Responding to Keller

matthew-vinesFollowing Tim Keller’s broad-brush review of Matthew Vines and Ken Wilson, it is probably no surprise that both have responded to his comments, Vines here and Wilson here. I hadn’t planned on continuing this discussion—except that I think the responses illustrate some important things about the nature of the debate that is going on. At first sight, both responses look laudable, in that they both offer a gracious tone (in response to Keller’s), and offer detailed engagement. But in fact I think there is a different dynamic at work, and one which had led us to something of a deadlocked position.

The first thing to note is the (understandable) way that the debate generates words. Keller’s piece was 2,800 words; Vines’ and Wilson’s responses are 3,200 and 2,600 respectively. And I’ve added another 1,400—that’s nearly a Grove booklet on one conversation! Apart from exhausting anyone who is not absolutely committed to the discussion, it raises an important question: is it not possible to express the issues in a more concise way? This isn’t an invitation to ‘dumb down’ the debate, but all these words can mean the real issues are obscured. We are losing sight of the wood for the sake of look at each of the trees.

Vines gives most space to the issue of historical context, and what it was that Paul was prohibiting in Romans 1 and 1 Cor 6.9. Vines corrects Keller on the shape of his argument, which is more nuanced than Keller has given him credit for. His position is that Paul is arguing against ‘excess’ rather than exploitation, based on his reading of Romans 1 and his belief that this was the dominant view in antiquity.

I argue instead that “same-sex relations in the first century…were widely understood to be the product of excessive sexual desire in general” (103-04), and I adduce dozens of texts throughout my book to support this assertion.

But in fact the shape of his argument remains the same: because Paul was not criticising the phenomenon we know, then his critique has no purchase on our situation. This is highlighted in Vines’ citing of Kirk Ormand:

“None of the so-called orientations described previously are exactly like ours, and more important, none of them would be considered normal by Plato’s Athenian audience…”

This argument rests on three assumptions, and all three must hold for Vines’ case to stand. The first is that we can say, with certainty, that there was no equivalent to stable, life-long same-sex relations in the ancient world; as Ormand goes on (in relation to Plato):

“The category of homosexual male, in which two men of the same age would be attracted to each other, and either at any given time could be thought of as lover or beloved, simply seems not to be thinkable.”

This sits oddly with the claim that same-sex attraction of the kind we are aware of is a human universal across history and culture, if only we know where to look.

tim-kellerThe second assumption, which is more implicit than explicit, is that if Paul (along with Jesus) had known of such relations, then he would have withdrawn his condemnation of same-sex sexual relations. Apart from being historically implausible, this appears to ignore the nature of the texts we are looking at. There can be little doubt that there was a variety of views of same-sex relations in the ancient world, being seen by some as repugnant, but by others as acceptable. What is striking about the NT texts is that they are negative without any qualification. This feature is consistently noticed by all commentators of every persuasion. Vines argues (unpersuasively) that ‘excess’ is Paul’s theme in Romans 1; but is not present in 1 Cor 6.9, and forms no part of the texts in Genesis or Leviticus that Paul is alluding to. (I had a brief exchange with Vines on Twitter about this, but he did not respond to this question—and I don’t know how to interpret this.)

The third, even more deeply hidden, assumption, is that modern notions of sexual orientation change everything. This is evident in the first Ormand quotation: ‘None of the so-called orientations described previously are [sic] exactly like ours…’ but it is a recurring theme. Andre du Toit comments that

any ancient awareness of what moderns call same-sex orientation was “so rudimentary that a sympathetic insight into its seriousness and complicated nature would not have been part of the conceptual framework even of the well-informed” (324, n. 129).

Bernadette Brooten’s analysis is dismissed because

Mark D. Smith concludes that “none” of Brooten’s sources “adequately parallels the modern concept of sexual orientation” (quoted by Loader, p. 324, n. 129).

This focus goes beyond a simple observation that the social dynamics and understanding of same-sex relations has changed over the centuries. Vines appears to be claiming that our fundamental understanding of what it means to be human has changed with our understanding of sexuality.

I do argue that what we today call sexual orientation is core to who we are as human beings made in God’s image, but sexual orientation is a far broader category than “sexual desires,” a distinction that Keller elides.

This highlights what is at stake here; do we (in effect) need to re-write the Genesis narratives, so that it is not just male and female which are fundamental categories, but also ‘straight’ and ‘gay’? That is (I think) why Vines’ organisation is called ‘The Reformation Project.’ This view of sexual orientation is as fundamental to the renewal of the church, and the discovery of the kingdom of God, as was the rediscovery of the grace of God in the atoning death of Jesus. (I think this is also the issue at stake in culture; our contemporary understanding of sexuality does mean re-writing everything we have inherited in culture.) To this extent, Vines is pursuing a ‘reader response‘ approach to Scripture, and operating a kind of liberation theology for gay Christians, parallel to philosophical feminism. Where, in (radical) feminism, the experience of women is taken as prior, and everything must be interpreted in the light of that, for Vines the experience of gay Christians (and probably non-Christians?) is prior, and the Bible must be read in light of the extent to which it faithful describes (or fails to describe) their experience.

On the other points, Vines is clear that Keller has misrepresented him.

In the next section, Keller misrepresents my argument about the Leviticus prohibitions. He writes, “Vines argues that while the Levitical code forbids homosexuality (Leviticus 18:22) it also forbids eating shellfish (Leviticus 11:9-12).”

I went back and re-read Vines chapter on Leviticus, and in fact this is an important part of his argument:

Deuteronomy 14.3–21 contains an extensive list of abominations, including the eating of pork, rabbit, shellfish and animals that are already dead. So while abomination is a negative word, it does;t necessarily correspond to Christian views of sin.

I am sure that there are better, detailed critiques of Vines than Keller has offered. But I think Keller still does something valuable in looking at the bigger picture. And it is this bigger picture which is so easily lost in the detailed exchanges.

I ought also to add that this particular part of the debate does not address the pressing pastoral issues which are at stake here. Again, Vines criticises Keller for not attending to this sufficiently. Ken Wilson’s view is worth comparing here. Where Vines passes over Keller’s opening point about bigotry, Wilson picks up on it, and agrees, yes, in the past he was a bigot.

My own acceptance of the exclusionary polices aimed at gay people, policies which I implemented as a pastor for decades, was fueled in part by this bigotry. And I don’t think I’m alone in this or unusual…As someone of Keller’s age, I was raised in a culture of rank and largely unquestioned bigotry. I think this affected me insidiously… Keller’s acknowledgement of bigotry is something we should all sit with for a while. How does one separate such pervasive bigotry from the interpretations of Scripture that are forged within this context?

This comes quite close to Steve Chalke’s view (expressed to me in conversation) that any traditional understanding of marriage must be ‘hateful to gay people.’ It seems to me that the detailed, relatively fruitless to-and-fro on the texts does not help with addressing this issue. The texts are relatively clear. The next question is, are they plausible, and what does obedience to them look like in responsible pastoral practice?

Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, would you consider donating £1.20 a month to support the production of this blog?

Signup to get email updates of new posts
We promise not to spam you. Unsubscribe at any time.
Invalid email address

If you enjoyed this, do share it on social media (Facebook or Twitter) using the buttons on the left. Follow me on Twitter @psephizo. Like my page on Facebook.

Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, you can make a single or repeat donation through PayPal:

For other ways to support this ministry, visit my Support page.

Comments policy: Do engage with the subject. Please don't turn this into a private discussion board. Do challenge others in the debate; please don't attack them personally. I no longer allow anonymous comments; if there are very good reasons, you may publish under a pseudonym; otherwise please include your full name, both first and surnames.

53 thoughts on “Responding to Keller”

  1. I hereby take up Ian’s concision challenge.

    Paul was wrong.


    Seriously, Vines hamstrings himself by implicitly accepting biblical authority: by arguing that Paul wasn’t referring to homosexuality as we understand it, he implies that, if Paul were, we’d be bound by his opinion. Anyone making that argument perpetuates the very thinking that created this mess.

    If instead Vines argued that Paul, even if inspired by the Holy Spirit, was wrong on this matter, he’d be in a much stronger position, especially if he cited examples of how mainstream evangelicalism has marched in lockstep with culture (it’s no coincidence that, just as attitudes to divorce, slavery and female inequality changed, a radical new interpretation of scripture, unknown for the best part of 2,000 years, was suddenly unearthed).

    Like many supposed “liberals,” in his methods, Vines isn’t liberal at all. He’s just a traditionalist who’s ahead of the curve.

    • James, I do think you have hit the nail on the head: ‘by arguing that Paul wasn’t referring to homosexuality as we understand it, he implies that, if Paul were, we’d be bound by his opinion.’ Indeed.

      But why does that put him ‘ahead’ of the curve…?

      • Ian, just ’cause, from my POV, there’s precedent in other changes. I know we disagree on this, and hey, this may well be a change too far. I certainly don’t forsee mainstream evangelical opinion on sexuality altering soon, if at all.

  2. I would agree with you (again) that the issue is a pastoral one. I am sure that the church’s poor track record in this area is a significant factor behind the recent flood of endless exegetical debates If the church was properly caring for homosexual christians, the theology would be far less in dispute. I also agree that there are some very deep issues at stake here (the third assumption) that need to be given far more consideration in the light of scripture.

  3. Hi Ian, I think you are right to pick up on the big picture element of the discussion. If I step back, it does seem like the ‘revisionist’ argument is quite an odd one: “Paul didn’t condemn this specific form of homosexuality, therefore there is no problem with the way we understand it today.” Not only is this quite a strange way of interpreting the passages in question, but ignores the context of Genesis 1-2.

    So many times when discussing this issue, the discussion has gone down a rabbit hole of detail and lost sight of the big picture. It’s important to take a step back sometimes!

  4. Don’t be fooled. Vines “gracious tone” (and constant reference to it by his social media fanbase) is just another culture war tactic. He knows what he has to do to wear down high profile conservatives who would otherwise ignore him. These, quite subtle, tactics are what the Reformation Project workshops are designed to promote – i.e. find and exploit the “weak spots” (which are largely cultural) of the other side.

    He is not actually very gracious. He is often pompous, sanctimonious and quick to claim that his views have been misrepresented when other people make valid criticisms of his work/perspective.

    He also takes full advantage of any comment that is perceived to be homophobic. Vines knows that “as a gay man” he belongs to a semi-protected minority group. Another gay man could get away with knocking him off his high horse but he doesn’t engage with non-affirming gay Christians. He only goes after straight evangelicals who aren’t familiar enough with gay life/politics to avoid making to sort of comments he can easily flag-up as “hateful”. He’s been trying to get Keller to react to his “My views have been misrepresented” post for days now. Keller and other senior evangelicals would be well advised not to meet with him or discuss anything further.

    • Thanks Joe. I don’t think I have any grounds myself for calling Vines ‘sanctimonious’ but it was odd to read his claim that he had been ‘misrepresented’ on shellfish…and then to read about this as an example in his chapter 5.

      • The “misrepresented” thing is automatic – always tweeted – which gets him the attention he needs. I do sympathise with him insofar as he seems to want to make a career out of being a LGBT activist/journalist. There can’t be much money in that line of work.

        I don’t think he is any worse than any other LGBT activist out there but there is clear tension between the self-promoting and less-than-truthful debating skills (spin) required by anyone in that role and Christian values. He is obviously sincere in some respects (his social conservatism) but a lot of his statements are hackneyed phrases lifted from LGBT textbooks – but you would have to be gay or familiar with mainstream gay life to notice it.

  5. Ian, let me ask you a question. A repeated theme from evangelicals who change their mind over same sex relationships is that they’ve come to realise how much harm the “traditional” view does to homosexuals. So, in your view, is it possible for the church to put this view into practice in a way that doesn’t hurt people?

    • Thanks Steve (I think article is not by you by by Jon Zens?). Interesting that he takes ‘adam’ in Gen 2.4 as androgynous, which is debated.

      I think this argument has some weight, but I don’t know of a response to it from a revisionist point of view. I guess the simple answer would be: it is partnership, not difference, which is at stake. But Tom Wright takes a similar position.

  6. Thank you for your post, Ian!

    I just want to make a pretty matter-of-fact point:
    If we were all gay/ homosexual
    and if there were no IVF/surrogate motherhood
    the human race would soon die out.
    I don’t think this is quite what God has in mind at this time (though I could be mistaken)
    Thank goodness for heterosexual marriage!

    (I’m not all that matter-of-fact really, and I pray a lot about this but, well…I just felt moved to say the above!)

    • Of course. But on the Kantian principle of universalising of ethics, this would not lead to everyone being gay, but everyone following their sexual inclination. That would still leave plenty of people breeding…

        • A family becomes a wanted attribute and children are what makes a family, therefore children become commodities.

          Elton John had a contract written under Californian law that prevented the natural parents from ever making contact with the child and vice versa.

          I have personal, real experience that says that Elton John is seriously wrong and the original British approach of leaving it all to common sense was right. It does not belong in law.

          My Father died when I was a child.

          I didn’t really understand what was happening as we were unexpectedly moving house.

          Only as an adult when I was baptizing my second son did my Great Uncle take me to one side and explain why he was going into hospital due to an operation to stop Glaucoma. It is an inherited disease through my Father’s side.

          To be clear, you can stop Glaucoma but you cannot heal it.

          By the time your eyesight has been damaged the doctors eventually work out the cause is Glaucoma and do an operation to stop it developing. But the eyesight is already damaged by then. It is not the only inherited disease. Knowing about inherited diseases BEFORE they take effect is important.

          The point is that any child does need to tell doctors who their natural parents are.

          It belongs in common-sense because sometimes a child loses their natural parents, and we wouldn’t wish that on anyone and we make the best of the circumstances.

          I went to the doctor and told them about Glaucoma. The doctor said it wasn’t really a problem because they just need a letter from my grandfather …. Sadly my Grandfather had died when my Father was a child.

          I had since discovered that my Uncle and Aunt both had it but the bureaucracy of the NHS was such that the Doctor had to tell me that they didn’t count.
          I accepted that discrimination against me and my family and paid for the eye pressure tests since then.

          The point is that every child does actually have a mother and a father and they DO need to know and the parents need to be valued. It seems that only the Christian Church values parenthood and children now.

          • Clive,

            Thanks for sharing this. Even conservative commentators appear to miss the child’s entitlement to its natural identity, which is something that traditional marriage never undermines. Instead, they just bang on about the couple, despite marriage being instituted as the means of extending natural family kinship: ‘a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife…’

            Same-sex marriage recognition means that Elton John no longer has to buy a contract that ensures that the child he wants is excluded from its natural parents. So-called ‘equal marriage’ law simply disregards the natural origin of the child in favour of legitimising the same-sex couple’s parental intentions.

            In essence, marriage establishes a couple as the legally recognised co-founders of a family unit with legally protected autonomy from external interference. As co-founders, the law concludes that, if a child is the natural offspring of one spouse, then the other spouse is its legal co-parent.

            In particular, the protected autonomy of marriage means that the law will side with the couple to prevent the intrusion of anyone, and, I mean, anyone external to the relationship.

            In the case of straight couples, this is known as the marital presumption of paternity (or for the U.S., parenthood), whereby the law automatically concludes, in the absence of contrary evidence, that the husband is the father of his wife’s children. So, if you’re married, no DNA test is needed to prove the husband’s paternity.

            Nevertheless, if an outside person, contends that he’s the real father and it’s genetically proved, the law will declare his paternity. The presumption of the husband’s paternity is rebuttable.

            For most straight couples, this will never be an issue, they’ll have kids naturally and the law will rightly conclude that they are their natural parents.

            ‘But you let childless couples marry, so why not LGBT pairings?’
            The ‘childless couples’ comparison is fatuous. Infertile straight couples have not sought to change the presumption of paternity. For IVF and adoption, they have, by and large, accepted that they will need consent of the donor or natural parent, unless that person dies or defaults through neglect or abuse, etc. (in which case, the courts step in).

            In contrast, we see something very different from those who seek same-sex marriage with its legally protected autonomy from external interference, look at what the International Lesbian and Gay Association has to say about marriage policy: ‘Article 12 Spouses and registered partners: ‘A person who is the spouse or registered partner of a child’s parent at the time of that child’s birth *regardless of genetic connection.* [emphasis mine]

            In the real world, we see cases in which natural fathers have been automatically excluded from their children’s lives because giving him parental recognition would threaten the same-sex couple as an intrusion into their now legally protected family autonomy that same-sex marriage confers.

            In re: M.C. (California Court of Appeal) is a tragic case in which a bisexual woman, Melissa, had a relationship with a man called Jesus and became pregnant by him. She lived in his home and they went to pre-natal classes together. He did everything that a prospective father would,

            She had previously been in a stormy civil union with Irene. Shortly before the baby’s birth, she left Jesus and married Irene. Jesus could do nothing to stop Irene from raising his child. Irene was presumed through marriage to be the co-parent of Melissa’s child. That’s why I’m against same-sex marriage.

            The marriage to Irene unravelled, and, as a result of a stabbing incident, Melissa ended up in prison and Irene in hospital. Jesus stepped in to ask the court to declare him to be M.C.’s father. He was denied.

            In the case of a straight couple, a paternity test would enough to support Jesus’ parental claims. But the court took the view that to recognise him as the father would set a precedent, whereby any natural father could threaten the autonomy of same-sex family units, something that the marriage institution is meant to protect.

            As a result, and despite DNA proof, the court denied his paternal claims. M.C. was put into foster care in order to ensure that same-sex family intentions would never be frustrated.

            This was a direct result of recognising same-sex couples with marriage, I.e. as co-founders of a recognised family unit with legally protected autonomy. That M.C. would never know her father was a direct result of same-sex marriage policy. In order to automatically recognise someone who isn’t a natural parent, like Irene, as co-parent of Melissa’s daughter, Jesus was treated as an outsider.

            In this talk, there’s been no reference to the kind of sex between consenting adults, nor any denial that in a plural society, same-sex couples will want to gain the legal recognition of their monogamous relationships and family arrangements.

            The problem is that marriage does a lot more than just that. It’s the wrong tool for the job. Of course, you could uniformly change marriage, so that it doesn’t confer couples of any orientation with family autonomy.

            But that would change straight marriage, routinely requiring husbands to prove natural paternity. And that’s something gay marriage supporters claimed that same-sex marriage would never do.

            The future. Expect more cases like the one involving Melissa, Irene, Jesus and M.C. Expect willing natural fathers and mothers to be routinely denied their parental rights in order to further same-sex two-parent family autonomy in situations in which the reproductive arrangement was anything but two parent.

            Marriage is not just about two people. It’s about M.C. And other children being denied the love of a natural parent in order to enforce recognition of same-sex family units. And that’s just plain wrong.

  7. I find myself, after many years of being “clear” in my mind what my approach to same-sex relationships ought to be, now on a journey with this issue.

    I can find no biblical warrant for same-sex relationships, I admit that, yet I find myself also in great pain for those whose sexuality is complicated in the eyes of the Church. What comes to my mind is the way Jesus spoke in response to the woman caught in adultery. He was very compassionate to the woman. Those opposed to any form of acceptance of same-sex relationships will quote the “go and sin no more” part as if that ends the matter. Gay people should not sin – by remaining celibate. That’s all the Bible offers them. However, Jesus spoke to more than the woman, He spoke to her accusers too. And to them He said, if I may paraphrase, “Your theology is faultless, she is guilty in the eyes of God/the Law and she ought to be dealt with accordingly. But your attitude/approach to this issue and so to this person leaves a lot to be desired.”

    So I find myself torn. I know what the Bible says, or appears to say, and I can’t argue with that. But what is my approach to these people, not just to this issue? Does my approach leave a lot to be desired? We can still embrace these people while struggling to embrace the issue. That doesn’t solve anything, I admit, but perhaps it will make us a little less judgmental and more compassionate. It ought to be with tears in our eyes that we say to Christians struggling with their sexuality that we can’t condone their lifestyle. So much of what I hear and read seems to express little of the love and grace of God towards people who just like me are sinners.

    • Thanks BG for your thoughtful response. In many ways I would agree with you—it is vital that we don’t consider this a ‘simple’ or ‘straightforward’ matter. But to add to the complexity, Jesus went on to say to the woman and her accusers: ‘The standard from which you have fallen is the one to which I restore you.’

      And I am not sure I agree with you that ‘Gay people should not sin – by remaining celibate. That’s all the Bible offers them.’ I have gay friends who are both single and married; you can explore the two views here:

    • “I know what the Bible says, or appears to say, and I can’t argue with that.”

      Why not, BG? Many Christians say, simply, that the Bible is wrong on this. Whatever caused you to adopt your beliefs about biblical authority, you’re free to reexamine them.

      • What matters is why they are saying the Bible is wrong on this. If there is some serious and groundbreaking research done into the original Hebrew and/or Greek that explains why our understanding of the language is wrong then I would be hugely interested to see that. If, likewise, there was to be some serious research done into the prevailing culture of Paul’s day that shows, once again, that what he is talking about is not what we are talking about in the references to same-sex behaviour then I would welcome that too. But if the Bible is simply “wrong” because modern culture has swung against it then that isn’t sufficient – for me.

        I struggle with what some would call contradictions in the text. I don’t see them as contradictions but as tensions. I’m referring to the likes of Paul saying in Corinthians that certain people who behave in certain ways will not inherit the Kingdom and yet in Romans he says there is no condemnation for those in Christ. I know there are genuine same-sex attracted Christian people who are “in Christ.” Will they not inherit the Kingdom, then?

        As I grow older I become more desirous of the grace of God, that amazing grace that loves beyond measure and embraces even the worst of sinners who by his own admission doesn’t do the good he wants to do but the opposite! How do we balance the grace of God and His holiness?

        It’s too simplistic to say the Bible has just got this wrong.

        • Complexity isn’t obligatory, especially not in dismissing an unreasoned assertion.

          Paul is wrong because gives no reason for condemning homosexuality. I mean “wrong” in the plain sense. Not wrong interpretation or anthropology: just wrong.

          Whatever authority Paul claims, either for himself, or (as I believe) by others in his name, we choose to obey. It’s on us. We could instead submit to the Bhagavad Gita, the Oracle of Delphi, or the works of Joseph Smith. We’re responsible for our own actions and choices. If we choose to condemn homosexuality on the say-so of another, we may have abdicated that responsibility, but it’s still on us.

  8. I found Keller’s response to be rather weak, especially for someone who has apparently been thinking about this for some time.

    While I don’t necessarily agree with the Vines thesis, it baffles me that Keller missed the ball so badly on this. It is fairly clear from the Vines book that his argument hinges on the notion of “excess.” Moreover, Keller’s suggestion that Paul was referring to egalitarian same-sex sexual relationships is also a bit far-fetched. Paul couldn’t have even conceived of our modern “Christian” practices of opposite-sex coupling, let alone same-sex coupling. The arguments he makes have been debunked time and time again.

    Yet that doesn’t stop the inquiry. Even though it’s likely that Paul was referring to something besides committed egalitarian relationships, that doesn’t end the inquiry. There may yet be normative principles that we can draw from Paul’s teaching. As Daniel Kirk has recently argued, Paul does seem to be especially concerned about men taking on the role of women in sexual acts. Vines dispenses with this argument by suggesting that such a concern was merely rooted in patriarchal notions about the inferiority of the women’s role. According to Vines, because we no longer accept such a role as inferior, Paul’s concerns are outdated. But Paul’s concern is probably a bit deeper, and lines up with his concern for sexual excess: Paul is objecting to sexual acts that mimic procreation. In fact, for Paul, any sex that simulates a procreative act–whether engaged in by members of the same sex or members of the opposite sex–is excessive. So, Paul probably is disapproving of anal sex between men for the reasons that Vines suggests. It’s just that Paul would always view anal sex between men as excessive, regardless of the social context. It’s excessive because it mocks the procreative act through which God brings new life into the world.

    So why doesn’t Keller make this argument? The clue lies in the last paragraph where Keller offers us some admixture of Freud, Gnosticism, and Robbie George, but very little in the way of Scripture (see a rather useless reference to Genesis 2). Keller’s “positive” view of sex and marriage suffers from two fatal flaws. First, it runs entirely counter to Paul’s instruction in I Corinthians 7 that it’s better not to marry and to remain celibate. Second, it creates a situation where we have to deny the full humanity of Jesus, as he never married or had sex.

    So, in my view, neither Vines not Keller provide a Christian approach. Vines errs in discounting the normative nature of Paul’s concern over mimicking procreative sex acts. Keller errs in improperly valorizing sexual excess, as long as it’s between opposite-sex couples within the context of marriage. This explains why Vines is slowly winning the debate: The chief error in his argument is one that his opponents can’t point out without having to acknowledge the degree to which their own views owe more to Freud than to Paul.

    • Incisive analysis, Ryan, but it illustrates the flaws in making Paul’s memos binding today.

      Even if his condemnation of homosexuality went deep as you like, how is it separable from the beliefs of his time and culture? Inspiration from the Holy Spirit is claimed, but this is guesswork, based on an interpretation of 2 Timothy that a) applies “scripture” anachronistically to letters that weren’t scripture at time of writing, and b) uses a passage likely forged in Paul’s name.

      Paul nowhere says why homosexuality is wrong, so its condemnation is based entirely upon authority. That’s the definition of unreasonable, which won’t persuade anyone without very specific beliefs about the Bible.

      • that a) applies “scripture” anachronistically to letters that weren’t scripture at time of writing.

        It’s interesting, James that Paul’s letters ARE considered “scripture” very early on. See 2 Peter 3:16,

        “He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the OTHER SCRIPTURES.” Peter aligns Paul’s writings with “other Scriptures.”

        • Nope, he calls Paul’s work ‘letters’ (epistolais) and the others, ‘tas loipas graphas’ the other/remaining scriptures. Plus you cannot infer from the fact that the word ‘graphe’ is used that the text is therefore inspired.

        • Nope, he calls Paul’s work ‘letters’ (epistolais) and the others, ‘tas loipas graphas’ the other/remaining scriptures. Plus you cannot infer from the fact that the word ‘graphe’ is used that the text is therefore inspired. Anything written is graphe.

          • Thank you, Lorenzo, but I suggest that you are only looking at half the picture. ‘tas loipas graphas’ can be understood in two main ways, which means that it is acceptable to see what Peter says here as including Paul’s letters as Scripture, and that in fact is an easier interpretation of the Greek. Furthermore, according to 1Thess.2:13 the apostles were certainly of the opinion that they spoke God’s word and from very early (prior to AD 60) Christian writings were being read in church alongside the Old Testament.

        • Lorenzo’s already addressed your objection superbly BG, but just to add, I was criticizing it from an evangelical POV: in the alternative (and my own position), claimed authority has no weight, as it’d be circular, and, most importantly, arguing from authority is a fallacy.

          • Well, thank you, James but I don’t think you’ve seen, or read, my reply to Lorenzo (above) and I find your “evangelical” point of view odd. It’s probably best that we just agree to differ.

          • Again, I find this difficult to accept. To identify ‘logon tou theou’ in 1Thess with Holy Scripture sounds almost blasphemous in Greek. He hagia graphe as a title for Scripture, yes, o haggis logos, definitely not.

          • Again, I find this difficult to accept. To identify ‘logon tou theou’ in 1Thess with Holy Scripture sounds almost blasphemous in Greek. He hagia graphe as a title for Scripture, yes, o hagios logos, definitely not.

  9. The biblical position on same-sex couples is very clear – to shame them for their sinfulness and either to exclude them from our fellowships (New Testament) or to exclude them from life (Old Testament). Meanwhile, the Christian response is to treat gay people in exactly the same ways that we treat straight people – and when I say exactly the same ways, I mean just that – even a whiff of discrimination distorts the gospel, hinders mission and, I dare to suggest, undermines God’s wider purposes to see people (gay and straight) come to faith.
    I appreciate that some of us feel the need to keep plugging away at the biblical position – but the Church of England with its welcome to same-gender couples and ban on intrusive questioning is already post-biblical on this issue. This is a good thing by the way, it works to prevent gay people (and especially gay couples in committed-to-marriage relationships) being subject to manipulative and controlling behaviour from other church members/clergy – the kind of behaviour that might be perfectly ‘biblical’ but is very far from ‘Christian’.

    • Jane, it’s probably a bit late in the day to continue this thread but I’m intrigued by your approach to the authority of the Bible. If you think that some beliefs or attitudes are Biblical but not Christian, on what or whose authority do you decide what is Christian and what isn’t? I can understand a debate on interpretation or context or what is a first order issue and what isn’t etc. but you seem relaxed at going considerably further than that.

      Could you ever envisage a ‘post-biblical’ position leading you to encourage someone in a path which will lead them further away from God’s blessing rather than towards it? However sincere your motive would this ever be a risk worth taking? What is the certainty upon which you rely if it is not necessarily the Bible?

      • Thank you, Don. I’m sure you’re aware that many modern day Christians adopt post-biblical positions on many issues, not least divorce and remarriage, the strict treatment of the sabbath, our response to people who get tattoos ( I could also add slavery and womens’ ministry but I know the Bible gives mixed messages on these – the ‘shift’ was just as seismic, though). So, I’m not alone in moving on from the traditional viewpoint on sexuality to an inclusive one. I hold myself accountable to the Holy Spirit for my new position – especially where I extend the same respect to a same-sex married couple that I would extend to an opposite-sex married couple. I have apologised to the Bible for my inability to continue to endorse the ‘clobber’ verses (and I hope that in time it will find itself able to forgive me).

        • Thanks Jane. But I’m worried that what you say implies that the Holy Spirit could be ‘post biblical’ on some issues. To hold that belief is to suggest either that the Holy Spirit may sometimes be at odds with what Jesus himself upheld to be true (and he spoke on his Father’s authority) or that the three members of the Trinity remain as one but may have moved to a ‘post biblical’ position on some issues. Either possibility would drive a coach and horses through our understanding of the nature of God and our confidence in scripture.

          If your sole authority for a doctrinal position is what you believe the Holy Spirit is saying to you, how can you test this against Biblical teaching to confirm that you are not being led astray by a malign voice (which may also be misleading your friends) if you no longer have certainty that the Bible remains true and continues to speak for today’s circumstances? Since other like-minded Christians will be in the same position you cannot just take their corroborating viewpoint as a final arbiter.

          • Thank you Don. I suggest that the Holy Spirit is post-biblical on many issues as we exist in a very different world from the one we inhabited two thousand years ago, but the Holy Spirit is still speaking to the Church. My own experience of God is that he blesses marriage and I cannot believe that he would bless my marriage but would withhold blessing from the same-sex committed-to-marriage couples that I know. I also find it difficult to believe that God has ever intended people to be executed to fulfill the Law – but I can understand the desire of the Levitical writers to maintain a ‘holy people’ acceptable to Yahweh and for whom the deaths of particular people for particular sins are a price worth paying. I have no confidence in Scriptures that diminish and disparage people, that shame and guilt-trip people, that allow people to be condemned, excluded from our fellowships and kept alienated from God. Of course, the Bible doesn’t have any authority – it’s just a library of books. It only has the authority imputed to it from those people who wish to see it used in various ways – for good or ill. Hopefully we are coming to the end of the time when the Bible is used to justify excluding gay people from our fellowships.

          • ‘Of course, the Bible doesn’t have any authority – it’s just a library of books.’ That’s an odd thing to say. It’s a bit like saying ‘That doctor doesn’t have any authority; he just happens to have a fancy certificate on the wall.’

            If you think that, then you are disagreeing with what most of the church has said for most of the last 2,000 years! And more than that, you are denying that Jesus is the revelation of the nature and person of God—since our Old Testament was believed by Jesus to have the authority of God’s powerful and creative words, and the New Testament claims to be the reliable testimony to what God has done in Jesus. If that has no authority, then Jesus is not part of the Godhead—and that is a central issue of Christian belief.

            That is why this issue matters.

  10. All of the postings have concentrated on the needs of the adult.

    Jesus speaks about marriage as a context for family and if possible children. So marriage is really about the family and about children. It is NOT about the wants and desires or the adult.

    • Thank you Clive. I wish you lived nearer and I would invite you out for coffee. Many same-sex couples have established their own families or are raising children from earlier relationships. We encourage these couples to marry as this in turn strengthens the family bond, supporting and validating the family unit for the benefit of these particular children. However, I do believe that the adults’ desires (to commit to marriage) are important too.

      • Jane,

        You still don’t address what is to be done when the family intentions of same-sex couples conflict with that of a natural parent who is external to the relationship.

        Do you believe that law should continue to permit a genetic connection to rebut the marital presumption of paternity, or should the right of legal co-parenthood be *conclusively* decided by marriage?

        The latter is what the International Lesbian and Gay Association have argued for in order to prevent a natural parent (who is external to the marriage) from having any parental rights regarding the children that they’re seeking to raise autonomously.

  11. Thank you David. I take your point about a natural parent (external to the marriage) being denied any parental rights – but does this happen in every case? If the natural parent is the sperm or egg donor, do they request any parental rights? Many gay couples establish a network of adult support – and especially if the children they are raising are of the opposite sex to themselves, in order for those children to have the benefit of mixed sex parenting. Meanwhile, many hapless heterosexual couples are having ‘surprise’ children and are struggling to raise those children adequately. I know that this is a priority issue for you, but even so is it an issue for the children or for the adults?

    • Jane,

      Thanks for your reply. The fact that some same-sex couples don’t fully exercise the rights that accrue from the marital presumption of parenthood misses the point that granting it to them constitutes a new and unjust prioritisation above the natural parent.

      If our legal system was considering the amendment to any other traditional legal presumption, such as that of defendant’s innocence, the new police powers could not be justified by demonstrating that they would be exercised in every single case.

      Neither is it relevant to the injustice of denying natural parenthood for you to highlight attempts to ameliorate single gender parenthood with a network of adult acquaintances, as if the latter is an ample substitute for the child’s natural family identity.

      Perhaps, as you mull over the following cases, you will see that this is a justice issue and also a priority for these adults and children:

      One partner in lesbian couple conceived via intercourse with biological father:

      Lesbian partner conceives by sperm donation of biological father (her partner’s brother):

      Lesbian couple used informal assisted reproduction to conceive child with known biological father:

      UK lesbian couple used IVF to conceive two children by a gay couple from Boston. They then fought over custody arrangements.

      What is notable is that each same-sex couple tried to rely on the court to uphold the traditional two-parent orthodoxy that marriage delivers. In the last case, Hedley J noted that ‘the respondents’ view seemed to be that the applicants were intended to have merely identity contact, whereas the applicants considered that they…were in the position of a traditional separated parent.’

      As Hedley J further commented, “In the traditional model they would have a point; that is why grandparents and other relatives usually need the permission of the court to apply for contact. But they do not have a nuclear family in the traditional sense; their model does not encompass what these parties chose to agree and do in this case even though the women are and must remain the principal parents”.

      • Thank you David
        I appreciate these links but I’m afraid it won’t change my mind on whether gay couples should be permitted to form their own families. I’m not sure where this leaves us – other than, I respect your decision to campaign against this to the same degree that I hope you would respect my decision to support it. Perhaps there is no ‘meeting in the middle’ on this.

        • Jane,

          The fact that you can understand this issue and have case law evidence of its impact, but espouse a campaign that ignores it wholesale speaks volumes.

          The hitherto priority of natural parenthood should never be subverted by the political correctness of shoring up same-sex family intentions through marriage. The natural identity of children like M.C. and others should never be taken hostage by the family intentions of unrelated gay or, for that matter, straight spouses. Marriage is the wrong tool for the job.

          It’s a sad end to our conversation, which has not centered on what kind of sex people are having, but on factual consequences of marriage recognition. Consequences that you’ve chosen to ignore.

          Nevertheless, I agree with your conclusion. There really is no ‘meeting in the middle’ as far as the unjust same-sex spousal plundering of a child’s natural identity is concerned.

  12. Ian, some of us have day jobs.
    Over the past 2,000 years, the Bible has been used to justify all kinds of barbarities and injustices from the Crusades to opposition to women’s suffrage. I’m not saying anything new here, nor is any of this in dispute. If the Bible had any innate authority, it might have taken the opportunity at the time to object –but of course, it couldn’t, it’s just a library of books. Instead it takes a growing number of human beings to say ‘we will no longer misuse the Bible in this way’ to see change happen. In our own day, we are seeing a growing number of people say ‘we will no longer use the clobber verses to justify exclusion of gay couples in our churches’ – and this surely supports the work of the Holy Spirit whose mission is to promote inclusion. Don’t shoot the messenger – set your sights on the ‘gatekeepers’ whose self-serving ‘pastoral responses’ are keeping people out of churches (this behaviour isn’t Christian).
    Even Dr Harold Shipman had a certificate on his wall.

    • The concept ‘Holy Spirit’ rests on the biblical texts. Which of these say the Spirit’s mission is to promote inclusion as we understand it in the 21st century west? That idea is not even peripheral to what the texts say about the Spirit. Peter’s speech at Pentecost says the Spirit is not bounded by culture, geography, class, gender, or age. But that means that all types of people can and will receive and be changed by the Spirit across these particular stated boundaries, not that the Spirit is concerned with inward-looking inclusion as opposed to outward-looking mission. Nor can the list of boundaries be extended at our personal whim, least of all to include dichotomies like ‘on the repentant and on the unrepentant’ and so on.


Leave a comment