are ‘problematic’ compared to others is irrelevant.


    • You could say that God forbids same-sex relationships (which is true) and leave it at that, but there is a bit more to be said. God created male and female so that they could become one flesh. They complement each other. Male and male do not complement each other. They were not designed to. So it is no surprise that such relationships are “problematic”.

      • But from a Christian pov what Scripture says on the matter is the defining argument. It was the same with women clergy.

        I’ve yet to see a persuasive argument from Scripture from those who endorse gay sexual relationships. That is the sticking point.

      • David. Three brief responses if I may.
        i. Where does the Genesis account speak of the complementarity of Adam and Eve? Adam’s response on seeing Eve was to recognise someone like him – not other.
        ii. And though ‘one flesh’ is a beautifully poetic way of expressing sexual union, the Bible nowhere uses the phrase to refer to sex. The Hebrew ‘basar’ means ‘relatives’. Thus ‘one flesh’ = ‘one kinship group’ (see Gen 29.14 and 2Sam 5.1). The union declared here is of two communities. Marriage is set in a wider context and priority of developing human society.
        iii. Whilst there is a certain logic to the argument from design (or anatomical ‘fit’) male/female it cannot be found in these verses. In a strictly textual sense it is not biblical. It can only be inferred.

        • i. I think you will find the complementarity between Adam and Eve noted in just about any good, standard commentary. It is striking that:

          a. God does not form another adam from the adama to end the problem of loneliness. Why not?

          b. all the candidates offered to the adam as a companion are *different* from him. This is an emphatic part of the narrative. The woman shares this feature of difference with the animals which are offered; the problem with the animals is the they are not ‘a suitable helper’, that is, opposite *and* equal.

          c. the existential cry of recognition expresses the surprising similarity with someone who is different; without that difference the recognition is meaningless.

          The twin threads of similarity and difference run through the narrative, finding its climax (pun not intended) is the concluding statement of aetiology. The narrative explains why there is such a strong marriage bond across people who are not of the same family—that is the whole point of the story, explaining this bonding across difference. Again, I think you will find this in most good commentaries.

          ii. No, you are mistaken here, as a basic use of a Hebrew lexicon would show. בשׂר means ‘flesh’, that is, the stuff that covers our bones. Hence God covered up the adam’s wound with בשׂר in Gen 2.21; circumcision is a cut in the בשׂר in Gen 17.11; in Passover they eat the בשׂר of the lamb in Ex 12.8…and so on.

          It is used metaphorically to mean ‘family’, as we talk of our ‘flesh and blood’, but there is no obvious reason to think that is the meaning here…not least because she is, literally, בשׂר from his בשׂר. And of course Paul picks up the meaning of sex explicitly in 1 Cor 6.16.

          iii. The anatomical fit issue is strongly implied by the text. Given that the woman is different from the man, of what does the difference comprise? Unlike the animals, who are different in all sorts of ways, the only visible difference between the man and the woman is their bodily form. This is precisely what Paul picks up in Romans 1, in line with other Jewish interpreters.

          I do keep finding that so many of the arguments for changing our reading of the biblical texts is based on errors in understanding (the meaning of בשׂר) and failure to actually read the narrative (similarity and difference as two threads) well.

          • Ian. Yes I was writing too quickly and guilty of impression and more. I will check my library. But on one flesh I think we both argue too much form one side. It is ‘both and’. But the kinship/community aspect is one we have lost in our time. That has left marriage very exposed. It has also been a factor in an over emphasis on marriage at the expense of other relationships and wider community.
            David – ‘we are entitled to draw certain inferences’ from scripture. Is that really an evangelical approach to scripture? Will you be getting a visit from Ian too? But thanks for the discussion and my acknowledgment of careless over statement was for you too.

          • I am not arguing ‘from one side’. בשׂר means ‘flesh’; I am just reading from Brown-Driver-Briggs, and searching my Hebrew Bible for occurrences of the term.

            It *can* indeed be used metaphorically to mean ‘kin group’ or family, as it can in English. But anyone claiming its meaning here needs to give a good reason, not least because of the use of the term in quite a literal sense just two verses earlier! The central shape of the narrative here is that the adam was one piece of flesh; that God took from his flesh to form the woman; that the adam recognises this ‘flesh from my flesh’; and that sexual union, in a profound sense, is a reuniting of that which God primevally separated. That is the central argument offered as an explanation for the marriage bond between one man and one woman.

            I don’t disagree with you about our loss of wider kinships groups in family life—not least because I life in a three-generation household, with parents, children, lodgers and ‘adopted’ family members (as, in fact, has most of humanity for most of history).

            But this text says nothing about that, and in fact in its cultural context offers an unusual focus on the couple alone. Perhaps we might infer from that that Scripture sees the union of one man and one woman as the essential foundation for the wider reality…?

          • Ironically that should read ‘guilty of imprecision’ not ‘impression’. My predictive text is even less accurate than my typing.

        • David, the Bible doesn’t tell us why God created them male and female, or what that entails. It doesn’t tell us the advantages of a sexually reproducing species over an asexually reproducing species. But, given that we are a sexually differentiated species created by God, I think we are entitled to draw certain inferences. Penelope dismissed as a myth the idea that women are more virtuous than men. But in an important sense the “myth” is a reality. Men are more reckless than women. Men are more likely to commit crime, to drive too fast, to take drugs and so on. A heterosexual man’s capacity to be reckless is limited by the greater restraint of women. This is not the case with gay men. Those who are partial to explanations based on evolutionary psychology may see the Darwinian logic in all this. Others may see the hand of Providence.

          • I think there are a lot of unconscious Darwinians on this thread.
            The sexistvtropes about mythical gender differences, the belief that marriage (or coupledom) is all about reproduction, the belief that sex is pleasurable because it encourages stability in human relationships where gestation and child rearing are lengthy and require commitment.
            All these beliefs owe far more to Darwin, or rather er to modern Darwinists, than they do to Christianity.

          • Why is that relevant? Are we not seeking the truth? If not, then what exactly what are we seeking?

            Do you deny the model: whatever in Darwinianism is true and well evidenced we accept, whatever is not we deny; whatever in Christianity is true and well evidenced we accept, whatever is not we deny?

  20. There has been discussion here about complementarity and difference in marriage. And it so happens I have just been reading one of the most moving books about marriage and love. ‘The madness of grief- a memoir of grief and loss’ is Richard Cole’s journey through the loss of his partner, David. I promise I am not being provocative commending it here. It is beautifully and movingly written. I invite people to read it and find there the qualities of complementary love and difference – the joy and the pain – we have been talking about.

    • Thanks. I have had a couple of interesting, positive and respectful discussions with Richard on Facebook recently.

      I am sure that it will indeed be very moving; I had not realised that David was alcoholic, which must have been extraordinarily demanding.

      But, again, this shifts the debates to question of qualities. The historic understanding of marriage in Christian theology is that it also involves fundamental differences of bodily form, which are integrally connected to the issues of procreation. What is the case made that such moving qualities of love, friendship, companionship and support must involve sex?

      • Ian I mentioned the book here because it has been stated, as elsewhere, that same-sex marriage is not possible because the couple cannot be complementary. The book is a profound reflection on the joy and pain of a loving and clearly deeply complementary relationship – by a couple who happen to same-sex. But if you did not know this you would be in no doubt you are reading of the costly qualities of loving, committed marriage.
        Richard does not talk about sex in his book. Did you put your question to him?

        • And they are not [physically] complementary. I don’t think anyone who notes how basically different men and women are in all sorts of respects thinks that all men are the same and all women are the same.

          I am not surprised that he doesn’t mention sex—why would he? So that begs the question: how does this example contribute to an argument for same-sex unions as a parallel with marriage, rather than commending the life-giving power of committed friendship?

          (Yes, we did discuss this in our exchange.)

    • It is extraordinarily moving. It is also a memoir of a relationship between two very different people, one might say that they complemented each other in their strengths and weaknesses. They also shared a strong faith. Their relationship, and that of other same sex couples, makes utter nonsense of all the claims being made here that such relationships of joy, pain and fidelity are impossible for gay couples or that the existence of previous (maybe casual) love affairs makes the forming of subsequent, stable bonds impossible.

      • Name me one person who ever said it was impossible.

        Name me also one person who denied that the difficulty of doing so increases thereby.

        ‘Maybe casual’ as though that were immaterial , no big deal. Which is indeed how RC classifies it.

        Joy, pain, fidelity – are seen in any close friendship.

        ‘And that of other same sex couples’- you must mean ‘some other…’?

        • Easy, Christopher, you. You have written on many occasions that gay men are invariably promiscuous and, when I have pointed out that this is not the case, have responded that my instances are mere anecdotes.

          Further, you have argued that pre-marital sex or promiscuity spoils individuals and couples for subsequent lifelong, faithful, stable relationships. And that ‘trial marriage’ doesn’t work. True, divorce is more frequent, but that may be because it is much easier rather than because of the amount of sex people have.

          • All those things are true – but they are nothing to do with me – they are commonsensical and statistical. However, the point that is not true is the ‘invariably’. We are living in a very big world. ‘Invariably’ is a very sweeping claim and in a world as big as this it is always going to be impossible to defend. I have not used that word. It comes quite close to the truth but is inaccurate.

      • ‘Their relationship, and that of other same sex couples, makes utter nonsense of all the claims being made here that such relationships of joy, pain and fidelity are impossible for gay couples’

        Penny, it is remarkable that, after all this time, and all these comments, you don’t appear to have listened or understood at all. As Chris highlights above, I cannot recall anyone ever saying such a thing.

        I certainly do not believe it. God makes his grace known in all sorts of situations; but the presence of God’s grace does not confirm the rightness of that particular situation.

        • Perhaps, Ian, you should re read some of Christopher’s comments. And David Madison. Christopher clearly believes that pre marital sex spoils the capacity for faithful, stable sexual relationships and that gay men are incapable of pfs relationships. Of course, if one mentions the existence of such relationships, that is mere anecdote.

          Of, course, many conservatives, such as yourself don’t believe this nonsense.

          • Penelope, my case does not require every same-sex relationship to be a disaster. If Scripture gives us clear guidance on the matter (and I believe it does), if the male body and the female body are designed to come together, if new life depends on this coming together, and if, in addition, there is a marked tendency towards difficulties in same-sex relationships as compared with heterosexual relationships then we are justified in reaching a conclusion.

          • David

            New life is only one telos of marriage; one on which the New Testament is resoundingly silent and which, in the eschatological age is, arguably, relatavised (cf. My point on Darwinism above).

            I don’t know of any marked difficulties in gay relationships compared with straight ones. What might these be?

          • Penelope, when the eschatological age fully arrives we will know what impact it has on human relationships and procreation, but child-rearing has continued to be as important as ever during the last 2000 years.

            Two responses might be offered to the problematic nature of homosexual activity. One is to concede the fact but point out that some same-sex relationships appear to work. The other is to deny that there is a problem, as you apparently do. To be honest, I am simply mystified by the latter response.

          • David

            “The Church is living at the end of time…living in such a time, the Church does not look for perpetuity through progeny, but for that more perfect, intense life that is the resurrection of the body in the eternity of God. For the Church, the point of life is not the having of children, but the praise of God in the company of the saints. Consequently, sex as reproduction is not really important.”

            Gerard Loughlin ‘Sex after Natural Law’

          • Penelope, are we on the road to some kind of Gnosticism here? Either sex should be completely renounced or it has become irrelevant and therefore any desire can be indulged without guilt.

          • Penny, that is only true if we are now living completely in the age to come, and this age has now passed away.

            I can inform you that it hasn’t. Sex and procreation still matter, though they are no longer of absolute importance.

            (Btw, it is worth noting that this is the kind of ‘the spiritual matters, the physical counts for nothing’ position that Paul appears to be challenging all through 1 Corinthians. Plus ca change…)

          • Ian

            Loughlin’s argument is not that the physical counts for nothing. He is not a gnostic.
            In this essay he argues that relationships are transformed by Christ, in the new creation (just as Paul, who wasn’t at all interested in procreation claimed, “For Paul, the last thing that Christians should want to do is produce little Christians”).
            An excellent essay, published in ‘The Sexual Theologian’.

          • David M.

            No we aren’t. Loughlin is fine theologian and this is embodied, incarnational theology.
            Read his essay, published in ‘The Sexual Theologian’.

          • Penny, I am happy to be told that he doesn’t *intend* to make the physical unimportant. I think my observation is that, in this construal, he is doing just that.

            I don’t think that is surprising, given that he is working in Queer Theology, which prioritises the lived experience of queer people and views the biblical text through that lens.

            He appears to see the new creation paradigm as one that overrides and dismantles the first creation which I don’t think is a fair reading of Paul overall, but is a common approach from this angle.

          • Penelope, we anticipate a final transformation, whose seeds have already been sown. That raises two questions. What will the final transformation be like and what does it mean that in some sense this transformation has already begun? Once the final transformation has occurred, there may be no more sex or procreation. So what happens while we wait? Do we continue engaging in sexual activity but make sure that it doesn’t result in childbirth? That would be hugely problematic. And it obviously hasn’t been the position of the Church throughout its history. It would also problematic to say that this was Paul’s position but it got lost soon afterwards.

            Paul was aware that something revolutionary had recently happened. But he didn’t know the timetable for the completion of the revolution. Given those circumstances, we would not expect Paul to talk about the importance of having and raising children. But Paul was in doubt that marriage between a man and a woman was the only arrangement in which sexual relations could legitimately occur.

          • Ian and David

            I suggest you read the essay. Loughlin relatavises procreation (in my opinion he is much closer here to the spirit of the NT than many biblical scholars who view these texts through the lens of the Reformation), he does not wish to abolish it (as queer theorist Lee Edelman would). In fact, he’s positive about the gift of children as you might expect from an RC theologian. I don’t find Loughlin’s theology particularly ‘queer’, though it is often published under that umbrella.
            There’s nothing about the lives of queer people in this essay. Though of course most biblical scholarship and theology is written by and for straight, white, male people.

          • I should not be quoted inaccurately.

            First of all I do not say gay men are ‘incapable’ of pfs relationships. I do not even believe that ‘faithful’ should be used of bonds of this kind, since Christians regard them as sinful (not dogmatically, but as part and parcel of a coherent worldview) – so let’s say monogamous.

            I say it is extremely rare.

            But your second error is to say that it is I that say that. it is not I but the statistical realities.

            And this in a world where even in the USA and even as recently as the 1990s 80% of married people had never been sexually unfaithful to their present spouse as confirmed by 3 independent studies.

            I have been making these points for years now, yet never seem to get a rendition of them that contains fewer than 2 inaccuracies.

          • As for believing that premarital sex spoils (in relative terms) the capacity for faithful and permanent bonds, that is both common sense and reality. Why ought I to hold ‘views’ that are at odds with either common sense or statistical reality let alone both?

          • Christopher

            All the Christian gay couples I know are both faithful and monogamous. True, that is not a large sample but it would be interesting to see research on infidelity in Christian couples both gay and straight.

            Secondly, Why would common sense (whatever that may be) or reality show that pre-marital sex spoils subsequent sex? I rather think the evidence may be against you there. Yes, divorce used to be less common, but that was because it was more difficult, legally and socially, not because one’s first sexual partner fixes one.

        • Exactly – and it is right that it should be difficult socially and therefore legally (always bear in mind that we are talking of an extremely unpleasant and ugly subject – or ‘foul’ as Antonia Forest puts it). Because then it will happen less and fewer people will receive its curse. Lower expectations (just as with abortion) mean both worse outcomes and lower value placed on precious things and people. Boo to that. A charter for the immature.

      • Nobody has ever claimed “that such relationships of joy, pain and fidelity are impossible for gay couples”.

        But where are the gay men who say fidelity is requirement for all believing Christians – that sex outside of marriage is sinful? If you know of any, welcome them to comment on this site. It would be quite exciting to meet such a person!

        • Joe S. ‘… if you know any?’ So you have never met any? Really? You could start with folk in ‘Living Out’. But why any folk who are gay would feel respect and welcome here, or inclined to join in a discussion where their most personal, vulnerable and intimate relationships are speculated on and statistically measured for flaws in the most judgemental tones, by people who do not actually know them, escapes me. But until they do much of this debate will continue to be conducted in ignorance of the very lives they presume to be talking about. The Church of England, and LLF, is seeking to work with important principle in these debates – ‘always with, never about’. That has yet to happen here.

          • David, what you say about speculation is highly inaccurate.

            First, any talk about causation is based on studies not speculation.

            Second, it acknowledges the diversity of causation.

            Third, given this acknowledged diversity, it would be either hard or impossible to speculate about a given case. This means that whether people know other people is irrelevant, becaus they are not speculating about them in the first place, but are speaking about more general large scale patterns.

            Fourth, there are no ‘tones’ in print.

            Fifth, I regret that people would call any broaching of certain topics jusdgmental even if it were in fact to the ends of greater knowledge and understanding.

            This is therefore a 5fold misunderstanding.

          • Christopher. I have attracted one of your daunting, trade-mark, firm, analytic, multi-point rebuttals. But this is a five-fold misunderstanding of what I meant. My fault for not being clearer, I am sure. I was not calling statistics speculative. By ‘speculation’ I was referring to various stereotypical assertions being made here about differences between men and women in behaviour and temperament. By ‘statistics’ I simply meant what you Ian and others have posted here from social research.

          • David,

            Presumably the gay/SSA individuals linked to Living Out are not in same-sex sexual relationships? I would also question of wisdom of same-sex non-sexual ‘romantic’ relationships but that’s a seperate issue.

            I’ve had these kind of relationship conversations with hundreds of gay men and also a fair number of Christian gay men. How many does one need to have to comment on observed patterns?

            I’ll say it again – many affirming gay Christians choose monogamy. What they don’t do is either “wait for marriage” or claim that sex outside of marriage is sinful.

          • Joe. Why not look on their website? They hold a conservative view on sexuality and seek to support gay folk living celibate in the light of that. They are a significant group in the evangelical world. You do not appear you have heard of them.
            ‘What they don’t do … is claim that sex outside of marriage is sinful’. But they do. This just isn’t true.

          • No, I was referring to where you said ‘their most personal, vulnerable and intimate relationships are speculated upon’. That is untrue. I speak in large-scale terms with large horizons. To speculate on people one does not know is a recipe for falsehood. I don’t do falsehood.

            Among notable causes for present homosexual desire are: addiction which may or may not be enjoyed; stagnation within a pattern that was set early; exposure to atypical testosterone/oestrogen mixes at the very beginning; being a younger son; having been molested; being hypersexual (for claimed homosexuals have impregnated at greater than average levels when young); loving the transgressive; reacting against a broken home or an absent father; reacting against unhealthy mother/father balance in one’s home. How on earth would one know in a given case, unless one knew the person.

          • Christopher. ‘To speculate on people one does not know is a recipe for falsehood’. My point entirely. But unless you know all the people whose behaviours you list here that is what you are doing. And the only things on this list are wholly negative, damaged and abused aren’t they? You even call these the ’causes for homosexual desire’. Natural desire or affection here for expressing in faithful, loving partnership finds no place on your list. I assume, that is what you believe. There is only wholly damaged, disordered desire.
            You do not persuade me you are not highly speculating. I know you won’t agree. I will leave it there.

          • Christopher

            You claim that you don’t ‘do falsehood’ and then come up with the most speculative and debunked reasons for homosexual orientation. Reasons which, moreover, pathologise homosexuality, which is something you claim never to do.

            You clearly believe that to be gay is to be intrinsically disordered.

          • Are you *saying* they are debunked – *all* of them? – or are they debunked? References please. Check out What Are They Teaching The Children.

            i didn’t understand when you said ‘debunked’ and then proceeded to provide no references.

            If you say I claim not to pathologise then you have misunderstood totally. I do not pathologise particular individuals unless I have knowledge of them. I do pathologise homosexuality as to fail to do so is to run away from evidence and illumination, which is bias.

          • David – you try to end the discussion before you have first understood(!).#

            I know from the available studies that these are some of the key and more widespread reasons but I do not know which individuals they specifically and individually apply to. Does that make sense now?

          • David R

            I am glad we agree. For a moment I thought you were advocating “extending of the marriage covenant to same-sex couples”!

          • Christopher

            Ah, you admit now that you do pathologise homosexuality. I have no idea what you mean by evidence or illumination. Homosexuality is a perfectly natural, if atypical, sexual orientation. You may think it immoral, but that is no reason to pathologise a natural, neutral, innocuous inclination.

            Unlike you, I don’t have references at hand. I nearly always fail to bookmark interesting articles debunking myths about homosexual aetiology or gender ‘ideology’. There are so many. It’s ages since I read your chapter, so can’t remember which studies you cited there. Perhaps some will now be out of date.
            But, as I’ve observed before, they’re all moot since it matters not a jot what makes someone as gay as a goose.

          • Ah, you admit now that you do pathologise homosexuality. I have no idea what you mean by evidence or illumination. Homosexuality is a perfectly natural, if atypical, sexual orientation.

            Um… you do realise that something can be both natural and a pathology? Cancer, for example, is perfectly natural, and also a pathology.

            The mere fact that something is natural does not mean it isn’t a pathology.

          • Penny, will you immediately take back your ‘admit’.

            I have always strongly been in favour of pathologising it in general and seeking causes for it in general; and strongly against doing so in the case of individuals not known to one. This can be seen by scrolling back. I expect you are confusing the two.

          • Nor does it matter which studies I cited, because I will always cite the largest-scale ones, so any other large scale ones that I omitted or that were conducted later will also be affirmed by me.

            If it’s ages since, that does not prevent you refreshing your memory, but many other synthesising non-researching authors are far better here – Satinover, De Young, Brown, Gagnon etc..

          • April 10th 10.47 Goddard part 1

            Christopher “for the 2nd time I never pathologise”

            I remain sceptical about ideologues such as Satinover, De Young and Gagnon.
            Brown, I do not know, unless you mean Peter Brown or Raymond Brown, both fine scholars.

          • Penny, you dismiss careful and painstaking scholars in a word, when in truth an assessment of 0.1% of what they have written would take an appreciable time. Not even non-careful and non-painstaking scholars can just be blackballed in a single second of time. Such flippancy is not likely to commend your assessments.

            What have any of these writers to do with the statistics which others have ascertained and they have done nothing but cite? Do you think people are to be held responsible for the researches of others? Yes/No.

            Brown: Michael L Brown. Peter and Raymond are indeed top scholars. These are merely secondary figures – so don’t shoot the messenger.

            I have to make this point any time. People think if someone cites an article they must have researched and written the article!! But that is true less than 1% of the time.

          • When I said ‘I never pathologise’ I was speaking loosely, meaning ‘I never pathologise in the sense you are presently speaking of: namely re individuals, and particularly those not known to me.’.

          • S

            It doesn’t need ‘proof’. It’s an atypical, normal sexual orientation.

            Whether homosexuality is immoral is a different question.

          • Christopher

            I do realise that they didn’t actually do the research they cite.
            But, they cite selectively in order to buttress their very contentious claims.
            Gagnon, in particular, has become a parody of himself. Shame because he was a competent exegete.

          • It doesn’t need ‘proof’. It’s an atypical, normal sexual orientation.

            And cancer is an atypical cell division.

            It is also a pathology. Because it is abnormal.

            So, whether homosexuality is ‘normal’ is precisely the point at issue. You haven’t proved it’s normal; simply pointing out that it occurs, or that it’s innate, doesn’t prove that because lots of (pathological) abnormalities occur and are innate, such as spina bifida or cystic fibrosis.

            If you want to claim that homosexual temptation is normal and not pathological you have to prove it, not just assert it.

            Whether homosexuality is immoral is a different question.

            It is, because the morality question is not about inclination. One can have patholigical inclinations to commit immoral acts — for instance, someone might have a pathological rage than inclines them to commit assault or murder — and the question about whether the acts are immoral is a different oen to whether the inclinations are pathological.

          • Penny, you are speaking in impossibly general terms. These writers have thousands of citation footnotes. Do all of these fit the description ‘selective’? How would you know that unless by knowing of all the available literature? Which you don’t, else you would cite it by name. So one doubts what you say for that reason.

            But if you want to stop the claimed selectivity in a given case or cases, just name the studies that they left out. Examples being…?

            As for your Gilbertian ‘Never / hardly ever’ – no, that is not right. Always on the broad scale, and never on the individual scale, unless the person is known to me.

  21. Joe S. I am puzzled by your last comment to me. I was commending members of Living Out where you will find Christians who are gay (they use ‘same-sex attracted’) who believe they they must live celibate lives and do. I greatly respect their faithfulness but do not agree celibacy is the only choice. I support the extension of marriage to same-sex couples.

    • David, gay sex is a sin regardless of how nice an individual gay person might be – and nothing can make it right no matter how unfair that might seem.

  22. Joe S. Who has used the word ‘nice’ here? Still less suggested it as a measure of consecrated, costly Christian love and relating? Please don’t trivialise people and views here that are not your own. I, for one, am as serious about the bible as you are.

    • I used the word nice to acknowledge that gay people are no different from any other type of person. The Christian definition of marriage – one man and one woman – is what it is. Why does it need updating?

      • “Why does it need updating?” Surely you know the ‘affirming’ reply to this? Because this Christian definition of marriage excludes a significant minority of people who wish to marry. For them too, as scripture says, ‘It is not good to be alone’.

        • But surely you know the problem with that reply simpliciter: there word ‘marry’ here is changing its meaning half way through your sentence. Two people of the same sex wanting a covenant relationship of companionship isn’t what Christian theology has understood to be ‘marriage’, since marriage involves so much more.

          Your response disguises the obvious solution to ‘not being alone’ which is civil partnerships. Given that they provide everything legally that marriage does, and given that they are a covenant partnership which in that sense has the capacity to end ‘being alone’, why the demand for ‘marriage’?

          • Hi Ian And surely you know I know all these arguments too? I was offering a short answer to Joe’s question. But since you responded. “The obvious solution to ‘not being alone’ is civil partnerships”. Really? Not sure how to arrive at that. Well ‘civil’ and ‘celibate’ might be two starters for why this ‘solution’ is not so obvious to everyone. CPs can’t even receive a blessing by the church either. And what makes this a biblically obvious solution? Bible is our concern here. Where is anything like civil partnerships found in the scriptures or church history? But we know the terrain here Ian.

        • The trouble is that civil partnerships

          (1) solidify and crystallise an exclusive same-sex two-people relationship, when Christians understand such to be friendships which are not one but many in number – a change therefore from the Christian model.
          Also Christians understand a SS quasi-sexual relationship to be something to turn from not to ratify (the reverse).

          (2) blur the distinction between friendship and a quasi-sexual relationship – this when friendship ought to be and often has been one of the most ubiquitous and recognisable things. The 2 are utterly different. If one has a close friend, sexual contact is ugly and unthinkable in that context. These points are obvious.

          (3) when CPs legislation came in then it was for SS couples not for companions like 2 old ladies living together or brothers and sisters. This therefore looks suspiciously like the quasi-sexual was what was in view throughout.

          (4) …which makes the dishonesty of it all the worse.

          (5) And the fact that CPs came in at a time of high profile for homosexuality means that one is inclined to believe in the deviousness of (3).

  23. ‘“Does the official teaching of the church rule out the approaches advocated by these speakers –speaker 6, possibly speaker 5, and maybe even speaker 4…?” (307). Here, rather than criticising LLF for not being as clear and determinative as some might like, it would be better to welcome its realism and honesty. It creates the opportunity to engage with these key deeper questions about the nature of Scripture and its authority in relation to the teaching of the Church of England. It raises the question as to whether or not the Articles and Canon A5 are being rejected by many (though not all) of those pressing for change in relation to sexuality.’

    Yes: a key starting point for such an engagement is page 318 note 318 of the LLF book. The reference pointed to by note 318 suggests that “It follows that, although Dr Pickles believes and is entitled to affirm (as he does) that his own theological position is still defined by the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, other clergy of the Church of England may equally affirm that those Articles are not for them the definitive arbiters of the doctrine that they are required to believe. This is of importance not only for all clergy who have to make the Declaration of Assent with a clear conscience but also in relation to the jurisdiction of the consistory court. In so far as it may, the consistory court must strive in the exercise of its faculty jurisdiction to ensure that any decision it makes permits the proper reflection of the doctrinal beliefs of the priest and congregation. Equally, however, it must strive to ensure that nothing is done in the exercise of that jurisdiction which may limit the proper reflection of the doctrinal beliefs of a different priest and congregation within the confines of the same ecclesiastical building.”

    Phil Almond


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