Is the Bishops’ Policy on Civil Partnerships Sustainable?

The House of Bishops’ position on civil partnerships and same-sex sexual relationships is defined by three statements.

The first is Issues in Human Sexuality, published in 1991 as a ‘discussion document’. When it was published, it had very mixed reactions, and I remember very clearly our whole-college debate about it in the college chapel when I was in training. It makes slightly awkward reading now, not least in its frequent use of the term ‘homophile’ which has fallen out of use, but for me the main issue in terms of pastoral policy was the separation of expectations between laity and clergy. The report made clear that same-sex sexual relationships were not consonant with the Church’s understanding of Christian marriage and sexuality; that failure to conform to the Church’s teaching should not be a bar to communion and participation in the life of the Church; but that clergy were expected to live to a different standard as part of their calling ‘not only to preach but to live the Gospel’ (para 5.13). When first reading the report, I struggled with the idea that there should appear to be two standards of behaviour, one for lay people and one for clergy, but then came to the view that it was realistic, in this as in other areas, that the expectations of clergy should be exemplary in the way that threshold expectations for lay membership of the Church need not. This was not in fact presenting two standards, but two expectations in relation to a single standard.

On further reflection, though, whilst this might be a good principle in many areas, in this area it is difficult to see it might work in practice. To take what might be an analogous situation: suppose an unmarried other-sex couple come to church. Should they be refused full participation in the church’s life because they are not living in line with the Church’s teaching? It might be argued that, if they are coming from an unchurched culture, there is no reason to expect understanding of Christian teaching. But as they grow in maturity, we could expect that they will come to realise the issue, and ‘regularise’ their relationship by getting married. But what if a same-sex couple come to church? What could ‘regularising’ their relationship mean, in the light of current teaching, except in some sense to bring it to an end? I am not here arguing for the rights or wrongs of the current teaching position—but highlighting that the ‘two standard’ pattern in Issues has a basic incoherence to it, and one which makes for a real pastoral problem.

It is worth noting that Issues did envisage the possibility that same-sex attracted clergy might be in some sort of committed relationship with another person, even cohabiting, but that that relationship could be celibate (‘We believe that the great majority of such clergy are not in sexually active relationships’ 5.11). But many in the Church are deeply unhappy that what was presented as a ‘discussion document’ quickly became fixed policy, which even now is not expected to change during or after the current phase of debate. The 2017 Guidance to DDOs on preparing candidates for selection to ordination training notes this:

The House of Bishops’ Statement does not claim to be the last word on the subject, but it was commended by Synod for discussion and response by the Church. Nevertheless, it expresses the theological standpoint and pastoral practice of the House of Bishops and reflects the position on human sexuality of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion as a whole as stated in the General Synod motion of November 1987 and Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference, augmented by Some Issues in Human Sexuality (GS Misc 722, 2003).

I think that the reason why Issues has become so fixed is that the following report, creatively named Some Issues in Human Sexuality, set out the options, but they were options that those seeking change in the Church did not like (and the report is not even linked on the C of E page on marriage and sexuality!). It was presented to Synod in 2003 (during my first stint as a member) and introduced by Richard Harries, then Bishop of Oxford, with an explanation that the Church does not believe in a three-legged stool of Scripture, tradition and reason, but is shaped by the single authority of Scripture, mediated to us interpretatively by tradition (the interpretation of previous generations) and reason (how we make sense of Scripture in our context). The report set out five possible options of making sense of Scriptural teaching, pointed out that these were mutually contradictory, and urged that the Church needed to settle its mind. It turned out that, in 2003, minds did not want to be settled.


The second statement from the House of Bishops came in 2005 when the Government introduced Civil Partnerships. This required a specific response, since Issues had set up the expectation that gay clergy might be in a committed but celibate relationship, and there was real ambiguity as to whether Civil Partnerships were envisaged by the Government as sexual quasi-marital relationships, or some other sort of committed legal arrangement. There was no explicit reference to the sexual nature of such a partnership and, in contrast to other-sex marriage, there could be no legal or practical definition of ‘consummation’ of such a relationship— but siblings were, controversially, prohibited from entering CPs. Andrew Goddard wrote a perceptive assessment of what was happening at the time in his Grove Ethics booklet Friends, Partners or Spouses? The Civil Partnership Act and Christian Witness. He notes this ambiguity and highlights the warning lights for Christian teaching.

The government could have made UK marriage law ‘gender-blind’ so that two people of the same sex could marry. Not only did they not follow this course, they have created a very few—but not insignificant—differences between civil partnership and marriage. In particular, there is no requirement that civil partners be in a sexual relationship although the presumption that a sexual relationship would exist between civil partners is probably the basis for applying the principles of consanguinity. There can be little doubt that most civil partnerships will be sexual and that civil partners will be generally viewed as in such a relationship.

In short, the government claims that although it walks like a duck, swims like a duck, quacks like a duck, it is not really a duck. A few details in relation to the creature’s plumage give technical justification to those experts who make this distinction and deny it is a duck. This means that care must be taken in simply insisting that it is a duck. Nevertheless, to the untrained eye—which includes most of the media and popular opinion—it remains a duck.

It becomes easy to see how this ambiguity presents very real practical problems for any policy which wants to make a hard and fast distinction between a (possibly celibate) Civil Partnership and a (sexually active) marriage relationship. In 2005 this problem was present, but not explicit, but that all changed with the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, and subsequent recognition that CPs from 2005 could be retrospectively recognised as marriages, and could be legally converted from one to the other by simple registration. It seems as though the Government had intended to create a duck all the time. The problems with distinguishing the two in practice can be seen in examples like the rather marriage-like non-marriage between two Westcott ordinands last week, reported in the Sunday Times.

Whilst the Archbishops’ Council expressed real concerns about the advent of CPs, the House of Bishops’ 2005 statement has serious weaknesses in the way it simply carries through the logic of Issues without considering the impact of the new context. Goddard concludes:

The bishops note that in response to civil partnerships there has been ‘a range of reactions within the Church’ (26). Some have welcomed the remedying of injustice. Others are concerned about fresh anomalies and believe that civil partnerships ‘in practice—even though not in law—erode the unique position which marriage has previously occupied’ (26). This claim again reflects a failure by the bishops to recognize just how much—in law as well as in practice—the advent of civil partnerships clearly reconfigures the position of marriage and redefines the family, as the Church’s response to the initial consultation warned would happen.

As a result, although there is the strong and largely defensible claim that ‘the Church’s teaching on sexual ethics remains unchanged’ (27) the House of Bishops has failed to recognize the seriousness of the challenge presented to this teaching by the new legislation. It has also failed to present a clearly articulated distinctive and prophetic Christian witness in relation to society’s changing attitude to same-sex relationships.


The third major statement came from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York ‘on behalf of’ the House of Bishops in February 2014, and tried hard not to have itself ironically published on St Valentine’s Day. The main statement it quite short, but the longer appendix sets out in summary the Church’s position on marriage and sexuality, reiterating existing canon law and the marriage liturgy, and emphasising the distinctives drawn up in Issues.

24. The implications of this particular responsibility of clergy to teach and exemplify in their life the teachings of the Church have been explained as follows; ‘The Church is also bound to take care that the ideal is not misrepresented or obscured; and to this end the example of its ordained ministers is of crucial significance. This means that certain possibilities are not open to the clergy by comparison with the laity, something that in principle has always been accepted ‘(Issues in Human Sexuality, 1991, Section 5.13)…

27. The House is not, therefore, willing for those who are in a same sex marriage to be ordained to any of the three orders of ministry. In addition it considers that it would not be appropriate conduct for someone in holy orders to enter into a same sex marriage, given the need for clergy to model the Church’s teaching in their lives.

28. The Church of England has a long tradition of tolerating conscientious dissent and of seeking to avoid drawing lines too firmly, not least when an issue is one where the people of God are seeking to discern the mind of Christ in a fast changing context. Neverthless at ordination clergy undertake to ‘accept and minister the discipline of this Church, and respect authority duly exercised within it.’ We urge all clergy to act consistently with that undertaking.

In the light of all this, it is fair to say that the House of Bishops’ current policy rests on three things:

  1. A clear distinction in law and practice between Civil Partnerships and marriage.
  2. A presumption of integrity of those who enter into Civil Partnerships, that they are indeed abiding by the teaching of the Church.
  3. A consistent application of this standard across the Church.

The loss of any one of these principles would undermine the coherence of current practice. But in fact each one of these is seriously compromised. On the first, the retrospective recognition of same-sex CPs as same-sex marriage erodes any sense of distinction; on the third, there is evidence that different dioceses do have different practices in relation to clergy, though the guidance to DDOs is clear. But what of the second?


Last month, Richard Peers published a forthright and honest reflection on this question. Richard is Diocesan Director of Education in Liverpool Diocese, having previously been both in parish ministry and a head teacher of a secondary school. Richard is a fascinating person—energetic, creative, and well read, and I have really enjoyed getting to know him over the last couple of years. He has attended the Tyndale NT Study Group for the last couple of years, as well as New Wine, and has written guests posts on this blog about his experiences. In his post, he begins with recounting some personal experience:

Late one evening four or five years ago, after a hospitable dinner, the twelve guests at a London clergy house began discussing some current development in the Church of England’s sexuality war. Quite quickly the question of obedience and how those present understood it became the topic of conversation. The twelve well represented possible applications of the infamous document Issues in Human Sexuality (IHS). Each of the couples included one ordained person and one lay. We were made up of one opposite and four same-sex (two male, two female) couples and two people, a man and a woman, who would describe themselves as friends, not a couple. One male gay couple present initiated the conversation when the non-ordained partner referred angrily to the requirement of him and his partner to refrain from sex. Their relationship had begun as a sexual one, and still was, but now, for reasons of obedience to IHS, they refrained from sex.

Of the other same sex couples present one had tried to refrain from sex, sometimes succeeding for several months at a time. One (lay) partner had suffered mental health issues and been offered medication as a result, as well as advice from his doctor to either “stop being so ridiculous” or get out of the relationship. The other same-sex couples regarded the requirement of IHS to be beyond ‘what is lawful and just’ and therefore not requiring obedience. There was general recognition of the collusion and obfuscation of this. The married, heterosexual couple present expressed their horror at being in such a church but also their own collusion by having to agree, at ordination, that they “understood” the church’s current teaching.

Soon, conversation moved on to what bishops, Directors of Ordinands, and archdeacons actually ask of candidates for ordination or new posts. The pattern seems to vary significantly across dioceses and individuals. IHS has to be “understood” in some places. “Do you understand and observe the requirements of …” in others. In some cases there had been intrusive questioning.

Richard then goes on to locate these ambiguities, inconsistencies and dishonesties in the context of theological reflection by the Catholic James Alison and communal vows of celibacy.

Sister Eileen Mary refers to the three vows of Religious, the “evangelical counsels”: Poverty, Chastity and Obedience, and how St Thérèse lived them as: Obedience and authenticity; Chastity and community; Poverty and ordinariness. Our current teaching on same-sex relationships fails each of these evangelical tests. By making liars of some (perhaps most) in the church we are perceived as inauthentic (“hypocritical”); by rejecting those who live chaste, faithful, sexual lives in same-sex relationships we are perceived as destroying community; by making such a big deal of sexuality we are perceived as labelling and magnifying an identity above the ordinariness of the very many LGBT people that everyone knows. There is no school where there are not LGBT people. This is heaven in ordinary. Young people know that we are not truth tellers in this area.

Richard is quite frank about the damage that he sees is being done by this dishonesty, and I think many who believe in the Church’s current teaching on the nature of marriage and sexuality can see this and agree with him in believing current practice to be harmful. Apart from anything else, it looks to many of us to be quite unrealistic: how can you expect someone to be cohabiting with someone that they are sexually attracted to, and expect that, in the privacy of their own home, that relationship would not become sexual? How is that possibly realistic? I can’t imagine the House of Bishops expecting that of an other-sex couple—though that might yet be tested by the opening of Civil Partnerships to other-sex couples in due course.


Amongst other things, Richard’s article raises for me three slightly awkward questions. The first is the personal one: I wonder what Richard is trying to tell me about himself? Is part of the article an oblique exercise in self-disclosure, much like Giles Goddard’s recent Via Media post, in which he comments:

I entered the priesthood shortly after ‘Issues’ was published but before it had morphed into policy. There was never any secret about my sexual orientation. I was fortunate to be in a widely known relationship when I was ordained both deacon and priest, and I was never required to give such a guarantee.  I’m bemused and surprised, but very relieved, that others have not been put off by the question.

The reason I don’t know is that I have never asked ‘intrusive personal questions’ of others, and in fact had no idea that Richard was either gay or partnered until this summer, when he used the plural ‘we’ in a Facebook post about a burglary. Though there are examples of the kind of dishonesty that Richard mentions amongst evangelicals, more often I think our ‘besetting sin’ is our naivety.

The second awkward question is what exactly Richard means when he says ‘As a Catholic Anglican the call of the universal church is strong, and our Catholicity is diminished when we are out of fellowship with other Christians.’ I would love to explore with him what this means in practice and in relation to the Church’s teaching in this area. I think there is ample evidence that the question of teaching on sexuality is a church-dividing issue; I cannot think of a single example of a denomination which has successfully managing to hold ‘two integrities’ on this issue, and there are obvious reasons why this is not the case. When push comes to shove, I think Richard will have to choose which matters more to him: catholicity or sexuality.

The third awkward question is around honesty and dishonesty. I completely agree with Richard, for practical, pastoral and theological reasons on the importance of honesty. I think I agree with him that the current policy is, if not inherently dishonest, at the very least opens the door to systematic dishonesty—though it is worth considering whether any policy which leans so heavily on a presumption of personal integrity is not similarly at fault. And I will have to take his word when he accuses bishops of knowing dishonesty in particular cases and in particular dioceses. But, given all this, where does the heart of the dishonesty lie, when people are prepared to make commitments for the sake of being ordained that they know either they are not keeping, or that they have no intention of keeping, or that in all likelihood they will not be able to keep? Collusion in dishonesty needs more that one party to be dishonest.


Finally, what then are the options for the House of Bishops? It seems to me there are only three possibilities. One would be to follow Richard’s suggestion, and accept and bless monogamous same-sex relationships. This might be what some hope the Pastoral Advisory Group would do, and it was also the hope behind the Hereford Diocesan Motion passed last year. But to do this would be to drive a coach and horses through any connection between pastoral practice and doctrine; it would short-circuit and so destroy all the other discussion; and I think it would face insuperable legal and liturgical obstacles because of its incoherence.

The second option would be to stay as we are. But, in the light of Richard’s comments, this would surely be a decision to collude with ongoing dishonesty and damage; it would continue to lack credibility; and it would be ever more vulnerable to the ‘guerrilla’ actions of flags flying on cathedrals, ‘rainbow eucharists’ and non-marriage marriages.

The third option would be to revisit Issues and the other teaching documents, be honest about the impossibility of the differentiations made, and stay with the current teaching on marriage and sexuality until after the whole process of Living in Love and Faith concludes. It would be to extend the prohibition for clergy of same-sex marriage to Civil Partnerships given that they are now being identified as marriage in all but name. Of course, that is likely to enrage those seeking change in the Church’s teaching. But, given that we cannot have our Civil Partnership cake and eat it, is there any other responsible way to respond to the real concerns that Richard raises?


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583 thoughts on “Is the Bishops’ Policy on Civil Partnerships Sustainable?

  1. Thankyou Ian for laying this out carefully and helpfully

    Do you think any of your 3 options are viable?

    I wonder if we aren’t moving inexorably nearer the fourth option – separation.

    • Actually, the more I think about it, the more I think the third option perfectly workable. All the previous statements have emphasised that same-sex marriage is simply not an option. The only reason for the concession on CPs was because of the three-fold presumption of celibacy. Since none of those any longer holds, the simplest and most faithful move is to retrench back to the statement prohibiting same-sex marriage ‘and all other arrangements which are equivalent’.

      It certainly is the only option in line with the statements made so far.

  2. The double standard, which we’d agree is not good, is the result of moving the goalposts for what was expected of so-called laity (i.e. the people of God).

    Solving double standards is, of course, best done by levelling the lower up to the higher, not the higher down to the lower. If men behave badly, one can get equality by levelling women down to men’s level, but that is just equality, it’s not a good solution, but (to the contrary) an obvious worsening. Holiness and justice/fairness/equality-before-God are biblical values. Equality at all costs (at the expense of holiness) is a convenient unexamined fetish, and like all idols it makes God in our image and expects God to have our contemporary values (which would be quite a coincidence, since our contemporary values are as unique and eccentric as every other set of cultural values).

    • Hi Christopher,

      The only area of ecclesiastical reform which survived the 19th Century reforms was the power to exclude, or ‘repel’, a person from holy communion. Canon B16 restricts the exercise of this power to the bishop.

      The Banister vs. Thompson judgement ratified that priests have no inherent, ex officio power to exclude sinners from holy communion ‘in the absence of a judicial sentence of excommunication’.

      Additionally, the Court of the Arches declared that the priest’s role is to “reprove, rebuke, exhort…to rebuke sin and to give warning of … ‘unworthy receiving’ of holy communion”

      Nevertheless, it also warned that: ‘the clergyman in repelling any one is not … exercising godly discipline on the person repelled, but he is acting as a public officer for the protection of the whole community’

      Of course, short of excluding from holy communion, clergy do have the power to admonish laity. Yet, clergy have revealed a decided reluctance to follow through on the Higton motion passed in 1987 by a massive General Synod majority, which stated:
      1. That sexual intercourse is an act of total commitment that properly belongs within marriage.
      2. That fornication and adultery are sins against this ideal, and are to met by a call to repentance and the exercise of compassion.
      3. That homosexual genital acts also fall short of this ideal, and are likewise to be met with a call to repentance and the exercise of compassion.

      In the face of the widespread impunity towards 2 and 3, priests need to be reminded that it’s as much the duty of God’s “messengers, watchmen, and stewards” of the Church to call to repentance as it is for them to exercise the kind of compassion, which gets mistaken for connivance and consent.

      If, through neglect of the ministry of authority in public rebuke and correction, I was complicit in anyone’s eternal ruin, then I’d worry about facing the Day of the Lord. (Ezek. 3:18).

      In contrast, many others appear quite sanguine about this prospect, considering the widespread reluctance to denounce high-profile clergy and lay ‘elders’ who, by impenitently persisting in sexual sin, obscure the Christian ideal (1 Tim. 5:19,20)

      • Bishops’ Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage Appendix points 15 and 16 (with reference to Issues), states that lay people in SSMs should not be denied access to the sacraments. They are, in some CoE churches, which is a disgrace.

        • Well, let’s face it: there’s flouting of the HoB Pastoral Guidance on both sides.

          Probably, there are traditionalist clergy who are as convinced of rightness of denying the sacraments to same-sex married lay people as some same-sex married clergy are convinced that rendering canonical obedience depends on their personal estimation of whether any requirement of them is “lawful and just”.

          I don’t think that same-sex marriage makes the latter any nobler.

          • The difference is, surely, that clergy who marry are imperilling only their own eternal destiny’
            Clergy who act as gatekeepers to the sacraments are imperilling others.

          • By denying the Laos access to a means of God’s grace

            So — you think that God cannot save someone if they don’t get communion? That is is the act of (properly) partaking in communion which actually does the saving?

            I hadn’t thought anyone actually thought that but okay.

            How does that interact with deadbed conversions though, where they don’t have time to take communion before expiring? Are they doomed to Hell?

  3. I think that cultural conformity probably explains why things so distant from (often contrary to) both historic and biblical Christianity are being mooted as serious options.

    That would be bad enough, but what makes it worse is the amount of diversionary and time-consuming chattering and expensive conferences it gives rise to. I am as guilty as anyone of the chattering, since I cannot resist leaping on (what seems like) a logical error – but isn’t it a good thing that logical errors be prevented? Everything to do with the sexual revolution produces a growing spiral of chaos (it is set up to generate increased immaturity, and then has to progressively legislate to cope with the increased immaturity that it itself has been responsible for engendering), and that is why I will always urge attention to the big picture, the sexual revolution being the big picture. If our focus is more local and parochial we may miss the main point.

    This, however, is testable. Where is life in the church today, by and large?
    1-In the denominations that are being consumed by this single issue because of their timorousness, or elsewhere?
    2-In the countries that are being consumed by it or elsewhere?
    3-In the cultures that are being consumed by it or elsewhere?

    The simple appeal to equality (a hard thing to define, in fact) and to single-person tragedies (accurately or inaccurately rendered), so that people do not even seem to notice that the Christianity envisaged has so utterly changed in so very few years AND with negative effects on both attendance and average spirituality – that is a tactic worthy of Screwtape.

    That *could* just be coincidence. But the way we find what’s true is partly through our predictions being borne out. We base what we expect to happen in the future on what has been seen to happen in the past. I see the sexual revolution destroying things. I therefore reasonably predict it will continue to do so. On this point I seem not surprisingly to have a high success rate, but there is no merit in having stated the obvious.

  4. This is saying that the lay congregation has no reasonable expectation of the Church clergy to even be Christian. Worryingly you are saying that in order to be ordained candidates knowingly lie on oath. Are really saying congregations should simply “lump it” and not say anything.

  5. Subscription to the 39 Articles has occupied a similar role in moving the goalposts of honesty and obedience. (It also reflects on the catholicity issue, as in this case most of those who cross their fingers would like theological principles more clearly compatible with Rome or Orthodoxy.) I’m thinking of your quotation from the person who is relieved that those who came after him and had to make the profession aren’t taking it seriously enough to refuse their vocation. I say this as someone glad to be in an Anglican province where there is no subscription to the 39 Articles and where even greater practical diversity on same-sex marriage has been allowed. Personally I hope for a church that can continue to contain those who disagree and in fact will uphold a high theology of marriage and a solid witness against pagan sexual morality (having lived in England, I really don’t feel same-sex Christian marriages even deserve mention within that vast topic, as the Paul of Romans 1 would find about six dozen better examples of what he was talking about in a half-mile stroll through any English center city.)

  6. Your comments about the current position being hypocritical, or at least dishonest, feel right to me. We owe those with whom we disagree the respect of being honest with ourselves, and with each other, and it does no one good to pretend otherwise.

    The CofE is currently an uncomfortable, unstable, environment for both positions. No one except the criminally ignorant really believes you can hold these concerns in tension indefinitely; so something really does need to give in order for stability to come and for practice to be brought in line with doctrine, or vice-versa.

    I’d like to be idealistic about point three, but I can’t see it. Like Simon I think the most likely outcome is really option (4), separation.

  7. Thanks for this. I had been hoping someone would write on this as the evolution of CPs into something so evidently at variance with church teaching had been bothering me for a little while.

    For what it’s worth I don’t think the government of 2004 were secretly planning to bring in SSM all along. Some in government were I’m sure, but many at that time (a more conservative moment than the present) would have sincerely hoped that it would succeed as a satisfactory alternative to SSM. Certainly the House of Lords asked the government for reassurance that this was not a step to SSM, and they received that.

    Naivete is very much in evidence here, but then no one wants to be the alarmist or the cynic. When the US Congress passed (and Bill Clinton signed) the Defence of Marriage Act many members criticised them for taking unnecessary action and ‘gay-baiting’ – though this was perhaps naive (if not underhand) given that it was done in response to Hawaii legalising SSM (and US states are obliged to recognise one another’s marriages).

    I think some would say what’s the point in going through the difficulty and trauma of option 3 (including requiring clergy to dissolve their CPs[?]) when the ‘teaching document’ is due in less than two years anyway? But then is it a teaching document or a mapping exercise – is it actually going to move us forward to a resolution?

    The impression I’ve got from the messages coming out from Justin Welby and his team (David Porter and others) is that they see that the winds have changed on this and there is only one way for the Church realistically to go, and their basic strategy appears to be the political one of just maintaining a permanent state of ambiguity for as long as possible while they wait for the facts on the ground to change. The hope presumably is that enough of the church will come over to ‘walking together’, if only through attrition and a sense of inevitability, so that opponents can be largely disregarded, the remaining intransigent core leaving if they can’t be reconciled to the new order.

    Certainly the strategy with the Anglican Communion seems to be to try to lure support away from Gafcon and the absentee provinces by convincing provinces to attend Lambeth and walk together come what may. It will be interesting to see who gets the better of that battle.

    The bigger danger building I think is actually the attempts by liberals to smear orthodox teaching on sexuality as harmful to mental health, spiritually abusive and a safeguarding issue. That’s the way wider culture is going, and liberals, ever in tune with the Zeitgeist, will be keen to bring these ways of thinking into the church. What most worries me is the extent to which the issue of SSM has come to stand alone, where it becomes idiosyncratic and unsupportable. While the Church continues to dispute over the meaning of marriage, it permits clergy in CPs, for lay people it states that being in active same-sex relationships and marriages should be no reason not to fully include them in church life, it sees no problem with transgenderism including in the priesthood, it condemns help for people with unwanted SSA, it works with Stonewall to develop guidance for its schools, it speaks of radical inclusion without clarifying the Christian meaning of this etc etc. The Church has been losing its grip on all these things around sex and sexuality since 2014 and the introduction of SSM and it’s hard to see it turning it around.

    • ‘The impression I’ve got from the messages coming out from Justin Welby and his team (David Porter and others) is that they see that the winds have changed on this and there is only one way for the Church realistically to go, and their basic strategy appears to be the political one of just maintaining a permanent state of ambiguity for as long as possible while they wait for the facts on the ground to change.’

      I don’t think you would be alone in that…but that is not what they have said to me when I have asked…

  8. Honestly, Ian, I think the whole thing is a mess, both in the secular and religious spheres. I can understand some straight couples campaigning for CPs (if these are regarded as sexual in nature and I agree with Andrew Goddard that they if it walks like a duck….), since even within civil marriage there is a perceived residue of patriarchy. But there isn’t equality in law, since CPs will not be recognised in all countries. I sympathise with siblings who don’t regard CPs as inherently sexual and who would like a contract which gave them some legal rights, of inheritance for example, such as those enjoyed by CPd and married couples.
    I believe that when same-sex marriage became law, consummation should have dropped from other-sex marriage to make the two states legally equal. As I have remarked before on here, it is consent, not consummation, which makes a marriage and the ‘requirement’ for consummation seems prurient and unhelpfully normative. There are plenty of straight couples who can’t or won’t consummate their marriages (as consummation is currently understood) and I think the law and custom valorises PIV sex.
    I believe the HoB was being disingenuous when ‘celibate’ priests were allowed to have CPs and that it has caused the sort of problems which Richard Peers outlined in his blog. On the other hand, I am glad, pastorally, that clergy have been allowed to enter CPs. I also understand those clergy who would not settle for CPs – because they saw them as being required to drink from a separate water fountain – and who waited for marriage. I think it shameful that we have a church which is operating a double standard, but I don’t quite see the way out of that at present.

    I think Issues is a theologically shabby little pamphlet which should never have been adopted as a potential shibboleth for ordinands. Although, its different standard for laity (I’m never quite sure about that, theologically) has enabled lay people to marry and have CPs without prurient questioning (in most contexts, I know of some churches which do question couples their sex lives). I don not believe that couples, either straight or gay, should be questioned about their sex lives or barred from communion if they are ‘living together’. Quite apart from whether living together counts as porneia, we do not question people about their tax returns, or whether they eat to excess. I think this reading of partaking of the Lord’s Supper unworthily is poor exegesis of 1 Corinthians.

    I think the Teaching Document ought to be reflecting theologically, in the current context and in light of developing traditions, what the Church understands about sexuality and marriage. So, I do not agree with your Option 3. The CoE has been talking about this for decades (nearly 3 since Issues) and can’t keep kicking the ball into the long grass. I agree with Jon (Morgan) that marriage has changed through the centuries. Modern, companionate marriage in the west bears little resemblance to ‘biblical’ marriage or to marriage in late antiquity and the Middle Ages. I believe the TD should be looking at why we think the Bible forbids sex before or outside marriage and if this sex really is porneia. I believe that the writers of the TD should be listening to all sorts of Christians, perhaps they are, including those gay couples who have CPs and don’t want to be married and those straight and gay couples who want neither CP or marriage, but who live together faithfully. I think we ought to be asking what is sex for, and is it important? By the latter, I don’t mean that it should be eschewed by all the single and the gay, but whether we are investing it with too much significance when we expect gay clergy in CPs to be abstinent (and what does abstinence mean?). I think we should recognise that some CPs are sexually active and that some marriages are sexually abstinent and not be too hung up about genital activity.

    I do not expect the TD to change the CoE doctrine on marriage, though I might wish it would interrogate it more fully. If pastoral practice is relaxed, I think neither ‘side’ will be satisfied. I do hope people can walk together. I do not want the CoE to be blackmailed by GAFCON or (ultra) conservative members of the Communion.

    • By ‘(ultra) conservative members’ I assume you mean people who still actually believe in the Bible’s teaching on sexual morality and think the church should continue to teach it and Christians live by it!

      How do you reconcile your position that sex is unimportant with the New Testament’s constant refrain that Christians should avoid sexual immorality?

    • It is not “consent” that makes a Christian marriage. A man and a woman become one f,ehh and God allows them a share in the act of creation. Consummation is a critical point of Christian marriage as it mirrors our oneness with God and the deeply physical and spiritual Union between a man and a woman as they make their pledges before God to remain faithful to each other for life. Children are the outcome of this union and statistics clearly show that they thrive best with a father and mother present in the home. God knows what is best for our flourishing.
      We need to focus on Christian marriage and we can make no moves to bless relationships between two people of the same sex. Certainly for me it seems that I will be forced to leave the Church I have served for over 30 years as the trajectory now seems to be set on a compliance with the prevailing culture.

      • Tricia

        Sorry, but, traditionally in the church, it is consent, rather than consummation which ‘makes’ a marriage. Unconsummated marriages are voidable but not void.

        • Penelope,

          As I’ve debated with Tobias Haller, the issue here is ‘consent to what?’ That is,
          without intrusion upon privacy, on what basis does English common law presume that one spouse is the joint natural parents of any child born to the mother during the subsistence of the marriage?

          The presumption is a legal inference made in the light of certain facts. So, absent clear and convincing evidence to the contrary, the legal presumption of legitimacy (Pater est quem nuptiae demonstrant) is that, the couple have been true to their exchanged vows and have consummated their marriage.

          Through marriage, this is how natural parenthood is pre-emptively made certain without undue intrusion upon family privacy (e.g. scrutinising circumstances of each child’s conception).

          As William Blackstone, the ‘father’ of English common law explained:
          ‘The main goal and design of marriage therefore being to ascertain and fix upon some certain person, to whom the care, the protection, the maintenance, and the education of the children should belong. Because of the very great uncertainty there will generally be, in the proof that the offspring were actually conceived through the same man; whereas, by confining the proof to the birth, and not to the conception, our law has made it completely certain, which child is legally recognised, and who is to take care of the child.’

          So, to remove consummation from marriage is to undermine one of the two key objective facts upon which our legal system pre-emptively, but rebuttably, recognises a husband’s paternity of any child born to his wife during their marriage.

          Without consummation, the marriage itself may be valid, but is vulnerable to annulment. However, without consummation, any legal inference of the husband’s paternity to his wife’s children would be baseless and subject to intrusive scrutiny.

          That is a major impact of completely gender-neutralising the institution of marriage.

          • Thank you, David, for this helpful reference to Blackstone. It makes clear that in the past marriage was primarily about the children which tend to be the product of a sexual relationship between a man and a woman.
            This same primary purpose is present in the introduction to the BCP marriage service.

            Penelope, you are clearly aware of the terms ‘void’ and ‘voidable’ marriages. The difference between them is that a void marriage is one that never took place, because it was not legally valid (e.g. one party being already married – or, note, in a civil partnership). A voidable marriage is one that is deemed ‘defective’ (that is the word used on the UK government website). The grounds for this include non-consummation and the bride being pregnant by another man at the time of the marriage. Non-consummation does not apply to same-sex marriages – which are therefore NOT the same as other-sex marriages.
            Thus, for an other-sex couple, their marriage is ‘defective’, and can be annulled (which is fundamentally different in law from divorce), until the point that it is consummated by coitus. Thus, in English law at least, a marriage is not just consent, but is completed, for other-sex couples, by consummation. So, yes, it is a sine qua non.
            I note that the law:
            – closely equates CP and marriage
            – disinguishes between SSM and OSM

          • Ian
            That’s really interesting about the biblical language, that it does suggest PIV intercourse; although I am not sure about the one flesh language in Genesis since that might mean (in the context) a new kinship unit. On the other hand one flesh in 1 Cor. 6 does mean sexual intimacy.
            I can see that it’s important in the begetting of offspring – important in a patriarchal society and in one in which children were needed to work and inherit. Are offspring a sine qua non of Christian marriage nowadays? I would suggest, not in the CoE. Of course, the case is different in the RC church where all acts of sexual intimacy are licit only if their telos is uncontracepted PIV intercourse (and impotent men may not marry).
            My contention is that PIV intercourse should not be seen as the telos of sexual intimacy because it is an intimacy impossible or difficult for many straight couples (and, of course, same-sex couples), and that other forms of sexual intimacy are as capable of expressing a one- fleshness. One flesh, that is, doesn’t have to involve penetration.

          • We are back to the same thing again, with Penelope after her preposterous responses to the need for full penetration for lawful consummation of a marriage.
            Without that consummation the marriage ceremony can be annulled., as if the ceremony never took place. It is divisible, as there was never a oneness (of flesh).
            We are back to the same thing again with Penelope, after her responses to the need for evidence full for penetration for lawful consummation of a marriage.
            Without that consummation the marriage ceremony can be annulled. It is divisible, as there was never a oneness (of flesh).
            To use an expression of Maitland relating to the relationship between Equity and Common Law: “The two streams have met and still run in the same channel, but their waters do not mix” (Maitland), the two streams of heterosexual marriage and SSM have have met at law, but their streams do not mix. They are not equivalent. They are immiscible. In fact, at present, in the CoE they do not flow in the same channel.

          • Penny, you ask:

            I can see that it’s important in the begetting of offspring – important in a patriarchal society and in one in which children were needed to work and inherit. Are offspring a sine qua non of Christian marriage nowadays?

            I confess I find that a very, very strange question! Firstly, why is patriarchy pertinent if children are indeed needed to work and inherit? The same would be true were society truly egalitarian.

            But, more importantly, where do you think children will now come from? Who is going to be generating the income which will pay my pension and yours? Who will look after us? To whom, as a nation and a generation, will we bequeath our legacy and our values?

            Of course, there was a particular concern in the biblical period for the maintenance of family name and specific family inheritance, especially in the light of the Jubilee (when ancestral territories were restored). But there was on the other hand a social collectivism that modern Western culture knows nothing of.

            Psychologically and socially, having children orients us away from ourselves. When *as a society* we lose an interest and commitment to children, and are unprepared to make sacrifices in the present for the sake of the future that we will never see, then *as a culture* we die.

            The future belongs to those people groups and nations who raise children. In that regard, nothing has changed. Where there is death, there will be marriage and procreation.

          • Ian

            Yes, of course, the begetting of children to work and support their parents is not dependent upon them being born into a patriarchal society! I thin I meant that children are important in a patriarchal society, and that……But, as you suggest they are also important in egalitarian societies (and matriarchal, were there such a thing).

            I don’t know where children will come from, especially since overpopulation is a myth, in the west at least. But I don’t suppose that people have children with that aim in mind. Nor do I suppose that children will cease to be a good of marriage – even where they are not seen (as in the CW marriage service) as the only good.

            I thought that the coming of Christ had released us from the cycle of sex and death which so terrified late antiquity and orientated us towards the eschaton rather then towards reproduction and finitude?

        • Penelope…
          Surely the very expression “unconsumated marriage” indicates the something fundamental is missing? As for consent being different from consummation I thinks that is (appropriate comparison?) to put assunder that which is rightly joined. And if it is about marriage (as biblically, generally or universally understood) to separate consent from sex would get laughed out of court. Exception and norms?

          • Ian
            Consent as in consenting to the marriage, i.e. not a forced marriage.
            What is missing? PIV intercourse? Is this the sine qua non?

          • Well, Penny, in law PIV intercourse was *the* test of both consummation and adultery.

            I think it does have a special place in Christian understandings of marriage derived from the understanding of ‘become one flesh’; the act both symbolises union and it that which makes actual genetic union (in the form of offspring) possible.

            This is, I think, indicated in the biblical metaphors of ‘go into’ and ‘know’ as sort-of euphemisms for PIV intercourse.

          • Hi Penelope,

            Where are you going with this line of argument? Alongside non-consummation, pregnancy at the time of the marriage by another man, fraud, or even a lack of consent will all similarly render a marriage voidable, but not void.

            So, how does your voidability argument reveal what’s essential to marriage?

          • Bur Penelope, bodily structure is extremely intricate and remarkable. Most of all reproduction. It hurts me when you speak trivially of something so amazing. Ingratitude and lack of awe are 2 quite awful things.

          • Hi Ian

            I seem to have posted my reply above in answer to David S., rather than in answer to you and Ian H.

          • Hi Christopher
            Can you explain why you think that I am speaking ‘trivially’ or lacking in ‘gratitude’?
            I was trying to make the point, clearly, unambiguously, but, I hope, not too graphically, that not all couples can or do engage in PIV intercourse, and that other kinds of sexual intimacy are bonding and significant.

          • Hi Christopher
            I don’t think sex is a transcendent reality, but I hope I don’t speak disrespectfully of it. Sexually intimacy can be precious and significant whether it’s PIV intercourse or some other intimacy.

      • Clive
        You mentioned this on the earlier thread which Ian graciously closed. I am intrigued. Please tell me what you understand by the term patriarchy.

        • Penelope,

          You know full well that when a man gets married to a woman that is NOT patriarchal by the correct meaning of the word unless, of course, you simply want to use it as a term of abuse against either marriage or men or both. You ought to know, and I hope you do, that a patriarch is someone in church of a much bigger family than just the nuclear family. However I am starting to wonder if you really do know what patriarchy means.

          • Clive
            The term patriarchy describes a system of government or culture in which men hold power and authority, such as that in western Asia, Europe and north Africa (and, thus, by extension, the Americas and the Antipodes) for the last few millennia.

            It is often used, as I have used it here, to refer to societies where men exercise particular power over women and children (and families and slaves). That is what I mean by writing that even contemporary marriage carries the residue of a patriarchal institution – one in which a woman was handed over from the ownership of her father into the ownership of her husband. This is demonstrated, for example, in the customs of fathers giving away their daughters and brides being veiled.

          • No, sadly not, Penelope.

            The term “patriarchy” is clearly in the dictionary as the head of a tribe or clan. Whilst it is true that they are almost always male (but not always) that is not how you are using the term.

          • No, Clive, like most scholars, I am using its second meaning – the rule of men in culture and society. Perhaps you should have read on in your dictionary. Though, actually, your more primitive meaning would suffice for my point about marriage as a patriarchal institution. The head of a clan hands over his daughter to a man in another clan. A contract between two men.

          • No, sadly not, Penelope

            What the dictionary says matters. If “academics: (a bizarre term really) try to invent their own meaning of words then we get in to the Lewis Carroll fantasy world of a word meaning just whatever you want into mean.

            If you want patriarchy to mean something other than its acknowledged proper meaning then you have to use a phrase or another word altogether.

          • Clive
            A system of society or government controlled by men. Oxford English Dictionary (no less).

            Take a look at how other commentators, like Ian, are using the term.

          • Oh Penelope, how ironic that the correct use of the term is on this same set of comments further down.

            And, importantly, the definition is from the Oxford English Dictionary (in two large volumes), from the volume “Marl – Z”

          • Clive

            [definition] 2. A patriarchal system of society of government. MARL-Z, OED, 1973

            A system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it. accessed 11/10/2018

    • Actually, I think this is really interesting Penny.

      I disagree with a good deal of what you’ve said, as you might expect, but you raise a couple of questions I’d not really considered if I’m honest, especially on issues of consummation and consent. I’ll have to think about it a bit more.

      I agree wholeheartedly with your comment about kicking the ball into the long grass, I think that’s something every party here can agree on. 😉

      P.S

      I was 3 when ‘Issues’ was published. I’d just like to throw that out there as a frame of reference for people when they talk about this issue having taken a good deal of time. haha

    • ‘I do not expect the TD to change the CoE doctrine on marriage, though I might wish it would interrogate it more fully. If pastoral practice is relaxed, I think neither ‘side’ will be satisfied. I do hope people can walk together. I do not want the CoE to be blackmailed by GAFCON or (ultra) conservative members of the Communion.’

      OK Penny, so you are saying that the TD (now LLF) won’t change the doctrine of marriage. You are also saying that relaxing pastoral practice without changing doctrine will be problematic for all. So you appear to be agreeing with me that pastoral practice needs to line up with doctrine.

      What, then, will happen?

      Are we to be faced with continuing conflict and guerrilla action in perpetuity?

      • Ian
        I honestly do not know. I think that the HoB are far too timid to interrogate the doctrine in a rigorous way.
        I think there may be more ‘pastoral accommodation’ which may be compassionate, but, as we agree, will not please either side.

        I believe the Bishops should reiterate their conviction – expressed in Synod, I think – that this is not a first-order issue and that their teaching should be that we may, as conscientious Christians who wish to live in unity and diversity, agree to differ on the doctrine (as we do on the Eucharist, atonement, the nature of the priesthood etc.).

        I am not sanguine.

        • Do we disagree on the Eucharist to the point of using liturgies that differ in their core theology? When that does happen (e.g. the use of the Roman rite) is that healthy or helpful?

          Given there is no one model of atonement in Scripture, nor has there been anywhere in Christian theology, I don’t think this compares.

          Again, on ‘priesthood’ we have a single liturgy. What would happen if someone were ordained using e.g. the ordination rite of a different church with a different theology? It would be meaningless and incoherent.

          So in what sense do any of these provide a model for ‘living with disagreement’?

          At the moment a small minority defy the agreed position and do their own thing, hiding dishonesty in secrecy. Is this healthy or helpful?

          • I think your point about liturgy is very important. And interesting, because although we are sharing a liturgy which expresses our doctrine, we might have very different understandings of what those doctrines are, or, at least differing understandings of what is going on in the ‘sacrament’. I see some desire to impose conformity in these and in our understandings of atonement, preferring one model (not least from some of the commentators here).
            I suppose my response would be that, although SSM re-defines marriage, the church has (despite the wording of the BCP still being its official understanding) acknowledged many changes in our understanding, both large and small. In my opinion, this redefinition of marriage would not violate a ‘traditional’ understanding of marriage. It could still be a one-flesh union – whether one-flesh represented a new kinship bond or one of sexual intimacy. It could exhibit the goods of mutuality and fidelity, and of fruitfulness and generativity (if not reproductive generativity, but that is not ‘required’ of mixed-sex couples either).
            I think this is essentially where we differ, on our understandings of how accommodating traditional definitions of marriage might be.
            I agree that secrecy is unhelpful and unhealthy which is why I applaud those priests who have ‘come out’ and married.

  9. I was unsure about the way Richard interpreted the religious vow “Poverty and ordinariness”. It surely means poverty and humility rather than being common which he took it to be.
    Also I’m puzzled as to how a partnership can be described as ‘faithful’ if there is no sexual activity: that would just be friendship.
    One overarching question which I have never seen asked is whether or not the CofE is grieving the Holy Spirit by compromising on what holiness means. Who would want to continue in a church from which the Spirit has departed? The letters to the churches in Revelation are full of serious warnings about drifting from the will of God.
    Another point not mentioned is what is being regarded as primary in belief and what is secondary. To relegate sexual ethics to a secondary level is a serious step.

    • I am amazed that when people know they have just the one life (and a fragile one at that) on this earth, they would expect that people would want to spend that life in compromise. Of course they wouldn’t.

    • Peter: ‘Another point not mentioned is what is being regarded as primary in belief and what is secondary. To relegate sexual ethics to a secondary level is a serious step.’

      well said – ethics are the test of your dogmatics – flawed ethics = flawed dogmatics.

  10. Hi Ian,

    Thanks for providing this overview, which thoughtfully explains how the Church’s policy and guidance on LGBT issues, CPs and same-sex marriage has developed over the past 27 years.

    I may be alone here in believing that, despite its shortcomings, Issues in Human sexuality, despite its failings, is far more representative of the Church’s catholic tradition than many would care to admit.

    This is because it adheres to a principle that established catholic tradition has a duty to maintain, which is the avoidance of occasions of scandal.

    Derived from scripture (e.g. Matt. 3:15; Matt. 17:27; Matt.18:6; 1 Cor. 10:28, 29; 2 Cor. 6:30; 1 Tim. 5:20; ) and tradition, this scandalum principle (which is also evident in the Banister vs. Thompson judgment, the HoB’s Pastoral Statement on CPs and Pastoral Guidance on same-sex marriage) has historically provided the rationale not only for imposing greater sanctions than would otherwise be authorised, but also for the Church to tolerate certain laws and customs and to defer to civil authorities on the basis that to do otherwise would incur greater public harm.

    In the past, where a conflict between canon and common law threatened to set the Church at odds with the State, the Church would defer to the State in order to prevent such an impasse from souring Church-State relations and provoking widespread disturbance to public order and confidence.

    For example, bishops actually enforced the removal of the clergy’s canonical right to have their cases heard before their ‘peers’ in an ecclesiastical court (privilegum fori).

    Also, whereas the State regarded children as illegitimate, who were born before parents were married, the Church didn’t. So, when English barons insisted on the former, to avert divisive conflict, the bishops acquiesed to the procedure that removed these cases from their jurisdiction.

    Again, Emperor Leo VI was restored to communion after his fourth marriage, despite this marriage being the selfsame cause of his earlier excommunication. Although a hefty penance was imposed, the Church decided that refusing to relent on excommunication would incur greater harm and upheaval to the wider society than trying to press the letter of the law. This had nothing to do with pastoral accommodation.

    If there was any doubt about the scope of clergy’s disciplinary authority, it was dispelled by the Court of the Arches decision in Banister vs. Thompson. a case in which a clergyman had refused communion to a man who had married his deceased wife’s sister (at that time, many the church considered this to be incestuous).

    As Philip Jones notes on his Ecclesiastical Law blog, the Court ruled that a priest has no inherent, ex officio power to exclude sinners from holy communion ‘in the absence of a judicial sentence of excommunication’. And, that’s why now the bishop alone may order that a person be excluded from the Sacrament (Canon B16).

    This Banister v Thompson judgement also clarifies that the avoidance of scandal must be the sole motive for the bishop to impose discipline on the laity: ‘‘the clergyman in repelling any one is not … exercising godly discipline on the person repelled, but he is acting as a public officer for the protection of the whole community’ (p.385).

    This principle of toleration (because to do otherwise would incur greater harm) explains why, in Issues, the HoB expressed reluctance to: ‘be more rigorous in searching out and exposing clergy in sexually active homophile [sic] relationships’ and to ‘treat all clergy who give no occasion of scandal with trust and respect’.

    So, based on the relative impact on the Church’s public life, a bishop might well decide that it would be wrong to remove an incumbent from his benefice for entering a lawful same-sex marriage, whereas it would be right to refuse to grant a PTO to a hospital chaplain. This freedom to exercise a measure of local discretion should not be attributed to the lack of “consistent application of this standard across the Church”.

    What’s important is that official toleration has always been documented to ensure that it cannot be misinterpreted as official connivance.

    Where Issues, subsequent statements and current disciplinary policy have erred is that:
    1. Across different dioceses, the application of clergy discipline is far too inconsistent to be based on the bishops agreeing a coherent collectively agreed rationale.
    2. ‘The salvation of souls is the supreme law (salus animarum suprema lex) is the great corollary of canon law, which has always ‘trumped’ the goal of avoiding scandal. If an attempt to reconcile canon and civil law incurs mortal sin, then the Church cannot, for fear of offending civil authorities or public sentiment, avoid its priestly duty to “reprove, rebuke, exhort…to rebuke sin and to give warning of … ‘unworthy receiving’ of holy communion” (Banister v Thompson, p.387)

    Also, the HoB cannot, without risking its credibility, be seen to equivocate over time by echoing General Synod 1987 in declaring that “homosexual genital acts … fall short of the ideal … and must be met with a call to repentance”, only to insist, a few decades later, that “the proposition that same sex relationships can embody crucial social virtues is not in dispute. Same sex relationships often embody genuine mutuality and fidelity…., two of the virtues which the Book of Common Prayer uses to commend marriage. The Church of England seeks to see those virtues maximised in society.”

    The Church may well want to see such virtues maximised, but its credibility in referring to scripture, tradition and reason to support its response to public consultations will be irreparably impaired by official connivance at the kind of sexual activity which is both mortal vice and has scandalised a significant constituency within the Church.

    I doubt that the secularised majority will ever again seriously listen to the Church when it tries to make a principled, prophetic stand against ‘no-fault’ divorce, or euthanasia.

    Society will rightly say, ‘Give it ten years or so, and the CofE will roll over!”

    • David, I too find the arguments used to justify same-sex relationships somewhat bizarre:
      “Same sex relationships often embody genuine mutuality and fidelity…., two of the virtues which the Book of Common Prayer uses to commend marriage. The Church of England seeks to see those virtues maximised in society.”
      Mutuality and fidelity are not so much virtues but essentials to make marriage work. People don’t marry because they have those virtues, but when marrying promise to practise them. One might as well say that steering wheels are virtuous as they keep cars on the road!
      Furthermore if the Book of Common Prayer line is taken then it could also apply to children. The marriage service remarks that children are a virtuous product of marriage; ipso facto other situations which produce children but not in a marriage family are virtuous. While we have to deal with all human situations with compassion (especially involving children) the Church should be careful of what it approves and affirms.

  11. Just a note about consummation. The reference to becoming “one flesh” is almost certainly in biblical Hebrew speaking of becoming one family and was so understood by ancient Israel. There is no reason to believe that Jesus or Paul understood it any differently. To suggest that sex makes a marriage is certainly a post-apostolic invention.

    • Hmm but what about 1 Cor 6:16 : ‘Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, “The two shall be one flesh.”’

      Seems pretty clear to me. Who is it who claims otherwise?

      • Pretty clear? Black and White!
        Scripture interprets scripture
        and I think I’ll take Paul, the Apostle, inspired by the Spirit and a Rabbi & teacher of Torah to explain what Genesis meant.

    • But Colin, even if Paul is reading something into this, it seems in the creation account that the ‘one flesh’ of a new family is integrally associated with procreation and therefore intercourse.

      This is evidenced in the juxtaposition of the two creation accounts, with humanity framed around by the commission to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ and by the repetition of ‘image and likeness’ of their offspring when ‘Adam knew Eve and she conceived’.

      As I have said in a comment above, the very nature of OT metaphors for sexual intercourse point in this direction.

      I don’t think that means that ‘sex makes marriage’. The C of E liturgy is very clear that what ‘makes marriage’ is consent, vows, and the giving and receiving of rings. But even in the liturgy sex as ‘bodily union’ is integral, just as (to borrow another analogy from someone else’s comment above) wheels are integral to a car.

      • Oh, I see the one-flesh conversation is happening here too. I tend to agree with Colin although I also understand Will’s objection in citing 1 Cor. 6.
        But, back to bodily union, that doesn’t have to mean PIV intercourse. Other sexual intimacies are available!

          • Perhaps not. But Colin knows more of the language and the context of the texts than I, and, perhaps, than you. That is how we form our understanding, by attending to expert hermeneutics. We might not always agree with them ,when we have done a little more research ourselves. But we should be attentive.
            Besides, one of Colin’s examiners was David Instone-Brewer, hardly a liberal or a proponent of radical hermeneutics

          • Penelope
            Indeed you are right – we should be attentive, not uncritically, but certainly respectfully to the scholarship. But the scholarship must also be attentive and respectful to the tradition, though not uncritically 🙂
            pax

    • I have read elsewhere that ‘one flesh’ is about kinship and not (just) about the act of sex itself. However, the point was that the joining of the man and the woman creates a new kinship group. Why? Because the physical joining of the man and the woman results in children.

      I cannot link to it offhand, but Alistair Roberts points out what underlies the discussion between Jesus and the sadducees in Luke 20.27-40. Their argument was based on the levirite marriage. If a man died without children, then his brother was to marry his widow and the children would count as the offspring of the dead man. This does strongly suggest that the prime reason for marriage was procreation. This is then reinforced by Jesus’ teaching that in the resurrection there would be no marriage or giving in marriage. If there is no death, then there is no need for procreation.

      It seems very difficult to argue that, prior to the modern era, marriage was basically about producing children. The consanguinity proscriptions exist in relation to this, as folk have long known that inbreeding is an issue. The civil laws, the privileges and responsibilities around marriage exist to protect and provide for the relationship which protects and nurtures the children.

      There has been a big shift in the West, so that marriage is seen as “when two people love each other and want to commit themselves to each other.” But with this, why do we have laws about it? What marks out this kind of committed relationship from other committed relationships, e.g. within a family or with friends? It is this diminution of marriage which is the innovation.

  12. T.W. October 9, 2018 at 2:30 pm makes the point about honesty and obedience in connection with subscription to the 39 Articles. This is a deeper, more important disagreement than the sexuality disagreement, important though that is. I think that is especially true for what we might call the Articles of salvation, Articles 9-18 and 31, say, plus what certain homilies (Passion, Salvation, Nativity) say about the atonement. Speaking as a layman who has the temerity to have a considered conviction on these things I have suggested to various conservative evangelical leaders (who presumably believe that we all face the wrath and condemnation of God from birth onwards and believe that the atonement doctrine of penal substitution and satisfaction is true and Anglican) that they should write an open letter to the Archbishops and all Bishops challenging them, politely, humbly and acknowledging the beams in their own eyes, to say honestly whether they all believe these doctrines and are committed to preach them – as they are committed to do by the Declaration of Assent. It may be that they do believe and preach them; that would put me in my place and humble me but I would be glad to be convinced of that. Easy for me to suggest such an open letter – I am not dependent on the CofE for my livelihood and have not promised to obey any Bishop in all things lawful and honest.

    But a debate about these deeper doctrines is needed before any ‘separation’ is contemplated – if such a ‘separation’ does happen it must be because of real disagreement about these deeper things, because at bottom it will be a disagreement about what God is like and about what is the paramount need of us all.

    Phil Almond

  13. Hi Will, I have a PhD on Genesis 2:24 (the ‘one flesh’ verse) that has been endorsed by biblical scholars who have specialised in the Bible’s teaching on marriage including William Heth (a professor of NT Greek), David Instone-Brewer (OT translation committee, NIV), and Craig Blomberg (NT translation committee, NIV). I have a paper on it in this month’s Unio cum Christo, a peer-reviewed academic journal published by Westminster Theological Seminary if you wanted to look it up. Just briefly on the verse you cite, you will notice that in 1 Cor 6:15-16 Paul is comparing our relationship with Christ to Gen 2:24 (as he does in Eph 5:31-32) – and to a relationship with a ‘prostitute.’ The question we need to ask is, are they both based on sexual intercourse? Or are they both based on a ‘one family’ understanding of one flesh? In Revelation the images of harlot and bride depict two possible forms of existence for the Christian community. The community can live in idolatry, as a prostitute, or the community can live in faithfulness to God, as a bride. I suggest that Paul is asking the Corinthians to decide which family they are in. In other words, I believe Paul is not referencing here a literal prostitute.

    • That’s really interesting. But I think it is very clear that the harlot in Rev has not literally committed adultery with all the kings of the earth. I am not so clear that 1 Cor 6 is similarly metaphorical…Paul is talking about actual sex with actual prostitutes isn’t he?

    • Hi Colin

      That’s an impressive endorsement, but I confess I’m not yet convinced. To make your point you have to suppose that 1 Cor 6 is not about a literal prostitute, even though the context is largely about avoiding porneia. I just don’t think that can be plausible.

      • In fact, there are 2 central arguments against Colin’s position on 1 Cor 6:

        (a) context,

        (b) lack of an alternative neat understanding of what a prostitute can be.

        Of course, such imagery is used in the OT (Rev is not necessarily relevant as it comes later than 1 Cor). But how would readers be naturally expected to see the passage or Paul’s thought in such a complicated way IN PREFERENCE TO the obvious way of reading it?

        To this we add that ‘one flesh’ is an accurate biological description, since the mechanism of childbirth involves both as a united organism. Which is not to gainsay Colin’s points.

        • Hi Christopher, you summarize the problem in your comment: “But how would readers be naturally expected to see the passage or Paul’s thought in such a complicated way IN PREFERENCE TO the obvious way of reading it?” The “obvious” way for us in the Western tradition is to read a neoplatonic Greco-Roman understanding as Witte points out (see my recent comment). But that is not the context of the letter. Paul was writing to a first century church where he had spent some time teaching and was answering a letter they had sent that we do not have. If we accept a holistic understanding of the NT, even if we do not accept Pauline authorship of Ephesians, the latter outlines the understanding of the ‘one flesh’ union in the NT. It is the same understanding held in the OT, except the NT sees a senus polenior in it. It would be surprising if Paul had not mentioned this to the Corinthians.

          • That should have been ‘sensus plenior’ – a fuller meaning not envisaged by the original author – it defeated this spell check.. :-).

          • I can give another example of this neoplatonic understanding that has confused us (and seemingly some at Corinth). Andrew Naselli (a young evangelical scholar from the USA) points out that in 1 Corinthians 6:18 the expression, “Every other sin a person commits is outside the body” is not in the original Greek, but rather it says, “Every sin a person commits is outside the body” —the “other” has been added by translators trying to make sense of what Paul is saying. Naselli then persuasively argues that it is not Paul saying this at all—it is one of several comments made by the Corinthians in the lost letter Paul is answering. Therefore, the comment should be in inverted commas, as others are in that same chapter in many Bible translations (e.g., ESV: “All things are lawful for me” v. 12).

            It seems that some Corinthians had absorbed the prevalent, contemporary, neoplatonic mindset that the body is unimportant and thus sins committed ‘in’ (or ‘by’) the body were inconsequential—only ‘spiritual’ sins mattered (i.e., those committed “outside the body”). Paul counters this by saying, in the context of the sexual immorality he was addressing at Corinth, that “the sexually immoral person sins against his own body”—not meaning to imply that other sins were not also ‘against the body.’

          • Thanks, yes – but my main point was whether there existed any specific natural interpretation of ‘prostitute’ that did not actually refer to a prostitute.

          • Will, I think it comes down to how we choose to read the Bible. When I am asked what any particular passage of Scripture means to me, I look to see how its original meaning might apply to me today. In contrast, many believers use what is called a ‘reader response’ hermeneutic. In other words, in our example, what does (or might) one flesh mean to me, and then they look to apply that. I think it is probably true that most believers adopt the latter approach.

          • Christopher, I am getting old, I put Will’s post on the wrong thread – hopefully this is now in the right place. And, I hope that I am now answering your question (“my main point was whether there existed any specific natural interpretation of ‘prostitute’ that did not actually refer to a prostitute”). Yes, clearly there are examples where prostitute means prostitute (e.g., Gen 38; Matt 21:31). Outside our passage in the NT the word is used 10 times—and 50% of the time it is metaphoric/symbolic. That seems to be the same proportion as for the word “adultery” in the Bible. But strangely, in the OT marital imagery, the waywardness of Israel in pursuing ‘other gods’ is described mostly as ‘prostitution’—not as you might expect (in light of the fact Israel was ‘married’ to Yahweh)—adultery. In all these instances it is Israel that IS the prostitute. Coming to our passage in 1 Cor 6, I think it is not logical for Paul to refer to a literal prostitute (others have commented on that)—as the case he was dealing with in 1 Cor 5 is a man sleeping with his step mother—not a prostitute. Some have suggested that his step mother was also a prostitute! Others that there was a temple at Corinth that had cult prostitutes—but there is no evidence for this and some have given reason to doubt it.

            As I have pointed out on another thread, the Pauline corpus uses Gen 2:24 to build the bridal and corporate body imagery. It seems that Eph 5:31-32 claims that Gen 2:24 is the mechanism for bringing the Gentiles into the Abrahamic promise—it would be odd if Paul had never once taught this to the Gentile Corinthian church in his time there? So the imagery might seem ‘odd’ to us—but it pervades the OT—and we remember that Paul declares himself to be a Hebrew of the Hebrews. It seems clear to me that John did not get the prostitute imagery out of the blue in Revelation.

          • Christopher – I’ve tried to make these points to Colin but he doesn’t seem to be responding to me. The fact is that sexual morality is a major concern of 1 Cor 6 – it mentions fornication twice, in vv 13 and 18, and fornicator in v 18, and of the types of sinner listed in vv 9-10 four of the first five are of a sexual nature. It strikes at the very heart of sensible biblical interpretation to contend that all of this should be understood metaphorically, without any signals being given for that whatsoever. And all just to maintain an implausible thesis about the biblical meaning of ‘one flesh’.

        • And, despite many Christians seeing that 1 Cor 6:19 (“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you”) is (obviously?) a reference to our literal individual bodies, in the Greek it is clear that the “body” in question the collective membership of the church at Corinth. Thus Paul is using the concept of a corprate body, as I suggest he is in 1 Cor 6:15-16. Again, Paul as the master communicator, would not have expected the Corinthians to have been misunderstood his comment?

          • But can I be clear about who you think is the hypothetical prostitute that Paul is referring to in this verse?

            I had accounted for his use of this image by taking him to be using reductio ad absurdum.

          • Christopher, I am replying to your question as to who the hypothetical prostitute is in 1 Cor 6.

            As I (and others) see it, the bride/body of Christ are those that belong to Christ, the prostitute represents the world of unbelievers. A similar imagery is found in the OT. Thus Israel are God’s people, but when they behave like the world God calls them a prostitute (or adulterers). This marital/unfaithfulness imagery is alluded to in the Pentateuch, but is more explicit in Hosea, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Malachi.

            I believe this is what Paul is saying to the Corinthians. To paraphrase him: “Which family have you covenanted to be in—the world, or the church? If it is the church, do not go back to behaving like that ‘prostitute’ [i.e. the world] —with all her idolatry and sexual immorality—instead be true to your status in the family of Christ.”

          • But how sure can you be about that, when he immediately goes on to talk about individual sexual immorality, and has just previously been talking about individual gluttony?

          • [Sorry appeared in wrong place]

            Christopher – I’ve tried to make these points to Colin but he doesn’t seem to be responding to me. The fact is that sexual morality is a major concern of 1 Cor 6 – it mentions fornication twice, in vv 13 and 18, and fornicator in v 18, and of the types of sinner listed in vv 9-10 four of the first five are of a sexual nature. It strikes at the very heart of sensible biblical interpretation to contend that all of this should be understood metaphorically, without any signals being given for that whatsoever. And all just to maintain an implausible thesis about the biblical meaning of ‘one flesh’.

        • Hi Will and Christopher,

          I will have another try with this. It is important. It has considerable pastoral implications. Some of this material is scattered elsewhere around this blog—but it has become complex and I have found it difficult to follow myself. I hope this appears in the right place!

          But (this is not an advert) I summarise briefly the argument in my 2018 Bridegroom Messiah which costs just £5—and a full copy of my PhD is available both as a published book (Marital Imagery in the Bible)—but also as a free download: https://chesterrep.openrepository.com/handle/10034/607240

          Your scepticism is justified. But many of those who have read my PhD have been convinced—including Willian A. Heth, Professor of Greek and New Testament, Taylor University, Upland, IN—the most published scholar in the world on the Bible’s teaching about marriage/divorce? He not only wrote the foreword to my published study, he has presented my work at academic seminars in the USA. He, like me, is in his late 60s—so not quick to change his mind?

          The ‘one flesh’ in 1 Cor 6:15-16 is a reference to Gen 2:24. That verse cannot on any exegesis based on authorial intent be demonstrated in the OT to be a reference to penetrative sexual intercourse. Rather it refers to the marital affinity union based on a consensual covenant that brings the bride into a new family—symbolised in the West when the bride changes her family name. She is now COUNTED AS [sorry about these capitals—I would prefer italics] being in the husband’s family.

          Does the NT use Gen 2:24 differently? I could give many reasons to say not but space does not allow. But here is one: the “Gen 2:24= Christ and the church” statement in Eph 5:31-32 is the ‘root metaphor’ that underpins all NT marital imagery. (In the OT it is Gen 2:24 = Yahweh and Israel).

          Most accept that the ‘mystery’ in Ephesians is the inclusion of the Gentiles. I argue that the “profound mystery” in Eph 5:32 is when the church becomes the bride of the bridegroom Messiah, who is the seed of Abraham—and thus Gentile believers can claim the Gen 22:17-18 single seed promise (see Gal 3:16). We are thus “COUNTED AS” being in his family. Paul drives the same argument home throughout Romans 9. He references Hosea’s marital imagery— “This means that it is not the children of the flesh [blood descendants of Jacob] who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are COUNTED AS offspring” (Rom 9:8). It is clear from Eph 5:22-30 that the bride of Christ and the body of Christ are the same entity—formed by that Gen 2:24 union. Thus Paul reads a (stunning!) sensus plenior into the Gen 2:24 one flesh union.

          Why hasn’t this been seen before? Because every commentator I know has assumed Gen 2:24 in Eph 5:31-32 is a reference to Adam and Eve. David Instone-Brewer, who has a Cambridge University PhD in biblical Hebrew, is on the NIV translation committee, and has published extensively on marriage, described the analysis of Gen 2:24 in my PhD as “a significant contribution with precedent in the literature.” In that study I argue that the Bible’s marital imagery is its dominant conceptual metaphor—Craig Blomberg, also on the NIV translation committee comments: “the best and most thorough treatment of this subject now available.”

          In the OT imagery, Israel, because of her behaviour, is told by God, not that she is going with prostitutes, but by her behaviour she demonstrates that SHE IS THE PROSTITUTE—look at Ezek 16:35. This imagery pervades the OT. It is alluded to extensively in the Pentateuch, but is more explicit in Hosea, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Malachi. Jesus employs the same imagery when he describes his fellow Jews as an “adulterous generation” (Mark 8:38) —he was not speaking literally!

          Now to 1 Cor 6:15-16. The problem in Corinth is certainly sexually immorality, among other sins. Sex with a prostitute involves penetrative intercourse. But Paul in the passage uses Gen 2:24—nowhere else in the Bible is it used to describe such. Why does he do this here? A clue is that he also in the same two verses speaks of church members at Corinth as the members of the body of Christ. Ephesians is clear that the Corinthian church members are the members of the body of Christ by means of that Gen 2:24 union. “Members” in this context are clearly people—like members of a golf club—Paul is not speaking of body parts.

          Is it not probable, if Gen 2:24 is the covenantal new family mechanism for the salvation of the Gentiles, that Paul would have mentioned it to the Gentile Corinthian church in his extensive time with them? He now draws attention to that verse, their status in the corporate body of Christ, and says, to paraphrase him:

          “Which family have you been brought into a covenant relationship with—the world, or the church? If it is the church, do not go back to behaving like that ‘prostitute’ —with all her idolatry and sexual immorality—instead be true to your status in the family of Christ.”

          Or—is he saying that ‘one flesh’ is penetrative sexual intercourse and such is the mechanism for your relationship with Christ and thus inclusion in the church? Is he saying that you church members [people not body parts] become the “member of a prostitute” with such intercourse (how does that work?). Is he saying that one sexual act with a prostitute creates a marriage, or creates some sort of ontological union?

          The theological, practical, and pastoral problems are immense for this traditional exegesis—acknowledged by one of the most prolific writers on sex in the NT—William Loader—who nonetheless holds to that exegesis. But he never considers any metaphoric analysis—and strangely concedes that “one flesh” in Gen 2:24 in its context in the OT is a reference to “one’s own kin or family.”

          Still not convinced? I understand. My USA supervisor was not either. Until as my study progressed he got it—he became totally convinced. His own Phd? It was on Ephesians.

          • The Instone Brewer comment was “without precedent in the literature.” Typing was never my strong point.

          • Well – I am always happy when I see such thought has gone into a theory, even to the point of proposing an alternative paradigm. Good for you. My own analysis of this viewpoint (as a non-paulinist) will probably be slow as I mull over it. But could you just clarify – within your framework is it a coincidence that Paul clearly speaks so amply in this precise context (both chs 5 and 6) about INDIVIDUAL sexual sins, prioritises them in his ch6 vice-list (4 out of 5), speaks of individual gluttony here and so on?

            If not a coincidence, how might a Brucean paraphrase read, giving the flow of thought?

          • Hi Colin

            I hope you don’t mind if I quote the passage we are discussing in full:
            15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16 Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, “The two shall be one flesh.” 17 But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 18 Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body. [Btw to use italics put text but without the spaces – look up HTML tags online to see others you can use.]

            To me it is clear that:
            1) Paul is teaching here on glorifying God in your body, your literal body, probably against a (gnostic?) teaching that says that now you are spiritual what you do with your body doesn’t matter.
            2) In this connection he is trying to explain in spiritual, Christological terms why it really does matter
            3) He is using a mixture of imagery and metaphors to achieve this, which as so often with such things should not be pressed for full logical coherence
            4) The thrust of the imagery is your body has become part of Christ’s body, this is spiritual but it is also bodily, and if you use your body for sins such as sexual sin then you are effectively involving Christ in that sin (‘never!’)
            5) Use of a prostitute provides a very literal image of how using our body for sin involves us joining it to another body in a way inconsistent with our status in Christ and his body. It is both literal and metaphor.

            It’s not that sex makes marriage – no one could have thought that, as they didn’t think people became married to prostitutes, or to other people’s wives through adultery. But the joining as ‘one flesh’ to a prostitute in imitation of marriage shows the basic infidelity involved in doing so, since we with our bodies belong to Christ as though married to him, in a spiritual-bodily union.

            With Gen 2:24 it is interesting what you say about kinship being the primary understanding in the literature. To my mind it is quite obvious that it could easily mean both, for sexual union of bodies is the fleshly means by which the new family unit is formed. Why are you so sure that the ancient literature could not have had a sexual connotation in its use of ‘flesh’, with its strong intimations of bodies and sexual desire (being desire for the bodily flesh of another)?

        • Christopher – who knows if I have this reply in the right place? This site is confusing. I am trying to reply to your comment: “within your framework is it a coincidence that Paul clearly speaks so amply in this precise context (both chs 5 and 6) about INDIVIDUAL sexual sins, prioritises them in his ch6 vice-list (4 out of 5), speaks of individual gluttony here and so on?”

          So here goes:

          Yes. Yes. And yes! Have I said any different? It was INDIVIDUALS that were sinning at Corinth, but in verses 15-16 Paul is addressing the church, or a group within the church, saying because of the INDIVIDUALS that were sinning, this group, or perhaps the whole church—”you” = gentive 2nd person plural—were collectively acting as if they were a ‘prostitute’—that is, of the world, not belonging to Christ. I have not said, and have never said, that Paul is not concerned about actual sexual immorality and gluttony etc at Corinth. In vv. 9-11, 18 that is exactly what he is addressing.

          This ‘prostitute’ imagery runs throughout the OT. And Lynne Huber says of Revelation that: “The images of harlot and bride depict two possible forms of existence for the Christian community. The community can live in idolatry, as a prostitute, or the community can live in faithfulness to God, as a bride.” I find it fascinating that no believer I know has any problem with this ‘prostitute’ imagery in Revelation, that is, none I know take it to mean a literal prostitute in Rev 17, but somehow seem to think that Paul is not capable of, or simply is not using, that same imagery (including our leader, Ian Paul). I ask: Why not?

          There is an an overwhelming academic consensus against the understanding that the Hebrew Bible in Gen 2:24 is referring to sexual intercourse—I believe I have read the whole corpus of scholarly literature in English on this. But this does not seem to deter seemingly everybody on this blog confidently asserting that Gen 2:24 does refer to sexual intercourse. So here is the challenge. When the NT, in Eph 5:31-32, says GEN 2:24 IS CHRIST AND THE CHURCH—what is it saying? We have sex with Christ?

      • Will, OK. I have offered another paradigm. I do not think, after 10 years study of this, that your argument has a sound basis in Scripture, but is rather rooted in church tradition which is an amalgamation of neoplatonic/Greco-Roman teaching as Witte outlines in his monumental work I have mentioned elsewhere on this blog . I am certainly fully aware of your position and you are not explaining to me anything that I have not considered before. Simply repeating this traditional understanding does not make it, to me at least, a convincing exegesis of Scripture. My work on this is publicly available, so I do not see any purpose in pursuing this blog if you simply repeat to me the traditional teaching on this subject that I know so well. I wish you all the best, Colin

        • … also Will I have answered or at least addressed many of the points you mention elsewhere on this blog. There are so many issues it is not good, at least not for me, to pursue this blog with you. You say many things like “no one can consider that sex makes you married” – but you do not speak from knowledge because I can assure you they do! You say “it seems clear to me.” But have you studied this subject in depth? Why not read some of my work and then decide?
          To go to Sripture alone leaving behind tradition is an exciting thing. It did not have to stop with Luther, Calvin, and Cranmer! Bon voyage!

          • Thanks Colin. Sorry if I am vexing you! I’m not questioning you or anyone on the point that one flesh in Genesis means kinship. I am questioning your claim that it certainly doesn’t also connote sexual union, particularly given 1 Cor 6. My question was how do you know it doesn’t also mean that? Just a very brief summary of your very interesting research will suffice.

            Incidentally it would help me be persuaded of your view if it was also used of other, non sexual kinship relationships. Was adoption ever referred to as the child becoming one flesh with his adoptive parents?

          • Will, I think some of this stuff is elsewhere on this blog.

            David Instone-Brewer comments that in ancient Israel, ‘“they shall be one flesh” would probably have been interpreted to mean “they shall be one family.”’ And John Skinner points out that in both Hebrew and Arabic, the word ‘flesh’ is synonymous with clan or kindred group, and he references Leviticus 25:49 where ESV translates basar (‘flesh’) as “clan.” Bruce Kaye states: The term “flesh and bone” occurs only eight times in the Old Testament apart from Genesis 2:23. In Genesis 29:14 and 37:27 it directly and clearly means someone who is a close blood relation…. In general terms, the phrase has the immediate and direct sense of blood relation but, as well, is used figuratively of a close relationship.

            Dennis McCarthy states that a covenant was “the means the ancient world took to extend relationships beyond the natural unity by blood.” Tom Holland considers the various understandings of basar (flesh) in the Hebrew Bible and sees that a covenantal concept is contained in its semantic field, “Here [Gen 2:24] ‘flesh,’ implies the covenant relationship a man has with his wife.”

  14. Hi Ian,
    That is certainly the post-apostolic development of the understanding of marriage and was adopted by the Church of Rome—and thus a marriage by them was not (and still is not?) considered valid without sexual intercourse. I suggest the illustration that a car cannot run with wheels is rooted in that Roman concept—not, or at least I do not think, in Scripture. Children are a purpose of marriage, but Eve was first given to Adam for companionship? (Gen 2:18)

    I am not sure what metaphors you reference? I would not see “one flesh” as a metaphor for sex. John Skinner points out that in both Hebrew and Arabic, the word ‘flesh’ is synonymous with clan or kindred group, and he references Leviticus 25:49 where ESV translates basar (‘flesh’) as “clan.” Bruce Kaye states: “the term “flesh and bone” occurs only eight times in the Old Testament apart from Genesis 2:23. In Genesis 29:14 and 37:27 it directly and clearly means someone who is a close blood relation…. In general terms, the phrase has the immediate and direct sense of blood relation but, as well, is used figuratively of a close relationship.”

  15. Ian, I believe metaphoric concepts are involved. Gen 2:24 is a metaphoric covenantal ‘one family’ affinity restatement of the ‘one family’ (literally “one flesh”) consanguineous non-covenantal union of Gen 2:23. (Note, the primal couple’s union was not based on sex.) You see the two different unions in any family with birth children. My daughter (her birthday today!) and son are literally my flesh and blood, my wife is metaphorically so, and took my family name to demonstrate such when we made our covenant (not on consummation). Paul in Eph 5:31-32 says that Gen 2:24 = Christ and the church. The church come to Christ not by sex, but by means of that that affinity ‘one family’ covenantal union Gen 2:24 creates. Our husband? The bridegroom Messiah, the seed of Abraham. Thus as a Gentile I am now in that Gen 22:17 seed promise – in Abraham’s family. And note, in many cultures (including the UK I believe) the marital affinity covenantal union trumps the consanguineous union. I am suggesting, as you can see, that Gen 2:24 is not about sex.

    • My daughter (her birthday today!) and son are literally my flesh and blood, my wife is metaphorically so

      Um surely the point of ‘one flesh’ is that your wife is literally your flesh and blood, not metaphorically?

      Not in the sense of sharing your DNA, but in the sense of being united in the eyes of God to be a single creature, not two separate beings.

      • What of the marriage where, at the point of death the wife is a faithful Christian and the husband is not? Surely they are ‘one flesh’ as regards being a family unit in this earthly life (ie a newly indivisible creation, which is why adultery and divorce break the divine ordinance), but still have an individual existence within or outside the kingdom of God?

        • I don’t know; isn’t there some thing about being saved by the faith of one’s spouse?

          Anyway, the point is that the ‘one flesh’-ness is literal, not metaphorical. Even if it is temporal and not eternal, it is real.

          • Yes, the word Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 7:14 is ‘sanctified’ rather than ‘saved’. I think that means made holy or set apart for the purpose of keeping the marriage together rather than actually born again. I will of course defer to those with greater theological education!

          • Hi Don,
            That is true. However, in 1 Cor 7.16 Paul says:
            “For how do you know, wife whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?” (ESV, ‘save’ is the verb ‘sozo’ in the Greek). Perhaps the idea of staying with one’s unbelieving spouse is that one’s witness will lead them to believe. (BTW, I wonder if Ephesians 5.22ff is for the wives of unbelieving husbands, and for the husbands of unbelieving wives, at least in part).

            It is also worth noting, in the present context, the second half of 1 Cor 7.14: ” Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.” The other reason for staying is the children. For me, this is another pebble to be added to the pile which shows the importance of children, and thus procreation, in marriage.

        • Hi David Wilson,

          I do not know whether this blog is still alive, but I thought I might address your point about 1 Cor 7:14. I think your analysis is substantially correct. We will remember that Paul is answering a letter from the Corinthians that we have not seen. It seems that the Corinthians were asking about the status of “mixed marriages” in the church. Paul’s answer might have surprised them. The teaching in Israel (Deuteronomy 23:2) was that, “No one born of a forbidden union may enter the assembly of the LORD. Even to the tenth generation, none of his descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD”—and Ezra’s instruction to the men of Judah had been to divorce their non-Jewish wives (Ezra 10:11).

          But there is an important distinction to make between ancient Israel and the church. In Israel, you were accepted as being Jewish because you were descended from Jacob—your Jewishness was primarily about your blood relationship to Jacob, it was not about your personal faith in God. A mixed marriage in Israel was not an unbeliever with a believer, but a person with non-Jewish blood married to a Jew—any children they had were considered, in effect, ‘unclean’ and were not accepted into the congregation.

          Some understand from vv. 12?14 that Paul is teaching that the children of mixed-faith marriages, and thus by deduction, the children of all Christians are, in some way, special to God. But I suggest that Paul is instead saying that those Old Testament principles, whereby children of mixed marriages are excluded from the congregation, do not come through to the Christian faith community. The children of mixed-faith marriages in the church are ‘holy’ (v. 14), that is, not ‘unclean,’ and are to be accepted on the same basis as any other children—whether of believers or unbelievers. And while mixed marriages are not ideal, the believer’s influence in the marriage is a good thing. So I suggest here that Paul is here saying that mixed marriages are valid marriages in the faith community, thus any exegesis of the rest of the chapter that understands they are less valid than non-mixed marriages should, I suggest, be treated with caution.

      • Hi ‘S’, The concept you articulate is a pure post-apostolic Neoplatonic Greco-Roman concept that I believe has no basis in Scripture, but has certainly been absorbed by the church.

    • In the Genesis 2 narrative, the woman is literally the same flesh and blood as the man, being taken from his side 🙂

      To me, the most surprising thing in Gen 2.24 for something rooted in a (true) patriarchal society is the ‘a man shall leave his father and mother’. I.e. it is the man who leaves his kinship group, whereas the normal thinking is that it is the woman, and a young man would stay in his father’s household. This encourages in me the idea that this is a new unit of kinship, but this implies the foundation of that group, and therefore children.

      Then there is the relation between ‘cleaving’ (hold fast/stick/cling) and ‘becoming one flesh’. Are these simply synonyms forming a poetic repetition, or is there a distinction?

      • David, it is not thought that a man physically left his family on marriage, the tradition in ancient Israel was the reverse. It is more probable that, as William Loader states, the ‘leaving’ of father and mother and ‘cleaving’ to a new wife indicates a “new social reality, the beginning of a new household.”

        • This seems confused to me. In the traditional patriarchal society, adult children live in the household of the patriarch. In Hausa, the same word is used for family and compound (where the extended family live). So, the statement that “it is not thought that a man physically left his family” is inconsistent with “the beginning of a new household”.
          If there is a beginning of anything, it is of a new family line. Thus you get Levirite marriage so that if a marriage does not issue in children prior to the death of the husband, then his widow marries a brother, and the children of that union count as the descendents of the dead man. It seems a very odd practice to us, but it does reveal the understanding of the purpose of marriage at the time. This would not arise if the purpose of marriage was principally companionship.

          • David, I think Loader when he said a new “household” he was not identifying that with a new geographical location, rather that the new next of kin for the husband would not be his parents, but his wife, wherever they lived. And yes, a new family line. Clearly, in Scripture, a purpose of marriage is to have children. But nowhere does Scripture teach, as far as I am aware, that it is THE purpose. Most cars are built to carry passengers. But it does not make it not a car if it never carries passengers? Is the C of E position not to marry elderly or disabled people who are not capable of sexual intercourse? This used to be the official RC position as I understand it.

            Just out of interest, Loader does see a literal prostitute in 1 Cor 6 (he never discusses an alternative). To get to that position he assumes Paul uses the word “flesh” differently to the way it is used in the OT. He also points out the theological and practical/pastoral problems of his own understanding. I think a key point, is that in all his voluminous writings on sex in the NT, he never once analyses or discusses metaphor theory. It is a big weakness in contemporary theology that has focused almost exclusively on typology.

            And finally? The NIV back tracked in the 2011 edition from translating sarx (flesh) as sinful nature – accepting that it had got it wrong.

  16. Ian, Gen 2:24, not sex, underpins all the Bible’s marital imagery. Thus you right that ‘prostitute’ can be (and is, in 1 Cor 6, I am suggesting) a metaphor for the world – but that metaphor itself is not based on sex. In Ezekiel 16:35 God says to Israel: “Therefore, O prostitute, hear the word of the LORD.” Note, God is not saying that Israel was going with prostitutes. Members of the tribe of Israel are described as members of a ‘prostitute’ because they were forsaking God and going with other ‘gods.’ Is not Paul capable of using the same imagery? That is, the members of the church at Corinth were behaving like the world in their sins (including in their sexual immorality!)? If not that, what is Paul saying in those Corinthian verses (and Ephesians 5)? That Gen 24 = sex, and such is the basis of our relationship with Christ? That some sort of ontological (marital?) union is formed in every sexual relationship with a prostitute? Theologically it does not stack up. (Also note John 4:17-18.)

  17. Ian,

    Re-reading you comment, I agree that various metaphoric euphemisms are used to describe sexual intercourse. Thus Gen 4:17 (KJV) states that Cain knew his wife, but it does not say that Cain knew a woman who thus became his wife.

    A great blog by the way—you, as ever, have thought through the issues presenting to the C of E (and other church groupings) so carefully and logically.

  18. I would like to make a general point. I suggest that John Jr. Witte is an expert on the origins of the understanding of marriage as held in the West—he is Professor of Law, and Director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University, and has published widely on it. He contends, with approval, that: “Classical [Greco-Roman] sources were a critical foundation for Western marriage. Some of these classical teachings found a place in the writings and canon developed by the church fathers in the first five centuries CE, particularly in the writings of Augustine of Hippo” (see below).

    As far as I can see Witte is correct. And that most of the arguments used today by Christians about marriage (including the understanding of the ‘one flesh’ union expressed by some in this blog), and thus about divorce, are based on those traditions, rather than on any understanding of authorial intent in the text of Scripture.

    See: John Jr. Witte, From Sacrament to Contract: Marriage, Religion, and Law in the Western Tradition, 2nd ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2012), 18

    • Thank you. Witte is beside me just below ‘Some Issues in Human Sexuality’ and ‘The Unchained Bible’ as I write! I need to go back and have another look at him.

  19. SCHOLAR: Say, Moses, have you noticed that that phrase ‘one flesh’ could also be taken to refer to the marital act between man and woman from which also offspring are produced?
    MOSES: Oh, why, yes you’re right. I’d never noticed that. How strange that a word that exclusively means ‘one family’ in our culture could also be taken to mean that. I do hope that no one subsequently gets confused and thinks that it could possibly refer to that, when no one had ever intended such a meaning. I suppose it is strange that no one had made that connection until you just did, given that a union of flesh is precisely what happens between a husband and wife in both the marital act and its fruit. But there you have it; I guess our ancient minds just don’t make those kinds of connections.
    SCHOLAR: Do you not think you should clarify the meaning, just to avoid any potential confusion? After all, as you say, ‘one flesh’ could easily be taken to mean sexual union and joint offspring, not just becoming a new family unit.
    MOSES: No no, I don’t think that’s necessary. No one has ever made the connection before, so, the present conversation notwithstanding, I don’t see why they will start now…

    • Will, I think my post went in the wrong thread – so I try again … I think it comes down to how we choose to read the Bible. When I am asked what any particular passage of Scripture means to me, I look to see how its original meaning might apply to me today. In contrast, many believers use what is called a ‘reader response’ hermeneutic. In other words, in our example, they consider what does (or might) one flesh mean to me, and then they look to apply that. I think it is probably true that most believers adopt the latter approach.

      If your curiosity is aroused, Tom Holland considers the various understandings of basar (flesh) in the both Hebrew Bible and the New Testament (sarx) in some detail: Tom Holland, Romans: The Divine Marriage (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2011), 203-225. None of them refer to the marital act.

      • Will – or to put it another way, to use the jargon, it is possible to read a sensus plenior (a different and/or fuller meaning) into a text outside the way it is used originally, but as Greg Beale comments: “There are no clear examples where they [the New Testament writers] have developed a meaning from the Old Testament which is inconsistent or contradictory to some aspect of the original Old Testament intention. (G. K. Beale, “Positive Answer to the Question: Did Jesus and His Followers Preach the Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts? An Examination of the Presuppositions of Jesus’ and the Apostles’ Exegetical Method,” in The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts?, ed. G. K. Beale (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 394, 398.)

        • But Colin, 1 Cor 6 has a special concern about sexual sin. It mentions fornication twice, vv 13 and 18, and fornicator in v 18, and of the types of sinner listed in vv 9-10 four of the first five are of a sexual nature. And use of a prostitute is classic fornication (much more socially acceptable, and less personally risky, than bedding a respectable man’s daughter). Whatever metaphors are at work in this passage the sex is definitely literal. When Paul exclaims ‘shun fornication!’ (v18) he means it, literally.

  20. And how about God’s promised “seed of the woman”in Genesis 3:15, ( a promise kept by God in Jesus) coming about without sexual intercourse between man and woman? And Genesis 4.1 “And Adam lay with his wife Eve and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain” NIV

  21. Geoff, Yes, in every instance I think the Gen 4:1 sequence applies. In other words, intercourse occurs between a man and wife after they are described as married, it does not create the marriage relationship. I believe there is no understanding of the latter anywhere in Scripture—including in the 1 Cor 6 passage we have been debating. If the sex act created a marriage (as Christians I know believe) —a man who frequented prostitutes would be married to every one, and thus no such sex act could be immoral. I am speaking tongue in cheek—but there are so many fundamental problems with that exegesis of 1 Cor 6:15-16.

  22. Colin,
    Thanks for the response.
    The context of Gen is in relation to God fulfilling his Promise. Any sexual relations with prostitutes is well outside the context of intercourse with Eve (the mother of all living). Woman is not described as Eve until after the curse/promise- blessing. No wonder Eve says with eager anticipated wonder, that it is, “with the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man”. Gen 4:1b
    As an aside, there no hint of patriarchal overtures here.
    Sorry Colin,
    Shouldn’t have started this rejoinder, as I’m in middle of something else. I’ll read again your comments on I Cor and respond, if I may. But an initial response is the comparison of a holy union onesness with Christ and an “adulterous sexual relationship/one flesh with a prostitute. Allusions by God to the adultery of his people are frequent in scripture.

  23. Option 4, separation, is an absolute non-starter in my view. However, it correctly describes the already-existing (albeit not formalised) state of affairs.

    The reason it is a non-starter is that the revisionists, in order to have an opinion, would have to be familiar with the primary data – biological, statistical, biblical. Revisionists familiar with even one of these categories of things are as rare as hen’s teeth. So how are their opinions real opinions?

    • Christopher
      Quote: “Option 4, separation, is an absolute non-starter in my view”
      I’m intrigued as to why?

      Whilst I agree that revisionists often lack biological, Biblical and statistical evidence to support their motions and movement, they nevertheless are influential and increasingly have brought pressure to bear if not in changing the doctrines of the CofE, certainly changing the accepted practise in the church. Some sort of separation seems to me increasingly inevitable and for me desirable. An exasperated Bishop Michael Nazir Ali asked 10years ago in his engagement with the Episcopalian Church wondered do we even share the same faith? Karl Barth rightly reminded us that ethics test dogmatics, and we are diametrically opposed at our ethics, then we really are very very far away at the point of doctrine. As the prophet Amos said, if two cannot agree together, how can they walk together? They can only pretend.

      • Simon
        Before separation is seriously considered there has to be an honest debate about more serious disagreements. As I said in an earlier post, the most serious disagreement is about the doctrines of original sin and the atonement as set out in the Articles and Homilies.
        Phil Almond

        • Those things have debated and disagreed about for the last, oh, 500 years Phil. I doubt there will be a solution to those this side of the great round up will there?

          • Andrew
            The point is: what is Anglican doctrine on these disputed and vital issues. Given the straightforward understanding of English and given the Declaration of Assent and its Preface, Articles 9-18, 31 and 35, and the Homilies, there can be no doubt about the answer.
            Phil Almond

          • Every doubt about the answer Phil, as I’ve demonstrated so many times before. They represent a tiny window on to God and are not taught in either our theological colleges or in our churches. If you have a serious problem with that, then please write to as many bishops as you can manage. (And as a former Bishop’s Chaplain, I know exactly what answer you will get…)

          • Andrew

            ‘Stated’? yes; ‘demonstrated’? no.

            Our most recent disagreement on this has been on ‘Why we need a new Lords prayer’ thread. My latest post there is Philip Almond October 5, 2018 at 7:59 pm.
            I may be mistaken but I don’t think you have replied to that. Your mistake is that you are avoiding a straightforward understanding of the Declaration of Assent and Preface. But, even more seriously, as I point out on the other thread, you are failing to recognise that the salvation doctrine of the Articles, with its understanding of ‘wrath and condemnation’ is the doctrine of the New Testament.
            Phil Almond

          • Phil: I never see much point in trading verses or passages of scripture, but for the sake of completeness I will post this on the Lord’s prayer thread as well.
            There are very clear scriptural passages about God NOT dealing with us according to our sins, and extending his compassion and mercy even through we are not worthy of it. These are clearly demonstrated in New Testament passages such as the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, the thief at the cross, the Good Samaritan, passages about tax collectors etc etc.

            I suspect that, for some reason that is unclear here, you have particular ‘issues’ about wrath and condemnation. Whilst that theme may emerge in some parts of scripture it is by no means the full picture.

            I am quite content that I understand the clear meaning of the preface and declaration. The words ‘bear/borne witness’ are the key ones. I’m sure the articles bear witness. I have no problem affirming that. But that witness needs to be seen in its historical context and set alongside other witnesses. The articles are not infallible – and far from it.

          • Andrew
            None of us are worthy of God’s compassion and mercy. The reason why Jesus did not deal with the woman caught in adultery according to her sins and did not condemn her is because he would bear the condemnation her sins deserved when he suffered and died on the cross. The same reason is true for all the sinners Jesus saved in the New Testament accounts. The same reason is true for any Christian even though they may intellectually deny the truth of wrath and condemnation and penal substitution; because it is possible to be astray or go astray in the doctrines we believe or deny just as it is possible to go astray in our behaviour; and, conversely, we may believe in these things intellectually and not be Christians. That is why people like me who go on about these things have to carefully examine ourselves to make sure that the doctrines we believe are real in our hearts and souls and wills.
            Contra your comment about the preface and declaration the most important words are ‘Led by the Holy Spirit, it has borne witness to Christian truth in its historic formularies, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons.’
            Phil Almond

          • Andrew
            The 39 Articles, like all such confessions of faith, should be judged and if necessary corrected by what the Bible says. I have tried to explain my view on the other thread: ‘From these quotes (from the Bible!) we see that according to the New Testament wrath and condemnation are deserved by all of us because of Adam’s sin and they result in punishment unless God delivers us from them. That’s what Article 9 and the Prayer Book and the Homilies say. So the Bible and these historic formularies are in agreement.
            Phil Almond

          • And how do you know what the bible says is correct?

            Why would you be a Christian if you don’t think what the Bible says is correct?

          • S you are a Christian because you follow Jesus Christ. The early Christians didn’t have the same bible as us, after all.
            So I’d be glad of your answer as well. How do you know the bible is correct?

          • S you are a Christian because you follow Jesus Christ. The early Christians didn’t have the same bible as us, after all.

            No, because they had people to give them first-hand testimony of what Jesus said and did (or, in some cases, were the people giving the testimony).

            We have only the Bible to tell us what Jesus said and did, as well as, for instance, God’s relationship with the Israelites and what the Spirit did in the years after Jesus ascended.

            If you don’t think the Bible is accurate, how can you follow Jesus Christ? If the Bible isn’t accurate then you might not be following Jesus Christ at all, but just some first- or second-century part-misremembered, part-made-up semi-fiction.

            You’d be no more following Jesus Christ than someone who’d watched Darkest Hour could say they knew the truth about Churchill.

            So again: why would you be a Christian if you don’t think the Bible is accurate? Why would you devote your life to something that you reckon might be mistaken, unreliable, made-up?

          • You are avoiding the question by raising a whole different set of questions S – so let me ask you again: how do you know the bible is correct?

          • You are avoiding the question by raising a whole different set of questions S – so let me ask you again: how do you know the bible is correct?

            I don’t know for sure it is. But if I didn’t think that, based on all the evidence and logic, it most likely is, then I certainly wouldn’t be a Christian.

            Now can you answer the question? Why on Earth are you a Christian if you think the Bible is unreliable?

          • Andrew,

            Hold on. So, in one breath, you assert that there are very clear scriptural passages about God NOT dealing with us according to our sins, and extending his compassion and mercy even through we are not worthy of it.

            Now, you ask Phill and S: ‘How do you know the Bible is correct?’

            Well, how do you know the Bible is correct? Even in just the passages describing God’s compassion?

            For instance, on what basis should we not conclude the opposite with Stephen Fry: “I’d say, bone cancer in children? What’s that about? How dare you? How dare you create a world to which there is such misery that is not our fault. It’s not right, it’s utterly, utterly evil.?

          • David: I don’t know the bible is correct. That’s why I began by saying to Phil I didn’t believe in trading verses. Let’s see what his answer to the question is shall we? At least S has now been honest about it.
            S: thank you for your honesty. Of course, as an Anglican I need tradition and reason as well, and it sounds as if you are concluding the same – although you won’t quite put it that way.

            What was it that a Roman Catholic said: the bible is a collection of passages from the missal. There’s quite a lot of truth in that!

          • S: I answered it! Which bit of “Of course, as an Anglican I need tradition and reason as well” is not clear?

          • S: I answered it! Which bit of “Of course, as an Anglican I need tradition and reason as well” is not clear?

            No, you didn’t.

            The question was,

            ‘If you think the Bible is unreliable, and given that the Bible is our sole source for what Jesus said and did, and indeed our sole source for rather fundamental claims like that he rose from the dead, how can you reasonably be a Christian?’

            (I note also that you have said you think tradition is unreliable as well, so apparently all you have is reason. How exactly does reason convince you that the claims of Christianity are true? Please explain.)

          • S: I can’t see where you typed all of that before but the answer is just the same: tradition, reason, experience, faith, belief.
            How do you know the bible is any more reliable than I do? The answer, as you have confessed, is that you ‘don’t know for sure’ either. We seem to be in agreement!

            Time now for a Sunday afternoon walk.

          • S: I can’t see where you typed all of that before but the answer is just the same: tradition, reason, experience, faith, belief.

            That’s not an answer.

            How do you justify being a Christian?

            Tradition you can’t use because you’ve already said that it is unreliable, so it can’t justify anything.

            Experience can’t give you any reason to think that Christianity is true because you can’t have experienced events that occurred two thousand years ago.

            Belief is nothing if it is not founded on reliable evidence.

            Faith is only valid if it’s in something true, and to know that something is true you need, again, reliable evidence.

            So we’re left with reason. So please explain: justify, using only reason, how you are convinced that the claims of Christianity are true.

            I answered your question. Please have the basic courtesy to answer mine.

          • Andrew,

            Andrew,

            So, let’s be clear. You’ve asserted that: “there are very clear scriptural passages about God NOT dealing with us according to our sins, and extending his compassion and mercy even through we are not worthy of it.”

            Despite the clarity of these passages, you’ve now stated that you don’t know that the Bible is correct (even in just those passages dealing with God’s compassion). So, that equates to a statement that you don’t know whether those very clear scriptural passages are correct in their united declaration that “God [is] NOT dealing with us according to our sins, and extending his compassion and mercy”.

            What the objective basis for you to reject Stephen Fry’s denunciation and maintain the position that God is not culpable for inflicting bone cancer on children?

          • S: in terms of basic courtesy I have offered you hospitality and conversation in order to discuss these things in greater detail and the offer still stands. At least I have given you the basic courtesy of knowing who I am and it would be helpful if you extended that basic courtesy to us as well. The anonymity feels a little discourteous.

            In terms of extending my answer: there is, as you have concluded yourself, no certain evidence, and that is why people talk of making a leap of faith. It is certainly not possible to use reason to prove anything in the way that you request. My answer remains – the combination of scripture, tradition, reason and experience gives us a basis for faith and belief, and you have to live your life based on belief or non belief. Like you, the balance of probability, using the combination of those things, leads me to base mine on belief. But as you say, you can’t be certain.

          • David: I think you need to read the whole discussion. I am sure, with S here, that we can’t be sure the bible is always clear and correct. Who can possibly know what God is like with 100% certainty?

            What I am pointing out to Phil is that the clear passages he quotes from the bible need to be read in conjunction with equally clear passages that I quote from as well. But neither are going to give us certainties – see the discussion with S.

            As to Stephen Fry. He’s hardly the first to raise the problem of evil and I studied it as a sixth former 43 years ago. I can recommend you various books if you need them but there is no ‘objective’ answer. Fry raises a very ancient problem to which no one has yet found a very satisfactory solution have they?

          • S: in terms of basic courtesy I have offered you hospitality and conversation in order to discuss these things in greater detail and the offer still stands.

            Hospitality is not necessary; you are a little out of my way! (Assuming I am right about your location). But thank you for the offer. Discussion will suffice.

            However I must ask you please…

            I am sure, with S here, that we can’t be sure the bible is always clear and correct.

            Please do not imply that we are in agreement! We are not, at all. For you have totally missed my point, which is that either we must accept the Bible is, as a whole, reliable, or we must accept that it is, as a whole, doubtful. It is not open to us, logically, to decide that it is not always clear and correct, but that it is yet sometimes clear and correct.

            Basically, as far as I can see, if you accept any of the Bible as reliable, then you must accept all of it. Conversely, if you doubt any of it, you must doubt all of it.

            You seem to want to doubt some if it, yet accept some of it as reliable. I cannot understand how you can justify this position.

            Like you, the balance of probability, using the combination of those things, leads me to base mine on belief

            Okay, can you provide a little more detail? What evidence, for example, convinces you that Christ rose from the dead? Remember you cannot use any evidence from Scripture, as you think that is unreliable, or tradition, as you think that is unreliable too.

            As to my identity, I can’t see how that is relevant. What matters is whether my logic is valid or not, whether my premises are true or not, and therefore whether my arguments are sound, or whether they are not. Letting identities in only opens up the way to Bulverism. Ideally we would all be anonymous and then only our ideas could be judged, without any disctractions.

          • S you said: Basically, as far as I can see, if you accept any of the Bible as reliable, then you must accept all of it. Conversely, if you doubt any of it, you must doubt all of it.

            But you earlier said you can’t be clear if the bible is correct. So I’m very unclear what you are saying.

            And yes I can use evidence from scripture and tradition, accepting their limitations. As I have said, using scripture, tradition, reason and experience together gives a balance of probabilities which we need to make a decision of belief or disbelief about. I can’t be any cleared than that I’m afraid.

            Pax

          • But you earlier said you can’t be clear if the bible is correct. So I’m very unclear what you are saying.

            No; earlier I said that I don’t know for such whether the Bible is correct. But what I do know for sure is that either it all is reliable, or none of it is. It can’t be partly reliable and partly not.

            I think — obviously I don’t know for sure — that it is all reliable. But if it were shown to me that any of it were unreliable, then I would have to stop being a Christian, because I would no longer have any reason to believe in any of it.

            But you seem to want to say both that it is reliable when it says things you hope are true, and that it is fallible when it says things you dislike.

            That makes no sense to me but you apparently don’t want to defend the position, which I can only assume means you realise it is indefensible.

            And yes I can use evidence from scripture and tradition, accepting their limitations. As I have said, using scripture, tradition, reason and experience together gives a balance of probabilities which we need to make a decision of belief or disbelief about. I can’t be any cleared than that I’m afraid.

            Well then you can’t be clear at all, can you? Your thinking seems totally muddied. You want to be free to believe that which you want to believe, and disbelieve that which you do not wish to be true, without any underlying logic that you are willing to explain or justify.

            Pax

            I assume that is Latin for, ‘I have no answer as my thinking is totally muddied, so I concede the debate and accept that you are right, S.’

            In which case I accept your concession.

            Quad erat demonstrandum.

          • S: no, it simply means peace. You seem extremely muddled in your thinking. The bible is such a vast range of different types of material that OF COURSE some parts might be ‘correct’ and others not so. You are making a very basic category error and until you accept that you can’t treat the Gospels, for example, as tape recordings then there is no common ground and we must be peaceful.

          • The bible is such a vast range of different types of material that OF COURSE some parts might be ‘correct’ and others not so.

            Ah, that’s interesting. So can you explain how you tell which parts are correct and which not?

            Perhaps you can start by answering my question as to how you justify believing that Jesus rose from the dead? What convinces you that that bit of the Bible is correct but others are not?

            [By the way, is there any significance to your not capitalising ‘Bible’? It’s happend so many times I no longer think it can be a mistyping.]

            You are making a very basic category error and until you accept that you can’t treat the Gospels, for example, as tape recordings then there is no common ground and we must be peaceful.

            Nowhere have I suggested treating the gospels as ‘tape recordings’. They are more like, well, newspaper reports. And like newspaper reports, they include some details while leaving out others.

            The question is: are they reliable newspaper reports? Are the accurate depictions of what happened? Because we all know that there are some newspapers where, if you read something, you can never be sure whether the events described happened, or happened as they were described.

            Are the gospels like one of those unreliable newspapers? Or not? And if not, then why doesn’t whatever makes them reliable also apply to the rest of the canon which was set out under the Spirit’s guidance?

          • Ah so maybe we are getting closer to the issue when you say that the canon of scripture ” was set out under the Spirit’s guidance?”

            How do you know that it was ?

          • I certainly believe it was inspired.

            Could you explain what you mean by ‘inspired’?

            Just so we’re not at cross-purposes.

          • I don’t really think inspired needs over explanation in this context S, but I certainly believe the biblical authors were led by the spirit of God.

            How do you *know* this to be the case?

          • I don’t really think inspired needs over explanation in this context S,

            Perhaps not to Biblical scholars, but I have no qualifications in theology or Biblical studies so please make allowances for my lack of knowledge of the terms. I just want to make sure I know what you are talking about.

            but I certainly believe the biblical authors were led by the spirit of God.

            You believe they were led by the spirit of God. Okay. What does it mean to be led by the spirit of God, in this context? Presumably not that God dictated to them the words they should write, from your other comments.

            Does it mean that God gave them the ideas of what to write, and then let them get on with putting them into words? Or does it mean something else?

            Remember I’m not an expert so as simple an explanation as you can do would be appreciated.

          • S: I think it’s your turn for an answer now! How you, S, know that the Canon of scripture was set out by the holy spirit?

          • I think it’s your turn for an answer now! How you, S, know that the Canon of scripture was set out by the holy spirit?

            Why would I believe any of it if it wasn’t?

          • The question, S, is: How do you know? Or is it that you don’t know but simply believe that?

            No; the question is, how do you maintain the idea that Scripture is reliable in some bits (because you use it as evidence for your arguments) but unreliable in others (because you dismiss it as a product of fallible humanity)?

            By what metric do you sift the Curate’s egg?

          • S: we know, of course, that the reason you won’t answer is because the only answer you would have is that ‘it tells us in scripture so it must be right’. The circular argument will never work and at least you are intelligent enough to know that and so can’t give the answer.

            You asked yesterday how “If I say to you that when I look out the window right now I can see a construction site and a crow, that I am on the first floor of the building, and that I travelled here this morning by bicycle, then you can either take all those statements as reliable, or you can doubt all of them: there is no way for you to tell which bits are true and which are not. Not without some extra information.”

            Patently that’s nonsense. I can judge them by using tradition – do you usually cycle to work for example – or reason – would you have cycled when it was a thunderstorm – and experience – I know that S works in the middle of a field so it’s likely he is seeing a crow but experience of visiting him at work suggests to me there is no construction site.

            The same is true of assessing scripture – where we can’t be sure we use tradition, reason and experience to assist us.

            The word of God is not written in a book S. It is a living, active thing.

          • S: we know, of course, that the reason you won’t answer is because the only answer you would have is that ‘it tells us in scripture so it must be right’.

            That is not true.

            Patently that’s nonsense. I can judge them by using tradition – do you usually cycle to work for example – or reason – would you have cycled when it was a thunderstorm – and experience – I know that S works in the middle of a field so it’s likely he is seeing a crow but experience of visiting him at work suggests to me there is no construction site.

            But my point is that you know none of those things. You do not know who I am or where I am or whether I can even ride a bicycle. All you have to go on are the words I write. So neither tradition, reason, nor experience can help you distinguish what is reliable in what I said. All you have is whether you think I am trustworthy or not. If you think I am fundamentally truthful, you can believe everything I wrote. But if — and this is the key point — you think I might lie, then you have no way of knowing which bit I might have lied about, or indeed whether I lied about all of it.

            The same is true of Scripture. You have (unless you’ve been hiding something from the world) no other source for the words of Jesus than what is recorded in the gospels. No other source for what God is like than what He has allowed to be collected into the canon we call the Bible. Like my observations yesterday morning, either you can think that’s trustworthy, and accept it all; or you can think it’s unreliable, but if you think that, then you have to think it’s all unreliable, because just as you don’t know how I usually get to work, or where I work, or what the weather was like here, you have no way of distinguishing the reliable from the unreliable statements in Scripture.

            Once you’ve decided to doubt it, you must doubt all of it. You have no basis on which to do otherwise.

            Unless, as I say, you have some hithertofore hidden document, or perhaps a time machine so you can go back and obsever what Jesus really said.

            Do you have a time machine?

          • S: I don’t imagine for a moment that you must, (answer questions) but I do reserve the right to draw inferences if you refuse to do so.

            I don’t have a time machine, no. I have the mix of scripture, tradition, reason, experience and faith.

          • I don’t have a time machine, no. I have the mix of scripture, tradition, reason, experience and faith

            But no actual evidence?

            I see.

          • No evidence S, no. Just like you have no evidence.
            But that’s the adventure of faith.
            Have you read about the conversation Jesus (allegedly) had with Thomas? It contains this important truth, which accords with tradition, reason and experience.

            “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe.”

            I put myself in that company. I realise from what you have previously said that you don’t. So I think our ways must part, sadly.

          • Have you read about the conversation Jesus (allegedly) had with Thomas?

            I have. Do you think that conversation really happened?

          • S: the important point for faith (as the exchange points out) is NOT ‘did it happen’ but rather ‘does it bring us closer to God through Jesus Christ’. So scripture, tradition, reason and experience all suggest that the teaching in that exchange does bring us closer. So, I believe what it says.

          • S: the important point for faith (as the exchange points out) is NOT ‘did it happen’ but rather ‘does it bring us closer to God through Jesus Christ’. So scripture, tradition, reason and experience all suggest that the teaching in that exchange does bring us closer. So, I believe what it says

            So you don’t think it happened?

          • S: I don’t really care too much whether it happened or not! That’s not very important. The writers thought it was of importance and so included it when they edited the Gospel. What’s important is what it teaches us. And it teaches us that
            “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe.”

          • S: I don’t really care too much whether it happened or not! That’s not very important.

            You must have some idea whether you think it happened or not, though. I mean, I don’t really care too much whether Donald Trump had an affair with that porn star, but I still think it probably happened.

            The writers thought it was of importance and so included it when they edited the Gospel.

            They included it, but you think it’s fictional? And that doesn’t matter?

            What else do you think they included that is fictional? The resurrection? At least say you think that happened. Or don’t you?

            What’s important is what it teaches us. And it teaches us that
            “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe.”

            They’re only blessed if what they believe in is true, though, presumably?

            I mean, scientologists believe, but presumably you don’t think those who have not seen Xenu, but believe in him, are blessed?

            So, you know, you do think that truth matters, right?

          • S: how do you know that canon of scripture was set out by the Holy Spirit? Where did you get that idea from?

          • S: how do you know that canon of scripture was set out by the Holy Spirit? Where did you get that idea from?

            I think we should first check that you don’t think the resurrection is one of those fictional bits you apparently think might have been added to the gospels. I mean, you have only yourself to blame for throwing that into doubt, so if you could just clear it up right now that would be great.

            You do think it is historical fact that Jesus was alive, then dead, then alive again, right?

          • I think I asked my question first S. But to be clear, I think the resurrection was far more than a conjuring trick with bones and it is a matter of my faith because of evidence from scripture, tradition, reason and experience.

            Now then: where do you get the idea about the canon of scripture from?

          • But to be clear, I think the resurrection was far more than a conjuring trick with bones and it is a matter of my faith because of evidence from scripture, tradition, reason and experience.

            Well, that’s as clear as mud.

            Can you not just write, ‘I think it is historical fact that, over the course of a few days in Jerusalem in the first century, Jesus was alive, then dead, then dead again’?

            Because if you can’t bring yourself to write that simple declaration, well, then it’s beginning very much to look like you don’t think that it is historical fact.

            I mean you can certainly think it was more than historical fact. I think that too. But you must think that it was at least historical fact, or you wouldn’t be a Christian.

            Mustn’t you?

          • Your turn to answer S; then I will answer you again. Seems fair to me!

            You really can’t just make what for a Christian should be the simplest declaration of all to make, that Jesus was alive, died and rose again?

            Seriously?

          • Please don’t make any assumptions based on things I haven’t said S.
            Your turn to answer; then I will answer you again. Seems fair to me!

          • Please don’t make any assumptions based on things I haven’t said S.

            Actually I’m making assumptions based on things you have said: first that you said you don’t think it’s important whether Jesus’ conversation with Thomas really happened (even as you rely on it to prove a point, which is quite spectacular) and second your quoting the Bishop who famously did not think the resurrection was a historical fact.

            I think taken together those give a prima facie case that there is a possibility you don’t think the resurrection was a historical fact, and therefore that — as you claim to be a Christian — you ought to clear that up, as a matter of urgency, just so I am, and anyone else reading is, in no doubt that you do think the resurrection was a historical fact.

            I mean what reason could you possibly have for being so coy about something so simple?

          • Well let’s have YOUR answer to MY question then S. Then I can clear things up for you as as matter of urgency.
            Sadly it’s beginning to look like you don’t have any answer…..

          • Well let’s have YOUR answer to MY question then S. Then I can clear things up for you as as matter of urgency.

            So let’s just get this clear: you are refusing to delcare that you think the resurrection is a historical fact… as some kind of ransom?

            I think it would be reasonable at this point to assume that your reluctance is all down to the fact that you actually agree with the late bishop you quoted.

            Onlookrs can form their own conclusions.

          • S: I doubt you even have any idea what the late bishop thought.
            No ransoms. Simple courtesy.
            I say the creeds with no need to cross any fingers. (The creeds – part of tradition).

          • I doubt you even have any idea what the late bishop thought.

            I think this saucer of milk must be for you.

            Anyway, good news! You get to explain it to me. Go on then.

          • Until then

            Until then I, and anyone else who has read this far (presumably because they like pain?) can make, I think, a pretty reasonable guess at what your problem is.

            (Honestly — it’s like trying to get Jeremy Corbyn to condemn the IRA!)

          • I’m not sure which bit of me saying I can recite the creeds without any need to cross my fingers you and others wouldn’t understand S. Maybe you don’t think the creeds say enough? Maybe you believe in the heresy or resuscitation rather than resurrection?

            Either way – its your turn with the answers….

          • I’m not sure which bit of me saying I can recite the creeds without any need to cross my fingers you and others wouldn’t understand S.

            Ah, so you do think that it’s a historical fact that Jesus was alive, then dead, then alive again?

            Good to know!

            Just one slight question… what’s your evidence for thinking that? Given you reckon the conversation with Thomas was fictional, you know. How do you know the resurrection stories aren’t fictional too?

          • Actually, here’s a good question: which of the post-resurrection stories do you think isn’t fictional? We know you think the Thomas story is, so… Emmaus road? The first upper room appearance? The fishing trip by the shore?

            Which one(s) do you think actually happened, and which are fictional?

          • Fictional isn’t an appropriate word for any of these stories S. And not one I have used.
            Enough with the playground. You are welcome to e mail me and we can continue some coherent discussion on the topic at hand.

          • Fictional isn’t an appropriate word for any of these stories S.

            You don’t think they really happened, though.

            And surely the English word to describe ‘a story that didn’t happen’ is ‘fictional’.

            Hence unless you think they happened (and from what I gather you don’t) then you must think they are fictional. Made-up. Not real.

          • How could anyone think they were ‘not real’ S? They communicate to us the MOST real things.

            Let me try to understand your position better. Let’s take the book of Job – which presumably neither Stephen Fry nor David Shepherd have really read.
            Who was there taking down the notes to transcribe the conversation between Job and his friends? It’s very very detailed so presumably the author could not have remembered it word for word?

          • How could anyone think they were ‘not real’ S? They communicate to us the MOST real things.

            But the important thing is, did they happen?

            Let me try to understand your position better. Let’s take the book of Job – which presumably neither Stephen Fry nor David Shepherd have really read.

            What has Job got to do with it? The book of Job is a completely different genre to the gospels. It doesn’t purport to be a record of things that happened: it’s a poem. Possibly a play. It’s not history.

            Whereas if Jesus did not walk the Earth after his death, as the gospels report, then the whole of Christianity is based on a pretty big lie, isn’t it?

            And why would you devote your life to a lie?

          • But S you said: “either you can think that’s trustworthy, and accept it all; or you can think it’s unreliable, but if you think that, then you have to think it’s all unreliable”

            How would I possibly know Job is a play or a poem? Where does it tell me that?

          • How would I possibly know Job is a play or a poem? Where does it tell me that?

            Have you read it? Have you read other poems? It’s pretty obvious.

            Just like it’s pretty obvious the gospels are meant to be records of things that happens in a specific time and place to specific named people.

            And if those things didn’t happen, well, somebody made them up, didn’t they? And if somebody made them up, how can they be used as evidence that the sentiments expressed in them are true?

            I mean, if God said, ‘Blessed are they who believe without first seeing’, and eyewitnesses remembered, and then it was written down, and passed on to us, then that’s pretty good evidence that it’s true.

            But according to you God didn’t say it: some writer just made it up when they were making up this nice little story about Jesus appearing in the upper room.

            And if it was just made up by a person, as you think, not said by God, why would that be any kind of evidence that it’s actually true?

            Maybe those who believe without seeing aren’t actually blessed. How do you know they are? You certainly can’t use the fact it’s in the Bible as evidence that they actually are, if you think that that bit of the Bible was just made up. So what evidence do you actually have that those who believe without seeing are in fact blessed?

          • Not at all obvious to some though S.
            And of course the Gospels you believe are more like newspapers. Interpretation of stories.
            But I mean, who was the journalist taking notes when Jesus talked with Thomas? with the woman at the well. With the woman caught in adultery. With the woman in the garden? Did they dictate it all in to their little dictaphones and write it down about 40 – 60 years later? or if they didn’t have dictaphones, how did they remember it word for word some 60 years later? Or maybe the women and Thomas could all write and wrote it all down when they got home?

            The evidence I have? As I’ve said numerous times before S, it’s scripture, tradition, reason, experience = faith. I believe. And most importantly I believe in the Gospels as a unique expression of the good news. The most real things.

          • And of course the Gospels you believe are more like newspapers. Interpretation of stories.

            Yep. And if I discover a newspaper has been making up quotations, then I stop believing anything I read in that newspaper, unless I see independant corroboration of it somewhere else.

            You, apparently, are happy to believe the bits you want to believe while fidning other bits unreliable, based on nothing more than what you wish were true (because you certainly don’t, as far as I can see, have any other independant evidence).

            The evidence I have? As I’ve said numerous times before S, it’s scripture, tradition, reason, experience = faith. I believe.

            Okay but what is your specific evidence for believing the specific claim that ‘Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe’?

            I don’t believe that those who have not seen, and yet believe, are in fact blessed.

            How would you, using tradition, reason and evidence, convince me that they are blessed?

            And if you can’t — then how can you be convinced yourself?

          • Ah but S: who was the journalist taking notes when Jesus talked with Thomas? with the woman at the well. With the woman caught in adultery. With the woman in the garden? Did they dictate it all in to their little dictaphones and write it down about 40 – 60 years later? or if they didn’t have dictaphones, how did they remember it word for word some 60 years later? Or maybe the women and Thomas could all write and wrote it all down when they got home?

            Or did THOSE writers have time machines, unlike you and me?

          • I have not followed this long interchange, and I have no idea whether or not it has been at all helpful in the two of you understand and appreciating each other’s point of view, and engaging with the issues.

            But Andrew your last comment stood out for me:

            ‘And of course the Gospels you believe are more like newspapers. Interpretation of stories.
            But I mean, who was the journalist taking notes when Jesus talked with Thomas? with the woman at the well. With the woman caught in adultery. With the woman in the garden? Did they dictate it all in to their little dictaphones and write it down about 40 – 60 years later? or if they didn’t have dictaphones, how did they remember it word for word some 60 years later? Or maybe the women and Thomas could all write and wrote it all down when they got home?’

            Three things struck me about it. First, you appear to characterise evangelical readings of scripture as being naive about the interpretive nature of the gospel accounts and the need to interpret them in turn. In mainstream thinking that has not been the case since at least the 1970s, so if you are taking a pot-shot at that idea, you are aiming at a straw man of your own construction.

            Second, your flippant questions have a serious issue behind them–but an issue which has been addressed in all sorts of ways. The Vindolanda tablets, discovered in 1973, were one of many pieces of evidence that casual note-taking and writing was much more common than is often assumed in popular perceptions of pre-modern illiteracy. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vindolanda_tablets

            It has also been well established that religious groups often have specialised literacy in contrast to surrounding culture. And Luke makes specific reference to those guarding early records (‘eyewitnesses and servants of the word’ Luke 1.2). Much of Jesus’ teaching in the gospels is highly structured and memorable, and all the evidence is that Christian communities were in touch with each other, so that incorrect stories would be open to criticism and correction.

            And why on earth would you assume that Jesus himself would not tell the disciples things that have happened?

            It all suggests that you studied theology 30 to 40 years ago, and haven’t kept up with scholarly developments and debate.

            And, thirdly, you appear to base your understanding of ‘faith’ in the light of the (highly disputed) claims of historical positivism of nineteenth century liberal Protestantism. To borrow from Bertrand Russell ‘Faith is that for which there is no [or insufficient] evidence’. I am not convinced that that is a Christian understanding, nor indeed the most compelling view in any context.

          • Or maybe the women and Thomas could all write and wrote it all down when they got home?

            Or maybe they remembered it, and told someone who could write, who wrote it down.

            But you seem to be suggesting that the gospels are an unrelliable newspaper. And, you knwo, you’ve pointed out to me that I have no reason to think otherwise, so I believe you: nothing in the gospels can be believed.

            That includes the claim that those who believe without first seeing are blessed, of course. I can’t believe that because it’s in the gospel, any mroe than I can believe that a politician actually said something if I read it in a newspaper that has already been caught making up quotations.

            But you are convinced that that is true! So please tell me how you are convinced that it’s true.

            If it’s ‘tradition, reason, experience’ then please give details of exactly which bits of tradition, reason and experience convince you that this is true and how you know those bits of tradition, reason and experience are, unlike the gospels, reliable.

            I mean you must have enough evidence to convince yourself, right? So you can at least try to convince me.

          • No Ian: I simply think belief and faith are more important than evidence, and I don’t believe that the scriptures are infallible.

            Could you tell me where in the St John’s Nottingham curriculum either now, or in the past, that the 39 articles have been taught and examined? I’d find it helpful to have chapter and verse on that for another project. Thanks.

            Are you aware who ‘S’ is? Any he needs to remain anonymous?

            S: I think all newspapers are ‘unreliable’. They are all biased.
            You say: “I don’t believe that those who have not seen, and yet believe, are in fact blessed.”

            Well if you don’t believe that, then I am afraid nothing will convince you and convict you of the truth about the Good news.

          • I think all newspapers are ‘unreliable’. They are all biased.

            They are all biased, of course, but most of them don’t outright make up quotations. If they say, ‘The Prime Minister was in Brussels today and she said “Blah blah blah”‘ then you can be pretty sure that she was there and she said those words, even if the choice of what to report and what not to report, and the slant put on it, is affected by the newspaper’s positon.

            You say: “I don’t believe that those who have not seen, and yet believe, are in fact blessed.”

            Well if you don’t believe that, then I am afraid nothing will convince you and convict you of the truth about the Good news.

            I don’t understand. somethign convinced you that that was true, right? So why might the same evidence that convinced you not convinced me?

            At least give it a try. Set out the evidence that convinced you. Let me see it. It might convince me. You never know.

          • I have not followed this long interchange, and I have no idea whether or not it has been at all helpful in the two of you understand and appreciating each other’s point of view, and engaging with the issues.

            Well it’s certainly been eye-opening for me!

          • S;
            Tradition: the early church believed these things, and the church through the ages has believed these things.
            Reason: it’s quite a reasonable thing to say to Thomas. It makes reasoned sense.
            Experience: my own experience, and that of others is that believing without seeing can be a real blessing.

            That, along with the scripture, gives me as basis to believe in the real importance of the statement. It’s crucial. If I didn’t believe the truth of it, then I would not be a Christian.

            Now – if we need, as you say, to take the whole of the NT as reliable, please tell me why Ian will accept the teaching and preaching and leadership of women? Or is he allowed to set that clear teaching of St Paul aside?

            And then please tell me where Jesus in the Gospels directly refers to same sex relationships? Then we can move on.

          • Tradition: the early church believed these things, and the church through the ages has believed these things.

            But the early church also believe that same-sex relationships were wrong, and the chruch through the ages has believed that same-sex relationships are wrong. You think the early church and the church through the ages were wrong about same-sex relationships, so why do you think they were right about this?

            Certainly you can’t say the simple fact that the early church believed something and the church through the ages has believed it is ipso factoconvincing, or you would have to be convinced that same-sex relationships were wrong, wouldn’t you?

            Reason: it’s quite a reasonable thing to say to Thomas. It makes reasoned sense.

            But there are lots of things that sound reasonable but turn out to be untrue. So you’re going to have to provide more detail here. Explain the ‘reasoned sense’ it makes.

            Experience: my own experience, and that of others is that believing without seeing can be a real blessing.

            That is not my experience, and as experience is necessarily subjective, I don’t think you can use it as evidence that something is objectively true, can you?

            If I didn’t believe the truth of it, then I would not be a Christian.

            So, you must have some really strong grounds for believing it, right? but at the moment you havent’ given those grounds. Your argument from tradition is fatally flawed unless you can explain why this bit of tradition is different form the other bits of tradition you don’t think are reliable. Your argument from experience is entirely subjective.

            I think your best bet is your argument from reason, and I assume — as you base your entire life on the truth of this statement — you must have a far more rigorous, convincing argument from reason that it’s true than simply the vague idea that ‘it’s a reasonable thing to say’.

            I mean, presumably you don’t find every reasonable-sounding thing everybody says convincing enough to base your entire life on it!

            So what is your full, convincing argument from reason?

          • Andrew ‘Now – if we need, as you say, to take the whole of the NT as reliable, please tell me why Ian will accept the teaching and preaching and leadership of women? Or is he allowed to set that clear teaching of St Paul aside?’

            I am not sure there is much point in my contributing anything further, when you persist in absurd simplifications of issues like this, ignore the debate on this issue, and despite my extensive and consistent publications in this area, imply that I am ignorant of the texts and happy to set them aside.

            This kind of absurd parody and unwillingness to listen or understand just don’t help anyone.

          • Ian: I read yours and many other writings at the time, and voted accordingly in synod. Thanks. I was asking ‘S’ that question, and not you.
            But these are for you:

            1: IAN, can you please tell us why ‘S’ is permitted to remain anonymous? Is there a particular reason given that you don’t really like anonymous posters on your blog? ?

            2: IAN Could you tell me where in the St John’s Nottingham curriculum either now, or in the past, that the 39 articles have been taught and examined? I’d find it helpful to have chapter and verse on that for another project. Thanks.

          • I was asking ‘S’ that question, and not you.

            This is the question:

            ‘Now – if we need, as you say, to take the whole of the NT as reliable, please tell me why Ian will accept the teaching and preaching and leadership of women? Or is he allowed to set that clear teaching of St Paul aside?’

            … to which my only possible answer is surely, ‘I do not know Ian’s thought processes’.

            Now, can we return to the important question of what evidence it was that first convinced you that those who believe without seeing are blessed, a fact of which you are so sure that you have apparently built your entire life upon it?

          • S: as Ian reminds us, he has written and published a lot of consistent material on the subject. So of course you know his thought processes.

            Or are you suggesting his support for the ordination and leadership position of women in the Church is flawed?

          • as Ian reminds us, he has written and published a lot of consistent material on the subject.

            Yes, but I haven’t read it.

            So of course you know his thought processes.

            Nope.

            Or are you suggesting his support for the ordination and leadership position of women in the Church is flawed?

            Ah, now that’s a question that I can answer, as it doesn’t require me to use my very rusty long-distance telepathy.

            Does it help if my answer is, not nearly as flawed as your reasons for thinking that those who believe without seeing are blessed seem to be?

          • “Or are you suggesting his support for the ordination and leadership position of women in the Church is flawed?

            Ah, now that’s a question that I can answer”

            Let’s have your answer then S. I’m keen to see if you pick and choose which bits of the NT to follow, and why.

          • Let’s have your answer then S. I’m keen to see if you pick and choose which bits of the NT to follow, and why.

            Well, according to you, I shouldn’t be a Christian at all, because being a Christian requires thinking that those who believe without seeing are blessed and you still haven’t provided any reason to think that that is true!

            So the question is kind of moot, isn’t it?

          • But S: you have told us, clearly, that everything in the bible has to be reliable or else none of it is reliable. And you are clear that the words of Jesus are carefully reported – they have to be for there to be any credibility for any of it.
            Now it says this in the Gospel.
            ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe’. (words of Jesus to Thomas)
            But now you are saying you don’t believe that part.

            So there is something of an inconsistency there.

          • you have told us, clearly, that everything in the bible has to be reliable or else none of it is reliable.

            Yep. But…

            And you are clear that the words of Jesus are carefully reported – they have to be for there to be any credibility for any of it.

            …you have convinced me that in fact the words of Jesus are not carefully reported, for dictaphones did not exist in first-century Palestine. I mean, I don’t know how I didn’t see it before — it seems so obvious now.

            But anyway. Given that Jesus probably didn’t say that those who believe without seeing are blesssed, and indeed that the whole scene with thomas probably didn’t happen at all, why should I think that those who believe without seeing are blessed?

            I mean, you’re convinced that that’s true, right? So convinced that you have built your entire life upon that foundation.

            So what convinced you?

          • I can recommend a really helpful article that will help you a lot I think

            I have read that now and I cannot see where it addresses the question of whether it is true that those who believe without having seen are really blessed or not at all!

            I must be missing something. Please can you explain what evidence convinced you that it is true that those who believe without having seen are blessed because at the moment it doesn’t seem likely, if we assume that the Bible’s report of Jesus having said it is unreliable (as indeed we must, due to the lack of dictaphomes in first-century Palestine), that it is true at all!

          • “I have read that now and I cannot see where it addresses the question of whether it is true that those who believe without having seen are really blessed or not at all!”

            Well S, in that case I don’t think anything I say will convince you then.

            It’s been very illuminating and the offer to meet or for you to e mail always stands. But I think we’ve gone as far as is possible here.

          • Well S, in that case I don’t think anything I say will convince you then.

            How do you know? You haven’t tried!

            I mean… it couldn’t be that you don’t have any convincing reasons for your belief, could it? Surely that can’t be the case.

        • Andrew,

          “I am sure, with S here, that we can’t be sure the bible is always clear and correct. Who can possibly know what God is like with 100% certainty?

          Well, you need to re-read my question, since:
          1. I didn’t ask you whether the “bible is always clear and correct, but about those which you’ve asserted to be “very clear scriptural passages about God NOT dealing with us according to our sins, and extending his compassion and mercy even through we are not worthy of it.”

          Instead of avoiding my question about scriptural passages which you deem to very clear, you can answer it: ‘Well, how do you know the Bible is correct? Even in just the passages describing God’s compassion?

          A valid answer might be that you don’t know that the Bible is correct in the very clear scriptural passages describing God’s compassion and mercy?

          2. I didn’t ask you to whether there is an ‘objective’ answer, or very satisfactory solution to the very ancient problem of whether God is culpable for inflicting incurable disease.

          Instead, I asked you what was the objective basis for you to reject Stephen Fry’s denunciation and maintain the position that God is not culpable for inflicting bone cancer on children?

          A valid answer to my actual question might be that:
          a) you’re not sure that God isn’t culpable for inflicting bone cancer on children and/or
          b) you have found no objective basis for rejecting Fry’s denunciation of God as responsible for inflicting bone cancer on children.

          So, it would be great if you were as keen on answering other commenters’ questions as you are on insisting that others should not avoid your own.

          • I’ve answered your questions David – you just don’t get the answers.
            There are no objective answers to the Stephen Fry question.

            Like S I agree that it isn’t possible to be sure that the bible is always correct. It isn’t that kind of book anyway.

            Re read the answers to Phil. Maybe it will make more sense to you then.

            Pax

          • Like S I agree that it isn’t possible to be sure that the bible is always correct. It isn’t that kind of book anyway.

            PLEASE stop imputing to me views of your on that I think are totally incorrect.

            It is possible to be sure that EITHER the Bible is reliable, OR it is not. Those are the only two options. Either reliable, or unreliable. Nothing in between.

            It is not possible to be totally sure which of those is the case, but it is possible to be sure that your position — that the Bible is sometimes reliable and sometimes not — is totally untenable.

          • S: I was simply going on your previous answer to my question:
            so let me ask you again: how do you know the bible is correct?

            Answer: I don’t know for sure.

            Now you say it is possible. Please tell us how.

            David continues to assume that if there is a very ‘clear’ biblical passage then it must be ‘true’, and I hope you are not making the same basic error. Your assertion that “It is possible to be sure that EITHER the Bible is reliable, OR it is not.” is simply your view and has no logic to it whatsoever.

          • “There are no objective answers to the Stephen Fry question.”

            In which case, you cannot attest to the veracity of even what you’ve described as “very clear scriptural passages about God NOT dealing with us according to our sins, and extending His mercy and compassion”.

            Best to keep your fingers crossed, then.

            John 3:10 springs to mind.

            Oh, and Jer. 6:14

          • Oh, BTW, I didn’t assume anything. Neither did I ask whether the bible is always correct.

            Instead, I simply focused on the branch you’ve sat on in countering Phill about ‘wrath and condemnation’: the scriptural counter-examples, such as woman at the well, woman caught in adultery, thief on the cross).

            Since you can’t verify the veracity of those specific passages relating to God’s mercy and compassion, your counter-argument fails on that basis.

            Such an argument on the basis of some parts of scripture being right is no more valid than an argument in the basis that scripture is always right.

          • Andrew

            The God and Christ of the Bible are real to me. How terrible they are in their holiness, righteousness, justice, majesty, chastening, reality and honesty. How wonderful they are in their love, grace, mercy, patience, longsuffering, compassion and pity.

            ‘The Holy Spirit is no sceptic. The things he has written in our hearts are not doubts or opinions but assertions, sure and more certain than sense or life itself’ (Luther amended).

            For instance:

            The LORD IS my light and my salvation.
            I DID DESERVE God’s wrath and condemnation and eternal punishment for my sins and Christ DID DELIVER me from that wrath, condemnation and punishment when he bore them in his atoning death and life-giving resurrection.
            I DO FEEL the agony of Christ’s refining fire.
            I DO FEEL the impact of the flaming darts of the evil one as I raise the shield of faith in my daily conflict against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of evil in the heavenlies.

            ‘Here I stand. I can do no other’.

            Phil Almond

          • Your assertion that “It is possible to be sure that EITHER the Bible is reliable, OR it is not.” is simply your view and has no logic to it whatsoever.

            If you have two statements, from the same source, and no other evidence, how can you possibly think that one is reliable and the other is not?

            If I say to you that when I look out the window right now I can see a construction site and a crow, that I am on the first floor of the building, and that I travelled here this morning by bicycle, then you can either take all those statements as reliable, or you can doubt all of them: there is no way for you to tell which bits are true and which are not. Not without some extra information.

            If you claim you have such a way to tell which bits of the Bible are true and which are not, some extra information, please explain it so the rest of us can know for sure what to believe and what not to believe too.

      • Simon (and Christopher)

        Adrian Thatcher, Susannah Cornwall, Gerard Loughlin, Geoffrey Rees, Graham Ward, Linn Marie Tonstad, Sarah Coakley, Derryn Guest, James Alison, Elizabeth Stuart, Marcella Althaus-Reid, Jane Shaw, Charlotte Methuen, Eugene Rogers, Grace Jantzen, Mark D. Jordan, Dale Martin, Halvor Moxnes, Rachel Muers, Tina Beattie, Marti Nissinen, Hugh Pyper, Ken Stone, Chris Greenough, Teresa Hornby, Sean Burke, John Bradbury, Mike Higton, Frances Clemson, Ben Fulford, Brett Gray, Katie Cross, ………
        That’s quite a lot of hens’ teeth.

          • Ian, that’s one scholar I have cited! I could say much the same about Gagnon, but I don’t claim that there are no conservative scholars who have read the ‘data’.

        • Penelope
          I guess that settles it then.
          How could I have been so wrong for so long? If only I’d known of such a distinguished list of commentators before who read Gen2 & Paul’s use of it differently. May I quote John Stott – clearly not a scholar from the academy, but worth a look generally? ‘Even the inattentive reader will be struck by the three references to “flesh”: “This is… flesh of my flesh… they will become one flesh.” We may be certain that this is deliberate, not accidental. It teaches that heterosexual intercourse in marriage is more than a union; it is a kind of reunion. It is the union of two persons who originally were one, were then separated from each other, and now in the sexual encounter of marriage come together again.’

          • Simon, sorry, my list was a response to Christopher’s assertion that there were few, if any, revisionist scholars who read the ‘data’: biological, statistical, biblical etc. Which is plainly absurd.

          • Simon, as I mentioned on another thread, even the distinguished NIV NT translation committee have admitted they had made a mistake in consistently translating “sarx” as “sinful nature” and back-tracked on it in the 2011 edition. It is the nature of biblical theology to progress in an understanding of authorial intent in Scripture—but this does not always sit well with confessional Christians. I suspect we have not fully understood the use of the term in the NT even now.

          • Simon, re: “How could I have been so wrong for so long?” Evangelical Press published my biography of Thomas Cranmer. His life was a journey of evangelical discovery and he was exploring new understandings right to the end of his life. I am sure he would be amazed to find that so many today held so many fixed positions.

          • Simon
            And re your quote from Stott. I don’t agree with him. Not because he wasn’t an academic, but because I think his view of creation is sub platonic rather than biblical. I also think that if flesh is to be read carnally, there are other ways of being one-flesh than heterosexual intercourse.

          • Penelope & Colin
            I do not wish to be seen to dismiss theological scholarship – it is vital.

            But I dont have to agree with its conclusions and the claim to scholarship can sometimes be an intellectual power play to silence another voice.

            Penelope argued compellingly recently that there are in fact lots of ‘orthodoxies’ – new, radical, generous etc Indeed so. And we need to constantly ‘begin again at the beginning'(Barth) and that may cause us to ‘know that place for the first time’ (Eliot).

            On the ‘one flesh’ – I can agree with what you assert, just not what you seem then to deny. It strikes me it is the sexual union between man and woman who complete eachother in consummated union – flesh to flesh – that constitutes the new social unit. To argue its just about the new social unit and divorce that from the male/female sexual union, is to then move one step away from seeing the male/female sex union as presupposition in the constitution of the unit. And then the next move of revisionists is to say one flesh is simply the social unit, whether male-male, female-female, multiple females to male, whether permanent or not etc And that trajectory moves us to the revisionist position I believe violates God’s creative purpose and indeed reflected image in the male/female one flesh – social unit.

          • Thank you Simon. One of my problems with your image of a couple who complete each other is that it seems to leave no room for the charism of celibacy.

            Thank you Colin. I had not considered the possibility that the flesh language of 1 Cor. 6 was not carnal. I now have your book on kindle!

          • Simon,

            On this complex thread I wonder if this reply will ever find you!

            I suspect you have misunderstood me. I am an evangelical. I believe in “sola scriptura.” I am not that interested in Anglicanism—I am on this blog because I know and respect Ian Paul as member of Tyndale Fellowship—as I am.

            I do not believe the church (however defined) or, for that matter, the state, has any right to dictate to unbelievers what they do in their private lives as consenting adults. Although possibly greeted with dismay by some Christians, I believe that the latest proposed legislative change in the UK to allow heterosexual couples to register a civil partnership is a step forward—in that the state could then abandon any attempt at defining and/or regulating marriage, and instead leave that to faith communities to decide. This is how it used to be in England, as I understand it, until as recently as early in the 19th century. I cannot see any mandate in the NT for the church to impose on the state, or individuals, their own definition of marriage—then, or now.

            I do not accept homosexual unions have any validity in the community of believers. I would argue that from clear OT teaching, and from Romans 1 (and elsewhere in the NT). But to argue that marriage is defined by penetrative hetero-sexual intercourse—and that based on Gen 2:24, does not in my view, on any evangelical understanding of scriptural authorial intent, stack up. I have studied this, as an evangelical (i.e., Scripture ‘trumps all’), for more than 10 years. In the process I have acquired two post-graduate degrees in the subject, had three books published by respected evangelical publishing houses, and have been asked to present six academic papers based on my study.

            And as I mention elsewhere on this blog, the Unio cum Christo peer-reviewed academic journal published by Westminster Theological Seminary approached me to submit an article on Genesis 2:24. They have had three (at least) guys with PhDs comb through every word of it for the last 6 months. Yet it appears unaltered in this month’s edition.

            I suggest we should not weaken the evangelical argument by utilising texts that do not address that issue—i.e., Gen 2:24, and 1 Cor 6:15-16 which employs Gen 2:24. Why? Because Gen 2:24 cannot on any evangelical exegetical grounds be demonstrated in the OT to be defining marriage as penetrative sexual intercourse. Why not so in the NT? Many reasons, but here is one: Gen 2:24 in the Pauline corpus is used to illustrate the relationship of Christ and the church: in Eph 5:31-32 as the bride of Christ, and 1 Cor 6:15-1 as the body of Christ.

            I am fully persuaded, as others are who have read my PhD, that no literal prostitute is involved in 1 Cor 6:15-16 (rather it is a reference to the antithesis of the body/bride of Christ, i.e., the world). And NIV themselves have already suggested, by implication, that they have misunderstood most NT references to “flesh.” And—Andrew Naselli (a gifted young USA evangelical scholar) has, to my mind, convincingly pointed out other misunderstandings in that Corinthian chapter.

            So let us not drive an exegesis through Gen 2:24 about penetrative heterosexual intercourse, when NT Scripture tells us it is the mechanism for fulfilling the Abrahamic promise to extend to the Gentiles the good news of an eternal bliss in God’s presence in a new heavens and earth. Surely not by sex? But by the consensual one-family covenant.

          • Dear Colin
            I know you are an evangelical and I respect your scholarship
            I did not mean to insult you by my comment
            Just jousting
            I fear there are those who would use your scholarship for their own ends to make conclusions you would never intend

            pax
            s

          • Hi Colin

            Your claim that 1 Cor 6 is not about a literal prostitute suffers from the obvious problem that the chapter clearly has a special concern about sexual sin. It mentions fornication twice, in vv 13 and 18, and fornicator in v 18, and of the types of sinner listed in vv 9-10 four of the first five are of a sexual nature. Moreover, use of a prostitute is classic fornication (much more socially acceptable, and less personally risky, than, say, bedding a respectable man’s daughter). Whatever metaphors are at work in this passage, the sex is surely literal. When Paul exclaims ‘shun fornication!’ (v18) we must say that he literally means it.

            I don’t think anyone is arguing that ‘marriage is defined by penetrative hetero-sexual intercourse’. The biblical writers didn’t think that people became married to prostitutes, or to mistresses, which may be other people’s wives. The connection between sex and marriage was more nuanced than that. But sexual intercourse was obviously integral to marriage, since providing a legitimate context for sex and its issue was one of the key purposes of marriage.

            In terms of the state and marriage, it is regrettable that you do not recognise the state’s responsibility in respect of the moral law which God has laid down as the standard of conduct for all. Your reference to earlier periods is anachronistic because although marriage was left to the Church, this was a time when church law was part of the law of the land and there was no alternative form of marriage.

            If you think that the state has no right to tell consenting adults what to do in their private lives then you presumably believe in legalising everything regardless of how socially harmful it is? What about if the activities of consenting adults affect innocent third parties, such as children, as they often do of course – do you allow the state any role then? The standard of consent as the sole bar for public legislation has a very poor track record for social impact and very little support from any Christian tradition.

        • Revisionists are not rare! I did not say that they were. Revisionists who fail to squirrel away (or just be unaware of) stats that would in normal circumstances be banner headlines – these are rare. But the squirreling away of spectacularly remarkable data is a very bad thing. 30 years into the AIDS epidemic, USA Men who have sex with men do not contract HIV at double the rate of those who don’t, nor quadruple, nor ten times, nor 100 times. It is around 1000 times the rate. (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013 figures – though every year the figures are similar). But do any of your listed scholars mention that? Because for sure that is not the sort of thing to be left unmentioned. And that is just the tip of the iceberg statistically.

          If the same people try to make into a biblical virtue something that is consistently treated as just as much of a vice as lying and theft, that speaks little for their honesty (or else their intelligence??) – the hole just gets dug deeper.

          • No, Christopher, I know you didn’t. Which is why I provided you with a list of revisionists who have read the ‘data’. It’s just an intro, there are more.

          • You mean that they have seen the utter shockers of statistics re average homosexual outcomes (promiscuity, STIs, life expectancy, prevalence of dangerous practices; graph-alignment with the progress of the sexual revolution) and have answered ‘no comment’??? Does that mean that they are mad, or that they are bad?

            If I saw a stat where one group was 1000 times worse than another, even though that other was extremely large, which newspaper page ought that rightly to fit on?

            I always repeat the same point. A number is required. If 1000x worse is not worthy of comment, which number would be worthy of comment? A million? What is the number?

          • Christopher
            That is one set of data. I suppose some scholars of all persuasions have seen it. Maybe, like me, they regard it as having no theological freight.

          • Theological freight??

            But theology is struggling to be accepted as a bona fide science. It can so easily become both speculative and ideological.

            Statistical and biological data will always have freight, as (in formation of a biblical theology) will perspectives that seem obviously to be asserted in the biblical texts. Whether that freight is theological is neither here nor there, but it is very weighty, and would arguably be less weighty were it merely theological.

          • Christopher
            Well, of course, theology is the queen of the sciences.
            But the prevalence of STIs among gay men has no relevance to the licitness of SSM. It is a red herring. No one, so far as I know, has ever suggested that men and women shouldn’t marry each other because they are naturally promiscuous and liable to be unfaithful.
            Marriage is supposed to be the remedy for lust.

          • No. SSM can only be accepted if homo-sexual behaviour is accepted, and to accept that would be to accept something extremely harmful. (On average, of course – but averages and aggregates are by definition directly related.)

            Nowhere has homo-sexual behaviour been able, on average, to separate itself from its connection to promiscuity. This has not proved possible even in ‘relationships’ on average.

            Nor have advocates of SSM ever particularly spoken up against this promiscuity, propensity to spread disease, etc..

            This is not only different from Christian marriage but it is the precise opposite. Even when the sexual revolution was well-established, and within the country where it was best established (USA), it remained true 20 years ago that 80 per cent of married people had never been unfaithful to their present partner. If you want chalk and cheese, there it is.

            AIDS breaks out; a gay-affirming attitude is ‘therefore’ instilled. This was/is a spectacular and deadly piece of illogic. HIV/AIDS together with anal cancer and much-increased rates of gonorrhea and syphilis – these are the obvious evidence that the behaviour itself is harmful. It is the presupposition that average/typical gay ‘sexual’ behaviour is ok – against all the evidence – that is at the root of the problem. (And even the non-average/non-typical goes against biology: moreover, that is obvious.) Activists and equality campaigners have succeeded in making such things unsayable apart from by the truthful.

          • Theology is the queen of the sciences because someone once said so??

            It might be – but whoever said that was not thinking of speculative and ideological writing with no grounding in scientific method.

          • Christopher
            Your assertion that SSM can only be accepted of homosexual behaviour is acceptable is flawed:
            1) you cannot demonstrate that there is any such thing as gay sex. All the sexual intimacies that gay men engage in can be enjoyed by heterosexual couples (and are).
            2) you don’t mention lesbians whose sexual behaviours are much less likely to lead to STDs and other diseases such as cervical cancer; since their sexual behaviour is less risky, is SSM acceptable for lesbians?
            3) you might argue (as you have done) that gay men’s behaviour is unacceptable because some gay men indulge in highly risky sexual behaviour.
            4) some heterosexual men indulge in highly risky sexual behaviour, such as having intercourse with a prostitute without using a condom.
            5) is this because men are inherently more promiscuous than women, or have been culturally conditioned to be so?
            6) should we, therefore, preclude men from marrying?
            7) many conservatives and some queer people argue against the idea of a gay identity, believing that sexuality is fluid, mutable, and may even be chosen.
            8) if sexual orientation is fluid, then there is nothing intrinsically gay about homosexual behaviour.
            9) risky behaviour must therefore be biological or culturally conditioned.
            10) I am not speaking of civil SSM which is legal in this country and likely to remain so, unless the DUP suddenly takes over.
            11) so the discussion here is about the Church blessing SSMs.
            12) St Paul and the liturgy of the BCP see marriage as the remedy for lust.
            13) this is one of the goods of marriage.
            14) the other primary good of marriage, procreation, is never mentioned as a good in the NT; in Jesus’ teaching on the indissolublity of marriage, he cites the one-flesh union of Gen. 2, not the be fruitful and multiply injunction of Gen. 1; both Paul and Jesus were probably sexually ascetic and Jesus was anti family.
            15) Christian men and women who wish to marry their same-sex partners, are, like Christians who wish to marry their other-sex partners, are looking for God’s blessing and for the hallowing
            of their relationships.
            16) the existence of risky sexual behaviour in culture and society does not compromise the validity of Christian marriage.
            17) so, neither homosexual sex (which doesn’t exist) nor male sexual behaviour should preclude men from seeking the discipline of (Christian) marriage.
            18) I am somewhat surprised that conservative Christians, especially Protestant ones, don’t argue that marriage should be open to all couples to regularise and hallow their relationships.
            P.S. homosexuality didn’t become more tolerated during the AIDS crisis, but less. The trajectory in favour of affirmation was halted, even reversed, for some years

          • Yes – a marriage culture tames and civilises men, but they need the carrot, otherwise they remain in immaturity.

            Were the homosexual rates at double the normal, that would be utterly awful. But they are 1000 times the normal EVEN WHEN the same practices are involved as for ‘heterosexual’ people. People are in denial. They expect us to believe that immature men will leap at the idea of marriage like a shot. What? – when they have been allowed to have their cake and eat it?

            I have a remedy for this utterly appalling 1000x statistic. (Look at all the ostriches – how can their honesty ever be respected when they fail to mention thing like this?) There is a way of life that has been practised within living memory and is still widely practised. It is called the marriage culture. 90+% marry; 90+% of those do so for life. Brilliant track record (given that marriage is the no1 producer of continued happiness!!); compare that with the total rubbish that secularism has produced. I cannot believe that we even have to debate something so statistically obvious, let alone that Christians would be found to advocate things in line with the sexual revolution that produced such rapid 400+% worsening in 15-20 different areas. When this 90%/90% was the culture, this 1000x statistic was not present, because we were doing things in a Christian way. Exactly the same time society turned away from Christianity, all this sort of thing went haywire at an enormous rate.

            It’s not much good indulging in exactly the same practices if you end up with a 1000+ times worse rate of HIV/AIDS (not to mention far worse of numerous other diseases), and all of us know it. The opposing position obviously has not a leg to stand on, which is why they avoid such a stash of staggering stats. Their avoidance was noticed long ago, and in the nature of things it is likely to come back to haunt them. We are not stupid.

          • Penelope,

            I am forced to conclude that you are unaware of the extensive contradictions in your 18 points.

            In the middle you want a blessing for SSM but if everything in Scripture points it being against God’s will because he cares for us then how can God to bless something He doesn’t agree with?

            Your point 17 is an absolute classic:
            “……17) so, neither homosexual sex (which doesn’t exist) nor male sexual behaviour should preclude men from seeking the discipline of (Christian) marriage…..”
            It is based on the idea that you allege that “homosexual sex” doesn’t exist but you are very much amongst those offer proposals designed to interpret verses in the Bible that clearly does say that “homosexual sex” exists in ways that try desperately to say it doesn’t apply to the modern version. That very position acknowledges that it does actually exists and is based on trying vainly to say that the modern version is somehow different to the older one …. therefore admitting that it exists after all.

            Your logic is completely flawed and inconsistent.

          • Clive
            Because I don’t believe that the Bible ever mentions ‘homosexual’ sex. There are a few proscriptions of male same-sex sex, and these might be concerned only with anal sex.
            Because ‘everything in scripture’ does not point to it being against God’s will. Far from it.

          • Christopher
            I have a remedy too. Marriage. Though I think rather better of men, even with all the #metoo revelations, than to assume that they only get married in order to have sex.

          • Penelope,

            You are wonderfully self contradictory and seemingly blind to it. At its heart your statements suggest that you believe any form of sex is OK so it actually follows from you bizarre assertion that since NOT every form of sex is actually good for you (as you have been shown many times already) then your peculiar version of God doesn’t care about us and God’s warnings to us are irrelevant to you.

            Since you have reached the point of contradicting yourself then it is not my place to take any further part.

          • Clive
            You are funny.
            I don’t need to be ‘shown’ that some kinds of sexual activities are riskier than others.
            Those which are shared in the context of faithful, permanent and stable relationships are rather up to the couple involved aren’t they? Many behaviours are risky: flying, white-water rafting, drinking, driving, cycling, pot-holing. Should we eschew them?

      • I mean – what is desirable for me is not that people remain in dishonesty/ideology or ignorance or both. That is the reverse of desirable.

    • Hoo Christopher
      I’m familiar with all the ‘data’. I spend much of my time with it. Day after day. As do many other revisionists, writing theology. Their (my) opinions are as ‘real’ as yours. Whatever real means.

      • (1) All opinions however untrue are real!

        (2) The word ‘opinion’ contains an internal contradiction. A research-based opinion is very very far from being the same thing as an ideology or wishful thought. Therefore we cannot by any means with clarity use the word ‘opinion’ for both these 2 disparate realities. And without clarity we do not have the necessary level of thought.

        (3) You could be one of those rare revisionists who has done some of this study, whose existence I already acknowledged by saying that such people did exist and were as rare as hen’s teeth. Avoidance of (1) and (2) etc would up your contribution even higher.

        • Christopher

          In answer to (1) you asked (above 10/10 9.04pm) how their [revisionists] opinions could be real opinions.

          • They are real in the sense that they exist, but not in the sense that they are both bona fide and well-informed. They may in some instances be bona fide and ill-informed.

          • Christopher, I quote:
            ‘The reason it is a non-starter is that the revisionists, in order to have an opinion, would have to be familiar with the primary data – biological, statistical, biblical. Revisionists familiar with even one of these categories of things are as rare as hen’s teeth. So how are their opinions real opinions?’

          • Exactly, because ‘real’ means at least 2 things, as I distinguished at 2.58pm. Being real in the trivial sense of existing will not get an opinion very far.

      • In fact a third thing to avoid would be saying you are familiar with ‘all’ the data. I wish and we all wish that were possible!

    • Hi Simon, it’s a nonstarter IMHO because at present ”opinion”-forming is preceding study and research, and until that changes there is no need to see ”opinions” thus formed as being worth anything. The sleight of hand is to use the same word view/opinion for 2 things that are poles apart: ideology/wish on the one hand, and researched conclusion on the other.

  24. It’s lamentable that this comment thread has wandered so far away from the subject of this blog post, as encapsulated in its title.

    Does anyone here have an interest in continuing discussion of the Bishops’ current policy and reflecting on which of Ian’s proposed alternatives is most viable?

      • That’s good, so now you hopefully absolve me of going off-topic, as you rightly said I did on Bundock personal thread.

        The reason I go off-topic is that seeing the big picture is always better than being too narrow, and also sometimes the critical factor may lie 2 removes away.

  25. There’s a lot of very erudite theology in all these comments, and I dare say I am missing all sorts of points, but it seems to me that any christian church has to be fudging the issue if it treats all committed partnerships equally. So I’d suggest a two point solution which is partly conservative and partly liberal.
    There needs to be a word and a liturgy for the blessing and consecrating of a union in which natural conception and procreation has every likelihood of occurring, and that word and liturgy might well be marriage or matrimony. There needs to be another word and liturgy for all other partnerships which the church feels able to celebrate and bless, and although the word might be partnership, it might be something else, and the liturgy for it still needs to be written. If the state allows, the latter could still include the legal union (as marriage currently does). This would mean that an older heterosexual man and woman couple would not be allowed to marry in church as such, which seems very odd to us, but this is the logical way to preserve the meaning of the word ‘marriage’, while still having a means within the life of the church to celebrate and bless properly committed relationships which cannot produce normal biological off-spring. The more progressive elements of modern society might be affronted, but we all have to accept that certain things have their limits.
    I think the interpretation of scripture in the modern context inevitably comes down to saying that promiscuity is a sin, not any particular type of one-to-one sexual (or non-sexual) relationship, so that would imply that there is a case for excluding from communion and ordination someone who is evidently in too many sexual relationships.

    • Hi Jonathan,

      You wrote: ‘There needs to be a word and a liturgy for the blessing and consecrating of a union in which natural conception and procreation has every likelihood of occurring, and that word and liturgy might well be marriage or matrimony,..There needs to be another word and liturgy for all other partnerships which the church feels able to celebrate and bless, and although the word might be partnership, it might be something else, and the liturgy for it still needs to be written. .

      The institution of marriage is not and has never been grounded upon the necessity of natural conception and procreation. Instead, contingency for natural offspring and parenthood is integral to it.

      St. Augustine explained in the Good of Marriage: ‘‘there is good ground to inquire for what reason it be a good. And this seems not to me to be merely on account of the begetting of children, but also on account of the natural society itself in a difference of sex. Otherwise it would not any longer be called marriage in the case of old persons, especially if either they had lost sons, or had given birth to none. But now in good, although aged, marriage, albeit there has withered away the glow of full age between male and female, yet there lives in full vigour the order of charity between husband and wife.

      So, St. Augustine’s discourse from Genesis sees the good of marriage as comprised of:
      1) the begetting of children and 2) the natural society itself in a difference of sex. He readily accepted that a marriage might exist without begetting children, but not without the latter good of natural society itself in a difference of sex.

      Even in law, for couples who are elderly and childless, English common law does not rule out the possibility of offspring until one spouse dies. So, Sir Willam Blackstone wrote in his Commentaries: ‘the possibility of issue is always supposed to exist in law, unless extinguished by the death of the parties, even though the donees, be each of them a hundred years old.

      Clearly, the good of marriage, which Augustine called “natural society in a difference of sex” is inapplicable to same-sex couples. Since they cannot jointly produce lineal descendants, the possibility of issue is also wholly inapplicable.

      So, given the provision of same-sex civil marriage, the Church should consider whether scripture, tradition and reason offer sufficient additional warrant for going beyond this. It certainly should not come down to whether the Church just”feels able to celebrate and bless other partnerships.”

      • David, through all this debate something is saying to me ‘why not just keep it simple?’ In fact I’m sure someone must have long since come up with a law which says something like ‘satisfaction diminishes as complexity increases’.

        OK that’s for another day perhaps but, as Christians, our discontent seems to be growing with every new attempt to reinvent God’s rather straightforward intentions on the basis that they aren’t up to our sophisticated 21st century requirements. There again perhaps I’m a bit of a Christian redneck!

        • Don,

          I’m not so sure. Jesus had quite straightforward intentions, but still spoke in parables.

          And I remember how Peter, a relatively uneducated fisherman, described Paul’s God-given spiritual insight: “Paul also wrote to you, according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters …. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and the unstable twist to their own destruction.” (2 Peter 3:15–16)

          Yes, I take your point that we should always try to simplify where possible. Nevertheless, “things…that are hard to understand” are as much a part of Christian apologetics on this blog as they were a part of Paul’s epistles.

          • Thanks David – wise as always.

            I think I may have wrongly implied that the things of God are simple and easy to understand. What I really mean is that where we’re not sure or in disagreement we should first pause and stand back rather than dig ever deeper into intricacies of theology and human situation in the hope that things will become clearer. By standing back I mean go back to the fundamentals, make sure we understand and accept them, and then work through any problems which our present experience throws up from the standpoint (in the light of) of the fundamentals and then the relevant theology, but only so far as we need to. Does God intend us to know everything? Well the Garden of Eden story gives a pretty clear hint about that. And then of course there’s the time perspective – what we can cope with at the time of our spiritual birth won’t be the same as after years of Christian life and experience.

            There’s a discussion here about whether marriage requires you to have children. Well ‘be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth’ is not an order, it’s the wording of a blessing, and it includes ruling over the fish and the birds etc. If you work in an office all day are you failing to ‘rule over’ the fish and the birds? It’s a case of pushing things too far, having an argument over it, making new prescriptions (not excluding invasion of other people’s marital privacy), and in the process losing sight of God’s blessing where he clearly rejoices in the idea of heterosexual marriage (while saying nothing at all about any other sexual liaison).

            And then I think there’s sometimes this misreading of Biblical metaphors and parables because we push and push them beyond their context or even start to take them as literal. Where we don’t do that (for example in our understanding of Psalm 23) they work wonderfully well and our understanding of God and our relationship to him grows; but where we do push it too far (for example in how we understand John 6) we get in a mess, and often a divisive mess at that.

            And then there’s this tendency to speculate on things which the Bible simply doesn’t inform us about – and the arguments around these things may be interesting but can never be resolved, or may lead us into developing misleading and unnecessary theories. And perhaps by a more simple observation of how things are and how people are as we live our Christian lives we can come to see how they tie in with the fundamentals which are sure and certain.

            I’m certainly not decrying academic theology – I’d steer clear of Psephizo if I thought that – but I do think theology must first serve Christian living rather than go off on excursions which unnecessarily confuse or even undermine our faith.

            And I agree with you that the comments here (often very good comments) can drift far away from Ian’s original topic. I’m sure most of us are guilty of that and of course it’s not a crime; it reveals active minds and real interest in the things of God. But the downside is that a) it’s hard to follow the logic of the central argument, and b) that some really insightful and helpful conclusions are not reached or not clearly expressed so that we can all learn something useful.

            Sorry to go on, David – no need to respond – it’s just thoughts, it’ll be something else tomorrow…

      • Well, if you take a view that we must continue to accept that teaching of St. Augustine, you are stuck with drawing a distinction in a place which modern society rejects, and this creates more of a barrier to acceptance of anything the Church says.
        If you try to say that true marriage is only between a man and a woman regardless of whether they can procreate you are open to the obvious logic which says that a same sex marriage is equally valid.
        Perhaps St. Augustine was writing with emphasis for different social problems compared to modern society.
        Most of the rest of the comments on this article are basically arguing about whether the sexual practices of same sex couples can be accepted in the church. Well I say they can as long as promiscuity is avoided (as it should be for heterosexuals also). The only way to be a relevant part of society (and not a weirdly out of date sect) is to define marriage in a defensible way and to have something slightly different available for non-procreating relationships.

        • ‘If you try to say that true marriage is only between a man and a woman regardless of whether they can procreate you are open to the obvious logic which says that a same sex marriage is equally valid.’

          This is wrong because it fails to engage with the deeper significance of marriage and its connection with the sexed nature of humankind. Procreation is obviously central to marriage, and equally is central to what it means to be sexed beings – in purely natural terms, the only reason there are two sexes is for the sake of sexual reproduction (that’s why male and female exist in nature). But even where the procreative element is missing, because of physiological disorder or simply age, a man and woman may share in the form established by God for male and female.

          The point is that the form of marriage is established by God in nature for the sake of human procreation, but those who miss out on that by unfortunate circumstances (sterility, late marriage) are still graciously included in the normative form which, in more felicitous circumstances, would have provided the context for them to procreate. However, two men or two women cannot share in it because it is not that they cannot procreate by unfortunate circumstance but by category error – it simply is not possible for two men or two women to procreate as a couple, and their whole biology and anatomy tells us that.

          More succinctly, marriage is the normative form in which the two halves of sexed humanity are united in the manner intended by God and indicated by their anatomy. Procreation plays a central role in understanding this, but not in the reductive manner that your line of logic suggests.

          • Of course you are right on that basis, but biological fact is also fundemental to God’s creation and so provides a distinction which is more presentable in the modern world (please forgive the obvious use of this phrase as a short-hand for a much longer argument ).
            For all the erudition shown by the contributors to this debate, none of us actually knows God’s mind, but I think the church is a more effective agent in society if it accepts distinctions the way I have suggested.

          • Will
            What about the circumstances when couples do not wish to procreate (not through disease or disability, but. Because they have no desire to reproduce?
            Also I think you are straying into a sub platonic understanding of creation in your reflection that men and women represent two halves of humanity. I am not half of anything, I am fully human, made in the image of a God, not half an image bearer. When ish recognises ishah, he sees that she is the same, not different.

          • What about the circumstances when couples do not wish to procreate (not through disease or disability, but. Because they have no desire to reproduce?

            Aren’t such a couple being very selfish? Assuming their objection to procreation is not based on, say, one of them having a genetic disease which they would pass on to their children but just on ‘don’t want to’.

            If such a couple were to have sex, but deliberately prevent conception every single time, are they not guilty of trying to get the pleasure of sex while abdicating the possible responsibility of caring for children?

            And isn’t that indulging inappropriately in sensual pleasure for its own sake — which is the deadly sin of gluttony?

            Also I think you are straying into a sub platonic understanding of creation in your reflection that men and women represent two halves of humanity. I am not half of anything, I am fully human, made in the image of a God, not half an image bearer.

            Why do you think it is not possibly to be both fully human, and also half of an image?

            Humans are mad ein the image of God in many ways. One of them is in our ability to sub-create, in an echo of God’s great act of creation. In some ways this image can be exercised alone: an artist, for example, who creates, is operating in the image of God. In some ways it is exercised as half of a whole: the creation of children, new life, is also the image of God.

            You are — we all are — both an image of God complete in ourselves and also, potentially, half of a whole which is an image of God in a different, but no less real, way.

            You seem to think the two are incompatible. They are not. The image of God is not a singular thing: we reflect God in many different ways.

          • Penelope

            ‘What about the circumstances when couples do not wish to procreate (not through disease or disability, but. Because they have no desire to reproduce?’

            Entering the married state but without the intention to bring forth offspring is a morally deficient situation, one which misunderstands the nature of the state into which one has entered. The vocation to ‘multiply’ is basic to humanity and our purpose in creation, without which death would destroy the human race. God has provided for individuals to be called to singleness who would be fully devoted to him, but not to be called to intentionally childless marriage.

            ‘Also I think you are straying into a sub platonic understanding of creation in your reflection that men and women represent two halves of humanity.’

            Calling something ‘sub platonic’ is not an argument! Genesis 2 portrays the original human being being divided into two, male and female (‘for this reason’ men and women become ‘one flesh’). Humanity, like many species which reproduce sexually, is clearly divided into two halves, a male half and a female half, with half the individuals being of one sex and half the other. Each half has one half of the human reproductive system, and together they form a reproductive whole.

          • I would not subscribe to the notion that “if a couple were to have sex, but deliberately prevent conception every single time, are they not guilty of trying to get the pleasure of sex while abdicating the possible responsibility of caring for children?”

            In fact, Augustine (admittedly taking a dim view of unbridled lust in marriage, as does 1 Thess. 4:4 – 6) doesn’t condemn sex without procreative intent in marriage:

            there are many matrons to whom she is to be preferred; who, although they are not adulteresses, yet force their husbands, for the most part also wishing to exercise continence, to pay the due of the flesh, not through desire of children, but through glow of lust making an intemperate use of their very right; in whose marriages, however, this very thing, that they are married, is a good.

            For for this purpose are they married, that the lust being brought under a lawful bond, should not float at large without form and loose; having of itself weakness of flesh that cannot be curbed, but of marriage fellowship of faith that cannot be dissolved;

            What is not in dispute is . Even in civil law, the European Court of Human Right upheld the ruling that “marriage is geared towards the fundamental possibility of parenthood”

            I re-iterate that marriage’s built-in contingency for natural parenthood (by which the law presumes spouses to be joint primary parents of any child born during the marriage) is why the institution is inappropriate for same-sex couples.

            Same-sex marriage has become an unjust mechanism for intentionally and needlessly extinguishing a child’s right to both of its willing and capable parents, the very opposite of the purpose of marriage, which is the legal recognition of couples as co-founders of natural family units.

            All other forms of parental recognition (adoption, parental responsibility orders, fostering) are subsidiary to this.

          • Dear Will and S (if I may combine you in a response)

            I do not agree that entering the marriage state without the intention to bring forth offspring is morally deficient, selfish or gluttonous. There are other ways of being generative, fruitful, and selfless besides procreation (some might argue that these are more selfless, since there is potentially less vanity involved). There is nothing inappropriate about sensual pleasure, as the marriage service recognises. Indeed, since I married without any desire or intention to procreate, I find your theology offensive.

            Furthermore, I find your theology of the vocation to multiply somewhat deficient. Surely, in Christ, we are a new eschatological creation, we have been redeemed from the grim cycle of sex and death? Children can still be a good of marriage of course, but they are not its only telos.

            Yes, as image bearers, we can co-create, but that creation does not have to be another living being. There are many ways of being creative. If we were only halves, our eschatological telos would be an androgyne (as some of the Fathers suggested). Most modern theologians and biblical scholars see our redemptive bodies as gendered.

            I don’t quite understand your remark that ‘calling something sub platonic is not an argument’. Calling something ‘biblical’ is not an argument, then, either. It is an observation that your reading of the creation accounts seems to owe more to a platonic understanding of origin than to he ones explored by the writers of Genesis. In Genesis 1 God creates two beings which are male and female (or, less likely, male and female in the sense of an original androgyne). In the second account God creates ishah from the earthling’s side She is a person, not a half of anything, the earthling’s flesh because she is a human rather than any of the animals God had proposed as companions for Adam. Their becoming one flesh is in creating a new kinship structure, rather than in sexual intercourse (Cf. Colin Hamer’s arguments here). Your idea that we are halves because we reproduce sexually is a purely human construct. We don’t have ‘half’ a reproductive system: we have reproductive systems which create in partnership with another. (In any case, slightly off topic, but the writers of Genesis didn’t know how our reproductive systems ‘work’!)

          • David
            Interesting that Paul thought similarly, but with less horror of sensuality than Augustine. Married couples should have sex, he argues, and never gives procreation as the reason!

          • Penelope don’t play the offended card, it doesn’t become you. I find large amounts of what your write offensive – not least your apologetics for pederasty and the idea of Jesus as a pederast – but I don’t muddy our discussion by pointing this out.

            I’ve explained the sense in which male and female are half of humanity and combined in marriage and how that is reflected in Genesis 2. Your arguments do not refute that.

            No creative activity can compare to the creation of new human beings, made in God’s image, as one’s contribution to the continuation of the human race, the pinnacle of God’s creation.

          • If we were only halves, our eschatological telos would be an androgyne (as some of the Fathers suggested).

            Again with the ‘only’ halves, as if something must either be complete in itself or ‘only’ a half.

            Something can both be complete in itself, and also have to potential to join with something else to become something new which is also, in a diffferent way, a completion.

          • Will

            At the starts of this comment thread, Ian asked us to be considerate. You have just crossed that line. I find many of your reflections offensive because they smear the scholarship and the moral probity of revisionists. But we agree that discussion here can, sometimes, be robust.
            I cannot, however, continue to engage with someone who impugns my marriage, calls it morally deficient and then describes my reaction as playing.

          • If we were only halves, our eschatological telos would be an androgyne (as some of the Fathers suggested).

            I mean — is Jesus ‘only’ a third? Is the Father ‘only a third’?

          • Penelope

            I did not describe your marriage as anything. Other than the details you choose to disclose about it I have no idea what your marriage is like. I was not talking about your marriage but describing morally relevant features of marriage in general.

            I, like many others on this thread, have also described same-sex marriages as morally deficient, but no one one has complained that this is offensive (though I’m sure they are sometimes offended by this) and that we have crossed any line. How can we discuss ethics if we can’t talk about what is morally praiseworthy or deficient in different arrangements without people shutting down the debate because they are in such an arrangement themselves and don’t like it being described as problematic?

            All I’ve said is that I consider an intentionally childless marriage to be morally deficient, and I set out my reasons for thinking that. It is hardly an unusual or novel opinion. I object to you claiming offence because a) many things you say are offensive, but that doesn’t mean we try to shut you down; b) it is common for ethical discussion to imply criticism of the choices of those in the discussion but that, too, is not a good reason to shut down a debate. If I had been personally insulting to you then that would be a line crossed, but it is clear from my comments that I have done no such thing.

        • “The only way to be a relevant part of society (and not a weirdly out of date sect) is to define marriage in a defensible way and to have something slightly different available for non-procreating relationships.”

          Yes, I wondered how long it would be until someone would inveigh against the cardinal vice of “being considered irrelevant”. Yet, if churches are consigned to irrelevance for forthrightly upholding marriage orthodoxy. then it’s strange that evangelical churches which do are growing faster than the supposedly ‘more relevant’ churches which don’t.

          ‘Perhaps St. Augustine was writing with emphasis for different social problems compared to modern society.

          Well, you can read the Good of Marriage for yourself. His reasoning is not focused on the distinctive social problems of his time, but on timeless principles.

          In terms of the rights of marriage, the presumption of paternity through marriage is an enduring principle: that one spouse is to be legally recognised as the natural parent of any child born to the other during the marriage.

          Those who seek to gender-neutralise marriage want this to apply to when both spouses are women. That’s nonsensical and wrong.

    • Jonathan
      Have you read Robert Song’s ‘Covenant and Calling’? He makes a similar case for two kinds of partnerships: one orientated towards procreation and one not so focused. It is worth a look.

  26. Hi David – yes, but I don’t think I have much to add to what has already been said. I think that Ian’s third option is the most likely way forward, though I don’t think it is viable. I see the conflicted status quo either drifting on into some sort of laissez-faire situation, or maybe reaching a crisis, and a sharp division taking place – maybe a sort of 21st century ‘re-reformation’?!. I doubt if it will be resolved in my lifetime, so I continue to pray for future generations, and especially for my own children and grandchildren.

  27. I must respectfully disagree with David Shepherd. I don’t think that it is at all lamentable that the comments on this thread have moved some way from Ian’s original post. I have found the discussion and the line of argument both helpful and illuminating. Is it not one of the advantages of the less formal pattern of comments on a blog can lead us into fruitful patterns of thinking? Ian’s initial caveat about the tone of comments has perhaps contribute to this. However,for what it is worth, my position is much that of Christine.

  28. The reason that the Church of England can only ever move further in the direction of greater pastoral accommodation is because different approaches in the matter of same sex relationships have been allowed for clergy and laity. No one seems to grasp the point that the only place the clergy emerge from – and the C of E is seeking a lot of newly ordained simply to stand still in terms of numbers – is from the laity. Laity in same sex marriages are not going to get divorced just so that they can become clergy.
    If simon wants separation, then the ‘conservative’ churches are going to have to initiate such a move as the ‘liberal’ ones will never have an interest in doing so. Take a lesson from ACNA and the situation in South Carolina. If the ‘conservatives’ can’t win there, then they have much less hope of doing so in a country with an established church where the much more liberal establishment permits same sex marriage – initiated we might add by a conservative government. The matter is settled. Even big churches with a countrywide ‘brand’ like HTB have no interest in fighting this issue. The only solution is a twin track accommodation in the same way that a settlement was agreed for women in the episcopate.

    • So by implication Andrew, if you feel that clergy simply come from laity and ARE therefore laity then they set NO christian example at all, merely a “laity” example, and so your concept actually fails.

      To be ordained you should be Christian and you should follow Jesus Christ with no ifs or buts about it. Jesus actually tells us what marriage is.

      Pastoral accommodation is entirely different as every one of us fails by one measure or another, but pastoral accommodation cannot mean that clergy are not any example at all. Jesus tells us to look holistically and that is very difficult indeed but that creates no exemption at all for clergy not to even try to be Christian.

    • In England and Wales in 2015 there were 239,020 opposite sex marriages and 6,493 same-sex marriages (56% between women). (There were also 9,156 CPs converted to same-sex marriages, but these don’t count as new relationships). These are the most recent figures I can find. Since the year is the one following the introduction of SSM, the number of these could be skewed higher (people who did not want a CP now availing themselves of SSM) or lower (people catching up with the possibility of SSM) than the long term trend. The ratio of 2.7% is close to estimates of the proportion of the population who are same-sex attracted. (If a higher proportion of those coming forward for ordination are in same-sex marriages than is found in the population as a whole, that would be an interesting statistic!)

      Thus, if the laity coming forward for ordination is in proportion to the country as a whole, excluding those who are same-sex married does not remove a significant number of potential ordinands.

      There are already hurdles to ordination in this area. If you are divorced and remarried, you need a Canon C4 faculty issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury in order even to proceed to your BAP. I believe that if you divorce while training you are required to stop that training.

      Is it right to have these hurdles? I would suggest that it is. It does not seem wrong that those who are in positions of spiritual and moral leadership should be held to a higher standard than the ordinary members of a congregation. There is scriptural warrant for this in 1 Timothy 3. These requirements would not need to be specified if all met them. Also, the minister is not only to teach by word, but be an example.

      Perhaps we could move the question, for comparison, to a different cultural context. In this, polygamy is common. ‘Pastoral accommodation’ means that you accept the man and his wives into the church. That does not mean you allow the man to be a minister. His manner of life precludes it. If he were to divorce all but one wife, so that he could be a minister, I hope that action would also exclude him.

      • ‘(If a higher proportion of those coming forward for ordination are in same-sex marriages than is found in the population as a whole, that would be an interesting statistic!)’

        I think anecdotally that is the case. For socialisation to ordination in the C of E, men are required to be comparatively emasculated compared with other leadership roles they might exercise, and women are required to ‘man up’ in ways they might otherwise not. In addition, there is an awful lot of fussiness and dressing up involved! So I don’t think it is a mystery as to why there are disproportionately high numbers of gay men and lesbian women coming forward for ordination.

        It might, though, make us want to think about some of those issues of socialisation, which are only loosely connected to what the C of E actually says it believe about ordination in its liturgy.

      • The example you’ve highlighted in your last paragraph was an issue years ago (and probably still is) for missionaries in various countries where polygamy was commonplace. To require new Christians to dispose of say 3 out their 4 wives was to condemn the discarded wives to a terrible future. The missionaries obviously worked out pretty quickly that such a solution was unthinkable in the name of Christ. As is so often the case, simple common sense tells you what is the right thing to do; it rarely is at odds with Biblical injunction.

        On another note, I’ve always wondered why we’re given the impression that the CofE is teeming with gay people while, at the same time, they find it so stressful they’re at risk of suicide. It doesn’t quite add up does it? But perhaps we’d better not reopen a recent wound…

    • ‘The reason that the Church of England can only ever move further in the direction of greater pastoral accommodation is because different approaches in the matter of same sex relationships have been allowed for clergy and laity.’

      Er, I think we all have realised that clergy ‘come from’ the laity. But it is really odd to think that it is this difference which should cause a problem.

      As David Wilson points out, the numbers are going to be pretty small in terms of those who might be prohibited. But as I think Clive was trying to point out, there are all sorts of ways in which clergy are distinctive…and that does not drive us to remove the distinctions.

    • Andrew ‘If simon wants separation, then the ‘conservative’ churches are going to have to initiate such a move as the ‘liberal’ ones will never have an interest in doing so.’

      Want? I never said that – obviously what I want is for a mighty Holy Spirit outpouring in revival in the Church that realigns us with the faith as once delivered. But failing that, I think we move inexorably to the inevitable.

      But of course Liberals dont want a divorce – though they despise and seek to circumscribe evangelicals, they couldnt afford to see us go.

      • Simon
        I don’t despise and circumscribe evangelicals. Nor would I wish my desire for unity to be based upon the financial contribution which different ‘tribes’ bring to the Church.
        But, I’m not going anywhere.

      • “what I want is for a mighty Holy Spirit outpouring in revival in the Church that realigns us with the faith as once delivered.” Now that really is worth talking about & crying out to God for! 😀

  29. Please forgive a comment which may seem naive, and you may think has been addressed many, many times before. But I am still puzzled.
    I am undecided what I think about the whole question of Christian teaching on same-sex relationships. I am thinking, praying, reading, praying, discussing and I am unsure.
    I believe, sincerely, every word of the Creed. No finger is crossed behind my back.
    If I was to end up in a ‘revisionist’ position on same-sex love and its physical expression (an entirely likely scenario), would the ‘conservative’ among you believe that this in some way fundamentally contradicted my adherence to the Creed? If so, could you spell out the logic for me please. And if not, why would you consider such a decision to mark a fundamental parting of the ways between us? (I guess another way of putting it is to ask – what is the fundamental dogma of the Church which is contradicted by some measure of affirmation for same-sex relationships, and their physical, sexual expression?)

    • Good question Peter! After lots of thinking, reading and debating, I have reached the following answer. The texts in Scripture on this issue are, after all the debate and examination, still very clear, consistent and unequivocal. They are rooted in God’s creation purposes in the world, and they are also closely connected to the question of the work of the Spirit in bringing in the kingdom of God.

      What I have found amongst those wanting a change in Church’s teaching is that, when you press the arguments, they actually no longer believe that the New Testament writings are part of God’s Spirit-breathed word to us, but mere human and imperfect pointers to something else. So Paul is trapped in his culture, and even Jesus is unable to speak to us in the gospels in a way which calls for our obedience.

      We then have no apostolic foundation for the Church in scripture.

      Does that make any sense to you?

      • Creed and orthodoxy:
        If I remember correctly, Alastair Roberts has addressed the Creedal question in the past, particularly in his response to a blog post by James K A Smith. Indeed he did, here:
        https://alastairadversaria.com/2017/08/05/a-remark-on-creedally-defined-orthodoxy/
        It has a different, but congruous, emphasis and also addresses Peter W’s comment.

        In what seems like a lifetime ago, in the comments above, Ian, you properly corrected me. I stand corrected.

        • Thanks Geoff.
          It’s an erudite piece!
          I agree, of course, that the Creed is a kind of condensation/summary/guide to the whole Scriptural story. It doesn’t stand alone: it invites one into deeper immersion in the scriptures, and guides one’s reading of the Scriptures. All of that I get.
          What I don’t get is why approving of some homosexual behaviour contradicts the thrust of the Creed?

        • Thanks Geoff.
          It’s an erudite piece!
          I agree, of course, that the Creed is a kind of condensation/summary/guide to the whole Scriptural story. It doesn’t stand alone: it invites one into deeper immersion in the scriptures, and guides one’s reading of the Scriptures. All of that I get.
          What I don’t get is why approving of some homosexual behaviour contradicts the thrust of the Creed?

      • Hi Ian – thank you, and it does make sense. But…

        Even granted what you say about the clarity and consistency of the NT texts, what fundamental dogma of the Church is breached by affirmation of same sex-love and its physical expression?

        Because the proposition ‘If the NT teaches something clearly and consistently, that is binding on Christians always and everywhere’ is not found in the Creeds, nor is it implied by them. That is especially the case when, as in this instance, the teaching is not something central to the thrust of the NT, but is as it were part of the taken for granted background scenery. Scriptural infallibility has never been a fundamental dogma of the Church (thank God).

        May I ask a related but different question: does your understanding of the authority of Scripture commit you to believing that in certain (very unusual and thankfully long past) circumstance, God requires mass slaughter? That seems to me the clear and consistent teaching of parts of the Old Testament. They also form part of the bigger scriptural story and world view in a way analogous to the condemnations of same-sex relations (in other words – it’s not a simple matter of isolating them from the overall narrative and excising them, without the overall shape of the story being affected).

        If the understanding of Scriptural authority which underpins the conservative teaching on sexuality also requires the belief that (in certain circumstances, etc, etc) God require genocide – well, that for me destroys the conservative case. But if it doesn’t require it …. why not?

        • Even granted what you say about the clarity and consistency of the NT texts, what fundamental dogma of the Church is breached by affirmation of same sex-love and its physical expression? […] That is especially the case when, as in this instance, the teaching is not something central to the thrust of the NT, but is as it were part of the taken for granted background scenery.

          With respect to the original author who may totally disagree with me (but who I thank for providing a wonderfully concise summation of my own concerns) I think that rather misses the point.

          The issue is not whether disregarding the Scriptures on some points contradicts a fundamental doctrine, but rather, how can we think the Scriptures are reliable about fundamental doctrine if they are unreliable about the smaller matters?

          Imagine the key witness in a murder case, the only eyewitness, who swears under oath that he saw the defendant stab the vitcim and drive off. But under cross-examination it becomes clear that the witness is wrong about the colour and model of the car, and the size and shape of the knife, and what the victim was wearing, and even on what street the murder took place.

          Now, none of these impact the fundamental point of the witness’s testimony: that the defendant stabbed the victim.

          But would you, if you were on the jury, really convict?

          No, Scriptural infallibilty has never been a fundamental dogma of the church (partly I think because it’s so hard to define what exactly it would mean). And similarly you wouldn’t disregard a witness just because, say, they were wrong about the exact time of events.

          But when it’s such a major issue, occuring in several places, as a thread throughout Scripture, and the contention is that Scripture is totally unreliable on this issue — how can that not fatally undermine the reliability of Scripture on the fundamental doctrines?

          And without that reliability of Scripture on the fundamental doctrines, what reason have you to believe the fundamental doctrines at all?

          The only way, I can see, is if you can somehow make the case that there are areas where Scripture is reliable and areas where it isn’t, and that these can be distinguished. But then the onus is on you to provide the way to distinguish, and you can’t use anything form Scripture to make the distinction because you can’t decide the reliability of Scripture based on the very Scipture whose reliability you are tryign to determine. So for example, you can’t say ‘the bits which are consistent with God being a God of Love [as we understand Love] are reliable and the other bits aren’t’ because you have no other evidence for God being a God of Love than Scripture, which you have already established might be unreliable.

          (Unless your evidence is some kind of ‘inner sense’ of a God of Love, but in that case you’re not a Christian, you’re a Quaker).

          So this, I think, is the problem with claiming it’s not central. No, it’s not. But if Scripture is unreliable about the non-central things, then it must also be unreliable about the central things, unless you can come up with some way to distinguish between the two vis-a-vis reliability and I have never seen a convincing way to do that.

          Does that make sense?

          (Apologies for hijacking the conversation)

          • Thank you, S! Two thoughts.

            Firstly, you say: “if Scripture is unreliable about the non-central things, then it must also be unreliable about the central things, unless you can come up with some way to distinguish between the two vis-a-vis reliability and I have never seen a convincing way to do that.”

            So presumably you think we must accept Scripture’s teaching that in certain circumstances, God required mass slaughter?

            Secondly, you ask how – if I relativise Scriptural authority in the way I have done – I then base any affirmations about God. I would say I do not base my faith on ‘what the Bible says’ but ‘on what the Church teaches’ – There is a core message: the ‘kerygma’, summarised in the Creed – that was preached long before there was ever a NT canon. The community formed by that preaching then formed the NT: both chronologically and ontologically, as it were, the proclamation of the Church comes first. In worship and common life we reflect upon that proclamation and draw out its implications.

            I don’t instantly see how affirming some forms of same-sex love and its physical expression contradicts, undermines, goes against the thrust of that proclamation. I certainly do see how believing that God on occasion requires genocide does!

          • So presumably you think we must accept Scripture’s teaching that in certain circumstances, God required mass slaughter?

            What is the alternative?

            I would say I do not base my faith on ‘what the Bible says’ but ‘on what the Church teaches’ – There is a core message: the ‘kerygma’, summarised in the Creed – that was preached long before there was ever a NT canon. The community formed by that preaching then formed the NT: both chronologically and ontologically, as it were, the proclamation of the Church comes first

            Um. That seems weird. How can the community formed by the preaching have formed the New Testament when the core of the New Testament — the gospels —is records of events before that community ever existed?

            Surely what you mean is that that community was formed by the words and actions of Jesus, and those come first? (The way you put it makes it sound like you think the early Church made up the gospels to suit what they were preaching, which I’m sure can’t be what you mean).

            In which case, we come back to: the only access we have to those words and actions is in Scripture. So if Scripture is unreliable, how can we be sure that we are basing our beliefs on the same things that the early Church was when they were basing their beliefs on oral recountings of those words and actions?

            Bot chronologically and ontologically, what came first were the actions of God, both qua God and incarnate as Jesus. All creeds are and all preaching is subsequent to that, surely?

            So in worship and in common life we try as far as we can to get as close as we can to the reality of God and of Jesus — which is only possible if Scripture is a reasonably reliable account of those words and actions.

            Otherwise, are we not just at the end of a very very very long game of Chinese whispers, with no idea whether what happened at the start was even real?

          • [Argh, this went in the wrong place. Can the duplicate be deleted?]

            But also — doesn’t the exact same logic apply to the church?

            After all, the only reason you have to believe that the Creed is true, on your view, is that it’s what the Church has always taught, right?

            But the Church has also always taught exactly the same things you are now saying you think are unreliable.

            But if the Church’s teaching is unreliable on secondary matters — as you claim — then what reason do you have to think it’s reliable on primary matters?

            It seems like even if we leave Scripture entirely out of it, you have still sawn off the branch you are sitting on, intellectually speaking, unless you can come up with some way to distinguish between what in Church tradition is reliable and what isn’t?

            And ‘primary and secondary’ doesn’t really cut it because if somebody is unreliable in secondary matters we usually take it as evidence they are not going to be reliable in primary matters too, don’t we? Such as the witness in the murder trial.

          • And now to S’s comment of 10.01, about circular logic…

            I confess that I am not the sharpest of logicians.

            But… the fundamental reason I believe God wills there to be a church is not because the Creed tells me so. It is because that is consonant with the whole thrust of Scripture which the Creed refers me back to, of which the Creed is the condensation and summary. It appears fundamental to God’s ways of dealing with the world, from the call of Abraham on: he summons a people of God.

            Now, someone will say: but if the appeal is now to Scripture, why don’t you accept the same Scriptures’ teaching on sexuality and genocide?

            To which my answer is twofold:

            (1) the teachings on sexuality and genocide could not be described as fundamental to the thrust of Scripture in the same way as God’s calling and leading a people (Israel/the Church) is. You could remove the former and still have all the essentials of the biblical world view. You couldn’t remove the latter (which, guess what, is why the latter is in the Creed and the former not!).

            (2) Because on other grounds – supremely the conviction of my conscience, which when properly formed I believe to be the voice of God – I cannot accept the idea that God would require genocide. I would not put the teaching on sexuality into the same category as this: that forbidding same-sex relations is wrong does not strike me with the same luminous self-evidency as saying that genocide is wrong. However, if the sole reason for asking me to condemn same-sex relations is – when you boil it down – ‘because the Bible says so’, then the fact that the Bible sanctions genocide holes the argument below the waterline.

            A more general point. Often in these debates the question comes ‘well, how do you know?’ ‘What do you rest your certainty on?’ – I’m just not sure that anyone has a more logically satisfying answer to that than anyone else. After all, how does the conservative know that the Bible’s teaching is always correct …. answer, because that’s what the Bible teaches!! We never escape circularity, we all start from something that cannot be demonstrated. The difference between us, I think, is that you have chosen to start somewhere that commits you to thinking that in certain circumstances, genocide is OK.

            Incidentally, if someone could show me that same-sex relationships and their sexual expression are intrinsically destructive – that they always (or even, perhaps, just usually) wreck the people involved – then I’d be quite open to revising my revisionism! Most of the things Scripture calls sin – adultery, theft, etc – I can understand are sinful, because of their destructiveness. I don’t see the destructiveness in a loving, faithful, exclusive same-sex relationship. Quite the reverse: I’ve seen them function in a way that at least seems to give the people involved and those around them the same goods I experience my own heterosexual marriage. If the Bible didn’t tell me there was a problem, it wouldn’t occur to me to think there was. But as the Bible is the sole ground of concern, we come back to the genocide question…

          • the teachings on sexuality and genocide could not be described as fundamental to the thrust of Scripture in the same way as God’s calling and leading a people (Israel/the Church) is. You could remove the former and still have all the essentials of the biblical world view

            Um. Isn’t the genocide of the Canaanites etc pretty fundamental to the thrust of God’s calling and leading a people? God calls Israel out of Egypt and then sets them up to be a separate people, holy, set apart from all the rest of the world. To this end he gives them a piece of land but, obviously, they can’t be a separate people if they are living amongst others , intermingling and intermarrying, so they have to clear out the current inhabitants.

            The ‘genocides’, as you call them, don’t come out of nowhere in the Bible. They are an essential part of the plot. They fit with the themes. If they were ‘and the Isrealites were living happily at peace until God told them to go and kill their neighbours, which they did’ then you’d have a point that that looks like something alien inserted into the text. But they are not: they are a necessary implication of the central thrust of God calling a people to be separated and set apart for His purposes. You can’t just remove them and still have the fundamental story of a people called to be separate and set apart (unless you were to replace them with God giving the Israelites a piece of land which, magically, had nobody else living there, but that’s hardly plausible).

            After all, how does the conservative know that the Bible’s teaching is always correct …. answer, because that’s what the Bible teaches!!

            Not so. The conservative believes the Bible’s teaching to be correct because the conservative has generally found the Bible to be a reliable guide.

            Go back to the witness in the murder trial. But this time, imagine if, under cross-examination, all the details the witness gives, which are able to be checked, are found to be correct. Would you not then say, on the details that aren’t able to be checked, we should believe that the witness is reliable there too?

            Revisionists are in the situation of arguing that even though the witness of Scripture has been proved time and time again to be wrong, we should still believe it on certain matters. Conservatives are arguing that we should believe a witness which has generally proven reliable.

            Which of these is the more sensible thing to argue? That a witness correct in most things should be believed on others? Or that a witness that you yourself have rubbished on point after point, should nevertheless be believed on the most important matters of all, matters not just of life and death but of eternal importance?

            I suggest the latter is not sensible at all. If a witness is unreliable on secondary details, we don’t then say, ‘But we should believe him, uncorroberated, about the murder!’.

            If the witness of Scripture (or, if you prefer, of the Church) is unreliable on small matters, surely you should not trust it with your eternal soul.

          • Peter

            The Bible’s only teaching on genocide is that it is wrong because it involves destruction of innocent human life. The conquest of Canaan, to which I presume you are referring, is expressly a one-off conquest to bring judgement on the inhabitants of Canaan and establish God’s people in the land which he had promised them, separated from the idolatry of the surrounding nations. The arrival of the Commander of the Army of the Lord in Joshua 5:14 signals this as a singular foreshadowing of the final judgement, not a normative pattern for Israel, let alone Christians to follow.

            God does not at any other time command Israel to carry out such an action, and certainly it forms no part of normative teaching for the Christian. Your attempt to use this to discredit the ethical teaching of the New Testament suggests a weak grasp of sound hermeneutics.

            In terms of the destructiveness of same-sex relationships – on one level, we should not suppose that all ethical principles can be reduced to a form of utilitarianism (‘does it hurt people?’). On the other hand, it would be strange if God forbade something morally that was harmless. One problem in this debate is that people isolate only certain types of same-sex relationship – PSF ones (permanent, stable, faithful) – which creates a large sample bias when studying the phenomenon of homosexuality. Thus they simply ignore the fact that around half of same-sex marriages are not exclusive by design, or the extraordinary rates of venereal disease among sexually active gay men in particular. They also attribute any mental health problems to the experience of prejudice or other causes and so deny any causation in the correlation between homosexuality and various mental health problems (see e.g. http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/executive-summary-sexuality-and-gender). They also deny some basic ethical principles, such as the imperative for children to be raised by their own father and mother and not intentionally produced outside of such a context. These moves shield them from the reality of homosexuality and its numerous effects on individuals, children and society. But the evidence is there if you approach the matter impartially.

          • Actually, Will, I’m not that confident. Which is why I have spent most of the last ten years worrying about this, questioning my judgement to the point of almost paralysis.

            But this conversation has been important. It has clarified issues for me, and I think it has helped me towards a decision.

            And rest assured that if my seeming arrogance grieves you, it grieves me that you believe in certain circumstances our God required mass slaughter.

          • Chris, you ask: why wouldn’t God command mass slaughter?

            Have you seen mass slaughter? Have you meditated on what it actually means when Scripture says that they wiped out the Amalekites?

            It’s difficult to say this charitably, but I think only someone who has never seen mass slaughter – or who has never slowed down enough to empathise with what it was like for the victims – could ask the question you do. This is not an internet debate we’re talking about: this is babies.

            I never like to shut down debate, but I’m really not sure how to engage with someone who can seriously ask ‘why wouldn’t God require mass slaughter.’ This should be your single biggest intellectual agony … it gives no sign of being so.

            I’m sorry if I have mistaken your tone… perhaps I need to go away from my computer for a bit.

        • Peter,
          This is a comment of mine Alastair R posted. I believe it addresses your points. Could I suggest that if you do read it you continue to read the notes of a talk given at the Keswick Convention by Peter J Willams, Pincipal, Tyndale House.
          So Peter, what is your opinion about scripture?
          ORTHODOXY AND CREEDS

          1 I don’t think you have got a hold of the wrong end of the stick, haven’t misconstrued the original Smith article. If you have Smith ought to make it clear with a rejoinder

          2 You correctly draw attention to Smith’s narrow definition of orthodoxy, limiting it to subscribing to the creeds. His purpose in doing so is to make a point. Smith mentions !anti-creedal” protestants. They may see themselves as orthodox, who would accept the truth set out in the creeds, would reject them as man made, uninspired, handed down tradition : they would subscribe to “nuda scriptura”, “no creed but the bible” rather than “sola scriptura”, scripture as the final authority.

          3 Smith knows the history, context, the who, why and how of the formation of the creeds but makes no reference, thereto, thereby severing and setting them adrift from their moorings. He seems to be disingenuous in doing so, by not grounding them in scripture truth, which he knows full well.

          4 This is simplistic and obvious and ought not to be stated. Do the creeds contain scriptural truth? Yes. All scriptural truth? No. All that is necessary to lead a Godly, holy life, to be transformed into the likeness of Christ. Certainly not. Surely this doesn’t need to be pointed out.

          5 There was then, as there is now a need, to set out a succinct commonality of belief among those gathering as the body of Christ to worship, otherwise there is no real unity in Christ, no unityin the Spirit, no soul-deep fellowship of believers.

          6 How about “Orthodoxy of behaviour”? Smith considers this somewhat obliquely, referring to morality.

          7 He is rightly concerned that morality, sexual morality does not become nor is seen as the cornerstone of Christianity. It certainly is not the Good News of Jesus Christ and neither is fastidious rectitude a qualification. There is a risk that Christians are known what they are against, rather than who they are for, a risk that the Good News of Jesus is avoided or drowned out a risk that imperatives become indicatives and Smith may be seeking to counsel caution. Imperatives remain imperatives. Today the risk, even reality, is imperatives become mere advisories, or are expunged.

          8 But the burden of the article doesn’t read that way, as he moves to equate sexual morality with baptism. As a layman, I find that flabbergasting coming from a man in Smith’s professional position, can his subject. Both may be seen a secondary issues, but at the lowest level this is an error of category. There is certainly no moral equivalence between baptism and sexual morality.

          9 I’d contend that sexual (im)morality is not a secondary matter, for followers of Jesus. It relates to holiness, becoming Christlike and can become akin to idolatry.

          10 Sexual morality forms part of the Orthodoxy of Behaviour.

          11Orthodoxy of Christian sexually behaviour stems from Thinking Biblically.

          12 For what it is worth Alistair, as gently as I can say it, I think it is a misstep and unecessary to make a comparison to the ten commandments as the creeds are not scripture. Perhaps a WCF and Shorter WCF comparison may be more appropriate.

          13 You say “…God’s intimate claim on each of . our bodies, manifested in the assurance of future resurrection. This is key. It is orthodoxy. It is thinking biblically. It is “sola scriptura” . It is beyond expansion, scripturally irrefutable.

          14 It was a pivotal point around which Peter J Williams, Principal, Tyndale House, Cambridge, built his talks at this months Keswick Convention under the overall heading “Answering Moral Objections to the Scriptures.”

          15 “Isn’t the bible sexist and Homophobic” was one talk.
          In it he set out
          15.1 two different views of men and women (mostly from his handout and my scribbled notes}
          a) Secular materialist view: mere chemicals; value is socially relative, is assigned to you;different only in reproduction
          b) Christian view: equal and of infinite value (in God’s image)divinely created variety
          Then he considered
          15.2“Inventing Sex”
          He displayed slides constructed from a search of Google Books using the Ngram viewer.
          The word “sex is rare
          “Gender “, use of as a category rockets from 1970’s
          “homophobia” there is revealed a huge recent change in language
          a)Sex it a recently socially constructed category, grouping diverse physical actions and separating these actions from relational and social contexts in order to create a commodity,. The sex experience is the key thing. It stands alone, separate and apart from covenant and consequences. It become a self fulfilling function.
          b) Once “sex” (as an activity is invented you can invent sexual identity (according to activity) c)Once “gender” and “sex” (identity) are distinguished you can invent , make-up, imagine, gender identity
          d) Once “sexual identity” and “gender identity” are imagined you can make others recognise them
          The word gender has replaced the grammar male and female.
          The word transgender has replaced the word transexual (Ngram slide)

          Gender studies is a recent social construct. It imposes a lot. “Heteronormative” is being indoctrinated, imposed on other people. no binary male and female
          THEREFORE, THERE IS A NEED TO THINK BIBLICALLY, as there are no agreed neutral categories . To have a proper dialogue with the secular We NEED TO START FROM A SET OF Christian categories, which contradict secularism.

          That is we NEED TO THINK BIBLICALLY. (Is this not “sola scriptura” in application ,that is , Orthodoxy.
          1 God’s Good Character and OWNERSHIP OF US.
          Two main categories of humans
          a) Those who contest or ignore it
          b) Those who want and welcome God’s ownership

          God owns all of us, so it not merely a disagreement on sexual activity, or what our bodies are. He decides how we should use them.
          God the Owner may give an identity (male or female) which it is wrong to change
          Some activities are forbidden by the Owner.
          Attraction and visual appreciation of own sex does not create identity. It may lead to temptation to activity forbidden by owner.
          Marriage involves giving sub-ownership, under God to someone else.
          There is only ONE worthy to own, to posses us. He who gave up everything for us Jesus Christ.

          • Hi Geoff,

            Sorry, I am not ignoring your post… there’s just rather a lot of it to get to grips with! At the level of generality, I can agree with many of the points made in it. The more fundamental issue for me is the one I’m debating in the thread with S: does the commitment to Scriptural authority which seems to be the bottom line justification for the conservative view on sexuality also entail believing that God occasionally requires genocide? Sorry if this is not quite the debate you were seeking to engage me on, but it is rather filling my mind at the moment!

          • Peter Waddell,
            I don’t know where in the chronology of comments this will appear.
            This has drifted, or has been directed by you, well off topic. You seem to have avoided the question of sexual morality in scripture by seeking to assert human moral superiority over the Goodness of our Triune God. You cover a lot of ground with some of your questions, in fact, the whole of Biblical Theology from Genesis to Revelation which include:
            1 Systematic Theology
            2 The Judgement(s) of God
            3 The Love of God – it is only ever Holy-Love
            4 The Holiness of God
            5 The Fall
            6 Pain and suffering
            7 The Sovereignty of God and human responsibility and morality and ethics.
            8 Evil
            9 Satan/ Father of lies
            10 Marcionism – whether the God of the OT is the God of the NT (as an aside, I’m unsure whether there have been or are any evangelical OT scholars who have contributed on this site – but wide is my ignorance)
            11 Genocide: If Ian Paul permits, here is an answer, from someone outside Anglicanism (I think)
            https://www.bethinking.org/bible/old-testament-mass-killings

            12 From Miroslav Volf:
            “Miroslav Volf, a Croatian familiar with the effect of injustice on victims, believes that in order to fight injustice, we must believe in a God who holds bullies accountable for their bullying. In his masterpiece, Exclusion and Embrace, he delivers a hard truth to those of us who want a God of love with no judgment:

            My thesis . . . will be unpopular with many Christians, especially theologians in the West. . . . I suggest imagining that you are delivering a lecture in a war zone. . . . Among your listeners are people whose cities and villages have been first plundered, then burned and leveled to the ground, whose daughters and sisters have been raped, whose fathers and brothers have had their throats slit. . . . The thesis: we should not retaliate since God is perfect non-coercive love. Soon you would discover that it takes the quiet of a suburban home for the birth of the thesis that human nonviolence corresponds to God’s refusal to judge. In a scorched land, soaked in the blood of the innocent, it will invariably die.

            This statement should hit us mostly sheltered and cozy folks right in the chest.

            For love to be truly loving, there must be judgment. If there is no judgment, then there is no hope for a slave, a rape victim, a child who has been abused or bullied, or people who have been slandered or robbed or had their dignity stolen. If nobody is called to account before a cosmic judgment seat for violence and oppression, then the victims will never see justice. We need a God who gets angry. We need a God who will protect his kids, who will once and for all remove bullies and perpetrators of evil from his playground.”
            Abstracted from this Gospel Coalition article: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/the-compassionate-truth-about-judgment/
            13 My last point on this is from Henri Blocher “Evil and the Cross”
            “At the cross evilis conquered as evil…Evil is conquered as evil because God turns it back on itself. He makes the supreme crime, the murder of the only righteous person, the very operation that abolishes sin. The manoevre is utterly unprecedented. No more complete could be imagined….God entraps the deceiver in his own wiles…” (cited from “Walking with God through pain and suffering” Timothy Keller.)

          • Chris, you ask: why wouldn’t God command mass slaughter?

            Have you seen mass slaughter? Have you meditated on what it actually means when Scripture says that they wiped out the Amalekites?

            It’s difficult to say this charitably, but I think only someone who has never seen mass slaughter – or who has never slowed down enough to empathise with what it was like for the victims – could ask the question you do. This is not an internet debate we’re talking about: this is babies.

            I never like to shut down debate, but I’m really not sure how to engage with someone who can seriously ask ‘why wouldn’t God require mass slaughter.’ This should be your single biggest intellectual agony … it gives no sign of being so.

            I’m sorry if I have mistaken your tone… perhaps I need to go away from my computer for a bit.

          • Yes, Peter, you do misunderstand my main point, which is that people are not allowing God to be independent.

            That is all the more serious since to be divine is to be MORE independent not less: supremely independent.

            It is even more serious because they are using God as their own puppet.

            And that is not to mention the central point that if you get the ‘nice’ things about God from the same source as the ‘nasty’ things, believing the former and disbelieving the latter will not wash, since a person’s motivation in doing that is anything but evidence-based (it is purely ideological).

            So – without saying whether God is involved in genocide or not – the point is that it is utterly out of our hands what God is or is not involved in. It is also certain that God does not see things the way we do (or vice-versa), since the way we see things is heavily culturally circumscribed, and cultures change all the time.

            That is quite a few levels of seriousness.

        • But also — doesn’t the exact same logic apply to the church?

          After all, the only reason you have to believe that the Creed is true, on your view, is that it’s what the Church has always taught, right?

          But the Church has also always taught exactly the same things you are now saying you think are unreliable.

          But if the Church’s teaching is unreliable on secondary matters — as you claim — then what reason do you have to think it’s reliable on primary matters?

          It seems like even if we leave Scripture entirely out of it, you have still sawn off the branch you are sitting on, intellectually speaking, unless you can come up with some way to distinguish between what in Church tradition is reliable and what isn’t?

          And ‘primary and secondary’ doesn’t really cut it because if somebody is unreliable in secondary matters we usually take it as evidence they are not going to be reliable in primary matters too, don’t we? Such as the witness in the murder trial.

          • Hello again S,

            In answer to my question about whether, because Scripture says so, we have to accept that (in certain circs) God requires genocide – you said, “what’s the alternative?”

            The alternative is that after long, careful thought, discussion and prayer we conclude that Scripture can be wrong about things! It should never be dismissed lightly, but nor does it always have to be agreed with.

            I can’t underline enough how central this part of the argument is for me. If being a Christian means that I have to think God required genocide, I can’t be one. And in terms of sexual ethics, a tradition which can be so spectacularly wrong as to justify genocide loses a certain amount of its power to convince me it is always right about sex.
            Certainly when I can’t see on other grounds that there is something wicked about committed, faithful, same sex relationships and their physical expression, I’m reluctant to condemn them simply because the Bible does … if the Bible also countenances the occasional genocide.

            I’ll post a separate reply re. the whole Scripture/tradition conundrum … I do think that’s important, but it’s this issue of genocide which for me at any rate is more fundamental.

          • Hello again S:

            You write: “But if the Church’s teaching is unreliable on secondary matters — as you claim — then what reason do you have to think it’s reliable on primary matters?”

            You said it yourself – what’s the alternative? The Church has obviously been deeply unreliable on secondary matters. I don’t mean by this unimportant matters – take the teaching on the Jews for instance. Or on women. In both cases, the teaching has been pretty catastrophic.

            So why trust it on primary matters? Well, the keyword is ‘trust’, isn’t it? I trust that on the most central claims of the faith – those summarised in the Creed – the Spirit kept the Church from going wrong. Thankfully, those claims were kept to a minimum. And they don’t include either the universal wrongness of all forms of same-sex sexual behaviour, or anti-Judaism, or agreeing with the proposition that genocide is sometimes what God wants.

            But just to prove that I’m not John Spong in disguise, they do involve affirming that Jesus was true God and true man, that he was born of a Virgin, died to save us, rose bodily from the dead and will come again to judge the living and the dead. Deny any of that – or anything which inescapably flows from that – and you’re outside the Church.

          • I trust that on the most central claims of the faith – those summarised in the Creed – the Spirit kept the Church from going wrong.

            Okay.

            Then please answer this question:

            If God is able to keep the Church from going wrong on important matters…

            … and if the Church has gone wrong on matters of sexuality…

            … and if this going wrong on matters of sexuality has caused great harm ad suffering over many centuries…

            … then why did God allow the Church to go so wrong on sexuality for so long?

            Why did God not use His ability to stop the Church from going wrong (which we agree He has, as He used it to keep the Church from erring on the central doctrines of the creed) to stop the Church from going wrong in a way which caused so much pain and suffering?

            Because accepting your view seems to involve accepting that God deliberately and unnecessarily allowed the Church to fall into error in a way which has caused much pain and suffering.

            Why do you think God allowed that?

          • Good morning S, this is in response to your 1.04am (!) post re. why God may have allowed the church to err on the issue of sexuality – given that He did not allow such error on the fundamentals of the Creed. Although I’m worried it is not going to appear in the right place!

            I suppose my first response is to note that it surely *must* be true that God allows the Church to err even on really quite important things. Like, for instance, submission to the Papacy being essential for salvation – all of Western Christianity from about 1000 to 1500 was meant to be signed up to that. Or in teaching about the Jews, from much earlier to much later. So I don’t think we’re dealing with a hypothesis when someone claims the church can go really wrong on important matters, but an established fact. Perhaps the only real difference between us is that I’d suggest such errors can stretch back into the biblical texts too – as when they say that God occasionally permits genocide, or (perhaps) when they condemn all forms of sexually expressed same sex-love.

            But why might God allow such error? For the same reason that he allows all sin and ignorance – that’s what freedom involves. Why was it *not* allowed, then, in the formation of the Creed? Because a Church which got that wrong would have ceased to be the Church. The story summed up in the Creed is the essence, the absolute sine qua non of the Church’s existence. A Church which teaches erroneously about sexuality (or, though I shudder to write it, about genocide) is still a Church – just an erroneous one. But a Church which – for instance – denies the Incarnation isn’t a Church. God wills there to be a Church. Therefore, God stops it from falling into the kind of error which would stop it from existing.

          • Peter

            so, who decides how & when God has allowed the Church to believe that what is presented as the word of God in the Bible is actually the word of man and contrary to what God really wants to teach us? From here it looks like ur applying the old liberal canons of whatever the world wont stomach “we cant believe in miracles in a age of electricity” so we disbelieve the bible, “we cant believe same sex sex is wrong in a C21st western world where most claim it is right”, we can’t believe a God of Holy love would decree eternal damnation so we become universalist. Arent you just making God in the image you want? Who decides and on what basis that what the Bible teaches is wrong and God threw us a curve ball?

            You say the creed is the sine qua non of the faith – and say you believe Jesus will return to judge – judge who, what, how? Certainly those who have rejected him as Messiah, the sexually immoral and his judgment involves a consequence for more people and far more severely than the genocide you rightly protest. So, as Paul wrote, ‘knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men.’

          • God wills there to be a Church

            What basis do you have for believing this?

            Surely the only possible basis, form what you have said, that you have for beliving this is that the God of the creeds would wish there to be a Church?

            But you have admitted that the Church is fundamentally unreliable on matters big and small. That would normally include the creeds, but you claim that the creeds are special and have been preserved from error. Why? Because without them the Church would not be the Church. Why does that matter? Because God wishes there to be a Church. How do we know that? Because the God of the creeds would wish there to be a church.

            So your claim that the creeds are reliable rests on… the creeds being reliable!

            It’s completely circular! You believe the creeds are reliable, essentially, because the creeds say so, and for no other reason! Indeed every other piece of your argument screams that the creeds should be just as unreliable as everything else the Church says (becfause a witness unreliable in secondary matters, especially in big secondary matters, must be presumed to be unreliable in primary matters too), yet you claim special supernatural intervention in the creeds — and only the creeds — on the sole basis that God is as described in the creeds!

            Have you not just sawn off the branch you are sitting on and are now (logically speaking) hanging unsupported in mid-air, like Bugs Bunny just before he looks down and realises he ought to be falling?

            Unless I have missed something?

          • This is a reply to Simon’s comment from 8.05, saying essentially that my position is just ‘as you like it’ Christianity – with all the bits judged unacceptable to a modern world view purged out (or at least, that it works on that basis).

            There is a limited amount of truth in that. There’s truth, insofar as I think that if we are asked to accept something that after long reflection, discussion, prayer etc. seems fundamentally unreasonable and immoral, we have a duty to reject it – even if it is clearly taught in Scripture. I think the mind and the conscience are gifts of God, through which he also teaches us. Like Scripture, they need to be very carefully handled and can often go wrong, but when they are carefully handled you go against them at your peril.

            The truth in your charge is limited, though, because actually there are whole swathes of my Christian thinking which are deeply out of step with what general secular culture thinks. So, for instance, I am quite happy to be ridiculed for believing in Virgin Births and Bodily Resurrections, eternal judgement, that Jesus of Nazareth was God incarnate and died and rose again to save us. None of that is very PC. So I’m not generally prone to simply accommodating to culture (and nor are plenty of other people who would take a ‘revisionist’ line on sexuality).

            I’m intrigued by you saying in your second paragraph that I am right to protest against the genocides recorded in the Old Testament. I’m not quite sure *why* you think I am right: if I haven’t misunderstood where you’re coming from, you would say that these are God’s will (because that’s what Scripture says). So your ‘protest’ could only be that of ‘God, I don’t understand why you did this, but it is your will, so I must accept that behind it, in some mysterious way, lies your goodness’ – which in my book, isn’t really a protest at all but a resignation. Protest is more like: ‘This was not God’s will, could not be God’s will, and if it was God’s will I want nothing to do with Him.’ Do you think such a protest possible for a Christian?

            Which brings me back, boringly, to my fundamental question: do those of you on the conservative side of the sexuality question think that a corollary of your view is accepting that God, in certain circs, requires genocide? Because if you do, then I am one ‘undecided’ who is rapidly deciding in the other direction… But if you don’t, then it seems you accept that in at least one instance, Scripture clearly teaches something which is wrong.

          • Peter states “…I think that if we are asked to accept something that after long reflection, discussion, prayer etc. seems fundamentally unreasonable and immoral, we have a duty to reject it – even if it is clearly taught in Scripture.”

            wow – wow – wow – so whatever YOU deem unreasonable in Scripture you believe you have a duty to reject even if clearly taught in Scripture?

            Thank you at least for your honesty – are you an ordained Anglican minister ? If so might not such a position violate your ordinal vows?

          • (Sorry, I’m not entirely sure I’m using the posting facility to best effect, so this reply may not appear in the most useful spot).

            This is a kind of combined post in response to queries raised by Will, Simon and S about my position.

            Will – it is indeed the conquest of Canaan I’m talking about, with its various episodes of butchery, although the slaughter of the Egyptian first-born should not be forgotten either. I appreciate that these are in no way offered in the NT – or elsewhere in the OT – as a guide to how Christians should behave! Nonetheless, they are clearly presented as divine commands or actions, and that (for me) weakens the sense in which the Bible can be taken as a supreme guide in faith and morals. I worry that your approach comes perilously close to ‘the end justifies the means’: that the divine goal of establishing the people of Israel in the land is so important as to justify genocide. That’s not a position I could live with.

            S. argues that the genocide really is necessary: that you can’t have Israel called apart for God’s purposes without the genocide. I agree that Israel’s election is key to the biblical narrative, and implicit in the Creeds which condense and summarise that narrative. I’m not sure, though, that you have to believe in divinely required genocide to believe that Israel was elect. Israel certainly believed its massacres had been required by God, but Israel might have been wrong. It wouldn’t be the last time the elect got confused about what election means, but such confusion does not negate the election.

            But S, you’re right, this is a big and live problem for me. I worry about it afresh everytime I read the Exodus and Joshua narratives. I think there must be a way of holding on to the sense that, yes, God was guiding these people whilst saying, no, the killings they thought were wanted by God were not. If that can’t be done … if you are all actually correct, and you really can’t have the election without the genocide, then I’m afraid I can’t be a Christian.

            S -on your ‘reliable witness’ point: Scripture is like a great teacher. I listen, really deeply and attentively, to what he is saying. Most of the time, on the most important stuff, he’s absolutely right. To a very large extent I let my life be shaped by him. Often, when I don’t first grasp what he’s saying, paying better attention for longer helps me realise that he’s right after all. Often, but not always. He is thoroughly reliable, but not infallible. By what criterion do I presume to judge? By conscience, slowly formed through worship, prayer, study, conversation, scripture, reason, experience, receiving the sacrament…. I might be wrong, and all I can do is trust that God will have mercy on me. But I trust that God would be horrified that out of (I think) exaggerated respect for Scripture, I attributed genocide to him.

            Will: I’m not justifying all forms of same-sex activity, any more than I would all forms of heterosexual activity. Clearly, sex is a power-tool and dangerous when handled carelessly. My point is that (biblical prohibition aside) I don’t see the rationale for refusing to bless that which in every other way looks like it is helping the people involved grow in love, joy, mercy, peace, kindness, self-control etc. Incidentally, I agree that the ‘production’ of children outside heterosexual marriage is, demonstrably, not good (though many gay people are *brilliant* at helping repair the broken children’s lives many heterosexuals leave behind them … another debate, I know).

            Simon – I am indeed an ordained Anglican minister, an incumbent in St. Albans Diocese. I am not quite sure which ordination vow you think I’m in breach of – could you spell it out? The obvious candidate, the one about Scripture, commits me to believing that they reveal all things that are necessary for salvation. I do. I just don’t think they are infallible about everything else. As for the vow that commits me to believing the faith as the Church of England has received it: as I began this whole conversation by saying, I recite the Creed with no reservations. I also thank God the Church of England has never required its ministers to agree with every single statement or teaching in Scripture. At least I think that’s the case …??

            I’m a little bemused at your finding this a ‘wow’ matter: my guess is that you would find a very great number – I suspect a majority? – of CoE clergy would also, when push came to shove, deny that God had ever commanded genocide. You may of course think that this shows the CoE’s fundamental problem … but surely you’re not really surprised? I certainly would have no embarrassment or awkwardness saying these things in front of either my congregation, or my Bishop. And this blog is, after all, a public forum.

            But I think you have all given me quite a clear answer to my key question: the theological rationale behind the conservative view on sexuality brings with it the obligation to say that, in certain circs, God requires genocide. That is not a rationale I am ever going to buy into. I wonder is it one that all those on the conservative side would own? Ian?

            I’ve enjoyed this exchange and found it very, very useful. Thank you all. Ian, I am sorry if this has spiralled out of control and well away from your original post! I am happy to continue, but equally know that I am beginning to sound like a stuck record and that we all have lives to live… I will not take it amiss if we leave it here.

          • Hi Peter

            well, for me it was a rather a wow! moment – even here where we have a broad range of views robustly expressed and hosted by Ian, for which I am grateful, I am not used to reading a statement of such candid clarity from a priest and theologian willing to outrightly reject a direct decree in Scripture if he found it unacceptable….after prayer and reasoned reflection. That certainly sounded to me like you stand over Scripture and your own opinion arbitrates over what you will or wont accept from God.

            Many liberals may function like that, but would probably try to hide it, by phrasing it in a way as to say Scripture doesn’t meant that, or mean it for us now or…. But you are happy to state categorically you will disregard Scriptural decree if ultimately you think it wrong. I respect your clarity, integrity and honesty, I do not respect your conclusion.

            Personally, I do think the ordinal does require a different approach to Scripture than the one I have understood you to hold – at priesting there is indeed a clause about Scriptures and salvation, but that is secondary to the initial and wider ranging declaration of assent required and given affirming and declaring belief in ‘THE FAITH WHICH IS REVEALED IN HOLY SCRIPTURES and set forth in the catholic creeds and to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear witness.’ ‘The Faith’ which I take to be wider than a doctrine of salvation.

            We are handed a NT at our deaconing and Bible at priesting – this frames our ministry. Augustine’s quote comes to mind: ‘If you believe what you like in the Gospel, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the Gospel you believe, but yourself.’

            Peter, if I have misunderstood or misrepresented what I read you to claim, I apologise and retract this unequivocally.

            As for your concerns about genocide events in the OT – I commend 2 friends and scholars who both did their DPhil’s at Oxford on the OT, and who have published on the subject: Dr Christian Hofreiter and Dr David T Lamb. The issue is certainly of utmost importance in understanding God and his revelation and action and we must here tread carefully and prayerfully.

            We clearly approach Scripture differently and have drawn different conclusions – but we do agree on the Creeds and your support stated here for the Jewish People is something I too hold deeply and have taught widely and written at a popular level on it. There is much common ground.

          • A response to Simon’s of 6.13, on (amongst other things) ordination vows: no need to retract anything, and no need to apologise for anything. You have summarised my views quite accurately, and I’m not remotely discomfited by it! Thank you for the friendly tone of your disagreement. (I assume you’re a vicar somewhere too?)

            I suppose I might add one qualification to my views …. the reason I find it possible (after lots of prayer, reflection …etc, etc) to deny the Scriptural teaching re. genocide or same-sex relations is that they don’t seem central. I might like to deny the doctrine of eternal judgement, but unfortunately that *does* seem central: not least because it features extensively in Jesus’ own teaching. So I don’t feel at liberty not to believe it. So it’s not entirely true that I just believe the bits I’m comfortable with.

            (Incidentally, that does mean that if Jesus *had* taught extensively about same-sex relations, and clearly said they were always and everywhere sinful, I think I would have to take a much more conservative line. Though look how we have managed flexibility on what he said about divorce… another topic I know).

            As for ordination vows, I can also recite the Declaration of Assent which you mention with a perfectly good conscience. ‘I believe in the faith which is revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the creeds and to which the historic formularies of the CoE bear witness’ – no problem. Of course ‘the faith’ is revealed in the Holy Scriptures. And it is more than the doctrine of salvation, it is the whole story of creation and redemption as drawn from the Scriptures and set forth in the creeds. I have no problem with that at all. But there might also be lots of stuff which is *not* the faith in Holy Scripture, and nowhere does the Declaration require anyone to agree that everything the Bible says about God or indeed about sex is true. I might have to think very carefully before saying that it isn’t … but I don’t break any promises.

          • Hi Peter

            Would you similarly approve of polyamorous relationships or incestuous relationships if they too appeared to benefit those involved? What about open marriages – will they earn your approval where they appear to work?

          • Dear Peter
            “… I don’t break any promises” of course you don’t – we simply disagree on what we actually promise.
            pax

          • Will – polyamorous or incestuous relationships, or open marriages.

            I have mercifully little experience of such things – unlike committed, faithful, exclusive gay relationships, which I have seen several of at reasonably close quarters over extended periods of time.

            I’d be prepared to bet, though, that on close scrutiny and over time they simply do not generate the love, joy, peace etc. that permanent, stable, faithful same-sex relationships do. One thing our tradition does get right about sex is that it is the body language of radical self-gift and commitment. Outside of that context, it quickly goes destructive. I’m simply not convinced that polyamory or open marriages are in the long run good for people.

            As for incest… male/female incest is obviously wrong, apart from anything else, because of the potential for inbreeding. Contraception fails, and abortion really is in nearly all circumstances a very serious sin …. so in my view a Christian can’t enter into any heterosexual intercourse where they’re not prepared for the possibility of children. As for same sex incest, outside of an abusive context, does much of it really exist? And how many of the people involved in it, if it does, wouldn’t fairly quickly strike one as deeply damaged?

            So when I find the open marriages, incestuous relationships, polyamarous arrangements that really do look, over sustained reaches of time and to outside observers, as if they help people bear the fruit of the Spirit … then I’ll start worrying about whether our traditional prohibition of them is unwise. But I’m not sure they’re actually there. But permanent, faithful, same sex – and in my view, grace-mediating – same sex relations? I have seen them.

          • Peter – I can see you’re confident in the capacity of the informed judgement of Peter Waddell to discern which scriptural principles we should keep and which we should not. I hope you’ll forgive others of us if we don’t fully share that confidence and prefer to stick with the faith once delivered to the saints!

          • Whoops, Will, I have replied to your comment but have managed to post it in the wrong bit of the thread. I repeat it here for ease:

            Actually, Will, I’m not that confident. Which is why I have spent most of the last ten years worrying about this, questioning my judgement to the point of almost paralysis.

            But this conversation has been important. It has clarified issues for me, and I think it has helped me towards a decision.

            And rest assured that if my seeming arrogance grieves you, it grieves me that you believe in certain circumstances our God required mass slaughter.

          • Why wouldn’t God require mass slaughter?

            (1) We do not decide what God requires. It is obviously up to God not up to us.

            (2) You accept the nice bits because they are ok by *your* criterion, and reject the nasty bits for the same reason. 2 things wrong here. Being nice is not the same thing as being evidenced – not even close. And if your criterion is therefore faulty for believing in the nice bits it is no less faulty for believing in the nasty bits. So it provides no reason for believing in anything, nice bits included. The only reason for believing in anything is evidence. Does all evidence point to the universe being a place where only nice things (or things fashionable in the 21st century) happen?

          • Christopher
            Why wouldn’t God require mass slaughter?
            Because God is not an idol made in the image of violent and fallible humankind.

          • But I am not saying that God does require mass slaughter, or that he doesn’t. These like everything are matters of evidence. I am saying that you have the same sources for the nice things you think about God as for the nasty things. if you end up believing the nice things and disbelieving the nasty things that is an impossible position, because the sources for both are ths same and it is obvious that you are (hypothetically) cherry picking according to your own preference, whereupon there is no need for God since you yourself would be the arbiter.

            God is not allowed to be surprising in any way.

            God has to be as you (hypothetically) specify. Hardly the maker and ruler of all things, only a human’s puppet.

            These points I have made many times.

          • If you believe scripture is about God being ‘nice’ or ‘nasty’, then I am at a loss how to respond.

          • But I don’t believe scripture is about God being nice or nasty, I am talking of human responses. It is human responses that find things nice or nasty according to our own lights. My other points you did not address.

          • Yes God can be surprising. It would hardly be surprising if God was made in our image and condoned genocide and spousal abuse. Men make God do that.

      • What about
        a) scripture is Spirit-breathed and, at the same time, human and imperfect pointers to God; for now we see though a glass darkly?
        b) some texts are not consistent, unequivocal and uncontested?
        c) [some] revisionists do not believe that the texts describe or proscribe what you think they are describing or proscribing?

  30. “What I have found amongst those wanting a change in Church’s teaching is that, when you press the arguments, they actually no longer believe that the New Testament writings are part of God’s Spirit-breathed word to us, but mere human and imperfect pointers to something else.”

    I would qualify this statement by saying that revisionists (as you say) ‘no longer believe that the NT writings are part of the God’s Spirit -breathe words to us’

    or – they believe the NT writings, but they have been interpreted wrongly.

    On the basis of the Creeds It is not possible to reason with revisionists on the former but you can argue with the latter.

    • Thank you for urging an alternative understanding of the revisionist approach here Chris. Though I would want to qualify even the use of ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in discussing Biblical interpretation. But Ian’s quote needs more than qualifying. It is disrespectful nonsense.

      • Is your contention right, David? Is your last sentence respectful – is it right or wrong? Ian’s answer was made: “After lots of thinking, reading and debating, I have reached the following answer.” I’d agree with Ian, not that anyone in the CoE hierarchy would be concerned with what the plebes like me think, as they leave the CoE. Why are you seemingly, offended? Ian is arguing over the question of interpretation and clarity of scripture here:
        “The texts in Scripture on this issue are, after all the debate and examination, still very clear, consistent and unequivocal. They are rooted in God’s creation purposes in the world, and they are also closely connected to the question of the work of the Spirit in bringing in the kingdom of God.

        What I have found amongst those wanting a change in Church’s teaching is that, when you press the arguments, they actually no longer believe that the New Testament writings are part of God’s Spirit-breathed word to us, but mere human and imperfect pointers to something else. So Paul is trapped in his culture, and even Jesus is unable to speak to us in the gospels in a way which calls for our obedience.”

      • David

        I’m so surprised by your dismissive charge of Ian’s post as ‘disrespectful nonsense’. There was a time when you would have attempted to be ironic, nuanced and more gracious to the wider and older tradition. What Ian wrote is a fair summary of what a few billion Christians for 2 thousands years have believed – not to mention millions of Jews for 1300+yrs before: that God has spoken through his prophets, recorded in Scripture, revealing his will, that marriage is between man and woman for life. The novel and radical alternative that you now champion has a theological pedigree of barely a couple of decades in a minority part of the church in West.

        By dismissing Ian’s basis and thesis as ‘nonsense’, it is you who appear disrespectful towards most of God’s people, for most of recorded history who subscribe to just such a view as his. And, far more seriously, if indeed Ian et al are right, and the traditional view on sexuality is actually the revelation of God’s creation, by calling it nonsense, who are you actually taking issue with – not just the tradition!!!!!

  31. That is an interesting comment David. May I ask if it is your view then, that *any* christian conception of God is only ever provisional? In that sense would you say that the Creeds are only provisional? Products of their time perhaps? Are there any you could point to that to you mind are timeless, unequivocally true and ‘right’?

    I do not think Ian is disrespecting revisionists. I think his point is that the CoE has an apostolic foundation in which the ‘faith received ‘ is invariant with regard to culture and divinely inspired. If we abandon that then I’m not sure if there is very much left that is worth believing.

  32. Well I perhaps should have walked once (or twice) round the block – but I was actually supporting Chris’s challenge to Ian. I wonder why no one has picked up his comments? In my challenge to Ian I am not being disrespectful to millions who have disagreed with revisionist exegesis in history and today. I am objecting to his very specific assertion that in his view those who do not hold his views on this ‘no longer believe that the New Testament writings are part of God’s Spirit-breathed word to us, but mere human and imperfect pointers to something else’. This is offensive and it is nonsense. And I speak as a friend and as a former theological college faculty colleague of Ian’s – and a pleasure it was too teaching scripture together – God-breathed, all of it.

  33. Coming a little late to the party I spotted the genocide/sexual behaviour comments….but couldn’t find a suitable reply point.

    Whatever (and there are) difficulties we have with this there is no command in scripture that ‘we’ should do this. It exists entirely in the historical record but without any present command to do the same. I’m not saying (though I’d like to ) God didn’t command it. I’m saying he doesn’t command it now. Time and context (and the nature of Church) are very different. Though do we not get a little unrealistic when thinking about war in history? It’s awful, bloody and untidy. That’s the same reality now as it was then. Only pacifism is tidy on this. Is tidy right though?

    The sexual prohibitions are if a different nature entirely. They explicit teaching for God’s people and present in both testaments. There is not the slightest hint that this is temporary or passing in importance. They are always contemporary.

    • Hi Ian … but the ‘one off’ nature of the genocidal commandment is immaterial, I think. You’re still in the position where you say that in a particular time, in a particular context, God required genocide – that genocide was the will of God. That’s the problem. A source of moral authority which requires that belief instantly loses its power to persuade me that it always gets things right. And so when it comes to something like sexuality, I need to be persuaded on other grounds too … and I’m not persuaded by those that have been offered (e.g. rates of STIs among promiscuous homosexuals, rates of breakdown, mental illness etc ): because those are not generally true of the only gays we’re talking about: those in permanent, faithful, stable relations.

      • Peter – I hope my own view on this subject pressing you, will not compound your own concerns. I am not sure the conquest of Canaan and the decreed destruction of its inhabitants actually constitutes a ‘one off’ commandment. Rather, it is descriptive, not prescriptive, and describes what is the consistent revelation of God who is Holy and Righteous and who’s presence breaks out against un-repented sin and wilful rejection of God. I perceive this is the same divine principle at work in the story of Noah & the flood, Sodom & Gomorrah, the judgments on Egypt, Judah’s exile, and ultimately the final judgment, and Jesus sending the ‘goats’ to eternal punishment and the demonic to the lake of fire. In all these, manifest divine holiness precipitates a crisis – judgment on the one hand, but always an opportunity to say yes to God, accept his grace over judgment. In each case above, those judged and destroyed could have turned from their sin toward God and found mercy (as Ninevah did when repenting and escaping the severe judgment Jonah was sent to herald). There is always grace before judgment, an opportunity to repent and turn to God and so escape the consequence of sin brought on oneself. In the case of the Canaanites, in Lev18:24 God in the first person voice warns Israelites against living in the land and following the sexual sins of the Canaanites, sexual sins which actually defiled the land itself and were the very cause of the land vomiting them out. As it happens, we know that the command to Joshua was not followed through, the Canaanites never were expelled, and they were a constant snare to Israel (Judg2v1f) leading her away from God to Baal worship, sexual immorality, social injustice and inevitable exile.

        • Hi Simon,
          I understand the connections between the mass slaughters of the Canaanites, and the broader biblical themes of the holiness of God, wrath against unrepented sin, and final judgement. You are right in saying that such themes are not insignificant or isolated in the Bible: they are intrinsic to the whole. And a theology which simply had no room for them is not I think an adequate Christian theology. Thus, for instance, I think universalism is not really an option for Christians (though I am always intrigued that both Karl Barth and Hans Urs von Balthasar – neither of whom were exactly PC liberals bending with the wind – end up as in that position: in the former case clearly, in the latter as near as damn it).

          But it is possible to say what I have just done, and still to deny that God could ever have countenanced the slaughters attributed to Him in several OT narratives. Surely, hell/divine wrath is what happens when creatures turn finally, definitively from God: when every flicker of the imago dei is extinguished by our self-destructive passions. Do you think this was true of every Amalekite? Of every Egyptian first born baby? You say that in every case there was the opportunity for those judged and destroyed to repent: I’m not sure what that means for an Amalekite baby. And let’s face it, for most of them, who were probably just getting on with living their not so bad and not so good lives like most of us do today.

          I suspect we approach a more fundamental division between us. You have been gracious to me, so now I must ask your pardon as I proceed to put lots of words in your mouth which may be wholly unfair! But I suspect it would not be if said of many others who share your position. Here goes:

          I said above that I believe in judgement and hell, and so I do. There is indeed the possibility of being damned. But that possibility is set within the larger reality of God’s passionate desire to save each and every one of us, and the limitless resourcefulness of his power to do so. In other words, I dare to hope that because of the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus, damnation may be a very rare and dreadful thing indeed. In Christ, things have been tilted decisively towards salvation. You have to try quite hard to be damned. That’s why the Gospel is Good News. By contrast, I sense in some of what you and other conservatives an underlying view that actually, unless people in this lifetime repent and believe in the Gospel they are probably doomed. We can’t know they are, of course, because God is the only Judge. But the prospects don’t look good. That’s not a position I share. I think its Bad News.

          I realise this takes us way beyond the OP, and also that is a *massive* conversation. It involves Creation, Atonement, the significance of atheism and the value of the world religions – and a whole host of other issues. I am quite aware that my view is not in line with great swathes of Christian tradition; you will also be quite aware that there has always been this kind of debate (if someone wants to say Karl Barth is not a Christian, and thus rule his position out of the conversation, that’s their call … but it would be odd). It’s a debate we see going on inside the Bible itself: stories like the slaughter of the Amalekites suggest one kind of understanding how God deals with sinners; stories like Jesus refusing to summon the legions of angels to strike his executioners down suggest another. I suspect you will say they are one story: I increasingly view them as different strands in one ongoing argument, different and ultimately irreconcilable perspectives. One view of God wins out over the other. The God of 1 Sam 15 is not the God of Jesus Christ – or, to put it better, the God of 1 Sam 15 is the result of deep human misunderstanding of the God of Jesus Christ, which is clarified and corrected as revelation and human apprehension thereof progresses.

          Finally, another stuck record moment. For all the attempts to place 1 Sam 15 etc. in a bigger picture, to connect it to broader biblical theme, to see how it is intrinsic to election etc…. you, and Chris, and Will, still at least sound as if you’re saying: yes, in these very particular circumstances, mass slaughter – of men, women, and infants – is what God required. It was God’s will. At the risk of sounding pompous and self-dramatising, if you ever did succeed in convincing me that being a Christian involved believing that, I would stop being one. Such a God is not worthy of worship. He is the very problem I think the Gospel is meant to save us from: he is the violent one, the killer, the great destroyer. Everything in me rebels against him. I know that the depth of one’s passion does not determine the truth of one’s argument, but I find it difficult to express quite how fundamental this conviction is to my life.

          I am happy to continue the conversation. I wonder if Ian feels we should do so in another forum or thread, as we have moved so far from the OP. It may be also that we both have far too many other things to do which all this typing is helping us to avoid!! So if this is the end, that’s OK.

          • Thanks Peter

            I think we have gone as far as we can and I would hate to speak hastily or clumsily or insensitively, as is my wont, on matters that you care for deeply – as indeed I do.

            You ask a direct question so I will respectfully give a direct, ‘personal’ answer. I do believe God is shown in Scripture, at times, in his righteous justice, to decree death for those who persist in evil and refuse repentance and reject his grace. I do not know why this presents a problem. Holiness breaks out against evil – and in all the cases you cite, it is evil that has rejected the Holy God in his revelation through God’s Elect Israel. These violent texts pose a severe problem for you in your understanding or is it accepting of God, although surprisingly you also state yourself happy to believe in the return of Jesus Christ who will judge the living and the dead and send many to an eternal death. I am not sure how you can willingly hold Jesus’ eschatological eternal damnation of many, whilst protesting a more selective divine judgment in very particular war settings, as depicted in a few select OT texts. You express repulsion at the way God is occasionally depicted in the OT yet the NT depicts Jesus assuming such a warrior judge identity of which the OT texts type. Ultimately, as we have jousted already, it is the God of revelation with which we have to do and we simply are not free to pick and choose which aspect of his revelation we want. To do so is to make God in our image and fall prey to Feuerbach’s accusation,

            I’d love a beer and a chat over Barth sometime. Yes, he probably was an inevitable universalist – for all the best (if highly selective) reasons. Though he did seem to leave some room for reprobation through human autonomy (cf: John Macken 1990)

            pax
            simon

      • Cheers Peter… but 🙂 I still think that there is a difference between the ‘genocides’ in that they do not form part of the continuing ethical commands to the faithful. However one thinks about them that is still the case.

        The other ‘but’ is that all you seem to have left of authority is how ‘you’ see things. I can’t see how the scripture has any actual authority in that approach as it makes us the judge over it. (as Adam in the Garden) Making one think isn’t invalid (I’d argue we should think more!) but that hardly tallies to my mind with “God breathed…”

        I’m not sure that ‘faithful/permanent/stable’ are values that can stand on their own. They don’t exist in a vacuum. All they say ‘unchanging’. That can be good or bad.

        • Hi Ian – (in haste) Well, as outlined above, I think Scripture has the authority of a long-trusted friend. I hesitate long and hard before deciding that it isn’t right!! (if that wasn’t the case, I would have been more decisively in favour of same-sex relationships a very long time ago).

          Also, as in the thought I was beginning to work out in response to Simon’s most recent post, I think Scripture is an unfolding argument, with different voices and perspectives. And the climax of that argument in the New Testament, not in every detail (hats in churches) but in the overall vision, is the world-view I then live and think within.

          Agreed: permanent, faithful, stable isn’t enough. It needs to be a shorthand for ‘a relationship which helps the fruits of the Spirit grow in the people concerned, and in the lives around them.’ Like marriage (but not necessarily the same thing as marriage! That, as many have observed, is a different argument).

      • A source of moral authority which requires that belief instantly loses its power to persuade me that it always gets things right. And so when it comes to something like sexuality, I need to be persuaded on other grounds too

        Okay, but you’ve said you accept the Scriptures as evidence for judgement and salvation.

        What ‘other grounds’ have you for accepting what Scripture says about judgement and salvation, given you have decided that it does not always get things right?

        By what logic do you persuade yourself that it has got judgement and salvation right?

        • Hi S,

          I think we are going in circles here, which you will no doubt reasonably say is because I am going in circles.

          All I can do is repeat what I’ve said, at greater length, in my most recent response to Simon.

          I am a harrassed father and vicar with not enough time to think things through to a position of absolute logical impeccability and consistency. I am also not entirely sure such a position exists, incidentally.

          However, one thing I know with a certainty beyond argumentation: the God of Jesus Christ does not kill babies. Any position which requires me to think he does may have the virtue of internal consistency, but it does not have many others. I am grateful that I do not think the Church has ever required me to accept that position, or even implicitly assumed that I do.

          So where does authority come from? I’d rather take my chances with with my unsecured mix of scripture, prayer, tradition, discussion, thought, gut-instinct, worship, knowing people…. it’s all a big conversation in my mind, with different voices coming in. And no-one voice is given ultimate authority over the others …. with, I suppose, the one exception of conscience. Even that could be wrong, of course. But once you have made every effort to inform conscience, I think one has no option but to follow it.

          Which one of us is more Protestant, btw? You with the ultimate emphasis on Scripture, or me with conscience? (Not an entirely serious question… not wholly facetious either though!!).

          • I think we are going in circles here, which you will no doubt reasonably say is because I am going in circles.

            A spiral, I hope, coming closer to the centre, rather than circles.

            However, one thing I know with a certainty beyond argumentation: the God of Jesus Christ does not kill babies

            But how do you know that?

            Your only source for what Jesus Christ said (unless you have something else you’ve been hiding in which case I think theologians all over the world would love to see it) is… Scripture. The same Scripture which you say is not reliable.

            So how can you state you know what the God of Jesus Christ is like with any certainty, let alone ‘certainty beyond argumentation’, when your only source for what that God is like is one which you have already said is riddled with errors?

            Which one of us is more Protestant, btw?

            Is that a meaningful question? The only thing which unites Protestants is what they were protesting against. Then they all went off in different directions… is a Baptist ‘more Protestant’ than a Presbyterian? Is an Arminian ‘more Protestant’ than a Calvinist? Is there even a linear scale on which one could compare them?

  34. When we come to contentious passages in the Bible which appear to be morally dubious and hard to stomach (particularly in the OT), then I think it is for one of the following reasons:

    (1) It doesn’t square with our modern ideas of morality (e.g. God is just fine with genocide in some cases so that’s tough).
    (2). The Bible must be wrong -in which case we can’t trust it at all.
    (3) What the Bible has said must be true – the so called ‘plain meaning’ despite a lot of theological convolutions that often needs to be made in order for it to make some kind of sense (and even then, the answer is not entirely satisfactory).
    (4 ) We are not coming to the Bible and understanding it correctly in the way it records human dealings with the divine, and not properly taking into account the way it written, was put together and the cultural milieu in which the writer of the Bible lived and passed down to what we read today.

    There are far better theological minds on this excellent blog of Ian’s than mine (which is why I read it to learn) but I suspect that (4) is the main reason why we have so many of these arguments.

    • Chris I think you are right. The issue is not simply whether scripture is a supreme authority for us – yes or no. It is not, for example, a despotic authority. We have to ask what kind of authority is found there, how is it expressed, how to interpret it for today and what kind of obedience, choice and responsibility it asks of us. This lies at the heart of the debate about same-sex relationships and scripture. A (right and proper) concern to assert and defend the central place of scripture in Christian life and teaching must go with an understanding of the place of human responsibility, thought and wisdom about what we are reading and therefore how to apply it. That is what I hear Peter insisting on. And thank you to Peter for a really refreshing and open contribution to this debate.

      • David,

        I actually had genocide and literal 7-day creation in mind when I was referring to coming to the Bible with the right imperatives. I actually think much of what we find hard to stomach and read today in the OT has to do with the reaction of Israel to the post – exilic 2nd Temple period but that is a subject all in itself and I don’t want to go even further off thread.

        Regarding SSM then I think it is a different kettle of fish altogether. I understand Peter’s point where he states how impressed he is integrity of faithful SS relationships. Even the ABC I think has made this point. And in one sense he is correct -they may well be impressive but that does not answer the question as to if they are ‘right’ in the Christian sense of marriage. There is very strong evidence that SSM is not supported or even encouraged in both the OT and NT.

        These arguments have been discussed ad nauseam on this blog and I don’t want to reiterate them here not least, because I know you disagree with most of them. The trajectory is invariably negative and proponents of SSM are often forced to use arguments based on qualities of love, faithfulness and fidelity, things which can be seen in other non-Christian relationships such as atheists have, so I think you need to go outside Christian orthodoxy to make your case. Fatuous arguments of the kind such as ‘Jesus never mentioned it ‘ (and I am not accusing you of this), just don’t cut it. Jesus never mentioned foxhunting or many other things that we like to decry today.

        Proponents of Christian SSM are asking for a new doctrine of marriage. One that is at variance with 2000 years of Christian teaching and OT revelation. Thing is -it wouldn’t really stop there. What about the conception of children by buying sperm or renting a womb? Assuming we accept faithful Christian SSM as a new doctrine would it not be unfair to deny children to them as well? Should we bless their modus operandi in that also ? Maybe that could be added later.

        All what we are seeing in both the church and society is a product of the sexual zeitgeist in which is a product of or times. And its been around before in ancient times so its not new. The church should hold fast to the teaching it has received even if it becomes unpopular for doing so. We are called to confess the truth not go with the culture.

        And to come back to the original question that Ian asked. “Is the Bishops’ Policy on Civil Partnerships Sustainable? “ No it isn’t.

        I do not think there will ever be agreement or ‘agreement to disagree’ on this. One side will have to win. An alternative of course, is to agree to split – a progressive English liberal Anglican branch of the CoE and a English Conservative Orthodox one. Each Anglican church should decide which branch it would belong to. There would be all sorts of issues about diocesan boundaries and assets and so on but maybe it could be sorted and implemented more humanely and in a more gentlemanly manner than our American cousins seem to have done.

        • Chris Thank you for engaging with me. A couple of responses.
          I am not sure why you ask ‘What about the conception of children by buying sperm or renting a womb?’. These ethical questions are not new. But I am not sure what they have to do with arguments for SSM or CPs.
          It feels like a tendency to argue that if we go with ‘this’ (say, SSM) won’t we end up ‘that’? So to accept ‘this’ puts us, variously, on a ‘slippery slope’, or ‘opens the door to’, or ‘opens the flood gates to x and y’ ….
          I am reminded of the church resistance when contraception first became available for women in the 1930s. Lambeth Conferences and (the then formidable) Mother’s Union could only see this as a license for promiscuity – if we accept ‘this’ then ‘that’ will follow. So resist ‘this’ firmly. There was little clarity in how to read the Bible for guidance since procreation was seen the central purpose of marriage and should therefore surely not be obstruction by artificial means. What no one then could consider was the gift contraception might be for women’s short and long term health, for their overall quality of life and the possibility of creative life choices, and to all in large families struggling with the terrible effects of poverty. It was a desperately one-sided ethic and (like Peter and others here) I feel that some approaches to same-sex relationships tend to be the same.
          But let’s stay with that topic for a moment.
          Just how do we read the bible for guidance on contraception? Are there any positive examples in the bible of couples who actively plan to limit fertility and choose the size of their family and are blessed? Aren’t all the examples of people avoiding the ‘proper’ discharge of sperm in sexual intercourse judged and condemned?
          But we are asking ethical questions here no one in the Bible would have asked aren’t we?
          To return to your questions above. Would anyone in the Bible – even Jesus – have even had any way of understanding the biological background to such questions about buying or storing sperm. And who in that ancient world could begin to explain what ‘refrigeration’ is?
          So there is nothing new in finding ourselves needing the wisdom of scripture for issues that are ‘beyond’ scripture and not even addressed or not even known in scripture. We have been doing this for some time.

          • Lambeth Conferences and (the then formidable) Mother’s Union could only see this as a license for promiscuity – if we accept ‘this’ then ‘that’ will follow

            And — with the benefit of hindsight — were they not totally right?

            It was accepted, and widespread social acceptance of promiscuity inevitably followed.

            You may think that there were factors to put on the other side of the ledger that make the net result positive. But you can’t claim they were wrong, because they so obviously, from the facts since, were right.

          • S (forgive me saying so but it hard responding to someone who does not give their name).
            Well I certainly agree that all good gifts can be misused. But am I to assume you do not agree with the use of contraception at all? Opposition to it was ‘totally right’? The wrong has outweighed all good?

          • Well I certainly agree that all good gifts can be misused. But am I to assume you do not agree with the use of contraception at all? Opposition to it was ‘totally right’? The wrong has outweighed all good?

            I can only repeat:

            ‘You may think that there were factors to put on the other side of the ledger that make the net result positive.’

            Perhaps the good outweighs the wrong. Perhaps not. But the point is that there was considerable wrong, as well as perhaps considerable good, so you shouldn’t imply that those who foresaw the wrong were in some way mistaken.

            I was merely pointing out that those who said ‘if we accept “this” then “that” will follow’ where totally right: we accepted ‘this’ and ‘that’ did follow, didn’t it?

          • David,

            Thank you for your reply. I do not really understand the point you are trying to make by juxtaposing contraception with sperm donors let alone how this fits in with gay surrogacy. I don’t think you can make a strong case that contraception is wrong in all cases in the Bible. The sin of Onan, which is commonly quoted as opposing contraception, was to do with denying his sister an heir. Some forms of birth control which destroys a fertilized egg from a Christian perspective, has different ethical consequences than that preventing sperm and egg ever coming into contact and RC’s argue from the ‘intent’ aspect and are very strong on this.

            There is also the point that ‘S’ makes that contraception has led to an increase in promiscuity and all the harm that come through that. Not all sexual intercourse will lead to procreation and the Song of Solomon I would argue, shows that sex between a man and a woman is something to be enjoyed in it own right.

            My point is that if the Church of England grants and recognizes marriage to same sex couples, it cannot logically oppose their right to start families by sperm donation or surrogacy. Now we already have AID for infertile heterosexual couples but what about the issues of fatherhood and motherhood? Many children of course are brought up with only a mother or a father either through death of a parent or by divorce. However they are still connected to their erstwhile parent relationally and by kinship.

            The modus operandi of gay couples is quite different and sets out to deliberately deny a child a father or mother to satisfy their own personal fulfillment usually via a private arrangement more often or not, involving a monetary transaction. The child born in such a manner will never have the chance to know a father or mother in the way a in can in a heterosexual couple and will not have a genetic kinship with one of the partners. It may even never know who one of its real parents was.

            To deliberately deny a child this is cruel and wrong. It robs them of a fundamental aspect of their identity. I cannot see how this state of affairs can be in any way squared with what we read in the scriptures about the sanctity of parents the importance of fatherhood and motherhood and the Christian understanding of bringing up children. The strong emphasis of ancestral descent in both the OT and NT is plain to see.

            I might add that this does not just apply to gay couples BTW. I think it was a Labour government that introduced laws that effectively ruled out the involvement of fathers in any kind of procreation where woman can simply buy sperm on the internet and raise the child alone. Our modern legal system has largely written out fathers other than financial as having any significant role in the upbringing of children (am not condoning of course fathers that don’t want any role in their children but that is a different issue to what I am addressing here). It is just another aspect of the modern consumerist society.

            So I wouldn’t think that it would stop at gay marriage David. The Cof E would then have to grapple with these issues as well.

          • Chris

            You said:
            “….. Now we already have AID for infertile heterosexual couples but what about the issues of fatherhood and motherhood?….”

            yet you make the same terrible mistake as those in society, justices and politicians who forget the child. THE CHILD HAS RIGHTS as well. It is time this society grew up,

          • Clive,
            I am really not sure if you have read my post correctly or whether I have made myself clear.

            I am making exactly that point and not disagreeing with you. A child should have a right to be born to a father and mother. When children are procreated then the rights of the child should be paramount. I have mixed feelings about AID but at least in this case the child gets to have a father and mother and (I believe) has access to the their genetic history. In the case of SS surrogacy then sexually differentiated parents are deliberately and wilfully denied to them.

          • S ‘you shouldn’t imply that those who foresaw the wrong were in some way mistaken.’ I didn’t. I said their approach was a desperately one-sided. Do you agree? Contraception and family planning began a long-term transformation the health and life expectancy and social life choices of women – as well as the quality of life of families and children. Do you disagree? or does your concern about promiscuity mean that you are not sure that gain has been worth it?

          • S ‘you shouldn’t imply that those who foresaw the wrong were in some way mistaken.’ I didn’t. I said their approach was a desperately one-sided. Do you agree?

            I think your initial comment implied that their concerns should have been given no weight. There is nothing wrong, in a debate, with being one-sided. If someone were proposing or opposing the motion in a debate, I would think they were not doing their job if they were not one-sided.

            Contraception and family planning began a long-term transformation the health and life expectancy and social life choices of women – as well as the quality of life of families and children. Do you disagree? or does your concern about promiscuity mean that you are not sure that gain has been worth it?

            The latter — I think it’s at the very least arguable that the gain has been worth it.

          • S I in no way intended to imply that Lambeth Bishops and MU concerns about contraception ‘had no weight’. I actually they were ‘desperately one-sided’. This allows their concerns (as I do) but makes clear they needed to express them within a wider debate and show a much broader awareness of the bigger picture. Though not an expert I have lectured in this period of church history and ‘one-sided’ is the only way I can describe their contribution to the debate on contraception.
            A ‘one sided’ argument commonly describes a viewpoint asserted without engaging with other issues that must form part of the discussion if an informed decision is to be made.
            In terms of the liberating and health-giving impact of free oral contraception for women you might like to look at this article from the US. I don’t know if ‘S’ is a man or a women – but the impact of effective contraception on women over the last 80 + years has been huge in the Western world – while the problems remain huge in the developing world where contraception is not yet available or actually banned by the church.
            https://www.huffingtonpost.com/keli-goff/contraception-facts_b_1274828.html
            Are you saying you would really prefer all these gains to have not happened out of your concern about promiscuity?

        • Chris
          It’s interesting (and I am not making this point against your comment, but in conversation with people who often bring up the evils of surrogacy) that the first surrogate wa surely Hagar.

          • Good point Penelope and I agree.
            And a fat lot of good it did to Abraham let alone the harm it did to Hagar.

            Can’t imagine that Ishmael was too chuffed about it when he grew up either -do you?

          • No, but surrogacy based on rape was unlikely to have a good outcome.

            I should have said, not only the claimed evils of surrogacy, but the assumption that it’s a modern phenomenon/

  35. A few quick comments, as one who comes late to this discussion.

    1. Penelope is mistaken in arguing that consent – and consent alone – is the sufficient condition of a valid Christian marriage. Consent is necessary but is not sufficient of itself. Consummation has always been the other condition. Just as a marriage is void if proper consent was lacking, the wilful, intentional failure to consummate will void a marriage as well. The intent in marriage vow includes the intent to consummate. A “marriage” between two persons of the same sex could never be a Christian marriage for that reason alone.

    2. The decision by the Church of England to allow clergy to enter the new-fangled relationship of ‘civil partnerships’ was WRONG in law, WRONG in theology and WRONG in pastoral practice. (a). It was argued the C of E could not refuse clergy the civil liberty of entering these new relationships (which also imposed financial burdens on the Church through pensions and other obligations). Was this claim seriously tested? Strangely, no Roman Catholic priest entered a CP. Have they fewer civil liberties than Anglicans? If the C of E discovers it can forbid clergy from joining the BNP, how can it not do so here? (b) The creation of a new civil relationship that *excluded the majority of people who might hope to benefit (siblings and other members of families, let along members of the opposite sex) was discriminatory and unjust, and its meaning was never articulated by the C of E. It should have done this work first. (c) Clergy are meant to live exemplary lives above reproach. Since CPs were immediately recognised as ‘same sex marriage’ by another name, it was dishonest to allow them to the clergy in the first place.

    3. Peter Waddell segues strangely from the ‘genocide texts’ of the OT to affirming homosexual acts – yet allows that if Jesus was against homosexuality, maybe we should be too – but then gives the game away by granting that we don’t seem to pay much attention to him on divorce either. Bosco Peters in New Zealand uses the same kind of confused logic – and that church is now in the process of splitting. If Peter (and David Runcorn with him) seriously believes that Jesus would have approved of ‘permanent, faithful same-sex partnerships’, then I can only say he has a very peculiar view of first century Judaism. Jesus was accused of many things, but affirming homosexuality was not one of them. That alone would have been enough to have him stoned.

    4. Now the actual political situation. Why does this matter continue to roil the Church of England – as it does the Roman Catholic Church? For the simple reason that a hugely disproportionate number of clergy are same-sex attracted, perhaps as many as 10%, according to New Zealand geneticist and endocrinologist Neil Whitehead in his book on the aetiology and treatment of homosexuality, ironically entitled ‘My Genes Made Me Do It’ (pdf available on the web – I’ve read most of it now). If SSA is five times more common among the clergy than the laity, there is little wonder they will go on about it. (Among RCC clergy the figure is almost certainly higher – that is the simple reason the Roman Catholic world has been riven by the scandal of homosexual abuse of teenage boys). Gay clergy are notably present in cathedrals and include a number of deans (not just Jeffrey John but at least two others), as well as two partnered suffragan bishops, one male and one female, both appointed under Welby with his knowledge and agreement, with active revisionists like Nicholas Holtam supporting this.

    The suggestion above that Welby is playing a waiting game of ambiguity until after 2020, hoping that opposition will have left (into AMiE or elsewhere) and there will be enough “facts on the ground” (AKA “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it”) really does seem the best explanation. Add to this the appointment of more ‘soft liberal; bishops and you have a done deal. Given the way Welby has acted over George Bell and continues to obfuscate, I don’t really trust his assurances of good faith.

    • Brian, thank you for this really clear summary of the facts. I don’t think there is anything here I could disagree with.

      Do you have a link for the book you mention?

    • Thanks Brian… Sadly, I think that’s broadly right.

      I do think we have been drawing lines which turned out to be in sand and some bishops have been campaigning publicly and privately to achieve that. The lines have have no effect whatsoever. Maybe that had to be the case to try to avoid fracturing while there was hope. On reflection it was naive to think they would “hold back the tide” and I can’t see “agreeing to disagree” will work…. The issue was always about how one handles scripture. Whatever the nuances and variations there is a fundamental and large gulf exposed this issue.

    • It’s obvious that the acceptance of civil partnerships was wrong, civil partnerships being initially construed as a same-sex equivalent of marriage with an assumed sexual element (hence the exclusion of pairs of sisters etc.). It is hard to imagine anything further outside the Christian tradition, or indeed the internal logic of Christianity.

    • Penelope is not mistaken. Cf. Josephite marriages in the mediaeval period. Consummation does not ‘make’ a marriage.

      • A lot of strange ideas – as well as good ones – circulated in the medieval period, particularly as virginity was exalted above the married state and Marianism reached its high water mark. And this didn’t all subside with Reformation. Indeed, the idea that Mary remained a virgo intacta throughout her life exerted a strong influence even upon John Calvin, for reasons I no longer recall. We all know the traditional teaching that ‘the brothers (and sisters) of Jesus’ were Joseph’s children by an earlier marriage. When did exegetes first consider that these were Mary’s natural children? In any case, sexless marriages could be and were voided in the Middle Ages. Moreover, advocates of “same sex marriage” are NOT talking about a sexless relationship. There is already a word for that: friendship. It doesn’t need a ceremony – except maybe on Facebook? OK, that lost comment was facetious – only just.

        • Nevertheless, consent and (I think vows before a minister) are what ‘makes’ a marriage, as Ian has observed elsewhere on this long thread.
          I wasn’t contending that either same-sex or other-sex marriages should be sexless! Merely responding to the assertion that consummation makes a marriage. And, secondly, querying the whole notion of ‘consummation’, which stands in OSM legislation, though not in SSM legislation. Does this not valorise the idea of PIV sex as the only or the ‘correct’ sexual intimacy, even for other sex couples?

          • Does this not valorise the idea of PIV sex as the only or the ‘correct’ sexual intimacy, even for other sex couples?

            Yes, it does; why shouldn’t it? It is after all the only form which can produce offspring, which is after all the main telos of sexual intimacy. So clearly it should be marked out about all other, lesser, forms which can merely give pleasure without function.

          • Offspring are one good of sexual intimacy in church tradition. Not a tradition, incidentally, which has any witness in the New Testament.
            Children are, mostly, the result of PIV intercourse; sometimes, like two of my grandchildren they are the result of some rather marvellous lab.

            Of course, for most straight couples, PIV intercourse is an inherent part of their sexual intimacy (I should imagine). However, for come couples it may be impossible, or difficult or distasteful. That’s why I don’t think we should valorise it as ‘the’ form of sexual intimacy. Certainly the state should not.

          • However, for come couples it may be impossible, or difficult or distasteful.

            Yes, and that is sad and tragic.

            That’s why I don’t think we should valorise it as ‘the’ form of sexual intimacy

            That does not follow at all. It’s as if you’re trying to redefine disorder as mere difference.

          • Really? Why is it sad, or tragic, or ‘disordered’? Or ‘lesser’?
            Those are all value judgements. You are seeing people who cannot or do not indulge in PIV intercourse as disordered or lesser. It may be physical, it may be their choice. It is nothing to do with either Church or State.

          • Really? Why is it sad, or tragic, or ‘disordered’?

            It’s sad and tragic because they are unable to fulfil the point of sexual intercourse. Just like being infertile is sad and tragic, as are other disorders and disabilities.

            Or ‘lesser’? Those are all value judgements.

            Of course they are. Value judgements are the most important kind of judgements we must make in life. The important question is, are they correct value judgements?

          • PIV intercourse is the point of sexual intercourse for you.
            It is not the point of sexual intimacy for others.
            That is neither sad, nor tragic, nor disordered.

          • And, actually, I think you should reflect on whether ‘other’ disorders and disabilities are sad and tragic. I know quite a few disabled people who would disagree strongly with that value judgement.

          • PIV intercourse is the point of sexual intercourse for you.
            It is not the point of sexual intimacy for others.

            No ‘for me’ and ‘for you’ have nothing to do with it: those are mere subjective opinions, and therefore unimportant.

            It is an objective fact that the telos of the act of sex is procreation, and that requires intercourse.

            Therefore being unable to have intercourse is sad and tragic just like any other disability or circumstance which prevents someone from fulfilling one of human life’s purposes.

          • It is not an ‘objective fact’ that the telos of ‘the act of sex’ is procreation.
            In any case, there is no such think as ‘the act of sex’. PIV intercourse is one sex act among many.

          • Penelope, you seem to be saying that sexual intercourse/intimacy is there, and reproduction is one of the outcomes of this. I would say this this is the wrong way round. Reproduction is the reason for sex. For complex creatures such as ourselves, the genetic mixing gives significant advantages. Any trait which encourages individuals to engage in reproductive behaviour is very likely to be strongly selected.
            It is years since I read Desmond Morris’ “The Naked Ape”, but I recall that he found good reasons for the development of human sexuality. The sexual receptivity of the female outside of oestrus and the persistence of sexual desire are beneficial in the bonding which is created, because of the years of vulnerability of the human child, and also, to an extent, the dependency of the mother. It keeps the father in relation to his children. Thus, in this evolutionary picture, the bonding of the parents is part of the reproductive process. The public institution of marriage then arises in communities and societies to enshrine this.
            The greater distance that sexual desire and activity are from this, the greater the degree of going against nature.
            If, on the other hand, sexual activity has a significant good outside of reproduction, in producing intimacy and bonding, do you think that this should be confined to the public committment of marriage, or something like that? Why should that intimacy be confined to one other person? Could a two brothers enhance their relationship by such sexual intimacy? How about a brother and sister, or father and daughter? Would not your relationship with each of your friends be enhanced by sexual intimacy?

          • It is not an ‘objective fact’ that the telos of ‘the act of sex’ is procreation.

            Isn’t it?

            What, pray tell, is sex for, then?

          • S
            The gift of marriage brings husband and wife together
            in the delight and tenderness of sexual union
            and joyful commitment to the end of their lives.
            It is given as the foundation of family life
            in which children are [born and] nurtured
            and in which each member of the family,
            in good times and in bad,
            may find strength, companionship and comfort,
            and grow to maturity in love.

            Common Worship, Marriage Service.
            note procreation is in [square brackets] so is not an integral part of the service.

          • David

            I am sometimes surprised by how reductive some Christians approach to sexuality is.
            And, yes, I do think it is better for sexual intimacy to be expressed in permanent (at least in intent), faithful and stable relationships, and between people who are sexually attracted to each other. I love my friends but I am sexually attracted to very few of them.

          • Common Worship, Marriage Service.

            That is about the telos of marriage, not sex. The clue is in the name, ‘marriage service.’ It is not the ‘sex service’.

            What do you think sex is for?

          • I do think it is better for sexual intimacy to be expressed in permanent (at least in intent), faithful and stable relationships, and between people who are sexually attracted to each other.

            ‘Better’? So you think there is nothing fundamentally wrong with expressing sexual intimacy in, say, a one-night stand — it’s just that it would be ‘better’ to do it in a faithful relationship?

            Do you really think it’s not wrong to have a one-night stand, it’s just… less than ideal?

            I love my friends but I am sexually attracted to very few of them.

            But if you were sexually attracted to them would you think it okay to sleep with them?

            If someone had a husband who was sexually attracted to one of his friends would you think it okay for him to sleep with that friend (possibly with his wife’s consent)?

          • S
            I have answered your question:
            in the delight and tenderness of sexual union
            and joyful commitment to the end of their lives.
            It is given as the foundation of family life
            in which children are [born and] nurtured

            These are the telonai of sex as set out in the CW Marriage Service. Note, procreation is a good, but not the main or compulsory good.

          • S
            Your attempts to smear me by misrepresenting my views are becoming a little tiresome.
            Yes, of course, faithful sexual intimacy is better than promiscuity.
            No, I wouldn’t have affairs with my friends because I believe in marital fidelity.

          • Yes, of course, faithful sexual intimacy is better than promiscuity.

            So you agree that promiscuity is always wrong? That a one-night stand is not just ‘less good’ than a lifelong faithful relationship but is actually always immoral?

            Good to know.

          • Stop digging

            So… you don’t think that a one-night stand is always wrong?

            I mean it’s a simple question. Is a one-night stand always wrong? I can answer it: I think it is. There are no circumstances in which a one-night stand can be moral.

            Do you agree or not? Yes, or no?

          • Goodness, S, why do you imagine that I must answer your questions?
            Let me tell you s story instead.
            It is the 1st World War. A young soldier is on leave from the trenches. He is very afraid of death and of returning to battle. The conditions are appalling, he is constantly fearful, and he has seen things which are beyond description and which give him constant nightmares. He is in desperate need of companionship and comfort. He is also keenly aware of his own mortality and longs to experience sexual intimacy, for one time at least. He finds a girl and spends one night with her. Next day he returns to the trenches.

            Does that answer your question?

          • Goodness, S, why do you imagine that I must answer your questions?

            I don’t imagine for a moment that you must, but I do reserve the right to draw inferences if you refuse to do so.

            Does that answer your question?

            Are you implying you think that what the soldier (or indeed the girl) did was moral?

            Because I don’t think it was. I assume by you telling the story you disagree and you in fact think it was perectly morally okay; is that right?

          • (It’s hard keeping up with these comments!)

            Penelope, I think your example of the young soldier illustrates the problem. I do think the one-night stand is wrong. The core reason is that he is seeking this experience for himself. The correct context for sexual union is the self-giving to the other, for the other’s sake, based on prior commitment. Let’s say this girl gets pregnant by the soldier (not an uncommon occurrence!) The most likely outcomes are that either he is killed in the war, or returns home with the memory, but no other commitment. We can understand his desire, but that does not make it right or good.

            I would also ask you to be more specific about your understanding of what constitutes ‘sexual union’ and its relation to what you understand by ‘sexual intimacy’. There is a very clear case for sexual union in what you describe as PIV intercourse. (I’m not sure if this description is euphemistic or is intended to reduce its significance). There is a very obvious joining of the male and female sexual organs in the core reproductive act.
            What, in your view, makes an physical act of intimacy a sexual act? When I kiss my sister on the lips, is that sexual intimacy? Where does the boundary lie between acts which do produce sexual union and those which do not?

            And BTW, Common Worship is not definitive in doctrine for the Church of England in the way the BCP is. It is likely that some aspects of it have been influenced by modernist and liberal ideas.

          • S
            Your inference is correct. I do not think my the sexual intimacy in my story is an occasion of sin. It may even be an occasion of grace.

          • I do not think my the sexual intimacy in my story is an occasion of sin. It may even be an occasion of grace.

            There we are. That wasn’t so hard, was it?

            I’m curious though — if the soldier survives, and, having discovered he quite likes this sex lark, tries the same line on a girl in the next village with the same success, is that an occasion of grace too? What about the girl in the village after that? Or after that?

            And what about the girl: is it an occasion of grace when she takes pity on another blushing young soldier the next weekend? And the weekend after that? Are those all occasions of grace?

            Or is it only the first time that’s an occasion of grace? I’m just wondering exactly what the boundaries of this grace are.

          • David
            It certainly is! That’s very interesting. The BCP is certainly the bedrock of Anglicanism. But since on the CoE our liturgy expresses our doctrines, then I may suppose that our doctrine is also expressed in the public liturgies of Common Worship, even where it modifies the theology of the BCP. Of course, even in the BCP marriage service, children are only one of the ‘goods’ of marriage.
            My answer to ‘S’ was that, yes, I would deem such a one-night stand to be ‘moral’, even given consequences like the birth of a child – which might be a joy or a burden.
            As to sexual intimacy, well PIV is a kind of polite way of describing ‘normal’ heterosexual intercourse. My argument is that we (the church, society)valorise it is if it were the only (or the only real or licit) form of sexual intimacy. It may, in fact, be the norm, but that does not mean that other intimacies are lesser or ‘disordered’.
            I think that there is a significant difference between kissing your sister and kissing your lover. There are also other intimacies which would not be appropriate with friends, but which couples do share; such as oral sex, intercrural ‘intercourse’ etc.

          • Yes, S, it was hard and is taking up far too much of my time. I think you could work out the ethical implications for yourself. If the young man’s actions become habitual then the sexual intimacies are certainly less ‘moral’. Are they less understandable, given his circumstances? No. A prodigal Father would forgive him.

          • I think you could work out the ethical implications for yourself.

            I clearly can’t, as whatever ethical framework you are using is totally alien to me. That’s why I’m trying to get you to explain it.

            If the young man’s actions become habitual then the sexual intimacies are certainly less ‘moral’.

            Less moral. Hm. Is there a point at which they tip over into ‘immoral’? Or do they stay on the right side of immoral, just becoming… less moral?

            Are they less understandable, given his circumstances? No.

            What difference does ‘understandable’ make? It’s ‘understandable’ why King David had Uriah killed, isn’t it? Does that lessen the sin, it being ‘understandable’?

            A prodigal Father would forgive him.

            A prodigal Father? I’m not sure what that means. Do you mean a Father of a prodigal son? In which case, presumably, the Father would forgive him — if he repents. But then that’s true of all sins, whether they are understandable or not, isn’t it? So why bring up that it is ‘understandable’?

          • The preface introducing the Declaration of Assent states:
            The Church of England is part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church worshipping the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It professes the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds, which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation. Led by the Holy Spirit, it has borne witness to Christian truth in its historic formularies, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons. In the declaration you are about to make will you affirm your loyalty to this inheritance of faith as your inspiration and guidance under God in bringing the grace and truth of Christ to this generation and making him known to those in your care?

            No mention of Common Worship here!

          • It is not at all difficult S
            Read the story of the prodigal father. Yes, it is the father who is prodigal with his love. The way we name it skews it somewhat. Look for the text which says the son repents before the father runs out to greet him……….

            That’s right. You won’t find it.

          • Indeed, David, though it still remains that our doctrine is expressed in our liturgy. And CW is the official liturgical resource of the CoE (alongside BCP)/
            Also interesting that, like the 39 Articles, the BCP is referred to as an historic formulary.

          • Look for the text which says the son repents before the father runs out to greet him……….

            Found it!

            ’18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.”‘

            That’s right. You won’t find it.

            Oh. Did.

            So, anyway. Back to ethics. So, you don’t think that the soldier’s act in your story was sinful. But, you think that ifhe makes a habit of it, then it becomes ‘less moral’. Does that mean you think there’s a point at which it would become sinful? Or does it stay below the level of actually being sinful?

          • S
            “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’ ”
            You really believe that this demonstrates repentance?

          • Whatever ethical framework you are using is totally alien to me. That’s why I’m trying to get you to explain it.

            Hi S. Penelope on previous occasions has defended pederasty (and the notion that Jesus may have been a pederast) and polyamory as well as pre-marital sex. So, yes, her ethical framework is quite alien to the orthodox Christian one. About the only thing it has in common is some continued valorising of permanence and faithfulness (as though this is all that the biblical vision of human sexuality consists in). A taste of where things are headed if the liberals get their way?

          • You really believe that this demonstrates repentance

            According ot the OED repentence is: ‘to acknowledge the sinfulness of one’s past action or conduct by showing sincere remorse and undertaking to reform in the future’

            and the son seems to have acknowledged that, yes.

          • Penelope on previous occasions has defended pederasty (and the notion that Jesus may have been a pederast)

            Seriously? I mean… that seems a bit extreme. I would rather not believe that of someone.

            About the only thing it has in common is some continued valorising of permanence and faithfulness.

            There doesn’t seem to be much valorising of permanence and faithfulness in a paradigm that holds there can be grace in one-night stands, which are the sexual pinnacle of transience and incontinence.

          • Penelope has done no such thing.

            I said pederasty, provided the younger partner was over the age of consent was licit. That is not the same as moral.
            I defended the theological explorations of subjects such as Jesus’ relationship with the beloved disciple, and whether polyamory could ever be said to mediate grace.
            I did not say that I believed Jesus was a pederast or that polyamory is moral.
            I do believe that we should continue to ask questions of our texts and of our traditions. I do believe that tradition is ongoing and changing. To be perfect is to have changed often (Newman). I do believe that the Holy Spirit is loose in the Church and the World.
            This is my last comment on this sub thread/

          • S –

            Well, have look for yourself. See eg https://www.psephizo.com/sexuality-2/the-church-of-england-teaching-document-on-sexuality/comment-page-1/#comment-353949

            (The occasion was the comment thread on a blog post which mentioned a ‘fringe’ presentation in General Synod about the possibility of Jesus being in a pederastic relationship with John.)

            I think Penelope valorises permanence and faithfulness as a loose ideal rather than a distinguishing mark of the moral over against the immoral (as we would).

          • I said pederasty, provided the younger partner was over the age of consent was licit. That is not the same as moral.

            By ‘licit’ do you mean ‘legal’? In which case is that (it’s legal provided the younger partner is over the age of consent’) not just a tautology?

            I did not say that I believed Jesus was a pederast or that polyamory is moral.

            But you do believe that one-night stands can be moral. You have definitely said that.

          • (The occasion was the comment thread on a blog post which mentioned a ‘fringe’ presentation in General Synod about the possibility of Jesus being in a pederastic relationship with John.)

            Oh, this?

            ‘I said that I don’t believe – from the texts – that Jesus was involved in a pederastic relationship with John, but it would not violate his own Law if that Law did not see gay relationships as inherently sinful.’

            That reminds me of Harry Enfield’s liberal Dutch cops: ‘Burglary was a big problem here, but I am very proud of the way we tackled it because, since we legalised burglary, there is no longer a problem.’

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRfluaMKoOY

      • ‘S’. What I think Penelope is saying here in her parable (she will correct me if I am wrong) is that yes – sex-outside marriage is wrong and technically it is sin (fornication). However there may be circumstances that drive people to it that must also must be weighed when judgement is applied. I do not know what Jesus would have said to the soldier in the trench but I suspect it would be in a similar vein to how he dealt with the woman taken in adultery.

        • What I think Penelope is saying here in her parable (she will correct me if I am wrong) is that yes – sex-outside marriage is wrong and technically it is sin (fornication). However there may be circumstances that drive people to it that must also must be weighed when judgement is applied.

          Even if we were to accept that — and I don’t, I don’t think the soldier was ‘driven’ to anything and could, and should, have kept chaste, so what he* did was immoral — would that not be a prime example of a hard case making bad law?

          * ‘he’ because of the World War I setting of the story: these days of course it could be ‘or she’

          • Penelope’s soldier example of a situation when a one-night stand can be a moral good does not hold. Fornication is always wrong – the Bible says so – and for good reason

            The world is full of children who grew up without their biological father because their tender mother gave in to a lusty soldier or sailor before he went overseas or because he had arrived from overseas. His selfish moment brought considerable pain for others thereafter.

          • Hi Simon
            Yes, you are right about the technical meaning of fornication. Which is why I think we should stop (mis)translating porneia as fornication.
            With regard to my story:
            What if the sex was contraception?
            What if the child was welcome and/or a joy?

          • What if the sex was contracept[ed]?

            Then they would be guilty of indulging in sensual pleasure while evading responsibility, wouldn’t they?

            What if the child was welcome and/or a joy?

            Then the child would suffer the pain of growing up without its father, wouldn’t it? How can that be a good thing?

        • Hi Chris
          Thank you. More or less. Except that I don’t think that sex outside marriage is always wrong and always technically fornication.

          • Penelope,
            In speaking of a grace in this encounter, you seem to be saying that sex outside of marriage can be a good, conveying grace. This is very far from saying that is something to which Jesus would say “Then neither do I condemn you. Go, sin no more.”

            Where do your boundaries lie, and what is the basis for this?

          • Jesus was talking about adultery. Which is always wrong (probably, though I can think of exceptions).
            I said I didn’t think sex outside marriage is always wrong.

          • I said I didn’t think sex outside marriage is always wrong.

            Okay; when is it and when isn’t it?

            You can give specific examples of each if you like, but explicitly explaining the principles you use to determine which is which would be better.