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Should we ‘Hate the sin and love the sinner’?

hethatiswithoutsinOver on the new-ish blog Via Media, Simon Butler has responded to a brief conversation he and I had online, in which he argues that the mantra ‘Hate the sin, love the sinner’ is not only unhelpful, but positively harmful and damaging, and unfailingly hinders the agenda of sharing God’s love. Given Simon’s intense dislike (hatred?) for this phrase, but his commitment to still seeing me as his ‘old friend’ (I take that to mean ‘long-standing’!), then it appears as though Simon is himself practising ‘Hate the slogan, love the sloganeer’. I wonder if he sees the irony in putting into the practice the very statement he is refuting.

It should be said from the outset that summary statements like this can easily be misused—which is simply a function of all language. But such ‘slogans’ must be capable of giving guidance, since Jesus packed his teaching full of such short, memorable summary statements.

Simon dismisses the saying as an ‘Evangelical nostrum’ and ‘almost an article of faith within that tradition’. If so, then this is to the credit of the evangelical tradition; as Thomas Renz points out, the saying has a long history from Ghandi all the way back to the great Augustine:

Moreover, what I have now said in regard to abstaining from wanton looks should be carefully observed, with due love for the persons and hatred of the sin, in observing, forbidding, reporting, proving, and punishing of all other faults. (Letter 211, para 11)

And Augustine has good warrant, since St Paul says something very similar in his ethical instructions to the Christians in Rome:

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. (Romans 12.9–10)

What is most striking here is that Paul appears to link this differentiated attitude to good and evil with love with is ‘unhypocritical’; honesty about what we find distasteful or offensive is part of love, not an inhibition to it. And Paul himself is basing his guidance on the example of Jesus.

In the context of this debate, I hardly need to rehearse the evidence that Jesus was radically inclusive. He scandalised the religious leaders of his day by touching the unclean to bring healing; he risked his reputation in order to associate with the impure; he stood close to those whose sin brought the judgement of others in order that he might offer forgiveness. He was very clear that his ministry was not to those who thought themselves righteous enough—the well don’t need doctors—but to the spiritually sick, sinners who needed to repent (Luke 5.32). This was indeed the one who, more than anything, loved sinners.

But did Jesus hate sin? Early in Mark’s gospel there is a story which even his first readers struggled with. Jesus meets a man suffering from a debilitating skin disease, and Jesus is clearly disturbed by this. Most manuscripts have ‘he was moved with compassion’ (Mark 1.41), but there is good reason to think that the minority text ‘he was angry’ is the original. This is very challenging: the New Testament talks of God’s ‘anger’ or ‘wrath’ as his fixed opposition to all that is sinful, but never elsewhere uses the verb ‘to be angry’ of God. Yet here is Jesus, angry at this man’s disease. Is he angry at a fallen world, where such things happen, or the religious culture, which isolates the man, or perhaps even the man’s doubting whether he can be healed? Mark does not tell us. But he does tell us that Jesus gets pretty cross at sinful attitudes and actions.

He seems irked by those questioning his forgiveness of the paralytic in Mark 2. When he meets a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath, he looks at his opponents ‘with anger’ (there’s that word again, Mark 3.5). When the disciples refuse to let the children come to him, he is incensed (Mark 10.14). In each of these examples, Matthew and Luke smooth the wording out to make Jesus look less antagonistic. But they cannot escape this aspect of his ministry. In Mathew 23 (and Luke 11) Jesus lets rip at the complacency, selfishness, self-satisfaction and oppression of the scribes and Pharisees. He does not mince his words! He seems really angry at the way they withhold the good news of God’s grace, and confine his blessing to a religious elite. Matthew makes the point strongly—his lists Jesus pronouncing seven ‘woes’, a complete catalogue of judgement. And in the cleansing of the temple, his anger (or ‘zeal’) expresses itself in violent action.

Many of these examples are used to suggest Jesus disliked the ‘religious’. But that is anachronistic; in Jesus’ culture everyone was ‘religious’. The better way to characterise Jesus’ opponents is that they were powerful—but his response is much broader than that. It seems that Jesus didn’t just love the sinner—he hated sin and all the consequences of the way it leaves people broken and their lives distorted.

Simon’s discussion is headed by a picture of the women ‘caught in adultery’, and it is reproduced above. Jesus is opposed to the self-serving complacency of her accusers, which he exposes. But after refusing to condemn her himself, he offers no compromise to the question of sin for the women either: ‘Go and sin no more’. This looks very much like ‘Hate the sin; love the sinner’ in narrative form.

So shouldn’t we be the same? It isn’t much defence to say that this is something only God can do, since we cannot hate sin without that spilling over into a hateful attitude to people. If I give up on trying to do anything that only God can do perfectly, then I might as well pack up now as a disciple! In fact it only takes a few moments consideration to see that this attitude of Jesus’ is something that we cannot avoid.

How do we respond to the closing of ranks, fabrication of the truth and defence of self-interest we have seen in the recent judgement about the Hilsborough stadium disaster—sinful actions that left so many locked in grief for 27 years? Don’t we feel indignant? How do we respond to the stories of exploitation of workers around the world in order to source luxury goods for those of us living in the West? Don’t we feel the sting of injustice? How do we respond to the relentless accumulation of vast wealth by a few, the wanton destruction of the environment, and the sexualisation of our culture which leaves young people, especially young girls, insecure, uncertain and open to exploitation and manipulation? How do we respond to the self-concern endemic in our society which leaves so many alone and isolated? If we do not share Jesus’ sense of anger and indignation concerning the sin we see around us, we have failed as disciples and lost our humanity.

Simon’s reflection on the way the phrase is used is to conclude that ‘it seems to me almost impossible to separate a person’s identity from their actions’ (though his quotation from Gordon Oliver, that every person is broken and sinful, yet beloved in Christ, appears to suggest the opposite). This is potentially disastrous in terms of our theological anthropology—understanding who we are as humans in the light of the truth about God.

In between our identity and our action stands the long process of intention, will and decision. If we collapse this distance, as Simon is suggesting, then we undermine the notion of humans as responsible moral agents. This is evident if we consider extreme examples, people involved in damaging and addictive patterns of behaviour. What does it mean for the alcoholic, the paedophile, the compulsively violent or the kleptomaniac if their identity is ‘impossible to separate from their actions’? Coming closer to home, there is good research evidence that men in every culture have a deep propensity to promiscuity. Is this part of male ‘identity’, and is it a ‘shadow side’ that might be ‘befriended’?

I would heartily agree that theology which denies experience is unhealthy. But Simon appears here to allow experience to form his theology, rather than allowing theological truth to inform and shape experience. When Paul writes that ‘We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?’ (Romans 6.2) he is not just addressing enthusiastic, naive young evangelicals who have yet to realise the frailty and compromise of human nature. He wants this truth to shape the experience of all Christians. God’s desire is not for us to embrace our shadows, but to allow his light to shine on them.

Sadly, Simon’s discussion of holiness finally lapses into parody. We should see ourselves ‘not as victims of an angry God, but as the beloved of a worried Parent, who can be loved into befriending and finding wholeness’ in our sinfulness. But the holiness of God is a much larger concern in Scripture than God as an angry old (evangelical?) man; it means he is a parent who is prepared to pay the ultimate price, in himself, for our forgiveness. Simon is quite wrong to suggest that it is ‘Western, juridical models of atonement’ which create ‘binary views of sin and goodness’; this binary is a theme that runs deep through all of Scripture, and is addressed at least as much in the ransom, Christus victor and reconciliation models of atonement as in ‘justification’ models. (It is fascinating to see that, when the binary of sex identity is lost, the binary of sin and goodness follows quickly after it.)

In the end, I am not sure Simon really believes what he is arguing for. Certainly many supporters on the blog disagree with him—they think that the reason they dislike the saying is not because you ‘cannot separate someone’s actions from their identity’ but because they don’t believe that same-sex relations are sinful. Here is one characteristic comment:

For me, the crux of this isn’t that “hate the sin, love the sinner” is a bad formulation, but that it shouldn’t apply to homosexuality, because there’s nothing immoral about consensual homosexual relationships. If the Bible says there is, then the Bible is simply wrong.

I like Simon very much—I love him as a brother—and I hope that we will continue to be ‘old’ friends. But I think he is being dishonest. I wish he would face up to the fact that his conviction—that same-sex sexual unions are not sinful—is not compatible with Scripture, and in doing so join the vast majority of scholars on both sides of the debate, and so state clearly that on this point he believes Scripture is wrong and should be set aside.

But because he wishes to hold on to the label of ‘evangelical’ he is not willing to do this. As a result, he misreads the history of theological thought, he disregards key parts of Scripture, he misconstrues a whole area of Jesus’ ministry and teaching, he distorts his theological anthropology, and he damages our approach to pastoral theology. The attempt to justify same-sex sexual unions pushes all manner of theological concerns out of shape and has wide-ranging and damaging consequences.

And I really hate that.

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99 Responses to Should we ‘Hate the sin and love the sinner’?

  1. Chris Bishop May 3, 2016 at 9:18 am #

    One of your best pieces to date Ian.

  2. Thomas Renz May 3, 2016 at 9:33 am #

    In an essay on Psychology Today Guy Winch points out that one reason why some people find it impossible to apologise is that they cannot separate actions from identity. “Admissions of wrongdoing are incredibly threatening for non-apologists because they have trouble separating their actions from their character. If they did something bad, they must be bad people; if they were neglectful, they must be fundamentally selfish and uncaring; if they were wrong, they must be ignorant or stupid, etc. Therefore, apologies represent a major threat to their basic sense of identity and self-esteem.”

    • Ian Paul May 3, 2016 at 10:52 am #

      Thomas—thanks, that is helpful. But it is a much wider and more basic distinction. Successful dispute resolution relies on ‘focussing on the problem, not on the person’, which similarly assumes that we can, must, separate people from their actions.

      I suspect what Simon actually means is not a general observation, but a particular one: you much not separate my actions from my sexual identity. This means the debate is really about something other than ‘Hate the sin, love the sinner.’

      • Thomas Renz May 3, 2016 at 2:00 pm #

        I agree that the distinction is significant in all sorts of directions. I just wanted to add an additional perspective. I was hoping to reflect on this without reference to sexual identity and actions but you’re probably right. I do not think I have ever come across someone taking issue with the maxim who was not also advocating that we embrace certain forms of sexual behaviour that the church has traditionally condemned. And yet Simon could have argued “this maxim is all very well, as long as it is not used as a slogan, but it does not apply to questions of sexual identity and behaviour and here is why…” Instead he sought to argue that the maxim itself is wrong and this is what I wanted to ponder because here was finally a blog post that was trying to explain why the maxim is wrong rather than just assertions that it is wrong and harmful.

        Your discussion with each other seems to me to demonstrate that it is very difficult to reject the maxim without ending up in absurdity. Once this has been agreed the discussion about how the maxim is best applied, not least in discussion of sexual ethics, can begin. I would have wished for a few specific examples from Simon which are not to do with sexual ethics. If the bully is gifted in getting things done, is it possible to accept this giftedness, while condemning inappropriate aggression? Is it possible to stand up to the bully and at the same time to love him or her? It is hard but is it not worth trying?

  3. Phill May 3, 2016 at 10:10 am #

    Thanks for this Ian. I think your comments about the links with same-sex unions are on the money – if ‘love the sin but hate the sinner’ were used of, say, gossiping – then I doubt anyone would have a problem with it. But because people are so keen to define themselves by their sexual desires now, any condemnation is seen as an attack on the person. The root issue is indeed that people don’t think certain things are sinful, attacks on ‘hate the sin…’ are just a smokescreen.

    • John Duncan May 3, 2016 at 6:37 pm #

      I think it’s wrong to try and relegate the debates around the use of this phrase to issues of sexuality. It’s perhaps the arena where it crops up most often, but I think the problem with LTSHTS in whatever context it’s used is that despite the tempting simplicity of its formulation, it actually has the capacity to conceal and nurture all manner of harmful, dismissive and judgmental attitudes and can play into the hands of our own self deception. I’m reminded of one of the ‘ghosts’ in C.S. Lewis’ Great Divorce who says ”… of course, I forgive him as a Christian. But there are some things one can never forget.”

      • Phill May 3, 2016 at 7:21 pm #

        I think there are issues with the phrase which we could discuss. But I think Ian’s root observation is true, that by and large people’s objection the majority of the time is to do with what is sinful, not the phrase itself.

    • JCF May 9, 2016 at 7:10 am #

      Slandering someone’s God-given sexual orientation (and appropriately partnered) as “defin[ing] themselves by their sexual desires”: boy, that’s a sin I hate!

  4. Paul May 3, 2016 at 10:26 am #

    My problem is with the label “the sinner”. The danger with the language is that we can indentify (or be seen to identify) this person as different/other than us. They are “the sinner”. We’re not – we’re special and holy.
    Better to say, “hate the sin, love the person that sins”, I think.
    That person, like us, sins. Both of us are created in the image of God, but corrupted, and all on a journey to regain that paradise lost.
    Labels are not important, but we can easily believe they’re true, so let’s be careful before giving them out!

    • Ian Paul May 3, 2016 at 10:54 am #

      Thanks Paul. I don’t think I would disagree with you here. ‘Sinner’ is a term that can be used to ‘other’, as Simon points out in his anecdote about his conversation with the bishop. As long as we recognise we all share the same label, then I think we are protected from this.

      • Simon Butler May 3, 2016 at 12:35 pm #

        I fear you are too optimistic here Ian. I’m sure the bishop sees himself as a sinner, but I’m absolutely sure he still has a hierarchy of sinners. Just ask any sex offender or MP!

        • Ian Paul May 3, 2016 at 1:06 pm #

          Simon, I must admit to being disappointed by your comment ‘I’ve not met a Christian without a hierarchy of sins.’

          I must introduce you to my evangelical colleague who is chaplain at the local sex offenders prison…and she is not alone.

          The reason why people might appear to have a hierarchy is that some sins are immensely damaging to other people, and anyone who has a sense of pastoral responsibility wants to protect their flock from the sins that wreak havoc in the lives of both sinner and sinned against.

          That seems like good pastoral theology to me.

          • Anna May 3, 2016 at 4:36 pm #

            My general impression is that Jesus had the same hierarchy of sins that you have pointed out. Sins by the “shepherds” seem to be the ones that make Him really angry, because of the damage they did to the sheep, and I suppose too because the shepherds were being judged according to the light given to them……i.e.they should have known better. The woman taken in adultery is told she isn’t condemned and then just told not to carry on sinning. I think too that hypocrisy is almost painted as a worse thing than the reality of the sinfulness it covered, so perhaps that’s a hierarchy of sins too.

  5. Matt Sheffield May 3, 2016 at 12:50 pm #

    I think this article is very ‘heart-on-sleeve’ from you Ian, or at least, more so than usual. Any reader of your articles on this subject (or viewer of your video appearance(s) where it’s been discussed) would know this is where you stand, but it’s rare to see it stated this explicitly and I thank you for it.

    I don’t think I’d go so far as to say it’s “brave” of you to write this given your profile in the commentary around the subject of same sex partnerships/marriage, but it really comes across that it’s based on firm conviction, even where (and forgive me if this is way off the mark) it would probably be a lot easier for you to agree with Simon here and be acclaimed for it.

    That said, I probably agree with Paul above. While I agree in principle with the statement “hate the sin, love the sinner” I think the phrase can be too polarizing and negative, especially when interacting with a mindset that cannot (or will not) separate actions from the “person”. When you define yourself in terms of a strongly held conviction, it is not one easily challenged from outside.

    • Ian Paul May 3, 2016 at 1:08 pm #

      Thanks for the comment Matt. For the record, I don’t think it is a phrase I have ever used myself! The reason it came up in conversation is that Simon introduced it in a discussion about ‘things Jesus never said’.

      I would agree with Thomas Renz in his conclusion: ‘I have not intention of starting to throw around this maxim in conversations but I think I still seek to live by it. Loving all people, hating all that is evil, and seeing every Christian as simul iustus et peccator.’

      • Ian Paul May 3, 2016 at 1:11 pm #

        I should add that, if the post comes across with strength of feeling, it is because I see how extensively the attempt to justify same-sex sexual unions ends up pulling so many aspects of good theology out of shape so badly.

        This is quite a different level of concern from exegetical debates about the meaning of specific texts, and shows what is at stake in this debate.

        • MisterDavid May 4, 2016 at 6:22 pm #

          ^^ EXACTLY ^^

  6. Andrew Godsall May 3, 2016 at 2:03 pm #

    So Ian, how do you manage to stand on the same platform at General Synod with Simon, and share in the same service of holy communion with him, even sharing the distribution? Simon has been clear and fearless in front of Synod about his own status in the debate. Yet you continue to associate with him in full communion? How do you square that with 1 Corinthians 5:9? Serious question…….

    • Ian Paul May 3, 2016 at 2:53 pm #

      Thanks, Andrew—a very good question. I think there are a number of strands to my response.

      First, Simon is arguing for a change in the Church’s teaching but from a position of continuing to fulfil his vow of canonical obedience to his bishop, and through that to the current teaching position of the Church. He has not told me any different, and I am happy to trust him as a respected friend and colleague.

      Secondly, in relation to his comments in the previous Synod, I have been thinking about them since I heard them reported, which is why it was relatively easy to write this response. It has been brewing. I interpret his phrase ‘I want to know whether there is place in the Church for people like me’ as exactly the same collapsing of identity and action that he expounds in his post. If I had been a member of Synod then, I would offer a similar response to the one able. I don’t think it is possible for anyone to ask acceptance by another of future actions, regardless of those actions, on the basis that ‘this is part of my identity’, not least for the reasons that Thomas Renz puts so clearly above.

      Thirdly, I have responsibility for oversight of some people, and others have oversight of me. However, I do not have oversight of Simon, and I am content to leave responsibility for that to the appropriate people. I have a communal and episcopal view of the Church, not an individualist or congregational view.

      Fourthly, I think that appropriate discipline is rightly exercised when it is called for, and I support the office of my diocesan bishop in the action that was taken by the then acting bishop, Richard Inwood, in refusing a license to a colleague who was manifestly and publicly in defiance of the Church’s teaching and his oath of canonical obedience. For the same reason I also support the action of Tim Dakin, Bishop of Winchester, in his refusing to grant PTO to the other Jeremy.

      I suspect that some readers of this blog will think I am too severe; others will think I am too liberal. I am content.

      • David Shepherd May 5, 2016 at 12:18 pm #


        What Andrew misses is that you are following due authority and process. The discipline in 1 Cor. 5:9 represents the final stage of discipline, where rejected forbearance and warning may be interpreted by some as connivance.

        The need for due authority and process is represented by St. Paul’s addressing his instruction regarding the discipline of elders to Bishop Timothy: ‘Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. But those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning.’ (1 Tim. 5:19,20)

        In this passage, submission to the forensic approach (in the archaic sense) of the bishop establishing the nature of offence is clearly in mind. It again echoes Christ’s three steps of discipline.

        To pre-empt that approach by summary justice would deny due process and disrupt due authority. It’s a recipe for chaos.

        In contrast, the approach established by Jesus and endorsed by St. Paul is central to the nature of the episcopal polity and derived from scripture, tradition and reason.

  7. Andrew Godsall May 3, 2016 at 3:23 pm #

    Ian: you wrote “First, Simon is arguing for a change in the Church’s teaching but from a position of continuing to fulfil his vow of canonical obedience to his bishop, and through that to the current teaching position of the Church. He has not told me any different, and I am happy to trust him as a respected friend and colleague.”

    I think he did, quite publicly, tell General Synod quite differently to that. It was an incredibly moving moment in the last quinquennium of Synod. He continues in post and has told you, and as I say, you shared a platform with him. So whilst you may not share oversight, you do share fellowship in all kinds of ways. My specific question relates to the scriptures that seem to be clear that you should not do so. Do you simply ignore those scriptures? Set them aside? Interpret them differently?

    • Ian Paul May 3, 2016 at 5:02 pm #

      I understood that he said ‘I am not committed to remaining celibate’ but not that he was in an active relationship. If he wants to tell me something different, then that is up to him. I don’t really believe in inquisitions!

      If Simon decided to enter a same-sex marriage, then I think I’d find that very difficult, and I would expect his bishop to act. If he lost his license, he would also leave Synod.

      I think I have made my position clear—and I don’t think any of that would surprise Simon. So I am not sure what your further questioning is achieving…

      • Andrew Godsall May 4, 2016 at 7:04 am #

        But it’s well known that another priest in a same sex marriage is a member of General Synod, and has not lost his licence. You continued with your own membership of that same body Ian and participated in a service of Holy Communion with him.

        I think the line of questioning is just confirming that you too can be selective about which bits of scripture you think might be overlooked.

        • Ian Paul May 4, 2016 at 9:51 am #

          Ah, thanks for the clarification Andrew! My problem is that I don’t consistently apply the Andrew Godsall interpretation of what I should be doing. I can see that that is my problem!

          (And there was me thinking that, when you asked me a question about Simon, you were asking me a question about Simon.)

          • Andrew Godsall May 4, 2016 at 12:21 pm #

            Sarcasm doesn’t become you Ian!
            It’s really easy. You made it clear that “If Simon decided to enter a same-sex marriage, then I think I’d find that very difficult, and I would expect his bishop to act” but you don’t seem to want to apply the same thinking when another member of synod has already entered a same sex marriage i.e. you are very happy to ignore 1 Corinthians 5:9

          • Ian Paul May 4, 2016 at 12:31 pm #

            Er, I wasn’t being sarcastic! You do appear to be telling me what I should be thinking and doing.

            I don’t think I ignore 1 Cor 5.9, but I just don’t know a way in Anglican polity whereby I can force the Bishop of Edmonton to act on it, especially given that a CDM process was disallowed from within his own episcopal area.

            But again, thanks for doing my moral thinking for me.

          • Andrew Godsall May 4, 2016 at 1:16 pm #

            Ian: I am trying to get you to think about consistency is all. I’m obviously not asking about Simon, but about the principal that his case points to. So let’s depersonalise it: you said that if ‘X’ did something then you’d have a problem with it, and you said that in response to a question I put to you relating to a particular instruction in scripture. I then pointed out that ‘Y’ had already done the thing you’d have a problem with in relation to I Corinthians 5:9 and you fudge the whole issue by saying that you can’t get other people to do things. It’s dead easy isn’t it? You don’t have to belong to the same body as ‘Y’ and you don’t have to take communion with ‘Y’ but you have chosen to do so. If you think that’s possible in the face of 1 Corinthians 5:9 then I’m simply interested in how. Hence my original question to you……which you haven’t answered.

  8. Daniel Moody May 3, 2016 at 5:51 pm #

    In the good old days there was a considerable distance between sinner (person) and sin (activity). Could part of the problem be the fact that we are now encouraged to identify ourselves in terms of the direction of our sexual desires, thereby shrinking the gap because between sinner and sin? This in turn renders the phrase ‘love the sinner hate the sin’ a direct threat to our identity, so the phrase is resisted.

  9. Ian Grimbaldeston May 3, 2016 at 6:52 pm #

    A few thoughts on the blog….that come from a recovering fundamentalist (here in the US) and a recovering evangelical from the UK 🙂 I was a pastor out here in the states for 9 years and had to quit mostly due to the church, and the inability of many Christians I knew to question their basic beliefs and assumptions.

    Theology in my opinion is autobiographical. Mine has changed dramatically over the years, as I came out and managed to integrate faith and sexuality. My conversations with God were never an issue….the trouble was…my conversations with my so called brothers and sisters who rushed to judgement on this issue in the absence of personal connection to people and the stories and their unquestioned view which they usually had inherited rather than deduced. I personally believe on many issues we will be quite surprised at the end….we all will have got things wrong so perhaps the focus is to work out our own lives and spend less time deciding on the lives of others.

    Another thing I have seen sadly is there is indeed a heirarch of sin at least in the church. My jury is out on Gods perspective on this as I don’t know. Here is what I do know from the fundamental church over here. OK sins include…ambition, deserting a family for work, amassing wealth and goods, affairs (for men….women have a harder time) sexism and gender role stereotype, greed (that’s a big one), divorce and secret pornography and deceit. The church is rife with these things and what are sermons on….usually evangelism, protecting freedom of religion and separating ourselves from others not like us. I call that sad and myopic and they wonder why people aren’t interested in the church. So I see a double standard that is glaringly obvious.

    YET most of my friends who are Christian and gay simply want to be part of a community, to be loved, welcomed and belong. The Vineyard had an old saying. Come as you are and you will be loved. It was a lie. The truth was Come as you are and become like us and you will be loved. It was conditional on becoming like….not GOD but who we define God as….and that is the subtle difference. So back to that theology is biographical thought….. 🙂

    • Ian Paul May 4, 2016 at 9:55 am #

      Thanks for the thoughts Ian. I think theology is autobiographical if it is about us rather than about God.

      ‘OK sins include…ambition, deserting a family for work, amassing wealth and goods, affairs (for men….women have a harder time) sexism and gender role stereotype, greed (that’s a big one), divorce and secret pornography and deceit. The church is rife with these things and what are sermons on….usually evangelism, protecting freedom of religion and separating ourselves from others not like us.’

      None of that has been true of any evangelical church I have been involved in. I can see why it would be a problem where it happens.

      • David Beadle May 8, 2016 at 3:02 pm #

        I’m not sure I agree with the phrase “theology .. is autobiographical,” but the important point Ian Grimbaldestan makes is this: “we all will have got things wrong so perhaps the focus is to work out our own lives and spend less time deciding on the lives of others.”

        I would be interested, Ian Paul to see how you’d answer Tony Campolo’s similar remark that the Bible does not say “love the sinner, hate the sin,” but “love the sinner, hate your own sin”? An interesting link between all your examples from the Bible, and your example from Augustine, is that none of them seem to be referring to going around hating other people’s sins.

        The example of the woman caught in adultery is a case in point. Yes, Jesus doesn’t excuse anyone of sin. But he does suggest that one can’t past judgements on others until one is morally perfect. It’ll be a little while before I can start hating others’ sin without hypocrisy then …

        Postscript: I rather think it a truism that we’re inclined to transfer onto others (and therefore hate in others) what we hate in ourselves. Hence people viewing the church as highly hypocritical, because they see it as not fulfilling the moral standards it exhorts in others. Trivial example: I was once on a Christian committee, when the minister in charge sent all the members of the committee an article he’d copied from the paper on online etiquette. He was one of the most ill-mannered people I have ever met. I’d already read the article, and it was quite good, but I was angry to recieve this article from him which I felt hypocritical. I’m not sure how the cycle of anger at each others sins that I was getting into was particularly helpful in following Christ’s teachings.

  10. Clive May 3, 2016 at 7:46 pm #

    Well done Ian. A good, thoughtful piece.

    You being by referencing the Mark 1 entry for the Leper and two of the early manuscript readings that offer the alternative greek for Jesus being angry.
    If we look at the matching passage in Luke 5 then the leper is in the synagogue which then makes a lot of sense to Jesus being angry because in the Synagogue the leper would have been a deliberate plant there by a group of people.

    Thomas Renz then says “In an essay on Psychology Today Guy Winch points out that one reason why some people find it impossible to apologise is that they cannot separate actions from identity.”

    Therein lies the essence of the problem.

    Everyone who comes to Christ is fully a sinner. Christ comes to us where we are but the invitation to us is one in which we MUST give up our whole identity and let Jesus Christ CHANGE our lives, otherwise we haven’t actually come to Christ at all. If we therefore cannot separate our actions from our identity then that is coded language for saying we are not going to change.

    The more Christian I become the more that I realise that I am total rubbish as a Christian, constantly getting everything wrong and so I am reassured by St Paul telling me that he also got it constantly wrong every time he tried to do things right … at least he was constantly willing to change, and change his life. He did not claim that actions or identity could not be completely changed by Jesus.

  11. James Byron May 3, 2016 at 9:39 pm #

    Another guest-spot in a post. 🙂

    While I disagree that the formulation “hate the sin, love the sinner” isn’t inherently wrong, given that it’s near-exclusively associated with condemning homosexual acts, I totally get why so many people loathe it.

    If it’s to continue in use, it’s gotta be used more often in other contexts, such as your example of the conspiracy to cover up the 1989 unlawful killing at Hillsborough football stadium. We should hate acts like that, and we should say so, while calling on their perpetrators to repent and atone, with forgiveness not expected as a reward, but hoped for as a sign that they’ve successfully reformed.

    • James Byron May 3, 2016 at 9:41 pm #

      Addendum: should read “agree” that the formulation it isn’t inherently wrong.

    • Ian Paul May 4, 2016 at 11:16 am #

      well, it is because you put things so clearly James! You were not alone in saying this, but you said it straight out.

      • James Byron May 4, 2016 at 6:03 pm #

        Thanks, though more clearly when I’m not typing it on a phone screen! 😀

  12. Jane Newsham May 3, 2016 at 10:28 pm #

    In the US, there’s a trend to rethink this passage along the lines of ‘love the sinner, hate your own sin’. I favour John Pavlovitz’s take on this in his blogpost “6 reasons stone-throwing Christians may need to retire go and sin no more”, and especially where he says “The stone throwers get no say. They do not get to step in between another human being and Jesus. They are allowed no delivering of condemnation, no administering of justice, no bringing of another to repentance. They are dismissed by Jesus. He alone gets to tell the woman to ‘go and leave’. He alone gets to do that today, too. God speaks individually to people’s hearts. His Spirit convicts. What words He chooses to speak is not our business. Using this story as a guide, we only get to receive and to obey the direct command, to drop our stones and leave.”
    A further point I’d make is that where we have people who enter ministry because (consciously or unconsciously) they are drawn to a role where they can assume control over others’ lives and behaviours, I often feel that ‘love the sinner and hate the sin’ gives them something of a free pass. We need to be equipping people to identify and challenge controlling behaviour in ministry, not endorsing the controlling behaviour itself.

    • Ian Paul May 4, 2016 at 9:57 am #

      But John’s comments on this saying aren’t even worth engaging with, since he does what most of the commentators on Via Media did, which is to say ‘It isn’t a sin’

      And I am quite interested that, where Simon says the saying is too harsh, you appear to be suggesting it isn’t harsh enough—we should continue to be suspicious of people even if we think we should love them!

      • Jane Newsham May 5, 2016 at 5:40 pm #

        Thank you, Ian. If the overarching message of the story of Jesus and the Shamed Woman is ‘Drop your stone. Walk away. You’ve no business here’, then whether we believe same-sex relationships to be sinful or not-sinful is really irrelevant – we are called to drop our stones and walk away (and let God convict of sin as and when he sees fit).
        Meanwhile, as you know, our bishops call us to welcome same-sex married couples into our congregations (they may indeed have plenty of sins but being in a same-sex marriage isn’t one of them). If any of us are still ‘hating the sin’ enough to tell gay people to ‘go and sin no more’ we rather undermine that welcome – and shouldn’t be surprised that gay people stick with Buddhism.
        We all know people in Christian ministry who have abused their position of trust and power – I’m not saying anything new or contentious here.

    • David Shepherd May 5, 2016 at 9:56 am #


      The statement ‘he alone gets to tell the woman to ‘go and leave’ is a non-sequitur.

      Apart from misquoting Christ, the Pavlovitz approach is an extraordinary example of liberal literalism.

      Why not apply that to other parts of Jesus’ ministry: ‘He alone gets to tell people about his forgiveness’?

      The reality is that the stones, if thrown, would cause a literal cessation of the adulteress’s opportunity for the moral change which ‘go and sin no more’ connotes. The execution would summarily reject her capacity for change.

      Ironically, abdicating the Christian duty to deliver reproof to others as much as oneself, also rejects the capacity for moral change.

      The only difference between you and those who wrote off any possibility for the adulteress to change is that, for just some types of behaviour, you don’t even see an eternal penalty for not changing.

      In contrast, St. Paul’s apostolic motivation is clear: ‘knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men’ (2 Cor. 5:11)

      • Jane Newsham May 5, 2016 at 5:49 pm #

        Thank you, David, I appreciate your comment but our Christian duty is to let God judge, the Holy Spirit convict and our job is to love unconditionally.
        I am sure that you will continue to attempt to persuade men. Many of us women have moved on to a more inclusive position (and inclusive language).

        • David Shepherd May 5, 2016 at 6:44 pm #


          Really? Okay, so,please provide some real-world answers.

          How does unconditional love work in, say, a safeguarding situation. Would you have left God to judge and the Holy Spirit to convict the likes of paedophile priest, Roy Cotton?

          How does unconditional love work in a situation where the incumbent of a parish expressed strongly worded homophobic distaste for a same-sex couple whom you invited to church? Would you report such ‘hate speech’ to anyone? Or would that be equivalent to casting a stone, while not being without sin?

          BTW, the quoted biblical reference to ‘men’ is merely a translation of ‘anthropous’, which is a generic term for mankind. Oops, there I go again using non-inclusive language. Sorry, man-, woman- and transkind. Better?


      • David Beadle May 8, 2016 at 3:09 pm #

        David, I think your interpretation of the passage concerning the women caught in adultery ought to be read a little more widely than Jesus speaking against the literal cessation of the woman’s opportunity to repent. The others have not condemned her, hence Jesus saying “Neither do I condemn you.”

        As regards your point about safeguarding, I’d respond that safeguarding and condemnation simply aren’t the same thing. Guidelines and discipline for preventing harm to others in a church community, and allowing it function, are not the same as telling someone about their hateful condemnation-worthy sins.

        • David Shepherd May 9, 2016 at 4:39 am #


          What I’ve taken issue with is the notion that even the slightest expression of moral displeasure is tantamount to condemnation.

          My response to Jane was aimed at distinguishing such displeasure and even censure from condemnation.,

          Jude highlights this distinction when he exhorts: ‘Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear – hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.’ (Jude 22 – 24) The intent is not to pass sentence, but to offer the chance for change.

          I’m all for ‘guidelines and discipline for preventing harm to others in a church community, and allowing it function.’ However, there is no reason why the church should limit its prevention of harm to thwarting criminal abuse alone.

          And yes, sometimes, discipline does involve telling a cherished friend about their hateful condemnation-worthy sins, just like St.Paul told St.Peter (Gal. 2:11) and Nathan told King David (2 Sam. 12:7)

  13. Jonathan Tallon May 4, 2016 at 10:16 am #

    The trouble with the phrase ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ is not with the content. It is that the phrase has become indelibly entwined with the sexuality debate. I was at an event (non-Christian) where a few people gave an account of their lives (the speakers were all LGTBI). One person had been part of an evangelical tradition, and mentioned that they had been told ‘Love the sinner, hate the sin’. A loud, collective groan came from the audience. It was associated with evangelical churches telling LGBTI people that they ‘loved’ them, but that they were wrong, and as part of a narrative where it hadn’t felt like loving the person at all, but hating both the person and the ‘sin’. It was a phrase that roused anger.

    So if you use this phrase, be aware that a significant number of people will immediately associate it with what they consider hurtful, harmful, unloving attitudes and actions by the church.

    • Ian Paul May 4, 2016 at 11:21 am #

      But indelibly entwined in whose mind? I think Prudence Dailey hits the nail on the head when she comments on Simon’s Facebook page:

      When I use that saying, it’s mostly nothing to do with LGBT people but instead about paedophiles, for whom the Church too often seems to display zero pastoral concern or compassion. Properly understood, it’s intended to encourage more compassion, not less.

      In the evangelical circles I have moved in, there has been no particular association of the phrase with sexuality. But on sexuality alone has the saying been contested, and that is why it has attracted attention.

      • Jonathan Tallon May 4, 2016 at 11:55 am #

        The trouble is that the phrase isn’t ‘properly understood’. It is seen by some as a signal that the person using the phrase is anti-LGBTI.

        I don’t personally think that the phrase is wrong, just that because of this association (fair or not) it has become deeply unhelpful.

        You can either spend a lot of time carefully explaining the exact implications of what you mean by the phrase when you use it to try to avoid this problem, or try to find another way of expressing what you want to say in the first place.

      • Clive May 4, 2016 at 7:14 pm #

        Both James and Jonathan have chosen to link the phrase with sexuality explicitly, but it is not. We have to be willing to change and there can be NO area of our lives that is out-of-bounds.

        As you said: “In the evangelical circles I have moved in, there has been no particular association of the phrase with sexuality. But on sexuality alone has the saying been contested, and that is why it has attracted attention.”

        EVERYONE who comes to Christ is fully a sinner. Christ comes to us where we are but the invitation to us is one in which we MUST give up our whole identity and let Jesus Christ CHANGE our lives. We cannot stay as we are. The requirement to open up and be willing to have everything change means everything … sexuality is the tiniest part of our lives, but there are NO areas out-of-bounds, so any attempt to make part of our life out-of-bounds cannot actually be ignored.

        • Chris Bishop May 4, 2016 at 7:33 pm #

          In the church circles I have moved in, the phrase has been more associated with alcoholism.

  14. Jonathan Tallon May 4, 2016 at 10:35 am #

    “I wish he would face up to the fact that his conviction—that same-sex sexual unions are not sinful—is not compatible with Scripture, and in doing so join the vast majority of scholars on both sides of the debate, and so state clearly that on this point he believes Scripture is wrong and should be set aside.”

    I don’t know how you measure ‘the vast majority of scholars’ but I’ve read a lot in this area and I find quite a lot of scholars who think that you are wrong on this issue. I’m also getting a bit fed up of you labelling those who disagree with you about the Bible and sexuality as being dishonest.

    • Ian Paul May 4, 2016 at 11:27 am #

      Well, the numbers game is quite hard to play, isn’t it? 20 people repeating Matthew Vines’ terrible misreading of Scripture (more than once on every page) doesn’t contribute much to the count.

      The thing that is most striking is that people of all views support the idea that the Bible consistently rejects same-sex sexual activity—people who agree with this position and people who do not agree with this position.

      Yet there is not a single scholar who is conservative on the issue who agrees with ‘revisionist’ readings. That asymmetry is very telling.

      I am not calling anyone ‘dishonest’ for not agreeing with me. I am highlighting the dynamic of the debate. Simon said in his piece that the phrase is mistaken—in the most general terms. But just about every one of the commentators who then supported him actually said ‘yes you are right—because same sex relations are not sinful.’ In other words, every one of them read Simon as saying something the article was (apparently) not claiming. There is something odd going on here.

      On the wider point above, Simon is claiming that the ‘binary of sin and goodness’ is not part of the core narrative of Scripture. Do you think that is an honest, responsible reading? I would love to find a narrative reading that is true to the text of Scripture and supports this idea. I’ve never seen one.

      Simon went on in discussion to suggest that Paul’s language of ‘consider yourself dead to sin’ could be understood as ’embrace and befriend your shadow side.’ That is an extraordinary way to construe Romans 6! If it is not dishonest, at some level, then I think something else very odd is going on…

      • Jonathan Tallon May 4, 2016 at 12:02 pm #

        Alexander, Banister, Brownson, Haller, Martin, Miller, Song, Townsley. A little more substantial than Vine.
        “Yet there is not a single scholar who is conservative on the issue who agrees with ‘revisionist’ readings.”
        This is almost a tautology in Evangelical circles. If you did agree with ‘revisionist’ (I would prefer ‘inclusivist’) readings, you wouldn’t be considered conservative.

        Your comments about Simon’s dishonesty related directly to his beliefs that same-sex sexual unions were not sinful and were compatible with the Bible. I haven’t read his article; if your criticisms actually relate to other issues of interpretation, then this wasn’t clear in your post.

        • James Byron May 4, 2016 at 10:39 pm #

          Jonathan, sure, various saving throws can be conjured, but given the text’s surrounding culture (not to mention its plain reading), they’re facing an uphill struggle. At worst, they’re eisegesis.

          The underlying issue is: why try to “save” the text? Doing so implicitly accepts biblical authority, the root cause of all this. Why expend so much energy on trying to make it say what you want it to say, when it’s so much simpler to say, plainly, that the Bible is wrong?

          The values of antiquity are alien to us. Slavery was normal; gender inequality taken as given; universal suffrage absurd. There’s no reason to assume that the biblical authors were right on sexuality when they were wrong on so much else.

          • Andrew Godsall May 5, 2016 at 7:17 am #

            James: whilst it’s simpler to say that the bible is wrong, that’s too general as well. The bible is such a variety of writings and I don’t know how it’s possible, for example, to describe poetry as ‘wrong’. Or how do you say that a letter about a particular thing 2000 years ago was wrong? It might have been right at that time. Paul was obviously wrong about some things, simply because he was human, and Ian, even in this thread, demonstrates that it’s possible to set some of the things Paul says aside. That at least gives me hope that there is some point in continuing the conversation. I’ve been asking David Shepherd on another thread how he distinguishes between an occurrence in scripture and a precedent set by scripture and he doesn’t seem able to provide a clear answer. But to simply respond that the bible is therefore wrong doesn’t quite capture it. It makes the same category mistake as saying the bible is inerrant. Literature isn’t something we can describe as right or wrong. It’s a written tradition, and all traditions evolve and develop depending upon the time and circumstances in which they are set. I think I’d simply prefer to recognise the limitations of the medium and recognise how that shapes the message it seeks to convey.

          • Ian Paul May 5, 2016 at 9:11 am #

            ‘Ian, even in this thread, demonstrates that it’s possible to set some of the things Paul says aside. ‘ I demonstrate no such thing, and if you persist in twisting comments I make in this way, then I will stop associating with you by blocking your comments…again.

            Please start behaving reasonably.

          • David Shepherd May 5, 2016 at 8:59 am #


            The word, ordain, meaning “to decree, enact” is from c.1300; sense of “to set (something) that will continue in a certain order” is from early 14c. It’s in that latter sense that I have used it.

            So, in relation to the Lord’s Supper, you are questioning whether Christ setting it ‘to continue in a certain order’ (as is meant by ordained) occurs in scripture. The account of Jesus’ specific Passover preparations show that the form and matter of the sacrament were quite specifically set in order by Christ.

            St. Paul also makes it clear that ‘do this in remembrance of me’ extended beyond just the apostles. He tells the Corinth church: ‘For I received from the Lord what I also passed on [paradoke] to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread,…’ (1 Cor. 11:23) St. Paul reminds us the significance of these elements to our own spiritual encounter with Jesus. It is a ‘communion with the body [and blood] of Christ.

            St. Paul passing on what he received regarding the Lord’s Supper required Christ to have ‘set it to continue in a certain order’. Therefore, Christ ordained it.

            The scope of these traditions went beyond the Lord’s Supper. As St. Paul explains: ‘I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions [paredoseis] just as I passed them on [paredoka] to you.’ (1 Cor. 11:2) Clearly, the Lord’s Supper, i.e. ‘the breaking of bread’, was a part of that apostolic tradition. It was a recorded precedent passed on from Christ by the apostles and laid down by Christ.

            The written apostolic reference to something being instituted for the Church by Christ distinguishes what I called biblical precedent (such as the Lord’s Supper) from biblical occurrence (such a washing eyes in the Pool of Siloam)

            As Phill has explained, St. Paul’s discipline of exclusion echoes Christ’s own sayings in the matter. Christ had established a precedent, which was captured in apostolic writings.

            By comparison, it’s unsound to bypass this precedent in order to highlight one passage in Revelation as the basis for tenuous inference that sound teaching without the ultimate and reluctantly applied sanction of exclusion.

            Of course, Ian’s inference about non-exclusion may well resonate with you and others at Synod signalling fresh overtures towards the liberal wing of the Church about how ‘good disagreement’ might work, having discovered this supposed theological basis for the next Elizabethan Settlement, which pre-empts the threat of either side’s Exodus over issues like church blessing of same-sex sexual relationships.

            Regardless of how the epithet of ‘peacemaker’ (apparently, at any price) will wend its way into descriptions of those who propose this new ‘way forward’. It’s all just so utterly and sickeningly predictable.

            St. Paul is clear about the importance of maintaining the traditions as they were passed on: ‘In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the traditions you received from us.’(2 Thess. 3:6) That’s in stark contrast to merely committing to sound teaching, while avoiding exclusion.

            The biblical writings capture how the apostles passed on what they received from Christ.

            In 2 Corintians, regarding divorce and re-marriage, St. Paul also distinguishes what he passes on from Christ. Paul is careful that his application to deserted Gentiles doesn’t contradict this.

            The apostles clearly implemented Christ’s Commission to pass on His teachings without trying to dilute them: ‘teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.’(Matt. 28:20)

            Instead of speculative revisionism, we would all do well to follow their example.

          • Jonathan Tallon May 5, 2016 at 9:15 am #

            “…but given the text’s surrounding culture (not to mention its plain reading), they’re facing an uphill struggle”.

            James, it is precisely because of the surrounding culture that I disagree with you. If you were talking about same-sex activity in the ancient world, you were talking about adult (usually married) males and boys (often slaves or prostitutes) or you were talking about sex performed as part of pagan fertility cults. The Bible condemns these. The Bible does not talk about faithful, lifelong, monogamous same-sex partnerships.

            The Church has faced this over numerous issues – our context is not the same as then; what is of enduring value, and what was unique to that or our context? We have done this with circumcision, with usury, with slavery, with women in leadership. I see no reason at all why we can’t do this with same-sex partnerships, and I find bizarre the notion that this is somehow in a unique category utterly unlike any of these other cases.

          • Andrew Godsall May 5, 2016 at 9:33 am #

            David you write: “So, in relation to the Lord’s Supper, you are questioning whether Christ setting it ‘to continue in a certain order’”
            No, I’m not questioning this. I’m asking a really simple question David, and I’m really unclear why you can’t answer it. Here it is again:

            How do you, David Shepherd, decide what is an occurrence is Scripture and what is a precedent?

        • Andrew Godsall May 5, 2016 at 9:36 am #

          Ian: You write “I demonstrate no such thing”.

          In that case, please tell me how I Corinthians 5:9 is to be applied in the case I have put to you above? Again, it’s a very simple question.

          • Ian Paul May 5, 2016 at 10:24 am #

            It’s a simple question, and I have given an answer. But because my answer is not simplistic, you have discounted it.

            Strike Two.

          • Mat Sheffield May 5, 2016 at 11:17 am #

            I am no exegete, but In 1Cor 5:12 (3 verses later) Paul makes the point that the church is responsible for exercising discipline within itself (as opposed to over those outside itself), the strong implication of which, based on what Paul says elsewhere at length in his letters, is that this takes place within the context of an appointed and recognized church structure of authority, humility and submission. This is one of the main issues for which the whole of 1Cor was written..

            In the context of this debate, Ian (I am not trying to speak for him) has said clearly that any decision to potentially discipline, reject, or otherwise challenge/admonish/rebuke (if that is even appropriate?) is ultimately for person X’s bishop, not for him. In the meantime Ian is not seeking out, agreeing with, or supporting (even implicitly) the actions/beliefs of person X, but neither is he publicly (and this blog is ‘public’) condemning them either, out of a humble recognition that it is not his decision to make.

            I am not saying that 1Cor 5:9 is not applicable to the individual believer, it is, but would argue that Ian is exercising his obligation in the correct way (through opposition at synod, in debate, and probably through meetings with his own bishop, though I do not know), not by undermining the authority of another.

            Purity and Unity are equally weighted and inseparable, you cannot willfully sacrifice one at the expense of the other.

            I think that therein lies the substance of why you find Ian’s answer unsatisfactory. If Ian were in a position of authority over person X, and then, having done nothing, you would be right to call him into question. But, as this is not the case he has shown that he is willing to call to account things he believes are false, through the proper channels, publicly in some cases. For you, cutting off contact fully might be the only way, but I do not feel that it always necessary.

            In short I think that you are accusing him not just of inconsistency (which is unfair), but of cowardice (which is untrue) and failing to recognize not only Ian’s pastoral responsibility to his brother, but his ministerial submission to his senior.

        • David Shepherd May 5, 2016 at 11:32 am #


          I’ve distinguished what I have understood to be precedent from Christ’s teaching, consonance with which is explicitly stated and passed on by the apostles. Perhaps, in keeping with Jesus’ instruction (to the blind man), you’ve decided that washing in the Pool of Siloam was a biblical precedent. I, David Shepherd, understand that to be a biblical occurrence.

          Yes, we can all do zetesis, which is why I reflected it back with just as many questions in my last exchange with you.

          Although you’ve engaged with James thoughtfully, I have no interest in running after your mere zetetic thought ‘lobs’ to me (which St. Paul advises we shun).

          I’d suggest you find another theological tennis player. Your interrogative monotone shows contempt for my detailed response and intelligence and has lost my interest.

          There are more thoughtful liberals, like James, with whom it’s worth engaging.

          You couldn’t even muster a consistent response to my questions about the Lord’s Supper during our last encounter.

          But, be my guest. Who knows here, but Ian, whether your Strike 3 (‘I want yet another simplistic answer’) hat-trick beckons?

          • Andrew Godsall May 5, 2016 at 11:59 am #

            David: (and Ian) I’m not interested in simplistic answers. I was trained as a journalist and that means simple, direct questions that ask for both a simple (not simplistic), direct answer, and, if appropriate, a more nuanced one to follow.

            You both provide the nuanced ones, but do not provide the simple direct ones, and that suggests (note that I say suggests) that there isn’t an easy one (which again is different to simplistic), which is exactly what I would maintain. The simple, direct answer is that these questions are not easy and cheap – and you both seem reluctant to say that. They are also not straightforward.

            And there is the answer that any question about scripture needs to find. There are never straightforward answers to questions about scripture for the reasons I respond to James above. (James is, indeed as you suggest, someone it is possible to debate with).
            The problem is that if there are only nuanced answers, that nuanced answers come in different slants. Who gets to decide which nuance/slant is the right one? Answer: well we have to live with difference. There is no choice about it, even with the question of human sexuality. That is why GAFOCN will ultimately have to walk apart. They can only give simplistic answers, and see I Corinthians 5:9 as simple and so can’t be in the meetings/communion services with TEC. What I said to James I repeat here: I am heartened that Ian does not see it as simplistic, and therefore CAN be in a meeting with X.

            If you want to strike me out for that, then go ahead.

          • Andrew Godsall May 5, 2016 at 12:14 pm #

            “You couldn’t even muster a consistent response to my questions about the Lord’s Supper during our last encounter.”

            With respect David, my consistent response is that the question is entirely tied up with the way the early church did things and reflected on how they did things and then wrote about how they did things. Therefore, I do not believe that you can separate how humans (yes, plural) respond to a divine initiative in this case. I don’t see anything inconsistent in that. All I saw was you disagreeing with it and telling me what the Articles say. I don’t think that the Articles, written for a specific political purpose 1600 years after the events, are infallible so I’m not sure where that gets us, other than disagreeing. But I don’t think that disagreement is such an impossible thing to cope with.

          • Mat Sheffield May 5, 2016 at 12:32 pm #

            Andrew – “The problem is that if there are only nuanced answers, that nuanced answers come in different slants. Who gets to decide which nuance/slant is the right one? Answer: well we have to live with difference. There is no choice about it, even with the question of human sexuality. That is why GAFOCN will ultimately have to walk apart.”

            I appreciate that you are trying to aim for journalistic objectivity, but that is not what it sounds like. Forgive me, but this is what you sound like:

            “As a trained journalist, I came to these questions with a predetermined expectation of what answers I was going to get. The answers I received do not satisfy me as they are neither short enough, nor long enough for my liking, therefore I will be deliberately provocative. I’m sure this will help the people be more open and revealing about their reasoning. In either case it matters very little to me what people think, as I’m certain of the outcome of this process.”

            I expect this is not how you intend to come across, but that is how you sound to me.

            Perhaps if you’d made these points from the start (i.e if this comment had been your first), and then asked for comment on them, you’d have probably got more out of David and Ian, and more easily at that. You’re not being criticized for asking questions, or for asking people to justify their positions, you’re being criticized for being rude.

          • David Shepherd May 5, 2016 at 7:10 pm #

            ‘Perhaps if you’d made these points from the start (i.e if this comment had been your first), and then asked for comment on them, you’d have probably got more out of David and Ian, and more easily at that.’

            True enough. How many journalists provide ample opportunity for those interviewed to nuance the more immediate simple and direct answer? Especially, when the hacks benefit from ensuring that any further nuance is spun far and wide as an ignominious climb-down, or a U-turn!

  15. Peter Ould May 4, 2016 at 4:59 pm #

    Just got round to reading this Ian. Excellent stuff (as always).

  16. David Runcorn May 5, 2016 at 8:19 am #

    The difficulty for me of trying to separate sin and sinner in this way is that the sin that we call ‘Original’ in the Bible is not actually an action – the theft of fruit. When we define sin as wrong action our diagnosis does not go deep enough. The sin that is ‘Original’ is the attempt to be someone we are not – ‘if we eat we will be like God’, say Adam and Eve. In fact they are already like God. But to try to ‘claim’ and ‘possess’ what can only be gift is catastrophic. Sin is wrong being before it is wrong doing. Who we are preceeds what we do. Life therefore unfolds as a tragic and/or wilful case of false identity – of non-being.

    • Ian Paul May 5, 2016 at 10:28 am #

      Thanks David. I would agree with much of this…but the question then is what we do with Paul’s language of sin, particularly in relation to living the resurrection life.

      A serious challenge to this realistic reflection is that the early followers of Jesus are addressed never as ‘sinners’ but always as ‘saints’.

      Paul appears to believe that, despite sin experienced as wrong being, the cross and resurrection somehow bring real healing and restoration to that being.

      He therefore says we should eschew sinful action, since this is not true to who we are in Christ. That gives a strong theological foundation to ‘Hate the sin(ful action), love the (redeemable) sinner’ does it not?

      • David Beadle May 8, 2016 at 3:15 pm #

        Paul gives me a strong theological foundation to work to eschew my own sins, but not to hate anyone elses.

  17. Nigel Orchard May 5, 2016 at 9:13 am #

    my problem is that many good things can come from acts that were sinful … the Church of England for example, formed by a King who wanted to buck the Catholic rules … total rejection would deny us the fruits that emerge from a broken world as a result of God’s love. The term has largely come from our response to gay … and our problem is we have allowed 30 years of misguided propoganda about sexuality not being choice etc,etc … young people now almost believe they “ARE what they DO” which perhaps makes the term offensive. That will take a long time to repair, but not impossible. We have identified gay Christians who confess thair sexuality is a result of their choices in life and are prepared to work with God to reverse that … this should be encouraged (but not coerced) by the Church particularly the gay community … at the moment it is the subject of ridicule with other gays… we must fight this for two reasons
    1) it is a sin to encourage others to hide part of their life from God, which is essentially what many are doing if they claim there has been no choice in gay sexuality
    2) the non Christian gay community openly accept gay often is choice, so it is not a “good example” for gay Christians to claim that it is not

    • William Fisher May 5, 2016 at 10:15 am #

      One’s sexual BEHAVIOUR is a choice; we all know that. One’s sexual ORIENTATION – i.e. whether one is sexually attracted to people of the other sex, of the same sex or of both sexes – is not, so it is not a “good example” for Christians to claim that it is.

      • Ian Paul May 5, 2016 at 10:31 am #

        But William, a good deal of the narrative within the Church says that orientation is not a choice, but action is not a choice either, since to be gay but not be in (or allowed to be in) an active same-sex sexual relationship is unreasonable and unattainable. This is whole point behind Simon’s argument: his actions cannot be separated from his identity as a gay man.

        It is also worth noting that much of the secular gay lobby left the ‘identity’ argument behind some time ago. For them, the issue is mostly about freedom to choose.

        • William Fisher May 5, 2016 at 12:23 pm #

          “…a good deal of the narrative within the Church says that orientation is not a choice…”

          Quite right, too. It isn’t.

          “…but action is not a choice either…”

          I don’t know who is saying that, but if anyone is, then they’re talking nonsense. We all know perfectly well that it is.

          It is as reasonable and attainable to be gay but not to be in an active same-sex sexual relationship as it is to be straight but not to be in an active other-sex sexual relationship. Again, I don’t know who is alleged to be saying otherwise. Whether a commitment by a person who is gay never to be in such a relationship, come what may, is not only a valid choice but also a legitimate and proper demand to be made of them is a separate question. I would say that it is not.

          I’m not sure what “the ‘identity’ argument” is supposed to be. The very word “identity” seems to be thrown around a great deal when this subject is under discussion, but with extreme vagueness about its meaning. You say that for “much of the secular gay lobby…the issue is mostly about freedom to choose.” Freedom to choose what exactly? If it is about freedom to choose one’s sexual orientation, as opposed to one’s sexual behaviour, then then it is largely an illusory freedom.

  18. Nigel Orchard May 5, 2016 at 10:31 am #

    aha William, you can only speak for yourself – 17% of gay Christians believe their ORIENTATION may be a result of their past life choices – it is wrong to discourage these Noble Confessors from “coming out”

    • William Fisher May 5, 2016 at 12:34 pm #

      I’d be most interested to know where you got your 17% figure from. I see no more reason to believe that a homosexual orientation is the result of past life choices than to believe that a heterosexual orientation is. However, I would support the freedom of Noble Confessors to express their belief that it is, just as I would support the freedom of Noble Confessors to “come out” and express their belief that their sexual orientation may be the result of their life choices in a previous incarnation.

      • Nigel Orchard May 5, 2016 at 2:02 pm #

        ah the problem is these poor people get lynched by the rest of the Christian gay community, so wouldn’t dare own up … its a small survey I did with a few others from Alan Wilson’s threads … we must be careful not to exclude these people … if you claim you are including them, then compare that with how a conservative evangilical Church claims it includes gays … You have already made a disparaging comment about a “previous life” which proves my point …

        • William Fisher May 5, 2016 at 3:25 pm #

          A small survey? That sounds interesting. So what was the number of people surveyed, and how exactly did you go about obtaining the information from them? And how many people do you know who have been lynched by the rest of the Christian gay community? A few concrete examples would be interesting.

          • Nigel Orchard May 5, 2016 at 4:01 pm #

            a simple survey 1) do you believe in God(s) 2) are you gay ? 3) is gay choice ? 4) is gay sin? Answers to each Yes, Maybe, No, just under 50 responses, 6 gay, one of which said Maybe to choice … that is 17% although very rough

        • William Fisher May 5, 2016 at 5:54 pm #

          I see. So out of just six people who identified as gay, one thought that “maybe” gay is a choice. The question “Is gay choice?” is unsatisfactory to start with. Some people will interpret it as meaning “Is being sexually attracted to people of the same sex a choice?” (it isn’t), others as meaning “Is homosexual BEHAVIOUR a choice?” (like heterosexual behaviour, it is).

          That consideration apart, do you seriously suppose, Mr Orchard, that a survey containing just SIX gay people is of sufficient statistical power to indicate reliably the beliefs of any percentage of gay people in general, or of gay Christians in general? For any purpose like that, the evidential value of information obtained from such a small sample is, as near as makes no matter, zero.

          If that point is not sufficiently clear to you, consider this. You say that you got “just under 50 responses”. 6 out of 50 is exactly 12%. So are we to conclude from your survey that at least 12% of the population are gay?

          • Nigel Orchard May 5, 2016 at 6:02 pm #

            it would be so much easier to just dismiss them wouldn’t it? I expect that’s what the Church thought about all gays 50 years ago … but I think we’ve moved on since then. Your comments however prove my point, and you have already answered my question about “lynching”. Sorry if you don’t like the results of the survey, I too wish it were more accurate. However I don’t think we should exclude these people from the ongoing debate of gay leadership in Church, just because the figures might be a bit out …

          • William Fisher May 9, 2016 at 10:30 am #

            “I want to see a Church where gay people are encouraged to explore with God how they arrived at their sexuality.”

            Presumably you want to see a Church where straight people are likewise encouraged to explore with God how they arrived at their sexuality, do you?

            “A challenge, when the easiest thing to do is claim the complete defence of no choice.”

            I see no reason why defence should enter into it at all, since none is needed.

        • William Fisher May 5, 2016 at 9:08 pm #

          What I dismiss, Mr Orchard, is the inference, made on the basis of a single person’s reply of “maybe” to an ambiguous question – the reply of one person out of a mere six – that “17% of gay Christians believe their ORIENTATION may be a result of their past life choices”. (I would add that I find “them” and “these people” a decidedly odd way of referring to that one person.) The trouble with your survey isn’t just that the results are less than accurate and that the figures “might be a bit out”, but that they are, as an evidential basis for your inference, quite worthless.

          Whether I or anyone else “likes” the results of your survey, and whom you imagine that I would like to exclude, are nothing at all to the point.

        • David Beadle May 8, 2016 at 3:19 pm #

          Nigel, these are really silly arguments. Some people who are gay experience it as a choice; some don’t. I don’t know if there are any actual figures from surveys conducted according to recognised methodologies, but it’s pretty clear there are people who fall into both camps. Now, I don’t believe my sexuality is a “choice.” That doesn’t mean I don’t think there are people who do experience their sexuality in that way.

          • Nigel Orchard May 9, 2016 at 9:17 am #

            Hi David
            Thank you for this, and also for confirming that you believe gay sexuality has been a choice for some. I have been struggling to get your community to accept this, particularly gay Christians. I also think that the argument I am using is not a strong one, but it does anyway exist. I want to see a Church where gay people are encouraged to explore with God how they arrived at their sexuality. A challenge, when the easiest thing to do is claim the complete defence of no choice. But this must come from each individual, not from judgemental pressure from others. It will take humility and courage, but it will I believe, help to repair our broken Church.

          • David Beadle May 10, 2016 at 9:25 pm #

            Thank you for your response, Nigel. I think I understand better what you’re saying now.

  19. Ian Paul May 5, 2016 at 10:40 am #

    Jonathan, you comment ‘If you were talking about same-sex activity in the ancient world, you were talking about adult (usually married) males and boys (often slaves or prostitutes) or you were talking about sex performed as part of pagan fertility cults. The Bible condemns these. The Bible does not talk about faithful, lifelong, monogamous same-sex partnerships.’

    I am curious that this appears to be the mainstay of your argument (please correct me if I am wrong), not least because this issue has been engaged with quite extensively in the literature, and I also mention it in my Grove booklet.

    The first thing to note is that, whilst much same-sex activity was in the context of asymmetric and power relationships, not all was, and there is plenty of evidence of awareness of exclusive same-sex attraction in the ancient world. (It would be odd if there was not).

    Second, reaction to this in other texts and traditions is often dependent on those questions of form and contexts of the relationships, both positively and negatively.

    Third, what is really striking about all the clear biblical texts is that they pay no attention whatever to questions of form and context. (Dale Allison’s arguments about 1 Cor 6 are fanciful). In other words, it is not the impact or quality of relationships that is at stake. The most important texts (in Lev and Romans) are pretty clearly rooted in the creation mandate of ‘male and female’ and of course it is this phrase to which Jesus refers in his teaching on sex and marriage.

    So, for the biblical texts, what is at stake is *not* the question of faithfulness and exclusivity or otherwise; it is the basic observation that SSM goes against the ‘male-female’ creation pattern. This approach is not nullified by our ‘different context’. In Gen 2, it is the form, not simply the qualities, of the relationship which give the basis for sexual union.

    You ask ‘What is of enduring value?’ Scripture appears to say ‘The binary of male-female reunited in sexual union’. That is the reason why contextual reading on this issue does not produce the same result as on the other issues you mention.

    If you haven’t heard this argument before, I would be surprised. But it offers a major problem for your approach.

  20. Jonathan Tallon May 5, 2016 at 12:49 pm #

    Ian, thank you for engaging.

    “The first thing to note is that, whilst much same-sex activity was in the context of asymmetric and power relationships, not all was, and there is plenty of evidence of awareness of exclusive same-sex attraction in the ancient world. (It would be odd if there was not).”

    I am sure not all activity was within that context. But an abusive or idolatrous context was the overwhelming default understanding within any public discourse. It is significant (and skated over poorly by Wright in his article) that parallel early Christian texts such as the Didache refer to ‘child corruption’ (‘ou paidophthoreseis’ Did. 2:2) within lists of sins to avoid alongside porneia and adultery.

    I can not track down the particular argument you mean on 1 Corinthians 6 by Dale Allison. Do you mean Dale Martin? If so, I disagree with your judgment.

    Romans does reference creation, but it also references idolatry (with which same-sex activity was intimately associated within the Jewish tradition).

    Leviticus – if you rely on Leviticus, you’ve already lost the argument. The Church abandoned the Law as necessary with Paul. We happily ignore the rest of Leviticus. Why these two verses? (As a sidenote, again the context is one in which same-sex activity is intimately associated with idolatry).

    This leaves Genesis, a narrative of creation, which you read through the enlightenment understanding of two sexes who are binary opposites, and use this to justify your position. But there is good evidence (see the work of Adrian Thatcher) that that is not at all how the ancient world viewed humanity.

    I have seen Genesis used in all sorts of ways – narratives have that potential. It has been used in the past to suggest that celibacy is wrong. It has also been read as allowing (and in some cases – Levirate marriage – commanding) polygamous marriages. You read it as not only endorsing male-female relationships, but also as suggesting that any other type of relationship is wrong. But Genesis does not say that.

    I have no problem with you saying that the Bible says that male-female united in sexual union is of enduring value (though some might point out that the New Testament doesn’t seem to value it as highly). But that doesn’t automatically mean that other patterns are wrong (such as celibacy…).

    If you want a longer view on Genesis, then I recommend Tobias Haller’s book Reasonable and Holy.

    One note on Jesus’ teaching on marriage – I still find it odd that passages which are explicitly about divorce are then shoe-horned into suggesting that therefore Jesus was saying something about something else entirely. Clearly Jesus thought marriage important. That doesn’t tell us what he might think about faithful, same-sex, lifelong marriages.

    This will inevitably come across as defensive – I am reacting to verses where male same-sex activity within their context is condemned. There is also a more positive argument to be made from the Bible, but that will have to wait for another day.

    • David Shepherd May 5, 2016 at 9:33 pm #


      We’ve been here before. So, let me re-iterate:

      Here’s Haller on Genesis (Reasonable and Holy, p. 126):

      ‘First, it is common to hear that Jesus’ teaching on marriage and celibacy brooked no other possibility; that his reference to the creation account in response to the question of divorce offers a clear indication of his thinking on same-sexuality. This is a stretch, especially when advanced apart from, or even in denial of the explicit concern that Jesus is addressing: the permanence of marriage and the sinful status of remarriage after divorce. It is the permanence of marriage that is at issue, and Jesus locates his teaching on this permanence in the context of Genesis.’

      Haller’s thesis implies that we cannot extend Christ’s induction from the ancient Genesis archetype (which He considered to have enduring significance several millennia later) beyond the explicit question that He addressed: the permanence of marriage.

      Well, let’s see if that’s true. How about the binary nature of marriage that St. Paul endorses from the creation story? Well, that also a logical induction from the Genesis archetype.

      So, the only aspect of the Genesis archetype that Haller treats as exempt from such inference is its opposite sex nature as described in Genesis 5:2. Well, that’s no more than a self-serving special pleading. The stretch is the sole exclusion of homosexual behaviour from the purview of the enduring Genesis archetype of marriage.

      If you are going to resort to Haller, you should have a look at several of my debates with him on Thinking Anglicans. He may have the tools of logic, but his ‘Achilles’ heel’ was always his inability to apply sufficient self-critical reflection to his rough-hewn theses.’

      Romans 1:

      ‘In Romans 1, St. Paul explains that his eagerness to preach in Rome again is driven by his recognition that accepting the gospel is the only means of escaping the outworking of divine wrath. The gospel redeems from the active principle of righteous indignation towards all who have rejected what could be inductively understood of God’s eternal power and transcendent greatness through the self-evident purposes of nature.

      St. Paul’s declaration is that, without the gospel, those who abandon what God’s reveals of Himself through the self-evident and beneficent purposes of nature remain consigned to the custody of their errors until judgment falls.

      St. Paul considers the invisible attributes of God (aorata) to be plainly discernible from the ‘creation of the world’. Even when He preached at Athens (Acts 17), St. Paul began his speech by declaring the sovereignty of the ‘unknown God’ in creation.

      So, the apostle’s argument from nature is telic: the overall beneficent order and purpose as established from the creation of the world (which we should accept and give thanks) is fully discernible to man.

      Contrary to your assertion, nature, as explained by Paul, is not what is simply characteristic to specific groups of people, such as natural orientation. The scale of St. Paul’s argument from nature cannot be reduced to that.

      The description at the end of Romans 1 represents the final state of heathen societies as a whole, rather than a description of the overt characteristics of any and every individual within them. Instead of the purpose of our created existence being received with grateful deference to His purposes, even the ostensible purpose of sexual function, as created, is eventually abandoned for the pursuit of self-conceived desires.

      Paul’s description of the final concomitant of reprobation is flagrant disregard for the purpose and order for which the world was created. The gift of sexual differentiation is abandoned in sexual acts. And, unlike food sacrificed to idols, this flagrant rejection of divine purpose and order *is* a salvation issue.

    • Ian Paul May 6, 2016 at 11:17 am #

      Thanks Jonathan. In addition to David’s pertinent points about Haller, I would add a couple more.

      Of course I mean Dale Martin (too many Dales!). But what did you find persuasive about his case? That the list of vices in 1 Cor 6 was primarily economic, when there is no actual suggestion of this in the text itself? Or his inference of this from other examples, few of which actually support this conclusion? Or his argument that compound words do not carry over the meaning of the composite elements—even though his other examples from everyday speech don’t support this? And that most commentators accept David Wright’s persuasive observation about the parallel of this neologism with the LXX of Leviticus 18.22? (If it doesn’t come from there, where does it come from in the biblical writing of Paul?)

      It is really hard to see Martin’s argument as anything more than special pleading to make his case, in defiance of the textual data.

      ‘The Church abandoned the Law as necessary with Paul. We happily ignore the rest of Leviticus. Why these two verses?’ Is this a serious comment? You don’t have to be a radical Lutheran and opponent of the New Perspective to see this is a complete parody of Paul—and Jesus, and the church. How would you sum up the law and commands? How about from Leviticus. What do you demand of Gentile converts in Act 15? How about some commands from the holiness code of Leviticus. How do you know what sin you have left behind when you enter the kingdom? At least in part by going back to Leviticus.

      Why these two verses? Clearly not just these two! How about the prohibitions on incest and on marrying close relatives? And why these verses? Because they are rooted in creation, are picked up (in principle and in specifics) by Jesus and Paul. That is the whole ‘traditionalist’ argument—that this is not about individual verses, but about a consistent trajectory in the whole of Scripture. Paul is not observing that same-sex sex takes place in the context of idolatry: he is claiming that it is the essence of idolatry, precisely because it rejects what ‘God has made plain’ in the creation of the male-female binary.

      The binary in Genesis 2 is not about Western reading—it is about the shape of the narrative. yes, narratives might be polyvalent, but that cannot be made to say anything. The logic of the sexual union as presented in the narrative arises from the movement from unitary ‘adam’ to binary isn/ishshah to unitary man and wife.

      I think your comments are doing a good job of making my case: we need a bit more honesty about what is and what isn’t a plausible reading of the scriptural data!

      • Jonathan Tallon May 6, 2016 at 1:08 pm #

        What I find persuasive about Dale Martin’s case is his argument that we don’t know the particular meaning of arsenokoites, because we have little to compare it to. Let me quote him directly:

        “I should be clear about my claims here. I am not claiming to know what arsenokoités meant, I am claiming that no one knows what it meant. I freely admit that it could have been taken as a reference to homosexual sex. But given the scarcity of evidence and the several contexts just analyzed, in which arsenokoités appears to refer to some particular kind of economic exploitation, no one should be allowed to get away with claiming that “of course” the term refers to “men who have sex with other men.” It is certainly possible, I think probable, that arsenokoités referred to a particular role of exploiting others by means of sex, perhaps but not necessarily by homosexual sex.”

        The parallels to Leviticus are linguistically there, but give little evidence for the precise semantic range as used. Note too that Paul was writing to gentiles. Would he expect them to pick up this reference? (Which, in any case, was again associated with idolatry within the Judaism of the time).

        The reason I am hesitant (but not set against) the Leviticus reference here is that arsenokoites is a term that could also be coined easily within the culture. See the Life of Aesop for parallels involving an insulting slur that Aesop’s master first sleeps with slaves and then dogs.

        Put simply, Martin is arguing that we don’t know the semantic range of the term. I think he’s right. And I’ve not seen any arguments to the contrary (if you know of an article which refutes Martin’s specific points, I’d welcome the reference).

        As for Leviticus – yes, it was a soundbite attack. But on a more serious note, when the Church takes Leviticus 20:18 as seriously as you would want it to take Leviticus 20:13 I shall pay attention.

        I don’t think Jesus picked up on Leviticus at all, and I consider that poor exegesis. I also consider your understanding of Acts 15 as poor exegesis (and you will know of other scholars who also think you are wrong here).

        I am neither a radical Lutheran, nor against the new perspective, but I do think that the church’s relationship with the Law has changed, and that the Law as being commandments for us to follow has ended/been fulfilled with a new charge, simply to love each other.

        • Clive May 6, 2016 at 5:19 pm #


          The hermeneutics of saying that arsenokoités is comparable to the words of Leviticus don’t work at all because Leviticus would have been written in ancient Hebrew whereas arsenokoités is Koine greek, so they are not even the same language.

          You wrote:
          “… But on a more serious note, when the Church takes Leviticus 20:18 as seriously as you would want it to take Leviticus 20:13 I shall pay attention.” …
          Now I have been at several of the Diocesan discussions about SSM and the Church and I have NEVER heard anyone refer to Leviticus at all. I went to one session where the diocesan news (a sort of journal) item referred to people talking about Leviticus and yet I had been there and nobody had mentioned it at all. I pointed this out to them and it seems that they had written the article without having been there themselves.

          This is what people trying to have a discussion and to be faithful to Jesus’s words and to Scripture are up against!

          • Jonathan Tallon May 9, 2016 at 2:14 pm #

            Clive, I was responding to Ian Paul, who mentioned Leviticus and Romans as the most important texts in his reply to me. I did not raise Leviticus first in this discussion.

        • David Shepherd May 6, 2016 at 5:56 pm #


          While we may disagree, you’ve thoughtfully engaged with the issues of Leviticus and arsenokoites.

          What you haven’t addressed is the creation argument, as Ian described it:

          ‘That is the whole ‘traditionalist’ argument—that this is not about individual verses, but about a consistent trajectory in the whole of Scripture. Paul is not observing that same-sex sex takes place in the context of idolatry: he is claiming that it is the essence of idolatry, precisely because it rejects what ‘God has made plain’ in the creation of the male-female binary.’

          You don’t appear to take issue with the Christian belief, derived from the Genesis narrative, that God intended marriage as a binary union.

          You also don’t appear to take issue with Jesus’ sweeping condemnation of divorce for any cause. This derives from the Genesis narrative, which Christ cited to demonstrate God’s will for marriage to be a lifelong union.

          What is the consistent basis upon which you only reject any prohibitive inference about same-sex sexual relationships from creation narrative in Genesis?

  21. David Runcorn May 5, 2016 at 1:43 pm #

    Ian thanks for responding – now a while back as this discussion gallops on in other directions. No I do not agree with your final summary. I think it is much too simple. Human beings are altogether more complex. So I think it is poor foundation for pastoral theology. Part of the genius of evangelical teaching tradition has been its ability to reduce complex ideas to simple memorable formula. Part of the weakness of this tradition is a tendency to continue to use over simple summaries when the response needed is altogether more complex and nuanced if it is adequately speak into the dilemmas of real living.

    • Ian Paul May 5, 2016 at 2:17 pm #

      I don’t mind you disagreeing with me; my main question is what you do with Paul’s teaching?

      ‘He therefore says we should eschew sinful action, since this is not true to who we are in Christ.’ How do you understand this?

  22. Anthony Archer May 5, 2016 at 11:37 pm #

    I am coming to this late, having been preoccupied this week, but I am grateful to both Simon Butler and Ian Paul for their contributions. We have of course moved swiftly from the generalities of ‘hate the sin, love the sinner,’ to the particularities of the application of that mantra to same sex relationships. That is hardly surprising given the way Simon framed his post.

    I think it is an awful phrase, one that I came across as a baby Christian. It is almost as useless as ‘God helps those who help themselves!’ It had some use to me at that point in my very early Christian life, but I realised that is had no direct scriptural basis, although if you try to unpack it there is some scriptural warrant for it, but only if we consider it from the eyes of a loving, forgiving God. ‘I will forgive their sins and remember them no more.’ No-one seems to know where it came from. Some have attributed it to Gandhi! St Augustine is of course more on message (as if viewed from the eyes of God) with ‘cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum’ (‘with love for mankind and hatred of sins’). Of course God hates sins; they separate us from Him. But the phrase as we have it, and as Simon has commented on it, is flawed.

    First it focuses on the ‘sinner’, a label that is in the eyes of the ‘accuser.’ By definition, labelling someone a sinner reveals an ‘us versus them’ mentality. Then there is the word ‘hate’. Well we might hate sin by recognising it for what it is and condemning it as contrary to God’s nature, and we are taught in Ephesians to speak the truth in love. But doing that without being judgemental is impossibly hard, and rarely righteous. It also depends on what you regard as being a sin (which leads us back to Simon’s original post).

    Furthermore, whenever a Christian uses the phrase today (evidenced strongly by this thread) it is never in the context of anything other than gender identity and sexuality. It’s basically homophobic. If those who use it truly loved those “sinners” and hated those “sins” enough to treat people as horribly as they treat the LGBT community for the sins they charge them with, there would be no-one left standing in their presence. Best to avoid it I think!

    • Ian Paul May 6, 2016 at 11:03 am #

      Thanks for contributing, Anthony—but I think almost all your assertions here are without basis.

      As I point out above, it does actually have quite a good scriptural warrant, not only in Paul’s sayings, but in both the teaching and practice of Jesus. That is why Augustine practically coins the phrase—and of course this is what sets it apart from ‘God helps those who help themselves.’

      As a number of others have pointed out, it can be used wrongly, but it rightly used of all of us, and not simply of those with whom we disagree. And most people share my testimony—it has been used of many situations, but has only been contested in the area of sexuality.

      It is shame that you, again and with others, characterise the reasonable argument that same-sex relations are sinful as ‘homophobic.’ This does rather sound like ‘Hate the traditionalist view, rather fail to love the traditionalist.’

      What I find most fascinating is that I have raised here major problems with Simon’s argument, not just from Scripture, but also from anthropology and pastoral practice, and no-one has actually engaged with these or suggested that these major criticisms are unfounded.

  23. Chris Bishop May 6, 2016 at 2:39 pm #

    “Furthermore, whenever a Christian uses the phrase today (evidenced strongly by this thread) it is never in the context of anything other than gender identity and sexuality. It’s basically homophobic.”

    That is generalistic nonsense.

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