Martyn Percy’s non-sense poetry on sexuality

Martyn-Percy-croppedIn anticipation of the Primate’s meeting in January, Martyn Percy, previously Principal of Ripon College, Cuddesdon, now Dean of Christchurch, Oxford, and Vice President of Modern Church, has set out his proposals for what should be discussed and agreed. He sums up his approach as a plea for a poetic resolution, something that transcends the merely managerial, but is ‘greater than the sum of its parts’.

Poetry takes a seemingly simple word, term or expression…and turns this into a quite different language. Poems are tongues of desire; of longing, lament and laughter. Poetry transforms ordinary words into new shapes and ideas that enhance our existences. It creates something new out of seemingly nothing. It finds wisdom and words of resolution where texts and tongues have failed before.

Just like an ecclesiastical Communion, a poem is greater than the sum of its parts. So as the Anglican Primates gather, may God grant them – and the church that I love and long to see so swell and intensify – exactly what it needs right now: the true non-sense of poetry.

That sounds like a laudable goal—and at times Martyn’s piece is impressively poetic. But we all know that some apparent non-sense is the most sublime kind of sense, whereas other poetry is, well, just nonsense. Where does Martyn’s proposal fall in this?

Martyn starts by looking to the example of the Church of Scotland’s recent decision to allow presbyteries free conscience on the question of appointing ministers in same-sex sexual relationships. He sees this as a possible way forward for the Church of England, but it does not go far enough, since it left in place the heterosexist norm that marriage is between one man and one woman, and same-sex unions are treated as deviations from this. Such evaluation conveniently ignores the fact that the decision was widely seen as a victory for liberalism, and passes over the crucial ecclesial issue: that the Church of Scotland is presbyterian and not episcopal. More fundamentally, Martyn either neglects or is ignorant of the key question in this debate. It is not ‘Are same-sex unions equivalent to marriage?’ (a question on which different parties disagree to a fairly intractable extent) but ‘Is the question of same-sex unions and marriage one on which we can exercise conscience, or is it more fundamental than that?’ ‘Traditionals’ would take the second option; liberals the first. And in Scotland, there was no compromise in answering this question in the liberal direction. But, for Martyn, that is not enough. Using the analogy of a restaurant menu (p 3), Martyn makes clear that the only satisfactory position is that his view on same-sex unions must be recognised as the norm, and that traditionalists become odd exceptions to this.

In passing, he also draws parallels with the conscience clause on women bishops (a parallel that doesn’t actually hold), and deviation from canon law on liturgy and robing amongst evangelicals. Again, this proves a poor parallel, suggesting as it does that the wearing of robes is as important an issue as our theology of marriage, and neglecting to mention the deviation that matters doctrinally—the use of the Roman Missal in Anglican churches.

This leads into the more important question of what it means to be a national church. Rather than engage with the (complex and theological) issues of what it means to be a ‘church established by law’ in a post-Christendom context, we are offered a couple of lazy generalisations. To dissent from a position taken by the majority culture in liberal Britain ‘is a route-march towards a tribal church’, which appears to assume an ecclesiology filleted of any sense of cultural distinctive or commitment to Christian discipleship. This in turn raises the thorny question of mission and growth: such a tribal church is like ‘a sad and unwelcoming restaurant’ from which ‘The diners duly leave’. Martyn returns to this scenario a couple of pages later in summing up the problem facing Justin Welby. ‘A theologically conservative church is not an attractive proposition to the emerging generation’; ‘A non-inclusive church is an evangelistic dead-duck.’

It is quite difficult to know how to respond to such ideologically-driven statements which are so far away from the evidence on the ground. Has Martyn never visited HTB churches in London? Or New Wine? Or any of the theologically conservative ‘new’ churches? Or black-led churches? Or one of the other BAME churches in London? Or Hillsongs? Or the FIEC? I can only conclude that here he is singing to the choir—a choir out of touch with wider research on church growth in the context of changing culture, and out of touch with large parts of the UK church on the ground.

Martyn reminds us that ‘the Scottish, Welsh and Irish Anglican churches have all been far more positive and open-minded on the issue of same-sex marriage and civil partnerships. Meanwhile, the Church of England – alone in Britain – has continued to travel in the opposite direction.’ If anyone can point me to examples of thriving church growth in the Church in Wales, I would be very interested to hear of it.

Instead, Martyn offers an insipid vision of a church conformed to culture. ‘A national church must cater for the whole palate of the population. That is what a broad church does.’ The palate of the nation is hardly salivating over the idea of repentance, the kingdom of God, Jesus as the embodiment of the very presence of the Holy One of Israel, the cross as God’s atoning work of reconciling sinful humanity, and the horizon of eschatology as the hope for humanity—so what does ‘being a broad church’ mean in this context? Given that the Church’s differences with society on sexual ethics are tied in to each of these, how can this question be dismissed so casually?

Martyn continues to identify key questions—and then dismiss them with simplistic answers. ‘At the heart of this is a debate over what is ‘natural’ and ‘normal’, and therefore part of God’s created order.’ Yes indeed—but the presence of ‘gay giraffes’ then obviates the need for any consideration of research or reflection about whether what is in the world is what should be. However the world is tells us how God intended the world to be. You would never guess that there have been hundreds of years of Christian debate about natural theology, nor that there is a biblical theology of fallenness of the world to be taken into account.

Such simplification does not bode well for engagement of wider questions in the Anglican communion. Since when did anyone claim that ‘The Church of England counts 25 million members’? And what is Martyn’s evidence that membership figures in other countries are just as unreliable? To take a non-existent assumption and project it onto other cultures is a doubly unjustified presumption—especially for someone who doesn’t appear to have worked in the African church at any point. This could explain the dismissal of African attitudes as a legacy of Victorian imperialism, instead of a Christian resistance to indigenous religious culture. In Uganda, sodomy was part of the king’s exercise of power over his subjects, and refusal to submit to this was a key cause of the execution of the Ugandan martyrs. Without an exploration of this, pronouncements about what African churches ought to be doing look rather like a new cultural imperialism.

Underlying such simplifications is an unquestioning confidence in the triumph of theological liberalism. ‘The world only spins in one direction. It doesn’t stand still. And it doesn’t spin backwards.’ In other words, my view will in the end prevail, so you had better all get on board—and don’t waste any time examining the arguments too closely. It reminds me of the purported words of Don Cupitt, founder of the Sea of Faith movement, who would sit on his desk at the start of a lecture course, ask who the evangelical Christians were, and then tell them: ‘One day, you will all be like me.’ I wonder if he now recognises any turn of the tide?

If all of that is rather unhelpful, there is one part of Martyn’s argument which is distinctly unpleasant, and that is his personal attack on Justin Welby as a man unfit to lead the Communion—indeed, probably unfit even to be ordained, since he is not sufficiently like Martyn himself.

The Archbishop, can do little to re-narrate his background – as a privileged white male; Etonian, upper-class; and related to titled people, who has little experience of powerlessness. Indeed, in terms of powerlessness, it is hard to see how he can enter into it, let alone comprehend it. His negotiations as a businessman in sensitive areas of Nigeria, whilst winning plaudits in the media, are not the same as the work of reconciliation, and arguably not the right ‘fit’ for the church, where first-hand experiences of powerlessness are often important for shaping episcopal ministry. Indeed, any ordained ministry.

You would never guess that this was written by a privileged, white male, educated at public school, a single curacy in parish ministry, a Cambridge college chaplain, and now head of an elite Oxford college. The hypocrisy of it is only outweighed by its acerbity. Neither would you guess that the main response nationally to Justin Welby’s leadership has been the warm reception of his humanity and honesty. His recent sermon at the Child Bereavement Carol service was a model of vulnerable pastoral engagement—but I don’t suppose Martyn Percy read it, since it took place at that ‘backward church’ with ‘no future amongst the emerging generation’, HTB. I would love to read something half as engaging by Martyn himself.

And you would never guess that this was written by someone who grew Ripon College, Cuddesdon very effectively, not least by making some ruthless management decisions—or who vigorously opposed any move towards a shared syllabus for theological education, the one thing that ordination training actually needs. Commitment to unity, anyone?

Once again, the level of discussion about sexuality has taken a big step down. If, as Martyn claims, ‘all the noise comes from the shallow end’, then this is a very noisy piece indeed. My hope would be that, whatever direction the future conversations take, they will move away from simplistic dismissal, personal attack, and manipulative power plays. I supposed that’s not a bad thing to wish for in the coming year.

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43 thoughts on “Martyn Percy’s non-sense poetry on sexuality”

  1. Hi Ian, I must admit that I had never heard of Martyn Percy until I just read your post and I can’t say that I am impressed with this ‘encounter’ with him. I read his comments about Justin with disbelief – I cannot imagine why Percy thinks that Justin Welby has ‘little experience of powerlessness’. Presumably Percy does not know about the tragic death of the Welby’s first child. Thank you for highlighting in your post Welby’s sermon at the Child Bereavement Carol Service. I have just re-read John Bingham’s article (Telegraph 14th December 2014) in which Justin Welby was quoted as saying that the tragic loss of his first child is ‘a constant reminder of the uncertainty of life’ and that he never attempts to answer a question about why a good God would allow suffering to happen, apart from pointing out that Jesus Christ ‘died on the cross as a young man, unjustly, unfairly.’

    I would say that Justin Welby actually has painful experience of powerlessness and suffering, and that Percy’s comments about Welby are nonsense – and I don’t mean ‘non-sense’ of the ‘poetic’ variety!
    Thank you for this post.

    • Whilst the tragic death of the Welby’s first child means that he has deep personal knowledge of suffering and loss, I wonder whether this is really ‘powerlessness’ in the sense that Martyn Percy envisages it. The challenge faced by white, middle-class, heterosexual men is that they are unlikely to have experienced powerlessness in the face of discrimination and injustice. It may therefore be difficult for them to really *empathise* with those for whom such powerfuless is a daily experience, such as LGBT Christians who experience discrimination in the Church, and who find that their testimonies and insights are ignored by conservative voices, unwilling to give their experiences any attention or weight in theological discourse. Of course the powerlessness is particularly acute for LGBT people in the Church in Africa. This is the sort of experience that I believe Martyn envisages when he talks in terms of ‘powerlessness’. It is simply inevitable that an Eton-educated, heterosexual, white male is unlikely to have experienced it.

      • Thank you for your comment, Andrew. Martyn Percy suggested that the Archbishop’s background is “arguably not the right ‘fit’ for the church”. As I understand it, the Archbishop certainly does not want LGBT people to be subjected to discrimination and injustice in the church, or anywhere else. However, I don’t think it is reasonable to expect him – or any other church leaders – to extend this compassion and sense of justice to actually changing Christian doctrine on marriage. It sounds as if Martyn Percy thinks that the Archbishop, because of his background, is not qualified to participate in the debate, and that you agree with Martyn Percy about this. If this is not what you think, I would be very pleased to hear it!

    • There’s a lot in the essay and I think that a lot of it will be ignored because of these personal remarks. I remember similar remarks were made about the previous two Abcs. Unfortunately politeness and respect are seemingly unimportant in the cofe.

  2. Ian

    I agree with you that there is no compromise between having a strict teaching and allowing something to be a matter of conscience. I think this compromise idea is confused because people who want equality for LGBT people see “matter of conscience” *as* the compromise position!

    I agree the Church of Scotland is not really a good parallel to the Church of England because it has a different power structure and local congregations are not bound by decisions made in lofty towers. One thing that hasn’t been mentioned is that the CoS has close ties with the URC and in some places has a joint congregation. It would be unworkable to have a joint congregation between one church which allowed affirming of gay relationships and another that required all its members to oppose it.

    I think Percy is right to point at one lesson from the CoS – that it is not right to exclude a group of people from church merely to keep the peace. I disagree that culture or history is any excuse for treating anyone badly. The Church of England was created to depose a Spanish Queen, but that part of our history is no excuse for racism against Spaniards.

    I think Percy is saying that which “side” is the default really matters, but I think this would be best chosen numerically more than anything else. A default that covers a minority of congregations seems silly.

    I know that you are unhappy with the communion having a mixed economy in terms of treatment of LGBT, but it seems to me this is already the case. Some of the members are allowing their bishops to support gay relationships and others are throwing gay people in jail. The secretary of the communion recently threatened anyone who supported gay relationships with expulsion (Welby said much the same but in softer language) if they supported gay relationships, but if support of gay relationships is not compatible with the communion then why is support of criminalisation compatible with the communion. My thoughts are that the churches aren’t going to be at one on this even if the members in the US, Canada and Scotland are expelled. The only way the communion can hold together is if it agrees that sexuality is not a binding topic.

    I agree that supporting or rejecting gay people does not massively impact individual churches congregation size, but I think your examples of churches that are growing and oppose homosexuality are not as clear cut as you suggest.

    Most New Wine/HTB churches may take the CofE’s official line on this, but they do not actually teach on sexuality and I know of at least two large churches of this style who are actively rethinking their stance on sexuality to be more welcoming to LGBT. ( NB I don’t mean they are actually considering supporting marriage for gay people, but maybe being fully inclusive of married gay people and not being too sniffy about it?). HTB itself have been evolving on the issue for some time now and are currently at the “don’t mention he war” phase that much of the CofE is in.

    Hillsong do not allow gay people in leadership, but actively welcome gay people into their congregations so they are more inclusive than many churches and have been widely criticised for doing so.

    I also know a gay guy who is fully included (and occasionally asked to “do things”!) in a FIEC church.

    So although these types of churches might be considered “conservative”, they aren’t as anti gay as might be thought. I have no knowledge of black majority churches, I would expect these to be more conservative on this issue.

    I also think that the decline of the church is *the* major issue facing the church and shouldn’t be taken lightly or blamed (at least blamed without evidence) on support, inclusion or not-support of gay people.

    I think the church (not the communion) should concentrate on how it wants to treat gay celibates, gay singles and gay married people rather than whether it wants to support or oppose gay relationships, because people from all three groups want to be part of the church and the church has no power to make them straight, make them agree to celibacy or stop them from marrying (unless they are priests or wanting to marry priests).

    I think the Church of England or the communion will not move on on this issue until the whole church recognises that it has a problem and until clergy can actually sit down in a room and discuss these issues without hurling insults at each other.

      • In the course of your blog post, Ian, you have implied that Martyn Percy is ‘ignorant’, ‘lazy’, ‘simplistic’, ‘dismissive’, ‘unpleasant’, ‘privileged’, ‘hypocritical’ and ‘ruthless’…. Perhaps your own comments are at risk of sounding insulting and unpleasant?

        • Actually, Andrew, I think I have been pretty careful *not* to call Martyn any of these things.

          What I have done, with evidence, is to point out the problems with his argument. For example, I point out that his comment on C o S ignores the question at stake, and that his point about gay giraffes is ‘simplistic.’

          I’d be happy to see any evidence that these are not accurate evaluations of the arguments offered.

          I did use the word ‘ruthless’ about management decisions, because I happened to know about one specific one which was ruthless. I think such decisions sometimes need to be made—but the point is that something has gone badly wrong when you (I think wrongly, and without evidence) accuse someone of doing something that you yourself have done.

          I don’t think it is ‘unpleasant’ to label as ‘unpleasant’ an unfounded personal attack on a Christian leader.

  3. Arguably, Welby’s personal response to the two great traumas of his life (the death of his daughter and the absence of his father) has been not to become embittered and hardened but to still maintain a level of humility and gratitude for whatever blessings do occur. Frankly, he demonstrates not an absence of experience of powerlessness but a healthy response to it.

    It seems that Percy’s revisionism applies to more than just changing the plain meaning of Scripture and extends to even rewriting the Archbishop’s life to suit Percy’s theological priorities.

    • I think the trouble is more that the primates are meeting largely to discuss how to treat gay people and yet all of them are straight old men.(I put “old” because it means they are less likely even to know anyone who is gay) Only one of them (the TEC guy) seems to have any experience of living as a minority.

      It is easier to exclude those who are distant. It is easier to exclude when you don’t know what it feels like to be excluded.

  4. Congratulations on making the Top 100 UK Christians List on the Archbishop Cranmer blog, specifically for rebutting articles such as this one by Martyn Percy and for contending for the faith received. I find this article to be depressing as it comes from someone who appears to have left scholarship and faith at the foot of the altar of inclusive political correctness. How many more senior clerics will follow suit? May God raise up His servants and save the Church of England from schism and apostasy.

  5. Thank you Ian for this post. Any essay as wide-ranging and ambitious as Martyn Percy’s is bound to contain some generalisations or undeveloped arguments, and you’ve helpfully highlighted some of these.

    You characterise Martyn’s comments on Justin Welby as ‘unpleasant’, ‘acerbic’ and a ‘personal attack’, but a plain reading of his comments makes it difficult to support your description. His main point is simply that the Archbishop is hindered (like most straight, white, middle-class British men) by his lack of any experience of powerlessness, and that his business and managerial skills are ill-suited to ‘ecclesial contexts’. Whilst you may disagree with these brief points, it is difficult to view them as aggressive or nasty. Indeed, those who know Martyn personally can testify to his kind and mild-mannered persona. Why are you so keen to portray him as nasty? I wonder whether you have ever met Martyn, or whether you have read much of his published work on ecclesiology?

    I note in passing that once heard you make public remarks about Professor Linda Woodhead which I thought were deeply unpleasant in tone – so perhaps we all need to be mindful of the manner in which we voice our criticisms of those whom we disagree with?

    • But Martyn suggests these things make Justin unfit for ordained ministry, and does so in a way which assumes he is exempt from this.

      And he appears to not have taken into account any of the things about Justin which are in the public domain. I think many people have read this as a particularly unpleasant personal attack.

  6. Hi Ian
    Your critique is spot on and important to make (e.g. because over at Thinking Anglicans the responses to Percy’s rhetoric are a chorus singing Hallelujah!).

    On his attack on the ABC your point might be strengthened by reminding readers that Percy has previous form on this charge, e.g. his campaign against management training for bishops.

    As a matter of fact (noting a question above) I have met Martyn Percy and talked with him. A very interesting conversationalist and not one to hold back on his opinions, including opinions of people!

    • Peter, I wonder how ‘his campaign against management training for bishops’ constitutes a ‘personal attack’? Is Martyn Percy not permitted to voice his opinions about Reform and Renewal? What you describe as a “campaign” has merely been voicing legitimate concerns. Disagreement with someone is not a ‘personal attack’. For an example of an unjust personal attack, you might pause to consider the campaign against Jeffry John by conservatives in the Church.

      • HI Andrew
        Fair point, “attack” is a strong word, and one can criticise a policy without criticism the policymaker. But there is strong Percy criticism of ++Welby and what his leadership is about, both of CofE and of the AngComm. Another instance is Percy writing in the Journal of Anglican Studies on “Emergent Archiepiscopal Leadership in the Anglican Communion”, published online 18 March 2015 (see .

        The abstract for this article reads, “Each Archbishop of Canterbury has a distinctive style of leadership. To some extent, this will always be shaped and framed by prevalent contemporary cultures of leadership that are to be found within wider society. The paper examines and questions some aspects in the development of the current Archbishop of Canterbury’s role. It argues that the combination of a certain kind of charismatic leadership, coupled to enhanced managerial organization, may be preventing the prospect of theological acuity and spiritual wisdom playing a more significant role in the continual formation of ecclesial polity in the Church of England, and across the wider Anglican Communion.”.

        I suggest such writing, along with the Modern Church article, even when the critique of Reform and Renewal is set aside, constitutes something of a campaign against the current ABC.

    • Peter, thanks for the comment…though I think I am with Andrew on the criticism of managerialism–though with a couple of qualifications.

      First, it is worth distinguishing managerialism from actually managing things, and Martyn doesn’t appear to be averse to making management decisions.

      Second, criticising a policy is very different from writing off someone’s ministry. I am happy to do the former; why on earth does Martyn feel the need to do the latter? And who would be qualified to make such a judgement…about anyone?

      One thing that might disqualify someone from ministry is precisely the carelessness is evaluating, and dismissing, others too easily and too freely.

  7. Thank you Ian for your extremly interesting + well thought out response to Martyn’s paper. As we know both you and Martyn from our past ….. you expertly expressed the ‘disquiet’ we felt about Maryn’s paper…

  8. I was not overly impressed by the Martyn Percy piece too. It needed some work and less invective.

    But as to invasive, cruel, personal attacks …… Most gay people who would read the comments on your blog would be horrified by the vitriol they would find written about them and their families.
    Justifications of prejudice and discrimination against lesbian and gay people seems to have become a way of life for Ian Paul and something he must imagine would attract financial support from like minded people … Hence the invitations to support this work on this blog.

    My guess is that his children and grandchildren will be saddled with this image of father and grandfather long after Ian rests in the arms of our Saviour …. an image that will bring shame, not for the heartfelt way he says and writes, but for the deep damage these things do to the lives of so man a heartfelt view he enthusiastically marketed..
    Ministry that does so much harm has been exercised with pride and honour in bygone times, their teaching and the persecution they justified for a variety of theological perspectives has come to be a barrier to faith for people today and a sorrow for those of us who rejoice in our faith. It’s hard to see in the eyes of those who honour such ministry a sense of the deep harm they do to both faith faith and faithful. Those who continue to persecute gay people in the name of Christ continue this harm.

    • Martin, It would appear that you can give lessons in vitriol and invective. But then again coercion and bullying is the name of the game for the revisionists. The Christian faith cannot be bent to your will – those who turn to Christ conform to His will.

    • Martin, first, thanks for agreeing with me about Martyn’s piece, even though I know you would want to agree with him. There are better arguments for changing the church’s teaching than this, and as you note the personal attack on Justin detracts from, rather than enhances, his case.

      I don’t believe that there is prejudice, discrimination or anything like personal attacks in the comments on this blog; I have been impressed by some of the remarkable cogency and insight of many of the comments.

      This has certainly not become a way of life for me. Posts on sexuality account for around 9% of my writing here, which is interesting considering the way the subject dominates the media. You will find a good deal more here on the book of Revelation, issues in the gospels, preaching and biblical interpretation which doesn’t once mention sexuality. Oh, and I ought to add that the blog generates very little regular income, certainly a good deal less than a fraction of a stipend.

      My teenage children do from time to time read this blog, and they don’t appear to feel any shame in it—because they can see that your accusations are baseless. I have just come from a pleasant discussion with some people in their 20s, living in London, working as professionals, and attending churches which Martyn would label as ‘conservative’ and ‘non-inclusive’—and which are absolutely packed with young people like themselves. Such theology, contrary to both yours and Martyn’s comments, appear to be no barrier to vigorous and appealing faith.

      But thank you for taking the time to comment and make your feelings known.

  9. “I don’t believe that there is prejudice, discrimination or anything like personal attacks in the comments on this blog …”

    Ian, generally I agree, the comments here are driven by a sincere and conscientious desire to obey scripture. Disagree as I do, I respect the integrity of the people who post, and find it valuable to discuss with those who disagree. You can find me over at Thinking Anglicans defending evangelicals from blanket accusations of homophobia.

    There have, however, been a few striking exceptions, such as when, a few months back, a commenter linked an article that accused the entire LGBT community of conspiring to molest children. You linked it, and despite multiple invitations to do so, refused to condemn it. That’s of course your right, and I’m sure you had your reasons, but you must see why it reaises questions.

      • Oh, it may not be personal or come from bad intentions and driven by a sincere and conscientious desire to obey Scripture, but you’re extracting moral arguments from the Bible that are strikingly similar to those who once justified slave-holding or male-only suffrage, and then declare yourself bound by them… give it time, and hopefully these will be as popular as spittoons are nowadays.

        • Lorenzo,

          Oh, well. At least, your post settles a bet I had on whether a week of the New Year would pass before revisionists would re-commence comparing race to sexual behaviour.

          Perhaps, such false analogies will also be consigned to the dustbin of history…like spittoons!

          • I am not comparing race to ‘sexual behaviour’ (I make it a part of identity, not some peripheral SSA), I am equating the biblical arguments levelled against emancipation or women’s suffrage to those now used against gay people. Glad you allowed me to clear this. Should you want me to show why it’s not a false analogy, I’ll gladly oblige, but something tells me you’re already on your apologetic high horse. Furthermore, I’m not saying this because I dislike Ian or those who argue like him, I’d much rather they stopped using disgraceful arguments which, as Martin pointed out, will likely be consigned to the dustbin of history, having done immense damage to the church in the meantime. Happy new year.

          • Lorenzo,

            It’s a pity that, despite your belief that about sexual orientation identity being more fundamental than peripheral same-sex attraction, studies by Lisa Diamond and others have shown the former to exhibit fluidity and not the kind of stability that identity would connote. Strange for something so fundamental to exhibit transience, eh?

            Also, in contradicting my own assertion that you were comparing race to sexual behaviour, you’ve stated: ‘I am equating biblical arguments levelled against emancipation or women’s suffrage to those now used against gay people’.

            Okay, let’s look at that. In fact, the biblical arguments levelled against emancipation were predicated upon race. For instance, pro-slavery pamphleteers, like Frederick Dalcho, the South Carolina Episcopal clergyman, argued that:

            1. Noah’s curse of Ham for uncovering him while drunk was actually a divine prophecy condemning all his descendants to perpetual slavery because it mentioned not only Ham, but also his posterity. As he put it: ‘the prophecy of Noah was to be fulfilled, not in the individuals named, but nationally in their descendants. Canaan’s whole race was under the malediction.’

            2. Dalcho also sought to prove the migration of Canaanites to Africa was proof that the latter were the racial descendants of the Canaan, and therefore to be identified as those cursed by Noah to be the ‘servants of servants’, as Dalcho explained, “the lowest state of servitude, slaves,” to the descendants of Shem and Japeth, the present day Jews and Christians.

            3. Despite Christ’s understanding that the conditional regulations in Moses’ Law (”if a man marries a woman and she becomes displeasing to him,…’) should not be interpreted as an unequivocal divine endorsement, but as a provisional forbearance, the conditional regulations in Lev. 25:44 – 46 and Exodus etc. (‘If you buy a Hebrew servant’; ‘If one of your fellow Israelites becomes poor’) are not provisional forbearance of slavery, but an unequivocal divine endorsement of the practice.

            As ‘An Inquisitive Slaveholder’ wrote of those verses in a Virginia newspaper: ‘By this decisive, explicit, irrefragable authority of the written work of God, it is evident that servants… are commanded under the Mosaic law to be bought; and that when so bought of alien sojourners, that they and their issue become inheritable property.

            So, if you want to equate the foregoing with biblical arguments that Ian, myself and others here present against the church affirmation of same-sex marriage, you will have to prove:

            1. That. in common with the right to vote (Article 3) and right to freedom from slavery (Article 4), there is incontrovertible right to marry gender-neutrally).

            While you might cite Article 12, the European Court of Human Rights (ever at the vanguard of LGBT rights) disagreed with this in Schalk and Kopf vs. Austria, stating that:
            Neither the principle of equality set forth in the Austrian Federal Constitution nor the European Convention on Human Rights (as evidenced by “men and women” in Article 12) require that the concept of marriage as being geared to the fundamental possibility of parenthood should be extended to relationships of a different kind. (…) The fact that same-sex relationships fall within the concept of private life and as such enjoy the protection of Article 8 of the ECHR – which also prohibits discrimination on non-objective grounds (Article 14 of the ECHR) – does not give rise to an obligation to change the law of marriage. It is unnecessary in the instant case to examine whether, and in which areas, the law unjustifiably discriminates against same-sex relationships by providing for special rules for married couples. Nor is it the task of this court to advise the legislature on constitutional issues or even matters of legal policy. Instead, the complaint must be dismissed as ill-founded.”

            The ECtHR description of marriage as ‘geared to the fundamental possibility of parenthood’ echoes the first purpose (cause) of marriage in the BCP.

            Considering your argument from identity, it is ironic that it’s the child’s natural identity which is destroyed by gender-neutralising marriage law in order to conclusively presume the joint parenthood of same-sex couples and guarantee their family intentions, as in the US, Netherlands, Canada and Australia. This has always been the locus of my arguments against same-sex marriage.

            2. That the biblical arguments against same-sex sexual behaviour are predicated upon an approach to non-behavioural traits, like a person’s race or sex, which is similar to the approach of pro-slavery advocates,

            3. That the prohibitions against same-sex sexual behaviour were not explicit in condemnation, but only conditional OT pronouncements, like those pertaining to slavery and divorce.

            4. That same-sex sexual behaviour, once in a committed mutually satisfying relationship, transcends any revelation of apostolic authority that condemns it in the NT.

            I look forward to hearing your arguments on this forum, free from the partisan moderation to be found on liberal blogs, like Thinking Anglicans.

            And, of course, Happy New Year to you too!

  10. This being said, David, should you care to have a whiff of what I’m trying to say (and I do not know if Ian will allow links to this), J. Daniel Kirk, formerly professor of New Testament studies at Fuller (and demoted for going ‘revisionist’) has a good new article on the matter on his site, storied theology, and good links academic stuff on the similarity of arguments used. I’d add that the same mechanics can also be observed at work regarding Roman Catholic arguments against modernism and modern democracies, and the status of Jews.

  11. That was long post, David, I’ll gladly answer it piece by piece, but do not have the time right now, nor do I think I should colonise Ian’s site to do so. Any suggestions?

    • Hi Lorenzo,

      It’s Ian’s call, but I, for one, would like to understand exactly why marriage’s automatic parental priority that is legally accorded to the birth mother’s husband (as a prima facie biological probability) should be granted through marriage to same-sex spouses.

      I ask aloud: ‘If same-sex marriage is just about affirming the couple, why does the US, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands and the International Lesbian and Gay Association argue for this heterosexual marriage presumption of paternity to be applied to same-sex couples?’

      Is it not, as they all indicate, to legitimise and insulate the so-called de facto family intentions of same-sex couples against potential future claims asserted by any natural parent whom they have co-opted in order to have a child?

      • Just to be clear, here’s how Erika Baker (a prominent gay rights campaigner in Bath & Wells diocese and regular Thinking Anglicans commentator), put it in her Committee Stage Memorandum, MB 19, for the Same-Sex Marriage Bill :
        In order to help our children and grandchildren, and those of the other 8000+ same sex parents in this country, I would urge you to ensure that the legal situation of our children is exactly like that for any other child.

        That includes in particular that if they are born into a same sex household by whatever means or adopted by one, both their parents are considered in law as their true parents with equal parenting rights. Should those parents split up or should one of them die, there must be absolutely no question that the remaining parent has full parental rights exactly on the same footing that would apply to children in a conventional marriage.

        Civil Partnerships, which are in law almost equal to marriage, have confirmed again that “equal but different” never works but that it always means “different”.

        I urge you to ensure that the concept of full equality also applies to our children and that their legal standing will not be “equal but different”.

        So, I’d be happy if Ian could devote just one blog post for debating this.

        • That’s an entirely different point. By the way David, you may not think that SSA as you put it defines oneself in any meaningful way, but scientifically, neither is there such a thing as race. We’re all one race.

  12. David: “At least, your post settles a bet I had on whether a week of the New Year would pass before revisionists would re-commence comparing race to sexual behaviour.”

    And I have to say I wondered how long it would be before an exclusionist would start with the stupid word revisionist again.

    David, the whole of the Church of England is based on ‘revision’. It might be called Reformation but it was a revision of what went before. We’ve revised quite a lot of things since the 16th century as well. You are basically using the term as one of abuse in this context and I’d like to invite you to begin the New Year in a better frame of mind than that if you can? Or if you can’t be that charitable, at least acknowledge that revision is frequently an extremely good thing.

    • Andrew,

      Come on, ‘revisionist’ is no more a term of abuse than describing me as a ‘traditionalist’.

      Personally, I think that these terms are charitable, giving credit to both sides.

      Revisionists is not a pejorative for those who see themselves as pushing for change, which is not a complete innovation, but is, as you say, a ‘revision of what went before’. Surely, you don’t expect me to euphemise your position by calling it progressive.

      I might also take issue with those who have labelled me as a traditionalist, since my own thesis about marriage is probably at odds with and more nuanced than the propaganda distributed in the name of the traditionalist cause by groups, like Anglican Mainstream. In reality, I accept that the labels are short-hand for the opposing views on these issues.

      I’m also quite sure that your position is just as nuanced and isn’t cut-and-pasted from the Changing Attitudes web-site.

      So, while I will resist the slavery comparisons, I’m happy to push past being piqued at fairly neutral labels, like traditonalist, in order to focus on debating the actual arguments which are put forward by each side,


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