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Synod’s Shared Conversations

Through a mixture of rain and shine, cool breezes and muggy stillness, General Synod spent three days engaged in ‘Shared Conversations’ about the Church and sexuality, the final event in a two-year process of conversations involving representatives from dioceses meeting to do the same around the country. Feedback from previous events had been somewhat mixed, and for me (and I think a good number of others) this also proved to be like the proverbial curate’s egg.

There were very good moments, and some genuinely helpful results of the process of listening to different views. The final plenary session on Tuesday morning brought together interesting insights from the different small groups, and gave a sense that progress had been made. In our groups of 20 or so, we had spent time in threes talking about our journeys of faith and how they related to the question of sexuality, and then looked at some scriptures together, and for me this was the high point. I was with one person who has similar views to me, and another who took a very different position, but both were fascinating people with some profound insights whom I found very stimulating to be with. Here was a glimpse of what a genuinely good process could look like, and we all felt frustrated that we could not spend more time together in discussion.

The plenary sessions on Monday afternoon were a more mixed affair, one basic problem being that there was just too much input in one go which made it very difficult to process and was very tiring. The first of these three involved listening to the experience of four same-sex attracted young people and their experiences, and it was deeply moving and challenging. I felt we should have simply sat for a while or had a break without saying anything; the pain and the trauma which was shared deserved more space and time for us to live with. The young people came from two organisations which I have been informed I am not supposed to name as part of the St Michael’s protocols. One of the organisations says clearly that it believes it is important to work within the church’s current teaching; the other seeks to prioritise the creation of safe space. Although representation from these organisations was not the main issue, it is not completely irrelevant that the two groups were not equally represented. Two of the four had painful stories about church leaders and members responding to them in insensitive, crass and damaging ways; the other two had found Christians responding to them positively and helpfully, without a hint of condemnation or judgementalism, which itself highlights one of the paradoxes around this issue.

The middle session, exploring issues of changing culture, was the best for me. There was a proper representation of different views, and the juxtaposition of contrasting approaches set out clearly what is at stake and what our options are. There is always here a temptation to listening for confirmation of one’s own view in such a range of speakers, and I am always wanting to find out how those who disagree with me viewed the speaker who agrees with me; it is all very well having my views confirmed, but is the position at all engaging and persuasive for others? I think it was significant that the clearest believer in the Church’s current teaching was viewed positively by many who disagreed with him—and this was helped by that person’s acknowledgement of the presence of virtue in the lives and relationships of people living in same-sex sexual partnerships, even though this person did not believe this was a holy way of life in line with God’s intention.

The last of these three sessions was far less helpful and far more problematic. A leader from Africa explained that, if the Church changed its teaching, many churches in Africa would need to severe the links with their ‘older brother’—but he did not give a compelling explanation of this conviction other than that this was the teaching Westerners themselves had brought in the 1930s. There must be many more compelling advocates of the theological position of these churches, and it was unhelpful that we were not offered a better explanation. A leader from the US said that the clash was between leaders, and at the grassroots people were actually working together well, which was a rather unconvincing account of the position in TEC where the church has been taking congregations to court about the ownership of property. The two other speakers also advocated that we could learn to live together, so there was a strong sense of the process leaning into a ‘live and let live’ approach, without exploring the possibility that this question might not be one of the adiaphora. The breezy bonhomie of the chair of this group didn’t really fit.

The worst plenary session of all was the first one, and it was very telling that what many view as the most important theological question—what does Scripture say and how should we make sense of it—was the one most badly misjudged. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to describe it as an absolute travesty of process. There were three speakers, one of whom supports the current teaching position of the Church, the other two arguing for change. The first person stayed within the brief, and spoke for seven to eight minutes; the second appeared to ignore the brief and spoke for 17 minutes, without intervention from the chair; the third spoke for 12 minutes. So we were offered 8 minutes on the Church’s current and historic teaching, and 29 minutes on why this was wrong. And the dynamic of putting the ‘orthodox’ position first meant that, as in all such debates, the advantage is handed to the others. Added to that, the first speaker, whilst eminently qualified in other ways, was not a biblical scholar, whilst the next one advocating change was. There was no voice from a Catholic perspective, engaging with the reception of Scripture within the tradition, and the ‘orthodox’ view was repeatedly labelled not as the Church’s teaching, but as ‘conservative’.

Even worse than that was the content of the second and third presentations, and the way the format prevented proper interrogation of the claims made. It was claimed that the givenness of sexual orientation is the settled view of Western culture, when it is contested both within and outside the church, is not supported by social-scientific research, and has been abandoned as a basis of argument in secular LGBT+ debate. It was claimed that all the texts in the NT referring to same-sex activity are in the context of porneia, ‘bad sex’, which was either commercial or abusive—which is a basic factual error. It was claimed that St Paul ‘could not have known of stable same-sex relations’ which is not supported by the historical facts. And it was claimed that same-sex relationships were the ‘eschatological fulfilment of Christian marriage’ since they involved loving commitment without procreation. It was not even acknowledged that many in the chamber would find that a deeply offensive assertion, quite apart from its implausibility. But the format of the presentation precluded proper exploration of these authoritative claims. It felt to me like a serious power play, and I felt I had been subject to an abuse of expert power.

All this was made worse when one of the key organisers, having picked up some negative feedback on this, stood up near the end of the day to tell us (in essence) that if you thought this first session was unbalanced, then you were wrong. It confirmed a basic lack of understanding of the concerns raised by those responsible for the process—concerns not of some extreme group at one end of the spectrum, but concerns of those who simply believe in the Church’s current teaching position. Yet again, throughout the whole day, it appeared to be impossible to find someone who would simply speak to affirm the current position, and who was presented not as being at one end of the spectrum, but as being a regular, orthodox Anglican. It is hardly a coincidence that (in the forthcoming Church Times article) all those pressing for a change in the Church’s teaching thought that it was very fair, and that we had heard the biblical arguments. It wasn’t, and we didn’t. After two years of planning, the ‘orthodox’ speakers were only finalised in the previous week. This confirms some of the suspicions of the ‘conservatives’ who stayed away, but I think it was a mistake not to be there, as their presence could have helped us in this.

This was exacerbated for me by the facilitation in groups. Several times we were reprimanded for actually trying to discuss the issues involved, and understand what each other believed and why, and what the differences were. We were not supposed to be discussing this, but only talking about how we might talk about it. When questions were raised about the process itself, this was clearly out of bounds, and our facilitator responded by using emotional language—’I am disappointed…I am sad.’ The fundamental problem here was the underlying approach—that there are no right answers, and no given positions, and so what is needed is a juxtaposition of different views so that mutual respect can emerge. This might be just right for a position of political conflict, where there is no ‘objective’ position which can act as a reference point. But how can this be right in a context where the Church itself already has a committed position, one that has the weight of history behind it, and a position which, in theory, all the clergy and the bishops have themselves signed up to believing, supporting and teaching. Any group which included clergy in same-sex marriages would need to face the asymmetry that they have in their midst people who are disregarding the teaching position of the Church, and that cannot be an insignificant factor in shaping the debate. That is not a reason to avoid listening to the whole range of views. But it is a reason for thinking that we are not working with a tabula rasa, where we are simply doing theology de novo as if there is not a deep and broad theological legacy to wrestle with.

It is not immediately clear where we go from here. There was a sense of frustration in our group that this could have been an opportunity to serious engage with the issues; many of us had been engaged in discussion on this and others issues with people with whom we disagreed, and we did not need to be infantilised by being told to ‘hold things’. (If I hear anyone comment ‘What I hear your saying…’ in the next few days, I won’t be held responsible for my actions…!) It was clear that small group discussion is essential to any future engagement; an old-style Synod debate will take us back to a binary win/lose position. I have a question about whether Synod is genuinely competent to debate and decide on this issue; we were not all elected on the basis of our theological competence; a group of 500 is the worst place to discuss such things; and it seems to me to be usurping the role of episcopal leadership. So we will need to look to the House of Bishops to propose a way forward of which Synod will need to have good understanding and to which Synod will need to give its assent.

If there is a change either in the doctrine of marriage or of the significant pastoral accommodation beyond what we already have (in terms of the differing standards for laity in Issues and the concession on civil partnerships for clergy), then I think this will lead to a serious division and possibly a split in the Church. There was a strong consensus that that was what we all wanted to avoid. But whatever happens, if those managing the process do not demonstrate a much better understanding of and engagement with those who actually believe in what the bishops currently teach then there will be trouble ahead.

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463 Responses to Synod’s Shared Conversations

  1. Steve Walton July 13, 2016 at 8:44 am #

    Thanks Ian; this is helpful, particularly to those of us who weren’t there. The process sounds incredibly frustrating, especially if you were prevented from talking about the substantive issues!

    • Christopher Shell July 14, 2016 at 9:55 pm #

      Yes, I think that point sums up the fundamental dishonesty of the process. They basically did not allow anyone to contradict.

  2. Peter Ould July 13, 2016 at 8:56 am #

    Great summary – thanks.

  3. Jamie Wood July 13, 2016 at 9:24 am #

    On your penultimate point, the competence of Synod or otherwise – a group of 500 may be a difficult place to discuss, but it’s the best place to decide. We have on the record a short, pithy General Synod motion from 1987, by Tony Higton and Michael Baughen. It affirms the traditional view and was passed by 403 votes to 8 – see Colin Buchanan, Taking the Long View, Church House Publishing 2006, pages 205-206.

    The advantages of this for non-theological laypeople are
    (i) it uses plain language and is easily understood
    (ii) we have elected the Synod members, albeit indirectly, so what they say has a better claim to be “the teaching of the church”
    (iii) a Synod motion is an easy concept to grasp, it constitutes some kind of line in the sand which a Bishops’ pronouncement doesn’t – the Bishops pronounce on all kinds of stuff every month and most of it doesn’t filter down to us in the pews anyway.

    I continue to hope that, for the sake of clarity, those who disagree with the Synod of 1987, will bring a new motion to Synod, containing whatever they think should now be the consensus – preferably in less than 150 words. Let’s see what progress it makes.

    • Ian Paul July 13, 2016 at 9:36 pm #

      I think the problem with such a motion is that the issue is seen as more complex on all sides. The bishops’ recent statements have been accessible, but much longer than the 1987 Synod motion.

  4. Ma Sheffield July 13, 2016 at 9:34 am #

    Forgive my ignorance, but I didn’t think Synod had authority, and your suggestion that we look to the house of bishops was to me the default next step anyway….

    I agree with Peter and Steve. From someone outside Anglicanism I find this informative and helpful.

    • Clive July 13, 2016 at 5:02 pm #

      Mat, Synod does have authority because for Parliament to act then it has to go through Synod. Originally Church law was separate to the King’s law / Parliament’s law so when Parliament deigned to be the “final” law the methodology was that the act has to pass Synod first if it is a Church matter. The House of Bishop’s is merely one of three means of bringing before Synod, it just happens to be the more frequent and easier one.

  5. Helen King July 13, 2016 at 9:38 am #

    A helpful description of what happened, Ian – thanks. I agree that the ordering of the presentations on the Bible is problematic, as indeed the reverse order would have been. Presumably the inclusion of this particular set of formal presentations was a response to the concern raised by some at the Regional SCs that we didn’t address the Bible directly there (although of course the preliminary booklets for those included a written equivalent of presentations).

    I still have a question about ‘It was claimed that St Paul ‘could not have known of stable same-sex relations’ which is not supported by the historical facts’. Which facts?

    • David Beadle July 13, 2016 at 2:56 pm #

      Very few. That’s why one so often hears reference from ‘conservatives’ to the lifelong relationship of Agathon and Pausinias, as though reference to something which happened several hundred years before somewhere in the circum-mediterranean proves the point. A stable same-sex relationship well-known to historians, precisely because it was so unusual.

      • Helen King July 13, 2016 at 3:04 pm #

        As an ancient historian, if this is all that’s meant here, can I just say ‘it’s not a lot!’? I wrote a piece on the Agathon/Pausanias claims on

        And I like your ‘circum-mediterranean’ very much, David!

        • David Beadle July 13, 2016 at 3:24 pm #

          Excellent article! I may be wrong, but but I’ve never heard anyone give an example remotely connected to Paul’s context. Nor would Paul *knowing* about such relationships (even if he did) mean he’d necessarily write about them. And nor am I clear from what Rom. 1:26-27 says itself (and what is said more widely in the epistle) that Paul is talking about any such relationship – it’s seem, clearly, to be talking about a different kind of realtionship than this.

          “I’m not denying that Pausanias and Agathon were used in the ancient world as an example of a relationship which went on for much longer than the erastês and erômenos type normally did. But I do challenge the suggestion that we can map this on to modern relationships.” Quite. And I would challenge, furthermore, the suggestion that we map a trope in Athenian discourse relating to a tragedian who died four hundred years earlier onto the discourses Paul was conducting with the church in Rome.

          • Peter Ould July 13, 2016 at 5:32 pm #

            Isn’t this just special pleading? I mean, what if I made an argument for “Permanent, Stable, Faithful” consensual incestuous marriages? “The Bible doesn’t condemn such relationships because it didn’t know about them”.

          • David Beadle July 13, 2016 at 7:03 pm #

            I don’t actually think either that “the Bible doesn’t condemn such relationships because it didn’t know about them” is a very good argument – we can agree on that. On the other side of the coin, though, I don’t think the argument “something happened somewhere else in the ancient world therefore Paul would have known about it” is a very good argument either. Nor is the argument (sometimes made) that Paul would have known about such relationships therefore would have been talking about them a very sound logical progression, nor would it be even if the premise about Paul were correct.

          • Ian Paul July 13, 2016 at 9:39 pm #

            But ‘the Bible doesn’t condemn them because it didn’t know of them’ was more or less the sum total of the argument of the middle presentation in the first session.

            If you think it isn’t a very good argument, that rather changes things…

          • Helen King July 14, 2016 at 6:43 am #

            It’s difficult to comment when I wasn’t there, Ian, so it will be good if these presentations are put up on the main SC site. I was just going by your “It was claimed that St Paul ‘could not have known of stable same-sex relations’ which is not supported by the historical facts” as that suggested the quoted bit was said by the speaker and the bit after that was your reference to some ‘facts’ which you know and which the speaker hadn’t acknowledged. If those ‘facts’ were claims about Pausanias and Agathon, well, I’ve given the reference explaining why that doesn’t work.

            I think the reason why this matters is because of attempts to match various words/phrases in the Bible to modern categories. And I’m wary of that, as a historian. For me, taking the Bible seriously means understanding language and culture (on some online discussions there are still people quoting chunks of the King James translation …) To pick up a point made elsewhere in this discussion (e.g. Christopher Shell on ‘are people being too kind?’), some of the statements still being made are just incorrect and need challenging! It’s the difference between ‘that’s your view and I acknowledge it as such, and I understand how you’ve come to it, even though I disagree’ and ‘no: sloppy history!’

          • Ian Paul July 14, 2016 at 9:21 am #

            Helen, at one level I entirely agree with your critique of ‘sloppy history’. The EGGS comments were designed to equip people so that they are not simply silenced by the kind of power play that in fact we had, which with one sweep of the authoritative sentence, renders all of Scripture irrelevant.

            You are quite right to observe that modern categories do not map onto ancient categories. It is also worth pointing out (which I think you miss in your piece) that Greek attitudes were quite different from Roman.

            But the question really is: was there any awareness in the ancient world that some people are exclusively attracted to people of the same sex, and that that was, in some sense, a ‘given’? And did awareness of that lead to the possibility that some people might end up in longer-term same-sex relationships in contrast to the Greek notion of ‘erases/eromenos’ (which of course the Romans weren’t so keen on)?

          • Helen King July 14, 2016 at 10:03 am #

            “But the question really is: was there any awareness in the ancient world that some people are exclusively attracted to people of the same sex, and that that was, in some sense, a ‘given’?” – I know of no evidence for this as a complete statement. It may be more about the belief that a person falls in love with a person, not a sex; which is what Living Out thinks too. And, back to the Greeks, that very occasionally this leads to a male same-sex relationship going on for longer than was standard.

            And yes indeed, Roman and Greek (in terms of the evidence, maybe ‘Athenian ‘ is better here) views of sexuality differ. On the EGGS briefing, I still find it odd if ‘equipping’ means giving the impression of facts which are not just contested, but – dare I use the term…? – wrong. Maybe we should avoid that particular f-word…

          • Ian Paul July 15, 2016 at 9:11 am #

            Helen, the claim being made is that Paul knew nothing of same-sex sexual relationships which were not either commercial and so (in our terms) exploitative, or of the Greek erastes/eromenos form which (again, in our terms) are unequal. The response to that is *not* that Paul would have encountered the kind of permanent, faithful, SSM type relationships we are debating, but simply that there were non-exploitative relationships which would have allowed Paul to draw from them the qualities which are now being claimed as the sum content of biblical teaching on sex and marriage.

            So to counter that, I think you would need to claim that the relationship between Pausanius and Agathon was indeed commercial or of that temporary Greek form. I think you would also need to argue that Paul could have known nothing of the speech of Aristophanes in Plato’s Symposium which gives a clear etiological account of unchanging (rather than temporary) sexual attraction of someone of the same sex, working clearly within a sex-binary understanding of human nature.

            Are you arguing for these two things?

          • David Beadle July 16, 2016 at 1:57 pm #

            Like Helen, I was not there, and so cannot respond to that presentation specifically. (Though am I right in thinking the presentations are to be published online?) Reading modern categories onto Paul with little regard to the text itself, on the basis of questionable readings of certain discourses from the mediterranean is a hiding to nothing. But, equally, yes, whether or not Paul knew of stable same-sex relationships is irrelevant in and of itself. Especially when the only time he describes them in any detail, the text itself is describing something which doesn’t look anything like same-sex relationships.

          • Helen King July 16, 2016 at 9:18 pm #

            I’ve no idea whether Paul would have read Plato’s Symposium. One thing your questions don’t take into account, Ian, is how complex the Symposium is. A lot of scholarly ink has been spent on the significance of Plato putting these words into the mouth of a comic playwright. How are we supposed to read this story of the split beings looking for their ‘other half’? As it’s Aristophanes telling it, and it is told in such a playful way, would anyone take it seriously in the way you suggest here? Isn’t the main point not the split beings, but love/Eros as a search for ‘completion’?

            As for Pausanias and Agathon, I think their relationship is presented as a boy/mature man one which lasts longer than normal. As Allan Bloom wrote, Agathon ‘remains something of a boy, always the beloved, never the lover’. Pausanias’ speech defends the unequal boy/man relationship but then he would say that wouldn’t he, as he is essentially defending his own way of life? As for whether the relationships here are about two men in anything like a committed same-sex relationship today, see Symposium 192e: some men by nature love other males – but, when boys they love mature men and then when men they love boys. This doesn’t sound like what ?e’re talking about today.

            And, then, big Plato question: is Eros the same as love?

          • David Shepherd July 17, 2016 at 9:31 am #

            While the genteel parry-and-thrust of these arguments might well flatter the importance of intellectual scholarship, they are a diversion from the train of thought revealed in St. Paul’s actual words.

            In Romans 1, St. Paul explains his eagerness to reach Rome for mutual encouragement and to fulfil his sense of duty (as would typify a leitourgos) in sharing the wealth of insight granted through the gospel which Christ had bestowed upon him. He wanted to proclaim the gospel to people from all walks of life including those in Rome, by saying: ‘I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome.

            For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.

            All of this is fairly uncontentious and even consonant with the ‘inclusiveness’ mantra.

            St. Paul also compares the ultimate deliverance of eternal life in the gospel with God’s promise made through Habakkuk that, despite the chastening hardship of heathen domination (in the OT prophet’s case, Babylon), the trust of those reconciled to God (the just) would be rewarded with ultimate deliverance: in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” The comparison with Rome is clearly made..

            Righteousness here is dikaiosunes, the public settlement of a matter of dishonour (as between Menelaus and Antilochus in Ilead 23) For those who follow Him, Christ death and resurrection has expunged the dishonour caused by their offences against God.

            This declaration is the backdrop to Paul’s verdict that, apart from the reconciliation provided through reliance upon Christ, the moral decline of both Gentiles and Jews is not only without excuse, but also the outworking of divine retribution.

            The scale of this retributive outworking (for which the gospel is the only remedy) is universal: For the wrath of God is being revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men So, the notion that this retribution is limited to a particular era is false.

            Paul’s charge is laid against all mankind, guilty as we all are as those who ‘worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator’. While there is the principle of redemption at work through the gospel, there is also a principle of retribution by which God rightfully judges this irreverent licence by which we affirm our devotion to worldly things (the creature) ans allow this to supplant our recognition and thankfulness for what He has made publicly known (phaneros) of Himself through creation. The judgement is to surrender mankind over to the custody of worthless licentious passions.

            Notably in Romans, Paul uses the phrase para phusin (Rom. 11:24 ‘contrary to nature’) to compare the influx of Gentile converts into the faith, which began as predominantly Jewish, with the technique of grafting a wild-olive bud into the branch of the cultivated olive tree. While of the same overall species, this joining ran contrary to how either plant would propagate through their intrinsic physical characteristics. This is what Paul means by natural. For instance, when he states ‘the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit’, he is stating that, without supernatural revelation, we lack the intrinsic ability to appropriate divine insight.

            Paul uses the same phrase to describe same-sex sexual activity. It is the concomitant of rejecting what is the self-evident of God through creation, whereby we can dismiss the sexual purpose evident in the intrinsic physical characteristics distinguishing male from female. This behaviour is negatively described using the same phrase: ‘para phusin’. The locus of Paul’s denunciation of homosexual behaviour is its offence against what God has made self-evident through intrinsic physical characteristics. It’s not about whether such relationships could exhibit long-term stability or mutuality.

            This is why it’s a more coherent argument to say that St.Paul was simply wrong, instead of suggesting that it is a category mistake to map St.Paul’s denunciation onto modern mongamous same-sex sexual relationships.

            That said, St.Paul’s overall focus is not on the guilt of specific offences, but on establishing the egregious guilt of all mankind (me and you) before God, which can thankfully be remedied by reliance upon Christ’s perfect sacrifice to the injury of God’s honour.

            Those who might feel exonerated by the end of Rom. 1, immediately discover themselves to be no better for their futile imposition of religious advantage and pedigree on those whom they consider to be ignorantly inferior. They covet religious patronage, but don’t see it as idolatry. They connive at divorce ‘for any cause’, but don’t see it as adultery.

            We are all guilty before God and in need of salvation.

          • Helen King July 17, 2016 at 2:59 pm #

            Oh dear, I’m guilty of ‘flatter[ing] the importance of intellectual scholarship’ now?! Going back (it seems like weeks ago now) to the original query, I was just trying to find out what ‘facts’ are being used to suggest what St Paul may or may not have known. I then raised some issues around taking these as ‘facts’. Sorry for using that f-word again!

            Is there something wrong with intellectual scholarship?

          • David Shepherd July 17, 2016 at 4:51 pm #

            But I didn’t take issue with intellectual scholarship per se, but with its diversion here from the thrust of Paul’s declamation, which is the rejection of what is self-evident.

            Speculation about the apostle’s awareness (or ignorance) of anything resembling modern same-sex sexual relationships is irrelevant to and does not undermine the fact of Paul’s actual accusation: that same-sex sexual activity that results from reprobation is para phusin; contradicting what is intrinsic to and self-evident of our physical God-given sexual characteristics.

            If revisionists want to take issue with the apostle’s charge, they should challenge him on these grounds, not on Paul’s likely ignorance of anything resembling modern same-sex sexual relationships.

          • Ian Paul July 17, 2016 at 6:11 pm #

            David Shepherd, yes,I would agree with you overall. But I also want to take this argument seriously and see whether it holds any water.

            Helen, I am interested in your comment ‘I have no idea whether Paul read Plato’s Symposium’. I think that is just the point: Loveday Alexander’s argument requires that Paul hasn’t, and needs that to be watertight to claim that his texts have no relevance to today. (That is one half of the argument; the other is whether Paul’s comments assume any particular form to the relationships to which he is referring.)

            You go on to say ‘As it’s Aristophanes telling it, and it is told in such a playful way, would anyone take it seriously in the way you suggest here? Isn’t the main point not the split beings, but love/Eros as a search for ‘completion’?’ Yes, indeed it is. I don’t think anyone is suggesting it is a serious comment, but if it is satirical of those who hold this view, then it is still testimony to the knowledge of this view in the ancient world. References to such relationships in Martial’s epigrams, nearly contemporary with Paul, would function in the same way.

            You go on to comment: ‘As for whether the relationships here are about two men in anything like a committed same-sex relationship today, see Symposium 192e: some men by nature love other males – but, when boys they love mature men and then when men they love boys. This doesn’t sound like what ?e’re talking about today.’

            No, of course it is not what we are talking about today—we are not looking for a straight-line (excuse the metaphor) correspondence. But as you suggest, the notion that some men were ‘by nature’ attracted to other males was known in the ancient world. Paul would then have had the option to offer an ethical option to such people of a pattern of committed, faithful relationships to such people if he thought it was these qualities that defined marriage. But he didn’t.

            That is why, contrary to David Beadle’s comment above, Loveday’s is not a good argument. It demands a standard of ignorance on the part of Paul that it is impossible to attain.

          • Helen King July 18, 2016 at 8:51 am #

            We seem to have travelled a long way here. I started by asking what ‘facts’ we’re supposed to be using to support the idea that St Paul could have known about same-sex relationships. The ‘Agathon and Pausanias’ relationship came up. I pointed to a piece I’d posted on how the sources we have are very obviously constructed, and even less transparent than the usual ancient evidence.

            Then we moved to a different section of Plato’s Symposium, with the implication that this playful story put into the mouth of Aristophanes was somehow a guide to ancient sexual orientations.

            When I say I’ve no idea whether Paul knew the Symposium, what sort of evidence would I need to move one way or the other? Textual echoes (I know of none)? Evidence on the likely education of a man like Saul/Paul? Happy to be pointed to anything written on this. So on balance I’d come down on the same side as Loveday Alexander.

            And then we reach possible ethical options Paul could have offered. But he wasn’t writing a treatise on sexual orientation or on marriage. Recently I was talking to someone whose gay child has now disowned her because she is a Christian and therefore he thinks she regards him needing to repent of his identity. When they were still talking, she commented that in the Gospels Jesus doesn’t even talk about homosexuality. His response? ‘Well, he should have done’. I think we are pushing the detail of the Bible too hard and missing the underlying principles, but I know many disagree with me here.

          • Jonathan Tallon July 18, 2016 at 9:34 am #

            Ian, you say: ‘Loveday Alexander’s argument requires that Paul hasn’t, and needs that to be watertight to claim that his texts have no relevance to today.’

            There are two separate issues here. First, could Paul have known of such committed relationships. I agree that Loveday can’t prove that Paul was unaware – but like Helen, I think the balance of probability lies strongly against it. But the second issue is whether Paul was writing about such relationships (and expecting his readers to pick up on these). I find it completely incredible to believe that Paul was writing about such relationships. I think it’s just very poor exegesis to suggest he might have been.

            This isn’t just ‘special pleading’ (Peter’s comment) because the first step in taking these passages seriously is to work out what they are and aren’t talking about (especially if some people claim they are directly relevant).

          • David Shepherd July 18, 2016 at 10:19 am #


            Agreed on working out what these scriptures are or aren’t about.

            So, why don’t you have a ‘go’ (see mine above) at explaining what Paul meant by using ‘para phusin’ as a negative description of same-sex sexual activity in Rom. 1 by comparison with his positive use of the same phrase in Rom. 11:24 to describe postively the grafting of the wild olive (Gentiles) into the cultivated olive tree (Jews) to produce growth that contrary to the inherent physical characteristics of either plant?

          • Jonathan Tallon July 18, 2016 at 10:58 am #

            David, very briefly:
            Romans 1 is not about all humankind. It is about idolatrous gentiles. The sexual behaviour described in Romans 1 is entirely consistent with the orgiastic sexual practices carried out in idolatrous worship of fertility goddesses by gentiles (which has the added advantage of explaining why women are mentioned first). Similar criticism of idolatrous gentiles can be seen in Wisdom 14. Given that such practices typically used phalluses and self-castration, Paul might have had many reasons to call them ‘against nature’.

          • David Shepherd July 18, 2016 at 11:21 am #


            So, since we too are Gentiles, your distinction is that ‘nature’, while it used by Paul to describe the intrinsic physical characteristics (plant life, male-female hair growth), means something very different here.

            You limit Paul’s charge to the idolatrous practices of his oen generation, while he describes retributive justice as being ‘against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men’.

            I think that’s what’s called a ‘special pleading’…and modern-day Gentiles are not idolatrous?

          • Ian Paul July 18, 2016 at 11:42 am #

            Jonathan, are you suggesting that in Romans 1 Paul is *not* arguing that ‘all’ gentiles are sinful and idolatrous, but only those involved in the specific activities he mentions?

            If so, I think that flies in face of the almost universal consensus of the way this text has been read, and doesn’t make sense of Paul’s rhetorical strategy.

            What he appears to be saying is: God has made himself known; sinful humanity has turned from this; this includes the bodily creation of male and female (in Gen 1 and 2); these orgies are the apogee of such rejection, and so show most clearly the sinfulness of gentiles (borrowing a classical Jewish argument); and this contributes the Gentile half to the climactic ‘All have sinned’ in Rom 3.23.

            If Paul is only criticising certain specific groups, not all of Gentile humanity, how does his argument work?

          • David Beadle July 18, 2016 at 2:40 pm #

            Ian, I didn’t say it was a good argument that Paul wouldn’t have known about committed SSM. Quite the opposite. Helen and I are simply questioning your assertion that there is any good evidence Paul knew about SSM.

            Now, as Jonathan says, it is then a separate question as to whether or not Paul is writing about SSM. Even if he did or could have known about them, this does not necessarily mean he was writing about them in Rom. 1:26-27. I would have thought, for a start, the mention of ??????? ?????, ‘their females’ makes it pretty clear that Paul is referring to men already with wives – not men in stable relationships with one another. There are further matters we could discuss, including whether or not Paul is talking about anal sex.

            On a certain point I agree with David and Peter – we have to look at what the passage says itself; and how we read the Bible as a whole. It seems unlikely to me from the text itself that Paul is referring to stable SSM, but then this means we need to look at what the Bible says more widely on sexuality, gender, sex and relationships (I would of course differ to David S. on this). Just as the Bible says nothing about embryology or IVF, so we have to apply wider principles we derive from the way we read the Bible as a whole.

          • David Shepherd July 18, 2016 at 7:16 pm #

            David B,

            Isn’t that the fallacy of distinction without a difference? The type of relationship and level of commitment is not Paul’s focus. Instead, he is taking issue with para phusin sexual activity which results from divine reprobation.

            Given the scale of justice being described (all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men), the apostle is charting the symptoms of society’s downward moral spiral when, as Paul described, the self-evident truth of God is exchanged (metallaxan) for a lie (and that includes modern society’s illusory self-crafted foci of aspiration and adulation).

            St. Paul explains that once a society is relinquished by God to do as it please, the resulting symptoms include exchanging (metallaxan) the natural function (physiken chreisen) for that which is para phusin

            Our understanding of what the apostle meant by this phrase is informed by how he employed it elsewhere in the same epistle (e.g. the joining of a wild olive bud into a cultivated olive tree is described as para phusin Rom. 11:24)

            Looking beyond this to ‘what the Bible says more widely on sexuality, gender, sex and relationships’ distracts from the parallel nature of the offences which Paul describes.

          • Helen King July 19, 2016 at 6:32 am #

            Just wondering about kata physin/para physin in Paul – “Notably in Romans, Paul uses the phrase para phusin (Rom. 11:24 ‘contrary to nature’) to compare the influx of Gentile converts into the faith, which began as predominantly Jewish, with the technique of grafting a wild-olive bud into the branch of the cultivated olive tree’ – aren’t these both Good Things even if not kata physin, ‘according to nature’?

          • Jonathan Tallon July 19, 2016 at 9:47 am #

            Ian, David,
            No, I don’t think it is aimed just at some gentiles. My point is that Romans 1 (from v. is not aimed at all humankind – specifically, it is not aimed at Jews. This was in response to David saying ‘Paul’s charge is laid against all mankind, guilty as we all are as those who ‘worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator’. The whole point of Romans 1 is that a Jewish listener would NOT have thought they were included in this charge – this is what Jews attack gentiles/pagans for. And the best example to use against gentiles/pagans is the practice involved in pagan worship itself – if you follow such ‘gods’, you are fully complicit in and effectively approving of the sexual practices involved in such worship.

            This is one of many reasons why I find the idea that Paul is commenting on female-female sexual relations unconvincing. It makes Paul practically unique among Jewish commentators; it is at best surprising that he mentions women first; generally, female-female sexual relations weren’t classed together by Jewish writers with male-male sexual relations; and it is NOT typical of gentiles, and not a typical attack on gentiles. In contrast, the sexual practices of priestesses are demanded by pagan worship, and such sexual practices were routinely attacked by Jewish writers. Added to which, it is not until the late fourth century that we find anyone understanding the Romans passage to be about female-female same sex relations.

            And to return to David’s initial point, the sexual practices involved in goddess worship fit very neatly under a description of being ‘para phusin’.

            Are modern day gentiles idolatrous? Many certainly are, but not directly in the same way that Paul was talking about, and that his listeners would have understood. Then, if you were a pagan, you literally worshipped idols.

          • David Shepherd July 19, 2016 at 7:41 pm #


            When I described Paul’s charge as laid against all mankind, I did not confine myself to Rom. 1. To imply this through your correcting remark ( The whole point of Romans 1 is that a Jewish listener would NOT have thought they were included in this charge) is a ‘straw man’.

            Instead, it was with reference to Rom. 1 and 2, that I wrote ‘Paul’s charge is laid against all mankind, guilty as we all are as those who ‘worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator’; the truth of which is borne out by Paul’s probing rhetoric: You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?

            Your ‘straw man’ correction continues: The whole point of Romans 1 is that a Jewish listener would NOT have thought they were included in this charge – this is what Jews attack gentiles/pagans for.

            While that is not in dispute, I do take issue with your further claim: This is one of many reasons why I find the idea that Paul is commenting on female-female sexual relations unconvincing. It makes Paul practically unique among Jewish commentators; it is at best surprising that he mentions women first; generally, female-female sexual relations weren’t classed together by Jewish writers with male-male sexual relations.

            Yet, you should be aware of Pseudo-Phocylides, the Judaeo-Hellenistic work written after the Septuagint, but before Christianity, which extends its denunciation to female-female sexual relations by stating (190 – 194):
            Do not transgress natural sex [eunas phuse?s] for irregular passion [Kupron athesmon]:
            The beasts themselves are not pleased with homosexual intercourse [arsenes eunai].
            Do not let women imitate the sexual role [lechos] of men.
            Do not let yourself become an uncontrollable torrent [reus?s akathekton] toward your wife.
            For Eros is not a god, but a passion [pathos], destructive of all.

            These admonitions were not merely directed at goddess-worshippers, thereby undermining your appeal to improbability: that Paul’s use of the phrase ‘para phusin’ was confined to denouncing the sexual practices of pagan priestesses.

            Instead, what is truly unsupportable is your mistaken notion that St. Paul restricted para phusin to sexual practices associated with pagan worship. This not only runs contrary to its meaning in Rom. 11:24, but also becomes the exception from its use of the phrase in similar arguments marshaled by the apostle’s contemporaries, such as Josephus (Against Apion II, 199, 273) and Philo of Alexandria (Volume 7)

          • David Beadle July 19, 2016 at 9:20 pm #

            David S. “The type of relationship and level of commitment is not Paul’s focus.”

            If your interpretation of para phusin is correct, I still don’t see how you are able to distinguish from Romans stable SS relationships as something condemned by Paul? If Paul is talking about “the symptoms of society’s downward moral spiral when…the self-evident truth of God is exchanged (metallaxan) for a lie” you are surely not speaking about all behaviours ever? So why should stable SS relationships be included, or picked out?

            And we try to read every passage in the light of the whole Bible, through the Gospel. This is a fundamental tenet of Christian hermeneutics.

          • David Shepherd July 19, 2016 at 11:52 pm #

            David B,

            The presence of stable mutual devotion doesn’t magically imbue same-sex sexual activity with such virtue as to render It kata phusin

            So, unless you can demonstrate how relationship stability alters the intrinsic God-given physical characteristics of either same-sex partner, their stable same-sex sexual activity remains a sub-set of what Paul described as para phusin.

            In essence, your ‘stable’ qualification is a re-hashing the previous distinction without difference fallacy.

          • Jonathan Tallon July 22, 2016 at 10:38 am #

            David Shepherd,

            You suggest ‘Do not let women imitate the sexual role [lechos] of men.’ from Pseudo-Phocylides 192 is about female-female sex. That isn’t obvious to me from this quotation (though it is one possible meaning). There are other possibilities that involve female-male sex.

            I find it odd that you think that cultic sexual orgies including female penetration of males, and male self-harm, would not be seen as against nature by Jewish writers such as Philo. I am nowhere suggesting that Paul has an extremely narrow view of para phusin. But I am suggesting that there is a strong possibility that the examples he used were based on cultic practice.

          • Ian Paul July 22, 2016 at 11:00 am #

            Jonathan, thanks for this helpful discussion, which I think it contributing to mutual understanding.

            I wouldn’t disagree with you that Paul is drawing on imagery from cultic orgies. But he does so within two frames.

            First, one step wider, he is deploying the language of para phusin which was widely used in the ancient world of Paul as a general term to describe same-sex sexual activity. The logic of the language here is that our bodies are ‘naturally’ made for other-sex sex, which is then described as kata phusin.

            Second, he locates this in the even wider context of gentile rejection of God’s self-disclosure in nature, and the turn to idolatry.

            So the logic is:
            a. God has revealed himself
            b. Gentile humanity has rejected this and turned to idols
            c. This is evidenced by (amongst other things) rejection of sexual relations kata phusin
            d. the corruption of this move is show by the excesses it leads to.

            His aim is not to say anything about same-sex relations, but he assumes his reader will share his articulation of the widespread condemnation of same-sex sex in Judaism. This is not based on people changing their ‘orientation’ nor on anything to do with the ‘form’ of such relationships, but is a rejection of all same-sex sex because, in being para phusin it is, by its nature, contrary to God’s created order.

            Is there any of the above you would want to dispute?

          • Jonathan Tallon July 22, 2016 at 2:23 pm #

            You say: “First, one step wider, he is deploying the language of para phusin which was widely used in the ancient world of Paul as a general term to describe same-sex sexual activity. The logic of the language here is that our bodies are ‘naturally’ made for other-sex sex, which is then described as kata phusin.”

            First of all, we have extremely limited examples of Paul using para/kata phusin language, and Romans 1 is the only one about sexual activity. So our knowledge is limited.

            Second, para phusin was not widely used as a term to describe same-sex sexual activity.

            Para phusin was generally used in two ways. First, (within Jewish sources) as a way of describing any sexual activity that was non-procreative. Thus, having sex with someone you know is infertile is para phusin. Using a contraceptive is para phusin. Same-sex activity is just one type of activity that is non-procreative. Secondly, para phusin described excessive sexual desire. Which meaning was Paul using? Or both? We don’t have enough information to know.

            You then write:
            “So the logic is:
            a. God has revealed himself
            b. Gentile humanity has rejected this and turned to idols
            c. This is evidenced by (amongst other things) rejection of sexual relations kata phusin
            d. the corruption of this move is show by the excesses it leads to.”
            I think I’m pretty close to you here, except I’d collapse c & d into one category.

            You then write:
            “His aim is not to say anything about same-sex relations, but he assumes his reader will share his articulation of the widespread condemnation of same-sex sex in Judaism. This is not based on people changing their ‘orientation’ nor on anything to do with the ‘form’ of such relationships, but is a rejection of all same-sex sex because, in being para phusin it is, by its nature, contrary to God’s created order.”

            Here, I differ again. I think we are in danger of reading too much into Paul. He’s effectively saying, ‘look at those crazy gentiles and the awful (unnatural?!) things they get up to in their worship of idols’. It’s a broad brush critique to allow the trap to be sprung on Jewish listeners nodding along smugly. And we’re putting an awful lot of weight on what he might have meant by the equivalent then of ‘unnatural’.

            But if you want to apply a lot of weight to para phusin being a rejection of God’s created order, then this shouldn’t only apply to same-sex activity, but also contraception, oral sex, sex between infertile couples. They are all para phusin in Jewish thought for the same reason – non-procreation.

          • David Shepherd July 22, 2016 at 3:29 pm #


            You stated earlier: And to return to David’s initial point, the sexual practices involved in goddess worship fit very neatly under a description of being ‘para phusin’.

            This was a counter to my statement about phusin, elsewhere in his letters, being ‘used by Paul to describe the intrinsic physical characteristics (plant life, male-female hair growth)’

            It’s why I further rejected your confinement of the term by saying: Instead, what is truly unsupportable is your mistaken notion that St. Paul restricted para phusin to sexual practices associated with pagan worship

            While the practices which you describe is a sub-set of para phusin sexual activity (and I never suggested it wasn’t), they are not exclusively so.

            Can we rise above the rhetoric of announcing surprise that I thought the practices which you mentioned were not considered by Philo to be para phusin? especially when I argued against the mistaken notion that the term was restricted to the sexual practices associated with pagan worship?

            To summarise, Paul’s use of the phrase opposes and condemns all forms of same-sex sexual activity as much as those other practices which you mentioned.

          • David Shepherd July 23, 2016 at 1:45 am #


            You wrote: But if you want to apply a lot of weight to para phusin being a rejection of God’s created order, then this shouldn’t only apply to same-sex activity, but also contraception, oral sex, sex between infertile couples. They are all para phusin in Jewish thought for the same reason – non-procreation.

            The problem with your thesis here is that Paul himself uses ‘para phusin’ In Rom. 11:24 to describe the fruitfulness of grafting the wild olive Into the cultivated olive tree.

            Whatever his contemporaries may have thought, for Paul, para phusin does not carry the connotation of non-pro-creative.

            In fact, grafting (Rom. 11:24) is contrary to nature because it involves the artifice of joining plants in a way that neither plant, as created, was to be united.

            So, Paul is applying the same meaning, as he repeats metallaxan to describe both exchanging the truth of recognising God’s transcendent majesty, as revealed in creation, for the demeaning lie of idolatry and being judicially transferred to the custody of vile passions which eventually leads to the exchange of male-female sexual union (natural use of the woman’), as revealed in creation, for the lie of homosexual union which he describes, similar to grafting, as para phusin

          • David Beadle July 23, 2016 at 3:24 pm #

            David S., “So, unless you can demonstrate how relationship stability alters the intrinsic God-given physical characteristics of either same-sex partner, their stable same-sex sexual activity remains a sub-set of what Paul described as para phusin.”

            But I don’t share your assumption that Paul is making generalised statements about same-sex sexual activity. His allusions elsewhere to the Greek in Levitical prohibitions (arsenkotai), and discussions generally in early Judaism make it pretty clear to me that he’s referring to types of sexual practices (anal sex or anal sex and others) between men or between men and women.

          • David Shepherd July 24, 2016 at 6:26 pm #

            David B,
            ‘But I don’t share your assumption that Paul is making generalised statements about same-sex sexual activity.’

            So, as counter-arguments, the notions of what para phusin means has journeyed from describing the sexual activities of pagan worship (including self-castration) to non-procreative sexual activity of any kind. The next destination is your latest counter-argument by which you claim that St. Paul’s denunciation was confined primarily to anal sex,

            So, despite the apostle’s charge of mankind’s guilt for rejecting what God has ‘from the creation of the world made self-evident of His supreme majesty and eternal power and despite the apostle’s use of para phusin to describe grafting as a joining within an overall species which contradicted the intrinsic physical characteristics of each plant, the meaning of this scripture is confined to a specific type of sex.

            Yet, if this was the case, why would the apostle single out the guilt of each sex, in turn: men with mendoing that which is unseemly[asxemosune], if by para phusin he meant just the activity per se and not the respective sexes of those engaging in the activity?

            In fact, asxemosune is a broad metaphor for sexual exposure and impropriety, (see. Rev. 16:15).

            It is, as a consequence of mankind’s arrogant contempt for what God has revealed of Himself ‘from the creation of the world’ (even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, that, without the gospel, His retributive justice surrenders people to the custody of their appetites, whereby they are powerless to resist what God has also plainly revealed ‘from the creation of the world’ for what is para phusin

            Yet, Paul’s focus in Romans was to emphasise the universal need for redemption and the power of Christ, in His sacrifice for our sins to the infinite honour of God, and in empowering those who abandon the mantras of self-affirmation and flimsy promises of reform for confidence in Christ alone: And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

  6. Jonathan Tallon July 13, 2016 at 9:39 am #

    “But how can this be right in a context where the Church itself already has a committed position… a position which, in theory, all the clergy and the bishops have themselves signed up to believing, supporting and teaching.”

    Ian, I am intrigued by this statement. Could you expand a little what you mean here?

    • Ian Paul July 13, 2016 at 9:45 am #

      Er, I don’t think I know what you are asking. All ordained take an oath of canonical obedience and the Declaration of Assent which signs us up to the canons, the liturgy, and the authority of the bishops in the areas they are competent to teach. Not sure what is unclear…?

      • Nicholas Elder July 13, 2016 at 10:21 am #

        I, A B, do so affirm, and accordingly declare my belief in the faith which is revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds and to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear witness; and in public prayer and administration of the sacraments, I will use only the forms of service which are authorized or allowed by Canon.
        I’ve never considered a motion in General Synod to be part of the ‘historic formularies of the Church of England’. Perhaps the House of Bishops could issue some clarification of what is or isn’t ex cathedra.

      • Jonathan Tallon July 13, 2016 at 10:53 am #

        I was asking because this was such a strong statement, and I wondered where I had signed up to believe, support and teach one particular interpretation.

        The Declaration of Assent is about the Faith, and it is stretching things to breaking point to imagine that anyone declaring is signing up to ‘believing, supporting and teaching’ your interpretation. Particularly if they believe that, actually, the true gospel position is the opposite of yours – then they are committed by the same Declaration to believe, support and teach the ‘inclusivist’ interpretation.

        The Oath of Canonical Obedience is about obedience to a person… not about believing, supporting or teaching.

        In short, I was surprised to read your statement, and if you are relying on the Declaration and the Oath then I disagree with your interpretation of what they require.

        • Ian Paul July 13, 2016 at 9:43 pm #

          Jonathan, both canon law and the liturgy define marriage very clearly as between one man and one women, and thereby prohibit the blessing or celebration of a same-sex marriage.

          The successive statements, including from the House of Bishops, clarifies what this means, and it is clear that they have lawful jurisdiction to do so.

          Therefore to go against the bishops in their exposition of both canons and liturgy is to break one’s oath of canonical obedience.

          Do you think the oath does not mean that?

          • Andrew Godsall July 14, 2016 at 9:30 am #

            Do you mean in the same way that not wearing robes breaks the oath of canonical obedience? Or is it ok to turn a blind eye to one but not the other?

          • David Shepherd July 14, 2016 at 4:02 pm #


            Oh, you mean: The apparel of a bishop, priest, or deacon shall be suitable to his office; and, save for purposes of recreation and other justifiable reasons, shall be such as to be a sign and mark of his holy calling and ministry as well to others as to those committed to his spiritual charge.

            I also presume that, as a sign and mark of episcopally ordained ministry, this attire should be distinguishable from that of other ministers from non-episcopal Christian denominations.

            In canon law, can you clarify how this distinction of attire is prescribed?

          • Andrew Godsall July 14, 2016 at 6:46 pm #

            No David Shepherd. I mean Canon B 8.

          • David Shepherd July 14, 2016 at 7:43 pm #

            …Which begins: 1. The Church of England does not attach any particular doctrinal significance to the diversities of vesture permitted by this Canon, and the vesture worn by the minister in accordance with the provision of this Canon is not to be understood as implying any doctrines other than those now contained in the formularies of the Church of England.

            Any change of vestment is by consultation with the PCC. Unresolved disputes are arbitrated by the bishop.

            So, far below than the Bishop of Liverpool’s ‘camel-swallowing’ relegation of sexual relationships to second- or third-order, canon law rightly doesn’t even treat this as a gospel issue.

            Regardless, I think David Runcorn missed a glorious opportunity by not making ‘vestment hypocrisy’ the cornerstone argument of his Appendix to the Pilling Report!

          • Andrew Godsall July 14, 2016 at 9:06 pm #

            I suggest you read the whole Canon David (Shepherd).
            Clearly this Canon is breached frequently, which is why a motion is going through synod at present to try and regularise things. But no one seems to have disciplined any clergy for not abiding by this particular Canon. Are you advocating that clergy can pick and choose which ones they wish to abide by?

          • David Shepherd July 14, 2016 at 11:16 pm #


            That line of argument is the converse accident fallacy: a dicto secundum quid ad dictum simpliciter

            Look it up!

          • Andrew Godsall July 15, 2016 at 6:51 am #

            David, hence my really simple question to you, which you have not answered.
            Are you advocating that clergy can pick and choose which canons they wish to abide by? Or Are some Canons more important than others and therefore it’s more appropriate to apply discipline if they are not observed.

          • Ian Paul July 15, 2016 at 9:00 am #

            It is clear to any intelligent person that lapse in obedience to some canons has more consequence than lapse in obedience to other canons, and therefore, in a context where bishops need to ‘pick their fights’ carefully, they are not going to pursue the more trivial breaches when there are weightier matters to focus on.

            I would like discussion here to focus on important and not facile arguments, and I would prefer if that would happy voluntarily by participants rather than by my deleting comments. Thanks.

          • David Beadle July 16, 2016 at 2:01 pm #

            What about those clergy who breach Canon B14/A? Is it of little consequence that many clergy in the Church of England disobey the their church’s understanding of our Lord’s institution of the Holy Supper? Or should they all be disciplined also?

          • Ian Paul July 17, 2016 at 6:21 pm #

            David, no I don’t think it is of little consequence that people disregard the church’s teaching about the Lord’s Supper. I would like to see greater conformity, and have written about this recently on this blog.

          • Jonathan Tallon July 18, 2016 at 9:51 am #

            Ian, you wrote:
            ‘Therefore to go against the bishops in their exposition of both canons and liturgy is to break one’s oath of canonical obedience.

            Do you think the oath does not mean that?’

            No I do not think the oath means that. Otherwise arguing for any change in canon would be to break one’s oath of canonical obedience. Clearly, that is absurd. Synod argues about changes in canon all the time (including the marriage canon, which itself has been amended).

            I think that the oath of obedience means what it says – obedience (in things lawful and honest). To suggest that I am agreeing to believe whatever bishops come up and to believe and support whatever the canons currently say (when I made the oath? the current canons?) makes a nonsense of the whole thing (particularly for a church which broke away from Rome because of (along with many other factors) disagreeing with the Bishop of Rome). Otherwise we wouldn’t be able to argue that the canons on robes should/should not be changed.

            If I try to conduct a same-sex wedding in an Anglican church, or fail to wear a surplice or alb with scarf or stole while presiding at communion, then I am breaking my oath of obedience.

            If I believe that the bishops were wrong to issue their February 2014 statement, and if I disagree with them about whether same-sex marriages should be blessed/celebrated or conducted, and argue for change, then I do not consider that I am in any way in breach of my oath.

          • David Beadle July 18, 2016 at 3:12 pm #

            Ok, then, clergy are as free to argue for their own interpretations of – or changes to – any of the Canons, but this is different to not following them.

          • Ian Paul July 22, 2016 at 11:03 am #

            That all depends on what you mean by ‘argue for’. I might want to say ‘I think there are good reasons to question some of this’. But to hold to and teach something means to commend it as a holy pattern of life, even if you would like to start a debate about this.

            Such a position is behind the whole language of ministry. If someone is ‘vicar’ of a parish, the are vicarious for the bishop, whose license they hold, and represent the bishop’s teaching.

            Historically, I think that is why dissent often led to structure splits.

          • David Beadle July 23, 2016 at 3:29 pm #

            The ability to argue for a change in teaching equates to being able to campaign for it. Our Bishops aren’t supposed to be mini-Fuhrers. If there had not been outright campaigns against the CofE’s position on slavery, then it would never have changed.

      • Jonathan Tallon July 13, 2016 at 2:23 pm #

        None of which I have signed up to ‘believing, supporting and teaching’.

        • David Beadle July 13, 2016 at 3:27 pm #

          Issues in Human Sexuality itself says that ordained ministers are free to have their own views on sexuality and to campaign for changes in the church’s teaching!

          • David Shepherd July 13, 2016 at 6:10 pm #

            David B,

            Yep, clergy are free to have their own views and to argue for change. What they can’t do is to misrepresent those arguments as the official doctrine of the Church.

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

            As we know, it can still incur disciplinary action for clergy to implement a self-styled gender-neutral Church marriage liturgy, or to enter a same-sex marriage.

          • David Beadle July 13, 2016 at 7:06 pm #

            That paragraph has nothing to do with belief or verbal support. It’s specifically and clearly about restrictions on clergy sexual conduct, as is the wider context.

          • David Shepherd July 13, 2016 at 8:43 pm #

            David B,

            As far as Anglicanism is concerned the maxim to be applied is: lex orandi, lex credendi

            The Pastoral Statement 2005 explains this by referencing liturgy as lex orandi :
            ‘The question of public rites for the blessing of same sex unions is still a cause of potentially divisive controversy. The Archbishop of Canterbury spoke for us all when he said that it is through liturgy that we express what we believe, and that there is no theological consensus about same sex unions. Therefore, we as a body cannot support the authorisation of such rites’.

            Whatever they might assert unofficially, clergy, who officiate at church weddings, must recite the lex orandi, thereby rendering canonical obedience consonant with the lex credendi

            A vicar might well argue for unitarianism and anabaptism, Nevertheless, let’s see how fhat belief (not just talk) is exercised by respectively exhorting the faithful to declare a revised creed during Sunday worship, and by insisting on the re-baptism of infant-baptised laity!

          • Penelope July 14, 2016 at 10:28 am #

            Issues (shoddy tho’ it is) also says that ‘lay’ people may in conscience enter a same-sex relationship, so if Issues is now the shibboleth…………….

          • David Beadle July 16, 2016 at 2:07 pm #

            David, if people are going to appeal to documents such as Issues and Communiques from the House of Bishops as grounds for disciplining people, they cannot without flatly contradicting themselves then say that clergy should be disciplined for disagreeing with church teachings on sexuality and arguing for them to be changed.

          • David Beadle July 18, 2016 at 3:13 pm #

            And Issues in Human Sexuality, of course, has no more doctrinal value than the Beano.

        • David Shepherd July 17, 2016 at 3:20 pm #

          David B,

          How is it a flat contradiction to permit debate and argument for change, while withholding permission to implement that change by disregarding the Church’s current teaching and without due regard to the approval of Synod?

          Consider the DfE guidance on teaching about marriage in SRE classes.

          Schools have a duty to teach accurately about the nature of marriage in our society. This includes the recognition that the law permits same-sex couples to marry.

          What schools can’t do is to exclude explaining lmarriage as it stands in accordance with civil law.

          The Church’s current discipline establishes a similar arrangement. While clergy can argue for change, they have a duty to explain Christian marriage as it stands in accordance with canon law.

          • David Beadle July 18, 2016 at 3:07 pm #

            Well that’s a different matter. I’m simply saying that clergy can argue for change, and express their own views on the Canon.

      • Penelope July 22, 2016 at 3:00 pm #

        none has the status of doctrine

  7. Phill July 13, 2016 at 10:06 am #

    Thanks for this Ian – this is all deeply troubling, but sadly not surprising given the past couple of years. We’ll see what happens next.

  8. Erika Baker July 13, 2016 at 10:12 am #

    Ian, I thought clergy take an oath of canonical obedience, not one of never working towards changing any canon or piece of liturgy?

    • Ian Paul July 13, 2016 at 9:44 pm #

      I am talking about practice, not about engaging in debate.

      • Erika Baker July 13, 2016 at 11:13 pm #

        You said “a position which, in theory, all the clergy and the bishops have themselves signed up to believing, supporting and teaching.”
        They have been forced to sign up to adhering to it and to teach it. They have not signed up to believing it and never wanting to change it.

        • David Shepherd July 14, 2016 at 3:38 pm #


          A bit like conservative Christian registrars being ‘forced to sign up to” officiate at same-sex marriage ceremonies?

          As I wrote above, the Anglican belief is characterised by what is prescribed through worship and practice. The maxim is lex orandi, lex credendi

        • Ian Paul July 15, 2016 at 10:33 am #

          Erika, in the context of the Church, ‘teaching’ does not simply meaning describing it to others; it means commending it as a holy way of living. If you cannot accept, abide by and commend to others the position of the Church on marriage, I think there is a problem of integrity in making and renewing ordination vows.

          • David Beadle July 16, 2016 at 2:10 pm #

            Then you, Ian, are in disagreement with all the documents the Bishops have commended which say that clergy are free to hold their own views on sexuality and campaign for the church’s teaching on sexuality to be changed. So you, too, do not agree with the Bishops’ teaching on a certain matter. Do you think, then, there is a problem of integrity in renewing your ordination vows?

          • Ian Paul July 22, 2016 at 11:37 am #

            David, could you point me to the place where bishops say clergy can campaign against the bishops’ teaching?

          • Andrew Godsall July 22, 2016 at 3:36 pm #

            15 February 2014 Pastoral Guidance.

            25. The Church of England will continue to place a high value on theological exploration and debate that is conducted with integrity. That is why Church of England clergy are able to argue for a change in its teaching on marriage and human sexuality, while at the same time being required to fashion their lives consistently with that teaching.

          • David Beadle July 23, 2016 at 4:14 pm #

            Also “Issues in Human Sexuality” which we are told represents the mind of the House of Bishops, from paragraph 5.15: “…though the church is not infallible, there is at any given time such a thing as a mind of the church on matters of faith and life. Those who disagree with that mind are free to argue for a change. What they are not free to do is go against this mind in their own practice.”

  9. Amanda Fairclough July 13, 2016 at 10:30 am #

    Hi Ian. As often when I read your work I find myself in agreement with some of your comments even if not with your conclusions.

    For what it’s worth, as one who holds a different view on same sex relationships than you do, I too was a little disturbed by the apparent imbalance from the panel of three reflecting on scripture. And also, there was quite a lot of academic content to absorb aurally without any form of visual aid, which was also unhelpful.

    But I also agree that the opportunity to share quite deep and intimate stories of personal faith within a group of three was an absolute joy and privilege, and I now have two friends who I might otherwise never have met.

  10. Graeme Anderson July 13, 2016 at 10:34 am #

    I am going to state the obvious. Arguments/discussions take place within pervading cultures. This can be of either nations, social classes, institutions etc. . What I see from this article is a pervading culture that puts some at a disadvantage, and in a way, abuses them. Pervading cultures implicitly condone poor process. I have not read anything else about what happened apart from this article. If it is representative of what happened, the very framework and operation of these discussions is flawed to the point of doing more harm than good.

    • Ian Paul July 13, 2016 at 9:45 pm #

      Thanks Graeme. A number of people who were there have commented that they recognise my account.

      • Graeme Anderson July 14, 2016 at 9:07 am #

        Thanks Ian – – – As if I didn’t have enough to pray about already!!

  11. Clive July 13, 2016 at 10:52 am #

    Ian, you wrote:
    “There were three speakers, one of whom supports the current teaching position of the Church, the other two arguing for change. The first person stayed within the brief, and spoke for seven to eight minutes; the second appeared to ignore the brief and spoke for 17 minutes, without intervention from the chair; the third spoke for 12 minutes. So we were offered 8 minutes on the Church’s current and historic teaching, and 29 minutes on why this was wrong. And the dynamic of putting the ‘orthodox’ position first meant that, as in all such debates, the advantage is handed to the others. Added to that, the first speaker, whilst eminently qualified in other ways, was not a biblical scholar, whilst the next one advocating change was…..”
    “….But the format of the presentation precluded proper exploration of these authoritative claims. It felt to me like a serious power play, and I felt I had been subject to an abuse of expert power.”

    And “power play” it is. Although the licensing service makes us all swear the oath that we accept the “..supreme authority in matters of faith the Holy Scriptures…” it is clear that there are Bishops and senior clergy who wish to dismiss the Holy Scriptures as any authority by re-interpretation such that they are relegate to being an old, meaningless text.

    It is a shame because I believe in the Anglican which god breathed through Cranmer et al as a founding father of its current form.

    R.I.P CofE because it is clear that even senior Bishops no longer believe in it. Regardless of Synod they are going to “transform” (i.e. destroy) the CofE.

  12. Charles Read July 13, 2016 at 11:20 am #

    I also had a conversation with one of the organizers re the scripture session. I thought what the three presented was interesting and helpful as far as it went and the third speaker made me think about the issue in new ways.

    However, balanced it was not. As you say, speaker 1 was not a Biblical scholar. I gather that great efforts were made to invite Biblical scholars who support the Church’s current teaching, all of whom declined. (One saying ‘I’ve moved on from that issue’ – maybe so, but the Church needs your expertise still and this is about serving the Church with scholarship.)

    But generally I found it all helpful, good and enjoyable – but it felt like we were at the beginning and it is not clear where we go now. I am also puzzled by the decision to let some members stay on campus but not engage in the groups.

    • Ian Paul July 13, 2016 at 9:47 pm #

      I’d be interested to know what ‘great efforts’ means.

      As I understood it, the speakers were only finalised in the last week…after two years of ‘planning’.

      The problem would have been solved had there not been an arbitrary decision to exclude sitting members of Synod—a number of whom were elected precisely because of their expertise in this area. *irony alert*

      • Andrew Godsall July 14, 2016 at 9:40 am #

        “The problem would have been solved had there not been an arbitrary decision to exclude sitting members of Synod”

        It was by no means an arbitrary decision. It would have been wholly inappropriate for members of synod to be making presentations, especially as some of them are self appointed ‘experts’. That applies whatever view they take on the substantive issue. If someone from synod had made a presentation they would not have been taking part in the shared conversations with any degree of equality – and that would have disadvantaged them and their constituency. And it would also have given them an unfair advantage is terms of speech making.

        The time to bring in any members of synod who have widely acknowledged expertise in this area will be when we get to debates. Then they can make contributions from the floor to begin with, and be included in the working party as any legislation moves through due process. The shared conversations were most definitely not the time for any members of synod to make a presentation.

        I did not hear any bias in the scriptural presentations, all three of which I thought were excellent. If anything, there needs to be bias towards those arguing for a change in the church’s teaching precisely because those who do not wish to have any change have the current status quo on their side.

        • Ian Paul July 17, 2016 at 6:24 pm #

          Andrew, if you heard no bias in the presentations, then we haven’t even begun the process of listening.

          There might be ‘self appointed experts’, but there are also all qualified ones, who might even have stood for Synod because of the expertise they bring.

          • Andrew Godsall July 17, 2016 at 9:24 pm #

            Yes Ian. Which is why I said “The time to bring in any members of synod who have widely acknowledged expertise in this area will be when we get to debates. Then they can make contributions from the floor to begin with, and be included in the working party as any legislation moves through due process. The shared conversations were most definitely not the time for any members of synod to make a presentation.”

          • Ian Paul July 22, 2016 at 11:38 am #

            I am not aware as yet of any plans to spend more time on theological debate on this.

          • Andrew Godsall July 22, 2016 at 3:40 pm #

            Indeed not. But you are aware that the House and College of Bishops have meetings later this years when they will discuss ‘what next’ after the shared conversations. If something comes back to synod, then there will be opportunity for the people you say are on synod who have expertise to put themselves forward. If nothing does come back to synod, then you won’t be too worried will you?

    • Christopher Shell July 14, 2016 at 9:28 pm #

      If anyone wants a Biblical Studies PhD next time I am happy to volunteer.

  13. Barney de Berry July 13, 2016 at 11:36 am #

    Thank you Ian: What I hear you saying in this article is………

  14. Anthony Archer July 13, 2016 at 12:13 pm #

    Thank you Ian; if I may be permitted some initial reflections having of course also been a participant in the Shared Conversations. There is no question but that this process has deepened personal relationships in Christ among members. The circles of listening in the small groups were very moving and there was real honesty displayed. Inevitably the experiences of members were going to be different. My group (21 of us) contained every view and probably every experience and yet we found it possible to work as one body. It was humbling and challenging to be a part of it but also an excellent discipline to need to work hard at listening and remember that we were all engaging with each other as people, fellow baptised believers, and that people are not issues per se.

    I can understand some of the frustrations and know that some groups found the process more challenging and less unifying. However, by definition members of General Synod tend to be activists and many had been asking the question ‘what happens next?’ long before the Shared Conversations were even designed! It was excellent that virtually everyone participated. Some (not many) could not make the whole time commitment and therefore stood down. A few (maybe nine) felt that in conscience they could not participate but stayed on campus to reflect and pray. I think they may have had an opportunity to meet informally with one or two others during this time.

    The plenary sessions were necessary and helpful and I can understand some of Ian’s concerns. However, I am not sure how else they could have been structured. The experiences of the four younger LGBT Christians were profoundly moving to hear; they had different positions as Ian has outlined, but they demonstrated a oneness in Christ. Their differences in no way defined them. There was a change of gear among those who presented on the cultural landscape. They moved, not necessarily helpfully, from dialogue to debate. The three theologians were excellent. Their papers will shortly be uploaded to the Shared Conversations website. I am sorry that Ian rather derides one as not being a ‘biblical scholar.’ Not sure what he is driving at in what is a somewhat ad hominem remark. Actually that speaker’s grand sweep through the Bible I found very helpful.

    So where do we go from here? It will fall to the House of Bishops to take a lead, and one that of necessity will not immediately plunge the General Synod into its normal Parliamentary style debate, taking a binary position on critical issues. For the conservatives, the real fear is that there will be change. The status quo is not an option and that leads quickly on to what the status quo modified will look like. There is much the House of Bishops can do without directing involving the General Synod but it must not act in such a way as be seen to be trying to avoid the Synod. The language of ‘pastoral accommodation’ is going to be very evident going forward. The question is what are its limits? We must give the Holy Spirit time and space to lead the Church on this issue and, as ++Justin has said, commit the process to God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead.

    • David Shepherd July 13, 2016 at 6:34 pm #


      You wrote: It will fall to the House of Bishops to take a lead, and one that of necessity will not immediately plunge the General Synod into its normal Parliamentary style debate, taking a binary position on critical issues. For the conservatives, the real fear is that there will be change.

      You may be right about the HoB taking a lead, but the real concern of conservatives is that change will be imposed through an episcopal Hobson’s Choice.

      Despite the realpolitik at work, I had hope that the official publication issued for the Shared Conversations meant what was stated on p.16:

      Tolerance and capaciousness, though part of our history, can never be the last word if a church is to be true to the gospel. The question now testing members of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion is whether the current differences around human sexuality are of the kind which can be accepted as legitimate within the church or whether it is impossible for some to remain in the same church as others whose views are so different as to imply, as they see it, a radically different faith.

      So, it pre-empts that process to determine that because we’ve repeatedly aired our theological differences on same-sex sexual relationships, we’ve fully understood the implications of those differing views for the future of the church; and that we now need to move on to deciding to implement this divergence from current Church teaching either as a legitimate development, as something to be accommodated pastorally, or, for some, to decide that this matter sufficiently impinges on ‘first-order gospel issues’ as to make it impossible for both sides to remain in the same Church.

      All of this process continues apace and is part of ‘good disagreement’.

    • Ian Paul July 13, 2016 at 9:56 pm #

      Anthony, thanks for commenting. I am not surprised that in your group you ‘managed to work together’, since that was how the process was designed, and it did so through prohibiting proper exploration of different views. That it why many have been suspicious that there was a hidden agenda to make it look as though it will be possible to ‘walk together’. The lack of candour about this agenda did not help.

      You don’t know how else the sessions could have been structured? Here’s a suggestion:
      . have five presentations on Bible, from an evangelical, a catholic, a supporter of the current position (a bishop) and the two wanting revision.
      . then have a facilitated discussion where they can explore each others’ strengths and weaknesses, and see what can be agreed on.
      . then go into a facilitated group discussion of some key passages on the issue.

      That would have been a good way to get people to actually engage with different views. Was that considered and rejected? If so, why? Or was it not considered? If so, why not?

      Of the four younger Christians, two could have come from Living Out, and two from Diverse Church, instead of (as was initially planned!!) all four from DC.

      There could have been much better representation from the world wide Church, and the chair could have actually questioned each so that they couldn’t simply state clear untruths without accountability.

      I am not ‘deriding one as not a biblical scholar’ not least because he is a good friend of mine. I am pointing out that his PhD is not in Biblical Studies (it is in political philosophy). again, why that choice?

      Again, you keep saying ‘the status quo is not an option.’ Can you explain what you mean by that, beyond ‘I don’t want it to be an option’? As I point out, we have already made two major pastoral accommodations. What is the argument for making further ones—other than you don’t like the present situation?

      • Amanda Fairclough July 14, 2016 at 12:24 am #

        Ian, I hope Athony won’t mind me stating that I was in the same group of 21 as he. I don’t think that is strictly a breach of the St Michael’s House protocols but if I read Anthony correctly I doubt he would object to this limited disclosure.

        I too found that our group of 21 functioned well as one body, although I have since learned that this experience was not universal within our group through the entirely of the process. Nonetheless, I do feel we were more fortunate in our collegiality than some other groups.

        What I would like to challenge, Ian, is the assertion that the process prohibited the proper exploration of different views. This was not my experience, and indeed I was exposed to a carefully thought out argument in favour of a point of view that I had not even heard before, let alone considered.

        In other words, it is my experience that when the process, limited as it was, worked “well” it did allow for meaningful exploration of differing views. I had no sense of a hidden agenda or lack of candour to the process (although I did find that only being told about the next step we were to take was frustrating to my temperament), and was surprised by some remarkable new insights as a result.

        And I write this as one who was entirely resistant to the Shared Conversation process and I remain highly sceptical of the value of any repetition, But I must confess that I found them illuminating…

    • Will Jones July 13, 2016 at 10:09 pm #

      Why is the status quo not an option? There has surely been ample pastoral accommodation of something that under church teaching and the teaching of scripture is sinful. Any further pastoral accommodation can only take us to the brink, if not beyond, of division and schism. When will revisionists recognise that they have pushed this controversial and divisive agenda far enough? I hope the bishops will realise they have already taken this as far as it is wise for it to go.

      • Penelope July 14, 2016 at 10:47 am #

        Ian speaks above about some on his ‘side’ of the argument finding the description of same-sex marriages as the eschatological fulfilment of Christian marriage a “deeply offensive assertion”. Without engaging in that particular argument, do you not see that your use of the term “pastoral accommodation” is deeply offensive to Christians who wish to participate fully in the sacramental life of the Church? You would never (I hope) say that black people should have some pastoral accommodation to allow them to marry in Church, nor that such pastoral accommodation had gone far enough and should be rolled back. Although, it is not so long ago that people did say such offensive things and often based them upon their interpretation of scripture.

        • Will Jones July 14, 2016 at 7:09 pm #

          Pastoral accommodation is a standard term used widely. The parallel between race and sexuality is unhelpful as the two issues are clearly of quite different kinds. The prohibition on homosexual relations was universal to the church until very recently. Needless to say, any concept of racial inferiority was not universal, since all races have always made up the church, and the equality of the races is well-established in Christian tradition, with some unwelcome aberrations.

          • Penelope July 14, 2016 at 8:26 pm #

            “Unwelcome aberrations” which appealed to the authority of scripture. There are some biblical passages (especially in the Hebrew Bible) which prohibit anal sex. There are – probably – none which mention faithful, covenantal same-sex relationships.

          • Will Jones July 14, 2016 at 10:23 pm #

            Penelope – I’m not sure what point you are making here. Just because some view appeals to the authority of scripture doesn’t mean it is correct, and if it is incorrect that doesn’t mean all other appeals to the authority of scripture get it wrong. That would be like saying science sometimes gets it wrong (science was also used to support racial superiority after all) therefore science is always wrong. As Christians we believe in the authority of scripture (or perhaps you don’t? but then you are placing yourself entirely outside orthodox debate) and therefore the important question is what is scripture actually saying. Scripture certainly does not support racial superiority, and it does proscribe same-sex relations. It is a matter of learning to understand what God is saying to us through his word by interpreting scripture correctly.

          • Penelope July 15, 2016 at 9:34 am #

            Will Of course the ‘argument’ is about interpretation. People who were under the authority of scripture believed in racial superiority for centuries; some still do. That is their interpretation.
            Some passages in the scriptures see anal sex as an abomination or (and this is less certain) as something not to be practised by those who have been called by Christ.
            The Bible says nothing about faithful same-sex relationships or about sexual orientation. We have to infer

          • Will Jones July 15, 2016 at 10:04 am #

            Ok, so you’ve shifted now to the argument from silence position – much better than the argument from misinterpretation position (which only states the obvious that scripture has sometimes been appallingly misinterpreted, often with the aim of undermining the authority of scripture). The argument from silence is addressed at length elsewhere in this comment thread. For myself, I would point out that stable, committed same-sex relationships will involve the proscribed behaviour (if they don’t then they are a form of intense platonic friendship) so, even if the precise form of relationship is not directly addressed (which is disputed) the sexual activity is. (Of course, there are more passages dealing with same-sex relations than just the Levitical law code, such as Romans 1.)

            This is a very grave matter, especially in our culture which places such a premium on sexual intimacy and personal authenticity. However, we do have a responsibility as Christians to understand correctly God’s intentions for human sexuality and family relationships, as communicated through scripture and nature, and witness to those truths, even as they go against the grain of our culture, and even (which is often more difficult) create heartache for our beloved brothers and sisters in Christ (and empathetically for us).

          • Penelope July 15, 2016 at 10:31 am #

            Will. No I am afraid others are arguing from silence in saying that Paul did know of committed same-sex relationships and still condemned them In the passages in Romans and 1 Corinthians. Using these passages and the Levitical charges of abomination is, I would argue, as strained as using scripture to condone or prescribe slavery or racial inferiority. Hindsight is a wonderful view: it is all too easy to say that the people who read the bible as condoning slavery (say) are misinterpreting it!

          • Penelope July 15, 2016 at 10:32 am #

            Will – also I’m not very interested in the details of other people’s sexual intimacies, but how do you know that they are involved in proscribed behaviour?

          • Will Jones July 15, 2016 at 11:03 am #

            Others aren’t arguing from silence because the argument is about appropriate sexual behaviour, not the precise nature of the kind of relationship in which it takes place – you seem to be getting unduly fixated on that.

            In terms of whether or not relationships are celibate – if people want to commit to expressly celibate forms of committed relationship then that may be unwise for other reasons (e.g. making it difficult to end it in order to get married and have a family) but it wouldn’t fall under the terms of the current debate, which is about appropriate forms of sexual behaviour (they also wouldn’t be a couple or partners in the usual sense of the word). Obviously we assume the relationships we are talking about are sexual, since that is the subject under discussion.

          • Clive July 15, 2016 at 11:22 am #

            Penelope, I don’t usually make comments on such graphic points of sexual detail but the absolute disparity between your two statements is obvious.

            You wrote:
            “… There are some biblical passages (especially in the Hebrew Bible) which prohibit anal sex. There are – probably – none which mention faithful, covenantal same-sex relationships.”

            “anal sex” (your words) is a specific type of sex whereas “faithful, covenantal same-sex relationships” (again, your words) doesn’t specify any type of sex at all. Thus your comment is all over the place.

          • Penelope July 15, 2016 at 5:37 pm #

            Will, yes, I’m afraid ‘others’ are using an argument from silence by saying that Paul must have known about committed same-sex relationships (from reading Plato) although he never alludes to such.
            Secondly, celibacy simply means being unmarried, and sexual relationships can be chaste, so I suppose you mean (sexually) abstinent. How do you know that all forms of same-sex intimacy come under the Levitical and Pauline prohibitions (I am assuming, here, that Paul is referring to the Levitical prohibitions in his use of arsenokoites and malakos, but that is, of course, contested)?

          • Penelope July 15, 2016 at 5:39 pm #

            Clive sorry, but the Bible is a graphic text! So, for the sake of argument, would same-sex intimacy which eschewed anal sex be prohibited by scripture?

          • Clive July 15, 2016 at 5:49 pm #

            Which sadly, Penelope, still leaves your comment all over the place

          • Will Jones July 15, 2016 at 5:54 pm #

            A quick Google brings up a standard definition of celibate, which is “abstaining from marriage and sexual relations, typically for religious reasons”. So perhaps abstinent might have been more precise, but celibate is not incorrect. This is all a distraction though.

            Passages like Romans 1 suggest a general prohibition on same-sex relations, and we know that was the practice of the church from the earliest times. Biblical scholarship is the place to go for our current best idea of what was or wasn’t likely included.

            But are you or anyone suggesting inclusion of same-sex couples but with some detailed rules about what kinds of sexual intimacy are and aren’t acceptable in their relationships? I haven’t heard that as a position being proposed, so this too would seem a distraction from the substantive debate.

          • Penelope July 16, 2016 at 12:35 pm #

            Will I am not suggesting ‘rules’ for sexual intimacy. As far as I am concerned what loving consensual intimacies partners indulge in is their own affair, as it were. I am trying to highlight the absurdity of policing couples’ bedrooms based on the very partial evidence we have from scripture. It’s rather like those dating books of yesteryear: Is it OK to……….?
            So, if scripture refers only to anal sex (if it does) does that mean that other kinds of sexual activity are not prohibited? And what do we do with other prohibitions, which many Christians ignore, such as having sexual intercourse with a menstruating woman.
            What I am trying to say is “forget the sex and concentrate on the quality of the relationship”.

          • Penelope July 16, 2016 at 12:37 pm #

            Didn’t answer my question Clive!

          • Will Jones July 16, 2016 at 2:37 pm #

            Penelope – if you think that scripture is, like you, uninterested in the form of sexual intimacy and only in a vague ‘quality of relationship’ then I really do wonder about the biblical scholars you are relying on. Sexual sin is a major form of sin throughout the bible, in addition to quality of relationship issues

          • Penelope July 16, 2016 at 5:20 pm #

            Will I’m not claiming that scripture is concerned with the quality of sexual relationships. That would be anachronistic. But it’s not especially concerned with sexual sin either (in comparison to other transgressions). Many rules are about what is an abomination, a taboo, unclean, impure, or transgresses boundary markers – I see both the anal sex and the sex with a menstruating woman commands as that, i.e. not about what we would regard as sinfulness (and the latter is ignored by many [most?] Chrsitians today). Even the adultery commandment is asymmetric since it applies to women in circumstances in which it wouldn’t apply to men and is, anyway, a property offence, not a sexual one. On the other hand there are all kinds of sexual transgression such as Lot’s offer of his virgin daughters to the men of Sodom and Abram’s rape of Hagar which are passed over in silence. I think these are very sinful.

          • Clive July 16, 2016 at 5:59 pm #

            Actually I did answer your question Penelope it’s just that you didn’t like it and your whole logic remains completely all over the place

          • Will Jones July 16, 2016 at 6:14 pm #

            I’m impressed with your engagement with the Old Testament but as you know the OT for Christians is understood very much through the lens of Christ and the NT, which helps us make sense of all the commands in the OT law. If you take a quick read through the lists of sins in the NT you’ll find sexual sin a staple presence, with homosexual behavior specifically mentioned a number of times. Menstruation, however, is absent. I’m not sure who you’re reading to teach you how to understand NT ethical teaching in light of OT law, but if they’re telling you that scripture is indifferent to sex as such, or that all NT sexual sin is on a par with shellfish and menstruation prohibitions then I suggest you find some better informed. If this is what you’re suggesting is an equally plausible alternative interpretation of scripture then I really hope the bishops treat it with all the respect it deserves.

          • Penelope July 17, 2016 at 10:48 am #

            Will the NT mentions same-sex sex (probably) on 3 occasions. That isn’t a great deal.
            On the other hand there are those who believe that sex with a menstruating woman is still forbidden because they read this as encompassed by the instructions not to commit porneia, particularly in the so-called Jerusalem Council agreement which reiterates the Noahide Covenant. Most of the OT Law was never binding on gentiles anyway, so shellfish is another red herring.

          • Will Jones July 17, 2016 at 1:12 pm #

            But three times is a great deal if the meaning is clear – biblical interpretation isn’t about hitting some preordained frequency threshold. Besides, your argument seems to turn on a claim that the NT doesn’t recognise sexual sin as a category of sin in its own right, apart from quality of relationship concerns. And as I say, that is a claim that can bear no examination whatsoever. If that is a key claim in your interpretation then it really doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

          • Clive July 17, 2016 at 4:20 pm #


            It’s more than three occasions because you are noticeably ignoring Jesus’ own words in the gospels, particularly Matthew and Mark.

          • Penelope July 18, 2016 at 11:05 am #

            Will I don’t think my argument does turn on a quality of relationship. As I think I said (these threads are getting very long!) I don’t think the Bible is very concerned by the qualities of marital relationships (with the notable exception of Ephesians. The NT writers weren’t all that keen on marriage (I believe) because ‘there will be no marriage I heaven’ and the Parousia was imminent.
            Yes, I do agree that sexual sin was a category in the NT, but I don’t think it deserves the prominence we have given it.

          • Will Jones July 18, 2016 at 1:21 pm #

            Yes, the NT is keen on celibacy, but it is also very keen on marriage (albeit in an eschatologically qualified way). Certainly it’s not at all keen on sexual relations outside marriage.

            As for the idea that the prominence of sexual immorality is a creature of our own misguided invention, let’s just survey some key NT passages on sin to see how often they include it and where it appears (note: always near the top and often more than once):

            Matthew 15:18-20
            18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”

            Mark 7:20-22
            20 He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.

            Romans 1:24-26
            24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. 26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts.

            1Corinathians 5:9-11
            I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.

            1Corinathians 9:9-10,18
            Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God…18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.

            Galatians 5:19-20
            19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions…

            Ephesians 5:33
            But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.

            Colossians 3:5-6
            5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.

            1 Thessalonians 4:3-4
            3 It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; 4 that each of you should learn to control your own body[a] in a way that is holy and honourable…

            Hebrews 12:15-17
            15 See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. 16 See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son.

            Revelation 22:14-16
            14 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

            Going by this, it’s safe to say the NT doesn’t just think sexual immorality is a category of sin in its own right; it thinks it’s a particularly important one to underline.

          • Christopher Shell July 19, 2016 at 9:17 am #

            Correct, Will.

          • Penelope July 19, 2016 at 10:02 pm #

            Will a) the NT is not all that keen on marriage; b) same-sex relationships are not immoral if they aim to mode the covenantal faithfulness of Godl; c) are we denying the sacraments to all who slander, are malicious, deceitful or drunk…….?

          • Will Jones July 20, 2016 at 10:34 am #

            Thanks Penelope.
            a) You’re very keen to stress that the NT isn’t keen on marriage (it does describe it as an image of the relationship between Christ and the Church so it can’t be that negative about it), but do you now accept that it is also very much against sexual immorality and makes a big point of it? You were denying that above.
            b) You need to back up your assertion about same-sex (sexual) relationships not being immoral with arguments based in scripture, and explain why something which scripture on at least three occasions describes as sinful ceases to be so when located in these relationships.
            c) Regardless of whether we withhold communion over these things, we do not cease to regard them as sinful, which is what you are proposing for same-sex relations, so I don’t believe this makes the point you are aiming for.

          • Penelope July 20, 2016 at 10:39 am #

            Will I was taught NT by Profs Douglas Campbell, Edward Adams, Francis Watson, David Horrell and Drs Louise Lawrence and Crispin Fletcher-Louis. I now teach NT to ordinands and Readers. Does that answer your question?

          • Will Jones July 20, 2016 at 12:00 pm #

            No not really! That isn’t an argument but a substitution of an argument with credentials. I’m slightly worried that someone in your position thinks that scripture is ‘not especially concerned with sexual sin’ (for real?) and that a fair reflection of NT teaching on sexual ethics is ‘forget the sex’. Are we reading the same book?

          • Penelope July 20, 2016 at 7:17 pm #

            Not what I said Will. You asked me who was ‘teaching me to read the NT’ (a rather condescending question, if I may say), and I answered.
            Of course sexual sin is highlighted in the NT as are many other things in the vice lists. some people focus – too much in my view – on sexual transgressions and turn a blind eye to everyday sins such as oppression of the poor, greed, lying, deceit etc. Sexual sins are adultery, fornication, coercion, rape etc. (tho’ the last is probably an abuse of power rather than a sexual sin). They are not what goes on in consensual people’s bedrooms.
            If you adopted a hermeneutic which looks at the overarching narrative, particularly of the NT, rather than seeing scripture as a car manual, you might come to the same conclusion.

          • Will Jones July 20, 2016 at 10:12 pm #

            Oh right – that question. That was back on Saturday. Yes the question was a bit condescending, apologies, I got a little carried away. Thank you for answering it.

            Sexual sin is, as I’m sure you know, and as the list I put up in a previous comment demonstrates, a prominent member of the NT vice lists, and even if other sins should get more airtime than they do that’s no reason to minimise sexual sin as some of your previous comments have strongly suggested you are keen to do.

            However, I think here we come to the essence of the problem: you define sexual sin as “not what goes on in consensual people’s bedrooms”, which you argue arises from the “overarching narrative” of the NT (especially). But surely you are aware, as a trained biblical scholar, that that is certainly not what the NT writers would have had in their minds as sexual sin. For one thing it doesn’t include pre-marital sex. It also doesn’t rule out open marriages which is all consensual (and perhaps even adultery, since both parties to adultery are consenting). It also doesn’t rule out same-sex relations, which clearly the NT writers do since they include it expressly in their vice lists on a number of occasions. Surely you can see that you are imposing your definition of sexual sin on the text and not taking it from it? And that, if we’re honest, is one of the big problems in this debate. You claim to have an alternative plausible interpretation of scripture that deserves accommodation in church teaching and practice, but at the heart of it is an imposition of a very modern idea onto an otherwise clear biblical concept.

          • Christopher Shell July 21, 2016 at 12:38 pm #

            Penelope, are you serious when you say that sins like fornication and adultery do not go on in consensual people’s bedrooms? People mutually consent to these things all the time

          • Penelope July 22, 2016 at 2:18 pm #

            Will I am sorry I have only just seen this and the reference in your comment to Helen, below. These sub threads are getting far too complex to follow and respond!
            Fair point – I should, of course, have written faithful, or monogamous, consensual people’s bedrooms. I agree that it is anachronistic to think that the NT writers were concerned with the ‘quality’ of marital relationships in the modernist sense. However, I do believe that we must try to discern what God’s will is for us today, even from texts which don’t mention the presenting problems. The ethics of in vitro fertilisation, or stem cell research present us with similar dilemmas. I believe that all relationships, including (and perhaps pre-eminently) marital ones should aim to model and reflect God’s covenant relationship with humankind and the whole of creation.
            As I think I’ve said, I don’t believe that the most of the NT writers gave much attention to the quality of marital relationships (though the authors of the Pastorals and the catholic epistles were more concerned with family order and, hence, more hierarchical). Even the metaphor of the Church as the Bride of Christ is a very queer metaphor. For Paul and the writers of the gospels, our primary identity is in Christ and, since we are now in His family, that is where our ties and obligations lie – not even and not now in blood ties (1 Corinthians and Mark 3.34). There is also an emphasis on asceticism – a thread which is carried through to the Acts of Paul and Thecla, but discouraged in the Pastorals.
            Even if marriage was touched on more frequently, its definition(s) in the ANE would be so very different from our own, that drawing ethical precepts from the texts would not be so clear as some commentators assert. As David Runcorn has said, in a different context, ‘this is not that’.
            Sexual sin in the vice lists is lewdness, fornication, some sex acts and adultery; though when does the last move from being a property transgression to a sexual transgression? Interestingly, rape is not mentioned, so far as I am aware. You, like many others on this thread, are concentrating on fornication (sex before or outside marriage) and same-sex acts (and adultery). Paul says same-sex acts are against nature (which they clearly are not) although they may be against the nature of the men (husbands?) who are deserting ‘their’ women in order to practice them.
            It may be, in asserting that marriage (whatever the gender of the spouses) is a sign of God’s grace and covenant love, (and that sexual sin is something that happens outside marriage, within faithless marriage, and against consent) that I am reading against the grain. It is a method of reading which has an honourable history in the abolition of slavery, the acceptance of the place of contraception, and the recognition of women’s orders (and the recognition of the marriage of divorcees). I am not suggesting that inclusivity ‘deserves accommodation’ in church teaching and practice. It is the heart of the gospel; it should already be the cornerstone of church teaching and practice. ‘Traditionalists’ tend to claim that ‘revisionists’ are attempting to import modern or modernist ideas into their readings of scripture seemingly unaware that their ideas of what are clear biblical concepts (such as binaries and complementarianism) are anachronisms.

          • Will Jones July 22, 2016 at 4:45 pm #

            Thanks Penelope – yes, it’s confusing isn’t it, and the reply system seems only to allow three levels of sub-thread and after that you have to all just stack up on top of each other!

            You admit that you are ‘against the grain’ so at least we agree on that much. Hidden within that phrase though is an admission that you are being creative with the meaning of the biblical teaching, which is of course the entire issue. In your defence you cite the ‘honourable tradition’ of doing this with other issues – slavery, contraception, women’s orders and divorce. A comparative argument like this of course depends on there being relevant parallels between the issues and the ways in which the church’s position on them changed – it would obviously be the height of sloppiness to think you can justify a new change simply by pointing to the existence of previous changes.

            This is where your argument falls down. To take each issue very briefly (they are also covered elsewhere in this thread): slavery is discouraged in the NT and the equality of slave and master is affirmed and while it is accepted as part of the social fabric there is no express affirmation of it to oppose the later abolitionist traditions based on the egalitarian teachings; contraception is not addressed in the NT and is not in the vice lists; women’s ministry has biblical precedent and is not described as sinful; divorce has some biblical basis, and anyway is still regarded as morally problematic.

            SSM has no relevant relationship to any of these changes. It inherently involves conduct which is expressly forbidden on multiple occasions, and forbidden not arbitrarily but as part of a coherent (and certainly not anachronistic) heteronormative conception of human sexuality which forms part of an essentialist conception of gender and humanity.

            The parallel therefore fails and you are left trying to argue for something which scripture expressly forbids without any plausible argument for why you should be able to disregard it. You seem to admit, for example, that Paul regards same-sex relations as against nature, by which I assume you mean to accept that scripture includes teaching of them as such, but then deny that they are against nature. How is that not just a denial of clear teaching that you yourself accept is scriptural? You form for yourself a definition of acceptable sexual relations, which seems basically to be marriage with the heteronormative component removed (though I note you didn’t include permanent), which you freely admit is ‘against the grain’ of scripture, and argue that this is acceptable because it is what we did with other issues.

            But it isn’t – it is far far more problematic from a biblical point of view than slavery, contraception, women’s ministry and divorce. It involves (by your own admission) a direct disregard of biblical teaching on proper sexual conduct. Which is why the scale and depth of the divisions that would be caused by the changes you are advocating would dwarf anything resulting from those previous changes.

          • Christopher Shell July 23, 2016 at 8:25 am #

            Penelope, same-sex acts are against nature in the following senses:

            (1) Which genitals people have is something we can be sure about. And when they act as though they belong to the gender that has the other type of genitals – that counts as being against nature.

            (2) Which genitals people have is also something we can be a lot **more** sure about than we can be about their ‘orientation’. (This is why people are so against Obama’s bathroom laws: he is saying that something both variable and unverifiable, personal gender-identification, is MORE firm than something both unvariable and verifiable, biological gender.) For these 2 main reasons:

            -(a) orientation can be lied about, whereas genitals do not lie;

            -(b) orientation is fluid (see Lisa Diamond’s research and that of Savin-Williams and Ream) – very fluid indeed.

            -(c) orientation is such a problematic concept when women involved in lesbian acts can quadruple in 20 years (culture and publicly-proclaimed cultural norms are the cause: nothing to do with biology or the innate), and when self-styled lesbians can have twice as many MALE sexual partners on average as straight women.

            Accordingly, by framing things in terms of orientation (and gay-ness, and homosexuality) we are framing things in the wrong way, and wrong thinking will result. This particular way of framing things does not match up with the way things are. The terms ‘sexual orientation’, ‘gay’ and ‘homosexual’ are all problematic. This is a big problem, since these are the very terms that the entire discussion has been predicated on (not that we asked it to be).

            Who said that people all favour contraception (I find it a perfectly revolting idea), let alone remarriage of divorcees, which could not be more clearly against the best-attested of all Jesus’s teachings? And if a Christian church does not follow Christ, what exactly is it doing?

            Inclusivity is not at all what the gospel is about. Acts 2 and Gal 3 // Col 3 have great statements about egalitarianism and organic unity (slightly different from inclusivity). Inclusivity is like most things (choice, consent etc.) – namely: if you include (or choose, or consent to) good things, that’s good; and if you include bad things, that’s bad.
            Inclusivity itself is entirely neutral.

            And as for splitting people into traditionalists and revisionists (although I agree that people sometimes see THEMSELVES this way, and mistakenly view life through this lens), whether something is old or new is the least relevant factor of all in determining whether it is good or bad. As has repeatedly been pointed out (e.g. by Chesterton and by Lewis, and ad nauseam ever since), this is chronological snobbery. The question is whether things are supported by evidence or not.
            There are things that are old and bad, old and good, new and bad, new and good. Being old or new certainly can never make something either good or bad. That is obvious to anyone. Yet people persist in classification systems that treat old/new as the main issue. No wonder the debate is regularly at so poor and uninformed a level.

            Re the debate, have you noticed that no-one is assessing the debate so far to see who is winning? People have been lulled into a convenient assurance that there can never be any actual winners. Well (at the risk of stating the obvious) if there are no winners, what is the point of the debate? We can find which questions, and which refutations, have not been able to be answered, and (if there is a winner, which there often will be) find the winner that way. Should other questions and refutations stump all comers, then the identity of the winner may (or may not) shift over time.

          • Penelope July 23, 2016 at 12:03 pm #

            Thanks Will I have to keep scrolling up and down to see your response so forgive me if I summarise.
            I think that you are looking at the NT thro’ very rosy lenses if you see slavery condemned or true equality between slave and master (which would be that there wasn’t slave and master), apart from Gal 3.28. Slavery was ‘kata physin’. Amongst the things that are para physin are men having long hair, and gentiles being grafted into the people of God. Paul uses the term in different ways. As Jonathan Tallon has commented elsewhere on this thread, many sexual practices were considered para physin, including contraception and (heterosexual) sex which wasn’t procreative. These could be incorporated into the concept of porneia. (which encompasses all sorts of sexual immorality).
            Reading this way isn’t any more ‘creative’ (seen as a bad thing) than inferring that a condemnation of (some) same-sex practices (by men who had turned away from ‘their’ women) condemns all sexual intimacies enjoyed by gay couples in loving and faithful relationships which bear the fruits of Christian marriage.

          • Will Jones July 23, 2016 at 3:26 pm #

            I didn’t claim slavery was condemned – I said it was accepted as part of the social order, and only that it was discouraged (e.g. exhorting slaves to obtain their freedom where possible, and Philemon to free Onesimus). Plus the exhortation of masters to remember their Master, the direct addressing of slaves as fellow brethren, Gal 3:28 etc. But look, you know all this better than me, so I don’t need to regurgitate all the ways in which the NT is less than positive about the institution of slavery. I am not aware of anywhere in the NT which describes slavery as according to nature, or slavery as a natural condition, as Aristotle did. Masters weren’t told never to free their slaves because that would be against nature. This is why the long and effective Christian abolitionist tradition has been such a persistent presence and so readily grounded in scripture. But all this you surely know.

            You keep insisting that many sexual practices were considered against nature, not just same-sex practices – your point presumably being that if we want to rule out same-sex sex for this reason then we would also have to rule out these things that we don’t want to. Thus we should jettison the whole idea as an anachronism. The problem for that argument is that the NT doesn’t anywhere say that all that is para physin is prohibited for Christians or even a bad thing – as your example of the grafted olive branch shows. Just because Jews of the time thought other sex practices were para physin and so not to be engaged in, that would only be relevant to biblical teaching if such a teaching was included in scripture. But it isn’t. All we’re told is that same-sex practices are prohibited as contrary to nature – scripture doesn’t ban contraception or sex within an infertile marriage for being contrary to nature. If people thought that at the time, if Paul thought that, it is irrelevant, because as Christians we are not bound to be faithful to what first century Jews thought or what Paul thought but what scripture teaches. And it teaches that same-sex practices are prohibited as contrary to nature. You can’t tarnish that teaching with other contemporary teachings that aren’t included in scripture (and therefore reject it). And we know what contrary to nature means on this point because it is quite plain what male and female sexual organs are meant to do, and what is not intended for this purpose.

            You presumably are aware that your limiting of condemnation of same-sex practices to those of men who are being unfaithful to their wife is ‘creative’ (in the ‘bad sense’) i.e. imposing your own ideas onto the concepts of scripture.

            On your last point: same-sex relationships obviously don’t bear all the fruits of Christian marriage, because one of those most important fruits is natural offspring. (Yes, some marriages are unintentionally childless, but that is just a sign of the dysfunction of nature, not something desirable and to be increased.)

          • Penelope July 23, 2016 at 4:46 pm #

            Will that’s rather a circular argument: other sexual practices may be condemned by Jewish teaching and by Paul but because they aren’t condemned by scripture (presumably the NT and according to whom?), they are OK.
            I think you are being rather too apologetic about slavery. Yes, slaves could obtain their freedom, but they were told not to wish to obtain their freedom and to obey their masters. Onesimus who may be freed by Philemon is the exception, not a general rule. Slavery is also used a metaphor for humankind’s relationship with Christ (altho’ we have also been freed from the slavery of sin.).
            I’m not limiting my condemnation of same sex practices to men who abandon ‘their’ women, just pointing out that it’s an interesting phrase which doesn’t seem to point to ‘gay’ men.
            And of course same-sex marriages can bring the fruit of procreation. Gay men and women are not necessarily sterile and they can also adopt children

          • Will Jones July 23, 2016 at 7:00 pm #

            It’s not circular at all. As Christians our authority is the revelation of God in scripture, not the miscellaneous beliefs of first century Jews or even of Paul, except insofar as they are included in scripture. Why would you suppose us to be under the authority of general first century Jewish ideas? You can’t discredit the teaching of scripture by associating it with other extra-biblical Jewish notions of the day – that is not a sound strategy because no one is defending those extra-biblical ideas.

            You are being much too negative about scripture and slavery. Nowhere does scripture instruct slaves not to wish for their freedom (why do you say that?) and furthermore it instructs them to obtain their freedom if they can, which is the opposite of your assertion. While there is admittedly no general injunction on masters to free their slaves, there is clearly the hope, as Philemon shows. The NT also expressly includes slave trading in a vice list in 1Tim 1:10 (next to homosexuality, as it happens). Which is of course why Christian civilisation has so frequently opposed and abolished slavery from the earliest times. It feels like you want scripture to be positive about slavery so you can undermine its straightforward authority and justify your creativity on this issue.

            No, same-sex couples cannot replicate procreation. Adoption is not procreation, and having children with someone else is just that.

          • Penelope July 24, 2016 at 3:03 pm #

            Will we have to infer from 1st C mores what might have been included in Paul’s blanket term porneia. Fornication, adultery, anal sex; but also sex which was not procreative, sex with a menstruating woman etc.. Why make the ahistorical assumption that some ‘vices’ are included whilst others aren’t.
            Yes 1 Timothy lists slave traders but not slave owners. Injunctions to slaves to be obedient: I cor, Eph, Col, 1 Tim. 6. Philemon is about a particular relationship and has no universal application. Besides, we don not know that Paul actually wished Philemon to free Onesimus when he welcomed him as a brother, nor do we know if Philemon did so.
            1 Tim lists arsenokoites (not homosexuals) before slave traders. Arsenokoites were (probably) man bedders (man fuckers if you like). That is not the same thing.

          • Will Jones July 24, 2016 at 6:56 pm #

            You’re right that the cultural context allows us to understand the meaning of words such as porneia. However, the central meaning of porneia is well-attested to be sex outside marriage, and this is the meaning that is spelled out in scripture. If the word had other meanings for (some of) the writers of the NT (e.g. non-procreative sex, sex during menstruation) then these could not be known from the NT since they are not stated there. We could only know them, and how important they were, from a knowledge of first century Jewish mores (though this wouldn’t tell us how important they were to the writers). We are thus justified in taking the NT use of porneia to refer only to the forms of sexual sin specifically enumerated in the NT, and especially to its central meaning of non-marital sex. I do not think this is circular or unduly selective as it is merely taking scripture to be sufficient for explaining the meaning of its own teaching. (I note that there are very few commentators ancient or modern who explain porneia to rule out e.g. sex during menstruation or sex by an infertile married couple.)

            Yes the NT instructs slaves to be obedient, but it also instructs masters to treat them kindly and regard them as fellow brothers, warning them of their own Master, and tells slaves to seek their freedom (and condemns slave trading). Since this was enough to make Christian civilisation in general anti-slavery I think we can assume the NT is not pro-slavery. (Philemon is, I agree, not written as general teaching but it does give a model, with apostolic commendation, of how masters might relate to slaves who are fellow believers, i.e. as brothers.)

            On the last point – apologies for the sloppiness, I know that it is not homosexuality as such but ‘men who have sex with men’ or equivalent term that appears in the vice list, and should have said that.

          • Penelope July 25, 2016 at 10:14 am #

            Hi Will I don’t think I can do this again; it’s getting too exhausting. Two questions if I may.
            1) where did you get the info that porneia simply means fornication in the NT (and, indeed, the implication that fornication is simply sex outside marriage)?
            2) Do you really feel that the Christian tradition opposed slavery until the 18th/19th Cs.? (That’s not my understanding of the tradition.) Thanks.

          • Will Jones July 25, 2016 at 9:51 pm #

            Hi Penelope –
            1) You’re probably aware that an understanding of porneia as including fornication is standard (as Google and Wikipedia attest). I know that this has been disputed in recent times, mainly by focusing on the contexts of its appearance in the NT and the prescriptions on sexual conduct in Leviticus 18, which notably don’t include pre-marital sex. However, the assumption that pre-marital sex is morally deficient (impure, shameful), and hence part of general sexual immorality, is clearly there throughout scripture, being implied by the Genesis concept of one flesh and becoming explicit in Deuteronomy 22. Paul’s discussion of the unmarried in 1Cor 7 (where the alternative to burning with passion is to marry) also clearly carries this assumption. In terms of sex during menstruation – it may be that the prohibition on this was intended to be included in the NT porneia as you suggest, but without it being repeated in the NT explicitly (especially for the benefit of gentiles) it is impossible to be sure and I don’t think we need to trouble ourselves about that one. I am unsure why you think that sex between an infertile married couple was included under porneia, but again without it being stated explicitly in the NT (for the benefit of gentiles) it is difficult to regard it as binding on Christians.

            2) I know that the Christian tradition has a mixed record when it comes to slavery, but even so opposition to it was by no means an 18th century invention. As well as the scriptural record we’ve talked about (whatever was the true history with Philemon, tradition has it he freed Onesimus and both were sainted) prominent voices opposing slavery (in some way) in the first millennium include Saint Patrick, Origen, John Chrysostom, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine and Acacius of Amida. It is generally held (though I don’t have a reference) that slavery disappeared in Europe during the Middle Ages in large part because it was Christian. This is the kind of thing I was referring to.

        • David Shepherd July 14, 2016 at 7:16 pm #

          Hi Penelope,

          The American Psychological Association states in the definitive ‘Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation, ‘we propose that, on the basis of research on sexual orientation and sexual orientation identity, what appears to shift and evolve in some individuals’ lives is sexual orientation identity, not sexual orientation’

          Same-sex sexual attractions and behavior occur in the context of a variety of sexual orientations and sexual orientation identities, and for some, sexual orientation identity (i.e., individual or group membership and affiliation, self-labeling) is fluid or has an indefinite outcome.’

          ‘Although affirmative approaches have historically been conceptualized around helping sexual minorities accept and adopt a gay or lesbian identity (e.g., Browning et al., 1991; Shannon & Woods, 1991), the recent research on sexual orientation identity diversity illustrates that sexual behavior, sexual attraction, and sexual orientation identity are labeled and expressed in many different ways, some of which are fluid (e.g., Diamond, 2006, 2008; Firestein, 2007; Fox, 2004; Patterson, 2008; Savin-Williams, 2005; R. L. Worthington & Reynolds, 2009.

          By comparison, as a black person, I don’t just self-identity as black, since it’s never been in any doubt that my race is predicated upon my genetic make-up.

          The valid comparison for sexual behaviour prompting pastoral accommodation is polygamy, which is not genetic, but is widespread throughout Africa.

          As you may remember, despite examples of OT polygamy, the 2008 Lambeth Conference sent a strong and unequivocal response to the predominantly African issue of those from polygamous relationships who want ‘to participate fully in the sacramental life of the Church’:

          “In the case of polygamy, there is a universal standard – it is understood to be a sin, therefore polygamists are not admitted to positions of leadership including Holy Orders, nor after acceptance of the Gospel can a convert take another wife, nor, in some areas, are they admitted to Holy Communion.”

          So, if you find ‘pastoral accommodation offensive to LGBT people, so be it! I doubt that you’re offended by the above pastoral accommodation which, some would argue, indirectly discriminates against those brought up in non-white cultures.

          • Will Jones July 14, 2016 at 8:14 pm #

            Thanks David. Do you really believe that sexual orientation is always fixed? Given that it has no straightforward genetic basis and environmental factors are known to play a major role, it seems unlikely. I’m sure in many cases it is largely unchanging. But always completely fixed? Sounds like ideology to me.

          • Penelope July 14, 2016 at 8:32 pm #

            Hi David S. I think whether sexual orientation is a spectrum or shifts is something of a red herring. If you don’t believe that faithful same-sex love is sinful then it is immaterial whether it is innate or chosen. Race is a fair comparison, because race is also a cultural construct, not a biological reality. I think that polygamy is also a red herring although it is still countenanced thro’ ‘pastoral accommodation’ in some countries. I am offended by this pastoral accommodation as well.
            I am rather surprised that you are so blithely unconcerned about a term and practice which many of your Christian siblings, gay and straight, find deeply offensive.

          • Will Jones July 14, 2016 at 10:31 pm #

            Penelope – I’m kind of offended that you’re trying to shame those of us with whom you disagree into ceasing to use a standard, carefully chosen term such as pastoral accommodation by pointing out how much offence it is causing. I’m not indifferent to the feelings of my brothers and sisters, but we do need to be reasonable with one another. I suspect the real offence is caused by the idea that same-sex relations are sinful, but that is the current teaching of the church to which many are always going to remain faithful, even if the church itself makes efforts to move away from it.

          • David Shepherd July 14, 2016 at 10:55 pm #


            You sated: ‘Race is a fair comparison, because race is also a cultural construct

            A person’s race is distinguished from sexual orientation in that the former is predicated upon hard-coded genetic characteristics and not how they self-identify

            Compare Rachel Dolezal, a white woman who, like you, thought that race is a cultural construct and not predicated upon a biological reality. Her masquerade as African-American held the implication that race is not a biological realty. Your deletion of objective reality in respect of race is a facile and offence as her contemptible behaviour.

            Nevertheless, by comparing sexual orientation with race in this way, you are now implying that sexual orientation is merely a cultural construct. I think that many LGBT folk would find that deeply offensive.

            You’ve simply chosen to prioritise the offence perceived by same-sex couples ‘who want to participate fully in the sacramental life of the Church’ above the offence experienced by those who see their piecemeal regard for deriving their ethic from the full scriptural basis of the Church’s sacramental life. And on that basis, you expect the entire Church to defer to that piecemeal regard.

            Following your strained logic and religion being another cultural construct, you might well declare that if you don’t believe that faithful alternative religious devotion before idols is sinful, then it is immaterial whether such devotion is chosen, or not. I can imagine how offiensiive it must be that Christians also reject idolatry, as you say, ‘based upon their interpretation of scripture’.

            You may decide that whatever you disagree with is either offensive to you, or some alternative cultural construct, or a red herring. Unfortunately, you’ve actually got to prove the offence or logical flaw objectively, instead of merely asserting it here.

            In challenging fraudulent divergences from the scripture, Christ Himself unapologetically offended his Jewish siblings, so your point is?

          • Penelope July 15, 2016 at 9:47 am #

            Will (sorry if this appears twice, I seem to have lost my comment!) Standard terms are not neutral. There are many which used to be ‘standard’ but which I could not now write without scare quotes or trigger warnings. Pastoral accommodation may well be the first step in a gradual movement towards full inclusion. But it is still offensive. For example: “this menstruating woman may enter the sanctuary and receive communion at her mother’s funeral service”. That is pastoral accommodation.

          • Penelope July 15, 2016 at 9:56 am #

            David S ” [the] scientific community suggest that the idea of race often is used in a naïve or simplistic way,and argue that, among humans, race has no taxonomic significance by pointing out that all living humans belong to the same species, Homo sapiens”.
            That’s what I meant by cultural construct – even though there may be genetic and other differences. Nevertheless, the authority of scripture was used for centuries to underpin the ideology of racial superiority (and still is in some places).
            Yes, I am prioritising the offence to LGBT people. They bring themselves to this conversation; you bring your views. Their presence does not affect your views; your views affect their lives. If the church does move towards full inclusion, your conscience will be ‘accommodated’ as it is for those who oppose women in ministry and the remarriage of divorcees.

          • David Shepherd July 15, 2016 at 11:45 am #


            The fact that earlier generations committed the eisegesis of interpreting the provisional toleration of slavery in scripture as divine consent doesn’t actually make your case for abandoning its authority.

            You’re now suggesting that your basis for considering race to be a cultural construct is because some quarters of the scientific community assert that race ‘has no taxonomic significance’. And, for you, that makes it a valid comparator with sexual orientation.

            So, what is the ‘taxonomic significance’ of siblings and other close-family relations? Your argument implies that kinship is yet another cultural construct.

            And, according to your ‘scientific’ logic, it would be discriminatory to oppose faithful close-family sexual relationships which are prevalent among other societies. Especially, now that we can see off the threat of inbreeding depression with genetic screening.

            Contrary to your assertion about me bringing just views, I also bring myself to this conversation, but if your prejudiced against that idea, nothing will convince you otherwise.

            And what’s at stake for Christians is the Church’s consistent faithfulness and witness In successive eras to the teachings of Christ and his hand-picked apostles as presented in scripture.

            Your proposal to pastorally accommodate biblically-rooted consciences is just as offensive. You’ve even taken issue with the Church’s rejection of polygamy, so let’s just agree to disagree and leave it at that.

          • Penelope July 15, 2016 at 5:42 pm #

            Actually David S I wasn’t making a case for abandoning the authority of scripture but about being prayerfully and wisely careful of the inferences we make from it.

          • Ian Paul July 17, 2016 at 6:28 pm #

            Penelope, you comment ‘I think whether sexual orientation is a spectrum or shifts is something of a red herring.’

            I think I would agree—but this needs a response since it is part of Loveday’s argument. She claims that ‘We know what the science says: gay orientation is a given.’

            I agree with the research that it isn’t, as you appear to, which means that the other part of Loveday’s argument crumbles.

          • Penelope July 18, 2016 at 9:05 am #

            Thanks Ian. I will have to re-read Loveday’s essay. I think orientation is a ‘given’ in the sense that even though it can sometimes change or shift that is (mostly) not of the person’s own volition.

      • Penelope July 18, 2016 at 11:08 am #

        Clive, yes I am ignoring Jesus’ words about divorce and his quotation from Genesis because I don’t believe that they speak to this debate at all. Far more relevant, in my view, are his words about eunuchs.

        • David Shepherd July 20, 2016 at 12:51 pm #


          So, you consider that ‘male and female created He them’ (Gen. 1:27; Matt. 19:4) and Christ’s rejection of a practice because ‘it was not so from the beginning’ (Matt. 19:8) is irrelevant to sexual behaviour which is also incongruous with what also ‘not so from the beginning’?

          Yet, the Genesis archetype is relevant to the Church’s rejection of polygamy and divorce for any cause.

          That’s a complete non-sequitur!

          • Penelope July 22, 2016 at 3:07 pm #

            Yet the church manages to ‘accommodate (dreadful word) divorce and polygamy but (some parts of the church) cannot see that marriage is a covenant which embraces both male and female.

          • Christopher Shell July 27, 2016 at 9:13 am #

            ‘A covenant that embraces both male and female’ – This phrase is a classic example of choosing your words carefully.

            AND choosing carefully which words you leave out. How calculating!

            The same source which tells you about covenant also tells you that the covenant that so-called ’embraces’ both male and female is between a single man and a single woman. So you mention the bit you like and fail to mention the bit you don’t.

        • Ian Paul July 22, 2016 at 11:43 am #

          Penelope, that is a very odd move, in part because it is clearly important in forming Jesus’ own understanding of marriage, so would surely inform his own view of SS sex.

          It is also key in Paul’s language in Romans 1, and appears to be behind the texts in Lev 18 which Paul is citing in 1 Cor 6.9.

          To disregard it is both odd and skews the debate.

  15. Tom July 13, 2016 at 12:25 pm #

    Ian, are there any transcripts of recordings of the non-confidential aspects of the Shared Conversations?

    • Ian Paul July 22, 2016 at 11:44 am #

      Tom I understand the papers in the first presentation will be published.

  16. gill July 13, 2016 at 12:37 pm #

    Thanks – there are many of us following this debate with real concern. I fear you are right about an eventual schism if we are bullied and PC’d into changing the church’s historic teaching on this subject. And having worked in W Africa, I am equally certain that the Africans will lead such a schism with vigour. Lord have mercy and guide us into both truth and love.

  17. Simon Butler July 13, 2016 at 1:48 pm #

    I’m not going to post any particular observations, but would only add that I spent a significant time over the past five days having intentional conversations with conservatives of all sorts and conditions (including those who chose not to participate). Those conversations were fruitful and unfailingly polite. Some will continue moving forward. Even today I met by chance a conservative synod member in my parish and we have agreed to meet with other conservatives to talk. The process enabled that and I hope many took the opportunity to take advantage of the safe space to engage across division and disagreement within and outside the sessions themselves, rather than worrying about the process and how many minutes each person spoke.

    I agree that a Catholic perspective would have helped but I fear that would have led to different conclusions than you would like. I had a useful conversation about that with a theologically informed traditional catholic. They are more about Christian anthropology than biblical interpretation. They lead in a very different direction to my mind,

    From an evangelical perspective, the elephant in the room is not the meaning of texts, or the rather uninteresting question of whether this is about the official teaching of the church (which I don’t think it is as we don’t have any official teaching beyond Scripture, the BCP and the Canons and same sex marriage is not at stake in the near future I’m sure). We need to have the discussion about hermeneutics which is about how to interpret the texts and whether the idea of authority is the best lens through which to read them.

    I also think I would want to challenge some of the things you say here and the hermeneutic of suspicion that seems to colour your writing in recent weeks, and some of the fleeting and personal conversations we have had. The last thing we need is to return to the trenches having begun to talk and I fear this article will cause some return to animosity, especially as those not present will take their view of the success of the conversations by which ‘side’ they trust. I fear you are heading away from the sort of engagement that began over the weekend, and I wonder if it’s time for a bit of quiet reflection rather than an over-suspicious critique of the process. I think it’s time for a new sort of engagement which best takes place away from the impersonality of the blogosphere. If we learned anything I think it is face to face chat is far more important than tit for tat posting.

    Telling it as I see it as ever, but always with respectful concern…

    • Philip Almond July 13, 2016 at 4:34 pm #

      ‘From an evangelical perspective, the elephant in the room is not the meaning of texts’

      I disagree. The meaning of the texts, in their context, and the doctrines to which they lead, is the elephant in the room. As I see it, the brontosaurus in the room is the doctrine of Original Sin.

      ‘We need to have the discussion about hermeneutics which is about how to interpret the texts and whether the idea of authority is the best lens through which to read them’.

      We need rather to understand the texts to arrive at their meaning. Whose authority do you mean?

      ‘If we learned anything I think it is face to face chat is far more important than tit for tat posting’.

      When we are trying to exchange and challenge views on the exegesis and meaning of texts and passages and relate them to other Biblical passages, I consider the internet a much better method than face to face discussion. For one thing it allows time for reflection to assess the strengths and weaknesses of views expressed

      Phil Almond
      ‘From an evangelical perspective, the elephant in the room is not the meaning of texts’
      I disagree. The meaning of the texts, in their context, and the doctrines to which they lead, is the elephant in the room. As I see it, the brontosaurus in the room is the doctrine of Original Sin.

      ‘We need to have the discussion about hermeneutics which is about how to interpret the texts and whether the idea of authority is the best lens through which to read them’.
      We need rather to understand the texts to arrive at their meaning. Whose authority do you mean?

      Phil Almond

      • David Cavanagh July 13, 2016 at 5:10 pm #

        In what sense is original sin a “brontosaurus”?

        • Philip Almond July 13, 2016 at 6:24 pm #

          In my view it is the most ignored but most difficult to ignore doctrine throughout the CofE. It is present and ignored at most/all discussions and it divides the Church into two groups: those who believe that Article 9 is essentially true and those, whatever they believe about God and Man, who do not believe it is true. The disagreement about human sexuality should have been squarely set in the context of this doctrine.
          Phil Almond

          • Penelope July 14, 2016 at 10:50 am #

            Do you mean by this that gay people are especially fallen in a sense in which straight people are not?

          • Philip Almond July 15, 2016 at 9:42 am #

            Hi Penelope
            Sorry – I’ve only just noticed your post. No, I definitely don’t mean ‘that gay people are especially fallen in a sense in which straight people are not?’. I meant that Original Sin should have been debated as a prerequisite to the debate about human sexuality, to clarify whether all the participants agreed that Article 9 is true. If there is such agreement then the debate about whether homosexual inclination is one result of the Fall (no worse than any other sinful tendency) can be meaningfully had. If, however, there are some participants who don’t believe that Article 9 is true, there is no point in having that particular debate, since the necessary common ground does not exist.
            But the question of Original Sin is much deeper and more far-reaching than the sexuality disagreement. It is one of the fundamental disagreements among those who believe that Christianity is in some sense true, and affects all we believe about God and Christ and Salvation.

            Phil Almond

      • Penelope July 15, 2016 at 10:39 am #

        Phil I agree that a conversation on the doctrine of ‘original sin’ would be most interesting. Two very brief observations: Christians do not agree on the doctrine; the Eastern Orthodox, for example, do not subscribe to this belief; what is the relationship between original sin and the Fall? – homosexual behaviour is exhibited by many animals other than humans and cannot be a result of the Fall.

        • Philip Almond July 15, 2016 at 12:39 pm #

          Hi Penelope

          Do you believe that Article 9 is true? I am in a debate with Bowman on Original Sin and I am aiming to show that the Easter Orthodox view on this is mistaken. Original Sin is the result of the Fall. ‘…homosexual behaviour is exhibited by many animals other than humans and cannot be a result of the Fall’. I could guess why you say this but perhaps you can tell us in your own words?

          Phil Almond

          • Penelope July 15, 2016 at 5:49 pm #

            Hi Phil I’m honestly not sure about Article 9. Sometimes I incline towards the Eastern Orthodox view, at others I can see the human proclivity away from the good as an inherent ‘trait’ all too clearly.
            What I meant by the animal analogy is that since many animals (which precede humans) exhibit homosexual behaviour, it can’t be a result of a human Fall. Indeed, the fallenness of creation – some disease, deaths, pain etc. – is a necessary part of evolution. But as you may gather this is definitely, not my area of expertise!

          • Clive July 15, 2016 at 5:53 pm #

            Phil, cannibalism is also widely exhibited by other animals! So your point is that we are just like animals are we?

          • Philip Almond July 16, 2016 at 12:14 pm #

            Clive – just a small point – should your post about cannibalism have been addressed to Penelope?

          • Penelope July 16, 2016 at 12:41 pm #

            Clive, I made no moral judgement about homosexuality amongst animals other than humans, merely that it is a given. Like disease and death it is a natural part of creation and has been for millennia before humans came along to cause the ‘Fall’.

          • Clive July 16, 2016 at 8:54 pm #

            You’re right Phil. The post at July 16, 2016 at 12:14 pm – It should have been to Penelope. I apologise.

    • Christopher Shell July 13, 2016 at 4:58 pm #

      Dear Simon

      You talk about ‘conservatives’, but conservatives and liberals etc (supposing that the one is conservative about *everything* and the other is liberal about *everything*) are both holding ideological positions, not evidence-based or truth-seeking positions.

      What about people who try to follow the evidence wherever it leads (and it will at different times lead to positions everywhere on the conservative-radical scale)? Are they not the *more* honest people, and therefore more deserving of being listened to?

      It all sounds too binary, and life is not like that. I often find that evidence points to so-called conservative positions (some of these are just common sense, or have strong statistical support etc), but chronology/tradition is the very last reason for this, and the very last way that truth can ever be determined. I think the idea ‘the BIble says it and therefore it’s true’ has not a leg to stand on, but the fact that I end up with some so-called conservative conclusions on the basis of the evidence makes people surprised when I say that. Because of the binary stereotypes they are operating with.

      Framing things in terms of ‘conservatives’ and ‘liberals’ therefore perpetuates more than one central error. And if things are wrongly framed, conclusions will also be wrong.

      • Philip Almond July 13, 2016 at 7:18 pm #


        What do you mean by evidence-based? Is the fact (if you agree it is a fact) that God and Christ said and did all that the Bible asserts evidence in your view? Don’t you agree that to face ourselves with and seek to obey and meditate on what they said and did is a good truth-seeking and challenging stance?

        Phil Almond

        • Christopher Shell July 13, 2016 at 9:27 pm #

          If you take such facts on trust unquestioningly, you are bypassing the need for evidence. And ending up with ideology. And it is ideology that has got us in this mess. It would not be smart to accept everything that is asserted. It is smart to accept everything that is *truly* asserted. And to find which things are true requires investigation: cosmological, historical, literary, textual, etc..

          • Philip Almond July 13, 2016 at 10:34 pm #

            Don’t you think that the witness of the Holy Spirit in our hearts has some part to play in this?

          • Christopher Shell July 14, 2016 at 9:34 pm #


            I do think exactly that about the Spirit’s witness in our hearts. It is perhaps the most important thing.

            A word of caution: the Spirit shows us what things are true not what things are exegetically correct. Don Carson makes this point somewhere: a person said to him that the Spirit revealed to him that xyz was true. Carson pointed out that xyz was exegetically impossible, after which the person reverted to relativism. But xyz can be exegetically impossible as an interpretation of a passage but still be true. Some writers like Oswald Chambers and Andrew Murray are masters of completely misunderstanding passages exegetically and yet coming up with teaching that is both accurate and edifying, albeit (unknown to them) not actually able to be derived from the passage in question.

          • Philip Almond July 14, 2016 at 11:04 pm #

            I meant the Spirit’s witness in our hearts that God and Christ did say and do what the Bible asserts. Which witness we are right to unquestioningly trust.

            Are we at cross purposes?


          • Christopher Shell July 15, 2016 at 3:15 pm #

            Hi Philip

            I’d suggest you read my Carson / Murray / Chambers answer again.

            The Spirit witnesses to what is good and right (and identifies what is bad). This is independent of what the correct understanding of a Biblical passage is. For example, the witness you may have about John 20 is that it touches us to the core. Correct. This is a separate issue from historical accuracy. How would the Spirit reveal that, and how could one make an objective case that the Spirit had objectively done so?

            People have often spoken as though the Spirit identifies which things are *historically* true, *cosmologically* true, *medically* true, etc.. Is that the case? How does it work? Is that not an extremely swift shortcut to truth?

          • Philip Almond July 16, 2016 at 7:15 am #

            Hi Christopher

            Before we go any further I would be grateful if you can give me references (preferably on the web) where I can read the quotes/examples from Carson and the other two gentlemen you name please.

            Phil Almond

        • Christopher Shell July 16, 2016 at 8:43 am #

          Hi Philip

          I cannot find where the Don Carson quotation was from, but likely from one of his books on Scripture. It doesn’t matter that we find it, since even if I had invented the whole thing (which I didn’t), it would still illustrate the principle.

          A man said to DC that the Holy Spirit had revealed to him that Bible-passage X meant such-and-such. DC proves exegetically from the Greek that Bible-passage X could not possibly mean such-and-such. The man somewhat startlingly – and again incorrectly – resorts to relativism (‘I guess it depends on your point of view’). He didn’t need to do that: he only needed to acknowledge that the Spirit does indeed reveal to us things that are good and true – BUT THE TRUE AND GOOD THING THAT THE SPIRIT REVEALED, WHILE IT REMAINS TRUE, MAY STILL BE AN IMPOSSIBLE INTERPRETATION OF THE PASSAGE. So the witness of the Spirit is limited. The Spirit shows us what is good and true; not what is exegetically / historically / cosmologically / medically accurate.

          As for Andrew Murray and Oswald Chambers, I was referring to their oeuvre in toto. They are both extremely spiritually edifying. The truths they think they have derived from Scripture are very often based on faulty exegesis. But they remain truths (not falsehoods) none the less.

    • Ian Paul July 13, 2016 at 10:12 pm #

      Simon, great to hear that you have been talking to others, not least because some ‘traditionalist’s have been engaging in ‘liberal’ arguments for some time, and I think the Conversations did allow that to be balanced up a little.

      I have no idea why you ‘fear’ that Catholics’ comments would not have gone ‘where I would like.’, since I am not interested in ‘fixing’ the process but, umm, allowing people to hear different views…! I don’t know why you interpret me as having a ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’ here either. I have set out some pretty clear facts. You don’t have to be suspicious to disagree with people, and that is simply what I am doing.

      I don’t think that the meaning of texts is irrelevant (since quite a bit of debate is about that), and I think it both revealing and quite extraordinary that you consider the official teaching of the Church ‘uninteresting’. I and many others think this is an absolutely key issue. It is embedded in everything the Church says about its orders of ministry.

      I do agree with you that the issue is about hermeneutics, and the blogosphere is far from impersonal. The process of commenting of the comments of others introduces some of the disciplines of listening, thinking, responding without pressure of immediate question and answer, and attention that the Conversation process was in part aiming for.

      So I wonder if you could say more about what your hermeneutic is in relation to the NT? I have heard three options, particularly in relation to the verses in Paul:

      1. The explicit texts in Paul cannot speak to our situation, since Paul ‘did not know’ of the kind of loving, committed relationships that we are considering. This rests on two assumptions: that there were no such relations in the ancient world of which Paul could have been aware; and that Paul is not making general statements applying to all same-sex relations simply because of their ‘same-sexness’, but is referring to particular forms of such relationships. (This is what Loveday Alexander says in the SC booklet).

      2. The explicit texts in Paul are referring to particular forms of same-sex relationship which are economic or abusive, and so his evaluation of them cannot be carried over to the relationships we are considering today. If Paul has known of them, then he would approve. (This is I think the argument of Dale Martin, and it is sort of the complement of no 1, and is common—someone made this case to me the other week.)

      3. Paul is indeed borrowing a form of Jewish diatribe against Pagan practice; he might well have come across committed, faithful SS relationship, but he gets caught up with/carried away/is careless with this Jewish argument, and since he is fallible in doing do, we just need to conclude that he is wrong. (This was an argument put to me during the Shared Conversations.)

      Is the hermeneutic you would propose along the lines of one of these, or does it involve a different approach altogether?

      I think it would be very helpful if you could clarify this, since I think it would help readers here to understand what you are asking for.

      Many thanks.

      • Philip Almond July 14, 2016 at 10:32 am #

        Stating the obvious, a key issue in Romans 1:26-27 is what, in context, Paul means by ‘natural use’ and ‘against nature’.
        As I see it, those who affirm same sex relations state their case something like this:

        Since in 1:27 the phrase is ‘natural use of the woman’, we accept that the phrase ‘natural use’ must include sexual relations between a man and a woman, as in the pre-Fall description in Genesis 1:28 (‘…be fruitful and increase in number…’) and Genesis 2:24 (‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh’). We accept that straight men having sex with straight women and straight women having sex with straight men is ‘natural’ for them. But we believe that gay men having sex with gay men and gay women having sex with gay women is ‘natural’ for them. Our case is that in 1:27 Paul is talking about straight men having gay sex with other men who are either straight or gay. This may be consensual, economic or abusive, but it is ‘against nature’. Likewise in 1:26 Paul is talking about straight women. In our view 1:26 says nothing about gay women in a loving, faithful, stable, consensual sexual relationship with each other, and 1:27 says nothing about gay men in a loving, faithful, stable consensual sexual relationship with each other. The affirming case has two alternatives. Either gay orientation is a result of the Fall but is not sinful, just as blindness is a result of the Fall but not sinful (to quote a correspondent on Via Media website). Or, gay orientation is (potentially) an aspect of ‘very good’ human nature as created by God. Genesis 1:28 is fulfilled by gay couples in the adoption/fostering of children.

        I comment:

        1 On this ‘affirming’ understanding of the verses, the men in 1:27 cannot be gay because ‘the natural use of the female’ which they ‘leave’ would not be natural for them.
        2 Obviously the pre-Fall affirming case is assumed for Genesis 1-2. Its presence is an argument from silence and its absence is an argument from silence.
        3 Adoption by gay couples does not really cope with the fact that Genesis 1:28 embodies the anatomical and physiological design of the man and the woman.
        4 The supporters of the ordination of women will not agree, but to me it is clear that, properly understood, Ephesians 5 (the tightly coupled Christ-Church/Husband-Wife analogy based on kephale), via 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 and Genesis 2-3, establishes that male headship, and therefore male-female asymmetry, is a feature of God’s good pre-Fall creation).

        5 Because human marriage between husband and wife (both faithful and unfaithful) is used throughout the Bible as a picture of the God-Christian/Church and Christ-Christian/Church relationship, and because in these pictures God and Christ are always ‘male’ and the Christian (whether man or woman)/Church is always ‘female’, then the sexual difference/asymmetry in sexual attraction and activity is a vital feature, and I don’t see how its absence can be acceptable to God nor how gay orientation can be an aspect of God’s very good human creation.
        6 Lewis’ essay ‘Priestesses in the Church? (1948)’ was written from an Anglo-Catholic perspective. Despite this I agree with him when he says, ‘One of the functions of human marriage is to express the nature of the union between Christ and the Church. We have no authority to take the living and semitive figures which God has painted on the canvas of our natures and shift them about as if they were mere geometrical figures’. And I agree with his final words:
        ‘….With the Church we are farther in: for there we are dealing with male and female not merely as facts of nature but as live and awful shadows of realities utterly beyond our control and largely beyond our direct knowledge. Or, rather, we are not dealing with them but (as we shall soon learn if we meddle) they are dealing with us’.

        Phil Almond

        • Penelope July 14, 2016 at 10:53 am #

          Just one point Phil: don’t you find the expression “natural us of a woman” troubling?

          • Penelope July 14, 2016 at 10:53 am #

            sorry “use”

          • Philip Almond July 14, 2016 at 2:47 pm #

            It is what Paul writes in 1:27. From 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 it is clear that Paul would have also written ‘natural use of a man’ and his sublime passage in Ephesians 5:18-33 gives his total view of the husband-wife relationship.


          • Penelope July 14, 2016 at 3:36 pm #

            Hi Phil, I know it’s Paul; that’s what I find troubling! It betrays his androcentric 1st century view of women as passive recipients of sex, as something which can be ‘used’, as does his term ‘vessels’ used elsewhere. I agree that the language and images of sex and marriage in 1 Corinthians and here in Romans are very different from what Paul (or someone else) wrote in Ephesians.

          • Philip Almond July 14, 2016 at 5:38 pm #

            Hi Penelope
            1 Corinthians 7:3-5 does not sound like passive women to me.

          • Philip Almond July 14, 2016 at 5:56 pm #

            Hi Penelope
            Also – to be candid – don’t we all have to face the question of whether we are willing to accept and obey all that the Bible says – even when we don’t agree with it or like it?

          • Penelope July 14, 2016 at 6:35 pm #

            Phil But it isn’t really about obeying here is it? It is about being aware that Paul (like other writers of the NT and Hebrew Bible) was, as we are, a product of his culture and so writes things that we might now find offensive.

          • Philip Almond July 14, 2016 at 11:09 pm #

            Hi Penelope
            To me it is about accepting and obeying. Accepting that what Paul says in Romans, Corinthians and Ephesians is inspired by the Holy Spirit and not him speaking as a man of his time, and Husbands and Wives modelling their belief and behaviour on what Paul says, whether we find it offensive or not.


          • Andrew Godsall July 15, 2016 at 7:01 am #

            Phil you said “Also – to be candid – don’t we all have to face the question of whether we are willing to accept and obey all that the Bible says – even when we don’t agree with it or like it?”

            I see. So every instruction in the Old Testament is something you accept and obey equally? You don’t put more emphasis on some in comparison to others?

          • Ian Paul July 15, 2016 at 8:58 am #

            Once again, we have reduced biblical reading to biblical literalism. It would really help this discussion if we could assume that people read different parts of Scripture intelligently when they say that they read them obediently.

          • Andrew Godsall July 15, 2016 at 9:14 am #

            “It would really help this discussion if we could assume that people read different parts of Scripture intelligently when they say that they read them obediently.”

            Exactly so Ian! This is the point that Penelope and I have been making for a rather long time,

          • Philip Almond July 15, 2016 at 9:21 am #

            Are you happy that I continue to participate in this exchange about the Bible, taking the line that I took in the ‘old’ forum (now no longer in the public domain) or is your comment ‘biblical literalism’ (a definition of this phrase might be helpful) aimed at me?

            Many thanks

            Phil Almond

          • Ian Paul July 15, 2016 at 10:12 am #

            Phil, I was noting the assumptions that are made by some in relation to claims of what others are doing. It was not so much a comment about what people are presenting, but how people are interpreting what others are presenting.

          • Philip Almond July 15, 2016 at 1:25 pm #

            Andrew Godsall
            At the moment I am facing the question of whether it is God’s will that the civil law in the OT should be applied now (theonomy). I am trying to marshall the strongest arguments from all sides, in the light both of Romans 8:4 and those passages like in Galatians where Paul talks about the law. As you will know, the issue of the Civil, Ceremonial, and Moral aspects of the law continues to be debated. Is this distinction biblical or not. The point I have reached is that the OT sacrifices are fulfilled in Christ and I am keeping an open mind on the rest. Perhaps you could comment on the question of accepting and obeying what Paul says in Corinthians, Romans and Ephesians, which is the immediate point at issue in this exchange with Penelope.

            Phil Almond

          • Andrew Godsall July 15, 2016 at 2:44 pm #

            Phil: I think an intelligent reading of the epistles to the churches shows that they were written into specific situations, applying Christian principles so far as Paul understood them. Paul’s understanding and application of these principles is no more fallible or infallible than ours, and, as was pointed out during the shared conversations, Paul did not have the benefit of the Gospels to help him discern these principles.

            Added to which Paul was operating as a human being within a particular culture. Whenever I hear people talking about the ways in which ‘liberals’ value culture above the Gospel, I want to ask why it is that Paul is exempt from that particular form of ‘liberalism’. He very clearly isn’t.

            As Penelope also points out, we are not even sure whether Paul is the author of all of the material you ask me to comment on.

            Do you know the work of John Bell from the Iona Community? Hugely inspirational man. He gave an interview to the Church Times a few years back and this struck me especially:

            “My least favourite part of the Bible is the small print in the Pauline letters. I come from a Calvinist tradition where Paul tends to be seen as the saviour, and Jesus is regarded as a minor prophet. My favourite part is John’s Gospel, because I believe it takes us not just into the biography of Jesus, but the heart of Jesus, in a way the other Gospels don’t.”

          • Philip Almond July 15, 2016 at 5:54 pm #


            Thanks for your reply. I have several points/questions please.

            1 Your phrase ‘………applying Christian principles’. What had you in mind by ‘Christian Principles’, where do you get them from and on what is the basis/evidence/authority for them?

            2 Your first paragraph also suggests that you believe that Paul did write some epistles. Which?

            Or are you saying something like, “I’m not sure if he wrote any of the epistles credited to him, but assuming he did, he applied ‘Christian Principles’ so far as he understood them, and his application ‘is no more fallible or infallible than ours’, and he was ‘operating as a human being within a particular culture’.”

            3 I presume that in his quote John Bell is not saying that those (e.g. Lloyd-Jones, Warfield, Hodge, John Murray, Schreiner, Moo) who, though they criticise Calvin when they consider him to be mistaken, are broadly Calvinistic in their doctrine, taught that Paul is the Saviour and Jesus a minor prophet; but rather, in John Bell’s view, the vast majority of their theological convictions come from Paul’s letters and a small minority from the gospels. Is that right?

            4 Of all the sayings attributed to Jesus in the New Testament, which in your view did he say, as facts of history: all, some(which?), none?

            5 As you can see from my July 14, 10.32 am post I regard what Paul writes in Romans 1:26-27, Ephesians 5:18-33 and 1 Corinthians 11:3-16, Genesis 1-3, and the passages that use human marriage (both faithful and unfaithful) to illustrate the God-Christian/Church and the Christ-Christian/Church relationships as a key part (not the only part) of the case that same-sex attraction and behaviour, even in a loving, faithful, stable relationship, is a sin like any other sin. I do this in the conviction that all these passages are part of God’s wholly trustworthy, true for him and true for us, self-disclosure. It appears to me (tell me if you disagree) that those who strongly disagree with my conclusion and who want to affirm same-sex attraction and behaviour in a loving, faithful, stable, relationship are adopting one of two strategies: either they agree with my description of those passages but maintain that I am not understanding them correctly; or, they don’t agree with my description of those passages and argue that for one reason or another some or all of my passages can be ignored in considering this highly sensitive and personal disagreement. I suggest that it is pointless for those following the second strategy and me to debate what these passages mean; we lack the common ground to make that debate meaningful. My disagreement with those following the second strategy is a debate, not about the human sexuality issue, but about whether those passages are part of a God-inspired Bible. Do you agree with this analysis of the situation?

            Phil Almond

          • Christopher Shell July 23, 2016 at 8:34 am #

            Dear Andrew Godsall

            You say we cannot be sure that Paul is even the author of all the relevant pauline material. That is irrelevant. Why? Because the 1 Timothy is identical to the 1 Corinthians anyway. 1 Corinthians and Romans are universally held to be by Paul.

        • Penelope July 15, 2016 at 10:43 am #

          Hi Phil But I don’t think we do accept and obey everything that Paul (for example) says, especially since he may contradict himself. if we are reading ‘intelligently’ as Ian says, we make decisions on what is core and what is contingent.

          • Philip Almond July 15, 2016 at 12:49 pm #

            Hi Penelope

            Depends what we each mean by ‘reading intelligently’. I mean taking the text as it stands and trying, prayerfully, humbly, open to my views being wrong, to understand, in context, and comparing and contrasting with everything else the Bible says, what the text means. You have given your definition of ‘intelligent reading’. Could you define and perhaps give examples of what you mean by ‘core’ and ‘contingent’ please?

            Phil Almond

          • Penelope July 15, 2016 at 5:57 pm #

            Hi Phil Andrew G. has addressed some of the stuff about Paul and context above.

            Briefly, I think the core of Paul, his theology, is the new creation in Christ which has liberated us from sine and death. Of course that has its responsibilities too, which seem to cause him and his churches many headaches. (There are other core issues too of course.)

            What is contingent (in my view) is what was, or may have been, written for a specific time and occasion and which might not have been mean to apply to other Pauline churches, let alone the universal Church. 1 Cor, 14 *may* be one of those (unless it is an interpolation) since it directly contradicts other things in the Letter and in other Letters.

            I don’t think it is straightforward to determine what is core in Pail and what is occasional and scholars disagree.

        • Penelope July 15, 2016 at 5:58 pm #

          sorry about the typos Phil

          • Philip Almond July 17, 2016 at 3:19 pm #


            This is my response to your July 15, 5.57 pm post. To try to get to the key point as I see it I would like to ask this question about the following passages:

            Romans 1:26-27

            Ephesians 5:18-33

            1 Corinthians 11:3-16

            Genesis 1-3 (whether understood literally or figuratively)

            the passages that use human marriage (both faithful and unfaithful) to illustrate the God-Christian/Church and the Christ-Christian/Church relationships

            I am not asking you at this stage to agree to any exegesis, understanding or interpretation of these passages or to agree that they are relevant to us today, but I am asking: do you agree or disagree that they are all part of God’s revelation to us
            Phil Almond

          • Penelope July 18, 2016 at 9:08 am #

            Phil yes, I do agree that they form part of God’s revelation

          • Philip Almond July 26, 2016 at 4:34 pm #

            Hi Penelope

            Sorry about the delay in replying to your post of July 18, 2016 at 9:08 am, which was your answer to my question posted on July 17, 2016 at 3:19 pm. I realise that you have made more posts since then, but I just would like to pick up where we left off (if you want to, of course). In answer to my question you replied that “yes, I do agree that they (the passages I mentioned) form part of God’s revelation”. I would like to explore what forming ‘part of God’s revelation’ means to you and whether it is the same as what it means to me.
            In your 3 posts on July 14 you made comments about what Paul had written and why he had written it. How do those comments and your conviction that what Paul wrote is part of God’s revelation fit together?
            My second question is: in my post of July 14, 2016 at 10:32 am., I set out what I understand to be how those who affirm same-sex sexual relations view Romans 1:26-27. Is that how you view these verses, or have I got it wrong, and I would be interested in any comments you care to make about my 6 comments in that post.

            Phil Almond

        • Andrew Godsall July 17, 2016 at 9:42 pm #

          Phil: sorry for delay, Ive not been around this weekend and can only be brief.

          1. Christian principles come, I believe, from tradition and scripture in concert with each other. Paul would have come to understand and grasp such principles from his membership of the early church Community, which was forming scripture.

          2. I am not a Pauline expert, and studied him only as an undergraduate. But I think it is generally acknowledged that he did not write all of the epistles attributed to him. I’m not sure that helps with this issue really, but is just an indication of where scholarship is.

          3. I think John Bell is simply pointing out that Calvinistic leanings put more emphasis on the epistles of Paul rather than the gospels. They would prefer to say ‘Paul says’ rather than Jesus says.

          4. I have no idea how we can know this. It’s a fascinating question nonetheless!

          5. I think it’s probably both/and. I have no problem saying scripture is God inspired. But I see no reason to say that this means it is infallible.

          • Clive July 18, 2016 at 7:31 am #

            Andrew, in point 1 you say that Christian principles come from tradition and Scripture but neither tradition nor Scripture support your positions.

          • Philip Almond July 27, 2016 at 6:40 pm #

            In response to your posts of July 15 2.44 pm and July 17 9.42 pm:
            You have told me your view on where Paul got his ‘Christian Principles’ from but you have not told me what, in your view, those Principles are.
            You posted, ‘I have no problem saying scripture is God inspired. But I see no reason to say that this means it is infallible’. What do you mean by ‘infallible’? As I see it, ‘infallible’, ‘inerrant’, ‘trustworthy’, ‘true’ all mean essentially the same thing. Are you saying that some of Scripture is true, but not all? In which case, which parts, in your view, are not true? Or are you saying that we cannot be sure whether any of Scripture is true? What do you mean by ‘inspired’ in the light of your answer (point 4 of your July 17 post) about the sayings of Jesus in the New Testament and your comment that Paul’s understanding and application of the ‘Principles’ (whatever they are) being ‘no more fallible or infallible than ours’. You speak highly of John Bell and he obviously thought highly of John’s Gospel. Did he believe that Jesus said and did all the things that Gospel asserts?
            Phil Almond

  18. Rob B July 13, 2016 at 2:50 pm #

    In regard to the oaths affirmed (note the first is not sworn), these are they:

    I, A B, do so affirm, and accordingly declare my belief in the faith which is revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds and to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear witness; and in public prayer and administration of the sacraments, I will use only the forms of service which are authorized or allowed by Canon.

    I A B, do swear by almighty God that I will pay true and canonical obedience to the Lord Bishop of Y and his successors in all things lawful and honest: So help me God.

    I’m not a sophisticated minister (I’ve not yet spotted that as a requirement of the formation criteria), but it seems reasonable to hold that some at least will affirm/swear these on an unsophisticated understanding, which is what I and many others did only a fortnight ago, in public and in sight of the Bishops and the Diocesan Registrar. It seems fair, too, that some of those listening would assume that we who were being ordained understood these oaths on a ‘face-view’ basis. I took it too, that the word of the oath of canonical obedience is (a) limited by (canon) law and honesty, and (b) directed to the position as well as the person.

    On the matter of hermeneutics (of the biblical rather than suspicion variety), and as Simon Butler sets out, that is the critical matter. It might be uninteresting to him, but this is of significant interest to many others of us, not least because the very same matter shapes the way we preach lead, serve and facilitate our church families.

  19. Christopher Shell July 13, 2016 at 3:07 pm #

    It’s obvious that if there is no advantage given to experts, then everything’s built on the foundational lie that one person’s opinion is as good as another’s.

    Worse: when it comes to ‘opinions’, there is no differentiation made between wishful thinking ideologies on the one hand and the results of disinterested research on the other.

    When people say that no debate and disagreement should happen, they are basically saying that they are not allowed to be contradicted however incorrect or self-contradictory the thing they are saying is. But who has the right to demand that no-one should contradict them?

    I think a lot of people are being too kind. ‘Good disagreement’ breaks most rules of academic debate, most rules of informed debate, and most rules of honest debate. (I know that debate was not even supposed to be happening at all; but if you are going to discuss and share, surely that discussion needs to be maximally well-informed and also open to revision in the light of evidence.) It effectively sets style above substance – the wrong way round.

    • Penelope July 22, 2016 at 12:19 pm #

      Christopher I hope I’m replying to the right comment. This thread is getting ridiculous. Para physic is also a good example because it can mean (for Paul)something which is against nature but which is good. Or something, like short hair for men, which today we would not consider either natural or unnatural.
      Arsenokoites, which most scholars, though by no means all, think is based on Lev. 18. describes a sexual practice (probably done by married men who had turned away from ‘their’ women). It does not describe a sexual orientation. The text says nothing about orientation/identity.

      • Penelope July 22, 2016 at 12:20 pm #

        Para physin even. Damned auto correct.

      • Christopher Shell July 23, 2016 at 8:32 am #

        Which particular sexual practice does arsenokoites describe? Anything to do with a non-normal practice (performed by men) of lying with men?

        Who is the ‘we ‘ who would not consider long/short hair natural/unnatural? Are we all so meekly culture-bound as to go along unquestioningly with the particular norms that are being pushed in our very specific society? Hair lengths ‘speak’. Long says Nazirite vow or Bacchus or just lack of discipline. These things are not just neutral.

        Give evidence that Paul had a concept of sexual orientation at all. If he didn’t, then your point is of no weight.

        • Penelope July 23, 2016 at 12:13 pm #

          If arsenoikoites does mean anal sex it is A) not the only sexual practice engaged in by homosexual men. B) entirely normal – just a variant amongst sexual practices. C) not a sexual intimacy enjoyed by lesbians. So I don’t see your point.
          Hair lengths speak but having long hair is not against ‘nature’!
          Yes, I quite agree that Paul most likely did not have a concept of sexual orientation as a ‘given’ in the modern sense, even if he had Plato, for which we have no evidence.

          • Penelope July 23, 2016 at 12:13 pm #

            ‘read Plato’

          • Christopher Shell July 23, 2016 at 1:22 pm #

            Well – there are 2 ways of using the word ‘nature’, which we shouldn’t confuse.
            -(1) abiding by one’s innate nature, what one is made for, the things that make us flourish;
            -(2) absolutely everything that occurs, exists or is attested.

            You have never said an untruer word than what you say about anal sex:

            -A given act of anal sex is 20 times likelier to transmit HIV/AIDS (never mind anal cancer etc.) than a given act of vaginal.

            -The cell walls of this part of the body are 1 single cell thick.

            -There are microfold cells here that actively embrace the harmful microbes.

            -This part of the body is unlike the vagina in having no natural lubrication, quite unlike the vagina.

            -This part of the body has a sphincter. So it is an exit which is not also an entrance.

            -The rectum is both inside and behind. Not the easiest place to clean. But when activities like quasi-sex that easily transmit disease are in question – boy, do we have a problem.

            -Anal sex can never be undertaken without contraception. So that disproves at a stroke that it can be natural. (By contrast vaginal sex between 2 married virgins is very safe indeed. Isn’t the big picture becoming obvious?)

            I could go on, but…. Anal ‘sex’ is SERIOUSLY bad news. But it is effectively being taught to children that it is fine and equivalent to vaginal. If that is not child abuse I don’t know what is.

            The absolute and obvious LIES
            ‘vaginal/anal, it’s all the same’;
            ‘married/unmarried, it’s all the same’;
            ‘homosexual/heterosexual, it’s all the same’;
            ‘non-sexual relationship/sexual relationship’, it’s all the same
            – these 4 are of the same nature as each other. The key dividing line is between those who embrace or assume the sexual revolution and those who can easily see it’s the most statistically (and psychologically) disastrous thing out.

            And though I made many points in this comment, the idea that anal sex is specifically a homosexual thing is not one of my points: it isn’t. But for some reason homosexuals are VASTLY more likely to get anal-sex-connected diseases (for which antibiotics will soon become ineffective at present rates of disease and bacteria-mutation: a timebomb in the making). Why do you think that is?

        • Penelope July 23, 2016 at 5:05 pm #

          Christopher I have no idea why more men contract AIDS through anal sex than do women, or even if this is the case. Certainly in some African countries AIDS/HIV is much more a ‘heterosexual’ disease, so perhaps that form of intercourse is more common in those areas. Or, perhaps, it is just as easily passed on through heterosexual intercourse in some conditions.
          In any case, Paul was against anal intercourse because it passed on STDs. For him it was unnatural (probably) because it was not procreative, crossed boundaries, mixed kinds and made the passive partner effeminate.
          He would also have considered other forms of sexual intercourse not natural, which gay people also indulge in, but which are very low risk, so ‘science’ or ‘nature’ does not support your argument that same-sex sex is bad.

          • Christopher Shell July 24, 2016 at 2:46 pm #

            Hi Penelope

            There is no part of the world where HIV/AIDS is not much more common among homosexuals than heterosexuals PROPORTIONALLY.

            You keep on speaking as though 50% of the world was homosexual, so that we could just make a simple comparison of humbers. That is not just wrong, but wrong by multiple thousands of percent. Of course there are far more heterosexuals than homosexuals with HIV/AIDS in Africa, but it is not 98%/2% which it would need to be in order for the claim that heterosexuals are more-affected to be accurate. Homosexuals are the group more affected.

            Otherwise I basically agree with Paul – if things go against the clear message given by what genitals people have, it is understandable if people question those things. The people who transgress their own genitals are not merely doing that, they are going all the way to the other end of the spectrum: a journey from pole to pole, as far away as possible from what their genitals indicate. (Not that male and female are opposites; I am speaking, rather, of a spectrum analogous to Kinsey’s.)

          • Helen King July 24, 2016 at 4:52 pm #

            Christopher, I thought I’d posted a comment on this yesterday but it seems not to have got through. I don’t know what your source is for the statement that men are more likely than women to acquire HIV through anal sex. I wonder what your views are on anal sex within heterosexual marriage; the ‘is it ok or not?’ question turns up on various Christian websites and some advise that it’s just fine on the grounds that anything goes (sometimes that is nuanced to ‘anything consensual goes’) within Christian marriage. As such sites also tend to support male headship in marriage, I feel uneasy about whether consent really comes into it.

            I don’t know what you mean when you say that ‘Anal sex can ever be undertaken without contraception’. Clearly, you’re well aware that one can’t get pregnant by anal sex. So I can’t make any sense of this!

          • Helen King July 24, 2016 at 5:03 pm #

            Sorry, Christopher, quoting your comment which still baffles me, you in fact wrote ‘can NEVER be taken without contraception’.

          • Christopher Shell July 24, 2016 at 6:46 pm #

            Hi Helen

            People (e.g. Bp Alan Wilson) are keen on quoting the stat that equally high proportions of straight and gay couples practise anal sex. I have seen also stats that suggest that more than double the percentage of gay practise it as opposed to straight. But whatever is the truth of the matter, there is one thing we can agree on. ‘Men who have unprotected sex with other men’ always appear on the HIV high-risk factor list – and usually at the *top* of that list. Women from straight couples who practise anal sex never seem to appear on it at all. I assume that ‘contraception’ (I use the word loosely as obviously conception is impossible in this case) is the key factor here.

            We know as a fact that man-man couples who know about contraception (i.e. all of them, practically) often fail to use it. If knowledge cannot make them use it, AND awareness of extreme risk cannot, then nothing can. Why?
            (1) Because risk is precisely part of the thrill, and sex is only exciting (to them?) if it is risky.
            (2) Because they are not individuals of sufficient maturity and/or foresight. everyone who voted for age 16s to have so-called equality, this is what you got. The younger the individuals the higher the risk, statistically. Christians see these as precious children being lied to that such things are normal and ok. As said earlier, if that is not child abuse, what is?

            Penelope even wrote that science/nature do not support the idea that same-sex sex is bad. So are the stats on promiscuity unscientific? The stats on STIs? The stats on early death. The stats on unsafe sexual practices? What is unscientific about them?

            Nature itself tells us what is right. The most natural foods lead to health, the most artificial to ill health. Seven sexual partners (today’s average – I am probably out of date here already) equates to over a million indirect sexual partners, with corresponding risk of STDs. Vaginal sex between 2 married virgins is incredibly safe. Any practice that requires contraception requires it because the practice is unnatural – otherwise it would not require contraception. The statistical discrepancies could not be more stark. The case could not be more clear cut.

          • Penelope July 25, 2016 at 10:21 am #

            Vaginal sex between two married virgins is incredibly safe. Until it’s practised without contraception and then it’s quite likely that the woman will die in childbirth and/or that her health will suffer from repeated pregnancies, leading to early death. So not that ‘safe’ then.

          • Ian Paul July 25, 2016 at 1:12 pm #

            That’s a very odd logic. You need to distinguish between the act itself and the consequences which might follow from the act. It’s a bit like saying crossing a country lane with little traffic is just as unsafe as crossing the M1 at rush hour if there is a cliff beyond the country lane.

            Not sure this is helping the discussion.

          • Penelope July 25, 2016 at 10:33 am #

            Sorry, Christopher, I’m butting in on your reply to Helen because you mention my response to you.
            I would still argue that same-sex sex is not necessarily harmful, and very safe if you are a lesbian. The statistics you quote are for promiscuous sexual activity. I think we would agree that promiscuous sexual activity is potentially harmful for both homosexual and heterosexual people. Both for their health and morally. Women too are more likely to get cancer and STDs from unprotected, promiscuous (heterosexual) sexual encounters.
            But this is an apples and oranges argument again. No one, I hope, is arguing, for the church to accept promiscuity, whatever the gender, identity or orientation of the participants. Using arguments about how unsafe same-sex promiscuity is, is rather missing the point.
            What some, like myself, are arguing for is the extension of faithful, monogamous, covenantal (sacramental) marriage to same-sex couples, that they might be enabled to embody the same fruits, grace and mutuality as other sex couples within marriage..

          • Penelope July 25, 2016 at 2:25 pm #

            Ian I think all observations on the safety of sexual practices contribute little to the discussion but I was responding to Christopher’s comment that sexual relations between two married virgins were incredibly ‘safe’. All harm (to health, not morality) that comes from sexual intimacy is surely a consequence of the act, not part of the act itself.

          • Christopher Shell July 26, 2016 at 12:51 am #

            Rates of childbirth-mortality are of coursed going down rapidly. But even if they were not, vaginal sex between 2 married virgins would not be the culprit. It remains remarkably safe.

          • Christopher Shell July 26, 2016 at 12:58 am #

            Penelope –

            (1) What are the actual safe acts (not requiring ‘protection’) that homosexual men can actually indulge in?

            (2) Whatever your answer, how do you expect that those will actually become their normal and exclusive practice?

            (3) Is this not all merely theoretical? No-one has ever been able to make homosexual men (who have no special need to be faithful or exclusive, unlike parents) have any kind of good average record in promiscuity or STIs. How do you think they will succeed? My answer is – we already know how: have a societal norm where sex is linked exclusively to marriage. That has already been often tried and by comparison has succeeded far better. Expecting homosexual men to have a good record in this area while allowing sex outside marriage is pie in the sky isn’t it? It will never happen. No place where it happens can be named. It’s no good being merelytheoretical. Men are men. They are obviously not the same as the average woman. If you give out the message that it’s fine to put two of them together the inevitable will happen. That is a theory that is borne out by the actual evidence.

          • Christopher Shell July 27, 2016 at 9:18 am #

            Penelope, why do you say that discussions about the safety of sexual practices contribute little to the discussion? There are two massive reasons why they are an important consideration.

            (1) People’s lives are at stake, and if they are young men having sex with men, even the Christians of all people are not telling them not to do that. Such a massive proportion end up diseased, some dead.

            (2) Second, disease or the lack of it is nature’s way of showing which practices we should and should not be involved in. In this particular case we are talking about a contrast between something very, very safe (Christian marriage between 2 virgins) and things that are very very unsafe (promiscuity, anal sex ). So the message goes out – all of these are equal lifestyle choices. Yeah.

          • Helen King July 27, 2016 at 10:06 am #

            Just wondering if Christopher had any thoughts on this piece on HIV/AIDS?

          • Christopher Shell July 29, 2016 at 2:15 pm #

            Hi Helen

            The article you linked to confirms a widespread pattern in the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa.

            It would be a logical error to assume that because that is a widespread pattern there can be no other widespread patterns (!!), and I am sure you would not make that mistake. Another widespread pattern is that men who have sex with men regularly appear at the top of lists of HIV/AIDS high-risk groups.

    • Penelope July 26, 2016 at 2:10 pm #

      Christopher Forgive me if I reply to your comments in just one response. I am finding navigating the comments section rather wearying
      Firstly, let me try again on the difference between lying and bias. If I deliberately falsify my research I am guilty of lying. If I undertake research (in my case on the hermeneutics of the Pilling Report), I endeavour to be disinterested, but I must acknowledge that my own view, preconceptions, beliefs will affect the way I conduct my research, and to be a good researcher I must acknowledge these. For example, I believe that faithful, consensual same-sex relationships (in which sexual intimacy takes place) are consonant with God’s will. This view will affect my reaction to the Pilling Report. Similarly, if you were to undertake research on Pilling, you would bring to the project your own belief that faithful etc. partnerships were not consonant with God’s will and this would influence your reactions to the Report.
      If Robert Gagnon believes that his scholarship is free from bias, then he is deluded. Nor is Dale Martin’s, nor is anyone’s. I didn’t say that straight scholars ‘disproportionately’ interpret in line with their own ideologies. As I said, I was merely reflecting your own assertion about gay scholars back at you. You cannot believe, surely, that gay scholars will interpret the texts to suit their own purposes, whilst straight scholars will look at texts without any ideology intervening between them and the text?
      Nor I am neglecting what you claim is ‘obvious to even to a young person’ [why a young person?] that Biblical references to homosexual practice are strongly negative. I have argued that the Bible is rather silent on homosexuality, since the authors seem to know nothing about what we should call sexual orientation and identity. The Bible has a few passages which are negative about same-sex sex (mostly probably anal sex). But that’s a different thing entirely.
      And, of course I cannot agree with your conclusion about the number of scholars who go with the ‘clear meaning’, either because I don’t think, in some instances, there is a ‘clear’ meaning, or because when I think the meaning is clear, we don’t agree on what that ‘clear’ meaning is. Of course, I agree, it helps to know the bases of a scholar’s position because we will then know which biases are influencing their hermeneutic.
      Now, onto the other matters of which you wrote. Yes, there is some statistical evidence that some same-sex activity is high risk (for health) and that same-sex relationships are inherently unstable. I have two responses to this. The first is to ask whether you have interrogated this evidence to enquire why there has been promiscuity and instability in that sector of the population? Is there evidence that the behaviour exhibited derives in any way from the culture(s) in which these relationships have been conducted, so that stability and faithfulness have been harder to achieve than in straight relationships; or that expectations have been different.
      I have also mentioned that we will not know if same-sex relationships are inherently more unstable than other-sex ones until someone has conducted a longitudinal study of the permanence of such relationships following the laws which introduced civil partnerships and marriages in the UK and other countries. Anecdotally, I know of many same-sex relationships which have been faithful and stable, some for as long as 50 years, and in which the partners now rejoice in the opportunity to be married (or in a CP). I realise that anecdote isn’t evidence, but, I see that, despite your constant appeals to scientific evidence and ‘fact’, you can still come out with the extraordinary statement that gay men enjoy unprotected anal sex because it is risky. Or, indeed, that men are men and are obviously not the same as the average woman.
      Secondly, as St Paul says, the remedy for lust is not promiscuity or celibacy; it is marriage. The church regards marriage as a calling which can bring companionship and pleasure, but which also requires self- denial and discipline, and which is best supported by being part of a community. That is what I wish for same-sex couples. I am not, as I said before, advocating promiscuity, but the disciplines of love and self- control. I believe that if we don’t have equal marriage we are creating a stumbling block (a skandalon) for our gay siblings.
      You also asked about what the ‘safe’ acts (not requiring protection) that homosexual men can engage in. Well, I am not sure that these are all free from the risk of STDs, but: foreplay; oral sex; mutual masturbation; intercrural intercourse; the sorts of things that heterosexual couples engage in really.

      • Christopher Shell July 26, 2016 at 6:17 pm #

        Lying and conscious bias – both are knowingly misrepresenting reality. There is not a clear difference between them. The biases I speak against are those which seem likely to be conscious. But one also expects from scholars an ability to guard against bias.

        You speak of not knowing the clear meaning. Will you address the fact that you have not admitted that plenty of texts DO have clear meanings. Are all texts opaque? DO you think that SOME are clear, or none at all? This needs a direct answer.

        The homosexuality texts have plenty of cruces that deserve and have received extensive discussion. Whereas the MAIN point (which after all, all the discussion is about) that the texts are uniformly strongly opposed to same-sex sexual practice – that is not unclear but is as clear as day. Making this a very odd topic to divert so much valuable time.

        People often do a sleight of hand involving massive sweeping unintelligent (or malicious) generalisation: speaking of ‘the texts’ (eh?) being unclear. The unclear bits are not the bits that are relevant to the Bible’s overall orientation on this topic. That orientation has never been open to doubt, and consequently people are taking the mick. It seems to me that they are experimenting to find out how gullible Christians can be (helped by a culture where, absurdly enough, debates are never ‘allowed’ to have winners and losers). Future biblical scholars will look in bemusement at some of the discussions of this age, given that homosexual sexual practice is no more nor less frowned upon in the texts than lying, stealing and all the other things. That does not mean the texts are right, or that they are wrong, but the topic under discussion is what they actually say. Their main orientation is in no doubt.

        Levels of promiscuity and STIs and also drugs and depression don’t vary in gay-friendly places like Holland, NZ, SF. So gay people pursue lots of sex because they expect it to be enjoyable (rocket science?) not because they are oppressed or depressed.

        ‘Extraordinary statement that gay men enjoy unprotected anal sex because it is risky’ – I can’t imagine any other explanation for the fact that STI levels are still so very high among MSM. What is *your* explanation for that? Levels of knowledge and information are high. So are STI levels. Why? I have put forward a theory that fits these facts. You have not, so far.

        Marriage by definition is a man coming together with a woman physically and spiritually – this is also the structure of human families and family trees. Such facts could not be more obvious. There is not the slightest reason for male-male or female-female loving relationships or friendships to be restricted to two people as opposed to any other number. This point has been repeatedly made.

        I agree with your list of likely man-man activities, also with the fact that not all of those listed are safe. So answer the point I made after that? – If we approve of these, will not the other acts (those you may not approve of) also be done by the same people? It is scarcely something one can monitor. But a societal norm of sex being tied to marriage (marriage as normally defined) helps massively. Also all of these acts you approve of involve people going against their identity. How to identify identity more surely than by biology? One could understand people going a few percentage points adrift from the evidence provided by their genitalia. You are asking that we see it as unremarkable that they go 100% away from that evidence.

        • Penelope July 27, 2016 at 5:10 pm #

          Christopher I don’t understand why your anxiety and concerns about the promiscuity and instability of homosexual relationships doesn’t lead you to conclude that, rather than trying to ban them, it might be more ethical and loving to extend the goods of marriage: “for the hallowing and right direction of the natural instincts and affections, and for the mutual society, help and comfort which the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity,” to homosexual as well as to heterosexual couples.
          One of the other goods of marriage has been that it contributes to a stable and well-ordered society. For centuries, even before there was such a thing as ‘Christian’ marriage, couples have been encouraged to marry in order to build stable families, as well as for companionship, for love and for procreation. Even when this last has not been possible, couples have still been encouraged to marry in most societies and, most certainly, in Christendom. Even though few couples now come to a marriage service as virgins (even those who marry in church), it is still considered laudable that two people make vows of a lifetime commitment, especially if they are also asking for God’s blessing. Very few people, I think. would argue that because some heterosexual people are promiscuous and take part in high risk sexual activities, their peers who wish to make a lifelong commitment should not be allowed to marry in church.
          That is why I think your arguments about promiscuity and high risk activities are a red herring. We are not speaking of people who have no desire for faithful, stable relationships, but of Christian, or nominally, Christian men and women who wish their lifelong commitment to be blessed in church. People who want to live according to God’s law. Even if your remarks about men being men, and gay men enjoying high risk sex were true – and I rather think they betray your own prejudices and anxieties – all the more reason for guiding men to a discipline which would encourage mutuality and commitment and which would ask God and the community to help the partners do so. By the way, you might like to read this on same-sex marriages in renaissance Rome I haven’t yet read anything on this subject, but more research is appearing.
          I asked my husband if he thought there was any difference between lying and bias. This was his answer: Bias is what you believe to be the truth; Lies are what you know is not the truth.
          Normative means relating to an ideal standard or model, or being based on what is considered to be the normal or correct way of doing something. Normative has specialized meanings in different academic disciplines such as philosophy, social sciences, and law. It does not mean trying to make something normal that was not already normal. I am arguing that homosexual behaviour is normal, but that has nothing to do with my use of the term ‘heteronormative’ to describe the prevailing view of the prevailing culture. You remark that we have not needed such a word for 2000 years. Precisely. We have not needed such a word because the heteronormative privilege of our west Asian and European culture has been so unspoken and unacknowledged for probably more than two millennia. One insight of the social sciences has been how pervasive and yet unacknowleged these lenses – white privilege, patriarchy, orientalism – have been in our societies. They purport to tell us what is normal, natural, canonical, by ‘othering’ all peoples, views, colours, genders, beliefs, which do not conform to the canonical hegemony. For example, if you are straight you will not be asked to be a representative of your sexuality, but a gay person will and their experience will be assumed to be typical. I must admit that I am surprised that someone with a PhD in biblical studies should be unfamiliar with, or uncomfortable with, this term.

          • Will Jones July 27, 2016 at 6:30 pm #

            You make it sound so lovely. The problem is that at the heart of it is something unbiblical, sinful, unnatural and indecent, and no commitment can erase that.

            I’ve replied to you above in case you wanted to respond. You can search the page for new comments by pressing ctrl+F and using the date e.g. July 26.

          • Penelope July 27, 2016 at 7:13 pm #

            Will, but why is it indecent etc., or rather, how? And thank you for the ctrl+f tip, but I can’t seem to make it work!

          • Will Jones July 27, 2016 at 7:46 pm #

            Because it’s contrary to the standard of sexual behaviour, an expression of disordered sexual desire. Or do you thinkGod intended people to be gay despite the way he designed their anatomy? Why would he do that?

            Your browser might be different . Just look for the find on page tool.

          • Penelope July 28, 2016 at 6:02 pm #

            Will, I would say it is lovely; but then I would sound like Andrea Williams! So instead, I will say that I believe it to be godly. As I have said in many arguments on this thread I do not believe that sexually intimate same-sex relationships are unbiblical, sinful, unnatural or indecent. Simply because sex isn’t procreative doesn’t make it para physin. The CofE declared that non-procreative sex was not sinful in 1930, when contraception was allowed. (A change to church teaching – an innovation -, yet although a Bishop railed against it, this teaching is now commonplace.) If God ‘designed’ our sex organs only for procreation then any other kind of sexual activity would be, well not unnatural because they occur in nature, but yes, maybe, disordered. But since humans can mate at any time (not just when they are fertile) I infer that God wants us to have fun.

          • Ian Paul July 28, 2016 at 10:41 pm #

            Paul does not call same-sex sex para physin because it is not procreative. Like other authors in the ancient world, he calls it para physin because it does not match the evident function of the created body. Other writers used the term in a neutral sense; in Romans 1 Paul connects it with a rejection of God’s creation.

            So in Paul it has little or nothing to do with procreation, and everything to do with the givenness of bodily existence in creation.

          • Christopher Shell July 28, 2016 at 9:45 pm #

            Hi Penelope

            Let’s take the points one by one.

            Anxiety – no. Concerns – no. Uncomfortable – no. This is so telling – the way that rational argument is misrepresented as being something emotional. It is often said that the revisionists are happy only with the level of emotions not the level of reason. That is not true of you, but it is amazing the extent to which one finds the stereotype being fulfilled here there and everywhere. If you summarise my points as being emotional points, you have not begun to understand them.

            I’m not unfamiliar with ‘heteronormative’, as I have heard it several times before. But I do not believe it is a word that makes any sense. It can onlhy make sense if we belive in sexual orientation as something real and innate rather than (as the science has it) largely something that one brings upon oneself or is brought upon one by circumstances, culture, formative choices, environment.

            It’s no good saying that something has been unspoken or unacknowledged for 2000 years. The very fact that it has been unspoken or unacknowledged could equally mean that the thought did not enter people’s head unitl culture and thought-patterns made it do so. That is the more likely theory, because otherwise you are asking us to believe in a silent minority comprising substantial numbers who felt very oppressed but kept silent about it through all cultures and all eras and have left no trace upon history.

            That is the danger of making everything in our own image or in the image of our own culture, country and era. Other cultures configured things differently and had different preoccupations and concepts. Our culture is no more a norm – and no more likely to be correct in principle – than any other.

            Your husband’s definition was not of bias but of unconscious bias. I agree with that as a definition of unconscious bias. I also am sure he would agree witgh me that not all bias is unconscious, and that quite often (as in the area of favouritism) the word bias is actually used MORE when conscious rather than unconscious cases are in view.

            If you think what I say about gay men enjoying high risk sex is untrue and a dishonest product of ny (emotional yet again, sigh) anxieties – why not read about barebacking in the modern day, Vauxhall parties, several-day-long parties leading to vast numbers of visits to the doctor, etc,?

            Few couples now come as virgins, you say – as though people have to be slaves to their own limited cultures. Cultural norms are a factor only for those unintelligent or bandwagon-jumping enough to be enslaved to them or not to realise how many other possibilities there are.

            ‘The normal or correct way of doing something’ – there are oceans between normal on the one hand and correct on the other yet you use the two words as though they meant the same thing! It is normal for people to gossip but far from correct. There are thousands of other examples.

            Why would the Christian men and women you speak of be under the mistaken illusion that one can make lifelong commitments to only one person? Biological families must perforce begin with a pair, and that pair must be male-female. But what is the special significance of pairs (as opposed to any other number) *outside* biological families?

  20. Gareth Lane July 13, 2016 at 3:40 pm #

    Thanks for the summary Ian, decide what though? Naively I thought these were just some shared conversations!

  21. David Baker July 13, 2016 at 4:30 pm #

    Great article – thank you Ian.

  22. Rob B July 13, 2016 at 4:37 pm #

    Apologies to Simon Butler – I misquoted him. It’s clear that the question of hermeneutics is of real interest to him (and me) – it’s “the question of whether this is about the official teaching of the church” which was uninteresting to Simon. My fault – as I said, I’m not a sophisticated minister!

    • Ian Paul July 17, 2016 at 6:33 pm #

      He might be interested in hermeneutics, but he is now refused to make any comment on what a good hermeneutic is and what he thinks Paul means. I think that’s a shame.

  23. James Byron July 13, 2016 at 4:50 pm #

    Incisive summary Ian, thanks for giving it.

    As I’ve said before, “shared conversations” appear to be a delaying tactic above all, and are clearly saturated with the college progressive mindset of prioritizing of “lived experience” above all. (Even “safe space” is used!) This elevates feelings above reason (including reasoned reflection on the Bible), and in so doing, abrogates a legislative body’s responsibility to take a decision and face the consequences.

    This needs to come to a vote, so everyone knows where England stands. Just make sure to calibrate the voting machines first!

    • David Shepherd July 13, 2016 at 6:55 pm #

      A vote, you say? You mean, a church referendum? Sexit beckons!

      • James Byron July 13, 2016 at 6:57 pm #

        Well now, that would be a good way to delay a decision until the crack of doom!

        • David Shepherd July 13, 2016 at 7:01 pm #

          You may well be be right, but unsolicited telepathy is not an endearing quality, James! 🙂

  24. Prudence July 13, 2016 at 6:11 pm #

    Personally I think the whole thing was worth it for the Synod to hear the outstanding contribution by Vaughan Roberts. You’ve been admirably discreet, Ian, about not providing information which would allow speakers to be identified in accordance with the St Michael’s House Protocols; but please be assured that I’ve been in touch with Vaughan and I have an e-mail from him which says ‘I am very happy for anyone to mention publicly that I was present in the conversations and also to quote anything I said’. The fact that he is himself same-sex attracted only adds additional power to what was already an exceptionally clear and courageous presentation.

  25. Philip Evans July 13, 2016 at 6:27 pm #

    You refer Ian to diocesan representatives in the regional conversations. But were they not simply appointees, selectively and subjectively chosen? This points to a major problem in discussions about doctrine and practice: they were not ‘shared’ conversations, or based on representation within a synodical system. Yet the latter is weak because binary and polemical.

  26. David Shepherd July 13, 2016 at 6:48 pm #

    Hi Ian,

    Your observation resonated with me that: When questions were raised about the process itself, this was clearly out of bounds, and our facilitator responded by using emotional language—’I am disappointed…I am sad.’ The fundamental problem here was the underlying approach—that there are no right answers, and no given positions, and so what is needed is a juxtaposition of different views so that mutual respect can emerge. This might be just right for a position of political conflict, where there is no ‘objective’ position which can act as a reference point.

    Two years ago, just after the Pilling Report was published, I discussed the prospect of Shared Conversations with James Byron on Peter Ould’s blog. My response to him has now proved somewhat prescient.

    I wrote:
    What the facilitated conversation will do is to permit the expression of diverse theological views that isolate the most polarised sides of the debate as an undemocratic imposition.

    Faciltators pride themselves in being able to dissipate polarised views through group dynamics. For instance:

    Facilitator: ‘Do we feel that everyone is getting a fair hearing? If not, what does anyone think we can do about that?’

    A.N.Other: ‘I feel that David and James are monopolising the debate’.

    Facilitator: ‘Does anyone else feel that way?’ (A majority of hands go up)

    Facilitator: Well, address that to David and James’

    A.N. Other: I know you’re both quite knowledgable, but this is our church as well. Between the two of you, the rest of us can’t get a word in edgewise.’

    David: ‘I’m sorry if I’ve spoken out of turn. I’ll try to give others a fair hearing’

    James: Same here!

    A bit later, a breakthrough:

    David: ‘Look, I think that the Bible is very clear in its prohibitions against homosexual behaviour’;

    Facilitator: ‘James, before you address the Bible issues, what do you want to say to David about how his tone of voice makes you feel?’

    James: ‘David, your whole tone makes me and cherished LGBT friends and family feel excluded, rejected and judged.’

    Facilitator: ‘David, how do you respond to that?’

    David: ‘Well, I’d never want you to feel that way. I guess I’ll have to work on my tone.’

    Facilitator: ‘David, I just want to take a moment to tell the group how brave it is to admit, as you’ve done, when we’ve, even unintentionally, hurt some-one.’

    Facilitator: ‘Let’s just take some time to reflect quietly on what just happened’

    Alternative ending:
    David and James ****** off early for a pint together, cancelling further participation in Facilitated Conversations and preferring instead to debate these issues more intelligently on Peter Ould’s blog!

  27. Don Benson July 13, 2016 at 8:34 pm #

    Human beings, since they are social creatures, have a natural tendency to find out what they share in common with people they meet. Only a small number of troubled souls have a default position of looking for a fight; the majority will positively seek to avoid one. The ‘Shared Conversations’ setup is based on this simple fact and it is likely to be successful on its own terms.

    And it doesn’t take a degree in psychology to know that people are naturally empathetic and respond with sympathy and concern on hearing the distressing experiences of their fellows, even if they’ve only just met them and cannot know whether they have heard an honest and full account. This is essentially the response of the emotion and it leaves a more reasoned and intellectual consideration for another time (when is that going to be?). Empathy is a God-given part of human nature but, like all God’s gifts, it shouldn’t be employed as a substitute for reason or a diversion from honesty; in particular it should not be set up as an opposition or a cloaking of God’s word.

    Of course adding in the intervention of professional manipulators of the ‘conversations’ compounds the misuse, and it is something of a travesty to suggest that the process is an appropriate way for discerning the will of God. His truth is revealed (rather than debated or discerned from experiences) and it comes with a warning that it will divide those who accept it from those who don’t.

    So, as James Byron says above, the Shared Conversations are a delaying tactic. I have always thought that the instigator has no particular conviction either way, assumes that the general direction of travel will be towards acceptance of gay “marriage” over time and therefore believes that this process will gently nudge kind-hearted waverers towards the inevitable conclusion of acceptance. Meanwhile, on the ground, events are also moving in the same direction like a ratchet.

    In one sense it is a transparent tactic, in another it is the avoidance of responsibility for leadership. I think it is ill-concieved and, I’m sorry to say, utterly dishonest.

  28. Richard Campbell July 13, 2016 at 9:14 pm #

    Speaking of sadnesses, it saddens me to see you all going through this painful and yet so familiar path. It has been 13 years since my own experience of a forgone and pre-determined synod (ACoC, New Westminster) and watched hijacking of the entire process by well situated leaders pushing for a Same-Sex Marriage Blessing. He or she who writes the agenda rules.

    That day I left the ACoC in tears of frustration and for my fellow Anglicans who could not see where they were being led. After a long and difficult road I am in the ACNA, ACiC. That said, I have no miraculous advise or pat answers for your dilemma.

    I have thought about this for a long time, and I think one of the fundamental points is that at their core, those who are leading with false teaching and those who are being led are driven by the approval and love of man first, and God second. This is far deeper than dogma or doctrine, it lies at the heart of the relationship between the believer and their God.

    “A broken and contrite heart” sounds almost glib but it is so, so incredibly fundamental.

    As I said I have no solutions for you other than to encourage you to always stand for the truth once received, built on the three threads, and to always offer the love of Christ where it is neither wanted nor merited, even with in the Church. And to be patient knowing that we are the bride, that God is in control, and he will not fail or forsake us.

    Whether or not the CoE as it is today will survive this insidious heresy in the end does not matter–God has already paid for and won for us. So when this cause-celeb of radical inclusivity of early 21st Century Western Civilization fades and yields to the next great social experiment, the faithful will still be here, preaching the Truth, the Creeds, and the Articles as handed down to us.

    Pax et Bonum

    Vancouver BC

  29. Clive July 14, 2016 at 8:55 am #

    Thank you Richard for recounting your experience. Your contribution has been valuable and worthwhile, and I think you will understand that it is also a sad experience.

    At morning prayer today the reading was John 17 which talks about Jesus praying for unity but verses 18 to 23 make very clear that Jesus prays for us to be sanctified in the truth, not sanctified in some diversity of views. We are witnessing a number of people expecting the Holy Spirit to guide them away from the Bible when they talk about the Holy Spirit saying something different than Scripture. Of course the Holy Spirit will not actually guide them away from the Bible but rather towards and into the Bible, the same Bible that Jesus affirms.

    The whole process of creating an environment of agreeing to simply disagree is a secular one and shows that this process is not really Christian at all because that is not what Jesus prayed for.

    To be a Church we have to believe in Jesus Christ as our Saviour and believe in the Holy Scriptures just as Jesus does (which is itself very hard). I find it personally very bizarre that there are those who are working for a split and expect those who believe in the Scriptures to form their own Church when actually what is left of the CofE will not actually be a Church at all, it would instead be a remnant worshipping the world instead of God. Those working for a split are now wanting those who believe in the Holy Scriptures to go away even though all Ministers swear an oath that they believe in the Holy Scriptures. Yet that is also your own experience of being forced to leave the Anglican Church in Canada and go to a remnant that is faithful to Jesus Christ. Not unsurprisingly ACNA, covering both the USA and Canada, is now larger than the ACoC and will soon be larger than the TEC as such “churches” collapse through lack of faith in Jesus Christ and the word of God.

  30. David Runcorn July 14, 2016 at 10:18 am #

    Clive I can find nothing in Jn 17.18-23 that says what you claim it says – or Christians will not differ at times on important or difficult issues. Unity is not uniformity. When has the church ever believed together in that way? I think our oneness is found in meeting in Christ with all our differences. But to be One in Christ does not mean all thinking the same thing. It never has. but perhaps I have misunderstood you.

    • Clive July 14, 2016 at 12:03 pm #

      Dear David

      The reading from morning prayer is:

      John 17:18-23 [New Revised Standard Version]

      18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.
      19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

      20 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word,
      21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
      22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one,
      23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

      So in verse 19 … they (i.e. we) are sanctified by truth
      In verses 22 and 23 it calls for unity

      So this is not just being sanctified, but being sanctified in truth (rather than division)

  31. Rod Street July 14, 2016 at 11:11 am #

    Ian. A really helpful insight into the process – if at the same time somewhat disturbing that the process (of what is surely one of the most important forums for the topic for the Church of England) and ground rules seem not to have been landed as effectively as necessary.

  32. David Runcorn July 14, 2016 at 2:54 pm #

    Clive. I agree that these verses set the bar very high with regard to the united witness Christians present to the world. But you will perhaps be aware how hard the commentaries wrestle with what the verses actually mean. However you simply repeat the passage without responding to my comments or questions. Do you take these verses to mean that ‘true/faithful/’real’/bible-believing Christians will read and interpret the bible the same way, without ever disagreeing? If so, and you and I disagree on what a particular text teaches, who decides who is right?
    I want to suggest that the present process of facilitated conversations models to fractured world a way in which this fallen and diverse church of Christ on earth seeks to live in the love that unites and makes Christ known. Starting from where we are – and there is no other place – this process is an holy attempt to be faithful to the prayer Jesus prays in these verses.

    • Clive July 14, 2016 at 4:48 pm #

      Dear David,

      The process is not a holy attempt to be faithful to the prayer Jesus prays in these verses.

    • Ian Paul July 15, 2016 at 10:10 am #

      David, I think you are right that commentaries wrestle with this. But I don’t think this it is possible to read this passage in isolation from the wider themes in John, in which the question of what is true, and even what is a true reading of the Scriptures, is very prominent.

      Indeed, as Andrew Lincoln has pointed out, the whole of John is framed at out one level like a trial, and the language of testimony which is also prominent should be understood in this context.

      So, although John 17 cannot be drawn on to answer our specific questions, it certainly cannot be used to claim that issues of unity trump questions of what is true, particularly within the community of faith.

    • Ian Paul July 22, 2016 at 11:49 am #

      David, you might be interested in my reflection John 17 from this morning.

      I am always curious as to why people summarise this prayer as ‘that they may be one’ rather than ‘sanctify them in the truth’ since both these themes are important, and in the context of John’s gospel, the second is arguably more significant.

  33. David Runcorn July 14, 2016 at 5:15 pm #

    Clive You continue to ignore my attempts at discussion. I am wondering why? We evangelicals have a love for the lost. I think you think I am. Reach out to me.

  34. Clive July 14, 2016 at 5:39 pm #

    Dear David,

    I didn’t continue to ignore anything at all from you but I noted that you were actually moving the goalposts in your comments. In your first comment you said “Clive I can find nothing in Jn 17.18-23 that says what you claim it says” so I gave you the quotation as it appears in morning prayer.

    You then came back commenting not on the reading text itself but this time on commentaries as a means of discrediting Scripture, and not even a specific commentary at that!

    So no David, I’m not going to engage in such gratuitous comments having noted that you simply move the goalposts all the time.

  35. Ian Paul July 15, 2016 at 9:14 am #

    Thank you for all your contributions. Could I strongly remind contributors that I would really like to keep this space for honest discussion and exploration, even debate, in order for people who disagree to understand better the arguments on both sides.

    It is not a place for campaigning, nor for scoring people, nor for reducing the argument of others to simplistic absurdities.

    If we take seriously the position of others, check our understanding, and even present them with consequences they have not thought of, then this will continue to ba a productive exercise.

    many thanks to all.

  36. Ben Randall July 15, 2016 at 9:59 am #

    Dear Ian,

    May I ask a small favour? You mentioned that ‘the givenness of sexual orientation…is not supported by social-scientific research’. I’d be fascinated to read more about this. Could you point me in the right direction, please? A title or two?

    • Ian Paul July 15, 2016 at 10:18 am #

      The two major pieces of evidence in relation to this are
      a. the work of Lisa Diamond on the longitudinal instability of ‘orientation’. If you search ‘Lisa Diamond Cornell’ on YouTube, and look at the 45 minute video, she explores this.
      b. The other is the 2005 (or possibly 2006) research in Denmark, which is linked on the Wiki page on ‘Causation of sexual orientation’ which demonstrated statistically significant correlation between being in a same-sex marriage and 1. having parents with wide age differences 2. sibling order and 3. being brought up in a city rather than a town.

      I am away from home right now, but can post direct links to this in due course. Much of this kind of thinking is outlined in Schmidt’s ‘Straight and Narrow’ published by IVP.

      My experience when presenting on this is often shock and amazement; knowledge of the actual research has, I think, been either side-stepped or actively suppressed in the debate.

      • Ben Randall July 15, 2016 at 10:22 am #

        Thank you! I’ll pop over to Amazon lickety-split.

      • Penelope July 15, 2016 at 10:50 am #

        Ian if you were a person who did not believe in the inherent sinfulness of same-sex sexual intimacy, would you not argue that all this scientific and social scientific research (fascinating though it may be) is a theological red herring. If some same-sex relationships are no more inherently sinful than other-sex relationships, what is the theological significance of the choice of the gender of the partner or of being a middle sibling brought up in a city?

        • Ian Paul July 17, 2016 at 6:39 pm #

          Not at all.

          First, just because a relationship is sinful, it does not mean that it cannot exhibit virtue. Vaughn Roberts made just this point in his contribution (and has given written permission for him to be cited).

          Secondly, I think the Scriptures are consistent and clear, and that it one reason why they are very brief; the question was simply not contested in the community of God’s people in OT or NT. Modern readers find this difficult, so they say one of:

          . the texts are fallible
          . the texts refer to specific forms of relationships (though there is no real exegetical support for this)
          . the writers of the texts did not know the kind of relationships we are referring to
          . the writers has a pre-modern understanding of sexuality, which we now know to be inherent and fixed (even if not quite ‘genetic’), and this makes them redundant.

          I think looking carefully at the research offers an apologetic rebuttal to the last of these four arguments.

          • Penelope July 18, 2016 at 9:11 am #

            Thanks Ian. So you are using science to support your reading of scripture, or, perhaps, just of these biblical texts?

          • Ian Paul July 22, 2016 at 11:50 am #

            No Penelope, I am using a correct understand of science to respond to people who use a poor understanding of science to say ‘This text can no longer speak to us’

          • Penelope July 22, 2016 at 12:23 pm #

            Yes, Ian but you’re claiming that your hermeneutic, this time on the scientific texts, is the ‘correct’ one.

          • Ian Paul July 22, 2016 at 1:30 pm #

            Yes and no. The research offers fairly conclusive statistically significant correlations. I would be interested to know what alternative interpretation the data allows.

            And the second piece of research is actually used by someone campaigning for SSM. So I don’t think I could be accused of having a vested interest in misreading this.

            What is to be disputed here?

            I think this comes back to Christopher Shell’s comments about academic disagreement…

          • Penelope July 22, 2016 at 2:25 pm #

            Sorry, Ian, I was just being (partly) facetious about the aetiology of heterosexuality. Mainly because any (scientific/social scientific) research into the origins of homosexuality has a tendency to pathologise and other an identity which is a variation within the norm.

      • Laurence Cunnington July 15, 2016 at 5:51 pm #

        Let’s say that the Danish research has identified accurately the causes of homosexuality in men and that the three points of correlation are, in fact, markers of causation.

        I was born, to a father in his 50s, to a much younger mother, in London, and I was the youngest of three boys. I may have been my mother’s fifth male pregnancy as she had two miscarriages prior to my birth, gender not disclosed to me. So far, so good. According to the Danish research I was pre-destined to be gay – and I am. But what were my parents to do about it if they didn’t want to have a gay in the family? Not have children because my father was old? Move to the countryside, pronto, when my mother discovered she was pregnant? Abort me because they’d already had two boys and they didn’t want to risk a pansy for a son? And, more to the point, what am I supposed to do *now* about these factors over which I had and have no control?

        • Will Jones July 15, 2016 at 10:21 pm #

          You should do what your conscience tells you is right. But if you mean what do those who hold to the current and orthodox teaching of the church think you should do, probably the best people to talk to are Living Out, who are LGBT people seeking to be faithful to the teaching of scripture.

          • Penelope July 16, 2016 at 12:45 pm #

            ‘their’ interpretation of the teaching of Scripture Will

          • Christopher Shell July 19, 2016 at 3:10 pm #

            Penelope, what do you mean by ‘their interpretation’? Are you saying that all interpretations, however unlikely or culturally-determined, are on a level playing-field? No scholar would agree. Leading proven commentators will have majority views and will sometimes converge on a particular answer. And they will always rule out completely the vast majority of possibilities.

            All university-level work concentrates on factors and arguments: conclusions, if any, are merely the result of the factors and arguments, which are the real thing. You seem to be just comparing positions/conclusions. Conclusions/positions if they come at all come at the END of a long process.

            Moreover, you are saying that everything is a matter of interpretation. Not in the real world. In the real world there are plenty of things that are plain and need little or no interpretation. I am not necessarily saying that this is one of them. But I am definitely saying that people use ‘interpretation’ as an excuse. All the time.

          • Penelope July 19, 2016 at 10:13 pm #

            Christopher every reading of every text is an interpretation, even more so when the text is in another language, some words of which are the author’s own neologisms and whose context we can always understand only imperfectly. Of course, some interpretations are more convincing or historically reasonable than others, but even experts disagree. And then the textual transmission itself is often uncertain. Take ‘para physin’, take Paul” ‘soulish body’, which the NRSV, rather disastrously (in my view), translates as ‘physical body’; take ‘pistis Chistou’ – is it an objective or subjective genitive? This is important stuff, which cannot just be read off the page as if it were a car manual.

          • Christopher Shell July 20, 2016 at 10:51 am #

            Hi Penelope

            Your answer is written as though to someone who is not aware that any interpretation is required for ANY text.

            But that includes only people under the age of 10, not 50-year-old Biblical Studies PhDs.

            The point I made earlier you have not addressed. Passages of any writing (and ancient writings are more difficult to us) will range between extremely easy and extremely difficult to interpret. One gets the impression that you think that none are ever easy – an irrational bias towards the difficult, which can however be useful when people want to deny obvious meanings.

            When you say that scholars disagree, I have already made points against that, which you have addressed. Those points, and additional points, are:

            (1) All scholars everywhere always rule out the vast majority of available meanings for a passage (e.g. Genesis 2.1 does not mean ‘Muhammad Ali is King’). 99.999999% of meanings are agreed to be impossible. So truth (accurate interpretation) is agreed to be a narrow thing by its nature.

            (2) Where there is disagreement, it is usually over fine points (your example objective/subjective genitive is a good one; so is your example of textual variants). Whether the biblical texts do or do not approve of homosexual sexual practice is not a fine point, it is a large and lumbering point.

            (3) Even if 99% of qualified scholars said something you could still say ‘Scholars disagree!!’. The entire thing is about proportions and percentages. There is literally almost all the difference in the world between 1% and 99%. What this reminds me of is that if there were a country of 100 million people all of whom belonged to the same religion or culture and someone then invented another religion and followed it, he would say ‘This is a multi-faith, multi-cultural society’. Proportions and percentages would not be considered. But they should be. They are the entire point.

            (4) Scholars’ conclusions are totally irrelevant. It is the factors and arguments on which those conclusions rest that are relevant. If someone thinks that by saying ‘Conclusions differ’ they are making a final statement in the debate, that is the opposite of the truth. They have not even entered the debate until they address the strength and weakness of factors and arguments.

            (5) Some ‘conclusions’ are nothing but ideological wishful-thinking positions, therefore are of no value. Only conclusions based on evidence are of value.

            (6) When it comes to neologisms, arsenokoites is a good example, with its background in Levitical language. No interpretation that has not seen MALE + LIE WITH as included centrally in its meaning has ever gained significant following, despite endless discussion. Nor could the meaning be that everyone that lies with males is condemned – that would include married women with their husbands. This narrows the possible range of meanings down appreciably. Different English phrases will be used to translate – but how many of these will deny that men who have sex with men are being referred to. Is there any competing theory that can with good evidence deny that? If so, name it.


          • Christopher Shell July 20, 2016 at 10:52 am #

            ‘Which you have addressed’ should read ‘which you have not addressed’.

        • David Shepherd July 16, 2016 at 9:18 am #

          Hi Laurence,

          Thanks for sharing your personal story. However, despite the circumstances of your upbringing, the correlation of those factors is not causation.

          Look at Christ’s exchange with the Rich Young Ruler (Mark 10:17-22), a man so clearly born into circumstances which he did not control. Was he pre-destined to a life of affluence and privilege?

          The young man questioned Christ about what he should do to inherit eternal life. Christ initially pointed to ethics of decency: “You know the commandments, ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’”. I would note that he didn’t mention the ethics of religious devotion and desire in the first and tenth commandments: ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me’ and ‘thou shalt not covet’

          Most ethical moral people might well affirm of themselves: “I have kept all these things from my youth up.” In fact, you don’t have to be a Christian to respond in this way. However, as Paul explained, covetousness is idolatry, and it is this ‘darling sin’ which Jesus insightfully probed by challenging him to abandon the very life which some might say he was pre-destined and to the manner born: One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

          Christ said: Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Matt. 13:45 – 46)

          If the young man had been sufficiently persuaded that the hope which Christ held forth was greater than any prospect that his current life could offer, every aspect of the latter would have paled into relative insignificance and he would have obeyed Christ’s call.

          Instead, we are told: But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property. (Mark 10:22) In other words, it was far too much to give up. The real issue is that we are not so much pre-destined as we are pre-disposed and prejudiced towards our current life. We are hostages to moral inertia.

          In terms of inertia, every day, I am challenged to abandon some aspect of my life which I discover to be inconsistent with the beauty of Christ and his loving Lordship of my life.

          The gospel’s challenge persistently de-thrones my personal aspirations, ambitions and desire for an easy, comfortable life. Yet, I’m bound to this course of surrendering all because I receive constant glimpses into the glorious union of perfect humanity with transcendent deity in our Eternal Saviour and experience the assurance of sharing in the invincible life and relationship with my Father that he secured, in spite of me, on the cross.

          All I know is that I was that Rich Young Ruler, but beyond being grieved at being expected to surrender the life into which I was born, my incessant plea for His power to change me is being heard. I could not turn away when He has the words of eternal life.

          When I’m at Eucharist, I somehow feel that I’m the unlikely disciple: one who doesn’t fit the mold. In fact, were it not for the spiritual assurance that the gospel’s invitation to that paschal meal is as personal as the one which Christ extended to the apostles, I would shy away from participation.

          Call this unsolicited preachment, if you like, but if I am invited, in spite of myself, to Christ’s feast, then so are you; and if I can be transformed (if I want to be) in spite of myself, then so can you.

        • Ian Paul July 16, 2016 at 11:33 am #

          Laurence, I first want to say thank you for being so frank about your own story. Secondly, I want to pause to honour personal disclosure before making any immediate observation. But I will come back and respond to you in time.

        • William Fisher July 16, 2016 at 2:52 pm #

          What can you do *now*, Mr Cunnington? Well, first of all you can repent of having been born in a city to parents so far apart in age, of being the youngest of three boys, and of being the son of parents who didn’t take the precautions that they should have taken against having a gay son, and you can ask God for more favourable circumstances of birth in any subsequent incarnation. Then you can renege on your commitment to your partner and break up your relationship with him, and spend the rest of your life alone, inflicting psychological and spiritual abuse on yourself.

          Alternatively, since most straight people just get on with their lives anyway, content to be in sexual relationships congruent with their sexuality, and wouldn’t be particularly bothered no matter what any research purported to show about the causes of their sexuality, you can follow their example. That is what I would recommend.

          • Penelope July 16, 2016 at 3:34 pm #

            No-one ever does any research into the aetiology of heterosexuality. It’s so unfair!

          • Laurence Cunnington July 17, 2016 at 10:38 am #

            “you can follow their example. That is what I would recommend.”

            And that is precisely what I have done.

          • Christopher Shell July 19, 2016 at 3:11 pm #

            The aetiology of heterosexuality?

            Until very recently no-one thought even to have a concept of heterosexuality.

            Darwin would have most of the answers here? Survival instinct, presumably.

          • Ian Paul July 22, 2016 at 11:58 am #

            ‘No-one ever does any research into the aetiology of heterosexuality. It’s so unfair!’

            That’s not true; it is just too obvious to state explicitly.

            As a biological male who was attached physical (in utero and through breast feeding) to my mother, I reached a point (probably around 18 months old) where I became aware of sex difference, and started to locate myself within this sex binary.

            By observing behaviour and bodily shape, I came to realise that I located myself on the same side as my father, and not my mother, and so made the (sometimes difficult and painful) detachment from my mother and attachment to my father.

            I then started a process of socialisation into the male side of the sex binary, which matched my biological sex, and formed a distinctive relationship with my father.

            I believe that all this is pretty well known. The detachment/attachment process is believed to be one reason why men have more mental health difficulties than women, contributes to their greater pragmatism and lower empathy, and I think contributes to men’s cognitive constructive of the world in binaries rather than continuities, in contrast to women who have only ever experienced continuity of attachment to their mothers.

            It is generally labelled as ‘healthy’ psycho-sexual development, and the failure of this process also explains why male homosexuality is a completely different phenomenon from female same-sex attraction, which is not rooted in these kind of early developmental issues.

        • Ian Paul July 22, 2016 at 12:14 pm #

          Laurence, to respond to the substance of your comment of self disclosure, a few thoughts.

          1. ‘According to the Danish research I was pre-destined to be gay’. That is not the way statistics work. What it says is only that there is more likelihood of that development. I too am a youngest male sibling, with an older father who was not a strong relational bonder, and a mother with a strong personality, so statistically I am in a similar position to you.

          2. ‘What were my parents to do?’ The key thing about this research, contrary to arguments that people are ‘born gay’ or even that people are ‘born straight’ is to show that environment matters. What could your parents do? I would suggest that your father could have made a particular effort to spend time with you, to do things together, to bond with you and socialise with you. I am a (slightly) older father, and I made a particular decision to keep fit and lose weight precisely in order to be able to do things with my son that my father (who was an unfit smoker) could not do with me. I was finishing my PhD when my son was born, and spent very little time with him in his first six months, which I realised with a start when I submitted. I therefore made a decision to go out of my way to make time for him following that.

          3. The issue about city life also shows the importance of culture and experience. So how parents manage and control the things that influence their children really matters.

          4. What are you to do now? I don’t think it is realistic for me to suggest a major change to your lifestyle, but this research lends weight to the argument that our sense of desire need not determine our lifestyle or ethical decisions. There is no ethical parallel with child abuse here, but there is a striking intellectual one. Anyone who has worked with paedophiles knows very well that they all feel ‘I was made this way’ (we have the major sex offenders prison here in Nottingham as you might be aware). We are very clear that this does not lead to an ethical conclusion.

          5. within the debate in the C of E, the developmental evidence pulls the rug from the kind of ‘We know people are born gay so we must accept SSM’ argument that is constantly thrown carelessly around.

          I am also aware that this evidence is very difficult for parents of gay children for whom this raises an ethical dilemma, since the research could be interpreted as saying ‘It is my fault (as a parent).’ I don’t underestimate the difficulty of this.

          I don’t know if any of this makes sense to you.

      • Dr Christopher Shell July 16, 2016 at 8:56 am #

        Ian – as you know, the number of times the research (on the downside of homosexual behaviour in STIs, promiscuity, unsafe sexual practices, premature death; on the born-gay question; on the biblical passages) has been repeated in different books is legion. The amount of it that revisionists are typically aware of even after all this time that homosexuality has been a forefront-topic is lamentable. As soon as many of them hear something they don’t like, they just say ‘homophobia’ and take in nothing.

        I simply assumed that to advance the debate we had to see what the science and statistics said. Largest-sample, maximally-random-sample studies, and especially meta-analyses. Having been the person most prone to quote such science, I have accordingly been banned from two different Anglican websites. Those who trawl through the archives will see that I have never sworn nor been rude. The first one that banned me said that I had not a modicum of knowledge on this; and that most of my statistical references were nonsense. So I said: fine – if that’s actually the case, then you need only to correct the errors, and also provide superior statistics. Not a single step was taken to do either of those things, and I suspect that they could not have been done. I was just banned anyway. Yet books like ‘Amazing Love’ (DLT 2016) leave out almost all of the inconvenient evidence; spin much of the remainder; and show knowledge of very little outside their own circles (and bibliography has a large amount of work by unqualified non-specialists).

        This is highly concerning. The only way that this movement can keep going is by banning dissent – and, on this occasion, the most informed dissent, the participant who quoted most science and statistics out of all the participants.

        • Penelope July 16, 2016 at 12:51 pm #

          Christopher I think you do ‘revisionists’ (I am one) a disservice. I have trawled through countless books and articles telling me how unsafe and harmful (male and presumably anal) same-sex sex is). So what? Is that a theological or a scriptural argument? On those terms, lesbianism would be especially holy. If the criterion for licit sex was safety, the church would have prohibited heterosexual sex centuries ago.t

          • Christopher Shell July 16, 2016 at 4:43 pm #

            It is not theological nor scriptural – obviously, as you yourself imply. It is a case where the scriptures in question are shown to come to the correct conclusion. ‘The criterion’ – you speak as though there can be only one criterion. Who decided that? There is an important criterion you don’t mention: the complementarity of the sexes. This is scientifically important but also was specifically mentioned by Jesus – and even in a context (divorce) where it was not directly relevant. Showing how much he wanted to emphasise it – he’d even mention it when it was not directly relevant.

            On safety you are talking nonsense, as the church-sanctioned practice of sex between 2 married virgins is incredibly safe. By contrast to have 7.1 partners (recently the national average) is to have aggregated partners in the millions, if I remember accurately. Nature could not possibly teach a clearer-cut lesson. The discrepancy between the safety of the former and the lack of safety of the latter is statistically staggering.

        • Penelope July 16, 2016 at 5:11 pm #

          Christopher So 1) you are appealing to science to back the claims of scripture?
          2) it was science – which is also culturally conditioned – which ‘invented’ the idea of ‘opposite’ sexes in the 19thC. The complementarity of man and woman is a modern idea.
          3) sorry, I should have said “a” criterion rather than “the” criterion, but my comment about safety still stands; if 2 virgins marry, one of them may die in childbirth or from the complications of pregnancy. especially in previous centuries and in many parts of the world today.
          4) like many others, you avoid lesbianism, because it is (a) (most probably) never mentioned in the Bible and (b) extremely safe.

          • Christopher Shell July 17, 2016 at 10:04 pm #

            Hi Penelope

            (1) I would not even dream of appealing to science to back up scripture. Wanting scripture to be true is ideological: therefore no scholar nor truth seeker can want any such thing. Assuming scripture is true is also ideological, therefore no scholar nor truth-seeker can assume any such thing. What you call scripture is a multi-author, multi-time-period, multi-genre, multi-language library. The word Bible comes from biblia meaning books. Ideology is my greatest enemy, and also the main enemy of all truth-seekers and all scholars. Accordingly when you claim I am ‘appealing to science to back up the claims of scripture’, it is not just inaccurate but almost 180 degrees inaccurate. This is my main point, and if you don’t understand it the first time, do read it again, as hopefully it will reorientate your thought.

            (2) The complementarity of man and woman is borne witness to by the birth of (almost) every animal ever. It is one of the surest and most obvious things in all reality. The other gender is exactly what is needed for the species’s sake. They are quite obviously designed/meant for each other.

            Complementarity and opposite are not the same as each other – you are mistakenly speaking as though they are the same. Of course male and femaie are not conceptually opposite. Though we can correctly say that a male-female embrace is a bit like north magnets attracting south.

            Science is culturally conditioned, yes. But it is more successful (because it fosters open investigation and testing) than any of its rivals. It is not wishful thinking, nor postmodernism, that has given us air flight, moon travel, mobile phones etc..

            (3) Correct. There are risks even for 2 virgins as there are risks for anyone. Like all of life it is about comparing degrees of risk. The risks are massively lower for 2 virgins. Nature itself gives us the answer, and a very simple answer it is too.

            (4) You said I avoid lesbianism. Do I also avoid Twelfth Night, mass spectroscopy and the fortunes of Essex County Cricket Club. Are all of these topics I will not touch with a barge-pole just because I happen not to mention them in one particular very brief comment?

            You speak as though we can simply call people ‘lesbians’, as though a lesbian is a thing you can be. Only to some extent is that true. The average number of men a lesbian has slept with is twice the average number a so-called straight woman has slept with. The number of women having same-sex sexual contact has more than quadrupled in the last 20 years (UK Social Attitudes Survey), proving that culture mot biology is the main factor.
            The average length of a homosexual male pair-relationship is crazily short, but of a lesbian ditto is even shorter. Does all that breaking up mean they are in a psychologically healthy place rather than being wounded individuals (on average)?

            It is mentioned in the Bible (Romans 1).

            It is not surprising that people avoid ‘sexually’-transmitted diseases when those people are incapable of having sex.

        • Penelope July 18, 2016 at 9:25 am #

          Christopher 1) “It is not theological nor scriptural – obviously, as you yourself imply. It is a case where the scriptures in question are shown to come to the correct conclusion.” – presumably ‘shown’ by science?
          2) complementarity is a very modern understanding of sex and gender and would have been anachronistic to the ANE writers of Genesis.
          3) nature rarely gives us ‘answers’, but since homosexuality is in nature it is a natural part of the created order.
          4) I really think you should ask a lesbian if she considers that what she does with her partner or wife is sex. And, perhaps, re-examine you androcentric view that only penetrative sex is ‘real’ sex. I think you may fid that quite a few heterosexual people have a broader view of what constitutes sexual intimacy. (I also think the remark ‘those people are incapable of having sex’ is most offensive.)
          4a) ‘Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural’ doesn’t necessarily mean lesbianism Paul may have meant that women weren’t being penetrated in the right way or in the right position, or at all. For a writer in the ANE (and, it seems, for some today) that would have been deemed ‘unnatural.

          • Christopher Shell July 18, 2016 at 4:20 pm #

            (1) Yes, you interpret me correctly. Science and statistics are the best way we have for deciding what is and is not correct. On this occasion, the biblical texts get it right in highlighting homosexual sexual behaviour as being something much-more-than-averagely dangerous.

            (2) You assert this, but without evidence. So far as I can see, the assertion is 100% wrong, and obviously so even to a child. You did not address my point that every human and most animals ever born are living proof of man-woman complementarity. Sometimes things are so big (an ocean liner) that you can’t see them. (You get the second and related point that complementarity and being opposite are quite different?)

            (3) Again you give an unspported assertion about nature and answers. Nature does give us answers all the time – but I will give examples of this. If people die from certain diets and behaviours they know that those are not the ones intended. If they win Olympic medals after changing their diet or lifestyle then they know that the changes are the correct ones for their species.

            What do you mean by ‘in nature’? All animal behaviour is in nature, and some of it is beneficial and some harmful. Not all human behaviour is in nature, since humans can sometimes choose to do outrageous things that defy healthy biological and psychological development. You are familiar with the many arguments that homosexual orientation is largely environmental and not inborn? No-one having any sexual orientation or attraction to others as a baby or child; no-one remembering before age 2-3; increase among urban men & college women & the molested; lesbian women having twice as menay male sexual partners as straight women; lesbians or part-lesbians quadrupling in UK in the last 20 years; the results of the Genome Project which privilege environment over genetics; identical twin studies; Lisa Diamond and Savin-Williams/Ream on fluidity of so-called orientation; 400% increase of lesbian ‘orientation’ among those brought up by lesbians. Often you hear claims like ‘homosexuality is in nature’. So is smoking in nature, in the sense that it is attested in the natural world, of which humans are a part. Most of those who make such assertions are not aware of these studies; the remedy is for them first to become aware of them and factor them into their thoughts.

            (4) I am sure ‘sex’ has a dictionary definition, probably several. People (you and I) can create their own usages, and if these catch on, the dictionary will acknowledge them. Wanting equality will not make equality happen. There are things that (for good or ill) they (and we) are not capable of. That is a simple biological fact, and facts and biology (though correct) are not popular among ideologues. If you use the same term ‘sex’ for widely different things, then you are not speaking clearly, but over-ambiguously. And clear and honest thinkers always speak clearly with a clear meaning.

            It might indeed be offensive, but (a) offensiveness is subjective not objective; (b) there are thousands of offensive things that are also true, and whether they are true is more important than whether they are offensive. Indeed, claims of offensiveness can often be an excuse for not facing up to truth. The gospel itself is offensive (1 Peter, 1 Corinthians). This is so culturally-bound and modern-Western: the convenient and obviously incorrect idea that whether something is offensive is in any way relevant to whether it is true or not.

            (4a) This is an impossible interpretation. The behaviour you suggest is unbelievably obscure, so why on earth would Paul fasten on something as obscure as that?
            Nor does it fit into the flow of his argument.
            And his argument in general clearly centrally refers to same-sex sexual behaviour (cf. his references to male-male).
            Give evidence that he ever countenanced sexual behaviour outside a married-man-and-woman context.



          • Clive July 18, 2016 at 10:05 pm #


            You wrote:
            “3) nature rarely gives us ‘answers’, but since homosexuality is in nature it is a natural part of the created order.”

            Therefore based entirely on what you have written:
            “3) nature rarely gives us ‘answers’, but since cannibalism is in nature it is a natural part of the created order.”

            This just illustrates that your logic just doesn’t work at all.

        • Penelope July 18, 2016 at 10:14 pm #

          Christopher 1) so, as I said you are using science to buttress the claims of scripture. Others use science to critique it. I have no axe to grind on this, except that I think it’s a red herring.
          2) read Thomas Laqueur and Adrian Thatcher on the modern ‘heresy’ of complementarity. I think they overstate the case, but it’s interesting. I used the term ‘opposite’ because that is what 19thC science invented: ‘opposite’ sexes. 3) Paul talks about things being para phusin; readers infer that homosexuality is against nature: it’s not. Your observations on ‘harm’ are comparing apples and oranges. There are no longitudinal studies of the stability and permanence of same-sex marriages and civil partnerships compared with heterosexual marriages (especially among Xians) in the same period. Promiscuous sex and some sexual intimacies, such as anal sex are potentially harmful whether practised by heterosexual or homosexual people. I don’t think you mean lesbians when you claim that they have more male partners than straight women; I think you mean bisexual women. 4) sexual intimacy encompasses many acts, not all of them penetrative. 4a) this is clearly not an impossible interpretation since it is one that several scholars have made. What on earth do you mean by unbelievably obscure behaviour? Penetrative sexual intercourse that is not in the missionary position? Hardly obscure. Many people in the ANE, including maybe Paul, would have believed that for a woman not to be penetrated and underneath a man would, like her having short hair, be para phsuin. That this belief existed in the church is attested by the medieval penitentiaries which thought other forms of (hetero)sexual congress were illicit.

          • Christopher Shell July 18, 2016 at 10:56 pm #

            (1) No, a thousand times no. On this particular occasion ‘scripture’ happens to get it right, just as on other occasions (the place of the healing of Jairus’s daughter in the sequence of Jesus’s life) it gets it wrong. We test Scripture against reality (and reality is best understood by scientific investigation) to see which times Scripture is right and which times it is wrong. Often we do not know which.

            You certainly should have an axe to grind on it if you find people engaging in a practice as dishonest as that. Why do you say you have no axe to grind on it? Does not dishonesty concern you?

            (2) You have not even addressed the point, and for the second time. Does the fact that trillions of animals are born from the joining of man and woman together show that male and female bodies are made or fitted for one another (i.e. complementary) or not? This is a yes/no answer, i.e. only a one-word answer is required. Complementarity is not only obviously there in biology, it is also obviously there in romance too. Romance was not invented in the Victorian age.

            (3) But homosexual sexual or quasi-sexual behaviour, first by women and then by men (note that Paul mentions the two in parallel, with the term homoios = likewise, so that no-one can be in any doubt that just as he talks about men with men he is also talking about women with women) is exactly the thing he calls para phusin.

            There are plenty of studies comparing unmarried same-sex and opposite-sex promiscuity. Same-sex is far worse, even at a time when the latter is rising significantly. From this we deduce that the same will be the case within marriage too. There is no reason for it not to be, since no family unit is formed in the same-sex case. The two cases are therefore not parallel.

            I don;’t understand the anal sex point, since men who have sex with men far outstrip other groups in falling prey to anal cancer and HIV/AIDS. etc.. You are talking theory (hence your use of the word ‘potentially’) only. Who would talk about theory (and why would they do so) when we already know the result of the practice?

            I don’t mean bisexual women, I mean self-described lesbians.

            (4) This is precisely why I said earlier that you are using ‘sex’ in such a wide sense that it becomes almost meaningless. Clear thinkers use language clearly. Part of the word ‘sex’ is male and female difference coming to the forefront. There is no gender difference in the things you are describing, which is why the word sex (which hitherto has been a synonym for gender) is much less appropriate since in your scenario gender and gender difference are not an issue, there being gender uniformity.

            (4a) Several scholars? Who? The commentaries on Romans on my shelf are precisely the ones used at the top universities – Barrett, Cranfield, Dunn, Moo, Fitzmyer, Byrne, Jewett, Longenecker. The writers of commentaries produce painstaking intricate detailed scholarship and understand a writer’s thought in the round. Doesn’t it strike you as suspicious that the ‘conclusions’ recently come to coincide so perfectly with the time in history and the geographical locations where people might *want* such so-called conclusions? Paul has no time for recondite obscure sins; he is only mentioning a small handful of sins in total so he can scarcely venture beyond the main ones.

          • Helen King July 19, 2016 at 6:45 am #

            Penelope, thank you so much for keeping history in this discussion when there is a tendency to present ‘the Bible’ versus ‘our misguided era’. As you remind us, it is all a lot more complicated than that. Furthermore, thank you for your patience. Christopher’s ‘Clear thinkers use language clearly’ doesn’t accommodate the changes in language use over time, and then within one time.

            Just one point if I can dare to use intellectual argument – Laqueur. I’ve published a book on what’s wrong with his claims – The One-Sex Body on Trial (2013). Like all academic books, it costs a fortune, but as well as having sections on Google books I have the pre-print of the Intro on

          • Christopher Shell July 19, 2016 at 9:24 am #

            Helen – that is not the point I am making about clear thinkers. I am making a different point.

            At the age of 50 I am well aware that meanings change and language evolves. I was aware of that at the age of 10. I could scarcely not have been! (Though sometimes – not always – the people with a big and public voice, such as media and authorities, can force such changes, and not necessarily for motives that have integrity. This point too needs to be acknowledged.)

            No: my point was a different one. It was that if a given word ends up having too wide a meaning, then clear expression becomes impossible.

        • Penelope July 19, 2016 at 10:51 pm #

          Christopher I don’t think we’re getting anywhere on Point (1). I thought we agreed in saying that sometimes science (itself culturally conditioned) supports scriptural observations and sometimes it doesn’t. I don’t know what the dishonest practice is that people are engaging in.
          2) I pointed you to Laqueur and Adrian Thatcher. Helen now comments that she has written a book which criticises Laqueur’s ‘one-sex theory’. I did say that I wasn’t entirely convinced by his work, so I really look forwards to reading Helen’s book. Nevertheless, although the sexes are clearly meant to reproduce (at least in humans) I don’t think that complementarianism was in the minds of the writers of the Genesis narratives.
          3) I hardly know where to start. Yes, Paul may be talking about same-sex behaviour in both sexes/genders because he says ‘likewise’, but he may also be listing sexual behaviour which he sees as being unnatural – likewise – in both sexes/genders and that unnatural activity could be either same-sex or other-sex.
          As I said, we have no way of assessing the comparative stability of same-sex marital relationships until the longitudinal studies are done. We cannot infer from previous research conducted on very different premises. Anal sex (Clive has already reprimanded me for being too graphic, but here goes) has certain risks involved. However, as a (US, I think) study has shown, more heterosexual couples than homosexual couples indulge in anal sex, so it is a ‘high risk’ activity for both sexes.
          Which leads me to (4). Sorry, if I was using sex too generically as a synonym for sexual intimacy, behaviour or activity. It’s a hazard of typing too quickly and trying not to be too graphic. I think the point I was making was that sexual intimacy between other-sex couples is not always penile-vaginal penetration (with the woman on top), nor is sexual intimacy between men always in the form of anal intercourse. Oral sex, mutual masturbation, intercrural intercourse etc. also are a part of many people’s sex lives of both sexes/genders and of all orientations (except the last for lesbians).
          Which is why (4a) is not ’unbelievably obscure’ behaviour. It is heterosexual sexual intimacy in which the woman is in the dominant position or which does not involve penile-vaginal penetration. It was, and is, common and Paul could well have known about it (even if/though he was single). He may also, being a man of his time, have disapproved of it; though I doubt whether many would consider most of these activities ‘recondite obscure sins’ today!
          Being at a top university I am well aware of the commentaries on Romans you mention, and others. Without looking it up, I can’t remember which scholars argue for the unnatural behaviour of the women in Rom 1.26 being adopting the wrong, or a dominant, position. Perhaps one is Dale Martin. He is a professor at Yale, which is, I understand, a ‘top’ university.
          I also refer you to my answer on interpretation and the difficulties in reading texts. Which is why even ‘experts’ disagree. If they did not there would be no more PhDs and monographs!

          • Christopher Shell July 20, 2016 at 11:12 am #

            (1) Yes we do agree on that. What is dishonest is to **want** scriptures to be true and use science to bolster that. Wanting (wishful thinking) is no part of the scholarly process, and to pursue such a line would obviously be a mark of dishonesty, which ought to concern us. That’s what I meant.

            (2) But after 3 attempts you have still not answered the point about the perfectly obvious male-female complementarity (both physical and also romantic) which is how every human and most animals come into existence at all. There could scarcely be a more obvious datum from the entire natural world, and it is pretty soon obvious even to children. Do Laqueur or Thatcher deny that? What are the arguments they use to deny it, if they do deny it? Is there still some confusion between opposite and complementary here? They are quite different from each other.

            (3) Yes, but the ‘likewise’ parallel in my (the majority) interpretation is much more satisfyingly balanced, and must therefore remain much the likelier option unless there are any ways in which the other is MORE likely. So: What would those ways be?

            (4) Where is your evidence that sexual positions would have been likely to have been such a huge issue for Paul?

            Being at a top university (i.e. BECAUSE you are at a top university) you are well aware of the commentaries I mention? But whichever university you are at, ask around: the vast majority of people will not be aware of any of them. It will not be their sub-speciality. So your awareness of them does not at all follow from your residence at the particular university you are at.

            In any case, what you need to be aware of is not that the commentaries exist, but the arguments used by the scholars. Why they reach the conclusions they do.

            NT scholars have for a couple of decades now been amazed at the ideological nature of much that comes out of both Yale (in particular) and Harvard. One can’t use the name to hide defects. The name is utterly irrelevant. What is relevant is whether scholarly work is evidence-based.

            Dale Martin is gay; 98% are not. He therefore has a potential vested interest.

            Answer on interpretation I addressed separately. ‘Difficulties in reading texts’ is wrong, because we are dealing with a sliding scale between very easy and very difficult texts, not with a mass of texts ALL of which are very difficult.

            Experts do not disagree. They disagree on some things. And not on others. The monographs are on the things they disagree on, not the things they agree on. Both categories exist. In the present case, there are absolutely central things that are universally agreed on, such as the universally negative treatment of same-sex sexual behaviour in the texts.

        • Penelope July 20, 2016 at 9:54 am #

          Hello Helen. I hope you pick this up since this thread is getting so long. I am not sure that I am replying to you. Many thanks for this. I read the extracts and have just found out that it’s in the university library, so I shall pick it up today! (I have read Cadden on The meaning of sex difference in the Middle Ages.). As I said, I wasn’t entirely convinced by Laqueur, but when I was reading him I saw a programme on the TV about Mary Tudor’s unfortunate gynaecological history which showed a contemporary manual in which the internal female sex organs seemed to be a clear representation of (internalised) male sex organs.

          • Helen King July 21, 2016 at 2:30 pm #

            Yes, I too am losing the plot in terms of who is saying what, where! I wonder if that TV programme used the Vesalius image of the womb… Often read through an “it must be self evident’ modern lens rather than reading the caption. I analysed this in the book …

        • Ian Paul July 22, 2016 at 12:03 pm #

          Christopher, where is the best summary of the primary research here? I found Thomas Schmidt’s ‘Straight and Narrow?’ quite a good summary of a range of issues….

          • Christopher Shell July 23, 2016 at 8:44 am #

            Ian, I believe you will not go far wrong with Schmidt: he is very judicious and reliable.

            I think in one of my emails I probably listed 10 books, and most of those cover both biblical and statistical material. Gagnon is best on the biblical material I think. His final chapter on the statistical material is oddly structured but full of important findings. Now a bit out of date. ML Brown (a bit more up to date) also summarises the statistics on a number of matters, with full footnoting. Satinover is the most scientifically expert summariser.

          • Christopher Shell July 25, 2016 at 9:36 am #

            Penelope, I see that you yourself agree that different degrees of objectivity are possible. So not everyone has nought-percent objectivity, we both agree.

            I am sure we’ll also agree that trained scholars are likely to be more objective than others.
            If any scholars are obviously being influenced by their own autobiography, one will therefore take a lower view of those particular scholars’ scholarship.

            Given that different degrees of objectivity are possible, the question inevitably arises ‘What is the maximum objectivity one can show?’. A hard question to answer. No-one can logically prove that it is actually impossible to show 100% objectivity.

        • Penelope July 22, 2016 at 12:07 pm #

          Christopher I keep missing these replies because my email is not picking them up.
          Just one point about unexamined heteronormative privilege. Yes, Dale Martin is gay. That undoubtedly influences his reading of texts? You are straight. That undoubtedly influences your reading of texts.

          • Christopher Shell July 23, 2016 at 8:52 am #


            (1) What you call ‘straight’ is not a subset (indeed the very term ‘straight’, together with extraordinary terms like ‘heteronormative’, did not even exist till recently). It just describes those who act in accord with their biology, and there is no obvious reason why anyone ought to fail to do *that*. Health itself is a matter of acting in accord with one’s biology, which is why till recently homosexual behaviour was (for obvious biological reasons) seen as pathological.

            (2) If anyone’s personal circumstances (Martin’s or mine) alter our readings of texts we cannot possibly be proper NT scholars. We know perfectly well that the NT writings are not written about us. So it is obviously wrong to bring our personal autobiography into interpretation. It is irrelevant to interpretation. Scholars discuss things that are completely separate from themselves all the time, surely??

          • Penelope July 23, 2016 at 12:27 pm #

            Christopher I think this is the most extraordinary answer!
            What is extraordinary about the term ‘heteronormative’? It describes exactly how you see the world as your comments about what is ‘natural and ‘normal’ indicate. And your comment about lesbians (those people) not being able to have sex. It informs your view that Dale Martin must have a particular view on these texts because he is gay.
            Health is not only about acting in accord with our biology or women would not die in childbirth.
            As I said before, of all sexual activities, anal sex carries some serious health risks. It is therefore a risky intimacy for both gay and straight couples. It is not a reason to pathologise homosexuality, and many gay men do not indulge in anal sex.
            Finally, if you truly believe that nothing about your sexuality, your culture, your gender, your beliefs, your age, affects your reading of texts, then I would question your scholarly credentials. Prof Martin is rather more honest when he says ‘people mean with texts’.

          • Christopher Shell July 23, 2016 at 1:36 pm #

            But even the worst scholars are good enough to know that they themselves (21st people) are not a factor in interpreting 1st century texts!

            Heteronormative is a crazy word – yes. It’s saying that some people try to make out that so-called heterosexual orientation is normal. Well – er – it is not only normal but universal in terms of assigned genitalia, which are a firm datum. Claims to orientation will always be a less firm datum than genitalia, BOTH less capable of proof AND more fluid/changeable.

            And also: why do you think that not a single society till recently felt the need for such a convoluted word as heteronormative? There must be some reason for that.

            This new terminology all derives from treating orientation as the basic concept. Yet the science finds orientation to be changeable, varied, and fluid. How can such a problematic concept be treated as the basic concept? It is because people have been speaking thus for years and years without being properly versed in the science, and by the time the science has caught up with them it is too late.

            I do not at all think Dale Martin must have a particular view on the texts because he is gay. Why not?
            (1) If you read what he says, he is in favour of rejecting not reinterpreting these scriptures.
            (2) Because if he is a proper scholar then he will not bring personal issues into the interpretation of texts that have nothing to do with him. (Even the Personal Heresy that the author is speaking about himself in his texts is on shaky ground: see the CS Lewis – EMW Tillyard debate; how much shakier the idea that texts have something to do with idividuals who live 2 millennia later!!) But I note with disappointment that, surely not by coincidence, it is very disproportionately gay people who just so happen to find texts to be favourable to their own lifestyle. It is also gay and gay-friendly people who have twice told me that everyone in the world biases their interpretation in favour of their own wishes and ideologies. Honesty does not exist. Scholarship does not exist. Objectivity does not exist. Oh yes they all do.

          • Penelope July 23, 2016 at 5:19 pm #

            Christopher I hope this appears as an answer to yours below:
            Why is normative a crazy word?
            It is a perfectly respectable neologism (like arsenokoites), dating from 1880 (except that it is an unholy marriage of Greek and Latin!). It describes a cultural view which has persisted in western Asia and Europe for around two millennia and which has often been unacknowledged; cf. white male privilege. It is not saying that heterosexuality is normal, but describes the view which privileges heterosexuality as ‘the norm’ and which sees any deviation from heterosexuality not merely as atypical, but as aberrant or sinful. This is, of course the view that led the medical profession, itself subject to cultural constructs, to pathologise homosexuality as a ‘disease’.
            Again, as William Fisher pointed out in another comment the use of genitalia does not make something para physin. Of course, procreative sex usually involves penile-vaginal penetration, but that does not make other forms of sexual activity aberrant or sinful, even according to the doctrines of the church.
            Your earlier comment about Dale Martin, which you echo here, implies that his interpretation is affected by the fact that he is gay. In fact he is not in favour of rejecting these texts, but of interpreting them differently. I do not necessarily agree with his interpretation of Paul’s us of arsenokoites and malakos, but he proffers supporting evidence and uses careful and creative exegesis as any good scholar must.
            Of course, scholarship and honesty exist. Objectivity doesn’t. It is impossible to read a text, any text, without reading it through your own cultural, religious, gendered, ‘racial’ expectations. It doesn’t matter whether the text is from the fifth century BCE, the 1st century CE, Renaissance Europe, or yesterday in Camberwell. Historical, linguistic, and literary expertise will mitigate your subjectivity, but they won’t remove it altogether.
            I note with disappointment that, surely not by coincidence, it is, very disproportionately, straight people who just so happen to find texts favourable to their own lifestyle.

          • Penelope July 23, 2016 at 5:20 pm #

            Christopher Yours above now!

          • Will Jones July 23, 2016 at 7:35 pm #

            Penelope (if you’ll excuse the brief intrusion) – I assume you mean pure objectivity doesn’t exist, since your talk of mitigating subjectivity but not removing it entirely clearly requires the possibility of greater or lesser objectivity, with (I presume) greater as the aim. Which I think softens the force of the claim somewhat.

          • Penelope July 24, 2016 at 3:14 pm #

            Hi Will. yes, Or greater or lesser subjectivity. I don’t think you need to qualify objective with ‘pure’. No one is objective, altho’ we all strive to be less subjective.

          • Christopher Shell July 24, 2016 at 3:29 pm #

            On objectivity: nonsense. Degrees of objectivity do exist, otherwise you are saying that the only percentage of objectivity anyone can display is nought-percent! Scholars are the people best-equipped to be the most objective. The more objective they are able to be, the better scholars they are.

            On Dale Martin, where is your evidence that he never jettisons the text altogether? Google ‘Gay religion professor tells audience to abandon the Bible’. You will see that he is asking audience to reject texts not just re-interpret them. He also (see Gagnon’s dialogue with him) plays the convenient game of pretending that ALL texts are hard to interpret, rather than there being a sliding scale between very easy and very difficult.

            For myself, I would not think twice about jettisoning a text altogether if the evidence were against its claims. That is why your claim of bias in your final para is wrong, and I ask you to withdraw it because it is a claim that someone is lying on an occasion where they are not doing so. When I said that a disproportionate number of revisionists on this question are themselves gay (and that this did seem very suspicious, whereas most people have always gone with the obvious meaning: the texts do obviously seem to be opposed to homosexual sexual behaviour and we are being asked to believe that it is actually being seen as acceptable or even good; why not treat the equally firm texts on lying etc in the same way? Why *apologise* for taking texts to mean what they clearly seem to mean? For taking them to mean what no-one doubted they meant until the time of homosexual activism?), I was doing no more than do a mental calculation. Boswell, Martin, Vines, Jeffrey John etc. were/are all self-described gay. The latter was connected with an organisation that told me outright that all readers are biased in their own interests (i.e. dishonest).

            Para phusin – any sexual activity not with your spouse is sinful to all Christians throughout Christian history. That by definition obviously includes anything where more than one male genitalia are involved, or more than one female.

          • Christopher Shell July 26, 2016 at 6:22 pm #

            The reason why ‘heteronormative’ is a strange word is twofold and it has already been given. To repeat: (1) former societies have never seen the need for such a word; (2) hetero- is normal: very normal indeed. Hetero- is the entire structure of animal biology. it is difficult to find anything more normal than that. ‘normative’ implies trying to MAKE something normal that was *not* normal already. This thing *was* normal already – about the most normal thing that there is.

        • Penelope July 25, 2016 at 11:41 am #

          Christopher On your advice I googled “Gay religion professor tells audience to abandon the Bible” (not something I would normally put into a search engine. I prefer something more ‘objective’, like “Dale Martin”). This is what the website quotes:
          ‘Dale Martin, (pictured) a homosexual christian professor at Yale said to an audience regarding the Bible and sex. In his speech entitled “A Gay, Male, Christian, Sexual Ethic.” Martin called on christians of his genre to abandon a “Bible says so approach”’
          That is not jettisoning the text, it is advising Christians to adopt a more disinterested and nuanced approach to what the Bible ‘says’. I suggest that you read Martin for yourself rather than relying on the (not disinterested) reporting of extremist anti-gay websites.
          I will not withdraw my view that “I note with disappointment that, surely not by coincidence, it is, very disproportionately, straight people who just so happen to find texts favourable to their own lifestyle”.
          I was merely reflecting your own view about ‘gay bias’ , and trying, once again, to explain to you what heteronormative privilege is, and why we are all affected by its perspective in the west (I include Australia and New Zealand and parts of Africa because they too have been colonised by this prevailing cultural view. BTW, you haven’t explained why heteronormative is such a ‘crazy’ word.
          Regard Robert Gagnon whom you also cite. Gagnon may be a fine scholar and exegete but the last third of his book ‘The Bible and Homosexual Practice’, which employs arguments (rather like yours) on how unhealthy homosexual practices are, seem, to me, to demonstrate that his conclusions about what the Bible ‘says’ are influence by what (because of his beliefs) he assumes it must ‘say’. Your remark that most people have gone with the ‘obvious meaning’ (even if it is true), elides the fact that the meaning is only ‘obvious’ to them because that is what they expect the text to ‘say’: what ‘they clearly seem to mean’, as you put it.
          Another reason that I will not withdraw my remark about bias is that

          • Christopher Shell July 26, 2016 at 10:00 am #

            Re: Dale Martin and the ‘Bible says so’ approach. Here you are confusing two different things: the main classic confusion in fact. (1) Does the Bible text say X? (2) Is the Bible text correct to say X? In cases where we are discussing (1), then ‘Bible says so’ is everything. It doesn’t mean the Bible text is correct in what it asserts, it just means that the question we are at present asking is ‘What does the Bible text actually [whether correctly or incorrectly] say?’.

            ‘Bible says so’ is what Bible interpretation is all about. It is establishing the author’s intention. What the author is saying. This is one ot the most crucial steps in Bible interpretation. Probably the most crucial, since all the other later steps depend on this one.

            Dale Martin is therefore wrong in two ways:

            (a) He says that ‘What the Bible says’ (the most crucial step in Bible interpretation) is of no importance! How can the Bible be interpreted at all if that question is not asked?

            (b) He says that texts are indeterminate and hard to interpret, rather than stating the truth that SOME texts and not others are indeterminate and hard to interpret. Conveniently the ones he specifically classifies as hard to interpret are those whose apparent meaning he does not like.

            You said that straight scholars (whoever they may be) are disproportionately the ones that ‘interpret’ according to their ideologies. Here you conveniently neglect to mention that it is obvious even to a young person that Bible references to homosexual sexual practice are strongly and without exception negative. However, if what you say is right, I have already quoted the names of 4 gay writers who come down on the expected side. The question is about PROPORTION, as you already said.All you have to do is to show that the proportion of straight writers who come down on the straight side is higher than the proportion of gay writers who come down on the gay side. This can be done only by listing all gay writers and all straight writers known to you who have written on these texts, and then seeing if in fact your claim is true.

            There are 2 reasons why it is not true. First: there are **very few** gay writers who go with the clear meaning / 19 centuries of Christian interpretation / the commentaries on Paul. (If you doubt that, try to name those who do.) Were they honest writers, chance alone (disinterested and unbiased reading of texts, let alone texts whose forthright stance towards homosexual sexual behaviour has never seemed to be in much doubt) could never produce a skewed result like that. Second, and by contrast, there are **quite a few** modern straight writers who go against those 3 things, and they too skew the balance of the proportion sum away from your claim.

            Finally I must reiterate that quoting scholars’ ‘stances’ / ‘positions’ / ‘conclusions’ is worthless, for the obvious reason that we need to know the BASIS of any such position / conclusion / stance / ‘view’. They are based on factors and arguments and consequently it is the relative value of the factors and arguments *alone* that we must be discussing. Otherwise we are treating weak argument equally with strong argument.

        • Penelope July 25, 2016 at 11:44 am #

          [sorry Christopher, the last paras disappeared]
          Another reason that I will not withdraw my remark about bias is that you seem to confuse bias, or the impossibility of being objective, with lying and dishonesty. Not being entirely disinterested when reading a text does not make one dishonest and I’m sure that was not what Jeffrey John meant when he said that ‘all readers are biased in their own interests’. Even if you do not agree with him, he was not accusing you – and all readers – of being dishonest.
          Lastly, your comment that any sexual activity not with your spouse is sinful in the Christian tradition (tho’ not para physin surely?). If same-sex marriages were celebrated in church (which is what I am arguing for, not for the blessing of promiscuity), then the sex would be between spouses, whatever genitalia they have, and thus not sinful (according to Christian tradition).

          • Christopher Shell July 26, 2016 at 1:08 am #


            You are serious about saying that spouses can be same-sex in Christian tradition??

            What Christian tradition is that? You know as well as I do that that is wrong.

            Jeffrey John was not the individual in question. I don’t see the difference between bias and lying. Scholars actively identify bias and do not approve of it.

            Re: Gagnon. The statistics that show SS sexual activity to be a bad thing and largelyenvironmentally caused often run into hundreds of percent. So it would be odd not to follow them. Similarly the Bible is universally negative to SS sexual practice. It would be wrong not to acknowledge that as a significant pattern. There is no causal link between this biblical stance and this statistical stance, since both are the merest common sense, and each individually stands on its own two feet. however, even if there were a link (which there is not) it could just as easily be the other way round. You assert that it is a certain way round, but assertion without evidence is nothing. It is all immaterial, since the stats and Biblical record are both so clear-cut that there does not need to be any causal link between the two. Nor is there one.

            The biblical texts’ disapproval of SS sexual activity is no more nor less obvious than their disapproval of lying, murder, adultery and other things. Each of which also varies in its details between different eras and cultures. Are the Bible’s prohibitions on these things also to be called into question, or is SS sexual activity given privileged treatment?

      • William Fisher July 16, 2016 at 2:08 pm #

        It should be noted, by the way, that Dr Lisa Diamond does NOT claim that the findings of her research into fluidity of sexual orientation support the notion that people deliberately choose to move from one orientation to another. On the contrary, she has explicitly repudiated any such claim, and has stated that where a shift in orientation occurs it is often in spite of attempts to resist it. She also dissociates herself from efforts to alter sexual orientation through “therapy” of any kind and discountenances any attempt to use her research to lend support to such “therapy”.

        • David Shepherd July 16, 2016 at 6:15 pm #


          You wrote: ‘It should be noted, by the way, that Dr Lisa Diamond does NOT claim that the findings of her research into fluidity of sexual orientation support the notion that people deliberately choose to move from one orientation to another

          I’m not sure who exactly espouses such a notion, or if that just a ‘straw man’.

          Nevertheless, the American Psychological Association does distinguish sexual orientation from sexual orientation identity. The APA’s Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation references many studies, including Lisa Diamond’s. The APA findings and recommendations include the following:

          ‘we propose that, on the basis of research on sexual orientation and sexual orientation identity, what appears to shift and evolve in some individuals’ lives is sexual orientation identity, not sexual orientation’

          ‘Same-sex sexual attractions and behavior occur in the context of a variety of sexual orientations and sexual orientation identities, and for some, sexual orientation identity (i.e., individual or group membership and affiliation, self-labeling) is fluid or has an indefinite outcome.’

          ‘Some individuals choose to live their lives in accordance with personal or religious values (e.g., telic congruence).’

          ‘The available evidence, from both early and recent studies, suggests that although sexual orientation is unlikely to change, some individuals modified their sexual orientation identity (i.e., individual or group membership and affiliation, self-labeling) and other aspects of sexuality (i.e., values and behaviour).’

          The APA study notes: ‘Although affirmative approaches have historically been conceptualized around helping sexual minorities accept and adopt a gay or lesbian identity (e.g., Browning et al., 1991; Shannon & Woods, 1991), the recent research on sexual orientation identity diversity illustrates that sexual behavior, sexual attraction, and sexual orientation identity are labeled and expressed in many different ways, some of which are fluid (e.g., Diamond, 2006, 2008; Firestein, 2007; Fox, 2004; Patterson, 2008; Savin-Williams, 2005; R. L. Worthington & Reynolds, 2009.

          The paper then explains a different approach to the earlier therapies of helping sexual minorities to accept a gay or lesbian sexual identity:

          ‘We define an affirmative approach as supportive of clients’ identity development without a priori treatment goals for how clients identify or express their sexual orientations.’

          ‘Thus, a multiculturally competent affirmative approach aspires to understand the diverse personal and cultural influences on clients and enables clients to determine (a) the ultimate goals for their identity process; (b) the behavioral expression of their sexual orientation; (c) their public and private social roles; (d) their gender roles, identities, and expression; (e) the sex and gender of their partner; and (f) the forms of their relationships.’

          The APA does not subscribe to the efficacy of sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE). However, it does expect license mental health practitioners, while having due regard to a person’s sexual orientation, to support people who may determine as a goal, that their behavioural expression and sexual identity should still be congruent with the values of the religion to which they belong.

          • William Fisher July 17, 2016 at 8:30 pm #

            No, it’s not a straw man. I am simply drawing attention to a couple of the things that Diamond’s research doesn’t show, since her findings have – to her dismay and extreme annoyance – been more than once misrepresented in an attempt to give spurious support to precisely such notions and practices. (I’m not alleging that anyone on here has done so.)

            Frankly, I find myself increasingly disposed to regard sexual orientation identity, as distinct from sexual orientation, as being comparable to “gender identity” as distinct from biological sex: a concept that leads people who, for one reason or another, can’t or won’t accept some aspect of who they are to spend their lives trying to behave as though they were someone different, in a desperate attempt to maintain the illusion that they ARE in fact someone different.

  37. Clive July 15, 2016 at 11:12 am #

    Alternative perspectives of the Shared conversations from the initial demand for Bishops to “be bold” are now becoming apparent. The bullying in Canada is also now being revealed.

    Sticking to Synod’s “Shared conversations”:

    • Don Benson July 15, 2016 at 11:57 am #

      Christian Concern’s piece is characteristically trenchant, fearless and, now that time is fast running out, states a position which offers little room for equivocation by evangelicals.

      • Christopher Shell July 15, 2016 at 3:24 pm #

        Poor Christian Concern, trapped in a room where it is all about how people ‘feel’, regardless of the actual evidence, which is effectively treated as being unimportant even if it is the result of decades of research. I am not sure I would have had the fortitude.

        One person challenged them to say he was not a Christian. There is nothing at all strange about people not being Christians – most of the world’s population would not even claim to be. The man must likely have been meaning: ‘We know it is socially unacceptable to go around saying people are not Christians when they claim to be. So I dare you to break the social tabu.’

        This shows the absurdity of the case. Truth is determined by social tabu??

        It is inadmissible that the word ‘Christian’ should have no meaning, or less meaning than e.g. ‘Neoplatonist’. There is nothing wrong with saying someone is not a Neoplatonist because their worldview falls outside a certain range. Ditto with saying someone is not a Christian.

        Being a Christian is something to do with one’s state in reality; it is also something to do with one’s beliefs. For the former, by their fruits you shall know them; for the latter, by their beliefs you shall know them.

        We obviously don’t believe someone’s testimony about themselves that they are a Christian. That can only be believed if we think people never lie and/or are never deluded. People sometimes do lie. Other people sometimes are indeed deluded.

  38. John Etherton July 15, 2016 at 8:30 pm #

    This has been a most interesting thread of comments following one of the most significant Conversations ever held by the Anglican Communion. I am speaking as an Anglican, and as an NHS GP of 35 years’ experience who was on the Council of the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health at the RCOG for 3 years. I previously had a strong grounding in the Western scientific method having obtained a PhD in medical science, and am still a Chartered Biologist in addition to this.

    Firstly, it is crystal-clear to me coming from an objective position that in this Conversation the foundational aspects of the topics being discussed are crucial, and should occupy the prime position – with other considerations being based thereon. To simplify matters, one should either adopt the Scriptural position as demonstrating the unequivocal guidance provided by the Creator (which includes the origins of sexuality of course as being “male and female”), or one should switch to the shifting sands of the sociologically-determined status quo at the time, and modify the position based on the cultural norms of the present. It is not possible to combine these two satisfactorily, as the waters become muddied and the foundations are weakened. One may quote the “wise man” who built his house upon the “rock”, i.e. the foundation of the Word of God. Little or none need be said of the sociologically-based foundation, which is obviously sand.

    Secondly, and at risk of being hurled with the usual stones of bigotry and a whole catalogue of adjectives (none of which reflect the truth, as along with many others, I would not dare to judge another human in advance of that great Day when we will all have to appear and account for our lives. I and they have nothing but love and respect for fellow humans on this fallen planet), – I beg to offer the following observation: I have not come across a single case of a so-called “LGBTIQ+” person who has come to me with a related problem in a GP consultation, where upon discussion there is not something in their history to explain their drift away from the perfect design of the Creator. Enough said. Further to this, and at risk of opening further cans of worms, I have not found any scientific evidence of note to explain the normality of the “LGBTIQ+” lifestyle position, or to substantiate an inherited basis for this. There is, however, a vast amount of sociological basis for this, some aspects of which can be traced back over millennia.

    • Will Jones July 16, 2016 at 9:34 pm #

      I think you’re right to stress the fundamental nature of this issue, which is often lost as we dispute the meaning of this or that Greek word. I often find it helpful to come back to the bigger picture and what all this is all about, so I don’t lose sight of what’s at stake. I really do think that the long term credibility of the church and faith is tied up with standing firm on this issue.

  39. David Shepherd July 15, 2016 at 9:03 pm #


    In line with Ian’s plea, this is how I perceive the shape of disagreement on this comment thread. I’ve used questions which focus on the key areas of disagreement, but, as ever, I would encourage others to contribute and amend.

    1. On one side, an agreement to disagree is considered to be an unacceptable basis for Christian unity (John 17:18 – 23).

    However, on the other side, ‘agreeing to disagree’ can demonstrate inclusion. As David Runcorn stated ‘unity is not uniformity’.

    My perception is that the difference appears to hinge on the comparative importance accorded to the issues at stake in disagreement.

    As an example of unity, why are we so agreed that support for any policies of the BNP is a ‘first-order’ gospel issue, such that that there was no hue and cry when, in 2014, the HoB voted to declare BNP membership or support incompatible with Church teaching? Why was it not an imposition of uniformity to threaten BNP supporters among the clergy with disciplinary action under CDM 2003?

    Does the importance of any disagreement come down to a simple dichotomy, which clearly divides ‘salvation issues’ from adiaphora? Or is there some other hierarchical ranking which distinguishes ‘first-order’ gospel issues from ‘second-order’ or, potentially, ‘third-order’ issues?

    2. On one side, the locus of Paul’s denunciation of homosexual behaviour is teleological. Creation has a universally recognisable self-evident purpose in revealing the transcendent supremacy, goodness and power of God who has ordered it so beneficently. Yet, in response to man’s demeaning notions of the divine (whereby that purpose was rejected), God has surrendered the impenitently unthankful to the rejection of the self-evident ordering of sexual relationships.

    On the other side, the belief is that the conservative position is undermined by the notion that Paul could not have known of the kind of consensual same-sex relationships which are not characterised by abuse or idolatrous prostitution. As long as there is mutual faithfulness, how can the scriptural prohibitions be applicable to permanent faithful and stable same-sex sexual relationships? Also, hasn’t the authority of scripture been used to enforce slavery, racial segregation and gender subjugation? Doesn’t that make suspect any supposed use of scriptural prohibitions to condemn same-sex sexual behaviour?

    3. On one side, the belief is that the facilitation process cannot be trusted when it has been structured in the General Synod Shared Conversation to sideline orthodox voices and where organisers simply reject any claim that their process is seriously flawed? Are we likely to see more instances in which the revisionist position is given relatively more air-time to make their case?

    On the other side, wisdom and fairness is perceived in providing a ‘safe space’ for LGBT individuals to state their case without being overwhelmed by majority arguments, which represent the Church’s current position and which are already relatively well-known.

    4. One the one side, Ian’s account of the General Synod Shared Conversation lends credence to Richard Campbell’s perception that it repeats the ACoC’s ‘foregone and pre-determined Synod process’ which led inevitably to its recent vote (reversal) in favour of same-sex marriage. He described the process as one hijacked by ‘well-situated leaders pushing for a same-sex marriage blessing’.

    And if, some sort of pastoral accommodation is forged by the HoB for Synod to debate in 2017, does this not the process of reception make the eventual CofE affirmation of same-sex marriage inevitable?

    On the other side, those who wrote ‘Journeys’ (and who self-describe as ‘leading evangelicals’) are of the view that same-sex relationships do not constitute a ‘first-order’ gospel issue, Also, they believe that it is possible to be a ‘biblically rooted evangelical’ and to also have a ‘positive view of same-sex relationships’. Yet, this belief currently stops short of affirming same-sex marriage.

    5. Notwithstanding the importance of listening to the ‘lived experience’ of LGBT people and providing a ‘safe space’ for this, is there any meeting of minds on the possibility of a pastoral accommodation for same-sex couples?

    On the one side, there is no room for accommodating anything so explicitly prohibited by scripture. It might also imply that liberal theology is gaining ascendancy among CofE bishops.

    On the other side, there are they who argue that the Church should embrace the gospel’s call to radical inclusion and to make good on its acknowledgment that ‘same sex relationships often embody genuine mutuality and fidelity’.

    My own response to the prospect of pastoral accommodation is that the Anglican Communion has largely dismissed the ‘lived experience’ of those who come to faith in non-First world cultures where polygamy is the norm.

    How will the CofE remove its prohibitions against the clergy in same-sex sexual relationships, while maintaining its support for the current ban that prohibits those in polygamous marriages from entering Holy Orders and even taking Holy Communion? Especially, when many of those converting to Christ are doing no more than caring for their current dependents? Why is polygamy a ‘first-order’ gospel issue?

    6. What is the scope of the Oath of Canonical Obedience? Does ‘obedience in all things lawful and honest’ encompass all clergy signing up to ‘believing, supporting and teaching’ the Church’s current position? Does the Oath place restrictions on where and how clergy express their objections to the Church’s current teaching?

    • Stephen Griffiths July 16, 2016 at 8:00 pm #

      This is a really helpful summary. i would like to see the next phase of discussion based around further exploration of these points, although I think they already point us to the limits of agreement within the c of e.

  40. Jane Newsham July 16, 2016 at 12:25 am #

    The official Shared Conversations process has come to an end but I imagine innumerable shared conversations on mission, discipleship and sexuality lie ahead of us.
    I don’t know how many people would have wanted to participate in the process but were unable to do so (for a variety of reasons but not least due to the limited number of places). I don’t know how many people have, during the time period of the conversations, deferred inviting gay people to their churches for fear that individual people in individual churches become fuse-points for the anxiety and anger which these issues sometimes engender. I don’t know how successful we have been in avoiding making gay people in general society feel responsible (by their very existence) for bringing a church denomination to talking of potential schism. I don’t know if divergent beliefs about the place of same-sex relationships in our churches impacts the week-by-week functioning of a church’s food bank team or a Street Pastor outreach (I hope not – mission, ministry and service are surely part of a Bigger Picture – but as I say, I don’t know). I don’t know if there are still endless numbers of churches (with no gay church members) where the subject is hardly ever raised for fear of causing division (and still gay people are not invited). So, perhaps plenty of conversations to come.
    All this aside, I am enormously proud of the Church of England for hosting/funding the Shared Conversations process. I felt privileged to attend my own regional group (East Midlands) and I have been changed by the experience. From now on, I endeavour to put away childish, point-scoring argumentativeness (well, I’m working on this…). I will acknowledge that our discussions on these issues call us to enter sacred space and stand on hallowed ground (and God stands with all of us). I feel a responsibility to carry the vision and values of the process as I go forward within my own church fellowship and in wider church engagement. Particularly, I am grateful to the many people who committed to prayer for the two-year process and who continue to pray for our church as we go forward.
    And thanks to Ian for his patience with us all on this blog!

  41. Fiona Smith July 16, 2016 at 8:26 am #

    Ever feel you’ve been had? The agenda was always clearly compromising the biblical view ….’good disagreement’……based on whatever makes you tick

    • Will Jones July 16, 2016 at 1:18 pm #

      It does look very much like the Church has failed to take seriously in this process that it already has a historic position on this, and it is first and foremost a matter of truth and discerning the will of God expressed in scripture. It appears to privilege the revisionist position, and assume that both are equally sound biblically and it is just a matter preserving unity while incorporating both. When I initially heard we were having shared conversations I assumed the key questions of biblical truth would be central. How very naive, and disappointing.

  42. David Runcorn July 16, 2016 at 4:11 pm #

    Will I do not sure you have understood what ‘shared conversations’ are in this context. Forgive me if I am wrong. The intention and process is summarised here.

    • Will Jones July 16, 2016 at 9:12 pm #

      Thanks David. Yes I know what they are now – I just meant when I first heard I had naive hopes that the church was actually going to bring people together to discern the truth about the matter. Of course I quickly learned they were planning something quite different. I’m still very disappointed.

      • Helen King July 17, 2016 at 3:10 pm #

        Will, if the church did try to bring together people to discern the truth in the way you suggest, stage 1 would be a lot of lobbying about just who would be in the group doing the discerning – see the discussions here and elsewhere about whether the GS Shared Conversations had the right balance between gay Christians from different groups. Stage 2 – or maybe more like stage 20! – would be a Pronouncement. And at that point, some would disagree so profoundly with this that they would leave the C of E. So how would that be any better than where we are now?

        • Philip Almond July 17, 2016 at 4:17 pm #

          The way to do it is by an open debate on the internet. Open to all: bishops, clergy, scholars, theologians, lay people. I believe a fair moderation of posts would be possible.

          Phil Almond

        • Will Jones July 17, 2016 at 5:51 pm #

          I don’t think it’d be as impractical as you’re suggesting. Just a bit of careful thought and planning. The problem with the Shared Conversations is that they didn’t even try to satisfy the concerns of those supporting the current teaching of the church – hence the initial failure to include anyone from Living Out in the line-up, the boycotting by one group, and the heavy criticism they are continuing to sustain from those supporting the orthodox position (and not, notably, from the revisionists).

          Of course any decision will displease some people and some may leave the church, which is obviously regrettable (especially if it’s me). But if your main concern is keeping the church together then you’d be well-advised not to support any further accommodation beyond what has already been provided, since there is a clear and real danger of division and schism if any further steps are taken, but very little if they are not. I would be very surprised to see very many people at all leaving the church if it were to stand firm in its current teaching.

          • Helen King July 18, 2016 at 8:33 am #

            Will, I sincerely believe the SC process was doing its best to include everyone. It’s very hard to sort out proportions – and it’s always better to include rather than to have one group always the ‘they’ who aren’t here and whose position therefore gets caricatured, As a participant in the regional version, I was amazed to find the full range from those who appeared to accept the Biblical account of creation as literally true, to those who were so liberal in their theology that I couldn’t work out why they were still in the C of E. The group which boycotted the GS version I think is the same as that which boycotted the regional version.

            The biggest surprise to me at the regional SC was simply the range of those who find their home under the C of E umbrella. Secure within our congregations or our online community, we often have no idea of this!

          • Will Jones July 18, 2016 at 1:33 pm #

            Thanks Helen. The main issue for the supporters of the current teaching is not how many of them were involved but how the process was run and structured for talking about the substantive issues and hearing qualified contributors supporting the church’s teaching from scripture and responding to claims made by revisionists. It’s not about proportions of participants but content and aim and approach. As I said above, the fact that many supporters of the current teaching have been left feeling very unhappy with the process, while no revisionists are voicing complaints, should speak volumes to you about who the process was designed (intentionally or unintentionally) to please, and who it wasn’t.

          • Helen King July 18, 2016 at 2:31 pm #

            Fair points, Will, although there are ‘revisionists’ who don’t see any point in trying to be one church when disagreement is as deep as this.

            And for the regional version of SC, of course there were no formal presentations like the ones GS heard. Instead we had the two essays to read – and not everybody had read them, which I found surprising. The inclusion at GS of formal presentations maybe makes it more contentious in terms of who speaks, who decides what counts as a ‘qualified’ speaker and so on, and maybe moved it towards feeling more like a debate and less an exercise starting from the assumption that we don’t agree, but need to try to find out whether we can live with each other anyway.

            One more thing I’d like to add to the mix is that people take on a position (such as ‘revisionist’) for different reasons. At the Regional SC some strange bedfellows were apparent – those holding the same view on homosexuality but for very different reasons. I wrote a piece before the SC on this, -and my experience at the SC only confirmed this. Thinking about the ‘fruit or chocolate?’ question was very helpful to me in trying to prioritise finding common ground with those with whom I disagree.

          • Penelope July 19, 2016 at 10:55 pm #

            Actually Will, some ‘revisionists’ have been very unhappy with the process.

  43. David Runcorn July 16, 2016 at 11:03 pm #

    Will Like you I think the discerning is vital – but it can only happen where there is an environment of mutual understanding. That why this has to come first.

    • Will Jones July 17, 2016 at 8:48 am #

      I do appreciate the importance of mutual understanding, and, like Ian in the post, of hearing the stories and experiences. But I’m not sure it’s helpful to so drastically separate this from truth discernment – are we now to have a two-year lucratively funded run of shared discernment? Also, given the strength of the complaints from the orthodox side and the lack of them from revisionists, do you think perhaps fair balance of perspectives and views was not achieved?

      • Peter Kay July 17, 2016 at 10:25 am #

        I’m chipping in, but I hope I can contribute from experience since I was also part of the Shared Converstaions at General Synod, and also something of a conservative.

        Will, I’d challenge your assumption that sharing stories and building friendships can be separated from truth discernment. In fact, quite the opposite – in my experience the fact that so many of us had ‘gone deep’ in the stories that we’d shared on Sunday and could call ourselves friends was incredibly helpful – my experience was that it built trust and cleared the way for us to be more candid to each about our theological assumptions.Certainly in my group there were some very switched-on evangelicals who weren’t afraid of sticking up for the traditional theological position and calling ‘foul’ when one or two people wanted to move us on further than we actually were. Our facilitator was excellent and a great help in this.

        I think as well it helps us to identify the key question – ‘what’s REALLY at the heart of this issue’? I don’t think we’ve got there yet. I can tell you what’s NOT at the heart – it’s not about some bishops and bigwigs thrashing out a deal about a filleted liturgy for same-sex blessings. It’s also not about those (thankfully few) campaigning types who can speak about separation without tears in their eyes. I think a lot closer to the heart of it is those astonishingly brave young people on Monday who spoke to us of their experiences with same sex attraction and yet still found a welcome (not always without difficulties) in their church families.

        I think any further conversations would need to have more theological input – I think the different sides would welcome that – but we still need to go on building personal trust, because this isn’t just about ‘truth’ – it’s about people as well, often going through a very vulnerable time, and a Christ like approach has to be full of both truth AND grace. Perhaps what we need is the biggest Corporate Theological Reflection in history!

  44. Will Jones July 17, 2016 at 12:52 pm #

    Thanks Peter. The point surely though is that there aren’t going to be any more official, organised, funded conversations, with theological input or otherwise. This was it and it was missing something very important, and was regrettably unbalanced. And if, as you say, you can’t fully separate conversations from discernment, this is doubly unfortunate.

    • Peter Kay July 17, 2016 at 2:50 pm #

      Will, what was striking in the final wrap-up session was that many of the groups showed a clear desire to have more conversations and discussions, and there was little appetite for a formal synodical debate. So what we’re seeing is the end of a chapter, not the end of the whole process. I am sure there’ll be more of a theological/ biblical input to whatever happens in the next chapter.

      • Will Jones July 17, 2016 at 5:34 pm #

        I was under the impression that the next stage was for the House of Bishops to bring forward something for Synod to accept or reject. If the Church is intending to resource some proper biblical theological discernment ahead of that then I will be very pleased, but I hadn’t heard that was on the cards. But I just don’t understand why these things weren’t properly combined in what has just take place.

  45. Philip Almond July 17, 2016 at 2:12 pm #

    Hi Penelope, Andrew Godsall and Christopher Shell

    I am in debate/disagreement with all of you on this thread. As I see it, whatever differences there are in your beliefs about the Bible, the basic question which all three debates/disagreements are about is: ‘Is the Bible trustworthy/true, can we be sure it is and how can we be sure?’ Please say if you don’t think this is the basic question. It goes without saying that none of us are under any pressure to continue these debates/disagreements longer than we wish to. I intend to continue as time allows or until Ian Paul calls a halt. At the moment, unless I have missed a trick, the position is as follows

    Penelope July 15, 2016 at 5:49 pm # Awaits reply from me
    Penelope July 15, 2016 at 5:57 pm # Awaits reply from me
    Philip Almond July 15, 2016 at 5:54 pm # Awaits Andrews reply
    Philip Almond July 14, 2016 at 10:32 am # Awaits reply from anyone
    Christopher Shell July 16, 2016 at 8:43 am # Awaits reply from me

    I am trying to post this so that it is at the end of the thread, so that you all notice it, but I will respond in due course higher up the thread after your posts. I hope this is OK.

    Phil Almond

    • Christopher Shell July 17, 2016 at 10:24 pm #

      Hi Phil
      What we call the Bible (Greek ta biblia = books) is a library. It is multi-author. It is multi-era in its origin. it is multi-genre. It is multi-language. Is it possible to generalise about it? I should say not. Not even remotely. Just saying ‘Scripture’ about all this often diverse body of material I find lazy. The phrase Scripture just assumes without discussion that a body of material so diverse in so many different ways can be generalised about. However, it is the less intelligent who make sweeping generalisations, and they are therefore something each of us will be anxious to avoid.

      It is unified in its orientation round Israel and the God of Israel. Often its teaching on various topics is unified.

      I don’t subscribe to the idea that there are different kinds of truth, but there are certainly different sorts of things that the Bible can be true or untrue about. The main ones are history/events; the nature of the universe (cosmology) and the nature of God (theology).

      On any of these topics it seems to me quite obvious that we can only test each truth-claim, each verse, one by one. And quite a few times the best-informed multi-discipline analysis will still leave us with a ‘don’t know’ at the end.

      At the risk of generalising, I think that it’s often the case that the Bible writings give an accurate answer on the big questions, so far as I can judge. There are plenty of other writings that fail to do that. Those that succeed in doing that often derive from the Bible or treat the Bible as a main source.
      Why are the Bible writings so often correct on these things? Has the Spirit of Truth got anything to do with this? Yes.

      Also it is imperative to prioritise primary sources if you want to understand the nature of anything. Failure to do so leads to misunderstanding, disorientation, putting the cart before the horse. When it comes to Israel, Judaism, Jesus, Christianity – the Bible writings are the primary sources. Those who study the Bible writings understand these topics far better than those (even e.g. Catholics) who don’t.

      • Philip Almond July 17, 2016 at 11:22 pm #

        Hi Christopher
        I will give my considered questions for you, to clarify and challenge your posts, in due course


      • Clive July 18, 2016 at 7:51 am #


        whilst I understand your point, nonetheless Christians are under massive ill-judged pressure to accept Same-sex Marriage, and marriage in particular. Your point wants to distance itself from Scripture due to the wide variety of sources and formats etc. Nonetheless the issue is about Christians.

        Christians believe in Jesus Christ, otherwise they are NOT Christians. Jesus Christ believed in the Scriptures and gave multiple references to them. The difficulty for all Christians is trying to follow Jesus Christ’s understanding and belief in Scripture which is not easy at all. Overall it is holistic rather than pharisaical. Nonetheless Jesus made quite clear in the gospels (Matthew’s gospel is clear in Matthew 19) that marriage is between one man and one woman and that in the beginning God created man and woman. Those who believe in SSM are constantly trying to say Jesus was only speaking about divorce when clearly he was not. Jesus gave the Pharisees nowhere to go in answering their question precisely because Jesus tells us what marriage is about.

        The idea that sex is just a recreational activity is purely modernist and without basis and has nothing to do with Christianity. Yet that is the bizarre pressure Christians are under.

        • Christopher Shell July 18, 2016 at 4:38 pm #

          Hi Clive

          In response:

          -Everything that’s true in the Bible was already true before it was written down. Do you agree with that – or do you think that things which were previously untrue suddenly became true at the point of writing?

          -Therefore it follows that the truth of the Bible’s true assertions rests on other grounds than ‘scriptural’ grounds. Do you also agree with that?

          -Same Sex Marriage I don’t see the relevance of here – there are vast arguments from reality, science, statistics to show what a bad idea it is. Of course, the scriptures are universally strongly against homosexual sexual behaviour (and no-one can respect the honesty of those who tortuously try to claim otherwise) – but to say SSM or homosexual sex is wrong ‘because the Bible says so’ is quite obviously arguing in a circle, and therefore invalid in and of itself. Non-Christians will quite rightly make their excuses and leave at this point, because this point is where the argument becomes dishonest. SSM and homosexual sex are indeed wrong and bad, but on other grounds.

          Though your point about Jesus quoting scripture is in part also circular (the temptation narratives are generally with good reason thought by scholars to be redactional, for example) I think that Jesus in the divorce passage is an excellent example. To generalise: the Scriptures (such as those referred to by Jesus) became Scriptures in the first place because they were wiser than their competitors. Their wisdom was proven by their truth being demonstrated in everyday life. This pattern applies most clearly in legal and ethical passages of the Bible.

          Only a minority of the Bible is legal/ethical, however. When we come to historical passages, it’s a different ball-game again. Much that is said about inspiration is nonsense for the reason that most Biblical writers never say they had any inspiration experience. Nor would they always need one. Luke when writing Acts didn’t need inspiration to record events, since he had been there!

          • Penelope July 20, 2016 at 11:02 am #

            (and no-one can respect the honesty of those who tortuously try to claim otherwise) – is a rather bold claim Christopher, which ignores many ‘expert’ opinions and careful scholarly exegesis and hermeneutics. But maybe not if you read the Bible like a car manual.

          • Christopher Shell July 21, 2016 at 2:01 pm #

            You can’t read ‘the Bible’ like a car manual. Why not? Two reasons.

            First, ‘the Bible’ is not a unity at all, being written in many and diverse genres.

            Second, literally is the normal and default way to read anything that is non-fiction. We would give a strange look to someone who asked ‘did you read the newspaper / letter / nonfiction book literally?’. How else? This is especially true of the NT since alll 27 NT books are written in literal genres (non-fiction narrative, letter/homily); even in Revelation the vision-account is a literal vision account within a literal narrative. One does sometimes come across an unscholarly ‘metaphorical good, literal bad’ stance, but those who exhibit this stance could not justify it in argument. It is an irrational bias which says a lot more about them than about the texts.

          • Penelope July 23, 2016 at 12:33 pm #

            But Christopher, you are reading the Bible like a car manual.
            Paul condemns anal sex.
            Oh look, biology tells us anal sex causes cancer and is a way of contracting AIDS. Therefore all same-sex relationships must be wrong.

          • Christopher Shell July 23, 2016 at 1:42 pm #

            Hi Penelope

            There are 4 mistakes in your short comment.

            (1) I am befuddled by the way you portray me, on no evidence, as beginning with the Bible and going to science second. Paul just happens to be right on this occasion – it doesn;t mean he always is right. I have said so many times that I begin with science and then test writings against it. You ignore this and in your comment portray me as beginning with the texts. I will never begin with the texts.

            (2) Does Paul speak of A S? That is not obvious that he does, though one might guess that it is a central element in what he speaks of.

            (3) A S is bad therefore same-sex relationships are bad? A non sequitur, so incorrect. Where did I commit that non sequitur?

            (4) And you are making the perennial obvious mistake of using ‘relationships’ to mean sexual relationships. It does not mean anything of the sort. Only a tiny minority of our relationships are sexual. Why are people still making this elementary mistake?

          • Penelope July 23, 2016 at 5:14 pm #

            So Paul is right, but for entirely the wrong reasons of which he was entirely unaware?

          • Penelope July 23, 2016 at 5:15 pm #

            Oh and the assumption that AS is arsenokoites, which, to be fair, not all biblical scholars make.

          • Christopher Shell July 24, 2016 at 6:58 pm #

            It is unsurprising that Paul is right, since he could see that people are provided with particular genitalia and could see that certain people were acting contrary to that. Moreover, in his day this was a clear cultural discrepancy. He could see that a particular dominant culture did this all the time, as a rite of passage for most educated boys; whereas in his own it was a taboo, and not so far as one can tell a taboo that led to much transgression (so much for X percentage being gay. What about first century Jews?). He, just like we, can see clearly that these things unsurprisingly happen far more often when the culture says they are ok.

            There is not a direct equation between AS and being an arsenokoites. An arsenokoites is a man who sleeps with a man. When he does so, (a) Paul does not know which particular acts take place, (b) it is not a matter of AS (to which Paul never specifically refers) being wrong and all the other acts being right. The whole thing is wrong.

        • Christopher Shell July 18, 2016 at 4:59 pm #

          Not sure my comment went through here.

          Jesus is certainly presented as trusting and quoting the OT scriptures. No wonder: they were above all other writings in tried-and-tested wisdom and resultant authority (the divorce passage – yes, it’s about more than just divorce – where Jesus quotes Genesis, is a good example), and in some cases their content had been experienced as received-from-God. So if you are going to quote, that is the main body of writings to quote. If you are going to represent the mind of God, how else to do so than by quoting the scriptures? Doubtless also they were the only body of writings known in detail in his milieu.

          Some passages where Jesus is famously presented as quoting Scripture are often thought by scholars to be redactional (later additions, detected as such by overall knowledge of the interrelationship between Matt, Mark and Luke, and the ways in which these 3 gospel-writers operate). The temptations are the classic example. Jesus answers as a good scribe would – or as the writer Matthew himself would; Luke then reproduces this. It was never in Mark (the original).

          On sex as a purely recreational activity – yes, you’re right.

          But the main point is this:

          Whatever is true in Scripture was ALREADY true BEFORE it was written down. Writing something down can NEVER MAKE that thing to be true, if it wasn’t already true. So being part of Scripture cannot make anything to be true, if it is not actually true in reality.

          When we consider whatever is true within Scripture (as within any writing), its truth rests not on ‘scriptural’ grounds (i.e. on being accepted unthinkingly without question among a particular obedient sociological group, just like another group accepts the Book or Mormon’s truth equally unquestioningly), always supposing that the phrase ‘scriptural grounds’ makes sense – but on its being actually true. True in reality. Just like the composition of water as H2O is true in reality, not ‘true’ by convention because someone has told us not to question it. In fact, that is the only kind of truth there is: correspondence to reality.

          • Will Jones July 18, 2016 at 9:49 pm #

            The point of biblical inspiration is to be a safeguard against human error in all that is necessary for sound doctrine and morals. Scripture isn’t just the best of human offerings but it comes with a divine guarantee of truth and reliability.

            In your points about scripture not making things true that we can’t know to be true on other grounds you overlook I think two key points:
            1) Something could be true but because of the limitations of our intellect we could not come to see that unaided or absent revelation. This means it is possible that scripture could assert things that we can’t know to be true by other means – the Trinity and Incarnation being the classic examples of such ‘mysteries’. Matters of sexuality are part of the natural law and so I agree that these are appreciable without scripture (i.e. by general revelation). However, the natural law is ambiguous to us because our ability to apprehend it is marred, hence the massive disagreement on such issues with everybody appealing to intuition or conscience. Thus revelation also has a role in clarifying the details of the natural law, as it does in this case.
            2) Scripture can actually make things true in the same kind of way that positive law (government legislation) makes things true. An obvious example of this is that under the Mosaic Law many foods were unclean because they were declared so by scripture (or rather by God as recorded in scripture). But then in the Gospels Jesus is recorded as ‘declaring’ all food clean (Mark 7:19). Thus positive law can in effect be made true (enacted) by its presence in scripture, like a law is made true by its presence in a Bill. SSM is not of this kind of course. However, it seems divorce might be: Jesus’ description of Moses permitting divorce because of hard hearts, though it was ‘not so in the beginning’, suggests scripture functioning as positive law.

          • Christopher Shell July 18, 2016 at 11:10 pm #

            Will – on your most recent comment 18 july 9.49 pm. – your (1) is a case of ‘could be’ and ‘possibly’. We agree on that. If that is the most we can say then there is also a ‘may not be’ and ‘possibly not’ here. Which doesn’t get us very far.

            (2) There is nothing miraculous about prescriptive law being true. It is only true because it says so itself. This is a circular process. So (2) doesn’t get us very far either.

          • Will Jones July 19, 2016 at 10:18 am #

            Christopher – the could be and possibly was just to set up the space for these functions of revelation. The examples then fleshed those out and showed how scripture does function in that way. So where does that ‘get us’? It establishes that some things in scripture are true but we can’t independently verify them – the Trinity, the Incarnation, the finer details of the natural moral law, for example.

            You also say that the self-referential nature of positive law doesn’t ‘get us very far’. But since you acknowledge that it is ‘true because it says so itself’ then you accept that it is true, and hence that this is a truth-stating function of scripture. (Obviously though the truth of positive law ultimately rests on a concept of rightful authority, either the legitimate government or God, so in that sense isn’t wholly self-referential.)

          • Christopher Shell July 19, 2016 at 3:21 pm #

            Will – on these 2 points:

            (1) Does mere assertion (when that assertion takes place within ‘scripture’) ESTABLISH that something is true? How does that work? ‘Establish’ is a strong word. Mere assertion normally proves nothing. The Book of Mormon is also the ‘scripture’ of a community.

            (2) I don’t accept that anything is true because it says so itself. Say-so does not make something true: one of the jokes in ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ is funny for this reason. I was just rehearsing the way this legal process is supposed to work, rehearsing your argument. It is not an argument that I uphold. We see bad laws being made all the time, and policemen assure me that reality itself changed the moment the new law was passed. No it did not.

          • Will Jones July 19, 2016 at 5:06 pm #

            The first point was that there are things which scripture tells us are true that are true on other grounds but that we can’t know to be true on other grounds (because of our limitations) so we have to trust scripture.

            The second was that laws are made valid (true) by being stated in a particular way (e.g. arising from legitimate authority). If you believe in a moral principle of obeying the law then the making of law brings certain moral duties into force i.e. makes them true. Obviously positive law can be unjust, if it contradicts the natural law, and that’s when you encounter the challenge of conscientious objection. But in general laws which are consistent with the natural law (but not strictly required by it) are made true when they are brought into force by legitimate authority. That is why scripture can both bring in and abrogate food cleanliness laws.

          • Christopher Shell July 19, 2016 at 9:07 pm #

            (1) You say ‘we have to trust scripture’. Why? On that basis we would have to trust the Mormon scriptures too. Evidence is the only reason for believing anything. A trustworthy source is, of course, one kind of evidence.

            (2) Likewise laws deserve to be obeyed if they proceed from an authoritative source.

          • Will Jones July 19, 2016 at 9:21 pm #

            Yes, we trust scripture because it is from God. But we don’t have to have external evidence of every claim in scripture. Once we believe it is of God and therefore trustworthy then we believe its claims even where we cannot independently verify them.

            You are right that law only deserves to be obeyed if it is from an authoritative source. Where scripture is concerned that source is of course God. But the manner of record is also part of what makes law valid. UK Law is made by an Act of Parliament and that has to be in a certain written form. Thus the writing down of the law in a certain place and a certain way is part of what makes it valid and brings it into force, as well as the body making the law being authoritative. Likewise with scripture it is the fact that God has recorded his will in scripture that, in some cases, brings it into force and is part of making it valid. The presence of a commandment in scripture therefore in some cases makes it true.

          • Christopher Shell July 20, 2016 at 11:15 am #

            Will, all your points are circular. You say we have to take it on trust that the source is God. Why? Why should we not take an evidence-based approach? That would clearly be better than taking things on trust without evidence. The latter course of action can lead to a lot of people being deceived; it can also lead to control and diktat.

          • Will Jones July 20, 2016 at 11:48 am #

            Thanks Christopher. I don’t argue that we have to take it on trust that the source of scripture is God. I agree that an evidence-based approach to that is very fruitful and worthwhile. I was just making the point that, having established (by evidence and reason) that the source of the Bible is (or is very likely to be) God then that gives us reason to accept the claims in the Bible which we cannot independently verify, such as the doctrines of the Incarnation and Trinity and the Last Things. I don’t think this is circular.

            The danger of diktat is avoided because positive law, to be valid, must be consistent with natural law, so there are proper limits to the discretion given to legitimate authority in the making of laws.

          • Christopher Shell July 20, 2016 at 3:11 pm #


            Yes, that is getting closer to what I think too. If there is good evidence for some parts of a corpus having a source with a good track record, then it is very reasonable for us to think that other parts of that source may be of high value/trustworthiness too.

            We cannot proceed as though we are the cleverest people. When we are dealing with sources which have outlasted and risen above all others, then there is a high chance that the sources are cleverer than us. So they deserve our attention, and more.

          • Helen King July 21, 2016 at 7:59 am #

            In most situations I’m far more interested in people being Christians not which denomination they identify with. However, the Shared Conversations are a specifically C of E approach to how we respond to changes in the way human sexuality is understood, and I do find it odd that people who already disagree with our doctrine and practice on other issues want to set our agenda on this topic.

            Christopher, on your earlier comment on resisting the sexual revolution, I’m sure it has occurred to you that asking for same-sex *marriage* to be possible in my church would be supporting couples in commitment and fidelity. We’re not asking for a form of service for promiscuity here!

          • Helen King July 21, 2016 at 8:00 am #

            Oops, I posted on the wrong sub-thread. It was only a matter of time!

        • Helen King July 18, 2016 at 5:56 pm #

          On Jesus and divorce: I do think the situation in the C of E now, with marriage where one or both partners is divorced depending on the conscience of the priest and with enquiries made into whether the new relationship is the cause of the breakdown of the previous one, whether children from the failed relationship are properly cared for, etc, is a possible model for same-sex marriage. In my lifetime, we have moved to this position rather than taking Jesus’ words to mean the second marriage is not a proper marriage. I have a vested interest here, having been single into my late forties and then married, in our church, a man who had been both widowed and divorced.

          Only after the SCs did I meet the view that my marriage to my husband was a sin on my part, requiring repentance. Do you agree?

          • Will Jones July 18, 2016 at 9:19 pm #

            I’m a bit confused which bits of this you think will translate to the SSM issue. What do you imagine the priest taking into consideration in examining his or her conscience, other than his or her opinion on the matter?

            But anyway, for this to happen the Church would have to authorise the blessing/conducting of same-sex marriages. So this would be unambiguously to adopt the revisionist position, with a limited accommodation for priests who dissent. I think some people imagine this to be a kind of compromise, as though as long as those opposed to this move don’t personally have to conduct such ceremonies then they will be content. But then they would still be part of a Church that had adapted its doctrine, liturgy and practice to accommodate this change. So this is no compromise at all. In truth, what we have at the moment is compromise, with considerable pastoral accommodation and an awful lot of blind eyes. To move to a ‘priest’s conscience’ approach is well and truly to take the Step which those committed to the current teaching oppose.

          • Helen King July 18, 2016 at 10:35 pm #

            So for you, Will, ‘priest’s conscience’ – which is what I had in mind – won’t work. This is because ‘But then they would still be part of a Church that had adapted its doctrine, liturgy and practice to accommodate this change.’

            But why is this any different from people in our church who believe marrying a divorced person is a sin, yet remain in the C of E; who don’t believe women can lead churches or can preach, yet remain in the the C of E; who don’t believe women can be bishops, yet remain in the C of E?

          • Christopher Shell July 18, 2016 at 11:04 pm #

            Of all topics Jesus’s stance is clearest and also likeliest to be historically accurate on divorce. He rests his argument on gender complementarity, which one would not have thought was even relevant; when someone mentions something irrelevant it is clear that they think it important. Jesus is hardline on divorce (boundaries that bring freedom) and exceptions are added later than Mark, so are less likely to be original. The rather rabbinic Matthew is the main culprit here; and one of the things he adds is the phrase ‘for any cause’, which is not in Mark.

            I myself wish that Jesus had said something about the plight of the deserted innocent spouse. If he did it is not recorded.

            Who cares about the C of E position if that position goes against the founder on the very point on which the founder is both clearest and best-attested, and does so at a very specific time in history obviously for reasons of cultural conformity?

          • Will Jones July 18, 2016 at 11:10 pm #

            The women issue isn’t about sin so is not comparable.

            Divorce is permitted by Jesus (and the OT) in some circumstances so there are good scriptural grounds for disagreement.

            There are no sound scriptural arguments to support SSM, which is clearly against the teaching of scripture. This is why engagement with theology and scripture should have been at the heart of the SCs, so that the lacunae in the revisionist interpretations of scripture (many of which are exposed in this comment thread and elsewhere on Ian’s blog) and the choice between SSM and scriptural authority became clearer.

            You can’t simply argue ‘well you accommodated that so you should accommodate this’. It doesn’t work that way. Each issue needs to be considered on its merits – merits in which, from a scriptural point of view, SSM is distinctly lacking.

          • Helen King July 19, 2016 at 7:02 am #

            Indeed, each case should be considered on its merits. But I am interested in how change and accommodation have worked in the C of E and, in thinking about second marriage, I am using as my example a real change within my lifetime. When I was a child, divorced people in church were considered sinners and an embarrassment, Am I right in remembering that they were not supposed to take communion? Now they are welcomed, and clergy – including bishops – can also go on to enter second marriages after divorce.

            I’m not asking whether you think that, despite Jesus’ ‘hardline’ comments on it, divorce is permitted in the Old or New Testaments – the logic here is interesting, however, as it suggests nuancing Jesus’ words rather than taking them at face value, something I don’t see people applying in other situations. I’m asking whether, as an unmarried woman, in your view of things I have sinned by marrying a divorced man (something, note, now permitted in the law of the land and also eventually permitted with various conditions in the C of E). I am not the ‘deserted innocent spouse’ (phrasing which I think questionable, as it’s rarely as simple as an innocent/guilty split would suggest) so Jesus’ lack of comment on such people isn’t relevant, although again it is interesting in other contexts as it points out that we can’t expect every pastoral situation to be covered by a Bible verse.

          • Clive July 19, 2016 at 7:39 am #

            Dear Christopher,

            You seem keen on assuming redaction, however one of the key features of documents of the time is that you could not afford to be verbose. One had to be economical with words because of how difficult it was to get vellum or variants thereof.

            You say Matthew added to the question of the Pharisees: Is it right for a man to divorce a woman “for any cause”? compared to Mark – but Mark doesn’t give any reason for the divorce. If the reason for divorce was being changed by Matthew then that would be significant but it is not. Therefore the principal of being economical with words to keep the manuscript to a sensible size comes into play and there is little significance to the addition.

          • Christopher Shell July 19, 2016 at 9:35 am #

            Helen , I don’t follow some points. We all know that changes have happened in your/our lifetime. Who has ever been unaware of that? But you are simply assuming that the changes in question are good (rather than neutral or bad), yet you give no argument in favour of such a position. People are bound to look at your words and see them as another example of people being able to take only so much cultural deviance, so that pretty soon they will see their present culture (however unusual it is in fact) as being some kind of international multi-era norm.

            What are the reasons for thinking these changes to be good ones?

            I certainly disagree with your words on ‘deserted innocent spouse’. I never mentioned which proportion of divorces I was referring to here. It may in fact be either a high or a low percentage – neither of us knows that. In a world of 7 billion people, there will be a large number of actual innocent deserted spouses, whether or not these constitute a low or high proportion of divorced people. When I say innocent I mean either fully innocent, largely innocent, or much more innocent than their spouse. The chances of both being equally guilty are not statistically very high (there are 100 percentage points, so one would guess it’s 1 chance in 100 that they will both end up on the same percentage point 50-50).

            If he divorced someone and was not deserted that is unfinished business which will hang over all concerned till their dying day. If there has been forgiveness, that has great healing power. The bit where it stops making sense is how he can cease being one flesh with his wife. If he can’t then that logic is what makes future marriages literally impossible, as I understand the words of Jesus.

            From Mark we would not guess at any exceptions to the no-divorce rule; but Paul seems to tell a different story which is also good evidence.

          • Christopher Shell July 19, 2016 at 9:37 am #

            Clive – if you read David Instone-Brewer on this, ‘for any cause’ turns out to be a technical term, a reference to former practice, where any pretext (burning the soup) actually was sufficient reason for divorcing. This is what makes Matthew’s addition a substantial one, and an alteration of Mark. In Mark the question is whether divorce itself is OK. Matthew changes this question to whether divorce for any reason at all is OK. A significant difference.

          • Will Jones July 19, 2016 at 10:03 am #

            Sorry Helen I don’t understand how what you’re saying amounts to an argument for the Church authorising the blessing/conducting of same-sex marriage. So the church has stretched scriptural divorce provisions to the point where we’re in danger of being too lax in this area. To me that’s a sign that we should be tightening up as we just seem to be going with the flow. But either way the argument is not conducted by reasoning that we’ve become lax in this area so we should, QED, become lax in some other area too – where would that ever end? The argument is conducted by asking what scripture says and how it should be applied in our circumstances. And there is no sound scriptural argument for blessing or conducting same-sex marriages. So on what basis could the church in good conscience proceed to authorise such things? Divorce (however baleful) at least has some precedent in scripture, and some allowance by Jesus. SSM is totally anathema to scriptural teaching on the proper form of sexual relationships. There really is no comparison – except that it has something to do with marriage, and lots of people at the moment want to do it. But that is not a good theological argument. You need to make theological and scriptural arguments, not draw loose parallels between tenuously related issues in the hope of precipitating a kind of allowance by association.

          • Helen King July 19, 2016 at 11:07 am #

            All very interesting. And thanks for explaining there are 100 percentage points. I’ll get on with being a loving and supportive Christian wife in my ‘literally impossible’ marriage, then!

          • Christopher Shell July 19, 2016 at 12:55 pm #

            Sure, but if there are good arguments on your side, let’s have them, otherwise we all agree.

          • Clive July 19, 2016 at 5:44 pm #

            Dear Christopher,

            Even if “for any reason” is a technical term then there is not a significant change of meaning between:
            “Is divorce acceptable?”
            “Is divorce for any reason acceptable?”

          • Chris Bishop July 19, 2016 at 7:33 pm #

            I don’t think that divorce is ever ‘acceptable’ but the Bible is clear that in some cases it is sometimes permissable.

          • Christopher Shell July 19, 2016 at 9:13 pm #

            Will – yes there is a significant difference. The first question is ‘Is divorce lawful?’ whereas the second is ‘Is divorce lawful for every reason that occurs to the husband [or just for some reasons]?’.

          • Helen King July 19, 2016 at 9:21 pm #

            Christopher, if your last comment was directed at me, what point am I supposed to produce arguments for? For marriage after divorce being acceptable in some circumstances? In 2002 the C of E recognised:

            i) That some marriages regrettably do fail and that the Church’s care for couples in that situation should be of paramount importance; and
            ii) That there are exceptional circumstances in which a divorced person may be married in church during the lifetime of a former spouse

            Not much point going back to basics to re-argue what is already in our church’s policy.

            With marriage of divorced people being ‘on the books’ as well as women preaching and leading, I do seriously wonder how some people in this thread can remain in the C of E as it is now, regardless of whether any change occurs on homosexuality. Or maybe some are from other churches?

          • Will Jones July 20, 2016 at 9:49 am #

            Helen – so are you only advocating for SSM in ‘exceptional circumstances’? I wasn’t aware that this was a position being advanced by anyone. You seem very convinced that these two issues have some kind of equivalence that should somehow imply a need to accept SSM, but I really can’t see what you think that equivalence is.

            Likewise, why do you assume that the acceptance of female ministry implies anything about SSM? You need to make theological arguments grounded in scripture, not just assume that because the church has accepted one innovation despite some people disagreeing therefore it should accept another – how is that responsible governance under the word of God? The fundamental problem for SSM is that there is no scriptural basis for it. Divorce and female ministry have good scriptural arguments that can be made for them (for divorce, permissible in certain circumstances) – even if some don’t accept them. I don’t think you quite appreciate how poor the ‘scriptural’ arguments for SSM are – Robert Song, for instance, in Covenant and Calling (which, incidentally, is generally a good book) notoriously just assumed that same-sex relationships would be sexual without any argument or consideration of the objections to that. That, I believe, is why Christopher was challenging you to produce them. You have engaged in a debate on this issue in a public forum so presumably you have some idea of the biblical basis for a position which you are advocating the Church to adopt?

          • Christopher Shell July 20, 2016 at 11:22 am #

            Hi Helen

            Arguments for ‘one flesh’ no longer applying.

            Arguments for a Christian church going against Christ on the very point where Christ is both clearest and also best-attested historically.

            Arguments for going with a sexual-revolution culture that has more than quintupled broken homes (poor children, poor deserted spouses) and where the law sides with the party who does wrong.

            What is the evidential force of the fourth-largest denomination having made culturally-conformist changes? We all know that they made those changes, and we all know that the central question is obviously whether those changes were good or bad.

            You also treat those changes as unchangeable. What reasons would you have for treating them in this way? Why are they more unchangeable than the previous status quo, which not only WAS changed, but was more obviously in line with Christ? They aren’t.

            On your last point, I do see divorce as being a worse thing than homosexual sexual practice, though both are bad.

          • Helen King July 20, 2016 at 6:32 pm #

            Will, one possibility – and my own view on it isn’t relevant – would be for SSM to be available, with parish priests allowed to opt out if they felt they could not in conscience take part in such a service, or if their congregation was not content with such services happening. And other parish priests may want to go through a process with the couple which would be comparable to what happens if a heterosexual couple in which one partner has been divorced presents and asks to be married; e.g. Do the couple understand the commitment required of those entering into marriage? Are there any potentially scandalous factors (e.g. was there a previous committed relationship and if so did the proposed marriage lead to the breakdown of the previous relationship?)?

            I am trying to find out if there is any way that those who support SSM and those who don’t can find a way forward with which both can move ahead, even if neither group is entirely happy with what happens. From the various comments here it is clear that some will not be content with any availability of SSM. But I think my question is worth asking.

          • David Shepherd July 20, 2016 at 9:43 pm #


            The question which is comparable to what’s asked of divorced persons seeing re-marriage (at least, some of whom have the Matthaen exception on their side) is:
            Do the couple understand the same-sex relationships are a breach of God’s will?

            Of course, there difference is that divorcees expect scrutiny, whereas even the current HoB Pastoral Guidance states that same-sex couples are ‘not be subjected to questioning about their lifestyle.’

          • Helen King July 20, 2016 at 10:13 pm #

            I’m not a theologian: I’m a historian of the ancient world and it was on that basis that I entered this thread. I am interested to hear what theologians say.

            I’m amused to see some of you saying ‘female ministry’ has ‘good scriptural arguments that can be made for [it]’ because when I was on General Synod I well remember the argument that it was a ‘creation issue’ and that women could never preach, teach or hold authority in the church. For some here, that’s still the case. We’ve moved. Yes, we may move back. Who knows?

            I am interested to read that divorce is even worse than same-sex marriage. How does anyone who believes that remain in the C of E? And actually I wasn’t asking about divorce. I was asking about your position on someone who marries a divorced man.

            And of course I don’t think accepting women as priests and bishops means accepting SSM. But some people in this discussion reject women in these roles and I don’t see how they can stay in the C of E if that’s their view. I remain curious as to how many people in here are worshipping Anglicans and thus (in my lay woman, not a theologian, professional historian’s view) are actually part of the current C of E debate?

          • Christopher Shell July 20, 2016 at 11:19 pm #

            Helen – What if (perish the thought) some people identify as Christians not as Anglicans. (Here we are living our one and only life in this amazing world and we treat a group with a merely national name as being cosmically important? Lighten up.) Which means that their congregations and conversation partners may as well be Anglicans as any other sort of Christians. Such people belong to a larger more universal body: the Church. Sometimes called catholic in the credal sense with a small c. It encompasses all denominations and has big enough horizons and enough common sense not to waste our decidedly limited time on denominations.

          • Helen King July 21, 2016 at 8:18 am #

            Having posted a response to this sub-thread on the sub-thread above, let’s ‘Lighten up’ as Christopher wants to do with the ultimate denominational joke, the ‘bigot on the bridge’:

          • Will Jones July 21, 2016 at 10:12 am #

            Thanks Helen. You seem keen for those who don’t agree with the church’s teaching to leave the church. But surely then all those who believe in SSM should have left a long time ago? Or is it only vanquished conservatives who should leave their church, not liberals pressing for change? Perhaps conservatives want to stay and press for change of their own.

            Anyway, all your arguments assume that the church should accommodate SSM because some people believe in it. But that isn’t how the church makes policy. The church examines the scriptures and takes its cues from the word of God. There are good biblical grounds for supporting women’s ministry, which is why Ian, for example, supports it (there are a number of female leaders mentioned in scripture, for example) though of course quite a number of people disagree with that assessment of the biblical witness.

            But SSM has no sound biblical support at all, as per my previous comment about Robert Song’s lack of biblical defence for it. See also above my exchange with Penelope, a biblical scholar, whose argument (so far) has boiled down to her claiming that in the New Testament sexual sin does not include ‘what goes on in consensual people’s bedrooms’. But of course that is a complete misrepresentation of what the NT writers mean by sexual sin, and a very modern imposition on an ancient text (as I’m sure you know). So tell me Helen, with arguments ‘from scripture’ like these why on earth should we accommodate such an innovation, particularly given how horribly divisive it would be? To let priests follow their conscience and bless same-sex marriages would require the church to authorise such ceremonies, which is precisely what those committed to the current teaching are against. This may sound like an unwillingness to compromise in any way, but don’t forget that the pastoral guidance we have at the moment is already a big compromise.

          • Christopher Shell July 21, 2016 at 2:05 pm #

            Helen – a small point on your reference to theologians. Biblical scholars are not the same thing as theologians. The worlds they inhabit are often poles apart. They treat each other with deep suspicion sometimes. Biblical scholars are comparable to classicists. Theologians – well, the question is whether theirs is a sufficiently verifiable or falsifiable branch of study at all (with the exception of philosophy of religion).

            The people who discuss texts like Romans and 1 Corinthians are primarily Biblical scholars, not theologians.

          • Helen King July 21, 2016 at 4:19 pm #

            Very interesting point about Biblical scholars and theologians – thanks. Although I think you also need to nuance ‘classicists’; the term includes people who major on language, on literature, on history, on culture… And just as a good Classics argument will be grounded in the detail of the language but will also need to appreciate the nuances of literary genre and the historical and cultural context of what’s written, so will good Biblical studies need to incorporate all those.

            And on another point, people have left the C of E because they were unhappy with its theology. But there are other denominations with different emphases. I am not happy with people leaving the C of E (not, note, ‘the Church’) which is why somewhere in this thread I asked how a particular form of pastoral accommodation would play out. So far the only response has been from the ‘no because all SS activity is wrong so just no no no’ perspective. But then there aren’t many people left posting here and I’m off shortly!

          • Will Jones July 21, 2016 at 5:37 pm #

            As I said Helen: the pastoral guidance we have at the moment is already a big compromise. So we are already where you want us to be. Where you want us to go is no compromise because it is quite simply for the revisionist position to prevail.

          • Penelope July 22, 2016 at 2:31 pm #

            Will I have now responded to your response (above). The density of these sub threads is a little daunting!

          • Philip Almond July 23, 2016 at 8:56 pm #

            Will Jones July 18, 2016 at 11:10 pm #
            ‘The women issue isn’t about sin so is not comparable’.

            Will, I have to be candid and say that I disagree with you (and Ian) on this point. To me both same-sex sexual relationships and the ordination of women are both disobedience to the revealed will of God – see Philip Almond July 21, 2016 at 7:55 pm on this thread.


    • Penelope July 18, 2016 at 9:29 am #

      Phil I think I’ve responded to you, but this thread is getting rather complex and I’m not sure I’ma responding to the right people on occasion!

      • Philip Almond July 18, 2016 at 9:33 am #

        Hi Penelope
        Yes you have replied. I will respond in due course. The ball is now in my court.


  46. David Runcorn July 17, 2016 at 9:14 pm #

    Will My understanding is that time for debate is planned in the February Synod next year – and that it is the task of the Bishops to plan towards the best way of resourcing that ahead and focusing the issues when it comes to it. So yes – this was one important chapter in a longer journey – and a vital and brave one at that.

    • Will Jones July 17, 2016 at 10:44 pm #

      Thanks David. That is only 7 months away, and since we don’t yet know what that preparation will be we can be safely assured that it won’t be on anything like the scale of the shared conversations. Which shows that however much we talk about this as one chapter in a longer journey the truth is that it is going to be the only process of its kind and thus its failure properly to bring together both experience and exploration of scripture and the actual theological issues is a very grave omission which may have serious long-term consequences for the church and its faithfulness and unity. It will be very interesting to see what the bishops do propose as appropriate preparation for February – perhaps it will go some way to alleviate my concerns (but I’m not holding my breath).

      • David Runcorn July 18, 2016 at 7:39 am #

        I am willing to wait and see Will. the conversations need absorbing.

        • Will Jones July 18, 2016 at 9:18 am #

          I’m sure you are David – but then you were happy with the shared conversations!

  47. Chris Bishop July 18, 2016 at 11:48 am #

    Is the length of this thread a record for the Psephizo blog?

    • Ian Paul July 18, 2016 at 12:32 pm #

      Possibly in terms of number of comments, though not in terms of length of comments, which belongs to my first post of ‘On the cross was the wrath of God satisfied?’

      • Philip Almond July 18, 2016 at 3:15 pm #

        I’m not surprised. That question is indeed one of the most important questions, where there is disagreement at a level deeper than the same-sex disagreement.

        Phil Almond

  48. Peter Reiss July 19, 2016 at 10:42 pm #

    I am not sure that this long “conversation” has helped the conversation. It would be interesting to know whether there has been engagement with the other view.
    One of the battleground points is Romans 1 and para phusin.
    Is it helpful to consider the ancient view of how human life is passed on. The man has seed and the woman is hopefully fertile. In that world view, common to Greek,Roman, Jew and the Mediterranean, sperm is where the life is, and certainly in the Greek culture like should beget like, hence the theological significance of Father-Son and the full divinity of Jesus.
    In the pre-microscope world, blood too is understood to carry life, hence the food regulations, and – in part – significant for our understanding of the Eucharist.
    If this is the understanding of how human life begins, then the role of men and women is clearly different from how we understand it today when we know about egg and sperm etc.
    If men (or women) then act sexually with each other they act “contrary to nature” according to the dominant world-view of the time, and a world-view within which Jesus lived.
    If and it is if – the argument from “nature” is from a world view in which the male sperm is the passer-on of life, then this may well require some “translation” into our world-view which understands the human infant to be the shared product of both man and woman.
    Ian sometimes refers to a Christian anthropology, but i suggest this is a more problematic construct, if the biblical anthropology is shaped by a view of the primacy of the sperm, and even that the woman, not being identical to the man whose seed she springs from, is therefore “inferior” because she is not the same.
    I would challenge Jonathan Tallon’s focus on the sexual excesses of temple prostitution as being the explanation for Paul’s use of this particular argument, though I agree Paul is choosing something that Jews would broadly agree with, before challenging them in chapter 2 with their own falling-short.
    The same language of contrary to nature is used with regards the olive tree, because it is not “natural” for olive trees to reproduce by grafting, but through seedlings.

    The debate which has become entrenched over “sexuality” or more precisely “homosexuality” assumes too much on both sides, because it starts as so often in our sex-obsessed world, with sex, rather than with what it means to be a man or a woman, how prescriptive we should be in that debate, how we manage the growing knowledge of the complexity of sexuality and gender and sex, how we deal with those who challenge the historic binary view, which often conflates male and female with masculine and feminine, the latter two being very definitely cultural constructs.
    Others will I am sure have views, but too often we see arguments about the ancient view of sexuality, often conducted by folk with less historical training than theology, but these arguments from both sides, do not wrestle with what it means to be human, to be a man or a woman, and how we develop our views on this when the world-view of both OT and NT is one which probably all on this blog would disagree with!

    • Helen King July 20, 2016 at 7:40 am #

      Peter, here I can speak from a position of professional knowledge; there isn’t ‘an’ ancient view of how life is passed on. The ‘sperm is where the life is’ certainly can be considered the dominant opinion in ANE (Ancient Near East) cultures, but there’s also the ‘both men and women produce seed, only men’s is thicker and stronger’ theory, plus the ‘men produce seed, women produce blood, but the blood is more than mere substance’ theory. Other than that I very much agree that we need to have theologians and historians talking to each other…!

    • Jonathan Tallon July 21, 2016 at 10:53 am #

      Peter, thanks for considering my point about the context for Romans 1, but why would you challenge the argument (not just mine) that it is temple sex that Paul is highlighting?

      On para phusin, there is a further issue raised by your point about the dominant (thanks Helen!) view being that the male seed carried the life. If Paul shared the same views as some of his contemporary Jews on this issue (eg Philo) then the following behaviours are all ‘para phusin’ and the church should be vigorously campaigning against them:
      oral sex; using contraceptives; masturbation; having sex when you know your partner is infertile.

      However, I have seen remarkably little consistency on this issue (though to be fair, the RC church comes close).

      Of course, no seed is involved with two women – yet another reason that para/kata phusin is unlikely to refer to two women in Romans 1.

      • David Shepherd July 25, 2016 at 12:56 pm #


        You wrote: ‘If Paul shared the same views as some of his contemporary Jews on this issue (eg Philo) then the following behaviours are all ‘para phusin’ and the church should be vigorously campaigning against them:
        oral sex; using contraceptives; masturbation; having sex when you know your partner is infertile.’

        The problem with your thesis here is that it’s a big ‘if’.

        As I wrote above, Paul himself uses ‘para phusin’ in Rom. 11:24 to describe the fruitfulness of grafting the wild olive Into the cultivated olive tree. Whatever his contemporaries may have thought, for Paul, para phusin does not carry the connotation of non-pro-creative.

        In fact, grafting (Rom. 11:24) while promoting fecundity is still contrary to nature because it involves the artifice of joining plants in a way that neither plant, as created, was intended to be united.

        So, Paul is applying the same meaning, as he repeats metallaxan to describe both exchanging the truth of recognising God’s transcendent majesty, as revealed in creation, for the demeaning lie of idolatry and being judicially transferred to the custody of vile passions which eventually leads to the exchange of male-female sexual union (natural use of the woman’), as revealed in creation, for the lie of homosexual union which he describes, similar to grafting, as para phusin

  49. David Shepherd July 19, 2016 at 11:46 pm #

    David B,

    The presence of mutual devotion doesn’t magically imbue same-sex sexual activity with such virtue as to render It kata phusin

    So, unless you can demonstrate how relationship stability alters the intrinsic God-given physical characteristics of either same-sex partner, their sexual activity remains a sub-set of what Paul described as para phusin.

    In essence, your ‘stable’ qualification is a re-hashing the previous distinction without difference fallacy.

    • Peter Reiss July 20, 2016 at 1:53 pm #

      when the thread gets this long, it is not always easy to see who replies to what. Certainly my understanding of para phusin is not to do with mutual devotion or otherwise. It is that Paul, and his world, generally viewed men and women and the differences between them (and the significance of this) differently from how we now view men, women and the differences. If we accept that the reasoning for para phusin is derived from a rather different construction of phusis then there are proper questions for all interpreters on how we make sense of the latter half of Romans 1 for today; kata and para phusin are not then straightforward to translate meaningfully.
      Some will argue, regardless of the meaning of phusis as a construct, there is a biological difference between men and women, given at creation, and sexual intercourse must only happen between the two sexes. I think that is a coherent argument as far as it goes, but a) it is a different argument, and b) it requires some major assumptions of the Genesis 1-2 texts and their universal standing, not just on humanity and complementarity, but also on sexual relations. I am not convinced the Genesis texts can bear that weight unproblematically.
      Here also there could be – I think – a genuine conversation and exploration, which would need to start with what it means to be human, what it means to be a man or a woman, and if this is such a clear binary as tradition has held, and whether we can unthread the essentialist suppositions from the constructionist and vice versa.
      Across the world-wide Communion cultural differences and different cultural histories contribute to the debate but also to the heat of the debate.

      • Will Jones July 20, 2016 at 2:50 pm #

        I think you’re at risk of over-complicating the issues and exaggerating the gaps between cultural understandings – we are all human beings who share in human nature and experience the same universe after all. You’re right that the gender binaries in which the prohibitions on same-sex relations sit depend on an essentialist or realist conception of gender (within a realist or essentialist conception of humanity), and that that is indeed one of the biggest questions of our own day with huge practical implications. However, I don’t think we should assume a big difference between the essentialist view of Genesis and the NT and the essentialist view of our own day – essentialism is, to all extents and purposes, essentialism, and it is a perfectly respectable philosophical view. And I would say that any Christian view of gender and sexuality needs to take seriously the unabashed essentialism and realism of scripture – in many ways, that is the nub of the present debate. Male and female he created them.

        Many people seem very distracted by the existence of people who don’t fit into these binary categories. But of course no essentialist account assumes that every individual will conform to the pattern, only that the pattern is the natural norm to which individuals are supposed to conform. No one pretends that all the products of nature conform to its own patterns. But the point is that the patterns of nature represent norms of good order and health to which all should aspire.

        • Christopher Shell July 20, 2016 at 3:13 pm #

          Will is right that, although it is very fashionable (and also in fact correct) to appeal to cultural differences, there are also anthropological things that unite all humans of every era and geographical location. Such as biology.

        • Philip Almond July 20, 2016 at 9:21 pm #


          In your last post, with which I agree, why don’t you mention the Fall and Original sin as a factor to be considered?

          Phil Almond

          • Will Jones July 20, 2016 at 10:17 pm #

            Thanks Phil. Yes perhaps I should have done. I think probably just for brevity I left it implicit but it may have been helpful to spell it out as it is of course at the heart of the Christian account of the dysfunction of nature.

        • Jonathan Tallon July 21, 2016 at 10:41 am #

          Will, where is your evidence of gender essentialism in scripture? You seem to assume that it’s obvious, but it’s not. Have you read the works of, for example, Adrian Thatcher on ancient construction of sex (most recently Redeeming Gender, (OUP, 2016)? He argues that the ancient world (generally) saw humanity as one sex, with women being inferior versions of men, but essentially (in the essence sense…) the same. The idea of men and women being different, opposite sexes only comes in with the modern period (so anyone arguing this can call themselves a revisionist…).

          Your second point about patterns of nature representing norms to which all should aspire opens the door to all sorts of discrimination against people who are different. Does this apply to people with disabilities? The deaf community? Those who choose to be single? Which norms are OK to be different from, and who gets to decide this?

          • Will Jones July 21, 2016 at 11:27 am #

            ‘Male and female he created them’ seems clear. Essentialism, including of gender, is standard in Aristotle and Plato. I don’t know how Adrian Thatcher and others are making their case for sex essentialism being a modern invention but I’m sure it makes for a lot of well-funded work for academics. The Bible clearly works with an essentialist concept of gender throughout – gender is part of the natural order as the writers understand it.

            On your second point: natural norms allow us to distinguish between difference and defect. Disability is, as the name suggests, defect, which is why we try to avoid it and treat it – though of course those who suffer with unfortunate conditions should be treated with respect. Your question is essentially to ask how we can identify pathologies and abnormalities in the human organism. You seem incredulous that this is a reasonable thing to do, as though the very idea is offensive. But it is unavoidable if we are to retain any idea that the human being has a healthy and well-ordered form. The truth of the matter in this area is determined by nature as designed by God, and it is up to us to discern what that truth is by studying his world and his word.

          • Jonathan Tallon July 21, 2016 at 2:05 pm #

            I’m sure essentialism can be argued, and that some will disagree with Adrian Thatcher – but I was making the point that it isn’t at all obvious. This is an area where I haven’t done much groundwork directly myself, but he is a serious academic publishing with a serious publisher. I find that often what is classed as ‘obvious’ in this debate is anything but.

            Thank you for engaging on the issue of natural norms. You say that we need to distinguish between difference and defect. But how do we do this? Where all are in agreement, then there is no issue (so we treat disease etc). But the shared conversations arise because there is disagreement. One side is effectively saying defect, one side difference.

            There are endless natural norms that we can treat as usual (but there are some differences and that’s fine) or as essential (any difference is a defect ideally to be corrected). Is left-handedness a difference or a defect (the answer has changed over the last 100 years)? Is choosing celibacy a difference or a defect?

            Nature in itself doesn’t tell us whether something is right or not, whether something is a difference or a defect, and here I agree with you: it is up to us to discern by studying his world and his word.

          • Philip Almond July 21, 2016 at 2:11 pm #


            ‘One side is effectively saying defect, one side difference’.

            No. One side is effectively saying sin, one side difference.

            Phil Almond

          • Will Jones July 21, 2016 at 5:27 pm #

            Thanks Jonathan. One place where we disagree is that the existence of respectable academic literature means that something isn’t obvious. If there’s one thing my involvement in academia has taught me it’s that academics can find ways of spilling a lot of ink disputing the obvious. Indeed, in my more cynical moments I fear it is their stock-in-trade. However, I do know that a lot of what academics do (including those with whom I disagree) is very valuable for the advancement of knowledge. I’ve just learned to try to be discerning about which is which. However, I concede that the existence of academic literature means the arguments do at least need to be addressed.

            So now we get into the subtleties of difference, defect and (as Phil points out) sin (i.e. moral defect). Which is which? Well, that’s the real challenge isn’t it. A standard conservative line would be that to lack opposite-sex attraction is a defect, since the human organism is properly heteronormative. However, sin (moral defect) only arises if certain actions are taken, which may or may not (but usually are) motivated by same-sex attraction (morality after all is fundamentally about human action).

            Personally I think that this argument can be made satisfactorily from nature, which is why homosexuality was classified as a psychiatric disorder until relatively recently (and many other forms of alternative sexual attraction still are and treated as such). The argument from there to same-sex relations being morally defective is more complex (as you rightly note) but at the very least we can see in this way that they are not naturally equivalent, and it is not a great stretch to see that they probably are not morally equivalent either (which is the essence of same-sex marriage of course).

            However, as Christians we are not left wrestling with the vagaries of nature unaided. God has furnished us with a revelation which makes it plain that not only is humanity heteronormative but to act contrary to that in certain ways is morally problematic. This confirms our suspicions from nature – it is not blind obedience to ignorant ancient texts. As far as I can tell only those who wish it were otherwise have been capable of finding alternative meanings in scripture. So even while the world gets itself thoroughly confused over these questions, as Christian at least we can get our bearings straight in the divine design.

          • Jonathan Tallon July 22, 2016 at 10:23 am #

            Will, thank you for engaging. It is clear that, while we agree about their importance, we disagree about the interpretation of both the world and the word.

          • Will Jones July 22, 2016 at 10:40 am #

            Yes, thank you for engaging.

          • Penelope July 22, 2016 at 12:32 pm #

            Just a thought Will. It isn’t that clear. Gregory of Nyssa didn’t think it means what you think it means.

      • Philip Almond July 20, 2016 at 9:18 pm #

        As I have argued elsewhere on this thread (July 14 10.32 am points 4 and 5)

        ‘The supporters of the ordination of women will not agree, but to me it is clear that, properly understood, Ephesians 5 (the tightly coupled Christ-Church/Husband-Wife analogy based on kephale), via 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 and Genesis 2-3, establishes that male headship, and therefore male-female asymmetry, is a feature of God’s good pre-Fall creation.’

        ‘Because human marriage between husband and wife (both faithful and unfaithful) is used throughout the Bible as a picture of the God-Christian/Church and Christ-Christian/Church relationship, and because in these pictures God and Christ are always ‘male’ and the Christian (whether man or woman)/Church is always ‘female’, then the sexual difference/asymmetry in sexual attraction and activity is a vital feature, and I don’t see how its absence can be acceptable to God nor how gay orientation can be an aspect of God’s very good human creation.’

        These points add great weight to what you acknowledge to be a ‘coherent argument’ based on Genesis 1-2.

        Phil Almond

    • William Fisher July 22, 2016 at 10:37 am #

      For their sexual relationship to be “kata phusin”, why on earth would it be necessary for the intrinsic God-given physical characteristics of either same-sex partner to be altered?

      • Penelope July 22, 2016 at 3:20 pm #

        Perhaps because the only sexual intimacy which heterosexual people indulge in is penile-vaginal penetration, man on top, as God intended. 😉

        • David Shepherd July 25, 2016 at 11:04 pm #

          I’m not sure what’s irks me more: the hollow smug mirth of liberals…

          Or the stupidity of assuming that what I described as the intrinsic God-given physical characteristics of either sex are reducible to the external reproductive organs!

  50. Peter Reiss July 21, 2016 at 2:11 pm #

    Essentialist and Constructionist – inevitably – generates debate and argument. It may be argued that the Bible takes an essentialist approach, but how it understands essence is itself potentially a cultural construction, and might well include issues like length of hair. That is of course an interesting example because both men and women can grow hair to length, or many can. Until recently same-sex attraction was a mental disorder according to the American Psychiatric Association, and Thielicke argued for it being a result of the Fall. At this point essentialist views become theologically complicated. because, for some, what is essential in people, which might be same-sex attraction, is deemed to be problematic, because its essence is disordered. Aristophanes and his story is a different aetiology.

    In a constructed world-view where sex is asymmetric, the lover and the beloved, and where the lover is the one with the higher status etc, then that model might be one that illuminates our relationship with God and God’s with us, but whether that then requires us to endorse that model as good I am not sure, just as we don’t have to endorse slavery as a good thing, to understand the images of redemption or being a slave to Christ; nor do we put forward monarchy as the best political system because there are kingly references to God in the BIble.

    The asymmetric “lover / beloved” understanding, in which who penetrates and who is penetrated is the key marker, is one which we find difficult if we want to highlight mutuality and equality in an intimate relationship between a man and woman. The language itself highlights a power imbalance between the active lover and the receptive beloved. Is this essential to human relating?
    Genesis 2 does not suggest an obvious asymmetry between the male and the female, other than that the word for the “helpmeet” is a word more generally associated with a more powerful, stronger ally, not a less powerful servant-type. Difference between male and female is biologically obvious, but how that is understood to work out in how we live or organise as a society, how we should relate is not straightforward: going from an is to an ought is fraught with pitfalls!
    The premise of conversations is that we have more to learn and discover; the premise of a “traditionalist” view is that we already know what is important. Both views have integrity: they are, as Ian highlights, asymmetric themselves.

    • Will Jones July 21, 2016 at 5:35 pm #

      ‘It may be argued that the Bible takes an essentialist approach, but how it understands essence is itself potentially a cultural construction.’

      Not potentially, most certainly is! The point, though, is that cultural constructions can be better or worse, truer or less true, more or less right, closer or further from nature. Obviously human concepts are social and cultural constructs – could anything be more obvious? Humanity is a social animal and knowledge is a social reality. But the mistake is to think it is merely a social construct, that there is no absolute or objective reality by which it can be measured and evaluated. The challenge for human cultures is continually to subject their constructs and concepts to question and analysis in order to continually to seek after the true and the right, for humanity is also a rational animal.

    • Philip Almond July 21, 2016 at 7:55 pm #


      On the above fulcrum thread I posted (Phil Almond August 28 2014 at 3.42 pm) my considered (after much debate on Fulcrum) case that the Bible, while emphatically supporting the ministry of women, rules out the ordination of women.

      A key part of that case expands on what I said in my last post about Ephesians 5 to 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 to Genesis 2/3.

      The supporters of the ordination of women countered my understanding of Ephesians 5:21-33 by appealing to verse 5:21. This is what I said in reply:

      ‘So how should we understand verse 21? In a long debate on the excellent Fulcrum forum a supporter of the ordination of women posted ‘the NT church found their relationships and the ordering of their common life and ministry, authority and power completely reshaped by the example of Christ – who came not to be served but to serve’. I emphatically agreed with that but pointed out that the supporters of the ordination of women seem to miss that this revolution does not mean that all relationships between Christians are symmetrical in terms of authority. What the example of Christ does mean, however, is that when one Christian submits in obedience to the authority and leadership of another Christian (wife to husband, child to parent, slave to master, younger to elder, employee to boss, church member to pastor) the one to whose authority submission is made, whose leadership is followed, should have the mindset of the one who said, ‘Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls’. And of course, such authority and leadership should only be submitted to and followed when there is no conflict with submission to Christ whose authority is absolute. The husband’s headship is not about asserting rights, power, privileges and status. He is called to exercise his authority and leadership role in a sacrificial way, contrary to fallen human nature. The wife’s role, which is also contrary to fallen human nature, is to recognize and submit to that leadership and authority. Human authority does not imply superiority nor human submission inferiority. In my view this is how we should understand Ephesians 5:21.’

      Phil Almond

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