Should we extend the boundaries of ‘gospel freedom’ in sexuality?

Will Jones writes: The Bishop of Bangor in the Church in Wales, Andy John, has written an Episcopal Letter outlining a theological and scriptural justification for marrying same-sex couples.

The letter is worthy of proper consideration because of its very fair and clear (albeit brief) exposition of both the conservative position and Bishop Andy’s own affirming position. Notably, the bishop avoids any of the unconvincing attempts sometimes made by proponents of a liberal view to construe scriptural texts in a way which changes their plain and accepted meaning. Bishop Andy is clear that he accepts the historic understanding of (and scholarly consensus on) these texts.

Instead of questioning the meaning of scriptural passages, the bishop appeals to ‘other sources of authority such as reason, scientific evidence and in serious dialogue with other disciplines’. This is not crude rationalistic liberalism, however, as an important step in his argument is that he sets out a biblical justification as to why scripture itself mandates us to go beyond it.


The heart of this argument is what the bishop calls Jesus’ ‘litmus test’ for ‘any claim to communion with God and grace’, which he says is ‘fruitfulness’ (see Matthew 7:16-17). Combining this with an appeal to the inclusion of the Gentiles in Acts 10 and 15, he argues that ‘there is a development of faith and belief even within the New Testament’. He points in particular to apparent discrepancies between the teaching of James and Paul, noting that ‘the very liberties St Paul asserts are now part of the gospel (Col. 2:20-21) are actually excluded by St James viz blood and the meat of strangled animals (Acts 15:20-21)’.

In this light, he asks: ‘Is it inappropriate for the church to ask whether the boundaries and limits of this new freedom have been properly explored and understood?’

From there the bishop gives a potted account of where earlier Christian understandings of what the Bible teaches have been overturned. Foremost is slavery: ‘The Bible,’ he says, ‘shows relative – and deeply problematic – ambivalence to slavery.’ New Testament teaching, he explains, while admittedly demurring from some of the cultural norms of the day, ‘falls far short of any condemnation of slavery’. This deficit, he thinks, was addressed through later Christians ‘engaging with the political and cultural background of the Scriptures’ so as to develop ‘a contemporary attitude to the issue which respects Biblical authority while allowing a fuller perspective to emerge.’ It is evident (though unstated) that the bishop regards his affirming view of same-sex couples to be justified in the same way.

Women’s ministry is also included in his list. ‘On the whole,’ he says, ‘the New Testament is robust in denying any clear leadership role for women in the Church.’ Yet now the Church recognises that ‘grace is given not on the basis of biology but on the basis of calling’. He also adds in issues of divorce, usury, and even ‘a world view which sees heaven as ‘up there’ and hell ‘down there’’.

Learning from these examples, he concludes, it is now time for the Church to include fully ‘without distinction those who commit to permanent loving unions with a person of the same sex,’ including through marrying them.

It needs to be said before going any further that this, in my view, is an example of the most compelling sort of theological and scriptural argument for the affirming position. It avoids claiming scripture does not say what it clearly does, while still offering theological arguments for change grounded in scriptural teaching and narrative. If same-sex marriage can be justified theologically and biblically, this I believe is the kind of argument that will do it. In that sense, the bishop has chosen his justification well. But does it succeed?


The core of the argument is the contention that in certain other matters – slavery, women, divorce, usury, cosmology – the church no longer follows the plain meaning of scripture. It has, rather, like Peter who ‘hears the voice of God overthrowing the old Levitical code’ in Acts 10, received from God a new way of understanding the issues which sets aside old cultural paradigms, even those set out in scripture. However, this development of doctrine away from the plain teaching of scripture is, the argument runs, itself grounded in and mandated by scripture, so scriptural authority is not thereby abandoned.

A difficulty in responding to this argument is that it is actually a cluster of arguments all rolled into one to make an overarching point. It includes, for example, claims about what is going on in Acts 10 with the inclusion of the Gentiles, how that relates to Old Testament prophecy, and the compatibility of James’ and Paul’s teaching on the matter. It incorporates claims about what the Bible says about slavery and Christian attitudes to slavery through history, and how the modern view relates to biblical teaching. It adds in claims about what the Bible says about women’s ministry and why many churches have changed their teaching on this, and similarly with divorce, usury and cosmology. For the argument to work all of these, or at least some of them, must be examples of where the church has set aside the plain meaning of scripture through appeal to ‘other sources of authority’. Is this in fact the case?

While it may be tempting for those who wish to see church teaching changed to regard them in this way, the answer must be no. We can see this even before we look at the specific issues (as we will do in a moment) for the simple reason that if it was the case the church would never have accepted the changes. Until very recent years all mainstream churches recognised the authority of Holy Scripture as supreme and would not have countenanced anything which was deemed contrary to it. The most basic error in Bishop Andy’s argument, therefore, is the mistaken historical claim that on previous matters where a change of church teaching is evident what happened was the church set aside the plain teaching of scripture because of what it had learned from ‘other sources of authority’. On slavery, on women’s ministry, on divorce, and on usury, when church teaching changed it was because of a new appreciation of what scripture teaches, not because the church deemed itself to be setting aside scriptural teaching in favour of ‘other sources of authority’.

Let us look, then, in more detail at the specific issues Bishop Andy raises in his letter.


Concerning the inclusion of the Gentiles in Acts 10 and 15, it is clear that this was not unanticipated for the church, but was foreshadowed in Jesus’ own ministry and teaching (see Mark 7), as well as in Old Testament prophecy. In terms of the supposed development in the New Testament between the teaching of James and Paul, in fact the common view is that the primary aim of the Jerusalem Council’s ban on Gentile Christians eating blood and the meat of strangled animals was out of consideration for the consciences of Jewish Christians, to avoid divisive scandal in the early church. This theme of consideration for the consciences of others, especially in relation to dietary regulation, is also a theme of Paul’s teaching, as seen in Romans 14. The Jerusalem Council’s ban on sexual immorality is of a different kind, however, as this is a basic moral teaching repeated throughout the New Testament. Thus the apparent development of teaching within the New Testament turns out to be illusory.

Concerning slavery, it ought to be acknowledged that the Bible’s general acceptance of slavery – mitigating it rather than condemning it outright – is one of the more challenging moral issues faced by defenders of scripture. However, it needs to be borne in mind that it was to a large extent Christians quoting and animated by scripture who abolished the trans-Atlantic slave trade and slavery in Christian countries in the 18thand 19thcenturies. In doing so, they did not take themselves to be contravening the teaching of scripture, and in their disputes with other Christians who used scripture to defend slavery, they did not appeal to ‘other sources of authority’ to override scripture but stressed the true meaning of the texts against the false meanings being given by their opponents. The parallel Bishop Andy is looking for is therefore lacking.

Significant also is that in condemning slavery Christians are not disregarding any biblical teaching that approves of it. This is very different to the case of homosexuality, where there are specific prohibitions that must be set aside in order to reach an affirming position. In addition, there are numerous biblical passages in which the enslaved condition is regarded as an evil from which God seeks to rescue people, most notably the foundational Exodus narrative of Israel (see for example Exodus 6:6). By contrast, same-sex relationships are never described as a positive condition to which God would bring a person through blessing.

We should also take note of the following biblical texts regarding slavery:

  • In Exodus 21:2 and Leviticus 25:39-46 there is a ban on enslaving fellow Hebrews and a requirement to free any slaves injured through punishment (see also Jeremiah 34:8-22).
  • In 1 Corinthians 7:23 Paul teaches that Christians ought not to become slaves, for ‘you were bought with a price’.
  • In Colossians 3:11 there is taught the revolutionary basic equality of slave and free in Christ.
  • 1 Tim 1:10 includes slave trading in a list of sinful practices.
  • Philemon 1:16 mentions an apostolic request to free a runaway slave and treat him as a brother.

In terms of historical Christian attitudes to slavery, slavery has never been positively regarded by Christian thinkers but always held to be a product of a fallen world. The freeing of slaves was widely taught, including by Augustine, to be a virtuous and praiseworthy act. Gregory of Nyssa even went all the way and condemned slavery outright as inherently sinful – though his was a lone voice in the pre-modern era. Nonetheless, Christian peoples have frequently suppressed slavery, especially of fellow Christians, and sometimes abolished it, as England did in 1102. This was because they recognised that slavery was something from which God wanted to rescue people not to which he would consign them. There are no parallels at all here with homosexuality, since there is no positive scriptural teaching about homosexuality, and no Christian history of regarding it as something good to be welcomed. When Christians banned or suppressed slavery it is because they recognised the true implications of what scripture taught on it, whereas when Christians affirm same-sex sexual relationships it is because they set aside the plain teaching of scripture concerning them.


Similar remarks can be made about women’s ministry. While there are a couple of New Testament passages that appear to prohibit it (1 Corinthians 14:34-5 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12), there are other passages where women’s ministry appears to be welcomed, such as the reference to women praying and prophesying in the assembly in 1 Corinthians 11:5, and the numerous prominent women mentioned in Paul’s letters, such as Junia (Romans 16:7). Historic Christian practice is also somewhat mixed, with the proto-charismatic New Prophecy (Montanist) movement (as endorsed by Tertullian) of the 2nd and 3rd centuries including women’s ministry. Female religious, abbesses and saints have also played a prominent role throughout Christian history, albeit not on equal terms.

It is also important to note that women’s ministry is a matter of church ordering, not an ethical issue. Although the Roman Catholic Church regards church ordering to be a matter of divine revelation, Protestants generally have regarded the New Testament witness on church ordering to be mixed, and to allow that different forms of church ordering are acceptable (especially Episcopalian, Presbyterian and Congregationalist forms), reflecting in part a response to different cultural contexts. Certainly the New Testament witness on women’s ministry appears to be mixed, arguably reflecting both classical norms of female silence in public and a more egalitarian norm of full female participation in Spirit-filled gifting and service.

In any case, though, the important point is that when churches did come to accept women’s ministry on equal terms as men in the 20thcentury it was because they became convinced that scripture permitted it, not because they determined to set aside scripture in favour of ‘other sources of authority’.

Divorce, likewise, was accepted by churches because it was deemed to be consonant with scripture in certain circumstances. Jesus appears to permit divorce on certain grounds in Matthew 19:9, and scripturally based opposition to the Roman Catholic ban on divorce was a major issue at the Reformation.

Similarly on usury, Reformers such as John Calvin taught that usury was not contrary to scripture –and this was certainly not on the basis of setting aside scriptural teaching in favour of ‘other sources of authority’.

I am perplexed by Bishop Andy’s inclusion of cosmology as an issue where biblical teaching is supposed to have been set aside (is it just there to associate conservatives with ‘flat-earthers’?). The Bible does not really present heaven as above us and hell as below us save as one image among many, and such an idea has never been the teaching of major Christian thinkers.


All in all then, we see that Bishop Andy’s argument, while initially plausible perhaps, falls apart on closer examination. On none of the issues he mentions has the church changed its teaching by setting aside the plain meaning of scripture in favour of ‘other sources of authority’. This means the pattern he is wishing to follow is not there, and neither is it endorsed by scripture or church practice. The inclusion of the Gentiles is not a model for the affirmation of conduct that scripture prohibits, and there is nothing in the New Testament or Christian history to suggest it should be. Scripture does not mandate us to go beyond scripture, and any move in that direction must be regarded as a move away from Christian orthodoxy.


Dr Will Jones is a Birmingham-based writer, a mathematics graduate with a PhD in political philosophy and a diploma in biblical and theological studies. He works in the Coventry Diocesan office, blogs at www.faith-and-politics.com and is author of Evangelical Social Theology: Past and Present (Grove, 2017). He tweets at @faithnpolitic


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574 thoughts on “Should we extend the boundaries of ‘gospel freedom’ in sexuality?”

  1. After the last debate on these pages about this area and the use of Acts 15, I obtained Andrew Goddard’s Grove Booklet on this (E121 God, Gentiles and Gay Christians). His final paragraph ends:

    “Nevertheless, the value of Acts 15 for those seeking further to revise traditional church teaching on homosexuality is very limited. Indeed, by focusing attention on the Jerusalem Council, ‘revisionists’ may, ironically, have highlighted yet another biblical basis for insistig that, even as the church continues to struggle with this issue, to repent of its past hostility to gay people, and to welcome them into the church and learn from them as gay Christians, it must appeal to all disciples of Christ to refrain from homosexual conduct.”

    • Why is it one Christian’s business what another Christian does in the privacy of their lives and their bedroom? Morality police?

      The Church of England is divided right down the middle on this issue. Just get on with your own Christian life, and spend more time on the elderly, the poor, the sick, and if you don’t like gay sex, don’t have gay sex?

      I’m making a serious plea. This morality policing risks schism, and the losers of that will not be gay or straight people, but all the people in our communities who benefit from the Church of England, and its pastoral care across so many wider and more urgent fields of need. So why don’t we adopt the ‘Scottish’ option and instead of trying to dominate each other’s consciences, respect each other’s consciences, and co-exist, and love one another… and get on with loving our very very needy communities who really don’t care how much you talk about sex, if they can’t afford food, and have to go to the foodbank, or are stuck indoors except for a 15 minute care visit a day.

      Let each priest, each PCC, each Church, each individual, decide what in good conscience they believe about these issues of the bedroom… and instead of policing each other, actually confront our own selfishness when we fall short in our care of so may people in our communities crying out for help and love?

      • I do not agree that there is division. Division between 2 sets of evidenced and researched conclusions would be division. Division between evidenced conclusions on the one hand and wishful thinking on the other is just what would be expected.

  2. “…that it was to a large extent Christians quoting and animated by scripture who abolished the trans-Atlantic slave trade and slavery in Christian countries in the 18th and 19th centuries.”

    Ignoring the impact that Christians had in *establishing* slavery as the ‘scriptural norm’ invalidates the argument that the ‘abolish’ of slavery by these same ‘Christian thinkers’ as an ideal to support your argument.

    It is also an unfortunate assumption to presume that the relationship between slavery and Christians has ended and that scripture is not currently used to chain those to a certain position, status or conversation.

    I appreciate your response to the letter but this particular argument is lacking nuance in the cause and long term effects of slavery and the continued efforts of Christians to normalise those effects.

  3. What an excellent summary, Will. You won’t be surprised that I disagree strongly on divorce, which has not by accident come to the surface at the same time as the homosexual issue. There is no chance that the marital loosening which divorce represents can be maintained and at the same time the advance of homosexualism prevented. They are cut from the same cloth. Referring to facts on the ground is the worst possible argument, and one of course which you would never make (it being among other things circular). The absence of the concessions in Mark has to be key unless we put the layman’s approach above the normal warranted assumptions of the development of the NT tradition, which would be unallowable. The specialists do disagree on this, but that is not on the basis that anything in Matt (which follows Mark heavily) must ipso facto be dominical. The words (not including the Matt concession, which concession of course makes sense at some levels) are Jesus’s best-attested; families could and do suffer untold grief if we make Matt the thin end of what inevitably becomes a wedge.

  4. Most perceptive accounts of Acts 15 note that the injunctions laid down on Gentiles match those in Leviticus, which pertain to the sojourner in the midst of Israel. Far from representing a “progressive” alteration of the OT, they articulate how the one good law anticipated gentile life in Christ within Israel. Unsurprisingly so, given that it was a Council in Jerusalem at whose head was James.

    • Actually this is a subject of disagreement. I find the link to Leviticus deeply problematic exegetically (with a very restricted view of porneia, ironically). I am with scholars such as Ben Witherington III (see his commentary on Acts) who find the setting much more likely to be injunctions against participating in pagan temple worship and sleeping around (especially in the context of pagan temple worship, which Jewish rhetoric expected to include orgies).

      • Fine. I prefer the solid scholarship on this matter by Richard Bauckham, Markus Bockmuehl and others. The list as given in Acts tallies with the sojourner injunctions in Lev 18-19. See Bauckham’s exhaustive evaluation in the B. Winter, ed., 2 vol series on Acts. I have a discussion in Figured Out (WJT, 2001).

        I’d be curious to see exchanges with these positions that reject them.

        • Witherington’s discussion begins on p.460 of his commentary. He first discusses eidōlothuton, and argues that it is a Jewish-Christian term for something dedicated to an idol (antonym for corban, and similar to theothuton). He then asks what social setting might you find something dedicated to idols, blood, strangled animals and porneia. He argues that in particular they come together in temple feasts (and notes 2 Macc. 6:4-5 as a similar concern).

          He further notes other features of Acts 15 that point in this direction. The concern that leads to the decree is to avoid the pollutions of idols (Acts 15:20). This would fit naturally with meat eaten in the presence of an idol.

          He additionally argues that porneia’s most basic meaning is prostitution, including sacred prostitution. If this was a concern over sexual morality generally, we might have expected to find moicheia (adultery) being used.

          Witherington also notes that James does not consider he is troubling the gentiles – if he were referring to food laws (cf Lev. 17-18), this would actually be an additional burden.

          This makes sense of the context. The gentiles have turned from idolatry to God; they are bring asked to abstain from idolatry and immorality (in particular by not going to pagan feasts).

          Witherington goes on to note that strangling or choking the sacrifice and drinking/tasting the blood was also a feature of pagan temples (as magical papyri attest).

          Witherington dismisses the Noahic interpretations on the basis that they don’t reference porneia, and come later than our setting.

          He also finds serious problems with the Levitical interpretation. First, Levitical material was for gentiles living in Israel, a different social context. Secondly, the term eidōlothuton doesn’t occur in these chapters. Thirdly, while blood is prohibited, nothing is said about animals being strangled, and the word porneia is not used. The main sexual focus in these chapters is on incest, and this seems a strange emphasis for a decree to gentiles. Finally, there are no Jewish parallels to the four commandments as being binding on gentiles.

          He also notes that his interpretation fits in with Paul’s letters (specifically 1 Corinthians with its concerns about not eating meat in pagan temples).

          It is also worth noting Tobias Haller’s points about porneia (in Reasonable and Holy, p.125f). He notes that while there were occasional connections between incest and porneia/z’nut in rabbinic writings, some offences in Lev. 18 are specifically excluded from being porneia, including bestiality and sex with a menstruating woman.

          I would just add my own observation that if the reference is to Lev. 17 & 18, it is extremely embarrassing, because it means the church abandoned these requirements almost immediately (eg whether or not you can eat food with blood in it) and certainly we don’t follow them now. On the other hand, if the reference is to taking part in idolatrous temple feasts, that is something that the church continued to condemn.

          To sum up, seeing the decree as addressing idolatry and immorality associated with it fits the context best, while there are serious problems trying to get the decree to fit neatly with Leviticus 17-18.

          • Well, you can see where the line of someone like Witherington takes one…
            I do not find his socio-religious speculation likely; and it exists outside the actual letter of of the Acts text, where no such explanation is given.

            I have a fairly full discussion of the Western Text modifications, which get at the matter of “embarrasing” — to use your language. “Love your neighbor as yourself” and “do no murder” track consistently with a evolving reality: the tragic parting of the ways and the existence of two testaments and not just one (as held true for Acts 15). Porneia required no modification. The Western Text alterations turn on the letter of Acts 15 and would make little sense as modifications of a socio-religious reality held by BW — and which never ceased being so.

            I am away from my library and on holiday, but I commend the detailed arguments of Bauckham and Bockmuehl, as well as my own treatment, in place of (my good friend) BW’s speculations.

          • Thank you – I will follow those up when I get the chance. (BW does discuss the Western textual variants – I massively abridged his arguments).

            As you might imagine, I remain unconvinced by the Levitical argument, even though it provides more support for an affirming position – if the church can reject the plain word of scripture about eating food with blood (black pudding, anyone?) and is silent about having intercourse with menstruating women, why single out same-sex relationships?

      • We are not discussing what possible ‘effect’ proper exegesis of Acts 15 could have, but what the text is saying. The Western Text has already anticipated this issue, which I point out in my own essay. We do not take guidance from a single text like Acts 15 when it comes to the topic at hand, but a wider approach, such as is evidenced in the western text and the entirety of the scriptural witness. We are not gentiles in the midst of Israel, even as James and his fellow Jews might have so hoped. And given that, we have a two testament witness they did not have. Our reflections are based upon that. James had no New Testament. We do. We are also not trapped in the religious world of 1st century greco-roman culture, where BW is free to speculate. We have an OT and a NT witness to guide us. Acts 15 makes an effort to find in the Law of Moses a law for Gentiles in Christ. It would end up being a useful but provisional effort, as the western test shows. That text is bext understand as offering a wider lens once the parting of the wys had transpired. For a treatment of the four items in the list and their correlation with Leviticus 17-18, see my capsule response below. This thread is not too tangled. All four items can be accounted for very nicely, and the correlation with the ger theme is crystal clear. Have a good day.

        • I meant “now too tangled.”

          If the larger canvas of Acts is properly grasped, when one comes to the final chapters it is clear that Paul, rather heart-broken after a continual synagogue ministry throughout his travels, has accepted that a parting of the ways will have to be contended with. This however does not change the need for a proper exegesis of Acts 15 en route to that…

    • I suggest the “sexual immorality” (porneia) in Acts 15:20 would have been better translated as incest. The Jewish community had a very broad list of forbidden relationships (Lev 18 and 20) and so as not to cause offence to others it was suggested the early church adopt the same.

      • I find this unlikely (see my reply to C Seitz above).

        Porneia in the general culture meant sleeping with prostitutes (literally and metaphorically). This is something that gentiles commonly did (brothels were legal and taxed).

        Incest was generally condemned by Roman/Greek culture as much as by Jewish culture.

        There was much less need to tell the gentile converts to avoid incest than to avoid prostitutes/idolatry.

        • Jonathan – if porneia had such a restricted meaning as sleeping with prostitutes it would mean that in Matt 19 divorce was only to be granted on such grounds, not adultery (which carries a very specific definition in Jewish culture of having sex with a married woman who is not your wife)—or any other sexual misdemeanours. And, as you say, incest was an anathema to the Gentiles, but the Jewish incest rules were seemingly the broadest in the known world.

      • Hi Colin,
        I don’t quite understand your comment. You would restrict porneia to incest, but then comment on the wide range of forbidden relationships (and forbidden actions) and say that the church adopt these. These are broader than incest, and include, of course, the pertinent “a man who lies with a male on a bed as with a woman” (a rough literal translation).

        • David, I would argue that porneia has a wide range of meanings and context would, as in any language, determine its precise meaning. Acts 15:20 is addressing ‘Jewish’ issues – sexual immorality was not an especially Jewish issue – idols and blood were. In contrast, in Matt 19, I believe porneia is referring to a wide range of sexual immorality, but in Acts 15 it makes more sense to restrict it to incest. See debate in: Bruce Malina, “Does Porneia Mean Fornication,” NovT 14 (January 1972): 10; Joseph Jensen, “Does Porneia Mean Fornication? A Critique of Bruce Malina,” NovT 20 (July 1978): 180.

  5. Quote: ‘When Christians banned or suppressed slavery it is because they recognised the true implications of what scripture taught on it, whereas when Christians affirm same-sex sexual relationships it is because they set aside the plain teaching of scripture concerning them.’

    How ironic it is that the conservative evangelicals in the 19th century thought that the rightness of slavery was based on ‘some of the plainest declarations of the Word of God’ (see Giles, 1994, p.6). And here we have an article, proclaiming confidently that ‘when Christians affirm same-sex sexual relationships it is because they set aside the plain teaching of scripture concerning them’.

    • The point of the article though is that the argument of those opposed to slavery was not, ‘Yes, you’re right that the Bible says slavery is fine, but we should be against it because other sources of authority disagree and show that the Bible is wrong on this matter.’

      The argument of those opposed to slavery was, ‘No, you’re misreading the Bible, it does not in fact say slavery is fine.’

      Thismeans that you cannot appeal to the campaign of slavery as analogous to a position on same-sex marriage which says, ‘Yes, you’re right that the Bible says same-sex relationships are wrong but we should allow them because other sources of authority disagree and show that the Bible is wrong on this matter.’

      The point of this article is to put forward the position that the debate must, as it was in the case of slavery, be about what does the Bible actually say, and not appeal to extra-Biblical arguments such as arguments from personal experience.

    • Slavery in the Bible is never lauded, often leavened, sometimes criticised (1 Tim, Rev 18).

      Homosexual sexual practice in the Bible is always strongly condemned – unless a single counter example has escaped us.

      If attitudes to slavery is the best analogy that can be found, then there is a lesson in the fact that the best analogy (to what some *hope* may happen) is shown not to be close at all.

      In fact there is only one point of contact: one thing *changed* and some hope another thing may *change*. The extremely nebulous and ubiquitous (so ubiquitous as to be nebulous) concept of change is the only thing in common.

      Correction: it isn’t, since on the one hand we have change achieved, and on the other hand we have change hoped for by advocates and interested parties. So even that single straw is not a valid link.

      • Chattel slavery was practiced widely in the ANE and in turn by muslims in sub Sahara Africa. Compare Lev. 25. He who steals another man shall be put to death (Exod 21:16). Israel, that tiny nonsense people, overshadowed by the great nations. Like Jews thereafter, you know, that famous powerful, marauding and slave-holding people.

  6. There simply has to be more work on “divorce” in a counter-argument of this kind, Will. The clear, plain teaching of Scripture, accepted by the official teaching of the Christian majority (I.e. RCC), is against divorce and calls out with Jesus that remarriage is adultery. Yet Protestantism – often a great proponent of the perspicacity of Scripture – has found a way past Jesus’ own prohibition, as has Eastern Orthodoxy. Yet in what you write above, the matter of divorce is barely touched on, compared to the attention paid to slavery, despite the latter being ambiguous within Scripture and certainly not as clear as Scripture on divorce.

    • Yes – ‘remarriage is adultery’ gives the striking agreed multiply-attested essence of the teaching. In such circumstances, emphasis on exception-clauses (if any there were) skews the picture. It also may be that contained within that central kernel of teaching is an understanding that marriage cannot help but be indissoluble in essence, rather like the perspective that is also found in some widespread readings of 1 Cor 6.

      • Christopher, “remarriage is adultery”—the NT references to an adulterous generation are, it seems, referring to the Jewish lack of faithfulness to their covenant with God. Jesus thus uses the word there metaphorically—as it is so used some 50 % of the time in the Bible. I suggest Jesus is saying that an invalid divorce by a husband is showing a lack of faithfulness (metaphoric adultery) to the marriage covenant he had with his wife. Craig Blomberg (Distinguished Professor of the New Testament at Denver Seminary) comments: “The whole debate about whether a second marriage, following a Scripturally illegitimate divorce, is permanently adulterous or involves only an initial act of adultery dissolves. Neither is true; the adultery (faithlessness) occurred at the time of divorce.” (Craig A. Blomberg, “Marriage, Divorce, Remarriage, and Celibacy: An Exegesis of Matthew 19:3–12,” TJ 11NS (1990), 167–68)

    • “Yet Protestantism – often a great proponent of the perspicacity of Scripture – has found a way past Jesus’ own prohibition, as has Eastern Orthodoxy.”

      That ‘way past’ involves the condition that divorcees seeking Church re-marriage (even those who are victims of scriptural exceptions, such as sexual betrayal and desertion) having to admit that divorce “is a breach of God’s will”.

      I’d be surprised if a similar ‘way past’ the scriptural prohibition could be found for same-sex couples when the requirement that they admit that same-sex marriage is a breach of God’s will would be instantly rejected by LGBT advocacy groups as non-inclusive.

      And why quibble over the need to provide a theological rationale for same-sex marriage when the affirming camp have already joyfully throw themselves and baptismal theology beneath the crushing juggernaut of a politically expedient liturgy for gender transition?

      • John Witte Jr. (Professor of Law, Emory University, USA) states, “All … [Western] models of marriage started with several basic assumptions … inherited from classical Greco-Roman sources.” In other words, the understanding of marriage in the West is not based on biblical assumptions. Witte defines those sources as Plato and Aristotle, the Roman stoics, and classical Roman Law (John Jr. Witte, From Sacrament to Contract: Marriage, Religion, and Law in the Western Tradition (2d ed.; Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), 3, 17‒30). I presented a paper on this recently and I see Witte’s argument as unassailable. Even Calvin is guilty of it: “in the conjunction of human beings [i.e., sexual intercourse], [the] sacred bond is especially conspicuous, by which the husband and the wife are combined in one body, and one soul; as nature itself taught Plato.” (John Calvin, Commentary on Genesis, (Ethereal Classics), 79. Hence the tension in understanding NT divorce teaching, which I suggest is based on the Hebrew Bible social contract model, not on neoplatonic concepts.

    • Hi Peter

      Andrew Goddard gives this a lengthy treatment here from a CofE perspective https://www.psephizo.com/sexuality-2/can-the-church-change-its-practice-on-marriage-without-changing-its-doctrine/.

      For my purposes it seemed enough to note that many Protestants at the Reformation disputed on the basis of Matthew 19.9 that the RC ban on divorce was contrary to scripture. English Puritans for instance were proponents of permitting divorce and their New England colonies had relatively liberal divorce laws.

      Here’s the relevant excerpt from ch 24 of the 1647 Westminster Confession:

      5. Adultery or fornication, committed after a contract, being detected before marriage, giveth just occasion to the innocent party to dissolve that contract.a In the case of adultery after marriage, it is lawful for the innocent party to sue out a divorce,b and after the divorce to marry another, as if the offending party were dead.c

      a. Mat 1:18-20. • b. Mat 5:31-32. • c. Mat 19:9; Rom 7:2-3.

      6. Although the corruption of man be such as is apt to study arguments, unduly to put asunder those whom God hath joined together in marriage; yet nothing but adultery, or such wilful desertion as can no way be remedied by the Church or civil magistrate, is cause sufficient of dissolving the bond of marriage;a wherein a public and orderly course of proceeding is to be observed; and the persons concerned in it, not left to their own wills and discretion in their own case.b

      a. Mat 19:6, 8-9; 1 Cor 7:15. • b. Deut 24:1-4.

      They did not consider this a ‘way past’ a biblical ban but rather insisting on the scriptural permission against Rome’s unbiblical absolute ban.

      • Much depends, Will, on whether arguments brought forward are convincing! While the Westminster position is entirely sympathetic to me (I.e. I want to find a permissive way forward re divorce and remarriage, rather than follow the “annulment” route), do the texts cited actually support such permissiveness: none of the texts speak of what to do when desertion takes place (let alone other reasons generally accepted today such as abuse within a marriage)?

        I suggest a similar argument to the Westminster one could be mounted in favour of SSM with 1 Corinthians 7:9 cited in a footnote! I don’t have time to extensively develop that point, nor to justify my own NZ Anglican church’s approach (an attempt to include and affirm both conservative and liberal views), suffice to say that our approach – in my interpretation – is a recognition that church as (broad, diverse, disagreeing) family is more important than church as a repository of entirely consistent logic/argument developed out of Scripture.

        • I would just say the church is many things, not just a ‘family’. It is the Body of Christ on earth, and thus His primary representative to the world. It is supposed to be holy. It is not so much about logical arguments as expecting the members of the church to behave appropriately, and not just on sexual matters.

          I think it’s telling that in the very religious world in Jesus’ day, He actually strengthened the ‘rules’ regarding marriage, pointing back to God’s original design for humanity. But I accept the issue of divorce/remarriage is not necessarily as straightforward as some of my fellow ‘conservatives’ would have us believe.

  7. I really don’t intend to engage in a lengthy debate on this matter, except to expose the bishop’s faulty reasoning:
    Logical Fallacy – Begging the Question in seven easy steps (i.e. Embedding the proposition under scrutiny into an argument in favour of the proposition:)
    The bishop wrote: “They experience the very fruit of the Spirit identified by St Paul as a mark of God’s presence and blessing (Gal 5:22-23). Jesus himself provided a kind of litmus test: it is ‘fruitfulness’ which reveals the authenticity (or not) of any claim to communion with God and grace (Matt 5:16-17). If the fruit of a relationship is growth in godly character, in what sense can such a relationship could be considered ‘against the will of God’?”

    1. So, the proposition in question is “Same-sex sexual relationships are consonant with the will of God”; True or False?
    2. Assertion 1 – If same-sex relationships were contrary to the will of God, then they would be unfruitful
    3. Assertion 2 – Same-sex couples assert that they experience the selfsame fruit of the Spirit identified by St. Paul
    4. Assertion 3: Same-sex couples and their supporters assert that their relationships result in growth in godly character
    5. Assertion 4: If it subjective, homophobic and intrusive to question whether same-sex couples and their supporters are self-deceived, then their subjective experiences and self-calibrated gauge of spiritual growth must be accepted as objective guidance in discerning the authentic fruit of the Spirit and growth in godly character
    6. Ergo, “Same-sex relationship are consonant with the will of God”
    7. Ergo, those who don’t accept this are just subjectively over-skeptical and homophobic.

    Now, that’s circular logic at it’s most self-affirming.

    • By your excellent level of analysis, you have automatically disqualified yourself from being considered for a bishopric.

      • Despite my lay status, your remark has left in tatters my hope of fast-track preferment.

        Even a suffragan post would have sufficed. But now, needless to say, I’m inconsolably heartbroken. 😉

    • Apart from anything, I understood Paul’s words to reflect on the individual’s character due to their relationship with God, not their relationship with someone else. And, again, it is the Holy Spirit who produces that fruit, in cooperation with the individual, not the relationship.

      Noone is denying that same-sex relationships can be loving, and can encourage each person to be less selfish etc, but then so can non-sexual friendships. That is not the issue. Rather it is whether it is appropriate for 2 men or 2 women to be having sex, in any context. Both OT & NT say no.

      • “That is not the issue. Rather it is whether it is appropriate for 2 men or 2 women to be having sex, in any context. Both OT & NT say no.”

        They would. That was their religious culture.

        Half the Church of England today believes that gay or lesbian sexual love is entirely appropriate. So do I. Just as probably more than half the Church of England believe Adam had ancestors and had evolved from earlier species.

        People write, and express their religious understanding, from the framework of their cultures and understanding.

        Our understanding on the origins of humanity, and our understanding on sexuality, have changed.

        Yet we can still get on and love our neighbours and one another.

        • Just because that was their religious culture does not mean they were wrong, does it?

          And a Christian believes that those religious beliefs arose, not from human contemplation, but from God. Judaism/Christianity is a revealed religion.

          And it’s not so much about sexuality as sexual behaviour. The two are not the same.

          You’re also creating a false choice, as if loving our neighbours must mean encouraging every aspect of their behaviour and to do otherwise is ‘unloving’.

        • Hi Sussanah,

          You wrote: “Half the Church of England today believes that gay or lesbian sexual love is entirely appropriate.”

          First, the Church of England age profile is predominated by over 55’s, most of whom have conservative views on sexuality.

          Back in 2016, Jayne Ozanne’s YouGov poll (which purported to validly reflect a sea change in Anglican opinion) suffered from selection and funnelling bias, such that it managed to poll CofE nominalism.

          In 2013, using that selfsame methodology and definition of religious affiliation, a survey found that 35% supported the idea that there was nothing wrong with adultery.

          I’m sure that we can also still get on and love those neighbours who have no scruples about adultery.

          That’s just not a valid rationale for the Church to amend its liturgy and doctrine to accommodate such a wholesale rejection of the Genesis archetype of sexual union and faithfulness, as ordered in creation, and to which Christ Himself harked back in teaching of God’s design for marriage.

          • Impossible?
            Not at all. It’s far more likely that the unnatural relations for the women were with men. Either anal intercourse or PIV intercourse with the woman on top. Which was considered so filthy and deviant that prostitutes charged more for it.
            Women/women sex wasn’t considered especially grave, cf. Rabbinic discourses

          • It isn’t ‘far more likely’ Penelope. Your reading is a very uncommon one, and the structure of the verse ‘their women’ ‘in the same way’, the repeat of ‘unnatural’ is why most commentators agree with the traditional reading. Lesbianism (as we call it) was disapproved of by rabbis so it is consistent for it to appear here as an example of corruption.

          • It’s far more likely that the unnatural relations for the women were with men. Either anal intercourse or PIV intercourse with the woman on top. Which was considered so filthy and deviant that prostitutes charged more for it.

            So you would agree that (for the sake of argument) if those are what the word means in this verse, that such actions are immoral and people shouldn’t do them?

            Just because there doesn’t seem much point in arguing about the precise meaning of the word if you don’t think that whatever it refers to is immoral anyway.

            Like, there doesn’t seem to be any point in arguing over whether joyriding is technically ‘theft’ with someone who doesn’t believe in the concept of private property, there doesn’t seem any point in arguing what precise sex acts are referred to in the text with someone who doesn’t believe that any sex acts are immoral anyway.

          • Will

            Only just picked this up. No, it’s not the majority reading. But that doesn’t make it unlikely. It was the reading of the early church.
            And, no, the rabbis weren’t disturbed by lesbianism in the same way as male/male same sex acts.

            S

            The Greco/Roman empire may have thought that sex with the woman on top was particularly filthy, and Paul may have agreed. I don’t and I don’t suppose many contemporary westerners would.

          • Penelope

            Thanks for pointing out about the Church Fathers.

            Rabbinic Judaism did condemn female-female genital activity. But yes, not in the same way as male-male.

            What do you make of the fact that women are portrayed in v26 as the agents – they exchanged natural for unnatural? If the intercourse involved men wouldn’t the man have been the agent?

          • I’m fairly well persuaded that Paul was alluding to woman-woman sex and disapproving, but I am really not that impressed or unduly concerned what Paul or Rabbinic Judaism thought, negatively, about lesbian sex.

            It was the prevailing background culture. Good grief, it was a society that still considered stoning people for sexual misdemeanour or men having sex with men.

            I don’t think Paul gets to have a say about whether I have sex with my wife, or whether any 2 of millions of decent, caring lesbian women have sex together.

            We should be SO past all this idealising of Paul. He was a guy. He didn’t approve of women having sex. Presumably, they should find themselves a decent man. But does Paul – embedded in his birth culture though wrestling to move on from it – really have moral authority to state: that for all time, in all cultures, women should not love women sexually?

            There is another, more coherent, way of viewing this. Yes, the Bible seems pretty critical (and certainly not positive) about gay or lesbian sex or whatever it would have been called back then. There is no sign that the Bible authors try to repudiate the negativity towards man-man sex.

            But there are other strands in the Bible. Emergent ideas… the idea that in Christ there is no male and female (Paul’s own flash of instinctive insight)… and the deepening messages about the priority of love.

            If we see the Bible as written inside cultures, then of course we can expect those cultures often (but not always) to be reflected in the views and comments of these frankly very religious people.

            But does that give Paul ‘authority’ to comment on 21st Century respect for gay and lesbian people, and acceptance of their intimate loving relationships. No. I don’t think so.

            Paul was, in this area among a few others, marooned in his own time, and its pre-suppositions, and culture… and with that, potentially its prejudices as well.

            If Paul came to our house and started telling us – like some ‘gay conversion’ therapist – that we ought to leave each other or if he tried to start morally policing our intimate lives…

            …I’d feel sorry, and I’d offer him another helping of food, but to be honest I think we’d find it risible and a bit weird, that he should arrive from the 1st Century, and from his socially conservative culture, and start thinking he could ‘authoritatively’ tell us our intimate love was ‘sin’. It would be the same if a fundamentalist from Saudi Arabia tried to do the same.

            I don’t think we need to quibble too long over the fine detail of whether Paul approved of lesbian sex, or was just warning women not to get on top of their man in sex. I feel pretty sure that Paul didn’t approve of woman with woman, and really? Does that make his statements ‘authoritative’ over our decent and legitimate lives?

            It’s things like this that make the Bible and Christianity seem weird and even sometimes disgusting to open-minded young people. It gives unnecessary grounds for people NOT to take the gospel message seriously.

            All the verses in the Bible about gay sex are irrelevant to loving gay people today, and possibly in almost any age, if, in the end, the Bible is wrong.

            We ‘idealise’ Paul as if he is perfect and all-knowing about everything, and every culture, and every psychological understanding. But really he was as flawed as many other people.

            He was writing in a culture. The culture has changed. Gay and lesbian people are generally accepted now, and are more included in our society than in Paul’s religious communities of early Christians.

            That doesn’t mean Paul has ‘authority’ today on this subject. I suspect it means – on this particular subject, because of his cultural contexts – he *lacks* authority.

            Yet what I sometimes hear is ‘Oh no!!! If things in the Bible are wrong or mistaken, then how cans I believe in *any* of it, my whole faith may collapse!!!’ as if our faith depends on these writers being infallible in their views. It doesn’t. It relies on trust and relationship with God. And that can weather the quirks of ancient cultures not always being in synch with ours.

            Look at another assumption of Paul’s. He constructs a whole theological system of belief around the concept of the Fall. And way before the Enlightenment and concepts of incredibly ancient Earth and evolution of our species, Paul seems to pre-suppose that a woman called Eve *actually* ate fruit and committed the first sin, having been born of the rib of a man who had no parents.

            In our day and age, we can far more reasonably assert that evolution and an ancient Earth are rational and convincing for almost any truth-seeking scientist. And by implication, this shows us that yes, once again, the Bible is written in context, and the literal/factual narrative is not accurate or true, and the Bible needs to ne understood in context as the myths of an early religious community.

            Only Paul has no inkling of the way evolution and cosmology and geology demonstrate Eve was a mythical woman, in a mythical narrative story. Indeed he seems to treat her as actual, factual and true: because he curtails some female activity on the basis that “Eve sinned first”.

            He may think, within his cultural setting, that he’s making a reasonable justification for limiting women’s activity in that passage. But think of it: he, a man, is justifying the limitation of some women’s activity, because a mythical woman ate a mythical apple and mythically “sinned first”.

            I’d argue that most people at the time would have believed in Eve as an actual (sinful) person, and that Paul would too. Yet he extends the primary ignorance (which is entirely understandable in his culture) and perpetuates it in lines that some people ‘idealise’ and we’re supposed to see that as authoritative.

            I think we need to be more realistic, and more common sense, about the cultural contexts and fallibilities in the Bible. Why be afraid of that? Our faith does not collapse if we read the Bible with more critical respect. I think that enhances faith. We are truth-seekers after all.

            Paul does not have all the truth. He does not see all the picture. The Bible isn’t magic. It’s in many places profound, but we also have conscience, receptivity to God in our own day and age, capacity for kindness and love.

            Why ever would my wife and I care what Rabbinic Judaism thought of our tender, decent, caring, committed love?

            The world is too full of fundamentalists who are stockaded and beleaguered and denouncing anything that might subvert the watertight infallibility of their often highly idealised texts.

            As Elizabeth Johnson really lucidly argues (you might want to read her work again, or for the first time, Dr Seitz or Will or Ian) there is a strong case for de-constructing scriptural text, and exposing its cultural influences and biases, and the assumptions that frame their narratives. Because there may be profound underlying messages, but there may also be cultural dimensions that risk impacting on women’s lives or say gay people’s lives, and diminishing them; or those texts get appropriated and used as mandate to justify containing women.

            And I think Paul writes within culture as well. Every single author in the Bible does. Like almost all writing, in any age, it gets filtered by the lens of the authors, and their culture, upbringing, societal ideas.

            And conversely, often against the tide and flow, I think God through the Holy Spirit can introduce counter-narrative. Some of that happens at the time. You see it hugely in the gospels. But that counter-narrative continues in our own lives and communities. We are not always meant to perpetuate the past in rigidity and moral superiority.

            We’re meant to wrestle, and search our minds and our consciences, and open to God ourselves, and change and grow. Open ourselves to the love of God, which can be a deep counter-narrative. Some would argue that’s what Christians do by re-iterating the texts of the past… “Society is against us”. I’m not so sure. I think sometimes “Society is ahead of us”… not over everything, but over some issues of justice and social liberation.

            The authors of the Bible sometimes inhabit a tension, caught between the conservative values of their culture or human religious traditions, and the counter-narratives of the Holy Spirit. And what we get is the inbetweenness of their words… fallible as humans, yet stirred by the liberating newness of the divine… and I think reading the Bible respectfully means recognising both those traits.

            It is entirely understandable that Paul might not have liked gay sex (especially as a single man, but mostly because of his religious culture). I can understand that. And I ‘get’ that he is still bold, courageous and faithful to God. And yes, I’d offer him another helping of food and welcome him. But no, he would have no say on my relationship with my wife.

            Nor should any other Christian really.

          • But there are other strands in the Bible. Emergent ideas… the idea that in Christ there is no male and female (Paul’s own flash of instinctive insight)… and the deepening messages about the priority of love.

            But how do you know that the strands you choose to prioritise are the correct, divinely-inspired ones?

            Is it not just as likely that the strands you prioritise are in fact the wrong ones, and the other strands, the ones you dismiss as ‘culturally bound’, are the correct ones that we should be listening to?

            How do you decide between strands? What standard do you apply and where does it come from?

          • Well I think, for example, that the account of Noah’s Ark is a product of various cultural traditions feeding into the Genesis narrative, but I’d regard that as a narrative that’s set in culture, because it’s not factually accurate.

            How do I make that judgment? I listen to rational truth-seeking scientists, working hard through history, to understand zoology, cosmology, geology, evolution, genetics and so on. And the understanding we now have, the Genesis authors did not. Fact.

            So whereas St Bernard or Thomas a Becket might have justifiably believed those Noah events actually happened, and their culture and knowledge afforded them no reasonable grounds to be seen as wrong… in our culture and times, it is not only reasonable but necessary to scientific integrity to suggest that the Noah narratives cannot be read that way.

            So readings of scripture can change, if you accept that some scripture is expression of culture or written within limits of collective knowledge at the time.

            How do I decide? I reflect case by case on the contexts in which authors wrote, and then I try to discern which elements are cultural expression and which elements run deeper than culture. In the case of the Noah narrative, there is profound deeper truth, but it has no factual connection with a story about elephants and kangaroos in a boat.

            The likelihood of God actually ordering the slaughter of Canaanite children, I would suggest from the rest of our understandings of God is infinitesimally small. And when we reflect on the cultural context and authorship of the text, it looks wholly likely to be part of the foundation myth of a nation, written by victors, and claiming a mandate for the slaughter by attributing God with the command to slaughter.

            Otherwise we have a God who sometimes mandates ethnic cleansing and massacre of little ones. And that’s pretty sick and dangerous.

            How do *you* decide which strands are literally applicable for all time in all societies, and which ones were specific provisions for specific communities?

            How do you know that the Genesis account of Adam and Eve had any intention of making a commentary on gay and lesbian sexuality? It didn’t. It simply introduces the most familiar expression of sex and gender, in a creation myth that is not facts-based. It is doing its own thing.

            To attribute ‘blanket authority’ to the whole bible, rendering it effectively incontestable on every single thing it says: that itself is a form of selectivity. You are then selecting NOT to challenge certain strands, and everything has to be perpetuated for all time.

            If it was only me, one woman out of humanity, who believed in reading the Bible critically by unwrapping it from the filters and lens of its cultures, you might feel my approach was simply the ravings of one deranged individual. But actually, as you well know, there are lots of Christians who approach the Bible this way, and this has grown since The Enlightenment. And people have lived their Christian lives, exercising conscience and thought, and trying to open up to God, and understand our call to love our neighbour, and how to do that.

            And I’m rather sure you would not advocate the kind of literalistic fundamentalism you sometimes see on Christian television. They take culture from the past, and try to retreat into it, like some kind of idealised perfect way. But whether that is good selection either, well you can decide.

            Each of us has conscience. Each of us has to try to pray and listen to the promptings of God. And that does not necessitate taking everything in the Bible as true. The Bible is a battered, brilliant, culture-set narrative: it is a conduit for God. It is not God in person, and the words are not all God’s words, they are the words of human authors. And through those words and narratives, like water through a pipe, flows the truth and love and presence and touch of God. It is really important, I think to distinguish between the container and the precious presence of God that can flow, despite all the human shortcomings and cultures… as the love and truth and presence and touch of God can flow, as well, through other circumstances in our lives.

            But S, we basically have different ways of understanding how to read the scriptures, and yet we both seek God. I’m afraid I may not respond to very many more of your comments, or only very intermittently, because we have spent hours going back and forth over similar fundamental ground, and so for now, if you want a last word, fine, but I’m leaving it at this.

            The Church of England takes different views on scripture, over various parts. It’s a fact. It’s not just me. And the question people need to answer, is do you want our national Church to hold together in love, even with our different viewpoints, or do you opt for schism.

            I advocate for living with these differences, but in parish after parish, up and down the land, continuing to try to show the love of Christ to really very needy communities… and trying to love one another… and sharing together in meeting social need. Different Christian churches may do that in different ways. So be it. Some churches in the end will celebrate the marriage of gay couples (some already are). Others will choose not to. Old people will still need practical support. Lonely people will still need visiting. The bereaved will still need comforting. The homeless will still need sheltering.

            Because there is so much we can agree on, and the call to love never ends.

          • Susannah – I enjoy reading your comments, lovely prose, conviction and clarity, and spirituality. I think above you express the liberal approach to Scripture better than anyone I have ever read. Your hermeneutic seems to be to excise whatever you dont like or whatever doesnt fit with your version of science. Whereas Penelope here in Rom1 looks for possible ways to re-read the texts and challenge the tradition, you seem to agree the traditional readings are right, but the apostle wrong and so you reject it. Have I understand you right? – “Paul believed homosexual sex was wrong, but he was wrong, so he has no authority here n now” – is that fair to your view?

          • You observe well, Simon.

            I am lesbian.

            But personally I believe the slant of the scriptures is to condemn man-man sex and indeed woman-woman sex.

            However, because I don’t believe the Bible is correct in all things at the level of the narrators, and because issues of sexuality are particularly prone to cultural assumptions and mores… and because I see other precedents in the Bible for narrative that makes cultural assumptions… my problem and energy is not to try to prove the Bible right (but re-negotiating, based on the ‘type’ of sexual activity that might have been intended… but to encourage people to be open to the possibility that the sexual injunctions on man-man sex are culturally bound.

            That doesn’t exactly mean I think Paul was ‘wrong’. I feel sure he was writing in good faith, and addressing the context of his own culture at his particular time in history. However, I do believe that his writings on sexuality and (say) women tend to embrace and reflect the cultural views and assumptions of the pretty religious and in some ways conservative communities he had lived in.

            The fact that I believe the Bible narrators do condemn man-man sexuality quite often perplexes allies who share my view that gay sexuality can be beautiful, tender and perfectly alright. But I’m not trying to win the argument that the Bible accepts gay sex.

            The basis of my belief that the Bible narratives are generally condemnatory is that it seems clear to me that in the Old Testament – and in the inherited religious tradition in the 1st Century – men having sex with men is reported with only negative attitudes: indeed it was said to be a stoning offence.

            Turning to the New Testament, the crunch passage is what Jesus is said to have taught about sex only being alright inside marriage, and his reported comment that marriage was between a man and a woman.

            There’s no ‘By the way, marriage between two guys would be okay too.’

            The biggest challenges to my theology, and whole dealing with the Bible in my liberal, critical tradition, lie in statements attributed to Jesus himself – about marriage, about Hell, about “in the days of Adam”, or citing Jonah and the whale (which I suspect was a purely mythical story).

            But beyond Jesus, the narratives in the New Testament, make no attempt whatsoever to repudiate the hostile position towards man-man sex that all the narrators inherited. It’s as if the old ‘status quo’ is just accepted.

            Furthermore, I tend to believe that when Paul writes about “unnatural practices” he really does include gay and lesbian sexuality.

            But I think he’s wrong. Not wrong in the sense that he was addressing his own communities, and inhabiting their cultural space. He is probably consistent with what most ardent religious people thought, drawing deeply on the condemnation in the Old Testament. But wrong in a broader historical context, if we think his views on sexuality should be imposed on our own understandings today. He was writing within his own cultural setting. The positions of his deeply religious and quite conservative community should not necessarily be imposed on communities 2000 years later, with all the changes and broadening of scientific knowledge. We live in new parameters, even if Paul’s underlying motivation holds good.

            What is that underlying motivation, in listing things that were culturally regarded by his religious peers as ‘haram’ and sinful? The answer is the whole issue of HOLINESS.

            Quite rightly in my view, Paul recognised that we are called to holiness: a holiness not of works, but a holiness that can only come by letting the presence of God’s own holiness and person into the core of our lives.

            And I believe he used culturally, socially unacceptable things as examples of what made a person ‘unholy’. And in the eyes of his religious contemporaries, man-man sex was one of those things that was culturally regarded as wrong.

            Living in today’s society, which is far more open to the tenderness and care that can be found in intimate gay and lesbian relationships, we might reasonably look to different examples of what is unholy. But the heart of Paul’s message remains important and unchanged, whether we condemn gay sex in 1st Century religious community, or affirm gay sex in a society that has shaken off that way of thinking, possibly for good and decent reasons: and that unchanged message is holiness.

            In the end, I believe that the pre-Enlightenment and later evangelical credibility attributed to every single verse of the Bible, is arguably a failing paradigm. I know people argue that ‘conservative’ churches attract more followers than liberal ones. It is true that some people are attracted by certainties, and anyway I don’t begrudge platforms that lead people into relationship with Jesus Christ. My own Christianity became personal in a context of being mentored by evangelical and charismatic believers (perhaps why I am quite trained in looking the texts full in the face).

            However, I actually think this approach to Christianity, while attracting relatively small but lively and faithful communities, puts off far more people than it attracts. It is true to say that the bolt-on elements of evangelicalism like the condemnation of gay people, or the continuing insinuation that Adam or Noah were real people and there really was a Flood etc… the questioning of evolution in the origins of our species… and sometimes the stereotypical limitations placed on women… even the mention of male headship… ALL these things cause reasonable offence, and can even disgust people. And this championing of pre-Enlightenment narrative in a post-Enlightenment world… frankly alienates too many people and puts them off listening to the really central and important message of the gospel…

            …which is not that the whole Bible is true (that’s the beleaguered fundamentalist view at its most extreme) but that God wants to dwell in our hearts, and in Jesus came and lived alongside us, and gave life for us even to the point of no return… that that’s how much God loves us and cares about us… and that it’s possible for people to know Jesus through faith and experience… and that’s stunning good news.

            That’s the core message. The evangelical cultural idea that we have to believe everything the narrators say, and they are always correct: that’s what I call the bolt-on to the actual heart of the gospel. I believe we need a new (or reformed) paradigm for Christianity. An approach that, respecting truth seeking across all disciplines, recognises that our texts are culturally embedded… and form a conduit or pipeline for actual ‘truth’… in the dynamic and passionate Spirit of God who can flow through the conduit of the narratives, and reach and touch our hearts.

            I see people straining the entire Bible syllable by syllable, and then comparing countless instances of words, and trying desperately to construct ways of holding all the narratives together. But actually, the flow of the Holy Spirit is not about the molecular fabric of these people’s narrative conduits… it is simpler and more passionate and direct than that… and more supernatural.

            We don’t have to be learned Professors to be touched by the Holy Spirit.

            That doesn’t mean I disregard the whole Bible. Far from it. It is a staggering collection of experiences and encounters with the living and eternal God. And fallible people trying – like you or I would – to make some sense of those encounters. And because God is vast and numinous and mysterious… far far beyond the horizons of our full understanding… our narratives are tentative. We are not infallible. But at the point of opening our hearts and being made receptive, and telling people as best we can, we become conduits. The rest belongs to the flow of God… the streams of living water, if you like.

            I have journeyed a path I would not have expected. Although I believe I have been a Christian since my infant baptism (I hold catholic belief about that)… I was never taught the gospel. But after a catastrophic car crash in the dark, the next day I had a spontaneous encounter and conversion experience with Jesus Christ. So I phoned the local Christians (I was in the Scottish Highlands) and they took me from there. They were evangelical and charismatic (all these are labels) and in my early years I was as fundamentalist as it was possible to be. That’s why I know my Bible. However, we don’t call all the agenda in our lives. God does. And although I was supported to pursue vocation as a priest, at a pre-ordination retreat, right at the end of the process, I had another unscheduled religious experience. A contemplative experience. And clear as a bell, I heard the voice of God saying “No. I want you to grow in me.” And it was so clear, I knew I must listen, and I actually had peace about it all. My life has deepened in contemplation, in the tradition of 16th Century Spain and the catholic reformation, and that wonderful Carmelite renewal. That’s why I say I am conservative as well as liberal or charismatic.

            But as my own faith opened – and other unscheduled things ‘events’ and ‘phenomena’ which I never sought, they just happened – I have come to view my precious Bible in a sometimes different way. I have discovered I need not be afraid to identify cultural elements. I find I can read the Bible – Genesis for example – with less conflict and more open integrity, if I take the Bible seriously enough to respect its cultural limits. I believe that enhances the Bible and the message. I believe it leads to more openness. More uncertainty in some things, but those narrative certainties are not all the essentials. They’re the conduits. The treasure is the person of God, the presence of God, the touch of God, the sacrificial givenness of God (which of course we understand most deeply – and ultimately with trust and confidence – in Jesus).

            The thing is, people are so scared of challenging even a few verses of scripture. They’ve been acculturated to revere it… in some cases I fear, almost to idolise it… and they think if we deny just one or two components then “how do we know any of it is true?”

            But to be honest, because we are called into *faith* not proof, we NEVER know if any of it is true. But that’s not the foundation principle of our relationship with God. What we need is: trust.

            And if we trust God, then the loose ends of the Bible can exist… the cultural expressions and attitudes can exist… Noah’s adventure can exist, even though it’s just a story and not true… but if we trust in God, then that’s what our faith is: trust.

            I have found, that moving from fundamentalism to an open liberal way of reading the Bible, and receiving the Spirit… day by day… in the practice of prayer and lectio and contemplation… that my faith has not come crashing down. It has deepened. It has become a journey based more on trust than proof texts. And my life and spirituality has opened up and maybe broadened, and certainly relaxed… because I don’t have to defend the whole Bible literally as infallible any more.

            But what I do find – and this is open to any Christian – is that the Spirit who flows through the conduit of the scriptures, and the conduit of our lives, and the conduits of our communities and relationships… is grace and love and presence to be shared.

            The Spirit speaks to our own spirit, and engages with our consciences, and longs for us to open the doors of our hearts more and more to God’s own holy presence. And I believe that can happen whether you are straight or gay or lesbian. I believe God can invest us with holiness, even though in our own right we only ever come before God dressed in rags.

            I believe God longs for us to open the sluice gates of our hearts and let that love flow. And let it invade each room of our souls. And in doing so, at the times of God’s sovereign will, we come home to God… right there, in the serene cloistered garden of our innermost soul. And in quietness and trust there, we can meet and know and be known by God, and love and be loved.

            And it’s a strange thing: as we experience God’s sharing, I think we learn that sharing is near to the heart of the Trinity, and God’s eternal household, and the lives we’re called to live.

            And so for me (and we are all made with unique personality and temperament) I think that I can trust God, enough to look scripture full in the face, and not try to contain and box in and control it all, but try to let the narrative come, and wait and rest, knowing that through these narratives God’s spirit will come.

            Anyway, yes I deeply value the Bible. No I don’t think it’s all applicable for every age and culture. Yes I think it condemns gay sex, and my own lesbian sexuality. I’m not worried. That’s culture. It’s okay. I get what Paul was really wanting. I think his teaching is wrong for our age, just like being credible about Noah or Adam – once quite rational – is incredible in our age.

            And yet, God blesses us, with grace and love. And we can lead Christian lives, and there is so much to do. So many scared and lonely and unwell and poor and sad people… just longing for the touch of God.

            And the Christian world does not fall down, if we open up to the places where people need God. It’s more likely to fall down if we don’t. The holiness of God is most usually invested in us in the act of practical kindness and sharing alongside people. It’s not about who you sleep with in your loving relationship.

            We ought to guard against narrowness, moral superiority, defining God within confines. We need to understand more that God is like a parent in a wide open sunlit meadow. And comes toward us, and we can come running, running, into the arms of trust.

          • Susannah – thank you very much for your honesty, clarity and integrity. Evidently you have not approached these issues lightly and reflected on them at great length over a long time. You are very aware of other traditions having followed a fascinating trajectory in churchmanship. I appreciate your evident thoughtfulness, and your respectful tone.

            I read the texts in question as you do and believe they prohibit SS sexual relations. But unlike you, I believe them to be the inspired Word of God and thus revealing God’s will for us today – authoritative and binding. I dont think I am a fundamentalist and not an inerrantist – but I am a conservative evangelical with charismatic convictions. But I do believe these ancient Biblical words, set in their very different culture, are not time bound and God has chosen to transmit them to us through history to speak his truth to us from what Paul (and all Jews) believed then to be God’s revealed will. Why would God in his wisdom allowed them to be transmitted to us just to give us a bum steer and reveal something opposite to what he actually thinks on SS relations?

            Anyway – this leads me to ask if I may, how do we relate when we have departed from eachother on this ethical issue, and more fundamentally on the authority of the Scriptures? It is these that reveal to us that God is love, God is Trinitarian, God is self sacrificial, God in Christ is returning for his be we ride etc These Scriptures are the basis for our revelation of God and response to him. How are we to get along when
            Paul is rejected when his ethics dont match our C21st ethics? What if we decide, as many have done, that we dont believe in a Trinitarian God, or an atoning sacrifice or a day of judgement or heaven & hell or???? If scripture is eviscerated of its authority, and Paul’s teaching rejected as culturally bound and wrong, what is to stop us applying that same hermeneutic across the board? And where does your challenge of Paul’s culture come from? Is it not your own culture? have you not set up yourself as authority over Scripture? You have made much of the love of God – how do we not just dismiss this as a projection of your own emotions and sensitivities? Why choose this attribute as the basis of your spirituality and not, for example, holiness and the fear of the Lord before a retuning wrathful God? These are genuine questions and not barbs.

            Susannah, your clarity and conviction are commendable, but they serve to show just how fundamentally different our approach to Scripture is & how far we are apart.

            grace & peace to you

          • Bless you Simon. You are so rational and a pleasure to have discourse with.

            “how do we relate when we have departed from each other on this ethical issue, and more fundamentally on the authority of the Scriptures? ”

            I know it sounds embarrassingly simplistic, and naïve, but I think we keep loving: loving God, loving our neighbour, loving each other.

            I think we still share so much in common – deep belief in the grace of God, belief in Jesus as our God, our Saviour, desire to live in loving kindness… and we also share all the desperate human needs we know cry out for love and help in our communities: the frail, the elderly, the lonely, the abandoned, the vulnerable, the hungry, the poor.

            Mostly speaking, in receiving God, these people look for our practical love and kindness, and are often willing to receive it whether we have one view on the authority of scripture or another.

            In short, as Christians, we have so much in common. I agree with the word ‘differ’ but not with the word ‘depart’.

            We can each walk our journey with God, and pray daily, and try to be servants to our communities. We can each seek Jesus. And though every single person has their path and journey with God and towards God, God does understand us, and does encourage us to keep looking towards that unity – that eternal communion – we shall only ever find in Jesus Christ. And I really don’t think God wants us to be strangers.

            You say “how far we are apart”… well we may take differing views on how to read and understand scripture… but in my Christian life in local churches, I’ve known Christians with very different views and approaches, yet serving together to demonstrate the love of God at old people’s teas, or visiting hospitals, or befriending new people, or working with young people, and extending welcome to everyone.

            And so I honestly believe we are much more ‘together’ than we are ‘apart’. And where we differ, well, I think there is the challenge from God to us, to love one another and value one another.

            I’m aware that some people would say “Oh, we should break communion with those people”. It’s gone on all through Christian history. But I’m also aware of the narratives we can find in the Bible that exhort us to love one another, to find loveliness in unity, so that in the end people say “See how these Christians love one another”.

            I have three adult children: one is about as socially liberal and theologically liberal as me (she works for a Christian aid agency); one holds views on scripture that sound like yours (she works with children and adults in a mission role in Uganda); and one who is right down the middle, and reverent, but more concerned with practical Christian living than detailed dogmatics.

            All of them were encouraged and supported in a church that was moderately evangelical, but with other Christians who were more socially liberal, and I do attribute so much of their faith to the love this cross-section of Christians received from evangelicals, liberals, and everything across the spectrum. The fundamental thing was the love, and the habitual recognition they gained about Jesus.

            So I do not think we need to create an Armageddon over differing views. We need to pray all the more for love and kindness for each other. And we should always pray for one another’s flourishing, along the paths we travel with God, even if we disagree.

            To me, that is the grown up, mature thing to do. Not threaten each other with schism, or try to dominate each other. But to recognise our shared and conscientious love for God in Jesus Christ.

            That may mean the Church has various expressions in it, and I think that makes it important to respect the right people have to conscience and views. I would never agree that a priest should be forced to marry a gay couple against the priest’s conscience. Equally, at this juncture in time, I believe that priests, PCCs, and church communities who believe in sincere conscience that gay people should be affirmed and their relationships celebrated: I think those consciences should be respected as well.

            Like I say, we don’t have to dominate each other. Each Christian community tries to serve its local community with integrity and honesty, and I perfectly well se that there are, and will be, churches that do that from an evangelical stance, and churches that do that from a so-called liberal stance, and churches that do that from the catholic tradition, or with charismatic receptivity, or in other ways.

            I believe in ‘unity in diversity’. I believe that means respecting people’s conscientious differences.

            In saying this to you, I’d also express very considerable understanding for those who fear the ‘slippery slope’ danger: that a church that starts by allowing difference (over women bishops for example) may end up demanding a more partisan outcome (the Philip North debacle for example). And I’m aware that some gay Christians believe that in the end *every* church and priest should celebrate gay relationships, because of the harm an anti-gay position can do to gay and lesbian teens.

            I’m acknowledging that concern, as part of honesty in our discourse. I believe ‘unity in diversity’ means diversity: not a new uniformity. So I believe that people with different views to me should be protected and facilitated. It’s all part of co-existence and community.

            Thank you, Simon, for your calm, reflective comments – and your own honesty and the frameworks of faith with which you make your journey with God.

            May we find grace and kindness, and may we try to keep watch in prayer, because without prayer – in contexts of difference – we fall back all too humanly on our visceral feelings, our fears, our alarm.

            Relationship with God is founded in trust – and in different ways God leads people into trust. The examples of God’s fidelity in the Bible. The experiences of God’s grace and fidelity in our lives.

            And I think trust is important in relationship with one another. So easily broken, but that trust in a community – that fellowship of love of God and service of others – that growing together in service even by people who are very different – is something that can open up like a flower over years of sharing together and walking alongside each other.

            Grace and peace to you.

          • You are so rational and a pleasure to have discourse with.

            You haven’t answered any of the questions though…

            ‘If scripture is eviscerated of its authority, and Paul’s teaching rejected as culturally bound and wrong, what is to stop us applying that same hermeneutic across the board? And where does your challenge of Paul’s culture come from? Is it not your own culture? have you not set up yourself as authority over Scripture? You have made much of the love of God – how do we not just dismiss this as a projection of your own emotions and sensitivities? Why choose this attribute as the basis of your spirituality and not, for example, holiness and the fear of the Lord before a retuning wrathful God? ‘

          • Will

            Good point.
            But isn’t that the point? That they became agents, eg. by being in a ‘superior’ position, when, anthropologically, they shouldn’t have been.
            Women are meant to be passive and receptive, ‘vessels’.

          • You are mistaken, S, in saying I haven’t answered any of Simon’s questions. We are having a calm and measured conversation, and Simon actually asked me 10 questions. I have so far answered 2 – at great length – but sometimes I like a little time to reflect on things.

            For example, I have been reading the Book of Isaiah for the past 14 months and so far I am at Chapter 30.

            To cut myself just a little slack, I think I have taken quite a lot to time and trouble to engage with people and explain what I believe.

            Simon has asked some very good questions, and I shall probably reply to them.

            What’s fascinating and thought-provoking is that, because Ian is hospitable and tolerant of divergent views being voiced here on his website, we get opportunities – all of us – to explore the interfaces between different groups of Christians in the Church of England. For my own part, I am alongside those who embrace charismatic Christianity and have indeed found agreement with Simon on remaining open to the way God’s Spirit can interact with us, dynamically and sometimes with supernatural encounter and feeling; I come from an evangelical background, and indeed know what it is like to have a fundamentalist approach to scripture, so I kind of understand the rubric, and feel sympathetic to the faith I’ve often found in people of that tradition, and indeed the love God puts in their hearts; of course, because I travelled so deep into that mindset and religious approach, and sort of understand it from the inside and with faith and fervour, it also has helped equip me a little in the critical process and discourse around that interface; with the catholic tradition, which is really important to me, and many others in the Church of England, I find the interface a little more distanced from those in Christian traditions that haven’t really tuned in to a lot of what catholic tradition and practice has involved over the centuries – you yourself admitted lack of knowledge about Teresa de Avila, which I find astonish, though not in a condemnatory way; and finally there is the quite acute interface between people in the so-called liberal tradition, and those who view Scripture differently. It is this last interface that is obviously pretty acute and sharp, but I wanted to start by emphasising what we have in common, and that’s what I was expression in my first 2 answers to the questions.

            Of course, there are so many other possible interfaces: people from the Orthodox tradition bring their own insights; so do Quakers; so do the religious (monks and nuns) who have so much to share with us about community, and prayer. The in wider terms, there are agnostics, and atheists, and those from non-Christian religious traditions.

            We can learn so much from each other. Because my own roots are the Scottish Highlands, for example, I draw from the traditions of Celtic Spirituality. I have also been strongly influenced by some of the ‘social Christianity’ that some people like Geoff Shaw in the Church of Scotland have exemplified.

            Providing we are courteous and calm it is possible to interact on platforms like these, like people gathering in an agora / market place, listening to all sorts of views, reflecting on them (what I am doing right now with regard to Simon’s questions) and also, I strongly believe, learning from one another by trying to understand other people’s thought processes and belief.

            I have to say, Simon has homed in on some of the knife edges between so-called liberal and so-called conservative theology. I have been engaging on various platforms along this interface for about 15 years, and I think Simon has focussed more sharply than almost anyone else I can remember on the real challenges that liberal theology itself has to face. Some really good questions, homing in with ‘killer’ instinct of the vulnerable points in ‘liberal’ beliefs.

            I find that incredibly helpful.

            Incidentally, I say so-called liberal and so-called conservative. People can be liberal in some things and conservative in others.

            I personally view fundamentalism, for example, as a modern phenomenon, a reaction to modernity and secularism, and a retreat into a bunker of extreme literalism and rigid dogma. You see this phenomenon across the religious board – in Christianity, in Hinduism, in Judaism, in Islam. It’s not really conservative in a historical sense, although these groups tend to be socially conservative.

            On the other hand, although I hold socially very liberal views compared to many Christians, I am also deeply committed to religious tradition that is arguably more conservative and goes back further than the Church of England. My spiritual homeland (apart from the Scottish Highlands) is the Spanish counter-reformation of the 16th Century. It was a time of stunning Christian renewal, and as one part of that you can follow the trail of faith explored through contemplation, from Francisco de Osuna (about 1492-1540) to Teresa de Avila and John of the Cross.

            There are treasures of faith in all kinds of spiritual communities and outlooks.

            So I do regard myself as more ‘conservative’ than some evangelical Christian groups, in certain ways.

            But yes, Simon’s questions. I am aware that so far I have responded to 2 out of 10.

            If I take time in replying, it’s because I take them seriously and respect them. And also because I have a life beyond this forum, as we all do.

          • Hello again Simon,

            Please don’t feel any need to reply unless you choose to! I can’t believe that, I think, this is the 518th comment following from Ian’s article.

            You asked: “Why would God in his wisdom allow them to be transmitted to us just to give us a bum steer and reveal something opposite to what he actually thinks on SS relations?”

            I often ask myself these kind of questions too. As a nurse, I have often experienced the love and grace of God in situations, but sometimes – in the face of pain and the degradations that can accompany ill health – I have felt angry and argumentative with God. “Why do you *allow* a world with so much pain?”

            And I’d add, I find it wholly inadequate to attribute all the pain of our loved ones in ill health to human sin. That is a pretty brutal theological suggestion.

            So we conclude, for unfathomable reasons that are sometimes deeply perplexing, God *allows* things.

            The terrible pain people suffer is often, frankly, a “bum steer”. God appears to let it all happen, and unroll. Fungating breasts in cancer, children going through chemo, dementia and all the sorrow and distress that can bring. As a nurse, I do feel qualified from experience to express how terrible such things can be, and I’m sure most of you have experienced these devastating things in your own circles of family and friends. And the examples I’ve given, including the children, usually happen through no fault of their own. Yet God *allows* it.

            I do recognise your question – on why God would *allow* people for 1600 years to be confused by cultural assertions (like Adam and Noah) through scripture. It’s a good question, and one I’ve wondered myself.

            And yet, it’s obvious that we live in an imperfect world, full of human fallibility. And I think it’s consistent to believe that the authors of the scriptures, living in the real world, were writing with all the personal fallibilities and cultural influences and limits that we all have.

            The very fact that God *allows* imperfection in this world, to me strongly suggests that the scriptures too are likely to be imperfect (though still deeply insightful and inspired by real encounters with the holy and divine).

            In other words, the scriptures are the framework, the conduit, not the perfection itself.

            When God, in perfection comes, often flowing through the conduit the scriptures provide, we in our own turn may encounter God in our hearts. And not just through scripture.

            God may also use other conduits, like people, or places, or relationships, or… indeed… the hospital bed.

            In the practice of contemplation, you can go days on end without this ‘coming in perfection’ occurring. Sometimes even months. The practice is not about calling the tune. It’s about waiting, and gaze, and vigil, and… above all trust.

            And yet, when God DOES come in perfection, in God’s own timing and in God’s own sovereign discretion… it is staggering and irresistibly real.

            So my answer to your question is I suppose, that we live in an imperfect world, and God *allows* that, and the narratives of the scriptures carry with them that imperfection (notwithstanding the narrator’s claim that ‘The Law of the Lord is Perfect’), and yet – through it all, as through life, there is this perfect God… not the same thing as scripture… who can break through and even break free of the text, flowing through into our own present consciousness and awareness.

            And the heart of our relationship is not an infallible or an inerrant or a perfect scripture, or proof… it is what all real relationships are based on: trust. Trust in everything we have come to understand of these Persons, through experience of grace, through lived lives, through some of the narratives shared with us by the biblical authors.

            So yes, like the wholly innocent suffering of children with cancer, things are imperfect… and yes God seems to *allow* that imperfection, and messiness… but at the same time has no intention of abandoning us, but rather, loves us and flashes into our consciousness sometimes through words shared, whether in text or personal interaction, or in all those numinous ways beyond our comprehension.

            God is not to be wholly understood, but is to be trusted if we can, and although like you I sometimes wonder why God *allows* things to be not clear, when revelation comes, primarily through Jesus Christ in my own experience, we encounter perfection and maybe lay hold of a word called ‘hope’.

            In this world, to co-opt an expression of one of these narrators “we see through a glass darkly”. But face to face, we will one day understand far more.

            The contemplative way is to trust in God – even though so much of God is hidden from us by a ‘cloud of unknowing’. And yet, the very process of accepting our ‘unknowing’ can be a pathway to the coming in perfection of the Living God.

            The same thing happens sometimes with scripture.

            We don’t necessarily have to understand it all, and certainly not take it all literally, but sometimes the shining amazingness of God’s Holy Spirit flows through the Bible’s conduit and touches our hearts (and heals them).

            with love from
            Susannah

          • And yet, it’s obvious that we live in an imperfect world, full of human fallibility. And I think it’s consistent to believe that the authors of the scriptures, living in the real world, were writing with all the personal fallibilities and cultural influences and limits that we all have.

            That’s a fair enough point of view.

            The problem is that if that is your point of view then you surely have to apply it consistently. You have to assume that the bits which say ‘God is love’ or ‘Jesus died for our sins’ to be just as fallible as the bits which you don’t like.

            And yet you seem pretty sure that, for example, God loves us. I don’t know where you can have got this idea other than the Bible; but you think the Bible is fallible. So that seems like you’re not being consistent, you see?

            And yet, when God DOES come in perfection, in God’s own timing and in God’s own sovereign discretion… it is staggering and irresistibly real.

            But all hallucinations seem real. How can you be sure you’re not imagining or dreaming these encounters with God?

            If I had an encounter with God that seemed ‘staggering and irresistibly real’ my first assumption would be to doubt my senses and experience. That would seem to me to be the only sensible course of action, until the experience was confirmed by some evidence beyond mere sensation.

            After all, lots of people throughout history have had experiences of meeting God that are totally inconsistent, sot they can’t all be real. The chances would be slim that mine was one of the real ones, wouldn’t they?

            So what such evidence is there that these ‘comings of God in perfection’ were real divine communications and not simply products of the imagination?

          • Dear Susannah, thank you for continuing to engage with me and answer some of my questions. I do appreciate your honesty, guilelessness and willingness to engage with an old school evangelical at a point of tension. I am aware these are not just angels on pin head matters but profoundly personal and painful for many and I want to tread carefully and kindly.
            Like many here I am seeking to discern the word and way of God as I seek to be a priest in a world very different than the one I grew up in 5 decades ago, began ministry in 3 decades ago and pastoring situations I have few bearings for, and trying to find the way through, being faithful to God and loving to my neighbour.

            Susannah, It wont surprise you that your response only confirms and clarifies our differences which are essentially over hermeneutics and the authority of Scripture. If I may summarise how I read you: lets say we are faced with 2 propositions presented on ‘face value’ in Scripture by the same author:
            -1st, God is love and pours his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom5v5)
            -2nd) SS sexual relations are ‘shameful’ and ‘unnatural’ (Rom1v26-28). You accept the authority and perspicacity Scripture on proposition 1 that God is outpouring affecting love because it is acceptable to you and coheres with your experience of God. However you reject the authority and perspicacity of Scripture on proposition 2 that God forbids same sex relations because it is unacceptable to you and does not cohere with what you have experienced of God in your journey. The thumbs up or thumbs down to each proposition is whether it coheres with your experience, desire and sense of what God has told you. You have become the arbiter determining what proposition to embrace. How can I avoid the conclusion that your own experience is the imprimatur and interpretive key.

            Susannah, my apologies if this is to clumsily misread you or misrepresent you. I am trying to understand and indeed want to change my views if they can be shown to be mine and not the Lord’s.

            grace

          • “The problem is that if that is your point of view then you surely have to apply it consistently. You have to assume that the bits which say ‘God is love’ or ‘Jesus died for our sins’ to be just as fallible as the bits which you don’t like.”

            S: of course you apply it consistently. And you use reason, tradition and experience to help you make a judgement. So it’s simply not reasonable to assume that the creation story should be taken literally. You and I agree that it isn’t even intended to be taken literally. It isn’t that kind of literature But not everyone agrees with us. Some do take it literally. Likewise, it is clear that some parts of the HB and NT are written looking at things through a very culturally bound lens. Reason and our different experience 2000+ years later leads us to modify our view.
            So of course we are applying our point of view consistently. You have to balance up scripture, tradition, reason and experience and then make a judgement. It’s called working out your own faith in fear and trembling isn’t it?

          • And you use reason, tradition and experience to help you make a judgement

            So explain to me how ‘reason’ can possibly provide a convincing argument that ‘this bit that says God loves us is reliable, but this bit right next to it that says humans weren’t designed for same-sex relationships is unreliable’?

            Without starting from the assumption that same-sex relationships are perfect fine.

            Go on. Explain how ‘reason’ makes that consistent.

          • S: for exactly the same reasons that we once thought – until 1967 in this country – that any homosexual expression/activity was illegal but now no longer do. Or do you think it should still be illegal?
            If you or were Paul we would mostly likely have written as he did. Would he write the same way in the yewar AD 50 and the year AD1968? I doubt it…
            Thinking about human behaviour changes. Because we reason it out differently in the light of experience.

          • for exactly the same reasons that we once thought – until 1967 in this country – that any homosexual expression/activity was illegal but now no longer do.

            Sorry, I don’t understand. What has that got to do with deciding which bits of a text written in the first century AD are reliable and which aren’t?

            If you or were Paul we would mostly likely have written as he did. Would he write the same way in the yewar AD 50 and the year AD1968? I doubt it…

            Right: which is why the only thing that matters is deciding which bits of what Paul wrote are reliable guides to universal truth, and which bits (if any) aren’t.

            So again I ask: we have two bits, and no obvious textual clues that say one is reliable and the other not. So what consistent rule can we apply to decide one is reliabel and one should be ignored?

            Of course our culture says one is more liekly to be true; but Paul’s culture said the opposite, and how do we know that our culture is more likely to be right than Paul’s culture? Both after all are simply human cultures, fallible and fallen and caught up in their own misconceptions and mistakes.

            There’s no particular reason to think that just because a particular culture happens to be temporally later than another than that culture has got more things right. That would be mere chronological snobbery.

            So ‘this bit is more in tune with our culture’ is not a good argument, because it might be our culture that’s wrong, not the bit, mightn’t it? If I have a nut and a bolt which don’t fit together then it might be that the nut’s too big or it might be that the bolt’s too small; I can’t tell which unless I have a ruler which is independant of both.

            If you want to make this argument you have to come up with a better reason than just ‘this is more in tune with the culture of 2019’ so what is that reason?

          • “If you want to make this argument you have to come up with a better reason than just ‘this is more in tune with the culture of 2019’ ”

            No – I don’t. There have been all kinds of advances in human understanding and behaviour. ‘God is love’ is a statement about the nature of God. Your second example is about human behaviour. You are trying to compare apples with pears.
            Why was there a change in the law in this country in 1967?

          • No – I don’t. There have been all kinds of advances in human understanding and behaviour.

            There have been changes. Whether they are advances is exactly the point at issue. You can’t just start off assuming the conclusion by saying that all changes are advances.

            ‘God is love’ is a statement about the nature of God. Your second example is about human behaviour. You are trying to compare apples with pears.

            Ah, so is your rule ‘the Bible is reliable when it talks about the nature of God but not when it talks about human behaviour’?

            That’s at least a consistent rule. But have you really thought about the implications? I mean, there’s a lot in the Bible about human behvious, possibly even more than there is about God. ‘Do unto others…’ that’s about human behaviour, so according to your rule it’s unreliable.

            Or your favourite bit about ‘blessed are those who believe without having seen’. Is that about human behaviour, or the nature of God? I’m not sure. Is that reliable? Show your working [20].

            Why was there a change in the law in this country in 1967?

            Why does it matter? The law doesn’t always reflect God’s intention.

            Why is the law more likely to accurately reflect God’s intention in 2019 than in 1915? It has changed, sure. But has it advanced?

          • S: Advance simply means moving forward. Doesn’t necessarily mean moving to a better place.
            But in terms of post 1967 in this country, what was it that led to those changes? What’s your answer? Or do you think those activities should still be criminal?

            Who says the bible has to consistent and ‘reliable?’ I’m not even sire what reliable means in that context, as the bible is such a different collection of material. Is the letter I wrote to my wife 35 years ago about a conference I was away at still ‘reliable’ today? Or was it just intended to apply to certain circumstances we were facing in 1984?

          • Advance simply means moving forward. Doesn’t necessarily mean moving to a better place.

            I think when you talk about ‘advance’ in moral issues then ‘forward’ contains a connotation of ‘better’.

            There could also be, for example, moral regression — moving backwards.

            But in terms of post 1967 in this country, what was it that led to those changes? What’s your answer? Or do you think those activities should still be criminal?

            What was it led to those changes? Changes in how society viewed certain activies, obviously.

            Were those changes advances or regressions? That’s the whole point at issue. You can’t use the fact views changed as evidence for whether views were right to change; that’s circular reasoning.

            Who says the bible has to consistent and ‘reliable?’ I’m not even sire what reliable means in that context, as the bible is such a different collection of material. Is the letter I wrote to my wife 35 years ago about a conference I was away at still ‘reliable’ today? Or was it just intended to apply to certain circumstances we were facing in 1984?

            Well, at the moment we’re not talking about the Bible (is there a significance to your refusal to capitalise? It just looks juvenile): we’re talking about approaches to the Bible and yes it is important that those are consistent, because if you apply different standards to different bits based on nothing more than whether you like what they say, or whether they happen to fit better with contemporary social views, then you are again guilty of circular reasoning.

            If you, effectively, justify contemporary social views by saying that the bits of the Bible which contradict them should be treated differently to other bits on the grounds that they disagree with contemporary social views — which seems to be what you are doing — then you’ve just argued yourself in a circle and you’re standing on nothing.

          • S: Ok so things might have regressed, and not advanced, please answer whether you think homosexual acts should be criminalised again? Should we return to the pre 1967 situation?

            Do you use a capital L for Library always?

            I agree we are talking about approaches to the bible. And by your own admission you approach different bits of the bible differently, depending on the type of material. So in the library, when I was a boy, I used to use the Encyclopaedia Britannica to help with my homework. Would I suggest that children today used those exact same books? Would all the information in those books from 50 years ago still be accurate and applicable? Or would they have been updated?

            And your answer to my question about the letter I wrote to my wife 35 years ago would be helpful before I go any further with my answers.

          • Ok so things might have regressed, and not advanced, please answer whether you think homosexual acts should be criminalised again? Should we return to the pre 1967 situation?

            I don’t understand why you keep asking me that. I’ve said I think that whatever happens to be the law of the land in a given year is irrelevant: what’s important is the universal moral law which applies in all times and all places.

            You’re the one who seems to think there is some kind of significance to the changing of the law in 1967 (I don’t think it matters one way or the other), so the burden of proof to justify that it was right to change the law falls on you, not me.

            Do you use a capital L for Library always?

            I do when it’s part of a proper noun, like the British Library. That’s how English works. A good clue as to whether something is a proper noun is the use of the definite article. Hence we write ‘a queen’ but ‘the Queen’. Or ‘an archbishop’ but ‘the Archbishop of Armagh’. Hence ‘the Bible’.

            So what juvenile point are you trying to make by not capitalisng a proper noun, in contravention of all standard english convention, again?

            Oh, and I assume you’re equally as assiduous about not capialising ‘koran’ and ‘talmud’. that must make your inter-faith discussions exciting and spirited!

            I agree we are talking about approaches to the bible. And by your own admission you approach different bits of the bible differently, depending on the type of material.

            Yes exactly. So two bits of the Bible that are the same type — ie, two bits of two letters both written by Paul — should be approached the same. Right?

            And your answer to my question about the letter I wrote to my wife 35 years ago would be helpful before I go any further with my answers.

            I would assume, unless you are a habitual liar and let’s be charitable, that your letter would be a reliable guide to what you had experienced: that if you wrote that there was a lovely little deli on the corner then that would mean that there was, in fact, a lovely little deli on the corner.

            Of course, the city might have changed since then. But God does not change, and neither does human nature. So what was true about God, and about human nature, when the various bits of the Bible were written, must still be true today.

            So if the Bible is reliable — as reliable as your letter was about culinary geography — then what is in it must still be true.

            Maybe you lied to your wife, though, and made up the lovely little deli to cover the fact that you were spending the afternoons with your adulterous lover. If that’s the case — if your letter is not reliable — then, well, we have reason never to believe anything you say or write, don’t we, in that letter or anywhere else?

            Similary, if the bible is unreliable about one thing then we have to regard it as unreliable in general, just like if you are proved to have lied about one thing you must be regarded as untrustworthy for ever more.

            Does that answer your question?

          • “Does that answer your question?”
            Nope. not at all.
            Please tell me:
            a: whether you think we should refer to the pre 1967 situation and re-criminalise homosexuality? At the moment I’m unclear why society made this change if they didn’t get your approval.
            b: whether everything written in the 1969 is accurate enough for young people to use as a research tool now?
            c: whether the broken boiler referred to in the letter to my wife back in 1984 still needs the same treatment it did when the letter was written?

          • “Does that answer your question?”
            Nope. not at all.

            Fussy, aren’t we?

            Please tell me:
            a: whether you think we should refer to the pre 1967 situation and re-criminalise homosexuality? At the moment I’m unclear why society made this change if they didn’t get your approval.

            I said why above: they made it because social views had changed.

            But the very fact that social views had changed says nothing about whether they had changed to be more or less correct.

            I think social views are irrelevant to working out what the correct answers to moral questions are. You are the one who brought up social views as evidence, so you are the one who has to argue for the change, it’s not for not me to argue against it. Burden of proof is on you, not me.

            b: whether everything written in the 1969 is accurate enough for young people to use as a research tool now?

            Depends what it’s about. If it’s about something that doesn’t change, like mathematics or the nature of God or human nature, then it absolutely is. Do you think schools shouldn’t teach Pythagoras’ theorem, because it’s ‘out of date’? And it’s thousands of years old, not just from 1969!

            c: whether the broken boiler referred to in the letter to my wife back in 1984 still needs the same treatment it did when the letter was written?

            I presume it doesn’t, because ‘being broken’ is a temporary state for a boiler, before it is either fixed or scrapped.

            But God doesn’t have ‘temporary states’ because God doesn’t change. So if your letter said anything about God, then that is just as true (or false!) now as it was whenever you wrote it, isn’t it? Similarly human nature, that doesn’t change. So anything you wrote about human nature that was true then, is just as true now, just like the square on the hypotenuse.

          • Oh and I went to the library…not the Library. So your rule doesn’t work.

            Oh, you’re just going to be juvenile. fine.

          • “I think social views are irrelevant to working out what the correct answers to moral questions are.”
            S: I might agree with you. So let’s test a couple of questions. please give me your answers as directly as possible, without hedging them about.
            1. Should adulterers be stoned? And if not, why not…..(after all, it says in the bible they should)
            2. Please give me your view about this – no one else’s. Should homosexuality activity still be criminal?
            3. An encyclopaedia from 1969 will express a view about various matters. How do you know if that view is still correct, or was ever correct?

            As to the boiler referred to in the letter. Techniques for boiler repair and maintenance have changed dramatically since 1984. We have learned a lot more about safety. We know things that simply weren’t known in 1984. So the letter is accurate for its time, but not accurate for ALL time. Do you see the difference here?

          • I might agree with you. So let’s test a couple of questions. please give me your answers as directly as possible, without hedging them about.
            1. Should adulterers be stoned? And if not, why not…..(after all, it says in the bible they should)
            2. Please give me your view about this – no one else’s. Should homosexuality activity still be criminal?

            Again, you’re the one claiming that social views have any relevance whatsoever. So you’re the one who has to give and defend social views. I think social views are irrelevant, so I don’t know why you keep asking me about them.

            3. An encyclopaedia from 1969 will express a view about various matters. How do you know if that view is still correct, or was ever correct?

            http://jwilson.coe.uga.edu/emat6680/brown/6690/pythathm.htm

            As to the boiler referred to in the letter. Techniques for boiler repair and maintenance have changed dramatically since 1984. We have learned a lot more about safety. We know things that simply weren’t known in 1984. So the letter is accurate for its time, but not accurate for ALL time. Do you see the difference here?

            Yes, I do. Boilers are not like God, or human nature. Boilers have changed since 1984; God hasn’t changed since the universe began, and human nature hasn’t changed since there were humans.

            If something was true about boilers in 1984, it might not be true now. But if something was true about God in 1984, then it is definitely still true now and was true from the beginning of time, and if it was false in 1984 it is false now and will be false until the end of time.

            So yes you are right, boilers are very different to God and human nature. Given that I don’t understand why you brought boilers up?

          • “But God doesn’t have ‘temporary states’ because God doesn’t change. So if your letter said anything about God, then that is just as true (or false!) now as it was whenever you wrote it, isn’t it?”

            I’ve left this for a separate post as it’s your biggest error ever.
            Of course God doesn’t change. BUT…
            1. We don’t by any means know everything about God, so whatever the bible says about God is incomplete.
            2. The people who wrote the bible were humans. Therefore what they wrote about God is subject to human limitations i.e. it has errors and is just incomplete.
            3. If my letter had said anything about God, then it might have been entirely inaccurate because I’m just a human being and I don’t know everything about God (see 1 and 2 above). So my letter would be unreliable on that subject.

          • This kind of comparison surfaces again and again and again, and it highlights what is at stake here. Scripture is compared to other dated human writing which of course is time-bound…because we don’t think boiler manuals are the authoritative testimony to the actions of God which express God’s will.

            Scripture is clearly expressed in a context; but those who wish to change the church’s teaching consistently portray scripture as bound by its context and therefore cannot speak of God’s will into the present. That is a major change in doctrine.

          • “But if something was true about God in 1984, then it is definitely still true now and was true from the beginning of time,…”

            Ok let’s take something the bible says about God – God is ‘strong’. Big and strong and mighty. There is nothing he cannot do.
            Strong? What? God has biceps? God’s like a giant?

            I think you can do somewhat better S. But thanks for trying…..

          • I’ve left this for a separate post as it’s your biggest error ever.
            Of course God doesn’t change. BUT…
            1. We don’t by any means know everything about God, so whatever the bible says about God is incomplete.

            Necessarily so, because the complete truth about God could not be contained within a finite universe. So this is true but trivial.

            2. The people who wrote the bible were humans. Therefore what they wrote about God is subject to human limitations i.e. it has errors and is just incomplete.

            True, but the God’s Holy Spirit guided the process by which those writings were copied and selected into the canon. do you really think the Holy Spirit would have let egregious errors through that process?

            3. If my letter had said anything about God, then it might have been entirely inaccurate because I’m just a human being and I don’t know everything about God (see 1 and 2 above). So my letter would be unreliable on that subject.

            Yes, which is why it isn’t in the Canon.

            (Hm — I wonder, do you capitalise ‘church’ when you write about ‘the Church’ as opposed to ‘the church you go to’? Just making sure you’re consistent.)

            But again, the whole point of this discussion is that we apply the same standards to the whole of your letter. So if your letter says two things abotu God, and one is unreliable, then we regard the other with suspicion as well.

            So if you wrote ‘God loves us’ and ‘God does not approve of same-sex activity’ then either we accept both as reliable, or neither. We can’t pick one and not the other. You don’t get clean and dirty water from the same tap.

            Oh! Did someone else write a letter with both those things in?!?

          • boiler manuals

            I would also note that anyone who decided that the 1984 boiler manual’s version of Boyle’s Law was ‘outdated’ and they knew better is going to pretty quickly end up smeared all over the walls, floor, ceiling…

          • Ok let’s take something the bible says about God – God is ‘strong’. Big and strong and mighty. There is nothing he cannot do.
            Strong? What? God has biceps? God’s like a giant?

            Wait, are you saying that you reckon the people who wrote the Bible thought that God was just a big guy? Like Thor or Zeus or something?

            Seriously? That’s what you reckon they thought?

            Wow.

          • “True, but the God’s Holy Spirit guided the process by which those writings were copied and selected into the canon.”

            Really? How do you know that? What proof have you got for that?

          • Really? How do you know that? What proof have you got for that?

            If that didn’t happen, then how come any of it is reliable at all?

          • “But again, the whole point of this discussion is that we apply the same standards to the whole of your letter. So if your letter says two things abotu God, and one is unreliable, then we regard the other with suspicion as well.”

            Patently this is nonsense. No one is going to be 100% correct about everything. Not even you ‘S’! So the chances of some parts of writing being accurate and some inaccurate are extremely high and more than likely.

          • You don’t seem able to answer questions….

            I think at this point it’s up to the readers to decide who answered questions and who didn’t.

            Just remember when you go to fix that boiler: Robert Boyle died in 1691, what did he know about pressure? Turn that thermostat up, baby.

          • “Just remember when you go to fix that boiler: Robert Boyle died in 1691, what did he know about pressure?”
            Sadly he probably just didn’t know much about asbestos flues and carbon monoxide poisoning.

          • Patently this is nonsense. No one is going to be 100% correct about everything. Not even you ‘S’! So the chances of some parts of writing being accurate and some inaccurate are extremely high and more than likely.

            Maybe… but you still need a consistent way of working out which is which.

            ‘The bits I agree with are accurate, the bits I disagree with aren’t’ isn’t going to cut it.

          • Just to say, I can’t keep up with all these posts, so Andrew and “S” please understand if I limit my conversation to Simon in this thread at the moment. I still have 7 out of 10 of Simon’s questions to work through, and that’s before any supplementaries that may arise.

            In passing reference to your ‘boiler’ debate, I will only say that it is obvious to me that some parts of the bible may be found more reliable than others, just as I find some of Rudyard Kipling’s writing more reliable and resonant than other parts. Kipling wrote within his own culture but that doesn’t mean he’s not worth reading or always wrong.

            Human narration involves elements of fallibility or cultural influence, and if cultural change renders some cultural perspectives unreliable in other cultural contexts, that does not mean we can’t trust *anything* an author writes. We just have to make a judgment, obviously.

            If one says: “If even one part of the bible was unreliable, there goes my faith…” well that wouldn’t be a very secure faith, would it?

            What we need to find reliable in a relationship is the person we are in relationship with. We are in relationship with God, not the bible. And we build up trust based on grace, on God’s own input in our lives, on examples from past narrations that make sense, ring true, seem reliable.

            But if we believe God is real, then God is perfectly able to seed trust, without reliance on a set of ‘perfect’ narratives written by far from perfect people. They are deeply helpful narratives, and can help us open ourselves to the love of God. That doesn’t necessitate having to ‘bolt on’ every single cultural element or assumption.

            Our relationship with God is either the outcome of a direct intervention by God, and direct encounter; or it may be the accumulative effect to various factors, including from ways in which God speaks to us through the bible; or, of course, both.

            And the outcome is like the deepening trust that occurs between lovers. The bible offers supplementary support in that process, as a platform, a conduit, for the activity of God. It is (obviously) not God itself. So it doesn’t have to be perfect and we needn’t expect it to be.

            If some parts of the bible are culturally influenced, and provisional, why does that mean that everything in the bible is rendered unreliable? It doesn’t. God is still God. And I’d be astonished if you can’t see God in thousands of different ways in the amazing narratives we have there. And it’s an accumulative effect, whereby God works through the Holy Spirit in our lives, building up trust, building up recognition, building up love.

            The bible is not “proof”. God is proof, to the extent we risk believing and opening up into living relationship.

            The bible is like a well-worn coat – a bit tattered at the edges, with a few holes in it, but still more than capable of keeping us warm (by which I mean, drawing us into relationship and love).

            That’s my passing commentary on you guy’s 30 or so comments today, and not setting out to defend or debate this post of mine, at least until I’ve finished my conversation with Simon. I simply can’t ‘fire fight’ every single post here, because of… life!

            Simon, I’m still thinking about your questions, but thank you for your message early this morning, which I have read and appreciated.

          • What we need to find reliable in a relationship is the person we are in relationship with. We are in relationship with God, not the bible.

            I see someone else has picked up the juvenile habit of refusing to capitalise the Bible, that’s depressing.

            But: I am not ‘in a relationship’ with God. I don’t even really know what that would mean, to be ‘in a relationship’ with God. It seems bizarre. I’ve met people who claim to be ‘in a relationship’ with God (or words to that effect); as mentioned, I grew up in a church where there were people who kept getting ‘words of knowledge’, or singing praise songs while doing the pentecostal two-step with one hand in the air. I always gave them a wide berth, as much as I could.

            I am one of those who, in the words of C. S Lewis, ‘preach[es] Christianity solely and simply because [I] happen to think it is true’.

            That’s all that matters to me and, I think, all that should matter to anyone: is it true? None of this guff about relationships or trust or experience or any other ridiculousness.

            Is it true?

            That is the only question that matters. The only question worth answering.

          • Simon,

            First of all I honour you for your priestly calling and what I can only imagine has been a long journey of pastoral service, and life of prayer, and living out your vocation.

            I still have 7 of 10 original questions I may try to respond to – time allowing – but a quick response to this supplementary…

            Simon: “If I may summarise how I read you: lets say we are faced with 2 propositions presented on ‘face value’ in Scripture by the same author:
            -1st, God is love and pours his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom5v5)
            -2nd) SS sexual relations are ‘shameful’ and ‘unnatural’ (Rom1v26-28). You accept the authority and perspicacity Scripture on proposition 1 that God is outpouring affecting love because it is acceptable to you and coheres with your experience of God. However you reject the authority and perspicacity of Scripture on proposition 2 that God forbids same sex relations because it is unacceptable to you and does not cohere with what you have experienced of God in your journey. The thumbs up or thumbs down to each proposition is whether it coheres with your experience, desire and sense of what God has told you. You have become the arbiter determining what proposition to embrace. How can I avoid the conclusion that your own experience is the imprimatur and interpretive key.”

            I think your 2 propositions have rather different ‘face values’ if you de-construct the text to take account of narrator perspective. The first is quite generalised and regards the in some ways abstract experience of God’s Holy Spirit. The second is about ‘the world of men and women’ and operates on a slightly different level in its interaction with people. I’d argue it is more susceptible to culture.

            I don’t exactly “reject the authority of scripture” on the 2nd proposition, because what you mean by “the authority of scripture” isn’t a term I embrace the same way as you. I look to try to discern the authority of God, by trying to see past the narrator, whose attempts to interpret divine encounter are likely to be partial and fallible.

            I do like your expression “coheres with your experience of God” because that’s close to what I believe happens. We find an accumulative sense of who God is, through hundreds of scriptural narrative accounts, and through hundreds of life experiences, and through personal prayer or direct encounter with God… and all those things ‘cohere’ around how we see and understand God.

            But in scripture we see God expressed through the lens of other people’s viewpoints, which are touched by the reality of God, but still operate within culture, as do ours.

            I’d agree that I “reject” Proposition2 at face value, because it does not cohere with what I understand about God and relationship and love, although I still recognise the underlying value of what the author is trying to communicate: the holiness of God and the appeal for us to try to live lives coherent with that holiness.

            If I ‘objectify’ the process of conscience and discernment, and become a kind of robot receiving messages from an infallible text, then yes, that makes life simpler, but I think it God operates in a more open way than that, giving us an accumulation of insights, narratives, and events, which help us take responsibility for trying to ‘open to God’ in our own lives in our own times in our own communities – and taking the Bible influences that cohere, the greatest commandments, about love, set a lot of the underlying narrative messages in context.

            “God commanded the slaughter of the Canaanite children.” Is that ‘coherent’ with the God who is elsewhere understood to see love as the greatest commandment?

            I think we’re meant to take responsibility, and not simply let the cultural values of the Bible anaesthetise our own consciences and morality.

            “You have become the arbiter determining what proposition to embrace.”

            Yes.

            And so have you, in deciding to attribute the proposition that all scripture has authority to an irrefutable fact. It’s what scripture claims for itself, but you embrace that proposition.

            I still view the collective accumulation of insights in the bible as profound, but see the bible as a container, a vessel, a conduit for truth… not as fixed and rigid and frozen in time and culture.

            I believe the “authority” of God interacts with our consciences in a looser, more open way… because God is numinous, God is multi-dimensional in the approaches of grace in our lives… and God is wanting us to grow, beyond a ‘rule book’ relationship, into a relationship dependent more and more on grace, conscience, openness to love (the greatest imperative), and underlined in givenness to each other, in trust, in devotion.

            God is far more mysterious than the narrow, boxed in fundamentalism that (like right-wing populists today) wants certainties, and is full of the fear of what may happen if those certainties are challenged.

            You are not like them, I am not saying that. But you are right that we approach scripture from somewhat different perspectives, though I also think God still speaks to both of us through the scriptures nonetheless, and we both walk paths with God, in prayer, in devotion to God and to others, with grace given to us by God.

            We are not as far apart as you think, in my opinion. We love God and long for God and we are one in Jesus Christ.

            May God bless you today, Simon, and thank you for your calm and reason.
            Susannah.

          • Simon: “How are we to get along when Paul is rejected when his ethics don’t match our C21st ethics?”

            Well, we may have contrary views on Brexit, but that wouldn’t at all mean I “reject” you or your general morality or your wisdom and insights on everything. I’d just disagree about Brexit, as I do with some of my 4 brothers, but I still highly respect them.

            So I think Christians can still “get along” because there is so much more to being a Christian – serving the poor, the sick, the lonely, the marginalised… loving God in daily devotions… trying, to the best of our consciences, to ‘give’ ourselves to God and our communities.

            In my home church – very much evangelical – we had Christians of various and diverse views, but we also had LOVE.

            Love, in the end, is how we ‘get along’. The love of God transcends our differences, unless we harden our hearts to each other. And yet we may still disagree on things, like I do with my brothers.

          • “Maybe… but you still need a consistent way of working out which is which.

            ‘The bits I agree with are accurate, the bits I disagree with aren’t’ isn’t going to cut it.”

            S: no, that won;t indeed cut it, even though that is what you seem to do. Things change S – hence we no longer stone people who commit adultery.

            The consistent way of working out wich is which is to apply other things like tradition, reason, and human experience. And in the question of same sex activity we apply the same reasoning and experience as western civilization has done to the matter. Hence the change of law in this country since 1967.
            You can pretend to be King Canute if you wish – but the tide is coming in on this one, just as it did over the oridnation of women. Change happens.
            For conservatives to be taken seriously they need a better approach than just saying’ it says so in the bible’. It says lots in the bible that we choose to gloss over.

            As to you not being able to answer the question of how you know the scriptures are somehow confirmed by the operation of the Holy Spirit S: the reason, as you well know, that you won’t give me an answer is because the only place it tells us that is the scriptures themselves. And even you know that something can’t testify about itself to give proof.

          • Incidentally Simon, I am trying to shorten my posts from now, at Ian’s friendly suggestion and request, and it’s his website so I owe it to him to do that. He is very hospitable accommodating views like mine on his site. I respect that.

            If at any time in the future you would like to meet up to have quiet-spirited conversation together, I would be open to that. I have come to trust you because of your intellectual honesty, reason and graciousness.

            I wouldn’t want to meet you face-to-face with the aim of us trying to ‘convince’ each other or ‘win’ arguments. But I have found a clarity in the interface of these conversations, and this interface – not around human sexuality but, as you sharply home in on, around the nature of authority and the scriptures – is the frontier of what could split our Church in schism or help us understand the fidelities we share.

            I live in the East Midlands, not too far from Ian, actually, but with easy access down to London if that helped. You can track down my contact details on one of my little websites.

            However, I appreciate life is busy. I know that all too well at the moment!

          • S

            1) The bible is full of egregious errors

            2) Some of the writers of the HB thought God was massive, mighty, muscular. Read the prophetic writings

          • I have always found it odd that those with the most liberal position on the nature of scripture have to read Scripture with a strange wooden fundamentalist literalism in order to justify their position. Odd.

            And this conversation about the nature of Scripture doesn’t read like a debate between two variant Christian positions. It reads like a debate between a Christian position and a sceptical non-believing one that has little connection with any historic Christian position.

          • And yet, we are Christians, Ian. How does that work?

            Surely one is not going to go down the road of saying “You are not a real Christian”.

            The idea that Penny or I, or countless others are “not-believing”… well I do find that quite hard to receive.

            After all, we may believe in God and love God, but not necessarily believe what the bible says in the same way.

            And yet still, profoundly, believe in so much that the Bible fundamentally communicates to us all.

            “Non belief” isn’t really what our differences are about, is it?

            We are Christians too.

          • I have always found it odd that those with the most conservative position on the nature of scripture feel terribly threatened if one but if it turns out to be unreliable.

            Thr discussion has struck me as a bit faithless on behalf of that conservative position. ‘S’ can’t even give his name, let alone produce a coherent argument.

          • Surely one is not going to go down the road of saying “You are not a real Christian”.

            Why not? There are clearly people in history who thought they were real Christians, but weren’t; Arius, for example.

            Personally, I don’t believe in a God who gives spiritual orgasms. Maybe that makes me the false Christian. I mean I’m not claiming for sure that I am right. Just that the two ideas of God are so vastly different as to be mutually incompatible. I mean this isn’t just some subtle point of theology like ‘and or through the son’, this is full-on ‘are you a Christian or are you a Quaker, you can’t be both’ territory.

            But if someone else’s ‘god’ does give them spiritual orgasms, then the two of us are definitely not following the same religion and one of us, possibly me, needs to be kicked out, just like Arius and his followers.

          • Because I’m not a wooden literalist

            That doesn’t answer the question.

            If we were on a jury and you said, ‘That witness made some egregious errors’, and I said, ‘I know, but she said he did the murder so I’m going to vote guilty’, and you replied ‘but nobody else saw it and she was totally wrong about absolutely everything else’ and I said ‘yes she was wrong about everything else but I still think she was right about that one thing’ you’d think I was being stupid, wouldn’t you?

            Being a literalist, made out of whatever material, has nothing to do with it.

            The point is that if a source is full of egregious errors, how can you take anything else it says on trust? What sort of a historian would do that?

          • Who on earth in their right mind could think that a significant library of books of very different genres written over thousands of years did NOT contain some errors? It’s ridiculous to assume otherwise. And it does not mean you have no faith because there are errors, or at the very least variant readings and gaps between what the writer intended – which we can’t verify – and what the reader has understood. Your thesis that it all has to be 100% accurate or none of it is accurate just doesn’t stack up ‘S’.

          • Who on earth in their right mind could think that a significant library of books of very different genres written over thousands of years did NOT contain some errors? It’s ridiculous to assume otherwise.

            That would be the case if the books in question were a merely human product, without divine involvement in their inspiration, writing, transmission, and selection.

            But with God, all things are possible.

            Still, please explain: given you reckon the Bible’s full of egregious errors, why would you believe any of it?

            Do you only believe those bits that you already agree with because they accord with your ‘reason’ and ‘experiences’?

            Could the Bible ever surprise you? It seems the answer is no: if the Bible ever tells you something about God you don’t already agree with, or that doesn’t fit the picture of God that you want to have, you simply declare it an error and move on.

          • Your thesis that it all has to be 100% accurate or none of it is accurate just doesn’t stack up ‘S’.

            Oh, and that’s not the thesis. Of course it could be, say, 80% accurate.

            But the point is that if it’s not 100% accurate then we have no sure way of separating the 20% of errors from the 80% that’s true and so we must treat it all as inaccurate.

            If I give you a witness statement, from the only person who was at the incident, and tell you that two-thirds of it is true and one-third of it is false, but give you no way to tell which is which, then even though you cannot rely on any of it, can you?

            And that’s the position you say we are in as regard the Bible: some of it is true, some it of it is false, but we can’t tell which bits are which because we have no way to independently verify any of it (well, any of the important bits: we can find evidence for the reigns of kings etc, but we have no other source of information about God [spiritual orgasms don’t count]).

            So if we have a source which contains errors, but we don’t know which bits are the errors, then it’s not the case that none of it is accurate (which is what you claim I am saying but I’m not); but it is the case that we must treat all of it as potentially false and we cannot rely on any of it because the bit we rely on might turn out to be one of the errors and we have no way to tell.

          • “That would be the case if the books in question were a merely human product, without divine involvement in their inspiration, writing, transmission, and selection.”

            Ah ‘S’ back to that again. How do you know this is the case? What’s your proof for it?

          • Ah ‘S’ back to that again. How do you know this is the case? What’s your proof for it?

            Well, I don’t have proof so much as circumstantial evidence: on those things where I am sure, the Bible agrees, and on those things where the Bible surprises and disagrees with me, I have no certain evidence the Bible is wrong. I don’t see any other explanation for that other than extreme coincidence, or divine action. I suppose it could just be extreme coincidence, though. Do you think it is?

            But you — you reckon that bits of the Bible are wrong, yet apparently you still believe other bits of it, with no other evidence than that the Bible says so. How can you reconcile these? If the Bible is wrong about same-sex intercourse being sinful, how can you take it as reliable when it says that those who believe without seeing are blessed, when there is no evidence that those who believe without seeing are in fact blessed and ample evidence that they are in fact not blessed at all?

          • “…how can you take it as reliable when it says that those who believe without seeing are blessed, when there is no evidence that those who believe without seeing are in fact blessed and ample evidence that they are in fact not blessed at all?”

            The ‘via negativa’ of Carmelite contemplation, and the lived experience of generations of Carmelites, proposes just that… that blessing comes when we no longer see, as if blocked off from understanding by the cloud of unknowing… when we no longer think we know, or have words… when all we can do is trust the one we love.

            Thomas needed tangible proof.

            But there is also blessing where proof falls away, and there is only trust… and, of course, the fidelity of the one who loves us.

          • The ‘via negativa’ of Carmelite contemplation, and the lived experience of generations of Carmelites, proposes just that… that blessing comes when we no longer see, as if blocked off from understanding by the cloud of unknowing… when we no longer think we know, or have words… when all we can do is trust the one we love.

            Right, okay, but that just sounds like total meaningless rubbish to me.

            Is there any reason to think it’s not just total meaningless rubbish? Any actual evidence?

            If there isn’t, and I am pretty sure there isn’t, then you’re back to only thinking it’s true because it says it in the Bible. But if you think the Bible is full of errors… then how do you know this isn’t one of the errors?

          • “Still, please explain: given you reckon the Bible’s full of egregious errors, why would you believe any of it?”

            Because some of it is true?

            I simply don’t understand your reasoning, S. Any book may be partly true and partly wrong, or culturally influenced, or right at the time but not today. There are loads of books like that.

            What you do is weigh the extent to which each narrative rings true, makes sense in line with conscience and experience, resonates with your faith, opens your mind. And you use your critical thinking (God-given) as well. And in the end you may or may not be right. But that’s faith: not total certainty about everything, but trust, belief, relationship, openness, change, growth, and of course love.

            It’s obvious different Christians have different understandings – but you walk your path with God.

            My hope for you is simply that, S: that you are much blessed along the path God gives you to walk. And find grace and love and kindness each step along the way. And knowledge that you are loved, especially when and where you hurt. And that this walk and path, over the months and years, deepens relationship with God.

            There are so very many things in the bible that ring profoundly true. For some readers, not all do. But the heart of the gospel rings so true. It would be insanity, once one has experienced these fundamental realities for oneself (grace, love, salvation, personal relationship, prayer, spiritual baptism) NOT to believe these parts of the Bible.

            If some parts are cultural and temporary or provisional at the immediate narrative level addressed to its specific audience… why would that stop me loving God, experiencing God, trusting God in line with the scriptures in these fundamental things… if the narratives resonate so strongly with lived experience? It wouldn’t stop me. I would (and do) believe so many narrative parts of the bible.

            It’s consistent with a love-and-trust relationship going on with God, so why wouldn’t I believe parts? Why would some parts being fallible mean I don’t believe ANY of it? Why would I give up on God – in the midst of a love affair – just because a few authors wrote fallible bits?

            That would be like giving up on your wife because she snores.

          • “Right, okay, but that just sounds like total meaningless rubbish to me.”

            I think the last 2 words of that statement are a wee bit axiomatic of the difficulty we have here.

            “Is there any reason to think it’s not just total meaningless rubbish? Any actual evidence?”

            The experience of Christians like Francisco de Osuna, Teresa de Avila, Therese de Lisiuex… and hundreds of other Christians’ reports on the same experience… backwards in time to the author of ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’ and even to the ‘desert fathers’… forward in time to Thomas Merton and Martin Laird… and convents and monasteries all over the world practising contemplative prayer and recollection.

            Pinning everything down to the supposed ‘proof-texts’ of scripture may be one Christian approach, but one must avoid leaning too heavily on the Thomas-like desire for ‘proof’, when the way of *trust* promises blessing too.

            These *are* very serious Christian traditions you know? And practice stretched over the centuries and millennia for a reason. The point I’m trying to make is that a Christian is not dependent on ‘proof’ such as an infallible Bible. That’s the Thomas direction.

            Far more important is trust arising from encounter and relationship. And I’m not sure how anyone produces ‘evidence’ of that, except arguably by the way they live.

            Please understand, I am not at all advocating throwing out the bible. It is pregnant with stunning and profound narrative, and I truly believe it is a conduit through which the presence and grace of God can flow to the reader, opening up her heart to God.

            But I’m suggesting I feel there is maybe quite a tense anxiety in you to insist everything must be true, everything must hold together, and a fear of ‘what happens if it doesn’t’. Forgive me, because I’m not trying to personalise. But I don’t understand your urgent insistent that we *must* believe everything in the bible is true, otherwise something bad might happen.

            If a Christian trusts deeply in God, and lives for decades in relationship with God, in a relationship with encounter, and trials and blessings… surely you can see that in a relationship of trust and integrity, things don’t fall apart. The love deepens (if God chooses). So while my own little faith is just a small, private life, I am not afraid of the key parts of the bible becoming untrustworthy. Because I just trust and believe. And faith is not an academic debate as we all know. It is a journey lived out. Over more than 40 years I have known God accompanying me in prisons, in schools, in hospitals… and of course I have often messed up… BUT God has proven to be faithful and true in the lived experience of my day to day life.

            I don’t *need* the proof of a perfect bible. I’m content with one that is mostly, and profoundly, true. The rest is trust.

            Say a husband and wife live for years together. Through thick and thin. They still don’t agree on everything. They still have things they don’t completely know about each other’s feelings or preferences. But over time, if the marriage is blessed, what they do have – beyond words – is ***love*** and ***trust***.

            They just do.

            If there isn’t, and I am pretty sure there isn’t, then you’re back to only thinking it’s true because it says it in the Bible. But if you think the Bible is full of errors… then how do you know this isn’t one of the errors?

          • Sorry! The last 4 lines of my last post were your words. My own message ends just before them. This thread has grown so long that I copy the whole post I want to refer to, because it takes too long to search for it again!

            I’m off to bed. May God be with you. Susannah

          • “Still, please explain: given you reckon the Bible’s full of egregious errors, why would you believe any of it?”

            Because some of it is true?

            But you don’t know which bits are true. That’s the whole point. Even 99% of something is true and only 1% of it is false but you don’t know which is which then you can’t trust any of it.

            So how can you believe any of it?

            I simply don’t understand your reasoning, S. Any book may be partly true and partly wrong, or culturally influenced, or right at the time but not today. There are loads of books like that.

            Yep. But on issues where there is no other corroborating evidence, then unless you know a source is definitely reliable, you have to assume it’s false. Don’t you?

            How do you not understand? How is this hard to understand? The Bible is our only source for what God is like. We have no other source to check it against, unless you count the ravings of mad people who claim to have experienced meeting God, which I don’t and you shouldn’t either. So if the Bible is partly true and partly wrong, we cannot know which part are true and which parts are wrong, can we? So we have to assume — as jurors faced with an unreliable witness — that we must not rely on any of it.

            My hope for you is simply that, S: that you are much blessed along the path God gives you to walk. And find grace and love and kindness each step along the way. And knowledge that you are loved, especially when and where you hurt. And that this walk and path, over the months and years, deepens relationship with God.

            As above: I don’t have a relationship with God. I don’t want a relationship with God. I don’t want ‘grace and love and kindness’ or ‘knowledge that [I] am loved’. All that matters to me, and all that should matter to anyone, is what is true.

            There are so very many things in the bible that ring profoundly true. For some readers, not all do. But the heart of the gospel rings so true.

            What is true, not that rings true. Many things ring true which are, in fact, false. The ring of truth should be ignored as it is at best meaningless and at worst, which is often, actively misleading.

            Always ignore the ring of truth. It usually is worn on the finger of a lie.

        • Romans 1: 26-27 ‘Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another.’

          Paul’s words are clear. He was condemning both. His concern was the behaviour, not why or how they came to behave in a particular way.

        • I find your understanding of the Romans passage pretty odd and smacks of grasping at straws. Will Jones’ response to you is correct.

          If you havent read Preston Sprinkle’s book ‘People to be Loved’ I would recommend it.

          • PC1

            Nevertheless, it sis the reading of some scholars (Preston Sprinkle isn’t a biblical scholar nor an historian of the ancient world) and of the early church.
            The ‘lesbian’ reading is much more modern.

  8. In the debates about attitudes same-sex marriage/relationships/activity together with divorce and slavery, there seems to me to be something missing. It is as if something is either good, ordained of God, and blessed, or bad, condemned and prohibited. I think there is a middle ground between blessed and prohibited. Let’s call it ‘permitted’.

    The journey of slavery has been from permitted (as it was a basic fact of life in the ancient world) to prohibited.

    The journey of divorce followed by remarriage has been from permitted by Moses to prohibited by Jesus (perhaps with exceptions*) and now back to permitted. Marriage itself (between a man and a woman) is unquestionably ‘blessed’. Allowing remarriage following divorce, with repentance, expresses redemption in action.

    The (proposed) journey of SSM etc. is different. It is from prohibited to blessed, not just permitted. Support for the blessing of same sex relationships in ‘marriage’ or otherwise requires this longer journey, which is much harder to justify.

    *In a comment on +Peter Carrell’s blog (congratuations, Peter, on the +!) a while back there was link to an article which had an interesting footnote. It stated that in Jesus’ time the Torah on adultery was beginning not to be enforced. This led me to wonder if the Matthean exception was a response to this. After all, if one’s spouse was found to have committed adultery, and the law applied, they would be dead, and one would be free to remarry. If capital punishment were not applied, divorce follows. In those cases why not allow remarriage?

    • Allowing remarriage following divorce, with repentance, expresses redemption in action.

      I’ve never quite understood this idea. Redemption is freedom from a sin which has been repented of, right? Restoration to the condition one was in before the sin.

      But entering a valid marriage isn’t a sin. So how can someone be ‘redeemed’ by being restored to the condition one was in before the marriage (and therefore able to marry again) if the marriage wasn’t a sin?

      So how can remarriage following divorce be redemption? One is one being redeemed from? It would have be be redemption from the sate of being married, right (that being what makes remarriage adulterous)? But being married isn’t sinful, so how can one be redeemed from it?

      After all, if one’s spouse was found to have committed adultery, and the law applied, they would be dead, and one would be free to remarry. If capital punishment were not applied, divorce follows. In those cases why not allow remarriage?

      That, I believe, was John Calvin’s reasoning: ‘the wicked forbearance of magistrates makes it necessary for husbands to put away unchaste wives, because adulterers are not punished’.

    • Thank you for your congratulations, David. We disagree on some things but I agree with you that it is important in this (and other matters) to consider the possibility of three views (ways forward) and not only two.

  9. Thanks, Will – a very clear analysis (and it’s good to discuss with you something other than faculties, room dividers and moving kitchens!)
    I have always appreciated the exhortation of Paul a couple of verses before the one you mentioned in 1 Corinthians 7 – “Were you called while a slave? Do not be concerned about it; but if you can be made *free, rather use it*. Paul seemed keen that slaves should be free.
    On a more general point, I have thought that one reason why the Lord didn’t seek to overthrow slavery in his teaching was the real risk of sudden social chaos. I’ve been led to believe that the Roman Empire for instance was reliant on slavery to function. If it had been abolished overnight then multitudes of people would have suffered, maybe even starved. We saw something like that in the Communist overthrows of the 20th century when the ensuing social chaos consigned millions to social disruption, famine and death.
    NT Wright gave a thoughtful parallel to help us understand this in a modern context. If because of the very real problem with climate change, the Government overnight changed every fossil fuelled vehicle in the country for an electric vehicle there would be complete chaos.
    I read a blog recently, and I can’t remember by whom, which made the following argument: Christian conservative tradition over the centuries (as Will has explained above) was that slavery should be discontinued; the ‘Christians’ of the 18th century who argued that slavery was ‘scriptural’ and hence proper were in fact the revisionists who wanted to change the understood teachings of the church.

    • On a more general point, I have thought that one reason why the Lord didn’t seek to overthrow slavery in his teaching was the real risk of sudden social chaos. I’ve been led to believe that the Roman Empire for instance was reliant on slavery to function. If it had been abolished overnight then multitudes of people would have suffered, maybe even starved

      Surely a more relevant point is that the idea that the early Christians could have caused slavery to be abolished in the Roman Empire is simply absurd. The most they could do was set their own slaves free, which indeed is what they are generally told to do.

      Asking the early Christians to abolish slavery would have been like asking them to, I don’t know, fly to the moon. To even mention it would be to be subject to ridicule.

      Then when Christians were in a position to affect national policy, they could apply the same principles they had been taught to uphold in their private lives to the matter of public policy.

      But the very idea that a rag-tag bunch of furtive converts, a fair proportion of whom were slaves and ex-slaves themselves, and for whom simply surviving the next persecution was far from certain, could even consider that they might one day be in a position to affect the social order enough to abolish slavery? Absurd.

      • S, I was focusing more on the reasons why Jesus didn’t directly forbid slavery in his teaching for which he has been criticised by sceptics.
        I think you are dissing the influence of the ‘rag-tag’ bunch – remember that they caused a massive riot in Ephesus; and they were described as those who had “turned the world upside down”!

        • I was focusing more on the reasons why Jesus didn’t directly forbid slavery in his teaching for which he has been criticised by sceptics

          Oh, why He didn’t tell his followers, ‘don’t keep slaves’?

          Were many first-century Jewish fishermen in a position to keep slaves?

          Less frivolously, was slavery common among Jews in Israel in the first century? Presumably the occupying Romans brought their slaves with them, but Jesus very rarely addresses them in His teaching, doesn’t He? He does however address Pharisees and Sadducees; did they keep slaves?

          If no, why would He have had occasion to forbid people form doing something they weren’t doing anyway? Especially when the Old Testament was already down on slavery.

          Perhaps He didn’t address slavery for the same reason He didn’t address same-sex relationships: the Scriptures were already clear on the matter and He had nothing to add.

          • Hi S, thanks for something to mull over.
            Yes, I’m sure it was true that Jesus may not have mentioned many things because they were not issues in Palestine – like the requirement to be circumcised, or food offered to idols; but these became important matters as the church spread into Europe and Asia.
            There again it is possible that Zebedee could have had slaves. We read that he used hired men to run his fishing business. It is conceivable that someone indebted to him could have become a voluntary slave to pay off his debts (I like to think of Jewish slavery as akin to indentured servitude which could only legally last for 6 years rather than the disgusting slavery of the Americas). And the disciples wouldn’t have had slaves themselves as they were still young and appeared to be working in the family business.
            There is no real evidence, but it is possible that Philemon was a Hellenistic Jew living in Colossae and that Onesimus was his slave in that context!

          • Yes, I’m sure it was true that Jesus may not have mentioned many things because they were not issues in Palestine

            Oh, I was going to say: it’s also possible Jesus did mention them, but the writers of the gospels, having limited space, didn’t bother to record the things he said that were non-controversial. Just as today when a politican makes a speech of, say, an hour in length, only the five seconds of it that are a new policy, or which cause controversy, might be reported, while the vast majority is forgotten almost as soon as it is said.

          • Peter ‘Yes, I’m sure it was true that Jesus may not have mentioned many things because they were not issues in Palestine’

            Peter – I agree with your point – but please dont put Jesus in Palestine – not true then, not true now

          • S and Peter
            Zebedee could have kept slaves. Many ‘poor’ people in the G/R empire did. But this was not ‘benign’ Hebrew slavery, it was as vile and violent as the American slave trade.
            And it was accepted as the norm in Christianity. After all, it was used metaphorically.

  10. When I feel confident that I could argue the opposition’s case as easily as I can my own, it’s blaring neon warning that this has gone round in circles for way too long.

    The affirming side’s never gonna drop it; neither will those holding to the traditional position. If they’re unwilling to tolerate the affirming position within the church, schism’s inevitable. It’d be a lot more fruitful discussing the practicalities of that than continuing to talk past one another.

    • Aside from the fact that the absolute use of the word ‘affirming’ is illiterate, an unthinking slogan (with the implications that has for those who employ it), what does anyone expect when wishes and research conclusions are confused/conflated with each other for the reason that they are both ‘views’? Everyone must know that in reality they could not be more different from each other. It stands to reason that once people stop being evidence-led, nothing will ever get resolved, since there are no longer criteria. Yet since 2003 time has been wasted in aeons, money has been wasted in GDPs.

    • There is, of course, another route: the Scottish option, and Unity in Diversity. What it requires is respect for one another’s consciences, and willingness to keep loving one another, and get on with all our other Christian service to our communities.

      • The Scottish ‘option’ involved belittling the impact of revising the liturgy and doctrine of marriage. As the SEC’s Doctrinal Committee put it:
        “5. Should Canon 31 be amended to extend to couples of the same sex the option
        of marriage in church, as provided by the Marriage Law of Scotland, and the
        authorised Christian Marriage liturgy of the SEC be amended accordingly, this would
        reflect a rather less fundamental development in the doctrine and liturgy of the SEC
        than those reflected in changes to the initiation rites.”

        Yet, the movement towards bestowing primacy on baptism (in contrast with confirmation) cannot be compared to gender-neutralising the marriage rite. For example, the former rite has not been amended to be inclusive of Unitarian belief. Baptism is still in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

        The Church should only defer to personal conscience on issues which are adiaphora. There’s no warrant in scripture, tradition or reason for treating sexual relationships in this way.

  11. Colin – most of us dont have access to the articles referred to – could you perhaps offer a few lines on why you think “incest” is isolated and in the apostolic minds in Acts15? I find that hard to believe it was singled out – presumably there is an exact word in the Greek to refer to this, whereas Porneia is a more all-inclusive word, and Scott McKnight argues that the C1st Jew would thus understand in reference to Lev18 – a catalogue of any & all forms of sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage.
    Yes, incest is specifically underlined in Lev18, but a whole other host of condemned sexual activities are also.

    Scott McKnight states “… when the term porneia is used in a general sexual immorality sense, it refers for the Jew to Leviticus 18, which means it includes same-sex relations as one kind of sexual relation prohibited. In other words, it can mean “sexual immorality” in general, with no particular boundaries in mind, but for a Jew it is more likely it has a Leviticus 18 context in mind…So, while porneia can be a sweeping generalizing term referring to any kind of sexual immorality, for the Jew there was an established list of what was meant. If one wants specifics, no better listing can be found than in Leviticus 18. In fact, the importance of this chapter for defining what porneia would have meant for a 1st Century Jew cannot be exaggerated. Leviticus 18 was for the Jewish world of Torah observance God’s covenant gift to the Israelites (18:1-2) that both clarified how to live and set them apart from pagans. Thus, the chapter overtly distances Israelites from the Egyptians and Canaanites (18:3, 24-28, 29-30) in prohibiting sexual relations with:

    close relatives (18:6),
    parents (18:7) and the spouses of parents (18:8),
    siblings (18:9, 11),
    spouses of one’s children or their children (18:10),
    aunts [and uncles] or their spouses (18:12-14),
    children by law (18:15),
    sisters-in-law [and brothers-in-law](18:16),
    a woman and her daughter and her children (18:17),
    sister in law (18:18),
    women during menstruation (18:19),
    neighbor’s wife (18:20),
    same-sex relations (18:22),
    and animals (18:23).
    The categories at work in what a Jew in the 1st Century meant by porneia were shaped by the Torah, and that means Leviticus 18.”

    https://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2015/4/6/did-jesus-talk-about-homosexuality/

    • Agreed. It seems to me whilst Jesus did not specifically condemn same-sex sex, He did condemn ‘all sexual immorality’ which for a 1st century rabbi and His hearers undoubtedly included such sex. ALL of the evidence supports that.

    • Simon ‘same-sex relations (18:22)’. That is simply not what that verse actually says. It is actually not a ‘biblical’ claim to make. The verse’s focus seems to be much more specific but is notoriously difficult to translate with certainty. And that you and I could get into a familiar and complex debate about the original Hebrew and its meaning simply underlines my point. I would accept that some expression of same-sex sexual activity is in mind – but what that is and why it is specifically is condemned here … well answers on a post card?
      At the end of very informed and courteous discussion thread on Ian’s blog on this text a while back Jerome Walsh wrote to his fellow debaters – ‘At the end of the day, there are simply some linguistic questions that we can’t definitively answer given our present, non-native knowledge of the ancient language; and which of our readings is closer to the ancient usage is, I fear, one of them. I think we’ve reached an impasse on the issue of how best to understand mishkebe ishshah in these two verses.’
      ‘Given this lack of certitude’, one responded, ‘we do not have grounds to reject the traditional approach.’ Walsh rightly replied. ‘If this is true, then we likewise do not have grounds to impose the traditional view’.

      • David: The meaning of Leviticus 18:22 has never been in doubt amongst Jews throughout their entire history. There is a consistent record of how it was understood by those who observed it. Given this, any modern ‘doubt’, driven as it is by a desire for it to be otherwise, cannot seriously be credited.

        • This is nonsense Will. Have you read any rabbinic debates on this text for example?
          But why not read through the discussion thread I referred to on Ian’s blog on this. The stuff I refer to is a little way in. It is courteous and often learned debate between informed OT scholars of different traditions.
          You might also notice they do not descend to immature insinuations about each other’s motives in exploring different interpretations.

          • David – at the conclusion of those very interesting debates Ian makes the key point that I am making, which I reproduce here:

            ‘If we cannot be certain of the sense of the phrase through analysis of the text alone, then we need to attend to the history of interpretation of the text. This is not a question of a faith commitment to the notion of ‘canon’, but a historical observation about how this text was received and understood.

            To my knowledge, the consistent reading of this text in the ancient world understood it *not* as an offence against the masculinity of the receptive partner, but as a general prohibition on same sex activity—by the time of the rabbis, of women as well as men. In fact, if you accept the source critical analysis of Leviticus, Lev 20 can be read as the first reception of Lev 18, and we see the immediate move to a generalisation of the idea.

            This seems to me to be highly significant for our own understanding of the sense of the verse in Lev 18.22.’

            https://www.psephizo.com/biblical-studies/leviticus-and-same-sex-relations/#comment-329810

      • David R,

        In that thread, Jerome T Walsh’s self-contradictory logic was exposed as fallacious by Robert Holmstedt.

        As the latter explained: “the irony here is too delicious not to point out — you’re retreating (though inaccurately) behind old grammatical analyses when it comes to the description of verbs but then challenging the traditional syntactic analysis that generations of scholars arrived at based on the very grammatical framework that you’re taking your stand on (but somehow finding a different analysis).”
        https://www.psephizo.com/biblical-studies/the-grammar-of-leviticus-18-22/#comment-329990

        In other words, Walsh’s position involves him sawing off the selfsame grammatical ‘branch’ that he’s sat on.

        • David and Will
          Thanks. That thread discussion contained a really interesting and often technical debate between a variety of scholars who were taking a variety of positions. It was a model of courteous and robust debate.
          David – Robert Holmstedt’s response, as quoted by you, comes in a sequence of exchanges between him and Jerome Walsh. He does not appear to be convincing Walsh who has just previously replied, ‘Dear Robert, Gesenius, Juoun, and Waltke and O’Connor may all be wrong on the issue but, for the time being anyway, I’ll stick with them.’ ‘For the time being’ is the language of someone who remains open to continued debate. In the part of his reply you do not quote Holmstesdt replies ‘they aren’t wrong, per se, and I never claimed that they were.’ It didn’t sound like a debate they were going to agree on any time soon.

          Will – Ian Paul’s response offered typical clear viewpoint and included an important phrase – ‘To my knowledge’ …. He, like the rest, is bringing his learning and testing it. Others has already disagreed with his take and offered their own take or the same testing.
          You both choose to side with a particular contributor. Fine.
          The debate could have continued … and will needs.

          I am making two points:
          A variety of informed textual scholars are having a courteous and robust debate around the meaning of a particular complex text. This is good robust theological method. They continue to disagree.
          It is plainly misleading to claim, in the light of this debate, that the meaning of this bible text is clear and plain and has been throughout history.

          That’s all I am saying.

          • Thanks David, and I found the exchange interesting – though it seems ironic for you to laud ‘courteous and robust debate’ when you have withdrawn from our previous debate without answering the critical questions.

            Walsh does claim that there were ‘widely varying views’ on the meaning of the Levitical texts within mishnaic or talmudic Judaism, but he admits he is ‘no expert’ and more to the point gives no references or citations at all. Everything Ian Paul has seen gives no reason to think that there was any such variation (and I have found nothing either). So again, without actual evidence or scholarship being given (this feels familiar) the claim cannot be credited.

          • I find the idea that, because well-informed people take a different view in a debate, then we cannot be confident of a position, and cannot as a Church affirm the truth of it, rather odd.

            If that were so, then I don’t there is a single claim made by the Church about Jesus and the gospel that we could affirm.

            The question is not whether there is a debate, but whether the case made in each case stands up to scrutiny. And often the issues at stake are hidden with the assumptions and interests that each side takes.

          • Will The real irony is you not noticing that people left that discussion too while it was still unfinished. Come on. Get over it.

          • Ian Yes I find it odd too. I also find it odd that you think anyone here has actually said that?
            This discussion has been about one very specific and difficult verse in Leviticus.
            And once again there are those claims that the revisionist view is down to hidden agendas and motives. Well OK. Forgive us our sins Lord. But let’s at least agree that conservatives are as prone to that as anyone else.

    • To add another little pebble on the pile…
      One must assume that the prohibitions in Acts 15 relate to things that pagan converts had been doing prior to conversion, and might continue to do. However, in 1 Cor 5 we have the man who was sleeping with his father’s wife. This is “of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate.” If incest is intolerable to the pagan, it hardly seems necessary to say “don’t commit incest”.

      • “One must assume…” or one must not. The Council was concerned with how gentiles might live in Christ not having been living in Israel and in relation to its Lord and Law. There is no evidence it was doing a sociological evaluation of those things gentiles had been doing and then cooking up some rules against them. Meat strangled? The concern of the Council was agreement with the scriptures. This is stated clearly and the final statement about “for in every city Moses has been taught” makes sense only in this context.

        It has been held by progressives that Acts 15 represents some kind of alleviation of Jewish thinking, and so a good analogy for alleviation or standard Christian teaching. Acts 15 gives no evidence of this. In fact, it represents the opposite instinct: a search in the law of Moses for how ‘sojourners in the midst of Israel,’ in Christ, are to conduct their lives.

    • Simon—thanks for engaging with me. My take on it goes like this: “See if you can kick that can.” Context (not the lexicon) determines within any statement the understanding of a word—in my example, “can.” Porneia is an umbrella word (as Scott McKnight suggests) and I could have cited many academic articles discussing the meaning of it—I doubt there is a definitive position.

      Acts 15 is discussing how any new Christian freedoms might upset Jewish believers. Sexual immorality is not one of them—such was not a freedom either embraced. But adherence to some Mosaic Covenant stipulations might cause problems, including it seems: “things polluted by idols, from what has been strangled, and from blood.”

      —and the Jewish incest laws. They were unique in all the ANE law codes. They included an extensive prohibition of marriages involving both consanguineous and affinity relations—a detailed and fascinating analysis is in: David. R. Mace, Hebrew Marriage: A Sociological Study (London: Epworth, 1953), 151-64. Failure to observe such incest rules in the early church might have resulted in unnecessary tension with Jewish believers—thus, I suggest, this is what the context in Acts 15 suggests.

      The New American Bible (Revised Edition) approved, as I understand it, by the Church of Rome, translates Matt 19:9 as: “I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery” —in other words, the NABRE implies that porneia in this context is incest, as an incestuous marriage is by definition unlawful. See explanation in: The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: The New Testament (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010), 41.

      But most Bibles, I suggest correctly, opt for the broader “sexual immorality” as the best translation of porneia in the context of Matt 19:9—which seems to best suit the meaning of the expression “something indecent” in Deut 24 that Jesus is explaining. See comments in: David Instone-Brewer, Techniques and Assumptions in Jewish Exegesis before 70 C.E. (TSAJ 30; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1992), 136-38—Dr. Instone-Brewer is on the translation committee of the NIV, has a Cambridge University PhD on the understanding of biblical Hebrew, and was the external examiner for my PhD.

      So, the same word, porneia, but two different contexts (Matt 19; Acts 15), and two different nuances to its meaning?

    • Hi Simon, thanks for your comment much further up (which had no link to reply to). I honestly didn’t understand your correction so I’ve looked it up. I presume your concern is that the Romans renamed the Holy Land after the Jewish revolt of 135 as a political act of ‘geographical genocide’. I didn’t know that (I was functioning on Year 3 Geography knowledge). I appreciate it has sensitive political ramifications now which maybe you were also alluding to.
      I join these (academic) comment threads to learn – so I have learned something useful here – thanks!

      • Thanks Peter
        Sorry, just seen this
        You write like a scholar so I assumed you were making an oblique point, theologically or politically, hence my check 🙂

        I think many use the term without any theological or political edge, however many others are certainly trying to weaponise the term. Palestine As a name and as a concept it is anti-semitic. Intended as such by the Romans to obliterate the memory of Israel & Judea and the Jewish claim. Post 1967 it has been increasingly used to challenges Jewish claim to be land of Israel. Indeed, a study of the involvement of the Russian mid C20th propaganda machine in the whole branding of ‘Palestine’ to destabilise the middle east and demon is Israel (and her american ally) is worth exploring.

        • so many spelling and grammatical errors in the post – used phone – fat fingers – hope u get my point – Jesus was not a Palestinian and never lived in Palestine.

          • Simon this has come up a number of times in different places in the blog.

            You are right to note that the term has been used in an anti-semitic and propagandist way, especially in the notion that ‘Palestinians’ are the historic and indigenous people of the region.

            But before WW2 the word had a simple regional and cultural significance, not making reference either to religion or ethnicity. In fact the Jewish newspaper published in Jerusalem was, at the time, called the Palestine Times, following the Roman designation of the region, and setting aside any anti-Jewish motivation by the Romans.

            So I think its use is permissible…so long as we know what we mean by it.

          • ‘You cut me deep Shrek, real deep’

            Ian, I agree with you, of course – and the ‘Palestinian Regiment’ of 3000 troops formed in 1942 to assist the allies in the North Africa campaign, was made up of 60% Jews 40% Arabs from the Land of Palestine. But I do twitch when others adopt the term uncritically or even politically to loosen the claim of the Jews on the land of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob. I accept most of the time it is not used in this manner, but by convention.

  12. I would prefer to detach this comment from the threads above, for clarity’s sake. I have commended the essays of Bauckham, Bockmuehl, Seitz. They engage with the letter of Acts 15. Citing Ben Witherington’s religious context argument is not the same thing are dealing with the text itself.

    In Acts 15 :20 we find a list of four things. It departs in that order and form from so-called Noahic principles.

    James speaks of scriptural attestation and cites Amos to that affect. He does not contextualise the four injunctions as to do with socio-religious challenges. “For the Law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times” is how James summarises his point.

    Food polluted by idols = Lev 17:7ff
    Blood = Lev 17:10ff
    Strangled animals = Lev 17:15ff
    Porneia/sexual immorality = Lev 18:1-25 listing

    Here are the four in the list found in Acts 15. This cannot be happenstance.

    Here also are the references to the sojourner in the midst (17:8; 17:12; 17:15; 18:26). We are not “in the land of Israel” but in the world of Leviticus, and its legislation, in the setting of God’s speech from the wilderness tabernacle.

    The same Law of Moses preached in every city since earliest time, read in synagogues every sabbath (Acts 15:21).

  13. “… changed its teaching by setting aside the plain meaning of scripture in favour of ‘other sources of authority’ …”

    The Flood of Noah, raising sea-levels sufficiently high over the high mountains to wipe out all living creatures on Earth?

    The gathering together of every single species into a boat, including species in the Galapagos, Antarctica, Madagascar, Borneo, Alaska, Australia, and the as yet unexplored deeps of the Amazon rainforests?

    Death being introduced into a perfect world *after* humanity sinned, notwithstanding the fact that animals had been dying for hundreds of millions of years before humanity even existed?

    Humanity not being evolved from earlier species because ‘Adam had no ancestors’?

    And if most Christians today pretty sensibly decide that those biblical assertions have to be re-evaluated because the authors had limited scientific knowledge and were writing within their own cultures…

    …then why is it not possible that assertions about sexuality may also be tempered by cultural parameters and re-evaluated in the light of what we rationally think now?

    How about we just let different Christians hold different views on sex, and we get on with doing some decent Christian loving: the care of the poor, the sick, the lonely, the elderly, the strangers – what actually is done in huge dimensions across the nation by community after community by the Church of England?

    Why insist on a uniformity on this contentious issue, with all the risks of schism it could cause, when we could simply respect each other’s consciences, and get on with what the Bible really prioritises: which is love, the greatest thing of all?

    (And of course, ironically, gay sex is also about love and tender care. Those Christians who really don’t think it’s right… just don’t have gay sex, but don’t tell other Christians what they are allowed to do? Maybe we stop trying to dominate each other, and we seek grace to co-exist, and serve our communities, and love one another a bit more?)

    • Because ignoring the evidence from identical twins is not rational, it is both irrational and dishonest.

      Because ignoring the evidence from lesbian parenting is not rational, it is both irrational and dishonest.

      Because ignoring the evidence of fluidity that undercuts the idea of ‘orientation’ is not rational, it is both irrational and dishonest.

      Because ignoring the evidence that LGB impregnate and are impregnated at double the rate of straight in some surveys – that is not rational, but irrational and dishonest.

      Because ignoring the effect of molestation in subsequent sexual addiction and proclivity is not rational, it is both irrational and dishonest.

      Because ignoring the effects of urban setting and college environment – likewise.

      Would that people did follow what we rationally think now, or were allowed by the media and/or legislators to discover it in the first place.

      How can love be the greatest thing of all when there are 4 loves in Greek, the language that makes that assertion? It is agape that is the greatest thing. No-one said eros or philia or storge was, They are all pretty fine, but eros can frequently be misdirected. Bland generalisations about some amalgam called ‘love’ bypass that central point.

      In the real world, the thing that is about love and tender care is also to a chilling extent, on average, about promiscuity and disease and short termism and hedonism.

      The thing about ‘if you don’t like it don’t do it’has now been answered 3 times, One person not doing it is not going to stop its bad effects on the practitioners, nor stop those bad effects overspilling into the interconnected world we share. 2 points to address, therefore.

      On reading texts with prior awareness of genre, I am with you entirely.

    • Christopher

      Because, there is evidence of identical twins where one US cis and one is trans.
      Because mostvstufies of same-sex parenting demonstrate good outcomes.
      Because fluidity does not indicate that orientationmis chosen.
      Because, even if it were, so what? Same sex relationships can be as good or as bad as mixed sex relationships .
      Because the link between sexual abuse and same sex orientation is not demonstrated, and has been debunked.
      Because, if urban and college environments predispose people towards same sex love, so what? Is this a bad thing?
      Because Greek has four words for love is interesting, but, again, so what? Hebrew and Aramiac Don’t.
      Because promiscuity is harmful and hedonism is potentially harmful, but we are speaking of Christian trans men and women and Christian same sex marriage, so your observation is irrelevant.
      Because the people doing ‘those things’ of which you so evidently disapprove are just normal, boring people doing normal everyday things like washing, shopping, going to church, going on holiday, being with frienfs and family, visiting neighbours. If these things overspilled into the interconnected world, wouldn’t that be marvellous?

      • Twins: small-scale evidence is small and real, big-scale evidence is big and more representative of the way things are.

        Parenting: my issue was not with good/bad outcomes but with the thorough disproof of ‘born this way’ in Stacey and Biblarz’s meta analysis American Sociological Review 2001.

        Fluidity strongly suggests that talk of orientation at all is the wrong perspective.

        On rates of pregnancy and impregnation: once again, the point is the thorough debunking of ‘born this way’.

        Sexual abuse link to SSorientation is one of the more studied subtopics. The several studies I cited in What Are They Teaching? averaged a 500% increase. What ‘has been debunked’? Details? How are multiple confirmatory percentages at that level so easily debaunked? They aren’t. Isn’t your assessment too cursory?

        College/urban: again, I never mentioned good/bad. The point is the debunking of ‘born this way’.

        Hebrew/Aramaic: yes, but (1) the passage that says the greatest is agape is written in Greek, (2) it says specifically agape so cannot be a claim about what English people call love; (3) modern life is for economic reasons more selfish and individualistic and it is in the environment that pansexualism etc has grown up; agape is other-centred, so is the opposite; (4) English does not map onto Hebrew/Aramaic in its concepts.

        As for doing shopping etc – this is a cliché but I have never met anyone who denied that shopping was done. Have you? Shopping is not however the present topic.

        In general: wherever there are multiple multi-hundred-percentages pointing the same way, then that is because the way they point is the way indicated, and strongly indicated, by the realities, by the evidence.

      • “Because the people doing ‘those things’ of which you so evidently disapprove are just normal, boring people doing normal everyday things like washing, shopping, going to church, going on holiday, being with friends and family, visiting neighbours. If these things overspilled into the interconnected world, wouldn’t that be marvellous?”

        Great comment – because that’s the thing. Most people in gay or lesbian marriages are just doing ordinary stuff like washing socks or getting on with colleagues at work or doing the ironing etc. This whole idea that gay marriage is about some kind of hedonistic lifestyle is pretty much weird, speaking as someone who’s actually inside a lesbian relationship. I love all the things you list, because that’s exactly how it is. And marriage helps sanctify and covenant the commitment, and helps with all that ‘interconnectedness’ with society, and contributes to stability, and signals: fidelity, tenderness, kindness, sacrifice, intimacy, shared joys, shared sorrows, laughter, hard work, hospitality, care in sickness, good neighbourliness, continuity, and… love (in any one of a multitude of expressions).

        So if people want to vilify gay and lesbian sexual relationships – their choice – but it’s not pornography, it’s not hedonism… it’s ordinary boring life. And if critics don’t want gay and lesbian people to be promiscuous (and of course straight people can be promiscuous too) then champion committed, loving relationships.

        I’m not engaging in school debating exchanges with everyone on this platform, because those exchanges often go on and on, often with random people on the internet who I’ve never met. I’m selecting who I have discourse with, but I thank you for your insight into the ‘ordinariness’ of love and daily life that is two women caring for each other over the years, or two men similarly devoted on their life’s journey.

        It can be as beautiful as heterosexual love, as precious, as tender, as given.

        And no-one is forced to practise that love unless they want to, but actually, gay and lesbian couples are part of the fabric of our society and to be treasured and respected.

        It’s washing socks most of the time, not hedonism.

        • It’s washing socks most of the time, not hedonism

          Okay, well, then, if washing socks is the most important bit of the relationship, why not just concentrate on the sock-washing and lay off the sex-having? Then nobody, not even the most conservative, would have a problem with it.

          • I didn’t say washing socks was “the most important bit”. I was explaining that lesbian relationships are as mundane and ordinary as heterosexual relationships. They are not some hedonistic lifestyle. They are expressions of love, lived out in ordinary life between good and decent people.

            These mundane and ordinary lives are not harmful to anyone, and are frankly nobody’s business but the people who are living these largely private and domestic daily lives.

            Many Christians celebrate and affirm the love and commitment of gay people, including the implied intimacies and tenderness. In addition, gay and lesbian couples in society – and in many churches – are seen as lovely and stabilising influences in those communities.

            Of course, people may have different views. But as a lesbian couple, we get on with our lives, we love God, we love our neighbours, we share Church life… and at the end of the day we wash our socks, and cuddle up together under a duvet and watch a film together.

            Night-time follows and is lovely, caring, joyful. The lights are switched off. Our privacy does not belong to anyone else. It’s strange how some people have such an obsession, and I find it quite sad, but in the end we just get on with our lives, with our friends, our families, our church, our community.

            I’m a nurse. Do you think the dying patient cares remotely what my mundane, private life is about? What matters – with immediacy – when people are in need is: love, presence, kindness, care.

            Perhaps we would all do well, as Christians, to focus on those urgent and precious cries for compassion and help.

          • S and Christopher
            What Susannah said.
            But also the nub of the matter is sex isn’t it? All this stuff about promiscuity and rates of disease etc. is simply window dressing isn’t it?
            Immorality for you is sex in the wrong place, or with the wrong genitals. Sex between gay, bi, trans or intersex people. It’s icky. Sex between straight people is OK, unless it’s not in the missionary position and open to conception, as some have claimed on this blog.
            It just reduces relationships to sexual intimacy when they are about so much more – mutual love and support – but also, as Susannah says, the quotidian and the mundane

          • Sex between straight people is OK

            No; sex between people who are married to each other is okay. In any other situation, it’s wrong.

          • Penny-

            What you say about ‘icky’ and ‘missionary posn’ proves 2 things:

            (1) You are (or are at times) the sort of person who resorts to lazy oft-heard cliches and stereotypes that show no independent thought at all rather than seeking to read what people are actually saying. Not a good path to pursue.

            (2) You will put words in people’s mouths. Neither of those 2 things has the slightest connection with my beliefs. However ‘icky’ is an emotional thing, and I have frequently spoken out against emotionalism (and also in favour of emotion), so on that basis I would be the last person to care if something is icky. That said, pre-scientific times had only an unformulated but distinct sense of ickiness to rely on at times as a basis for making judgments. If something is agreed by many to be/seem icky, that is a datum.

          • Christopher
            Reading your response to Susannah below in which you again show a keen interest in anal intercourse and its outcomes, I would argue that your response to sex which is not vanilla is a visceral reaction to its ‘ickiness’. I have pointed out here and before on this platform that your arguments about promiscuity and harm are merely red herrings. We may be speaking of eros, but it is spousal ethos, tamed and disciplined by fidelity and commitment. Susannah is no more likely to contract an STD than you or I. It is that simple.
            More woman have died in childbirth than through having anal sex, but no one is recommending giving up having children.
            I don’t know why you are obsessed with anal sex. You once denied that claim, but since you bring the subject up at every opportunity, even when (for example in the case of lesbians) it is totally irrelevant, your denial rings somewhat hollow.
            If you really believe it to be such a danger to the commonwealth, by all means campaign against it, but don’t conflate it with homosexuality, or bring it into discussions about biblical hermeneutics.

          • We may be speaking of eros, but it is spousal e[r]os, tamed and disciplined by fidelity and commitment

            No, it isn’t, at least not for you, as you have said that you think one-night stands, which as about as far from ‘spousal […] tamed and disciplined by fidelity and commitment’ as you can get, are fine.

          • Married straight people and married gay and bi people

            Well, the whole question if you put it like that is ‘can a man marry a man or a woman marry a woman’?

            The law of the land now says that can, but that’s not really relevant, as I’m sure you’d agree that if we lived in a country where a man was allowed multiple wives, then any man who actually did take more than one wife would not be morally married to any but the first (even if the subsequent marriages were totally legal by local law) and that if the man had sex with any of his wives other than the first, he would be committing adultery.

            So the question of who can be married is not something that can be definitively solved by referring to mere local laws.

            But of course actually you don’t think that as you are on record as saying that you think one-night stands are totally fine. As far as you’re concerned it’s not just ‘Married straight people and married gay and bi people’ who can legitimately have sex: it’s anybody anywhere any time, even if they have never met each other before and will never see each other again.

          • Penny, please stop writing cheap nonsense about ‘keen interest’. You do already know the reason for my emphasis, since it has been said before: it was that the sexual revolution promoted hedonism and did not make the consequences clear: the Christians unsurprisingly were the sensible ones who knew there were consequences.

            Both you and Susannah think that to *describe* Russian roulette actions in order to turn people away from them (which I’d do to save lives, bluntly) is a dreadful thing to do, whereas to *enact* certain Russian roulette actions is in line with the existing sexual ethic.

            !!!

            It will not be obvious to many that speaking about dreadful things is dreadful but doing those things is fine.

            Nobody would be speaking about them at all unless it was necessary to alert people that these things are happening and that they are considered normal and often not warned against or explained as to their physical nature (what actually happens).

            It reminds me of the people who think *pictures* of babies being dismembered are dreadful (yes – they capture a dreadful act) but the actual dismemberment itself is legal and OK.

            Real deeds will, quite obviously, always be worse than descriptions of them. By definition.
            Nor would the descriptions be taking place at all unless that people were behaving as though the deeds did not need to be warned against. So to blame the whistleblower is rich when there would be nothing to blow the whistle on if the sexual revolution (which even church members are now signing up for!) were not leaving havoc in its train. The party to blame is the party that is now objecting to people drawing attention to what is happening.

            We have seen that before. When the law loosened marriage, the revisionaries were the first to point out: ‘Oh look, marriage is in more trouble than before’. There was only one reason for that, and that was the laws that they themselves had sponsored!! Lack of joined up thinking.

            I don’t think I ever mentioned ‘non-vanilla’, marital permutations. You are saying things that were never mentioned as though they had been; that is not good, but when you further claim to know someone else’s mind, that is something that few are likely to believe; when you claim to know their mind better than they know it themselves (and then represent it inaccurately), then there can be no cause for believing you on that.

            Bringing up AI in connection with lesbians? Odd. This is a further instance of you saying I have spoken of something that demonstrably is nowhere to be found in what I or anyone has said, nor would be. This is becoming a list.

            I believe XYZ to be a danger? No – it is a danger whether anyone believes it or not.

            And where does ‘the commonwealth’ come into it? Is this one of the surreal junctures at which people are supposed to say ‘u ok hun?’?

            To repeat, not for the first or second time: of course I or anyone will repeatedly mention very dangerous things that are being brushed under the carpet, because we oppose dishonesty but oppose harmful dishonesty even more. The dangerous thing here was 35 years ago the practices that so regularly led to HIV/AIDS; but the dangerous thing remains the still-continuing double idea that those communities should be affirmed in their ‘sexual’ practices and that the hedonism that brought the tragedy about in the first place should still be pursued full pelt as though the result will not again be the same. (And proselytised in children’s direction, even primary – but that is another story.)

            The sexual revolution disciples who now include most of our establishment (as in media and politics, some of state church) want to be very selective in their narrative. Equality they (and we) like. Anti bullying they (and we) like. Prevention of suicide they (and we) like. All that is great. But there is a deliberate complete eclipse when it comes to what homosexual ‘sexual’ practice actually is and how intrinsically harmful it always has been in practice (i.e. in the real world). But that is central; and if we don’t look at that, we have not yet formulated our views on the topic. I suspect that people are desperate that the truth not be known on this, because it is one of those things that brings down the whole dishonest house of cards. This being the case, the more they try to shut us up, I would encourage the realities to be shouted from the rooftops.

          • S
            I did not, repeat, did not say one night stands were ok. I gave one example of a one night stand that I thought would be both kindly and moral.
            So stop misrepresenting my views.
            I have s high regard for fidelity and marriage. Which is why I support same sex marriage.

          • Christopher
            I’ve answered this below.
            Shout from the rooftops by all means. Make this your crusade.
            But do not confuse your obsession with the dangers of AI with concern for married couples having faithful, loving sex.

          • I did not, repeat, did not say one night stands were ok. I gave one example of a one night stand that I thought would be both kindly and moral.

            So you do think that one-night stands are okay, at least sometimes. The mere fact of being a one-night stand isn’t enough to make a sex act immoral, in your view.

            I have s high regard for fidelity and marriage

            But not so high that you don’t think that extra-marital sex is always wrong, clearly. High but not that high.

            I don’t think there’s any misrepresentation going on.

          • S
            You are being very tiresome. Not that I am answerable to you for any of my opinions, but, yes, marital love, whatever, the sex/gender of the partners sanctifies eros. The being ‘in love’ which is part sexual arousal (as someone here commented) can and does lead to lives of love – mutual, companionable, faithful. It did for me. And for others on this thread.

          • yes, marital love, whatever, the sex/gender of the partners sanctifies eros

            But you think that a one-night stand can be okay, and that’s about as far from ‘marital love’ as you can get.

            So what sanctifies a one-night stand?

            And if it’s martial love that sanctifies eros, then those experiencing eros should wait until they are married before they consummate their relationship, right? Because then it will be marital love, and therefore sanctified. So you’d agree that impatient couples who have sex before they are married are acting sinfully, right? After all their eros is only sanctified once they are married, and until then it is sinful — that’s what you said, right?

          • No Penelope, I have so far not actually been rude to you but this time your repost is clearly ridiculous.
            There is no example of Jesus casting the first stone or condemning no matter how much you want him to.
            The false point made was that what happens in private is nobody’s business. You have been given evidence that Jesus does speak about our private lives and yet you have tried as hard as possible to evade the evidence.
            What we do in private shows what is in our hearts. Christianity is deeply concerned about what is in our hearts and nothing is hidden from God.

          • First, this emphasis on private/public comes from the culture not from Jesus.

            Second, the NT does speak against double mindedness (James etc).

            Third, we would not like a friend or spouse who was one thing in public and another in private, so why the double standards?

            Fourth, Jesus’s words on ‘what you have whispered behind closed doors shall be shouted from the housetops’ etc (Mt 10.27 // Lk 12.2-3) seem to build on the saying in Mark 4.22 – nothing is hidden except to be revealed. The category of secret or private does not fit into a world with an all-seeing God, nor one where integrity is prized.

            Fifth, being against doublemindedness is tantamount to being against hypocrisy. Not only was Jesus (we all agree) against hypocrisy, but so are ‘young people today’. In fact, in the typical view of Jesus, hypocrisy (not sin) was the thing he spoke most against. This is not far from the truth, according to the sources.

            Making a somewhat schizophrenic public/private divide is encouraging the very thing Jesus spoke *most* against: hypocrisy.

          • Clive
            Again I have no idea to what your comment is referring, nor which repost of mine you think is ridiculous.
            I made no point about Jesus casting the first stone. Nor about privacy.
            The point I was making about eisegesis is that you and David and others are reading condemnation into a text, which simply isn’t there. The OP may have been about privacy, and Jesus being able to see into the woman’s heart, but David also remarked that the woman had a string of failed marriages. That is not the plain meaning of scripture, it is reading into the text something that we hope or expect to find there.

        • “Our privacy does not belong to anyone else. It’s strange how some people have such an obsession, and I find it quite sad, but in the end we just get on with our lives, with our friends, our families, our church, our community.”

          Well, you might also find it ‘sad’ that Jesus, in speaking to the woman at the well (john 4), intruded upon her private family arrangement by asking her to go call her husband, only to reveal his insight into her illicit relationship after a string of failed marriages.

          And, you might find it ‘sad’ that John the Baptist (whom Christ eulogised as “a burning and shining light”) denounced Herod Antipas’ re-marriage to Herodias, the ex-wife of Herod’s half-brother.

          JTB based this on Leviticus 20:21 and, yet, Herodias’ loyalty to Antipas is indisputable (she abandoned her station in life to share voluntarily Antipas’ final banishment to Gaul by Caligula).

          Whether their marriage was predominated by washing socks or hedonism is neither here nor there. As Samuel told the wayward King Saul: “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.” (1 Sam. 15:22)

          • David
            Bit of eisegesis there David. Jesus merely comments on the number of the woman’s husbands and that she is living with someone without being married. He does not condemn her, nor say that her marriages were failed marriages. She may have been widowed.

          • Penelope

            The passage (ESV in this English case) says:

            16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.

            So she said “I have no husband.” and Jesus at the end of his reply says: “….and the one you now have is not your husband.”
            so it is disappointing for you to suggest that his husbands might be dead whilst avoiding the point that Jesus makes that, irrespective of that suggestion, the current situation is at least adultery and is still a clear example from David where the concept that what is done in the privacy of one’s own home is nobody else’s business and doesn’t affect you – is NOT the example Jesus gives us.

          • Clive
            Explain, where in that exchange Jesus criticises the woman or implies that she is in an adulterous relationship. Your translation doesn’t make that clear. At all.

          • Penelope

            I just did showing you the actual text from the Gospel (John chapter 4) and I did so very clearly. I am disappointed that you seem to read anything in any detail.

          • Sorry Penelope that text should have read “I am disappointed that you seem to NOT read anything in any detail.”
            Verse 18 was quoted to you directly in which Jesus says “…the one you now have is not your husband….”

          • Clive
            You still haven’t answered my question.
            Jesus observes that the man she is living with is not her husband. Where does he criticise her for this?

          • Clive,
            perhaps it is worth admitting that the Greek does not have a specific word for ‘husband’. However, I agree that a text which says, “you have had five men, and he whom you now have is not your man” does imply that her current male ‘possession’ (“you now have”) is not in the same relation to her as the previous five. The interpretation that she is not legally married to this man seems pretty uncontroversial.

          • David W
            That is a good point about the lack of a specific word for husband. But that was not my argument. Which is: Jesus observes that the man she is currently living with is not her husband (i.e. they are not married); but where does He condemn this?

          • Actually David’s point may be correct but is a classic example of trying to divert the point made and failing to do so, because at least the end of his point admits that the phrase still indicates the same thing.

            More particularly in Koine Greek it is context that indicates “husband” / “wife” concepts because there is no word for “wife”either in Koine Greek – but as you note yourself that doesn’t change the meaning of Jesus’ words.

          • No, Clive, it doesn’t change Jesus’ words. Which at no point condemn the woman for living with a man without being married to him. Not one hint of condemnation. Unless you are reading your own expectations into the text.

          • Hi Penny,

            I let your question (which wasn’t pertinent to my comment) run for while to see where it would lead.

            To be clear, it was in response to Susannah’s comment “our privacy does not belong to anyone else” that I wrote, < : “Jesus, in speaking to the woman at the well (john 4), intruded upon her private family arrangement by asking her to go call her husband, only to reveal his insight into her illicit relationship after a string of failed marriages.”

            Yes, we could speculate that her ‘economic’ reply to Christ that: “I have no husband” might have been prompted, not by marital failure at all, but by the painful tragedy of serial widowhood (John 4:18).

            Nevertheless, my phrasing “failed marriages” cannot be construed as making her culpable.

            My comment did highlighted that, despite Susannah’s insistence about privacy belonging to no one else but the couple themselves, JTB and Jesus revealed divine insight into and even denunciation of illicit private relationships and family arrangements.

            So, for you to state: “He does not condemn her” is a ‘straw man’, since I made no mention of condemnation.

            If Antipas and Herodias had insisted (as Susannah does) that “our privacy does not belong to anyone else”, it would not have prevented JTB from fulfilling his prophetic mission in denouncing their re-marriage as contrary to God’s will.

            My point is that the right to privacy does not somehow trump the duty of Christians to “reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:2)

            The only thing that’s ‘sad’ is the woeful impenitence of those who, like Antipas and Herodias, hear the word, only to reject it.

          • Fair enough David S. But others did shoehorn condemnation into the text.
            It always seems to me to be an odd narrative to cite about judgement or about sexual morality, since Jesus shocks the woman by knowing about her 5 husbands and the one she is living with now. But he doesn’t rebuke her, or tell her she is in an adulterous relationship. Indeed, the only hint in the text that she is an outcast is the time of day she visits the well.

          • Clive
            I notice you are unable to cite the text in which Jesus condemns the woman. Simply cciting g v. 18 and claiming that I haven’t read it doesn’t help your case.
            Read v. 18, where does Jesus condemn the woman?

          • “She may have been widowed”; “where does He condemn her?”

            One commenter’s eisegesis is another commenter’s speculative argument from silence.

          • OK David S. She may NOT have been widowed!
            But where do you get the string of failed relationships from?

          • “But where do you get the idea of her failed marriages from?”

            Probably, the same place from which you retrieved the repeated ‘straw man’ rhetoric in this thread (“You and David and others are reading condemnation into a text, which simply isn’t there”; “Explain, where I’m that exchange Jesus criticises the woman”; “Where does he criticise the woman?”; “but where does he condemn this?”)

            Where did that come from? Because nothing in our observations from the text we made no inference that Jesus was criticising or condemning the Samaritan woman.

            My mention about Jesus’ “insight into her illicit relationship” (which it was) does not imply that Jesus was criticising or condemning her for that.

          • David S.

            No. I commented that nowhere in the text does Jesus condemn
            the woman, in answer to others who read condemnation into the text.
            You wrote that she had a string of failed marriages, That, like my own comment that she may have been widowed, is merely inference.
            You chose the inference which makes her guilty, I chose the inference which makes her innocent.

          • Having a failed marriage doesn’t make a person culpable. There are perfectly innocent people whose marriages fail.

            So, however you might resort to your own eisegesis to re-frame my words as implying condemnation, you’re wrong to assume that to be the straightforward inference from what I’ve written.

          • Clive,
            My intent was precisely to show that although there is no word for ‘husband’, that is hard to escape the fact that she was with a man to whom she was not married, and that Jesus is pointing this out. The point in dispute is if this is a ‘condemnation’. I assume this state of affairs (no pun intended) was generally regarded as irregular. If this is the case, then drawing attention to it is at least pointing out something unsatisfactory in her current life.
            I have heard it suggested that perhaps she was barren, and her husbands had divorced her for this reason. Then, again perhaps, her current man took her on for his own pleasure not marrying her knowing that there would be no issue.
            That the woman told her townsfolk that “this man told me everything I ever did” shows at least that she felt her life examined in detail. That would be salutory for any of us!

          • No Penelope: Nobody has said that when you wrote “others did shoehorn condemnation into the text.” except for you – YOU were the one who shoehorned condemnation into the text in spite of my clearly telling you that Jesus did NOT cast the first stone. Yet you completely falsely claim eisegisis when it is your eisegisis and not anybody elses.

            It is deeply disturbing how willing you and Susannah are to deceive others as to what the word “love” actually means in St Paul’s letter. You of all people should know better than that.

            Theology is not Christianity but covers all religions and borrows from philosophy, nonetheless you are deceitfully quoting the Biblical concept St Paul tells us that God is love whilst deceiving others as to what St Paul wrote for the word “love” and what it actually means.

            In the letter to the Romans St Paul writes (in Koine greek by the way):
            Chapter 6 “1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?”
            ” 10b he [Jesus Christ] died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
            11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

            Yet you and Susannah show your love of the concept that a one night stand or any sexual encouter could be sanctified. So you are actually telling everyone to experiment with sex as much as they want because they might (if they are really lucky) find God (i.e. “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?”) – Never have any of the Saints suggested that anyone should live their own lives regardless because they MIGHT find God. No, if people turn to Christ and become Christian then they try, and fail, and try again, and fail again, and try again to live better lives in the form that God wants and ALLOW JESUS to TRANSFORM THEM whilst accepting, like St Paul, that they constantly are incomplete and constantly need God’s mercy.

            Worryingly it is not the first time you have preferred statements that support your views and disregarded the evidence. In the case of baptism being a public service you preferred the evidence both Simon and I gave you of what the service book itself actually says and preferred Jeremy simply saying it could be private because that fitted your assumption!

          • I’m sorry for the missing word but the last paragraph should read:

            Worryingly it is not the first time you have preferred statements that support your views and disregarded the evidence. In the case of baptism being a public service you ignored the evidence both Simon and I gave you of what the service book itself actually says and preferred Jeremy simply saying it could be private because that fitted your assumption!

            P.S. Penelope you describe yourself as “Biblically orthodox” which as would be said in “Yes Minister” is incredibly brave! (i.e., for those who haven’t seen the series – totally dubious)

          • Clive
            1) I asked you to provide evidence of where Jesus criticises the woman. You replied you already had, John 4. this indicates that you, not I, believe that there is condemnation in the text.
            2) it was Christopher who referred to St Paul, not I. I know perfectly well what agape means and that 1 Cor. 13 is not about erotic love.
            3) this does not alter the truth that God is love, though I don’t think I brought that up.
            4) I did write that eros could be sanctified: through faithful, covenantal married relationships. I did not mention one-night stands.
            5) I di not write that casual sex can sanctify eros.

            Please stop misrepresenting what I wrote and caricaturing my views.

          • No Penelope

            It is you enlisting deception:

            1) Your point 1 simply isn’t true at all – I have consistently said to you that Jesus doesn’t cast the first stone (and I do my best to follow his example) yet you persist in claiming condemnation that simply isn’t there except in your own mind, nobody on this site seems to talk about condemning the woman at the well except for you! A classic example of a straw dog argument (a form of eisegesis on your part).

            Nor am I alone in having said to you clearly that John 4 does involve Jesus talking about the woman’s private life contrary to your assertions.

            2) is, firstly “So what? as you responded to him but as Christopher has repeatedly said he refers to Science and not the Bible, but you didn’t seem to want to hear that.
            Secondly, It was YOU (and I gave the reference of YOUR entry) saying that neither Hebrew nor aramaic had multiple words for love – so it is good to hear that you know what agape means because none of your entries on this site seem to show that.

            3) this DOES alter the truth that God is love, because it means that God is only love in the context that God consistently cares about us and it does not mean that it is erotic love or any similar distortion you want to claim.

            4 and 5) I will leave alone because I showed you quite clearly that any sanctification of casual sex is not the norm for drawing alongside anybody and helping each other follow a Christian path.

            It is you who is distorting what others say simply to give a false riposte.

          • Clive
            1) you claimed that the woman’s relationship was adulterous, after giving the verse in which you believe Jesus criticises the woman
            2) Christopher wrote that there are 4 Greek words for love. Which is still totally irrelevant. Just because Greek has 4 words, this does not encompass all we know of love. Language is limited. Besides agape describes our love for each other, ideally, no our love for God or God’s love for us.
            4) eros can be sanctified, as I have written elsewhere on this thread. If it couldn’t be, marriages wouldn’t be holy.

            I didn’t actually claim that God’s love for humankind is erotic, since the Greek categories are somewhat limited. But of course it is erotic. We are God’s wife and Christ’s bride.

          • eros can be sanctified, as I have written elsewhere on this thread. If it couldn’t be, marriages wouldn’t be holy.

            Everyone agrees that eros within marriage is sanctified. You also think that extra-marital sex like casual sex and one-night stands can be sanctified. You have previously given an example of a one-night stand you think is sanctified so don’t try to deny it.

            I didn’t actually claim that God’s love for humankind is erotic, since the Greek categories are somewhat limited. But of course it is erotic.

            So you are claiming it?

            We are God’s wife and Christ’s bride

            Analogies are not identities. If the relationship between A and B is like marriage in one respect, it does not mean that it is like marriage in all respects.

      • Penelope

        You wrote: “….Because Greek has four words for love is interesting, but, again, so what? Hebrew and Aramiac Don’t.”

        …Because St Paul was writing in Koine Greek – He was NOT writing in Hebrew or aramaic so it is actually your point that is not applicable. It is reasonable that St Paul wrote what he meant – agape.

        • Clive
          Take it up with Christopher. It wasn’t my point. English may be impoverished but I think I know the difference between my love for a glass of white wine and the love I have for my husband.

          • A brave attempt (but failed), if I may say so, of completely avoiding the point.

            Scholars have poured over the words of St Paul incredibly extensively and the concept that St Paul didn’t say what he meant is a new one!

          • Clive
            You seem to be having cognitive issues again.
            Where did I say that St Paul didn’t mean what he said?

          • Penelope

            There are no cognitive dissonance points in my statement to you, rather it is your statements I worry about.
            You have been clearly told that there are FOUR Koine greek words for love and told the one that St Paul used and thereby what he meant. You have then clearly obfuscated the whole matter by pointlessly retorting that neither Hebrew nor aramaic have 4 words (February 14, 2019 at 8:36 pm by the way). Yet St Paul wrote in Koine Greek and not in either Hebrew or Aramaic.

          • also worth pointing out that if St Paul were writing about erotic or romantic love, he would have been totally wrong.

            ‘Love is patient and kind’ — well, erotic love certainly isn’t patient, that’s why people seem to find it so hard to wait until they are married.

            ‘it is not jealous or conceited or proud’ — needs no comment.

            ‘Love is not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable’ — erotic love is all those things.

            ‘Love is not happy with evil, but is happy with the truth’ — erotic love is quite content with self-delusion, and doesn’t really care about truth, especially if knowing the truth about its object might mean having to stop sleeping with them.

            ‘Love is eternal’ — does it really need to be pointed out how untrue this is of erotic love, which so far from being eternal is often gone long before dawn breaks?

          • S
            That may be your experience of erotoc love, which I think you may be confusing with lust.
            It is not mine.

        • The point is that Christians seek to quash love between 2 people. This is ignorant in the extreme (whether deliberately or not), but in any case can easily be disproven by finding a single Christian from any point in history and any country who ever denied in any circumstance that agape was the right orientation between people. Bring the culprit forward.

      • Penny,
        Greek has the advantage of having different words related to ‘love’. That in English we have this single word is a significant problem. I think it was Tom Wright who said that the word ‘love’ really needs to learn to delegate. It is patently obvious that when we talk of love, we mean significantly different things. I love Jesus, my wife, my sister, my country, sailing my boat and eating Jaffa Cakes (this list is not exhaustive!) These are all different. It follows that those who come out with the phrase “Love is Love” are saying something that is either merely trite (c.f. Brexit means Brexit) or deliberately blurring the distinctions.
        God is Love. But we need to recognise how distinct that love is compared with ours. His is love not for the lovely, but the unlovely. Our (fallen) nature as human beings is to turn away from God and turn into ourselve: incurvatus in se. God’s love is for those who are his enemies and it reaches out to make these enemies his friends.
        This unnatural love is the love to which we are called. I think GK Chesterton say that Jesus called us to love our neighbour and to love our enemy, because very often they are the same person. We need the Spirit of the loving God in order to do this.

        Sexual attraction, and the sexual desire which follows the nurture of that attraction, is not love. The love which can grow in that attraction, erotic love, has the flaw that it is too self-centered, as Kierkegaard recognized. But the World does not recognise this. The consumer-fest of the modern St Valentine’s day, yesterday, is rooted in the idolatry towards ‘romantic’ love.

        Particularly, the idol of romantic love results in the ignoring that not all love is licit. The married man who finds the attractive woman and has an affair says: “but I love her.” This ‘love’ does not make the action good or right.

        • God is Love

          But — and this is very, very, very, very important — the converse is not true.

          Sometimes I think that is the biggest issue facing the Church today, at least in the West: those who claim to be worshipping God but who are actually worshipping love.

          (when it comes to misleading Bible translations, never mind the four kinds of love, I think that little word ‘so’ in John 3:16 is going to have a lot to answer for)

          Sexual attraction, and the sexual desire which follows the nurture of that attraction, is not love

          Yes, yet another thing that people get wrong nowadays is the misclassification of mortal sins. They think giving in to sexual desire is lust. It’s not. Lust is misdirected love (which, incidentally, proves that not all love is good: only properly-directed (in both kind and subject) love is good). Giving in to sexual desire is nothing to do with love, it’s just the seeking of sensual pleasure, and the name for that is gluttony.

        • David
          Yes. But romantic or erotic love starting with sexual arousal often blossoms into spousal love, mutual, committed, faithful and sacrificial.
          Eros can be sanctified.

          • romantic or erotic love starting with sexual arousal often blossoms into spousal love, mutual, committed, faithful and sacrificial

            Isn’t it therefore best to hold off on actually consummating the erotic love until you’ve seen whether the relationship will become a spousal one?

            Or is having a one-night stand just because you fancy someone perfectly fine because, you know, it might turn into a lifelong ‘mutual, committed, faithful and sacrificial’ relationship (but it probably won’t because you have no intention of ever seeing them again).

          • I think that this is a superb and really important point that Penelope makes : “Romantic or erotic love starting with sexual arousal often blossoms into spousal love, mutual, committed, faithful and sacrificial.
            Eros can be sanctified.”

            Absolutely true, and I believe God rejoices.

            You know, all these posts are in a thread that has de-railed and gone off track from my own Original Post.

            And I am lesbian, and in a permanent and faithful committed relationship. I have NO interest in the mechanics of anal sex. My wife and I initially met because of sexual attraction. I was on the point of becoming a nun, but her physical attraction was so great that in the end I married her. There is zero risk of HIV in our relationship – it is not possible. What we have together is all kinds of love. Sexual, romantic, physical, moral, sacrificial, intellectual, devoted, and spiritual love.

            As Penelope said, what started as (very strong) sexual arousal blossomed into sacrifice, tenderness, fidelity, happiness, and a wonderful part of our journey with God.

            Yes, irresponsible sexual practice can be harmful. To gay people AND to heterosexual ones. YES having sex at all has led to probably millions of deaths in childbirth over the centuries.

            But I have been writing from a context of marriage, and commitment, and tender care, and fidelity towards my wife. I’m sorry, but none of these expositions on anal sex have any bearing whatsoever on how I love my wife, so they are useless, at least with reference to women in lesbian relationships.

            “Eros can be sanctified.” I shall remember that phrase for years to come. Because I think it is relevant to millions of young couples, often brought together first by sexual attraction, but finding their relationship deepening in lovely and beautiful, caring and sacrificial ways. How many of us have experienced that first flood of sexual attraction and ‘falling in love’? Are we saying that God cannot take that opening up to life, and bless it?

            I’d like to apologise to Christopher for intemperate language earlier today. I am sorry, Christopher. I should not have reacted so strongly to your post with all those rectal details. But I make this plea to all of you reading this thread: we obviously have differing views, and the Church of England is divided down the middle on human sexuality, but can we not just respect the right of conscience of one another, to act according to our conscience and faith in these matters, and focus on loving one another?

            We cannot dominate one another. But we CAN co-exist, and get on with all the rest of what we need to do in our communities: for the sick, the troubled, the poor, the lonely, the elderly, the despairing. There is so much to do.

            And one other final question: what actual harm does it do to you, that my wife and I love each other dearly and intimately, faithfully and sacrificially, joyfully and kindly?

            Thank you, Penelope, for fantastic, intelligent, emotionally mature and generous-spirited comments.

            I am saddened by the visceral ‘phobia’ and disgust people have for relationships that can be as faithful, tender and precious as anyone else’s.

            Susannah

          • Susannah, you spoke of respecting views held according to conscience.
            I have addressed this several times.

            (1) The same word ‘views’ is used where people have done no research as when they have researched extensively. Conclusion: the word ‘views’ is so imprecise as to be unusable.

            (2) Every honest person’s stance is only provisional. You seem to be keen on sticking at the point of investigation you have now reached rather than doing further investigation. That makes no sense. It could be that your present ‘position’ (is it a research conclusion or a mere choice?) is merely congenial to you. That fact would be worth nothing. Being congenial does not make things a whit more likely to be true.

            (3) No-one can force others to accept that their holding the position they hold is fine. Not all positions will be fine. Positions are very various. They will always include ones that are untenable and are purely for convenience and preference. You are advocating that people should accept your holding the position you do *whatever* that position be. That is the route to all kinds of nonsense being treated as acceptable. Which is presumably what the advocates of good disagreement want. If all positions can be held, their own one (which may have zero connection to reality or research but be all about selfish pleasure – and even if this does not apply in the present case, there will always be possible instances where it does apply) can be held – for *all* quality control has been removed. Is no quality control at all what you want? Is that a noble thing to want?

            I don’t believe that people do hold these positions. Anything they cannot defend in argument they do not hold. They just *prefer* the positions (as opposed to holding them), and prefer them for reasons that are to do with self.

            I have made the point about ‘different views’ many times. Do you see what I am getting at?

            Why did you jump on an unthinking bandwagon by referring to something emotional like ‘phobia’ in what is a *rational* discussion. As the Pentecostals say, ‘I rebuke that’: it is surely a wilful misrepresentation? Phobia and disgust are nothing: measurable harm, disease and death are everything.

            What harm does it do that people love each other?
            For the nth time, you have not ever seen objections to love, so you *know* that too is wilful misrepresentation. If you have seen objections to love, cite where it was.
            We objected (not without reason) to sex in certain contexts – we are scarcely going to object to love, are we?! Come off it! You conflating sex and love is a secularist thing to do (and it originated as a cynical secularist ploy), one which Christians have always spoken against.

            Anyway, doing no harm is pretty feeble. None of us would set out in the morning to do no harm rather than to do good. That kind of focus on harm not good is negative.

            (4) You may have no interest in mechanics (you and I both) but can you actually have no interest that something appallingly dangerous and unhygienic is being sold as part of normal behaviour, as though the precious people duped were of no value?

          • Susannah

            Thank you. I am overwhelmed by your comments. I do try to be respectful, truthful and persuasive here.

            Occasionally, I allow myself to get irritated by red herrings, and intemperate and insensitive language. I shouldn’t, but I do.

            I wish we could all listen more attentively to experience and the theological reflections which are its fruits. You have helped us to do that. Honestly and courageously.

          • S
            You seem to have difficulty in following threads.
            I didn’t mention one-night stands on this thread because we were discussing love and marriage.
            I did mention one-night stands in comments on a previous blog, to which you have kindly provided a link.
            As you can see, I was speaking of a specific context, which is not relevant to this conversation.
            Quit trolling.

          • I have acted as expert witness 16 times in court in the UK (I say UK because I have acted in Scotland under Scottish law and in Courts in both England and in Wales under the laws of England & Wales)

            So it is amusing to be told I have cognitive failure or brain failure when the Courts have consistently and thoroughly examined my evidence.

            I have noticed that there is one consistency amongst all barristers and QCs but there is also one clear distinction.

            All barristers and QCs develop an argument based upon the “big-picture” and are there to persuade the Judge(s) of the veracity of their “big-picture”. The “big-picture” approach is part of their training.
            However, that is also where the difference between barristers can be seen.

            To compare people here to barristers is not belittling or being rude because barristers are very clever people.

            The role of an expert witness is to report on all the FACTS in a case and explain those facts. An expert witness does not change their evidence where that would in any way change the facts, an expert witness can respond to a barrister’s question about understanding and interpretting those facts – but they are still facts.

            The barristers fall into two types:

            1. A very good barrister looks at the expert witness report before the trial and their big-picture arguments get nudged or slightly adjusted to include and use the facts.

            2. The average barrister will stick to their “big-picture” irrespective of the facts and often fail because the facts and evidence do not sit comfortably with their “big-picture” argument.
            They do so by belittling and attacking those who point out facts and, as an expert witness, you can see it happening and as gently as possible you continue to state to the Court the simple facts of the case and let the Court decide.

            I have seen too much on these multiple threads, all on the same subject, where people are belittled for simply stating the facts when it is clear that those attempting to enforce a different narrative that is naturally uncomfortable with the facts. I am grateful to those who state the facts having the courage under immense pressure to continue to state the facts.

            To be clear to those puzzled I am one of those annoying people who have many qualifications and whilst most of them are in Science and Engineering I also have a good number of theological qualifications right up to higher degrees in the subject. It is in science and engineering in which I have provided expert witness work but find that what I witness in the legal process appears here as people simply try and dismiss facts with the various false allegations of irrelevancies (in my opinion) and belittling those who reply etc.

          • I didn’t mention one-night stands on this thread because we were discussing love and marriage.

            And I was pointing out that all your observations on love and marriage must be considered extremely morally suspect because you have admitted that you think that extra-martial sex can be perfectly okay.

            This is not irrelevant. It is necessary context for anybody reading.

          • S

            Nowhere did I claim that extra martial (or even extra marital) sex was ‘OK’. You’re going to have to do better than that.

          • Nowhere did I claim that extra martial (or even extra marital) sex was ‘OK’. You’re going to have to do better than that.

            Yes, you’re right, I am going to have to do much better with my spelling.

            As to the other though:

            https://www.psephizo.com/sexuality-2/is-the-bishops-policy-on-civil-partnerships-sustainable/comment-page-1/#comment-355708

            ‘I would deem such a one-night stand to be ‘moral’’

            That’s definitely claiming that extra-marital sex is okay. There’s no other way to read it. A one-night stand is outside marriage by definiton, as if they were married to each other it wouldn’t be a one-night stand; and you said it was ‘moral’, ie, okay.

          • Pre marital S, not extra marital.

            Extra-marital.

            ‘Extra’ is a prefix which means ‘outside’. Marital is a word which means ‘marriage’.

            The one-night-standers are not married, hence the sex is occurring outside marriage. Hence it is extra-marital.

            And you are on record as saying that extra-marital sex is okay.

            (And indeed, in your stated example, the sex definitely isn’t pre-marital, as the principals in your example do not go on to get married, so there’s no marriage for it to be ‘pre’ to. It’s just outside, ie, extra-, marital.)

          • It’s a quibble over terminology, S, but ‘extra-marital sex’ is generally used and understood as meaning sex that someone who is married has with another person.

            That has an stronger insinuation of infidelity, whereas sex that a person has *before* getting married is more generally described and understood a ‘pre-marital’.

            In millions of cases up and down the country, couples have ‘pre-marital’ sex – and by sex I don’t necessarily mean PIV sex – and there can be fidelity and integrity, tenderness and care, involved in many of those relationships… and possibly like Penny I would not shout out immorality against each case.

            As she has said already on these threads, sexual attraction can be sanctified, and relationships are a journey where first love and attraction and desire may deepen and deepen into care and great sacrifice.

            In some cases, I would say that pre-marital sex can actually help a person decide if they want to commit to marriage. The couple are finding out about each other. Someone may seem intellectually compatible on the outside, but s/he may turn out to be unattractive or selfish or boring or a bit weird in bed: it is arguable that it’s better to know that in advance of the commitment of marriage.

            That doesn’t mean that I think marriage is secondary. I still regard marriage as beautiful and wonderful, and a platform for lives of devotion and care.

            However, the views on pre-marital sex expressed by pretty religious types in a socially conservative society in the first century or earlier are set in very different cultural contexts to the world we live in today, at least here in the UK.

            Cultural contexts can be filters in a narrative, that need to be de-constructed, to look behind the surface text at what the writer was really trying to say. In many cases in the Bible, these conservative sexual exhortations were tied up with a sense of God’s holiness, and what did the writer’s do? They looked around at their society for examples in their culture of what was regarded as culturally unholy.

            In contrast, if we look around at our society today, I don’t think pre-marital sex is necessarily seen as unholy. I think we’d look to other kinds of activity as unholy – sex abuse, domestic abuse etc. But I think most of us today do not regard young couples who are living together as ‘unholy’ or ‘fornicators’. They are probably often better people than ourselves.

            As for eliding marital infidelity with young couples having sex before marriage… that is to lump together infidelity and betrayal, with the growing fidelity and sharing involved in a couple (actually young or old) expressing love and desire to journey together in committed relationship.

            That’s exactly why society tends to differentiate ‘pre-marital’ from ‘extra-marital’ as terms. Society gets that they are different creatures.

            And then there’s the whole ‘Bill Clinton’ question of what constitutes sex. Is it only PIV? Is it oral as well? Or cuddling? Or kissing? Or breast arousal? Or fingering?

            And then beyond that – and it’s kind of a challenge to all of you guys who have been posting here, and any women as well – what about self-pleasure? Is that sex outside of marriage as well? Because I guarantee that a good number of people who have posted here actually do self-pleasure even if they are married, and may well do that sometimes while looking at or thinking of a person who is not their partner.

            If you’re going to be literalistic about scripture, wouldn’t Jesus say that’s adultery, quite as much as the woman who was about to be stoned?

            It’s weird though, how so many Christian preachers rant on against ‘the gays’ for their sexual sin, and yet I know very well that statistically and scripturally by their own terms or reading scripture, they are adulterers because in self-pleasure they are lusting after women (or indeed men).

            But the stones get chucked at ‘others’. That way we can project our own sexual hiddenness on to somebody else, and that feels a whole lot better.

            Are couples who have pre-marital sex (of whichever kind) ‘fornicators’? Or are most people in this country (because it is most people) just expressing different cultural values and understanding about sexuality… that it’s a journey into relationship and fidelity, a finding out about each other, and in many cases something beautiful, alive, tender, and on the way to the deeper sanctities of lives lived sacrificially for each other?

            We are talking about decent people.

            And I just don’t think it’s all black and white. I think it’s a matter of what’s actually in a person’s heart.

            Just as I don’t think the Church should any longer claim to be the arbiter on human origins or the evolution of species, I don’t think the Church should necessarily claim to be the moral arbiter of other people’s tendernesses and intimacies… certainly not if they base their arbitration on how society and culture viewed sex thousands of years ago, in a conservative religious society. You might as well as ask ISIS supporters what sex is about – as they throw gay people off rooftops, and marry child brides, and of course self-pleasure at will.

            In the end, far more extra-marital sex gets carried out by people who are outwardly respectable and married, each time they self-pleasure. And I’m not actually trying to condemn that. I’m just pointing it out. Yet many of those self-same people are only to happy to bask in their heterosexuality and their marriages, and pontificate on other people’s sex. It’s the usual old game: pointing the finger at other people, not at ourselves.

            “I thank you Lord, that I am not like those people…”

            Yet young couples up and down the land are alive and decent, and falling in love, and living together, and having their banns read out in church, though “living at the same address”… and yes, having sex, whether that sex is actual PIV intercourse, or heavy petting, or BJs, or mutual self-pleasure or whatever.

            Pre-marital sex is not always good, because it depends on the level of care and sincerity of the people involved (just as it does inside of marriage). But it often can be healthy, normal, part of feeling alive, and growing together.

            Meanwhile the poor, the sick, the lonely, the elderly, the mentally ill, the homeless queue up and long for help and compassion…

            … and each of us can be found wanting because of lack of ‘prodigality’ of love (referencing back to Penny’s lovely concept of the Prodigal father).

            Puritanism and ‘holier-than-thou’ tight-assed condemnation of fundamentally decent and loving people is a sorry parody of the deep-flowing mystery of the unfathomable love of God, and what God may actually want us to do. Not judge others when they are exploring or expressing fidelity, but rather look deep in our own hearts and then go out and meet God where we’ll find God… in the old person’s home, among the sleeping bags outside a shop, at the foodbank, in the hospital.

            I know it’s not ‘either…or’ but it’s surely the case that we have a propensity for finding fault in others and judging their actions, while often overlooking our own daily failure to open up more to love.

          • It’s a quibble over terminology, S, but ‘extra-marital sex’ is generally used and understood as meaning sex that someone who is married has with another person.

            Is it? Evidence please.

            The plain meaining of the phrase is sex which occurs outside marriage, ie is ‘extra-‘ (outside) ‘marital’ (marriage).

            That includes adulterous sex (and if I had meant specifically adulterous sex I woudl have written ‘adulterous sex’) of course but also any other sex which occurs outside the context of marriage.

            And that is certainly how I have always heard the term used, in order to include not just adulterous sex but all other kinds of extra-marital sex as well.

            In some cases, I would say that pre-marital sex can actually help a person decide if they want to commit to marriage.

            But if they decide not to get married then the sex wasn’t pre-marital sex, was it? ‘pre-marital’ means ‘before marriage’. If they don’t get married then the sex wasn’t ‘before their marriage’ as the marriage neve rhappened. It was just outside the context of marriage, ie, ‘extra-marital’.

            In contrast, if we look around at our society today, I don’t think pre-marital sex is necessarily seen as unholy.

            So society is wrong and teaching evil. That’s unsurprising. As Christians we are called to stand against the evils and wrongnesses of society, as here.

          • S
            Susannah is right. In common usage, extra-marital sex usually denotes adultery; pre-marital sex, well, sex before marriage.
            It is up to you to decide that all pre-marital sex in unholy, but if you followed the exchange with Will you might see that not all of us agree, since it has little scriptural warrant.
            Besides, since marriage is a process and not an event, and the couple are themselves minister of the sacrament, it is not always certain when marriage begins.

          • Susannah is right. In common usage, extra-marital sex usually denotes adultery; pre-marital sex, well, sex before marriage.

            Not in my experience but maybe I associate with a different kind of people.

            It is up to you to decide that all pre-marital sex in unholy

            No, it’s up to God, not me.

            Besides, since marriage is a process and not an event, and the couple are themselves minister of the sacrament, it is not always certain when marriage begins.

            So if A and B have sex with each other then they are married to each other, is that what you’re saying? So every couple who has sex is married form the first time they have sex? So if one of them goes on to have sex with C then that’s adultery?

            You really think that?

          • No I don’t really think that.

            So then your comment ‘since marriage is a process and not an event, and the couple are themselves minister of the sacrament, it is not always certain when marriage begins’ was irrelevant, wasn’t it? Because you wrote it in the context of trying to excuse extra-marital sex by saying that it might not have actually been extra-marital because the ‘marriage’ may have begun before the formal exchange of vows (and therefore the sex did actually occur in the context of the marriage).

            But unless you think that all marriages begin as soon as the couple has sex for the first time (and you now say you don’t think that), that means there is still some sex between couples who may or may not go on to get married which is outside the context of marriage and, therefore, immoral.

    • get on with what the Bible really prioritises: which is love, the greatest thing of all?

      Isn’t ‘what the Bible really prioritises’ not love but repentance?

      And how can we repent if we don’t get it right about what is a sin?

      • I think love is the absolute priority, and that love comes first from God, and may break out in all kinds of lives, and people, and it’s outside our choice or theological restriction. It is the very nature of God, and may flood out, in any number of manifestations, any number of lives, in God’s own sovereign will. Clearly, repentance opens us up to the love of God and in my own Christian experience, repentance and sense of challenge and judgment has been part of the fire and sealing of God’s love.

        The difficulty I have with your final sentence – and forgive me if I’m wrong – is that you regard gay sex as ‘sin’.

        Well many Christians don’t. Even Justin says he’s not sure if it is or not. And as you must well know, our Church is divided down the middle on that issue.

        So yes, I still maintain, that it is possible and fine to believe in the loveliness of gay and lesbian sex, and still need to ‘get on’ with all the other calls to love our neighbours and our God.

        It will, I suppose, all boil down to you arguing, ‘Yes but if you truly love God, you must obey what it says in the Bible…’ and so then there we are again on the merry-go-round of debate and debate and debate, with the riders on the opposite horses never getting any nearer to each other, and the debate getting nowhere.

        There is simply, and ‘de facto’, disagreement in the Church of England about human sexuality. And we need to be acknowledge that fact, allow that we’re going to live out different consciences on that, attend to our duties of love in all the other spheres of our lives, and realise that we need to grow up, and stop trying to dominate each other, and attempt the far more challenging and tangible task of actually co-existing and loving each other.

        I think it is quite a push to suppose that, because somebody has a different opinion to you on sexuality, therefore they haven’t undergone Christian repentance and given their lives to God.

        I think we should have more respect for each other than that.

        We should think well of each other, and look to the love in people’s lives, and their love of God, and accept that we can’t dominate each other like puritans, so we ought to maybe love each other in prayer, and shared lives.

        Repentance is implicit in a Christian walk with God. Love is what gets released in gratitude and opening up to God. And I don’t think any of us, whatever views we have on sexuality, has a monopoly of love.

        We all come before God in rags, every single day. But the call to love goes on, day after day after day. We try to open our hearts in good conscience and understanding, but to be sure – looking at our Church today – we don’t understand everything in the same way. And yet… still… we can keep on trying to love.

        The elderly neighbour who is lonely and incontinent still needs my help, whether I am lesbian or straight. And kindness is more of a test of spirituality than sense of our own moral rectitude. It always has been.

        Please don’t suppose that because I’m lesbian I don’t understand about repentance.

        Equally, please don’t suppose I am any better than anyone else at trying to love my neighbour.

        We need so much grace.

        • I think love is the absolute priority

          Well, then, we disagree. As far as I understand it the heart, the priority, the foundation of the Christian message is that we have sinned and cut ourselves off from God, but Jesus has opend up a way for us to restore that relationship if we repent of our sin.

          All this stuff about elderly neighbours sounds more like social work than Christianity. Even atheists care for their elderly neightbours.

          To be honest, I think any disagreement on what acts of sex are sinful and what aren’t is rather small beer compared to this huge chasm of difference in conceptions of what is the whole point of Christianity.

          And that, actually, I think is why this is such a big issue. Because it’s not really about what people get up to in bed. That’s just a symptom, it’s not the real disagreement. The real disagreement is over foundational issues like the nature of sin and what it means for the world to be fallen.

          Whether it’s okay for the Church to become just a charity doing social work. Or whether that would be a betrayal of everything the Church was established for.

          Those issues are what we should be arguing out, instead of going around in circles on sex.

        • Its sinfulness is a matter of nature.

          (a) It does not exist, since the word ‘sex’ implies something about gendered and about biological fit.

          (b) Insofar as an approximation of it exists, that could never be safe from disease without artificial intervention. But that has been absent for 99% of history.

          (c) We then get forced to accept the death of precious people which would not have happened had the Christians been listened to in the 1960s. Historically the legalisation of male-male sex was shortly followed by various epidemics. Centers for Disease Control ongoing large-scale monitoring of this in the States confirms that even now with 35 years of awareness the chances of male-male resulting in HIV are 1000+ times greater than for male-female. Analysed at http://www.peter-ould.net/2013/09/16/some-staggering-statistics.

          (d) We then get forced to affirm the very behaviour that caused that in thousands and millions. But we are not stupid.

          • No question about it, the AIDS epidemic would never have happened if only male-male sex hadn’t been legalised (albeit with a discriminatory age of consent) in England and Wales in 1967. Post hoc, ergo propter hoc.

            True, male-male sex had been legal in France since 1791, in Belgium since 1795, in the Netherlands since 1811, in Italy since 1890, in Denmark since 1933, and in Sweden since 1944. But the HIV virus obviously had some kind of racist prejudice and was biding its time until England and Wales eased up on legally harassing homosexuals, and even then took more than a decade really to swing into gear. And of course, at the time when the epidemic really exploded, those countries where male-male sex was still illegal didn’t have an AIDS/HIV problem at all, did they? Not much, they didn’t.

          • I didn’t mention UK. The main player was USA (San Francisco). USA, being so large, accounts for a lot of bodies. If a good deal of relaxing of the laws took place in various countries in the time period not long preceding HIV/AIDS, this will have been crucial for communication and spread, since it will now be *more* widely possible for like-minded to meet openly in *more* places and *greater* numbers, no longer fearing arrest. To this we add the concept of a gay village (SF again) producing untold levels of intermingling without fear of arrest.

            You can say that these changes are neutral as regards the threat of epidemic, but I doubt anyone could agree. Increased levels and intermingling obviously mean increased risk, where the activities are unhealthy ones.

            As to how unhealthy they were at this time, & I quote:

            There is no ‘equality’ whatever between AI and PIV intercourse:

            (1) A single instance of AI carries 20 times more risk of HIV contraction (Pinkerton et al., Archives of Internal Medicine 2004).

            (2) AI is medically no-go even without promiscuity (though at the dates in question there was a lot of both). And for 2 reasons at least:
            -The area involved is relatively dirty;
            -Cleanliness or otherwise is hard to ascertain either with own eyes or in a mirror.

            (3) The rectum has a sphincter, making it a non-entrance exit. The vagina, however, has a hymen. Breaking either is irreversible, but there is no equality in bad side-effects of the break:
            – There are bad side effects in the former case but not in the latter.
            -And the latter’s breaking has a clear biological purpose, whereas the former’s breaking is just an injury…
            -…and not like most injuries that can be readily healed.

            (4) The rectum has much less natural flexibility and stretch than the vagina.

            (5) The rectum has no natural lubrication, and that proves that it is not biologically intended for quasi-sexual intercourse.
            -However, that was already proven or obvious for 2 reasons:
            (a) lack of fit
            (b) lack of fruit or purpose.

            (6) The rectal lining is, unbelievably, precisely one cell thick. We all know how many millions of cells are in a pinprick, so it can be imagined how minuscule is one single cell. This ultimate kind of thinness would spell injury risk anywhere in the body.
            But when we add to that:
            -the unusual strain caused on this part of the body, with the attendant risk of cuts and bleeding (which will often be internal and/or unseen);
            -the increased pressure/thickening and rubbing caused by contraception;
            -and the fact that we are talking of a part of the anatomy unusually susceptible to harmful disease
            … then the risks are clearly massive.

            (7) Even now we have not come to the worst bit. It is that within the rectum are microfold cells that actively attract, embrace and envelop those very harmful microbes which cause STIs.

            Today’s establishment are followers of the sexual revolution. See the astonishing and deadly lack of forethought that is foundational to the sexual revolution. Were one to start on HPV, it would be mentioned that few were told (a) that OI was intrinsically risky, (b) that one cannot just sleep around because body contact alone can cause STIs.

            There is diet and exercise that accords with natural law and that which doesn’t. But none of that comes close to the statistical demonstration that the Christian marriage pattern (one man , one woman, for life) is natural law. Every possible sexual alternative comes nowhere near equality with the Christian way, and contains harmful elements to boot. Married virgins are almost guaranteed to be STI free. That life pattern is the standard in all of the large international cultures / religions – and has been achievable enough to be the norm for centuries on end. However, 10 years ago the average UK adult had slept with 7.65 partners. That means an average 2,811,024 people they could potentially catch a disease off. Zero vs 2,811,024. QED.

          • I’ve just read your ‘biological’ post (below). Even as a nurse, I find your obsession with lurid physical detail absolutely bizarre. You upset my breakfast!

            I’m a mountaineer. There are dangers involved but you love your sport and you factor risk into the equation. My first fiancée was killed in an avalanche. But I still don’t regret mountaineering.

            You point out statistically more risk in gay sex than hetero sex, as if that makes gay sex morally wrong. Having said that, more women than gay men die in childbirth. Etc.

            Statistics can be weird like that. I can tell you with absolute certainty that Infinity% more mountaineers are killed in mountaineering accidents than non-mountaineers.

            That does not make mountaineering morally wrong.

            The joy, the aliveness, the companionship, the shared adventure, are all good things, even though some people die.

            It is the same with gay sex.

            As a lesbian woman, I have totally no knowledge of the things you wrote about in your lurid ‘rectum’ epic – and I say ‘lurid’ rather than disgusting… I’m a nurse, and cleaning up shit and vomit is a privilege of care, so it’s not that which puts me off.

            What I find distasteful is the lurid way you dig (way too) deep into all that to make a theological point.

            It is *totally* bizarre. It’s like an obsession with sex.

            I honestly don’t think Jesus would ever have had a discussion like that. ‘Everything that is lovely… think about such things.”

            I’m afraid this is my standalone comment, because I’m not here to debate with you Christopher.

            In all the years I’ve followed Christian forums and blogs, your post was in my opinion without any doubt the most lurid excess of absorbed – absolutely absorbed – fixation with shit and all the rest that I have ever come across.

            I am sorry to say, I can’t debate with you. I choose not to. I don’t want to ‘win’ or ‘lose’ debate with you. I find it too boring, and I simply choose to expend time with a few people who are perhaps more emotionally intelligent and interesting.

            That doesn’t mean you’re not loved by God. It doesn’t even mean that you don’t have a right to write these kind of things. But…

            …sorry, I think posts like that one are weird, bizarre, so distasteful and uncalled for.

            I wish you well, I really do. You mentioned in another post – if I understood you correctly – that you’d been banned from some Christian forums. I can understand why. Maybe you could get some counselling about all this.

            Anyway, I hope this explains why I won’t be engaging with your posts and comments here, and by letting you know, it may save you the time and effort of trying to initiate a dialogue with me on other occasions. Of course, you’re free to make comments whether I engage or not… that is completely up to the host of the blog… but if it was me, I’d remove that post because I think it’s like an unpleasant stain on an otherwise quite interesting and intelligent blog.

            Lastly, however distasteful I found your post, even as a nurse… I feel sincere desire for you to be blessed by God, and to grow in God’s grace, and may you come at length to God’s eternal household, and be known and loved forever, Christopher. You are precious. It goes without saying. However much I’ve said firm things here, it is certain in my mind that God absolutely treasures you. And really… at length… we get to a point of loveliness.

          • Hi Susannah

            With all my heart I oppose your position. People are dying, and your priority is to say that spelling out the precise level of the danger is indication of nothing but sex-obsession!

            It is obvious the reason that I spell out the precise level of the danger.
            (1) Because the danger is great.
            (2) Because people are not talking about it, but are often treating AI as one normal sexual behaviour.
            (3) Because people therefore die, and have died already, from ignorance.

            If the danger is great, and it is not being advertised, and people will die, then is your position that people should continue not to advertise the nature of what is actually happening? AI is still regarded (widely though not everywhere) as part of normal sexual behaviour.

            How could you possibly defend such a position? You are saying, apparently, that the main point should *not* be that people are in danger of dying. No. If people are in danger of dying, and are not being told (cf. Michael Douglas and countless others) then that is the main point. Period.

            All their graves could be lined up, and your focus would still be on inaccurately saying that the whistleblowers were sex-obsessed? Rather than on the graves themselves? Priorities….

          • Susannah
            You are easily offended. Strikes me Christopher’s frank post carefully presents the moral telephonically and physiological issues surrounding homosexual sex. The love that dare not speak its name often has the most disastrous consequences. I commend to you Jeffrey Satinova’s “Homosexuality and the politics of truth “ – he is an American medic and psychologist – if you found Christopher’s post difficult reading you would surely balk at satinova. But it is required reading – vital. A qualified medic on the physical effects of homosexual sex.

            No one who reads that and loves their neighbour can remain silent about the physical and psychological trauma involved in homosexual sex.

          • It is impossible for anyone to hold any position at all on the goodness of a particular sexual behaviour before they know what is involved. Are you therefore saying (a) that people should indulge first and be informed later? – an astonishing position for a nurse – or (b) that people should already have an ”opinion” before they know anything about what it is they are ”having” an ”opinion” about?

          • Hi Simon

            The point is correct that giving medical/physiological details should be the *main* and *first* thing we do, otherwise no-one can know what it is they are either assenting to or rejecting. It follows that this kind of thing is something that should be generally known. When I was 13, our school doctor had a gross picture of tar in someone’s body with the legend ‘No wonder smokers cough’. Half the school smoked, but I bet it would have been even more otherwise….

            The topic is the outbreak of AIDS, and at that time AI was central within homosexual sexual practice. The picture is very different now – many have forsworn it because of the lack of forethought that led to AIDS becoming an epidemic in the first place, with male homosexuals very much to the forefront in being at risk.

            Susannah, you agree that male homosexual practice is risky, but liken it to mountaineering. Many will find that comparison remarkable. However, a lot of forethought and planning goes into mountaineering, whereas sex by definition is (within a sexual-revolution setting) often spontaneous and unplanned.

            Another mountaineer was Aleister Crowley, and he I think it was that enunciated the principle ”’Do what you will” shall be the whole of the law’ (it goes back to the garden of Eden, of course…). The sexual revolution has proceeded on that immature and selfish basis. Now, unbelievably, even self-proclaimed Christians and Christian bodies are aligning with this Crowley principle (self fulfilment, self realisation is the big picture). But Crowley was something of a satanist, and that is a barometer of how obviously incorrect (and far from Christ) such a position is.

          • Mr Shell, I am not disputing the drawbacks and risks of “AI” – which, be it noted, is neither the only homosexual act nor an exclusively homosexual act – so I am not going to waste time arguing about that. What I am disputing is your suggestion that ending the legal harassment of homosexual males was the cause of the AIDS epidemic. That suggestion is simply not supported by the facts.

          • William your point is well made and well taken, but the point that Christopher made of how hurtful it is for society to avoid telling people the risks is also well made.
            The legal point and the societal point are not contradictory.

          • Clive is right that not telling the risks is bad, but it is actually worse – it is demonic. The very nature of temptation is to hold out a promise of something superficially thrilling without mentioning the consequences and the aftertaste. Even worse: the consequences are *known*, but are withheld from young people (and not so young), presumably so that the pool of young people who may be potential sleeping partners for the revolutionaries may be widened (as it would not be if they read up on the risks and thought twice).

            William’s point on AI now being practiced by different groups and by only a minority of homosexuals has already been made, but is not relevant to the time when AIDS first broke out as an epidemic.

            It is unfeeling to argue the post/propter hoc point as the queue of coffins grows ever longer.

          • William also must know I never mentioned ‘ending the legal harassment’. What I did mention is that as soon as something becomes legal it becomes visible and unhidden. As soon as it is visible and unhidden it can grow and be maximised and plan and network rather than disease being held back through lack of large-scale communication.

          • Penny –

            St Augustine certainly did not say ‘Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law’. God forbid!

            It was indeed Aleister Crowley who said that.

            He probably got the ‘Do what thou wilt’ bit from Rabelais.

            What Augustine said is usually rendered as “Love God; and do what you like.’ This means: ‘Love God; and once you *first* love God, you can *then* do what you like’.

          • Penelope – none I am aware of – I was commenting on Christopher’s post relating to homosexual not lesbian sexual acts. satinover addresses himself to Male homosexual sex acts. Do read- enlightening and necessary.

          • Simon
            I’m well aware of Christopher’s slant on this. I find it interesting that those inveighing against the dangers of homosexual sex, overlook female homosexual sex, which is probably the ‘safest’ sexual intimacy there is.
            Having read Gagnon, I have little interest in Satinover. Promiscuity of all kinds has dangers. The ethics of same- sex marriage in a Christian context is about faithful covenantal relationships not about willies and bums

          • Christopher
            Now being practiced? I think you’ll find it always was. As a form of contraception, for instance.

          • There is only one way to find whether something ‘always’ happened – research ‘every’ part of history. There is only one way to find if it has happened ‘everywhere’ – that is to research every single location. Finding instances of something happening does not even remotely come close to being evidence that that thing was ‘always’ or ‘everywhere’.

            And anyway, if something is bad, the fact that it has happened in different eras will, of course, certainly not make it less bad!

          • @ Christopher Shell

            There is no evidence for the suggestion that information about the risks attached to “AI” is being suppressed.

            “William’s point on AI NOW [emphasis added] being practiced by different groups…”

            That sounds like an insinuation that “AI” began to be practised by non-homosexuals ONLY after the risks involved became widely known. Yes, that make perfect sense, I’m sure.

            “It is unfeeling to argue the post/propter hoc point as the queue of coffins grows ever longer.”

            Fine. Then don’t.

            So in those countries where homosexual behaviour remained illegal, not only did that cause homosexuality to remain invisible and hidden, but it actually held back the spread of AIDS in those countries, did it? Did it hell as like.

          • @William

            4 points

            (a) AI, because of the various factors in the analysis given, should certainly be illegal but is not. Anyone is free to argue otherwise and we will treat your arguments. To treat it as something that is not bad enough to be illegal is just appeasing the sexual libertarians – it does not square with the realities. To treat it as something not bad enough to be illegal – and something which will be counselled or advised by different therapists etc – is to downplay or suppress the risks or the level of risk.

            (b) More widespread/normalised heterosexual AI dates from the sexual revolution. So does full scale networked homosexual practice. Therefore the 2 are connected. And not only connected in (i) date and in (ii) societal presuppositions. Connected thirdly in that what is acceded to one group cannot then be denied to the other. So the thinking goes, but the kind thing would be to deny it to both.

            (c) The post/propter hoc thing: people think that the only kind of cause there is is a direct ‘A causes B’ connection. But the real world is a network of causation. A web. Where we have a constant correlation, and one on a large scale moreover, there will generally be a connection within the causal web, and probably a close one. And the causal web remains just that: causal. The fact that it is not a simple ‘A causes B’ does not bring any of the people back to life.

            (d) When an epidemic breaks out, you check what changed in the immediately intervening years. The sexual revolution is one obvious change. And a large scale one to boot. I do not know that African practice changed as much, but USA are internationally influential, and anyway all it takes is a change in one important part of the world for the whole world to be affected. The place where the change first happened will, of course, not necessarily be the place that gets worst affected.

        • But Susannah, how do you define love, and (since you are speaking of God here) why are you not using the NT taxonomy of what love is, the distinctions between different kinds of ‘love’?

  14. It’s odd, you speak of “vilifying relationships” as if people are doing that and explicitly and personally (hence vilifying, hedonism, etc).

    What I see is people trying to interpret how scripture declares it sense and how the tradition through the ages has read the same, by saints and sinners before us, in the Church, the Body of Christ.

    Facts are being asserted by one side, and then evaluated as to their cogency and accuracy on the other. When this does not go well, it ends up being about washing socks and vilifying.

    Except of course on those occasions when scripture is held up as a kind of premodern ignorance, which manifestly your prose does, and rather in the spirit of vilifying. It’s all sock washing and getting on with it, except when it isn’t.

    • Not at all. I think many so-called ‘conservative’ Christians avoid the personal face-to-face vilification. It makes them feel nasty. So they talk about ‘welcome’ instead and even try to practice it… on their own terms. But theology sometimes generalises and de-personalises, and I suggest to you that those people who think God regards gay sexuality as an ‘abomination’ and its proponents as sort of ‘rebels’ against God bound for ultimate punitive consequences are indeed theologically vilifying people.

      Whether people are homophobic in intent, face-to-face, or not… the impact and effect of this theological vilification on gay people is homophobic. For this reason, many gay and lesbian people do not feel accepted and welcomed in the Church, because it’s not all about “nice” Christian people smiling and offering them cups of tea… it’s about a culture of condemnation of who they are (as sexually active gay people) and what is precious to them, and the theological vilification and rejection of those things creates an effect that is accumulatively toxic and homophobic, beneath the polite veneer.

      Chaucer wrote of “the smylere with the knyf under the cloke” and that is how it can feel when someone goes to church but knows the smiling people around them actually hold their intimate love and relationships in contempt.

      Conversely, inclusive and welcoming Churches can be wonderful places of acceptance. Of course I respect that opposition to man-man sex is a view that can be held in good conscience by someone who loves God. Young people and many (most) in society are pretty disgusted by these negative attitudes to gay sexuality, and in my opinion that’s a terrible Christian witness, but it’s still a view that can be held with consistency and integrity.

      But at least please take responsibility if you champion such views. Accept that however much you sugar-coat it, you contribute to a culture of hostility to gay lives that is deeply hurtful and psychologically oppressive. You may not feel that and you probably don’t, but if a Church holds these views then many gay and lesbian people will feel it. They do.

      All the cups of tea in the world won’t change the hurt and the sense of vilification that comes from a version of Christianity (I’d argue an outdated one, rooted in an ailing paradigm) that despises gay people’s most intimate and preciously expressed love, their gentle interactions with their partners, their sweet tenderness, and shared union.

      • In this comment, Susannah, you surely show why your proposal for permitting both liberal and conservative views in the Church would not be stable. You regard the conservative view as contributing to a ‘culture of hostility to gay lives that is deeply hurtful and psychologically oppressive’. Doesn’t this illustrate that many liberals (who I am sure share such sentiments) would not really want or be able to sustain a long-term tolerance of ‘outdated’ and ‘ailing’ conservative teaching? They regard it as harmful.

        Of course, biblically orthodox believers object as a matter of principle to the idea of altering church teaching in order to accommodate practices that are contrary to the plain teaching of scripture. But setting that aside, even on its own terms ‘mutual flourishing’ would fail because its chief proponents don’t really want it except as a staging post. The tolerance of ‘deeply hurtful’ and ‘oppressive’ conservative teaching would, I predict, evaporate very quickly indeed. Even now very few who hold to it are finding themselves favoured by the hierarchy for promotion.

        • Actually, Will, I think you are mistaken: at least as far as my own views go. This week I have been up at Church House explaining why I believe it is so important that we try to live with one another in the Church, and respect the right of diverse Christians to views that may be different to our own.

          I am happy to co-exist in the Church of England with a combination of so-called ‘progressive’ churches and so-called ‘conservative’ churches. I may think some views are deeply harmful, but it is not my job to dominate another Christian’s conscience.

          As I explained to the LLF team, I believe the real test for us as Christians is not ‘Who is right’ or ‘Who wins’ but ‘Can we love one another, and pray for each other’s flourishing, even (and perhaps especially) when we have different and diverse views on things like sexuality?’

          The history of the Church of England and, I believe, part of its charism and grace, has been the way it has accommodated diverse theological views through its history, leading people to explore love in paradox and in tension. And I think, as a Church, part of our grace in God derives from that aspect, and makes us a bit more than just a breakaway sect.

          So no, I don’t see ‘Unity in Diversity’ as a staging post. I don’t favour puritanism that demands uniformity on either side of these kind of debates. I think that is immature.

          I favour trusting and respecting that people hold views in good conscience, as an expression of their faith and love of God. That doesn’t mean I agree with views that I think diminish the lives of others. But I can at least seek the continuing mission of our Church in community after community up and down our land, which is incredibly precious and needed: helping the elderly, visiting the sick and the lonely, comforting the distressed and bereaved, and basically accompanying whole communities beyond our churches in their lives, their struggles, their practical needs.

          Schism in that context seems ridiculous to me.

          Would my proposal be ‘stable’? Like I said, it would involve living in tension. But if we afford a place in a broad church for diverse consciences, then there ought to be a possibility of doing the really urgent thing: loving one another, and getting on with loving our neighbours, in our own communities, in our own ways, following our own consciences, in response to God’s love for us and our own desire to love God.

          I believe we need to stop trying to dominate one another. We need to love more instead. That does not mean I agree with the theological vilification of gay people, but there is so much else we can find agreement on, and as a Church in the nation, there are so many needs we can share in response to, and after all…

          …in all eternity our unity is only, ever, found in Jesus Christ.

          We see through a glass darkly. And most of God is so deep and numinous and beyond all our understanding, or the paradoxes of our passing little lives.

          But there is still time – just a little time – for us to love.

        • Us liberals certainly think that your views are harmful and outdated, but we would affirm your right to express such views and would hope that we can still fellowship together despite our differences.

          • “Us liberals certainly think that your views are harmful and outdated”…
            Indeed, and you understand we traditional Christians believe your views harmful and novel. Christopher has argued persuasively below that the reason many conservative Christians question homosexual sexual acts is not simply because they read the Bible to say as much, but because they believe it is harmful both physically and spiritually to the persons involved. Christopher’s statements have been ignored or pilloried but not actually engaged with.

            ‘your views are outdated’ – the source and norm for our faith is not culture but God’s revelation among an ancient people recorded in ancient Scripture. Whilst some seem to rework the ancient Scriptural witness, their authority seems very patently to be cultural norms not Biblical ones. It has ever been the liberal stance to reject Scripture and Tradition for the novel – culture setting the agenda – discounting Biblical miracles in an age of electricity, dismissing Biblical ethics in an age of ethical relativism.

            “…we would hope that we can still fellowship together despite our differences..” I fear that boat is setting sail.

          • “Christopher has argued persuasively below that the reason many conservative Christians question homosexual sexual acts is not simply because they read the Bible to say as much, but because they believe it is harmful both physically and spiritually to the persons involved.”

            And Penelope and I both challenged anyone on this page to tell us what actual harm a loving and committed lesbian relationship does?

            That too was ignored.

            The suggestion that a lifelong, loving, committed gay or lesbian relationship is harmful is really not a theological (or even reasonable medical) basis for condemning gay sexuality.

            Since most liberal Christians are not arguing for promiscuity but for respect for the fidelity, integrity and loveliness of committed gay and lesbian relationships – a beautiful model which most decent people today respect.

            Conversely, while you cannot identify a single harmful effect of my wife’s love for me, and our intimate expressions of that fidelity… I think Origen does indeed have reasonable grounds for suggesting that the theological vilification of gay and lesbian sexuality can indeed be harmful: causing shame, causing marginalisation, causing psychological distress (for example, the case of Lizzie Lowe) and in addition, the stigmatisation of gay sex offers more explicit haters on the street a sense of religious mandate for their hate crimes. The moral negativity contributes to a culture and climate of othering people’s love, on grounds of gender, and that certainly makes LGBT lives less open, less safe, less joyful.

            I believe Origen is absolutely right to say that portraying gay sex as ‘abomination’ and ‘son’ is harmful.

            Meanwhile my wife and I live in gentle, faithful relationship – loved by our families, our friends, and our church community – and serving our communities too. And I still have not read a single suggestion that our lesbian love is harmful in any way.

            The argument that sexual promiscuity is harmful, and therefore this adds to why gay and lesbian fidelity is wrong… just doesn’t add up. In debate with more progressive Christians who affirm committed gay relationships, the harm caused by promiscuity is a straw man.

            You might as well say that because hundreds of millions of heterosexual people are promiscuous and get STIs, faithful heterosexual relationships and marriages are somehow wrong by association.

            Faithful lesbian relationships. How does our private and caring fidelity harm you in any way? It doesn’t. Fidelity is good.

          • Simon

            Leaving aside the question of physical harm, Christopher’s arguments are anything but persuasive. He writes, extensively, about the risks of anal intercourse. Which is completely irrelevant to lesbian relationships. It is also irrelevant to many male gay partners who do not practise AI. In any case AI is much less risky in committed relationships. Christopher writes extensively about promiscuity. Which is irrelevant, since we are discussing covenantal same-sex relationships. So the arguments are not persuasive, but red herrings.

          • Simon

            Leaving aside the question of physical harm, Christopher’s arguments are anything but persuasive. He writes, extensively, about the risks of anal intercourse. Which is completely irrelevant to lesbian relationships. It is also irrelevant to many male gay partners who do not practise AI. In any case AI is much less risky in committed relationships. Christopher writes extensively about promiscuity. Which is irrelevant, since we are discussing covenantal same-sex relationships. So the arguments are not persuasive, but red herrings.

          • Simon:”they believe it is harmful both physically and spiritually to the persons involved.”

            What harm do you mean? I’ve been gay all my life and have never come to any harm. The only harm that was done to me was through reparative therapy and ‘Christian’ counselling to become straight – I ended up having a breakdown because of it and two psychiatrists told me I had to accept myself. Fortunately I now have a supportive church which has a supportive LGBT group too.

            “I fear that boat is setting sail.”

            I think that’s sad. We offer you the hand of friendship despite your treatment of us and you refuse it.

      • “Of course I respect that opposition to man-man sex is a view that can be held in good conscience by someone who loves God.”

        Why? Why this and not something else? If you hold this view you are silently vilifying and doing all the hurtful things you major in asserting as true.

        This is what happens when you remove reference to scripture and tradition as decisive.

        It is Susannah and her opinions and feelings and sweet tenderness.

          • “Of course I respect that opposition to man-man sex is a view that can be held in good conscience by someone who loves God.”

            Why? Why this and not something else? If you hold this view you are silently vilifying and doing all the hurtful things you major in asserting are true.

            Please explain your comment.

            And may God bless us everyone.

          • Thank you for your gracious responses Susannah. Hoping you continue to give an alternative perspective on here!

        • Christopher – when you and ‘S’ and Christopher Shell and Will et al leave your little temperance society and start campaigning for the re-criminalisation of homosexual acts then you might be taken seriously. Currently it simply looks like your poor offended feelings and opinions and sweet tenderness that can’t quite cope with the ‘Ick’ factor that Penny so carefully and correctly indentifies above. Happy campaigning – but sadly I think your ship has already sailed.

          • Do you have anything substantive to say on the topic of this thread?

            If so, please do so. Otherwise let Ms Clark speak for herself. She is at least on topic.

          • Christopher, this thread (I wrote the Original Post) was posing the question: if the Biblical assertions about an ancestorless Adam, and death entering the world with humanity (though animals existed 100 millions of years before humanity existed), and Noah’s Flood raising sea levels in human memory above the highest mountains, and a global extinction except for a boatload of creatures (retrieved from unexplored parts of the world)… is actually an expression of authors writing in the context of their own cultural and scientific limits… and today most sane and rational truth-loving people recognise those narratives were factually culture-bound and not actually correct for all time… then from that precedent, why might the views on man-man sex not also be expressions of culture, and capable of being updated by later scientific understanding and cultural attitudes too?

            Quite where ‘anal sex’ and all the rest of it came into my query, I’m not sure.

            I also made an appeal for respecting diverse views and loving one another – effectively ‘Unity in Diversity’ and allowing for more than one view on human sexuality… which I think is the likely destination of the Church of England.

            And bear in mind, that I write from the context of lesbian marriage and commitment, not promiscuity (which is a heterosexual phenomena as well as a gay one).

            Andrew does make an interesting point by implication: if, as some claim, God regards gay sexuality as illicit and warns of punitive consequences including eternity in hell… then why would people defend de-criminalisation on earth? Surely a few years in prison would be nothing compared to the far more punitive sanction you attribute to God? And on that basis, why should gay people expect ‘radical inclusion’ when theologically they are vilified as ‘abominations’?

            I simply don’t feel the issues/questions I raised in my OP have been addressed in this thread, which has been more about fire-fighting all manner of alarums about how heterosexual relations are safe and gay ones are not. As Penelope asked, what possible dangers or particular risks are there in lesbian sex?

            Taking Ian’s prompt, this is my final post on the threads on this page, and once again, thank you Ian, for your hospitality and the opportunity to post here.

          • Andrew, very clearly your suggestion that the “ship has already sailed” is demonstrably wrong and simply bluff and bluster on your part.

            It actually currently looks like failure to take on board the facts and evidence, which will still be facts and evidence no matter what a minority does, no matter how sizeable or small that minority is.

          • We’re not at present pursuing the conversation further, but ‘ship has sailed’ is entire nonsense when one unpacks it:

            (1) Who would listen anything that is imposed? Any ship can sail if one creates the facts on the ground that make it sail.

            (2) A vandal could cut the ropes and tell averyone that the ship had sailed.

            (3) It’s not clear what the significance of sailing is if the prerequisites of sailing (that the arguments be addressed) have not been even slightly fulfilled.

            (4) It is a foregone conclusion that the ship will ‘sail’ if both parliament and media are populated by the same sort of people, and by their own admission rarely meet anyone from the other 50%. See David Sedgwick and Robin Aitken, new books on the BBC.

            (5) The ship will be taken to have sailed if they think that walking into a Commons lobby actually recreates reality. Even a 3 year old can walk that distance.

            (6) A bully does not want to be given out at cricket. He remains at the crease. He points at his location. ‘Facts on the ground’.

            (7) Knife crime is going up and precious people are dying in London. That is a fact on the ground. Oh – facts on the ground are supposedly good. Ergo, it would be good that people are dying in London. So what is so good about facts on the ground? It is clear that they are in fact neutral. (But a difference between us and you is that we knew that all the time.)

            7 points for Andrew and others to address another time. It’s good that we be enabled to understand each other’s positions. Without answers to these 7, it is not likely that our position would shift.

            **The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt demonstrates by means of a robust survey that social conservatives understand the motivations of social liberals quite well, but social liberals are seriously deficient in understanding the motivations of social conservatives. They are always getting them wrong. They are substituting pre-decided cliches for what they are actually saying. Conservatives will very often be saying, ‘What research are you relying on, because what you are saying bears little relation to the research that has been done’ and ‘How do you address the counter arguments?’. (I am an eclectic independent but there will be times, depending on the way the evidence points, when the conclusions one comes to look radical or conservative.) It is very true that listening to each other means progress in understanding. Once we understand, we can then assess the value of what is being said. So it is a 3 stage process. Listen – understand – assess. It could never make any sense to drop the 3rd stage: indeed, it would be an open door to selfishness and anything-goes. (More anon, whenever we next discuss this.)

          • Oh dear. Clive and both Christophers you seem unable to read and continue in your little temperance society mindset. Prohibition is over. Even Lambeth 1.10 recognised that. That resolution talked about listening to the experience of homosexual people. You don’t seem at all prepared to do that.

            My one question is simple – and you all evade it because you have no answer. Susannah thankfully picks it up. Let me remind you of it – and Christopher Seitz it has everything to do with the article that Will has drafted. If homosexually active people are defying the gospel and teaching of the church and will therefore risk eternal damnation, why aren’t you doing something to save the really lost by making such activity criminal?

          • Andrew

            People who refuse the salvation offered in the gospel risk eternal damnation. That doesn’t mean we want to ban being non-Christian. Christians don’t seek to ban everything that imperils the soul.

          • Andrew,
            In tradition the ‘mortal’ sins are those that do. I’m not sure that one would propose to legislate against, for example, sloth or gluttony, as benficial to people as it might be, both for this world and the next.

            I hope you do not think that adultery is OK. In that case, are you in favour of restoring its status as illegal, in order to protect people? (In Tudor times it attracted capital punishment).

          • Will and others
            But Andrew, Susannah, David R and I passionately believe in a gospel which affirms the sanctity of covenantal, faithful, sexual and non-sexual relationships. (I assume they are passionate!)
            Like you, to do this we must, I believe, read against the grain of the ‘plain meaning’ of scripture. Rarely in the NT is family or marriage spoken of warmly, procreation not at all. Both Jesus and Paul seem to have led ascetic and celibate lives and both appear to have believed that this was a better way.
            So, to find support for marriage as a God approved union, one must go elsewhere. The narrative of Genesis 2, for example, where the earthling is provided with a companion who shares the same flesh and bones.
            No one puts themselves outside redemption and salvation by marrying and loving in sickness and in health…..a partner of the same or the other sex/gender.
            I believe this because I am biblically orthodox.

          • ‘I hope you do not think that adultery is OK. ‘

            David W: I think the comments attributed to Jesus in the Gospels about adultery show just what a complicated issue that is – far more complicated than same sex marriage or faithful stable same sex relationships. Ok or not ok doesn’t really come anywhere near it. EVery human relationship shows signs of failure and fragility. None of that’s ‘ok’ – but is just part of our brokenness. Some brokenness you need to legislate for, surely. (Like theft…violence…).

            As Penny explains here above, same sex relationships are not considered by most people to be ‘broken’. Indeed we believe….as she puts it…passionately believe in a gospel which affirms the sanctity of covenantal, faithful, sexual and non-sexual relationships. But if you and others here think they are intrinsically an evil thing – and just read Christopher Shells contributions to see why he thinks that – then you must surely want it stamped out for the good of all people?

          • On the contrary, the nonsexual ones I have always called a particularly *good* thing. There are 2 billion Christians in the world. Please find *one* who disagrees.

          • Yes, Christopher, biblically orthodox.

            I have already argued that in the NT asceticism is valorised over marriage and family, and that procreation is not mentioned as a ‘good’ of marriage.

            So, we turn to the HB. I believe that the binaries in Gen. 1 are merisms, that is, they include the ‘opposites’ and everything ‘in between’, to put it crudely. Thus, night and day encompass evening and morning, dawn and dusk; man and woman encompasses a spectrum of genders and sexualities. Gen. 1 mentions procreation, but not marriage.

            In Gen 2, as I observed, the earthling is formed into 2, but the essential recognition is of sameness, not of difference. Jesus uses this passage in the divorce teaching to teach the indissolubility of marriage, but the text does not mention marriage, nor does procreation or sex enter their world until after the Fall.

            The Song of Songs, which I see someone has mentioned below is an erotic poem. It is unashamedly ‘heterosexual’, it is about erotic love, which others on this thread have disparaged and it is not about procreation. It’s ‘heterosexism’ is nuanced by early Christian Fathers and Doctors who read the Bride in homoerotic allegories about Christ and the Church.

            So pre Fall and post Christ, we are living in a world in which we are no longer, perhaps, enjoined to fill the earth and subdue it. We are living in an eschatological age where the old has passed away. I don’t entirely subscribe to Robert Song’s arguments, but I think he makes some very interesting points.

            So, yes, biblically orthodox.

          • Penelope, it is not difficult to show that the NT is keen on marriage (alongside celibacy):

            – In Matthew 19:4-6 Jesus says: ‘Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’
            – 2 Cor 11:2: The church is promised in marriage to one husband as a ‘chaste virgin’ to Christ. Rev 19:7: ‘His bride has made herself ready’. This is not homoerotic.
            – Eph 5:25-7: ‘Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.’
            – Hebrews 13:4: ‘Let marriage be held in honour by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers.’ 1 Tim 4:3 condemns the forbidding of marriage.
            – Children as the fruit of marriage is assumed as per 1 Cor 7:14 (some things are so obvious as to go unstated).

            The NT is keen on celibacy but not on any extra-marital sexual activity and certainly not on homosexual activity. You on the other hand do not regard pre-marital sex as inherently immoral and are fine with same-sex sexual relationships. (Incidentally, I am yet to find a single proponent of an affirming view who will assent to the biblical view that pre-marital sex is inherently immoral.)

            Your claims about what the NT teaches and to be biblically orthodox do not bear scrutiny.

          • “Incidentally, I am yet to find a single proponent of an affirming view who will assent to the biblical view that pre-marital sex is inherently immoral”

            Will: even some conservatives will admit that nowhere in the bible is there a verse which says ‘you shall not have sex before marriage’. The tradition is simply extrapolated from a few verses about the matter. It’s clearly a great deal more complicated than ‘thou shalt not…..’. ‘S’, who writes here, has assured me that it is inherently immoral to hold hands with someone unless one is intending marriage. Not many will hold such an extreme view.

            Perhaps – just perhaps – the tradition has changed as evolution continues. And whilst not all evolution in this area is good, the advent of reliable contraception has transformed the lives of women for the better. Penny has written about this very helpfully in a previous thread.

          • Andrew

            It is well established that porneia in the NT and in Greek at that time includes pre-marital sex. If it didn’t 1 Cor 7:36 would make no sense. See also Hebrews 13:4. So there are numerous verses which tell us it is sinful. Which is why the church has always held it thus.

            ‘Reliable’ contraception does not change what is immoral! Besides, how reliable can it be when a fifth of all pregnancies are aborted and a sixth are unplanned? Not to mention the epidemics of various venereal diseases. But anyway the morality of fornication does not turn on the reliability of contraception.

          • Will The NT is ‘keen on marriage’ is it? As in ‘strongly enthusiastic – ‘keen advocate of’? Really? Like St Paul, foremost NT apostle and teacher saying ‘I wish you were all like me’ (ie single 1Cor 7.7). His vision for marriage was that it was for those who lacked self control. You call that being keen on marriage? Is that found anywhere in the wedding service?
            Nowhere in the NT are people positively encouraged to marry. But they are to stay single.
            All you have done here is give a list of places the NT mentions ‘marriage’ (and there aren’t that many are there?). Some pastoral, some metaphorical … but none in context – still less expressing anything we usually mean by ‘keen-ness’.
            By contrast we are so focused on marriage in today’s church that is comes as a shock to realise how little the NT has to positively say about it.

          • I agreed that the NT prizes celibacy.

            I don’t see how you can deny that the NT isn’t keen on marriage when Jesus teaches that marriage arises from the created order (‘for this reason’), Paul likens the relationship of Christ and the Church to marriage, and Hebrews expressly says ‘Let marriage be held in honour by all’. How much more do you need?

          • Will What do you mean by the word ‘keen’? The texts you quote are certainly about marriage – but why would you call any of them ‘keen’? You ignore the verses I quote from St Paul which suggest the opposite.

          • Will
            I hope this posts in the right place!
            I think your evidence of the NT being pro marriage is proof texting.
            Jesus comments on the indissolubility of marriage during a debate on divorce and was, probably, celibate.
            Paul was celibate, at last at the time of writing the epistles, but allows marriage as a remedy for lust and never mentions procreation as a ‘good’ of marriage.
            True the pseudo Pauline epistles sometimes approve marriage and use it as a metaphor for Christ and the Church. But, like that of God and Isrsel/wife, it is not an unproblematic metaphor.
            As Andrew observes, there is no single text in the NT which proscribes pre marital sex. Adultery was, of course, proscribed, but only certain kinds of extra marital sex were adulterous. Most ANE societies (and societies since)proscribed pre marital sex for reasons which had nothing to do with morality. A girl who was the property of her father could be defiled by having sex with a man who wasn’t her husband. The offence was against the father, rather than the girl. She was then tainted and unmarriageble. Furthermore, in an age before the advent of reliable contraception, unwanted pregnancies were shameful. In western society, we have only lost that shame, thankfully, in the past couple of decades. So, objections to pre marital sex were owing to shame and the transgression of ownership, not personal morality. Again, we read that into the text.

          • By keen I mean described as part of the created order, likened to the relationship between Christ and the Church, and instructed to be held in honour by all. But David I’d already said this. I also didn’t ignore the verse, I said that celibacy was also prized. These things are not contradictory.

          • Penelope pre-marital sex is ruled out as immoral by every single verse which condemns porneia. That’s what it means. You can tell that both from what we know of the cultural context and because if it didn’t 1 Cor 7:36 would not make sense.

          • Will So ‘keen’ means ‘described as part of the created order’ does it? Find me anywhere approaching that meaning in a dictionary.
            And nowhere is marriage ‘prized’ in the NT (but maybe this another odd choice of word by you – a vocation is not a prize).
            Celibacy is explicitly preferred.
            Marriage is for those who lack self control. Is that ‘keen’ too? Do you find that teaching anywhere ‘described in the created order’?

          • Do you have a problem with the word keen? It just means positively regarded. This is shown by it being described as part of the created order, likened to the relationship between Christ and the Church, and enjoined to be held in honour by all. Seems pretty positive to me.

            Yes Paul also teaches at that celibacy is better. The church has usually held these together. I don’t really see what the issue is here. You seem to want the NT to be down on marriage by quoting one passage and ignoring the others. Doesn’t seem good hermeneutics to me.

          • Will ‘You seem to want the NT to be down on marriage by quoting one passage and ignoring the others. ‘ Not at all. It was you that produced a list of verses about marriage – not me. I was simply pointing out a very key text that you omitted from your list.

          • Will

            Long thread. Hope this posts in the right place.
            There are scholars who think porneia is sex with prostitutes.
            There are those who believe it includes incest.
            Sex before marriage was considered wrong, because someone was stealing a possession. Yes, that’s immoral, but not in the way we would see sex out of place as immoral today.

          • Exactly so Penny. Thank you.
            Will it’s clear that the prohibition about sex before marriage is part of Church tradition and not Gospel teaching. Church tradition changes and it is now extremely likely that almost all couples, even within church circle, will have had sexual encounters before marriage. The C of E acknowledges this and is clear that we should not be asking intrusive questions.
            And even that all said, it is not clear exactly what porneia means.

          • The Malina argument that porneia doesn’t include fornication (despite the church always holding that it does) has been completely discredited. It isn’t hard. Just read Deuteronomy 22 and Genesis 34 (among others) to see how premarital sex was considered to be prostituting a woman. And 1 Cor 7:36 would make no sense if porneia didn’t include fornication. Also we know Philo, like the NT, insisted on premarital chastity and considered breaching it porneia. So don’t try to pull that one based on one outdated and discredited article.

          • From an article addressing the Malina argument:

            “The word fornication was not even invented until 1300 AD. The original word porneia meant all of the sexual “nasties” as highlighted in Leviticus. The word porneia never specifically included sex outside of marriage. The nearest it came was (basically) with regard to girls/young women living at home being forbidden to have sex, unless married. That is just a basic outline. The word porneia was translated to fornication. Therefore the true meaning of fornication is the same as with porneia, that is with regard to those sexual things expressly condemned in Leviticus. Later the word fornication came to mean sex between singles. Thus this meaning has been incorrectly applied to the term fornication in recent years.”

            Our approach to Marriage is so different to that of the ANE that Church tradition 2000 years ago needs to be re-considered, as indeed it has been.

          • Andrew that response counters none of my points. Whatever you call it in English, premarital sex was regarded in the OT, in the Jewish culture of the day, in the NT and in all church teaching to be treating a woman as a prostitute and porneia.

            You can reconceive marriage if you want but it won’t change what the Bible says or what porneia means.

          • It’s all culture, Will.

            Even the word ‘fornication’ harks back to a time when children born out of wedlock would not be baptised, and women were shamed if they got pregnant out of wedlock. Thank goodness those times are past.

            Instead of nit-picking biblical texts, I think Jesus today would encourage us to really look deep into the Spirit of relationships and human lives.

            Many good and decent people have sex outside of marriage, and as Penelope has previously and profoundly mentioned, in such cases it’s entirely possible for sexual attraction to be sanctified, in deepening trust, warm humanity, fun, laughter, tears, sharing, tender care.

            Personally I am married (though it seems like you would condemn my marriage). I value my marriage. But – for example – I have a brother who has lived in love and tender care with his partner for over 30 years but they never got married. They just love each other and care for each other through thick and thin, and have 2 children, now grown up.

            Is that ‘fornication’?

            We need to get real, and look to the Spirit of human relationships. Almost everyone has sex before marriage these days. That doesn’t make them bad people. Our churches are full of people who walked that path, and don’t see the need to repent. What I think is needed is a bit more magnanimity and instead of trying to create a puritan enclave of the holiest and most moral, we might all do better (myself included) to look deep in each person for their… kindness, their gentleness to others, the way they help old people, their fidelity in relationships with friends, their humour, their emotional intelligence.

            So many Christians and non-Christians seem to me to be so much more instinctively kind and generous and giving than some prim and proper tight-assed puritans. Looking at how Jesus reacted to those kind of people, I think it’s always been that way.

            ‘Fornication’ should arguably be reserved for those people who are heartlessly promiscuous, and who break girls’ hearts, and show nor real kindness in their relationships.

            But people who have sex before marriage, often in love, often joyful and alive, and often growing into deeper and deeper ‘sanctified’ relationships… I advise you be very very careful about calling them ‘fornicators’.

            My brother, who has never been married to his dear partner, has a sanctified relationship with her. It is sanctified by LOVE. It may not be on the ‘terms and conditions’ of 1st Century Christian religious society or even the more ancient society in which Genesis was drafted and edited… but then again, the theory of evolution does not operate along the ‘terms and conditions’ of Genesis and its cultural assumptions.

            There is an element of common sense in all of this. I am married. I believe in marriage (even though you would refuse to affirm my marriage – shame, it’s about fidelity). But I also believe in the goodness and loveliness of many people who find tender encounter in sexuality in contexts that are inclining towards commitment, and inclining towards God.

            When two people are exploring love together, exploring gentleness, exploring mutual kindness and care… are we really, as a Church, going to stand up and call them ‘Fornicators?’

            And anyway, we don’t. Up and down the land, in Church of England communities, we turn a blind eye on these normative couples who sleep with each other before marriage… it’s ‘de facto’ acceptance… because there’s so much else about them that is probably good and lovely, and their relationships and love seem lovely too.

            Instead of setting ourselves up as judges and puritan morality police, and being so tight-assed and critical of people’s privacies and intimacies… perhaps we should reflect on how often God draws people with reins of kindness. Mercy is important as well as all the judgment. Magnanimity is often an expression not of promiscuity and hedonism, but of a generosity of heart, and a recognition of the good in people, and their potential, and their growing.

            But if *you* don’t want to have sex unless you’re married, then you marry. That’s fine. And then reflect how you, and I, may well wear rags as we stand before God, and how some of these fornicators may actually have more generosity and openness to love than you or me, and may sit at the head of the table one day, in the household of God.

            These ‘fornicators’ may already be offering God more in their lives and their hearts than you or me.

            Only I don’t actually call them fornicators. That is an out-dated religious and cultural term. They’re just people, loved by God. They are mostly as good as you or me, probably often better.

            I’m not saying ‘anything goes’. And I’m not criticising marriage (though I think you’d criticise mine). I’m just saying that God is a lot more generous spirited, and far more understanding, and looks to the heart of relationships, and would I believe treasure a loving and tender relationship outside of marriage more than a couple who, though married, lead selfish and rather ungiving lives together. Eeven if they go respectably to church on Sunday.

            So I think we should treat these cultural expressions and exhortations in the Bible with caution. There were all kinds of different contexts to marital arrangements in those days. I still think marriage – like fidelity – is good. But I think people can live in different cultural expressions and arrangements, and still be decent, and still have integrity.

          • Will
            Simply asserting that porneia = fornication = pre marital sex throughout both testaments doesn’t make it true.
            As I suggested above, some scholars such as Witherington, argue that porneia means sex with prostitutes.
            As Susannah suggests, culture is important. Pre marital sex may have been immoral in the ANE, but as I have argued, not for the reasons we might, but mostly do not, regard it as immoral today.

          • No Penelope I didn’t assert anything. Here it is again:
            ‘Just read Deuteronomy 22 and Genesis 34 (among others) to see how premarital sex was considered to be prostituting a woman. And 1 Cor 7:36 would make no sense if porneia didn’t include fornication. Also we know Philo, like the NT, insisted on premarital chastity and considered breaching it porneia.’

            You see: argument citing evidence, not assertion.

            You on the other hand have merely asserted that it isn’t so.

            Premarital sex most certainly was considered porneia by the writers of the NT as by the culture of the day. If you have any arguments for why that (very well attested) point is unsound please let us have them.

          • Will

            You cannot be offering Gen. 344 and Deut. 22 as serious examples of opposition in the HB to pre marital sex? Surely not! They are both narratives of rape. Which is still considered immoral, perhaps even more so in the liberal west.
            Likewise, in Cor. 7, which is quite difficult to translate, Paul is probably advising men, who have delayed marriage, to by all means marry.
            I gave you an example of a scholar who argues that porneia means sex with prostitutes: Ben Witherington. From what I have read of him, he is no woolly liberal.

          • My brother, who has never been married to his dear partner, has a sanctified relationship with her. It is sanctified by LOVE

            Love can’t sanctify anything, even if you put it in capitals, because love is not God.

          • Love sanctifies our lives, S.

            And flows from the innermost places of our souls.

            Where God dwells, through the Holy Spirit.

          • Penelope

            I said an argument not the name of a scholar.

            Deuteronomy 22 is not about rape. A woman engaging in premarital sex was deemed to have prostituted herself hence porneia, see Deuteronomy 22:21. These arguments were given by Joseph Jensen responding to Bruce Malina’s ridiculous attempt to argue porneia in the NT, OT and 1st century Jewish culture did not include premarital sex. He also points out that Philo expressly mentions premarital sex as part of porneia.

            Nothing Witherington says contradicts this. But even if it did you need to produce arguments and evidence not just names of scholars you think agree with you.

          • Will
            I don’t ‘need’ to provide evidence of anything. I cited a scholar. I didn’t even say tyztbi agreed with him. I cited him as offering a different interpretation of porneia. Just to demonstrate that talking about the plain meaning of scripture is a bit naive.
            But, perhaps, not so naive as reading the sexual activities of Deuteronomy 22 as consensual pre marital sex, rather than as rape.
            #metoo still has some work to do in theology/hermeneutics.

          • Love sanctifies our lives, S.

            No, it doesn’t. God sanctifies our lives, if we accept His sacrifice.

            Love does not sanctify anything.

          • ‘S’ – yes.
            ‘God is love, but love is not God’ – I have come across this quote several times, but am not sure about its origins.

          • ‘God is love, but love is not God’ – I have come across this quote several times, but am not sure about its origins.

            It’s not really a quotation and I don’t think it’s uniquely expressed enough to really be an aphorism, it’s just really a statement of truth.

            But C. S. Lewis puts it pretty well in the introduction to The Four Loves if I recall correctly.

          • S commented: ‘No, it doesn’t. God sanctifies our lives, if we accept His sacrifice.

            Love does not sanctify anything.’

            This is spot on. Sanctifying ourselves by our love is the heresy of saving ourselves. God alone is our redeemer.

          • More assertion from you Penelope without evidence. It doesn’t say it’s about rape, it says it’s about acting like a prostitute, yet Penelope knows it is. Somehow, but she doesn’t tell us, she just asserts.

            Witheringon just says the core meaning is prostitution. In terms of etymology that is undisputed. And he does not rule out other meanings. Which is not surprising, as the fact it had wider meanings is also undisputed.

            So instead of presenting evidence in support of your vague but conveniently liberal assertions you cite a scholar who you don’t even agree with who doesn’t actually contradict my point. If this is how they train you to do biblical research no wonder your claims are frequently so unfounded and implausible.

          • S and Ian I did not understand Susannah to be claiming a self-sanctifying love here …. Rather she speaks of a love that ‘flows from the innermost places of our souls. Where God dwells, through the Holy Spirit’. So its source is God.

          • I did not understand Susannah to be claiming a self-sanctifying love here …. Rather she speaks of a love that ‘flows from the innermost places of our souls. Where God dwells, through the Holy Spirit’. So its source is God.

            But God only dwells in the hearts of those who have invited Him in, ie, who have already been sanctified by his sacrifice.

            The love that flows is therefore not the thing which does the sancticfying, but is a symptom or consequence of that sanctification.

            Sometimes I worry that there are people who claim to be Christians who do not worship God, but worship ‘Love’ instead, as the pagans worshipped things like the sun, or wisdom.

          • David R,
            (hoping this appears in a relevant place)
            You comment that the NT is ambivalent about marriage, and I think Penny has made similar remarks. I would agree (!) I suppose I would, as I was single – and celibate – until I married aged 61, three years ago. Therefore the celebration of marriage, and particularly the whole “God invented sex, and it’s great, but only if you are married (to someone of the other sex)” theme did not sit well with me. I suspect it arose as a not particularly good reaction to the sexual revolution of the 60’s.

            The other side of this observation is that celibate singleness is a good state to be in, perhaps superior to being married. This must raise issues with the argument that uses Gen 2:18 “it is not good that the man be alone” to say that marriage is (significantly, even primarily) about companionship. If single people are ‘alone’, which is ‘not good’, and the answer to this is marriage (in the present context I assume that this means a relationship which has a sexual expression) this would preclude celibacy from being good.
            But it is, according to the NT, good. Of course, friendship, companionship and intimacy are more than possible in non-sexual relationships. It is our sex-obsessed modern culture which insists that to be denied sexual expression is wrong. This has led to a devaluation of other expressions of love, such as deep friendship.
            Thus, it seems to me that the ambivalence of the NT to marriage counters one of the main arguments for SSM.

          • Will
            When you are found out resorting to poor hermeneutics to try to make your case you descend to personal invective.
            Deuteronomy 22 has nothing to say about the ethics of contemporary sexual relationships. It deals either with rape – for which the woman may be blamed if she doesn’t cry out – or the ‘prostitution’ (either willing or unwilling, we are not told) of a young woman, for which she will be punished by her ‘owners’. There is no punishment for the man with whom she had this illicit sex.
            How you think this can, in any way, frame the morality of pre marital sex is beyond me.
            If you do believe this, I d6only think it wrong, I find it utterly reprehensible and harmful .

          • S
            So God only dwells in the hearts of those who have invited him in?
            Doesn’t sound very biblical so to me!

          • Beside the point though Penelope. Insulting the Bible doesn’t change the fact that this passage shows that premarital sex is porneia in scripture. I apologise for the invective, which was unnecessary. But I note you still are not producing evidence to support your assertions.

          • So God only dwells in the hearts of those who have invited him in?

            That’s my understanding, yes. But then I am an Arminian. If you’re more of a hardcore double-predestination Calvinist, I understand.

          • Hi Penny,

            You said:
            I have already argued that in the NT asceticism is valorised over marriage and family, and that procreation is not mentioned as a ‘good’ of marriage.

            The NT would not mention procreation as a good of marriage if, at the time and in that culture, that is what everybody assumed. (I don’t think Cranmer plucked the idea out of hat in 1549!)

            I think there is a little evidence for this in the NT. Elizabeth rejoices that “her disgrace” has been taken away. While we would bemoan the disgrace heaped on a barren woman, its existence is a sign that the expectation was that a woman should bear children. (To compensate, I have been told that there are cultures today where a man is not regarded as a full man until he has fathered a child.)

            A more interesting case is that of Luke 20:27ff. The hypothetical case which the Sadducees bring to Jesus involves levirate marriage. Jesus does not challenge the scenario, only their inference about the resurrection. The purpose of levirate marriage was not to provide a companion for the widow. It was to provide offspring who would count as those of the dead man. It purpose was procreation, and as a result of the dead man’s marriage not having produced children.

            Jesus’ response is also significant in this matter. In the resurrection (which is seen as bodily, of course) there will be no marriage or giving in marriage. Why not? Because there will be no more death, which means that there is no more need for procreation.

            Most societies have some kind of marriage (for men and women). It seems to me that this is because intimate relations between a man and a woman have this distinct tendency to produce children. This is a Good Thing, but needs to be regulated and supported. This is marriage (in the civil sense).

            If one thinks of the various responsibilities and privileges afforded to married couples, very many of these seem to be precisely to support a child-producing relationship, at least in the near-historical context.

            So, rather than thinking of procreation as a good of marriage, perhaps one should think of marriage being for the good of procreation.

          • That was my reaction Andrew, on reading this very long thread
            If ‘S’ distrusts revelation and personal experience of God, he had much better not read the last book of the bible nor the mystics. Similarly, if he believes love toward God cannot be expressed in erotic terms, best avoid the Song of Songs, and, again, the mystics.
            If he believes the resurrection is dependent on eye witnesses, best not read the Gospels.

          • Will
            This thread has become so long that I cannot scroll back yet again. But I would really like to know how and where I have insulted the bible.
            If you mean that I have some sharp criticism of patriarchal and violent texts, then, yes, I do.

          • David W
            Thank you. I do believe that children are a good of marriage, but not one that is prominent in the NT. Jesus speaks not only of eunuchs, but of how barren women will be blessed. This, I think is eschatologically framed, and both the NT and the early church valorised celibacy and abstinence above marriage. Although marriage became a sacrament in the 12thC, I think it was not until the Reformation that marriage and procreation became not only equal to celibacy , but considered more virtuous. Hence Cranmer. Bit of a broad brushstroke here, but essentially true, I hope.

  15. I think there has been some good engagement in this discussion at certain points.

    But all the most recent comments seem to be polarising, and not really engaging with different views.

    I wonder whether it might be time to give this conversation a rest, at least on this blog post?

  16. Ms. Clark. You made this statement and I simply wanted you to say more since it appears to be an exception to views you are trying to express consistently.

    “Of course I respect that opposition to man-man sex is a view that can be held in good conscience by someone who loves God.”

    • I made this statement because it is what I believe. Just because I hold a different view does not stop me recognising the sincerity of conflicting views, and I can see that it is possible to believe man-man sex is wrong based on a different way of understanding the Bible.

      But ‘Who is right’ is not the central thrust of my engagement. My main point is that Christians may come to different conclusions (and demonstrably they do) but why should it surprise you that I can understand the basis on which a different view is asserted? I am not so foolish that I cannot trust and believe that a person can oppose gay sex out of love for God, and desire to follow God. I afford those people my respect, without agreeing with them.

      I’ll do the reasoning for you, and you can see if it conforms with your own: 1. The Bible is inerrant. 2. Jesus in the Bible condemns sexuality outside marriage. 3. Only a man and a woman may be rightly married. 4. Therefore gay sex is wrong.

      There. It’s not rocket science.

      And since I can see that fellow Christians may whole-heartedly believe that, then should I not respect their right to have their consciences protected in any future Church?

      Conversely, I believe that out of love for God, and in sincerity of faith, and from a different understanding of the Bible, other fellow Christians may whole-heartedly believe gay sex is fine, and should not they too have their right of conscience protected too?

      And what other solution can you offer to save the Church of England from schisming? Do you have a better solution?

      You are generally capable of understanding realpolitik. There is no other way except domination via a mechanism like ‘The Covenant’ and that’s already gone down.

      Indeed, as Andrew Godsall observes, ‘the ship has already sailed’. The question is do we keep loving one another: what you somewhat patronisingly termed ‘Susannah’s feelings and sweet tenderness’?

      When I first read Therese de Lisieux’s ‘Story of a Soul’ I found the style saccharine with sweetness and very hard to swallow. But actually, behind her sweet language lies cold hard steel.

      As the poet Yeats says, we should maybe long that which is “cold and passionate as the dawn”. So sweetness (love) can be steely as well. Christ on the road to Jerusalem can be our role-model I suppose.

      And I simply don’t understand what you find problematical with a Christian being able to respect another Christian’s point of view, while disagreeing with it. Indeed I find the fundamentalist view on gay sex powerful and persuasive, for example. But I don’t remotely agree with it myself.

      The realpolitik – the hard fact – is the Church of England is divided down the middle. So we either agree to get along, and let different groups practise different approaches to human sexuality, or … what … ?

      Unity in Diversity – the Scottish model, for example, offers a route where my views and your views on human sexuality could be held and exercised. There will be a minority, along the possible lines of Rod at Maidstone, who might want to break communion over even allowing that freedom of conscience. But the reality is that most people don’t want the Church of England to fall apart.

      The inevitable logic and the present trajectory of the Church of England… as I think you very well know… is towards accommodation of diverse integrities.

      The understandable fear on the part of some evangelicals will be the ‘slippery slope’ thing: that what starts as mutual respect for conscience will end up like the Philip North and Sheffield scenario. I do understand that fear.

      But I’m telling you, I think that this unity in diversity is the way it is going, and returning to your query, I can absolutely respect that you (or others anyway, as I don’t exactly know your views) can believe gay sex is sinful. It’s easy to understand why you do.

      But half the Church of England doesn’t agree. We’re divided on the matter. Therefore each priest, each PCC, each church community should be allowed to work through the conscience and conviction they have on these issues.

      It’s not about ‘sweet Susannah’ at all. It’s about the reality of the Church of England and how we hold it together.

      I’m just a nurse, not a theologian. But logical imperatives can be understood by anyone with a reasonably rational brain (my own training in logic and metaphysics was at one of your old haunts – St Andrews).

      Our premisses do not all coincide, so we draw differing conclusions. But the logic from your own premisses look pretty watertight to me. Well done!

      Next: the actual challenge from God. Grace and opening up our hearts in love towards one another.

      A puritanical enforcement of a single ‘pure’ way is totally misunderstanding the very nature of the Church of England, and its history, and its unique character. The rest of evangelical Protestantism awaits with open arms, for those who cannot open any longer to that charism of tension and different views that forces Christians in the Church of England to cohabit in mission with those they disagree with.

      Of course, perhaps part of the rest of evangelical Protestantism may include half the Anglican Communion. That’s hard to know. But this is England not Uganda or Nigeria. The Church of England is distinctively diverse and pretty much always has been.

      Meanwhile, like I say, do you have a better actual, real, solution that could be implemented?

      But respect that your views can be held in good conscience… I do.

      Now please, let me away. Talk to you another time.

      • “Indeed I find the fundamentalist view on gay sex powerful and persuasive, for example. But I don’t remotely agree with it myself.”

        Genuinely.. I don’t understand how something can be “powerful and persuasive” if you don’t “remotely agree with it”?

        • I can see why that sounds paradoxical, Ian. But in part, that’s maybe because we live in times where if someone holds a contrary view, we tend to follow the example of politicians and demogogues and conclude their logic must be treated as rubbish. That simply needn’t be the case. I maintain that whether you oppose gay sex or affirm it, you can do either of those things in sincere good faith, depending on what premisses you begin from.

          To repeat what I said about the logic, which I find powerful and persuasive:

          1. The Bible is inerrant. 2. Jesus in the Bible condemns sexuality outside marriage. 3. Only a man and a woman may be rightly married. 4. Therefore gay sex is wrong.

          If you accept the 3 premises (1-3), then the Conclusion (4) is logically highly persuasive.

          However, I am not persuaded myself, because I do not accept Premiss 1.

          There. It’s not rocket science.

          I realise you genuinely wondered how I could recognise the power of an argument I don’t agree with. I hope I’ve helped explain that. Logic does not take sides.

          • I argue only from statistics, logic and commonsense, not from the Bible. My comments on the Bible are limited to seeing whether someone is accurately representing what the Bible says.

          • Thanks Susannah… that clarifies a tad though I still think the use of “persuasive” is odd. I think (!) you mean persuasive if one believes in the premises as you post them. But you don’t so they cannot be persuasive FOR you. (Sorry about the capitals… I’m not shouting… I don’t have italic or underline available)

            I’m always a tad suspicious of “inerrant” as it needs more definition. I think of the scripture as authoritative revelation and (however one works that through) that it leads to authoritative moral decisions. Freedom of conscience is within a shared theological /biblical boundary. I don’t think that there looks enough shared ground for that to be the glue which holds the sides together.

          • Susannah, be aware that your logic does not work. For Premise 2, you would have to *know* that Jesus did not say what he is reported to have said. Your rejection of Premise 1 merely allows doubt: he may have and may not have. Therefore, he may have (and also, it was reported within the lifetime of some who had known him that he did).

          • However, I am not persuaded myself, because I do not accept Premiss 1.

            Interesting.

            So why are you a Christian, if you think the Bible is unreliable?

            I don’t like ‘inerrant’. I don’t really think it has a good, non-vague definition. I wouldn’t say I think the Bible is ‘inerrant’. I would however say I think it is reliable on matters of morality and faith. More importantly, though, I think that if it is shown to be unreliable on one matter of morality or faith then it must be considered unreliable on all such matters. So: if you think it is unreliable on this matter, why do you think it is reliable when it claims, to use your favourite phrase, that ‘God is love’?

            What evidence do you have that ‘God is love’? Anything other than the Bible? I can’t think what other evidence you could have. But if that is your only evidence, and if you don’t believe the Bible is reliable (you reject premise 1, with ‘reliable’ substituted) then what evidence have you for thinking that ‘God is love’?

          • “Inerrant” is a nineteenth century scientistic word, gone the sad path of “fundamentalism” — as if people prefer errancy and a lack of fundamentals. They are now bogey words used by opponents.

            I have written at length on these issues, but doubt that matters in the present climate.

            Anglicans have followed Scripture and Cranmer’s collect summary. The Bible is reliable. All of it God has caused to be brought to the church. Grant us so to hear them, read, mark and inwardly digest them, that we might embrace and hold ever fast the hope of our calling.

            I have been teaching at the Jesuit seminary in Paris and am struck at how great are the convergences between BS Childs, Ratzinger, post-Vatican II statements, Paul Beauchamp, Paul Ricoeur, when it comes to scripture. Inspiration is being thought afresh (divine intention and typology), the canon is being valued in its final form, historical critical reading is being properly positioned as provisional to hearing the full witness in this form, and one could go on.

            Throwing around words like ‘inerrant’ or ‘literalist’ only shows how caught up in modernist struggles many still are.

            I am very hopeful about the convergences noted above and see a much more useful hermeneutic available now, after 2.5 centuries of historicism vs its mirror image on the right.

          • Dear S,

            “So why are you a Christian, if you think the Bible is unreliable?”

            Ha! you have said I think the Bible is ‘unreliable’. I said I did not think it was ‘inerrant’. I regard the bible as fallible, and sometimes mistaken or provisional in its assertions, but I still find the Bible hugely informative on so many aspects of the nature of God and in that sense, accumulatively, I find the bible incredible and it helps me ‘rely’ on God.

            I find God reliable. I find the Bible very very helpful.

            I am not a Christian because the Bible is infallible as an authority. I am a Christian because of the primary love and intervention of God. I’m not a Christian on the basis of deciding the bible is infallible. I’m a Christian on the basis of God choosing me, and calling me into God’s household as a child of God. I am a Christian because of a lifelong process of God’s initiatives, that maybe started when I was baptised when I was one month old. I am a Christian because God intervened later in my life and met with me in the person of Jesus Christ. Some would call that ‘being born again’. Anyway Jesus came and met with me, even though no-one had explained the gospel to me at that point.

            Faith, for me, was not all worked out. But I met Jesus and I believed.

            Whether the Bible is all, totally, infallible is immaterial to me. In fact, I believe the Bible and its integrity is enhanced if it is recognised that it isn’t.

            Anyway, there are all kinds of reasons for trusting in God, and these range from the love of God in other people, the miracle of life, the grace some people have, the numinous presence of God at times, and deep sense of peace and fidelity towards us.

            And yes, there is much I find in the bible that also compounds my trust, and expands it perhaps.

            But my trust and faith in God is not academic. It is not dependent on a watertight Bible. The Bible isn’t watertight. It is fallible in the information it presents to us. It is written in contexts, in cultures, in history. Adam turns out to have had ancestors. That doesn’t stop me worshipping the Son of God who I have met and encountered, and re-encountered again and again. Noah turns out not to have retrieved all the animals, the Flood did not wipe out all the animals on the highest mountains, but that doesn’t stop me worshipping Jesus.

            I don’t need ‘proof’ to believe in Jesus, I need trust, and somehow God has given me that – as God gives that to millions. I don’t need ALL the Bible to be true, to know the love of God and trust in God. I am fine with some parts of the Bible being mistaken, or only cultural expressions.

            I am not an idolator of the Bible. I worship God, not some idealised perfect Bible. The Bible’s inerrancy / infallibility is NOT the reason I trust in God. I KNOW God is reliable. God has shown me that again and again and again. For me that is enough. I trust.

            The bible is written by fallible human beings. They try to communicate their encounters with God, but God is way beyond their words, and so – like us – they make their best attempts. And they try to communicate things like holiness, and then look for ways holiness may be expressed, and draw on their own cultures and assumptions. And that’s real. And that’s credible.

            In addition, God works supernaturally and directly in our hearts. We don’t even know how we work it all out a lot of the time.

            There is a fear I’ve noticed in some so-called ‘Bible believers’: a shortfall of trust. They are sometimes *terrified* that if one single thing in the bible is shown to be wrong, or fallible, then like a hole in a dam, the water will break through and the whole dam will collapse. People often have a desperate need for a watertight system, and in a sense that may be a bit like trying to define, control and contain God. It’s not necessary.

            As a Carmelite in my spiritual practice, I find just the opposite. The deepest sense of ‘knowing’ comes through ‘unknowing’. That is my own experience anyway.

            And just because some parts of the Bible may be provisional, or framed in culture assumptions, or limited in scientific knowledge… that’s not grounds for throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The Bible is still wonderful, and can still act as a conduit for the love of God, opening our hearts and minds to God and to Jesus. But that can still happen even if eg: death didn’t enter the world when the first humans sinned; or if God never actually wanted people to be stoned for various supposed sins, or the Canaanite children slaughtered.

            There are astonishing layers to the Bible, the most powerful parts way beyond surface words: the mystery of spiritual baptism; the extraordinary power of grace. And so on. And the lovely, wonderful, amazing enigma, Jesus.

            I am a Christian because of first, God’s own intervention, and second encounter, and third trust. And beyond that because of relationship, and discovery of God within the soul, and unsought experiences of the supernatural.

            Do I REALLY need all the Bible to be narrowly true? God uses the Bible as a conduit in many ways, but the Bible is not God.

            For goodness sake, all these debates about how Christians approach the Bible have been done to death.

            Please, kindly, don’t call other people’s Christian faith into question, just because the ways God draws and leads people are diverse. Isn’t it enough that yes, God is love: not because of a verse in the Bible, but because of a whole universe of reasons, and encounters, and relationship.

            God’s love because God – in all eternity – is a community. God is relational. And God gives and gives and gives to us. And that’s what I believe. That God gave us Jesus Christ, and in that God was giving of God’s own self to us… to the point of no turning back.

            It’s not that the WHOLE bible is unreliable (which is your term). It’s that I do not find it needs to be infallibly authoritative on all matters, to meet with God and to trust in God. I just don’t need the ‘proof’ of an infallible bible.

            Otherwise where does it end? The logic of that desperate need for it all to be infallibly authoritative leads towards the fundamentalist’s denial of evolutionary science, and even ends up suggesting dinosaur fossils were demonic delusions. And it presents us with a picture of God that sanctions ethnic cleansing, and it also offers those who wish it the logic of women being kept in submission (Ian to his credit has repudiated that) or gay people being abominations.

            I am a Christian, and have found so much in the Bible to be stunning and dynamic, opening conduits and portals to God. Does that mean I think (accumulatively) I think the bible is (to use your term) “unreliable”. No. But the bible merits being read critically, and in context, and it deserves the respect to be read with a recognition that it is not a ‘magic fax’ from God, but is a real text, written by real and all too fallible people. And when read that way, it actually enlarges the bible, and demonstrates to truth seekers that we don’t have to take it all literally.

            One other thing: God has given us something amazing – a God-given conscience. A capacity to sense justice. And to do right. And to show compassion because it’s the right thing to do. People have that, even if they’ve never read the bible. And I believe in a grown-up God who calls on grown-up Christians to TAKE RESPONSIBILITY, and look at society, and be open to change where things are unjust. And I strongly believe that’s the Spirit at work, and that that’s ongoing revelation. I do not believe we’re meant to anaesthetise our consciences and have this concept of a ‘magic’ infallible bible infantilise us and make all the moral decisions for us. But we can live in good tension with the Bible and its accumulative impact and its mysterious conduit function at times, arousing faith and trust and love through the words and encounters of people who tried to express just those things from their own (tentative and fallible) experiences.

            I could go on, but why? This post is already way long enough! And I don’t have to ‘prove’ God to you, or ‘prove’ my faith. Because you have to do those things for yourself. But I put it to you that yes, God is love, revealed in all kinds of ways in life, including the Bible, and uniquely revealed in the Person of Jesus, who not only appears as this enigma and tangible human (and God) in the scriptural narratives, speaking in parables, being reported but never writing (except once in the dust)… but revealed also in Jesus the living God who meets with us, and knows us, and calls us, and opens us… through bible verses, through people we meet, through communities opening up to grace… in so many ways.

            After all, this Jesus – this God – dwells right within us, in the innermost place of our souls – in the cloistered garden therein… waiting for us, beckoning us, longing for us… and in this God we live and move and have our being.

            Grace of God be with you, S.

          • And I don’t have to ‘prove’ God to you, or ‘prove’ my faith.

            Well you don’t have to, no, of course you don’t.

            But the question is: could you? Could you prove it to me? Not necessarly beyond reasonable doubt, just on balance of probabilities. And if you can’t even prove it to anyone else on that low basis… are you really so sure it’s true?

            But I put it to you that yes, God is love

            But do you have any evidence for that beyond your own subjective feelings?

            Because subjective feelings, or experiences, are not reliable evidence.

          • “Because subjective feelings, or experiences, are not reliable evidence.”

            God is reliable, and that’s enough for me.

            Each of us can present our testimonies to others, but none of us can ‘prove’ God.

            Faith is about trust, and opening up to love, but above all faith is a gift and grace which we don’t acquire through probabilities. It breaks through in our lives through our God’s sovereign intervention.

            At least, I believe so.

            “are you really so sure it’s true?”

            Yes, as far as any of our interactions – from the human side – can be sure.

            It’s more about trust and relationship, and reception when God in sovereign will and grace initiates love and presence, inviting us to open our hearts, day by day, amid all the doubt, uncertainty, fallibility, and journeys we take, out and away from that still centre where God dwells in us.

            By extraordinary grace, God loves us again and again, and draws us away from proof, and deeper and deeper into trust.

            The actual relationship is the nearest we get to proof. Certainly some biblical accounts of divine love and divine interaction help – but the bible isn’t the proof. It is simply a conduit, through which, in different ways we sometimes open to love. We also open to the love of God through other people, through communities we live in, through the people whose need triggers our conscience. And of course through prayer, which may grow habitual, in trust, in believing God is ‘there’, and amazingly ‘here’.

            The process is beyond our human words, but accumulatively all these things lead me to say, yes, I am sure a lot of the time.

            It’s like being sure that my wife loves me. It comes through relationship. It comes through trust. It comes through sharing a journey. It comes, often wordlessly, through her just being there, alongside, and in that presence you ‘know’.

            In my contemplative practice, there is a point where our own unknowing takes over and we’re drawn into simply trusting and waiting for God. So in a sense I learn that ‘unknowing’ (rather than endless words or biblical exegesis) may become a pathway to ‘knowing’ God.

            I think love is primarily about trust and mutual givenness. There’s enough in the Bible, and in my contemplative journey with God, that helps me recognise that ‘givenness’ of God, and the invitation to participate in that ‘givenness’ myself.

            Does that provide you with the ‘proofs’ you want? I have no idea. I have tried to share experience here in these threads. Tried to share the love of God in some small and fallible way. I do that with people I meet in my life face to face as well. Mostly without words.

            As a nurse, I have obviously been at hundreds of deathbeds. The dying person doesn’t primarily need proof. The dying person needs love and presence. All the books in the world don’t start to communicate God as well as a hand to hold, a sharing together along the fragile fringes of life, and… the extraordinary grace that can fall upon a situation at life’s passing… because God is there as well.

            I am “sure it’s true” because God demonstrates fidelity to promise and shows – as so much in the Bible also shows us – that “I am with you”.

            As humans, just like the writers of the scriptures, we perceive these things incompletely. We try to make sense. But the uncertainty itself draws us out beyond proof to more tentative and tremulous trust, where we’re giving ourselves without knowing everything for certain, and in the process our relationship expands and grows and deepens beyond logical control on our part towards the imperative of love.

          • I am “sure it’s true” because God demonstrates fidelity to promise and shows – as so much in the Bible also shows us – that “I am with you”.

            Okay; give one concrete example which is objectively verifiable (your feelings and experiences don’t count as I can’t examine them), and doesn’t rely on the Bible (which you claim is unreliable), which proves that ‘God demonstrates fidelity to promise’.

            I mean, I think that God demonstrated His fidelity to promise by becoming incarnate and dying to set us free from sin. but that is from the bible, so according to you it’s unreliable and God might not have done that at all.

            So what evidence (objective, real evidence, not feelings or experiences) do you have that God demonstrates fidelity to promise?

          • S,

            For the time being I am expended!

            As I have said before. I do not believe we know God through ‘proof’. We deepen into knowing God through trust, through encounter, through relationship, through love.

            And I assure you, yes, though I think some parts of the bible should be understood as cultural expressions and sincere efforts to talk about God through the filters of our own times and cultures and their limits, yet yes, I believe in the God who was revealed incarnate in Jesus Christ, and I find those narratives appearing to be ‘reliable’ because they conform with the lived experiences of disciples, of other Christians, and myself… in that he appears to have died and risen again… because we have met him, personally, and then lived on to recognise his fidelity, his grace, his reliability in the lived experiences of our lives. His trustworthiness.

            We don’t need ‘proof’ that He exists. We rather find trust, in relationship, in familiarity, in his fidelity through life. And we have to live that, and experience that, for ourselves. We grow in trust in who He is.

            You need to do that for yourself.

            I’m not going to ‘prove’ Jesus for you (because that short-circuits the process).

            But I find Jesus reliable. And much in the Bible re-enforces that, and speaks to me of God’s fidelity and reliability.

            And that happens, even though authors write through the filters of their own times and cultures.

          • I believe in the God who was revealed incarnate in Jesus Christ, and I find those narratives appearing to be ‘reliable’ because they conform with the lived experiences of disciples, of other Christians, and myself… in that he appears to have died and risen again… because we have met him, personally, and then lived on to recognise his fidelity, his grace, his reliability in the lived experiences of our lives.

            But they don’t conform to my experiences, and I have no access to your experiences, so experience are useless as evidence.

            And even if I had had such experiences I would never offer them as evidence to anyone else because they could not access my experiences to interrogate them and put them to the proof.

            Even witnesses in court must be cross-examined, but these ‘experiences’ of yours, they are just hearsay, aren’t they? And no reputable legal system admits hearsay.

            What reliable evidence do you have for your assertions about God?

            His trustworthiness.

            We don’t need ‘proof’ that He exists.

            Uh yes we rather do. If God exists that is the most important fact in the whole world, transforming our whole relationship with creation, our whole view of the world and our selves, demanding of us everything we have.

            I think we need proof for something like that!

            But I find Jesus reliable.

            Then you should be able to give evidence of that reliability, shouldn’t you? If it’s not just all in your head.

          • ‘S’ you said:
            “so experience are useless as evidence.”
            You’ve said this before. It’s totally incoherent. Experience is the only way that evidence is produced. Scientific experiments, for example, produce data from experience.

            In terms of the bible, however, the only thing it contains is a record of human experience. It is a record and narrative of a people’s relationship with God – their experience. Susannah has explained this quite carefully.

            If you want evidence for the existence of God you could turn to the traditional arguments – ontological, teleological, etc…But history has found them all wanting in various ways. Do tell us what evidence you have that we may not already know about ?

          • You’ve said this before. It’s totally incoherent. Experience is the only way that evidence is produced. Scientific experiments, for example, produce data from experience

            Fine, I was using shorthand to save wear and tear on the keyboard. In future I shall try to remember to specify ‘subjective evidence’.

            Scientific evidence is experiences which can be seen by others, and repeated by them. It is not ‘feelings’ or ‘relationships’.

          • Thanks ‘S’. Perhaps you would therefore address the rest of my post? Here it is:

            In terms of the bible, however, the only thing it contains is a record of human experience. It is a record and narrative of a people’s relationship with God – their experience. Susannah has explained this quite carefully.

            If you want evidence for the existence of God you could turn to the traditional arguments – ontological, teleological, etc…But history has found them all wanting in various ways. Do tell us what evidence you have that we may not already know about ?

          • In terms of the bible, however, the only thing it contains is a record of human experience. It is a record and narrative of a people’s relationship with God – their experience

            No, it’s not. It’s a record of things that happened. Events that occured, speeches that were made, sermons that were preached, conversations that people had.

            Jesus turning up standing on the shore after He had been crucified, for example: that’s not just a subjective experience or a relationship. That’s a thing that really happened (well, it is if you think the Bible is reliable). That’s real objective evidence.

            Not just subjective expreiences or relationships.

          • ‘S’: you were not there. All you have to go on is the experience of other people who were, and who wrote it down. That’s not scientific. You are taking it on trust.
            So it all comes down to John 20:29 once again.

          • All you have to go on is the experience of other people who were, and who wrote it down.

            Right. This is why it’s so important that they are reliable witnesses.

            If they are not reliable witnesses — if there’s stuff in the Bible that just didn’t happen, and it’s not clearly distinguishable as such — then the whole thign falls apart, doesn’t it?

            Because if they aren’t reliable witnesses, then maybe that meeting by the shore didn’t happen. And if that meeting by the shore didn’t really happen — if it was just somebody’s ‘experience’ of their ‘relationship’ with God, rather than a real physical Jesus who could, say, have been captured on film, should film have existed — then Christianity is all false, Christians are the most deluded of fools, and we should pack the whole thing in.

            This is why it’s vital to work out whether the Bible is a reliable witness. If it isn’t, Christianity is a lie.

          • “This is why it’s vital to work out whether the Bible is a reliable witness”
            Yep. See Susannah’s excellent posts above on this. Some of what the bible says is culturally bounded. Some is provisional. Some is myth, and not intended to be taken literally.
            It’s worked out by human experience.
            And John 20:29 applies.

          • Hi S,

            So it’s really important to you that everything in Bible really happened.

            You’ve previously indicated, with reference to the supporting words attributed to Jesus, that you believe Adam and Eve were historical characters. You seem to be implying that the Genesis account of Adam and Eve is factually true. Indeed, you seem to hint that if it isn’t then your whole faith falls into jeopardy, because if one bit of the Bible isn’t ‘reliable’ how can you determine which bits are of aren’t.

            So just to clarify, do you – in line with the Genesis account – believe Adam had no ancestors, no parents, and that the entire human race exists independently of any earlier process of evolution?

            And let’s take Noah. Do you seriously believe that the entire human race is descended from the handful of passengers on a boat… that, if you like, there was a mass extinction of humanity (for which there is no scientific evidence – and you’re ‘big’ on asking for tangible scientific evidence), and that somehow Noah managed to gather, collect or store on board creatures unique to places he could never have reached – Galapagos, Australia, Antarctica, Alaska, Borneo, the deepest Amazon – and that once again without scientific evidence in mainstream science, there was a Flood so great worldwide that it raised sea levels higher than the Himalayas (where we know species of animals can survive to great heights), and wiped out the entire planet’s creatures in a vast mass extinction, within the period when humans existed.

            And lastly do you believe that the world was perfect until this ‘Adam’ and ‘Eve’ sinned and death came into the world? In which case, how do you account for all those dinosaurs that died out millions of years before humans even existed? And all the other creatures for hundreds of millions of years that died, generation by generation, before humans even existed?

            You have been telling me to produce ‘proof’ and yet unless you believe the bible accounts of these events are not factually true, you find yourself in a position where you are in defiance of overwhelming scientific evidence across many disciplines.

            I’d really like to know if you believe Adam had ancestors, if Noah really gathered every species, if the Flood saw sea levels rise higher than the highest mountains, and if death only started on this planet during the time humans have been around.

            Of course, I may suggest there are some other things in the Bible that ought to be read with understanding that they are written within cultural contexts – as Genesis was – but your argument seems to lead you to the very opposite of tangible evidence.

          • See Susannah’s excellent posts above on this. Some of what the bible says is culturally bounded. Some is provisional. Some is myth, and not intended to be taken literally.

            Are the post-resurrection accounts ofpeople meeting and talking with Jesus meant to be taken literally?

            You seem to think so as you keep relying on John 20:29 and that would make no sense unless you thought it was something Jesus really said. But then at other times you seem not to.

            So are they meant to be taken literally or not?

            You’ve previously indicated, with reference to the supporting words attributed to Jesus, that you believe Adam and Eve were historical characters

            I haven’t indicated that at all, because I don’t.

            Indeed, you seem to hint that if it isn’t then your whole faith falls into jeopardy, because if one bit of the Bible isn’t ‘reliable’ how can you determine which bits are of aren’t.

            The Genesis liturgy is reliable as an account of God’s intentions in creating the world and how things were meant to be. It isn’t, and doesn’t purport to be, historical fact. Do we really have to go through how the Bible is composed of many books of different genres? Is this not just basic stuff?

          • “Are the post-resurrection accounts of people meeting and talking with Jesus meant to be taken literally?”
            They are meant to be taken as Heilsgeschichte – salvation history. They are bearing witness. They are written so that we may believe. They are not scientific evidence. This is basic stuff.
            We judge this by human experience – which is how you judge that Adam and Eve are not literal characters.
            What evidence do you have apart from the bible?

          • Oh and ‘S’ I don’t know if Jesus literally, word for word, said what is reported in John 20:29. How could I know as I wasn’t there? I believe he said something like that however because the early church believed that, found it to be true from their own experience, and Christians down the ages, including me, have found it to be true as well. Scripture, tradition, reason and experience all seem to agree. So that’s why I think it’s reliable. This too is basic stuff.

          • They are meant to be taken as Heilsgeschichte – salvation history. They are bearing witness

            And what are they bearing witness to? Are they bearing witness to something that actually happened, or just to ‘feelings’ and ‘experience’ about ‘relationships’?

            Look, it’s a simple question. Some bits of the Bible are meant to be taken literally. Some aren’t. Are the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus meant to be taken literally or not?

          • I believe he said something like that however because the early church believed that, found it to be true from their own experience, and Christians down the ages, including me, have found it to be true as well

            Well, I haven’t found it to be true. I’m willing to believe it is true, despite it being totally contrary to my own experience, if Jesus said it (because Jesus knows better than me), but not just on your say-so, and you don’t seem to have any good reason to think Jesus said it.

          • I beg your pardon S, that was Simon, who wrote: “Was Jesus stupid to believe in a historical Adam & Eve & Noah?”

            The fact remains that until the Enlightenment, most Christians would have taken the narratives about Adam and Eve as factual and ‘reliable’.

            It is only because we have learnt through precedents like that, that science or cultural change can make us challenge how to understand the Bible, that people like yourself have opted to view that narrative at odds with the way it has been read and understood (and trusted as ‘reliable’) for millennia.

            So you see: understanding of scripture can change, if we frame it thoughtfully within culture.

            If you opt to only do that where you pick and choose, aren’t you being selective. I don’t blame you if you do. It’s what I advocate. That we look deeper than just the narrative surface level, and learn to read critically, to de-construct so as to take account of possible cultural filters, and look to the heart of what people find in their encounters with God.

            Is the escape through the Red Sea also myth? The plagues? Where do you draw the line?

            How do you know Paul wasn’t structured by the society he grew up in, to believe sex between men was wrong? How do you know whether what he wrote had some resonance in the society he lived in, but might not be relevant in a society that now recognises the preciousness of gay love, just like it believes in evolution, just like it believes that women can be priests? etc

            So – the plagues? The Red Sea? The foundation myth of a nation, or fact?

            You ask me for proof. What is your proof for believing one thing or another?

            Our faith is not dependent on ‘proof’. It is rooted in trust and relationship.

            If Moses turns out never to have called down the plagues on Egypt, my faith doesn’t fall apart. I just remove that filter from the narrative, and draw deep value from it at the mythical and subconscious level.

            If gay sex turns out to be fine with God, whatever Paul says, my faith does not collapse with the removal of that filter. I just draw strength on what he is really communicating behind his own cultural filters: about the call to holy living, which as Christ-bearers all of us should reflect deeply on.

          • S, and all others,

            I will shortly be off-grid for at least 24 hours, so understand if I don’t reply during this period to questions or comments. Thank you for levels of courtesy in our discourse, and also for challenge, and the variety of views.

            Hopefully, by the time I get back, the comments on this article will have been put to bed, because I really do think we have discussed it enough.

            Susannah

          • “Look, it’s a simple question. Some bits of the Bible are meant to be taken literally. Some aren’t. ”
            And that’s a simple question?! Goodness knows what all the biblical scholars have been up to all these years if it’s just a simple question. How do *you* know which bits are meant to be taken literally and which not? Because there seems very little agreement about that globally.

            The writings about the resurrection appearances bear witness to the experiences that those who were there had. Which were that Christ is risen and is alive. It’s that simple.

            And if you haven’t found John 20:29 to be true, why would you believe it? The answer to that question is the exact same answer that Susannah and I would give: we think there is enough evidence to make that leap of faith but we don’t have to take it literally as it doesn’t match with our experience. You’ve rather proved our point S. Thank you for doing so.

          • The writings about the resurrection appearances bear witness to the experiences that those who were there had. Which were that Christ is risen and is alive. It’s that simple.

            And that they knew that because they literaly saw and talked to him?

            Or was it just a ‘feeling’, an ‘experience’, a ‘relationship’?

            It’s important to know which, because one is good evidence and one is just wishy-washy rubbish.

            So which do you think it is? Are we meant to think they literally saw and touched and spoke to the risen Jesus, or are we just meant to think they had a really really strong feeling that He was alive?

          • The writings about the resurrection appearances bear witness to the experiences that those who were there had. Which were that Christ is risen and is alive. It’s that simple. And it’s that clear. Why would they think he was alive and risen if they had not seen him and experienced that?
            Maybe you could address some of the other points that Susannah and I raise now.

          • The writings about the resurrection appearances bear witness to the experiences that those who were there had. Which were that Christ is risen and is alive. It’s that simple. And it’s that clear. Why would they think he was alive and risen if they had not seen him and experienced that?

            So you do think they literally saw Him, and literally touched Him, and literally spoke to him? He stood there and light waves bounced off Him, and if there’d been a camera around it could have photographed Him, and a tape recorder could have captured His voice?

            Good grief, why couldn’t you have just made that clear earlier? It would have saved so much hot air.

            Still at least we now have on record that you actually do think that those bits of the gospels are meant to be taken literally.

          • It does seem however ‘S’ that you aren’t able to answer any of the questions that I or Susannah put to you.

          • It does seem however ‘S’ that you aren’t able to answer any of the questions that I or Susannah put to you.

            Well some might have got lost amidst the oceans of text, but the last question I can find from you was:

            ‘Do tell us what evidence you have that we may not already know about?’

            And that’s an easy one to answer because I don’t think there is any. I’m pretty sure you already know about all the evidence I have, especally because I don’t rely on non-evidence like personal revelations or experiences or spiritual orgasms.

          • “Well some might have got lost amidst the oceans of text”

            I’m certain you can find them. I’m certain you have no answers.

          • I don’t think S would quite approve of Julian’s personal revelations and spiritual ecstasies would he?

          • That was my reaction Andrew, on reading this very long thread
            If ‘S’ distrusts revelation and personal experience of God, he had much better not read the last book of the bible nor the mystics. Similarly, if he believes love toward God cannot be expressed in erotic terms, best avoid the Song of Songs, and, again, the mystics.
            If he believes the resurrection is dependent on eye witnesses, best not read the Gospels.

          • Similarly, if he believes love toward God cannot be expressed in erotic terms, best avoid the Song of Songs

            It is a while since I read it but I must admit I missed the bit where God gives spiritual orgasms, could you point it out?

          • S

            As I said before, read Bernard of Clairvaux on the Song of Songs.
            And mystics such as Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross for erotic responses to Jesus.
            You are missing out on a fascinating part of Christian spirituality. Of course, it may not be your cup of tea, but it’s worth exploring.

  17. I want to add my thanks to Susannah and Penny for their informed contributions to this and other debates on this site. A letter profiled in a previous blog here claimed discussions should be based on the principle of ‘not talking “about” us without talking “to” us’. In fact it is only Susannah’s willingness to engage very personally here that has prevented these debates from being entirely talking “about”. Courteous and patient too – often lone voices – I for one am grateful for the way they both inject quality and intelligence to these discussions.

  18. I confess I cannot follow the position of S. Clark on same-sex conduct.

    As for A. Godsall, he has always confused being arch for thinking. Once he gets involved, things get personal instead of illuminating. One will search in vain for any actual intellectual contribution from him.

    • “I confess I cannot follow the position of S. Clark on same-sex conduct.”

      Why? I’ve made perfectly clear that I believe lesbian and gay sexuality are loved and blessed by God, when they are intimate and physical expressions of tenderness, givenness, fidelity, care, joy, sharing, sacrifice, love.

      So I don’t understand why you can’t follow my position. It’s straightforward enough.

      Sexuality is an integral part of being a human being, and a blessing of joy given to us. An expression of care and protection and love. A part of our wholeness. A part of how we can grow as people. A part of our healing.

      • Sexuality is an integral part of being a human being, and a blessing of joy given to us. An expression of care and protection and love. A part of our wholeness. A part of how we can grow as people. A part of our healing.

        Interesting. How does that square with Genesis 1:27, which gives a totally different reason for the existence of sexuality?

        • 1. Genesis 1:27 concerns Imago Dei. I was describing how sexuality is integral to human beings – part of the way we are like God.

          2. It doesn’t have to ‘square’. It may, but it doesn’t have to.

          3. Sex can be about reproduction but it can also be about expressing intimacy and love – and all the other things I mentioned.

          4. You do realise that Adam and Eve weren’t actual people, don’t you? This is a myth, written by a religious group trying to grapple with who we are and why we are here. They were not writing a definitive sex manual.

          5. Attitudes to sexuality may be different in our culture than in their culture, without that making committed and caring sexuality wrong.

          Incidentally, on the ‘image of God’ thing: I believe God does indeed understand and express sexuality (though not for reproduction as far as I understand). I believe God desires, and is sensual, and is sometimes urgent and ardent like a lover, and many of the attributes of our human sexuality may also be expressed by God. Sex as expression of love, quite apart from reproductive reasons, is good. It is integral to God and we being God’s children, also possess many of God’s traits including our sexual nature. We are indeed made in God’s image.

          (That’s not something I’m setting out to prove, or perfectly put in words, but it can be known by some people in ecstatic experience.)

          What actually IS your view of Genesis narrative claims? Do you believe Adam had ancestors? Do you believe death only started in a perfect world when these (mythical?) humans first sinned? Do you believe all the species of animals in the world were saved in Noah’s Ark? Do you believe in a worldwide flood high enough to wipe out all the animals in the highest mountains?

          Or were these cultural myths?

          And does human sexuality get fully described and understood – in all its expressions and reasons – in this narrative?

          Don’t get me wrong. I have a 10-week-old grandson. It is a miracle of life and he is perfectly formed and such a deep joy. I believe that is wonderful. But I also believe sexuality is about far more than only reproduction. It is about devotion and tenderness and care and intimacy and joy and pleasure and healing and trust. It is about relationship. It is wonderful, and people don’t always have sex because they want a baby. They have sex to express love, trust, devotion to a partner… whatever their genders.

          God expresses these things too, in day to day life, but sometimes in ways that seem erotic. Song of songs reflects that impulse well. These are good things, gifts of life.

          • My muses today:
            -Is the doctrine of the Inspiration of Scripture relevant?
            -Was Jesus stupid to believe in a historical Adam & Eve & Noah?
            -How much of Scripture can one reject or ignore before one has whittled the canon and constructed one’s own belief system?
            -Is it significant that Song of Songs is a celebration of the erotic between a man and a woman?
            -Does it matter that we can conceive God in terms that God has not himself revealed himself in?
            -What are today’s cultural myths?

          • Fair questions, Simon.

            1. Define “the doctrine of the Inspiration of Scripture”. I believe that every time we open our hearts to God, whether writing words or praying or comforting someone, we are opening up to inspiration, to the operation of the Holy Spirit. And I have little doubt that the Holy Spirit similarly operated when people drafted and revised the scriptures: in other words there was an openness and a reception of the presence of God. However, while I believe probably most scripture is “inspired” in that way… and can act as a ‘conduit’ for ongoing inspiration when we read it… that does not mean that all scripture is literal, or morally infallible at text level, or culturally applicable for all societies for all time… because the people who wrote the scriptures, and indeed no doubt were as aware as we can be of God’s inspiration… were ordinary, fallible human beings like you and like me, writing within their own culture, with their own assumptions, and the limitations of their own religious and scientific and world outlooks. So you may be implying we are meant to take scripture beyond the processes of inspiration that can occur to all human beings, into some zone where the words may as well have been faxed or emailed by God. Many Christians like myself don’t buy into that level of narrative inerrancy and /or literalism. We believe in the humanity and limits and filters of the authors. That doesn’t mean the Holy Spirit was not moving them, as they explored, as they grappled for words and ideas, as they opened towards got, as they tried (fallibly) to make sense of encounters with the holy and divine. The reader today can deeply value the scriptures (I do) without necessarily believing they are morally or culturally immutable. We have conscience, we have ongoing inspiration and revelation in relationship with God, and like the authors back then, we need to make sense of the world, the cultures, the contexts, the communities we live in – seeking need, seeking justice, seeking compassion… and trying to understand what God is saying to us, in our own time.

            Being up front, I regard the concept of an inviolable and inerrant Bible an ailing paradigm. I think it’s been ailing since the Enlightenment at least. People rightly identify conflict between the assertions made in the Bible and the truth we try to identify in the actual world we live in. The collapse of the early Genesis narratives as (supposed) records of actual events (ancestorless Adam, Noah’s Ark etc) understandable put many truth seeking people today off taking the Bible seriously. And I believe such break downs in narrative impugnity may be seen as precedents, and even as a divine and intended sign that we are being challenged to move beyond that kind of infantilised literalism. People wrote within their own contexts and cultures. They did not have universal insight. Some of what they wrote may well have been coloured and filtered by the cultural assumptions of their own times and their own religious environments. We should not be afraid of recognising that. We should be pleased to. Because actually, many many decent people are rightly affronted, morally and intellectually, by the idolisation of an infallible bible – used to claim divine mandate for outdated views and values that are the ‘chipped conduits’ along which actual spiritual truth may still be flowing. God is not the Bible. God flows through the conduit of the Bible, which is a fallible human container. To that extent, the Bible can still offer a process of inspiration – not because the Bible is infallible, but because we may be opened up to the flow of God’s Spirit and Presence… a presence the bible writers tried to make sense of and express.

            But “the doctrine of the Inspiration of Scripture” is a term you’ve used. I suppose you possibly draw on the self-asserting tautology that scripture is correct because scripture says it is correct. And yet Adam had ancestors. To believe otherwise in this day and age is frankly fantasy and escapism.

            2. I don’t know what Jesus believed about Adam and Eve. As God, Jesus saw the coming and the passing of the dinosaurs. Jesus saw the evolution of humans from earlier primates. And Jesus would know that the Semitic ‘Adam’ and ‘Eve’, only a few generations prior to all the Israelites, could not, actually, have been the original humans who for vast periods of time inhabited Africa, and themselves always had parents. So what *did* Jesus believe? What we have is second-hand religious accounts, by fallible humans, trying to make sense of the memories of Jesus and what he said and did… because he didn’t write anything himself… and how do we know whether, for example, Jesus accommodated the myths of Adam and Eve (because he knew they were myths) and used them as a common term of reference that listeners in that culture could understand? Or whether he even actually worded it as it is recorded? We know, for example, that Jesus often spoke in parables and metaphors to draw people out, to expand their understanding, to open them to God. For my part, I have no idea exactly at what level, and in what kind of language, Jesus spoke to people on different occasions. And yet Jesus resonates. His love resonates. But we learn about Jesus through the filter of fallible human beings, and through the filter of religious communities trying to put together and make sense of divine events that none of us ever fully understand. I am really not troubled by all the enigma in the person of Jesus. All my instincts are that Jesus was set on opening people’s hearts to the amazing love of God.

            Of course I don’t think Jesus was stupid, but I think you are being far too literal and over-confident (and stuck in an outdated paradigm of scripture?) if you claim for certain that Jesus believed in an historical Adam and Eve and Noah. Those characters are myths. Myths of a religious society. Creation myths. They don’t have to be historical at all. To make them so, I’d argue, is to reduce them. Myth can be powerful, communicating to us at levels below our cerebral control, and addressing us deep. I think the myth of Noah’s Ark absolutely resonates and vibrates with deep significance. But not because it’s literally true. I’ve explained elsewhere that to me, when you literalise myth, it’s like looking down the wrong end of a telescope: you things smaller not bigger. You reduce the power of myth to mere fact.

            I think the same error can happen if people try to treat the entire Bible that way, demanding it’s all pinned down as fact, and static morality, when actually it’s people peering into mystery to find meaning. It’s provisional, just like when we write about God, it’s provisional. The Enlightenment, and increased scientific knowledge, has flagged that up. And yet, though our words may be fallible (and yes, mine too) yet… they can be conduits for the operation of God’s love, the flow of God’s Spirit, the opening of our minds, the touching of our consciences, the awakening of our compassion.

            But Jesus, the living God, would not be troubled if Adam or Noah were myths. He could use that as a platform of language. I have no idea exactly because none of us were there, and the people who were, were often poorly-versed shambolic followers, trying to make sense of it all. Nevertheless, Jesus conveys through them some very clear understandings about… covenant… fidelity… and of course, tender love and care and compassion.

            3. Everyone has beliefs. Half the Church of England believes gay sex can be holy, and sacred, and worthy of blessing and affirmation. In reading the scriptures critically and intelligently, people are not “rejecting” the Bible: they are taking it seriously and realistically – but they are not idolising it. “How much can you reject or ignore”… I don’t think you need ignore any of it, you have to interpret it, set it in context, and accumulatively the Bible conveys really deep and profound truths and insights into the nature and love of God. But that does not mean we should be full of fear, scared that if you doubt a single verse, the whole fabric will come crashing down. It doesn’t. But we don’t need the Bible to be an idealised perfect infallible text, set in its cultural aspic for all time. We don’t need to grasp for that level of proof about everything. Faith can actually operate through unknowns, and uncertainties, as well. Because at the point where infallible proof can no longer be used as a sort of walking aid, we need to go deeper in trust, which is the basis of a deeper relationship with God.

            I believe in my wife. Now at one level, that could mean, I believe she exists. I can demonstrably prove that. But actually, in relationship terms, when I say “I believe in my wife” what I mean is that I trust her, I have belief in everything she stands for, I have learnt even in uncertainties to believe in her, because of the deepening relationship we have shared over time.

            That’s how it is with God. We don’t believe because of proof texts. It’s not about does God exist: even the Devil, we are told, believes that. But we are drawn into deepening relationship with God, where we don’t know all the answers, and everything isn’t simply resolved by some idealised immutable text, and where actually, faith in God deepens at the point where certainties trail off. That is, at any rate for me, the via negativa. The Carmelite way. Trust not proof. Surrender and reception, not pinning everything down to an immutable perfect text. God works *through* scripture. That doesn’t mean God *is* scripture. God is what/who flows *through* the channels of scripture. It’s not about “whittling down” scripture. It’s about treating it seriously and realistically. Not letting it anaesthetise our own consciences, or infantilising us. We are given agency and responsibility in our lives. We have moral understandings to address. And we operate in the times and culture – and the scientific understandings – God has given us. And NONE of that means we should not deeply value scripture as a whole, which to me undoubtedly involves the astonishing interactions of God in the lives of people who like you, like me, long for God, desire God, try to open to God.

            4. The Song of Songs of course needs to be read in its own context, but it’s fascinating that a religious community behind its drafting and dissemination was willing to open up and involve the erotic – the very deeply erotic – in its literature of faith.

            So, as I read the Song of Songs, as a lesbian woman, what shudders with deep feeling is the loveliness of the erotic. The alrightness of the erotic. This is not a treatise on reproduction, lovely as that could be as well. It is an overflow and rhapsody about love and deeply erotic feelings. And while that at the time was written in a human set of contexts, I think there is something in it that was acknowledging that in religious experience, there is a dimension of eroticism that enriches life and runs through people and runs through God.

            People who have experienced spiritual ecstasy sometimes write in terms of God as lover. I strongly believe that God is erotic and an ardent lover of our souls. And I don’t think that’s down to reproduction, and I don’t think the Song of Songs is solely about having sex to have babies. It’s about sexuality because sexuality itself is lovely. And gay and lesbian people have integral sexuality as well. Hence I draw deep quietness of spirit and recognition of truth from the Song of Songs, and would, even if I didn’t first-hand already understand God to be my lover, my jealous lover, my insistent lover who doesn’t stop when I gasp stop, but knows to take me further, deeper. And holds me, and brings me to that spiritual orgasm, more tangible and shuddering than any physical orgasm, and envelops me in astonishing love.

            That is not just the confines of heterosexual love. The Song of Songs may also be a conduit for how God loves and desires us, and is overwhelmed by us, because we are so precious and so beautiful in God’s eyes.

            Sexuality and eroticism is integral to us and so beautiful, lovely and precious. It is not just about nappies. It is part of our physicality, an absolute privilege, and how God has made us, and how we can express tender care, intimacy, protection, devotion, love. So no, I don’t think that the fact that the Song of Songs involves a man and a woman is ultimately significant in itself. Of course, sexuality often does. But I assure you that sexuality can be just as tender, just as sacred, just as wonderful, between two women, or (I presume) between two men.

            5. I think in your fifth question you are presupposing that God ONLY reveals his/her self to us through the Bible, or at least, that we should limit our understanding of God to the way the biblical authors try to make sense of God.

            I simply think understanding of God goes far beyond that. We can never pin God down. God is vast. God is numinous. We each may have encounters with God of all kinds. Some people may find they understand God as a father. Some people may find they understand God as a mother. Some people may experience God on a mountain top. Or in community. Or when speaking to people of other faiths. Or studying astronomy, or evolution, or in medicine. God reveals to us all the time, and is not limited to the parameters of the Bible and its human and cultural expressions. When we speak of inclusion today, for many people that is deeply ‘of God’ and may include wider parameters of sexuality than were culturally accepted by the religious communities in Bible times.

            Yes, I think it matters that we are careful and prayerful, and discerning in how we understand God. But the idea that the Bible is ‘immutable’ or ‘infallible’ and that terms of living do not change beyond the contexts it was written in… well, things DO change. The God who *allegedly* ordered the slaughter of the Canaanite children ( I completely don’t believe that) later said “Let the little children come to Me.” The God who wanted people to stone gay people and other sinners (allegedly) later cancels those (alleged) edicts which were primitive and brutal like ISIS activists can be today. And as Jesus often said, “It is written… but I say to you.” Change and development is embedded in the Bible. And even then, while as a Christian I believe God is supremely revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, we never know more than glimpses of the whole of God. We are like children standing on the shores of a vast ocean. And God stretches for miles and miles, beyond our horizons, and yet… does not count self so great and mighty as to live far off, but taking the nature of a humble-hearted servant, comes to live with us… and indeed, takes up dwelling in our souls.

            So we may intimately encounter God, but God is also, always, deeply unknowable as well, and may reveal self to us in all manner of ways we didn’t even imagine. That requires care and prayerful reflection, I’d agree. But, for example, there is no way that the Bible describes the contemplative path of Teresa de Avila or Francesco de Osuna, and yet their paths are extraordinary openings to God, quite possibly not understood by a biblical fundamentalist who might say that the via negativa is a form of Buddhist-like meditation that can’t be right. And so there are dangers on both sides, when it comes to what the Bible reveals to the person who yearns for God. It is not about ‘inventing’ a new religion. It is about being receptive and open to God’s own diverse ways of meeting us and being understood by us. I greatly admire Elizabeth Johnson’s feminist theology in ‘She Who Is’ (though I wouldn’t describe myself as a feminist as a specific label). And work like that can deconstruct some aspects of religious tradition, and open up new emphases and ways of understanding God.

            6. Finally you ask ‘What are today’s cultural myths?’ I have no idea, of course, what you would choose to put in that bracket. If I had a go, off the top of my head, I’d say ‘the idea that the moon landings were fake’ or ‘black people are not as intelligent as white people’ and other arrant nonsense like that.

            Of course, your question begs the challenge to me that if I believe that the bible was written within the cultural limits of its authors, how do I know my own views aren’t also existing within present and possibly transient cultural limits?

            But of course, it’s also possible that religion itself gets lost and trapped in its own cultures, and I fear that whenever we put dogma before love, purity before compassion, we need to take great care. We live in a society where most people (especially the young) disagree with so-called ‘conservative’ Christian vilification (theological vilification I mean) of gay and lesbian sex, and gender transition. In fact that religious culture disgusts people. I hear that again and again.

            Are they all suffering from a ‘cultural myth’? Or do they have a point?

            At the very least, the Church of England is divided down on the middle by that. And so what do we do? Just keep on putting people off and disgusting them? Or, at least, acknowledging that among ourselves we may hold deeply differing views… and let that be a matter of prayer and conscience… and move to those things that can never be cultural myths: helping the frail and elderly; visiting and supporting the sick; responding to the poor; taking seriously the hunger of many children in our land, and the desperate malnutrition across the world.

            God must weep.

          • And holds me, and brings me to that spiritual orgasm, more tangible and shuddering than any physical orgasm, and envelops me in astonishing love.

            Oh wow I missed this before in the vast wall o’text, but it confirms something I had suspected: either I am not really a Christian or you are not, because we clearly have totally incompatible worldviews.

            I mean, the mroality of same-sex marriage, that’s something that can be discussed and argued about to work out which view is correct.

            But the God I believe in does not give people ‘spiritual orgasms’.

            I don’t know whether you are the actual Christian or I am, but I do know that we absolutely do not follow the same religion.

          • Well ‘S’, you’re clearly not following the religion of Bernard of Clairvaux, Theresa of Avila or St John of the Cross.

          • you’re clearly not following the religion of Bernard of Clairvaux, Theresa of Avila or St John of the Cross.

            Never heard of any of them, but if their ‘god’ gives them spiritual orgasms, then no, I most certainly am not. Are you?

          • “Never heard of any of them”. Goodness.

            Oh no! I lied. I just looked up ‘Bernard of Clairvaux’ and I must have heard of him because he’s a character in Howard Brenton’s Eternal Love, which I saw on tour.

            I had forgotten because it’s such a terrible play.

          • S
            Yes I do follow these saints and mystics.
            I suggest you do some research into the riches of Christian spiritual tradition before dismissing these doctors of the Church so lightly.

          • Yes I do follow these saints and mystics

            So if you have read them, can you tell me, does their ‘god’ give them spiritual orgasms?

            I suggest you do some research into the riches of Christian spiritual tradition before dismissing these doctors of the Church so lightly.

            It’s not the doctors I’m dismissing, it’s this talk of spiritual orgasms. As long as the doctors don’t claim to have spiritual orgasms, we’re fine.

            (I obviously can’t make any comment on any specific case of a doctor whose writings I haven’t read).

          • S
            I’ve answered you above, again recommending these mediaeval mystics and their experiences of the erotic in scripture and devotion.
            But, I am intrigued. What could possibly be wrong about spiritual orgasms?

          • What could possibly be wrong about spiritual orgasms?

            Oh, this is one of those questions that reveals more about the asker than any response could about me, isn’t it?

      • One could draw from your statement that male-male sex is a category about which people can reach opposing conclusions, condemnation and commendation.

        “Of course I respect that opposition to man-man sex is a view that can be held in good conscience by someone who loves God.”

        But not other kinds of same-sex.

        Thank you for sticking to the topic.

        • The topic is whether we should extend the boundaries of ‘gospel freedom’ in sexuality.

          I believe we should.

          When you thanked me for sticking to the topic, I’m honestly a bit uncertain. Were you applauding me, or were you being sarcastic?

          My position is really pretty straightforward. I believe that gay sex (man-man) and lesbian sex (woman-woman) is often fine, beautiful and lovely.

          I believe that Christians who are opposed to gay or lesbian sex can hold that position with integrity, based on the sincere premisses they hold and fidelity to God. I don’t share all their premisses.

          Basically, there you have the Church of England, divided down the middle on that issue.

          But I am prepared to respect other people’s right to differing consciences, and I want them to stay in the Church of England.

          There is much work for all of us to do together. I saw that on Sunday in church: so much need, so much vulnerability, the frail, the elderly.

          We need to prioritise love and grace, and prayer for one another, and not try to impose one way only on everybody.

      • Andrew, you need only read your own comments. You personalise every response and never deal with the substance of the topic under discussion. Ditto here.

        It does get tiresome.

        • Christopher: your ‘grand’ and lofty statements, usually without evidence and pretty much always evading the point, frequently personalised in a most unpleasant and patronising way speak volumes. I am sure there must be a more genuine and kinder person behind them somewhere. How about we actually meet? I will gladly buy you lunch and then you can actually decide, rather than simply lobbing grenades over a rather safe firewall?

        • Oh and if you would like to read my comment, for example on February 17, 2019 at 7:28 pm, it has nothing of the character you ascribe to my ‘every response’. You seem to mistake disagreeing with you, and using your christian name, as ‘personalising’.

      • You confuse ‘snide’ with ‘truthful’.

        I do not know who you hang out with or what you do, but I take your comment as a compliment.

        I do not throw hand grenades. Interesting chacterisation, however, from you.

        Have a quiet mind and a blessed day.

  19. In order to “make” people comply with the “Gospel” let’s enlist Caesar and make sure criminalisation is up and running — this is about as nonsensical a train of thought as I have encountered. Those of you in an established church can perhaps explain AG’s logic?

  20. “I am sure there must be a more genuine and kinder person behind them somewhere.”

    OK. That’s enough for me.

    Have a good day.

  21. Hi Will,
    I am posting this here because I am not sure where else to post it for the post – many threads on here!
    On the subject of premarital sex, I would be interested in your thoughts on why Joseph considered divorcing Mary quietly when he knew she was pregnant, but before it was revealed to him that the conception had taken place by the power of the Holy Spirit. I understood that Mary and Joseph were betrothed, but not married, at that time, so I am puzzled by the reference to divorce. This suggests to me that, at that time, premarital sex with someone other than the betrothed was considered to be unrighteous, and that fidelity to a betrothed was as important as fidelity to a spouse. It certainly seems to suggest that sexual fidelity and marriage were not treated lightly. Matthew 1:18-21

    • From Craig Keener:

      ‘Betrothal in ancient Israel meant more than engagement means today. Although the couple was not allowed to have intercourse until the end of the betrothal period (typically a year), they were pledged to each other by an agreement between their families. Jewish tradition suggests that betrothed couples in Galilee could not be together alone, unchaperoned, until the wedding. Betrothal normally included some economic arrangements; the groom might offer a down payment on the money he would pay the bride’s father for the marriage; this could help defray the father’s expense of having raised the groom’s future wife. In this period, the bride’s father also gave a gift of money to his daughter when she married to help provide for her (in the event of harm to the husband or divorce).

      Betrothal could be broken only one of two ways: by means of divorce or one of the partners dying. Once an agreement was made between families, divorce was not normally desirable; if, however, the wife or fiancée was thought to have been unfaithful, this would shame the husband. This behavior would constitute a legal charge.’

      Peter

  22. 1 Can an infallible God reveal himself and his purposes infallibly through and to fallible human beings? The baseline question is not whether there is a belief in god, but which God do you Believe? And how do you know it is not a false god? By what measure? How do we know that my taste of a tomato is the same as your tasting of a tomato? How do we know that Islam and Christianity do not believe the same God? The book?
    2 “The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God” a short book by D A Carson is not a flaccid read for those of the postmodern, progressive- in- perpetuity -party, but who are mired in pagan sexual mores of the past, even within living memory of 1960’s onwards, and constructed their own God who would not, could not, deign, nor dare to contradict them or their comfort-blanket beliefs. I doubt that many so-called revisionists will read it, too un