Steve Chalke has recently published his Open Church charter and committed to support and enable any Christians wanting to enter a same-sex marriage. He explains that the move and its timing are related to research undertaken by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine:
It found that gay and bisexual men under the age of 26 are six times more likely to attempt suicide or self-harm compared to gay and bisexual men aged over 45, and are also twice as likely to be depressed or anxious. Critically, however, the research team also found that gay and bisexual men who are cohabiting with a male partner are 50% less likely to suffer from depression, compared to those living alone.
I think Steve has put his finger one of the most important questions within the Church on this issue: does the ‘traditional’ ethic offer a credible pastoral strategy for people (particularly men) who are same-sex attracted? Ed Shaw and others believe they have an answer to this, but it is highly dependent on the nature of supportive relationships within the Christian community.
But if Chalke has identified the problem, his solution is far from persuasive. For a start, it is not clear from the research what assumptions have been made about sexual behaviour, and what effect these might have on the results. As the Ashley Madison affair highlighted, men are inherently more inclined to promiscuity than women, and this effect is heightened in the context of male same-sex couples.
Scholars have examined this, finding that only a third of committed homosexual male couples had agreements on strict monogamy and truly honored them. The other two-thirds had mutually established ground rules for extra-curriculars or regularly failed to adhere to their commitment to monogamy. In fact, in the openly non-monogamous relationships, the frequency of sex outside the relationship in the last year ranged from zero to an extreme of 350 occurrences, with a median of eight hook-ups over a twelve month period. Even the couples who pledged true monogamy, the range was from one to sixty-three “slip-ups” with a median of five. The corresponding numbers for men in heterosexual marriages are microscopic in comparison. Women settle men down. Other men do not.
For the research to be offer insight, it needs to locate its findings in this context, and also examine the mental health of those who (for religious or other ethical reasons) are committed to celibacy.
Secondly, Ed Shaw in his response to Chalke highlights a significant problem for the basis of Chalke’s charter.
If church leaders like Chalke want to show that they belong to the new social orthodoxy they should sign up soon. But as a member of the LGBT community that Chalke is kindly seeking to include, I want firmer and older foundations to my place in the church than his Charter offers me.
Most of all I want a transparently biblical vision of inclusion to be shaping how the church welcomes and accepts me – rather than the ever-changing views of society around me. I don’t want be included on the basis that cultural attitudes have changed but on the basis of the timeless Gospel that Jesus Christ self-sacrificially brought into this world.
The key issue here is the question of what the next change in generally accepted public morality will be. Our inclination as a culture is to operate as though we have now reached the point of enlightenment, and we shall from henceforth stay in this place—but those who had that same view 20, 10 or even 5 years ago were clearly deluded, and we can now see how wrong they were and how right we are. It is hard to imagine the next generation not thinking the same about us. Who would have thought a few years ago that it could be considered acceptable to propose that the way to eliminate Down’s Syndrome was to abort all people with Down’s Syndrome before they are born?
Shaw’s challenge is also important because of the terms that Chalke himself has used in defending the move. He comments:
This is not because we’re liberal, it’s not because we’re light on the Bible, it’s because we take the Bible very seriously. We want to move away from a over simplistic, over literalistic, immature understanding over Biblical texts that dumps many but keeps the ones we want.
His claim is that Ed Shaw, myself, and anyone who takes a ‘traditional’ line are ‘simplistic, literalistic and immature.’ Chalke told me himself (over a dinner) that my attitude was ‘hateful to gay people.’ It is an odd experience to feel so excluded by someone who claims his primary virtue is his radical commitment to inclusion—and it must feel even stranger for Ed Shaw. Perhaps the strangest part of Chalke’s claim is that he rejects the idea of ‘dumping many texts but keeping the ones we want’, when Chalke has explicitly said that he rejects much of the Old Testament, and some New Testament texts (such as the account of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5.1–11) because they don’t accord with his understanding of God and so the biblical writers must have been in error. It is quite an odd way to ‘take the Bible very seriously’.
But the wording of the Open Church charter itself is problematic. On the one hand, it commits to:
Every individual is encouraged to be as open as they desire about the nature of their sexuality, gender identity and their relationships and know that they will find acceptance and welcome in our church.
which appears to put no boundaries around what lifestyles and commitments people can have and still be welcomed and affirmed at Oasis church. On the other hand only certain relationships will be celebrated—Chalke rightly puts a boundary around certain kinds of relationship.
…we will offer celebration, preparation and support for same-sex marriage partners in loving, healthy monogamous relationships
I think the word ‘only’ needs to be added in here, since it appears to be implied. This leaves open some large areas of uncertainty. How will Chalke respond to people in consensual abusive relationships? The success of Fifty Shades of Grey demonstrates that this is hardly a minority interest. You might disapprove of this behaviour, but how do you make people who are committed to this feel ‘welcomed, embraced, included and affirmed?’ Do you need to resort to ‘hating the sin, loving the sinner?’ Even more pertinent is the question of convicted sex offenders. Many are religious, or find faith in prison, and (amongst ex-prisoners generally) find acceptance in a church highly problematic.
I am not here seeking to equate either of these things with same-sex attraction. But I am asking whether Chalke is offering a new paradigm of ‘radical inclusion’, or whether he is taking a more traditional approach in drawing boundaries—but simply drawing the lines in a different place to include same-sex marriage where the traditional boundary excludes it. I have a strong hunch it is the latter—but in using the polemical language he does (if you don’t join him, you are not a ‘responsible’ church leader) then he is eliminating any debate, and eliminating any pastoral middle ground where we can affirm people whilst disagreeing with them on this ethical issue.
This loss of middle ground was pertinent for me in a discussion yesterday. I expressed interest in attending an event which protested against the violence against gay people here and in other countries. But the event took place under the ‘Pride’ banner, and it was fairly clear that, with my ethical views on same-sex relations, I would not be particularly welcome. I want to reject any violence or unfair discrimination on the grounds of sexuality, but without thereby saying I affirm all expressions of sexuality. In a context where affirmation of the person has been collapsed into approval of actions, it is difficult to find any public space to do the first without communicating the second.
That is why groups like Living Out, of which Ed Shaw is a leading member, and True Freedom Trust are so important. Those who identify as same-sex attracted but are committed to the ‘traditional’ sexual ethic are often ignored or marginalised in this discussion—but they testify to a vital perspective in this debate. In holding questions of identity and action apart from one another, they create precisely the middle ground of engagement that we desperately need. This is the ‘gay lobby’ that we really need to listen to.
The two organisations are hosting a conference on 11th June in London, and it is engaging with precisely the pastoral question that Steve Chalke is raising. If you are at all concerned about provide good pastoral support for those who are same-sex attracted, it will be a high priority.
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109 thoughts on “The gay lobby we need to listen to”
‘I want to reject any violence or unfair discrimination on the grounds of sexuality, but without thereby saying I affirm all expressions of sexuality. In a context where affirmation of the person has been collapsed into approval of actions, it is difficult to find any public space to do the first without communicating the second.’
My situation exactly.
From the charter:
” Every individual is encouraged to be as open as they desire about the nature of their sexuality, gender identity and their relationships and know that they will find acceptance and welcome in our church.”
So Ian a question if I may.
I am genuinely curious as to how you think this situation is going to be resolved in the Church of England. The discussion is clearly not going away, so I’d value your response as to how we can co-exist in the same part of the body of Christ. How do you see the trajectory for this?
Andrew, I am not sure what you mean by saying ‘this discussion is not going away.’ Which discussion is? There are constant debates about all sorts of theological issues—but we resolve them by concluding there is not sufficient warrant to change the church’s teaching.
I think it was the Bishop of Southwark who commented ‘I don’t see the canons or liturgy of the Church changing in my lifetime’. I think he is right—so the official position of the C of E is unlikely to change in the next 30 years or so.
I think we should co-exist by all doing the honest thing, and living according to the teaching of the Church as it is. Do you have a problem with that?
I think you know which discussion is not going away Ian. It’s the discussion about same sex marriage in the Church and how we reach good disagreement. It’s about how “Every individual is encouraged to be as open as they desire about the nature of their sexuality, gender identity and their relationships and know that they will find acceptance and welcome in our church.”
Thanks for your trajectory. I think change is likely sooner than that but the lifetime of this synod will give us a better clue on what and when. Co-existing will also involve living with some of the messy facts on the ground that already exist.
I think you misunderstood. I wasn’t asking ‘Which discussion are you referring to?’ But ‘Which discussion ever “goes” away?’ All the debates about all sorts of issues stay with us. So what?
Given that the ‘messy facts on the ground’ have been created by ignoring the Church’s teaching and discipline, it is quite hard to know why the Church should change its teaching here because of such ‘facts’.
Umm…the discussion about women in the episcopate has gone away because we have come to an agreement about it with five principles. The same will be possible in this case. That is how things are settled.
No, the same will not happen in this case, because of the nature of the issue.
It would be possible to imagine adjacent dioceses, one recognising women’s ministry and the other not. But it would be impossible to have adjacent dioceses where one blessed SSM, and in the neighbouring one to enter an SSM would be a matter of discipline for clergy.
It is the nature of the question, and its difference from the question of women’s ministry, which makes it impossible to ‘agree to disagree’.
And btw the debate about women in ministry has *not* gone away. Just visit the next meeting of your local Reform group!
The point here is that discussion has not ended, but the C of E has decided its position and drawn a line under anyt possibility of further change.
I think that is what will happen on this issue.
I entirely agree that is what will happen on this issue Ian. The C of E will preserve both integrities. It simply will not be able to do anything other, not matter how much you or I wish it would. I look forward to the debate about it and am glad we can both contribute.
The only argument you offer for why the C of E will ‘recognise both integrities’ is that this is somehow inevitable. It isn’t.
The ministry of women was recognised after careful and persuasive engagement with scripture and theology. The same has not happened with SSM and is not likely to, since the theological and hermeneutical arguments are so poor, as I keep pointing out.
It is telling that, whenever I post on this, there is little by way of response to the actual points made, but more often a comment that ‘change is inevitable.’
The problem Ian is that you don’t really make any new points. You just give particular interpretations of some scriptures, or try to say that reason and experience aren’t all that important. And I realise that you keep pointing out that the theologies that don’t agree with your are poor – but that has hardly been a convincing argument.
It is inevitable because it has already happened, unofficially. That is one difference with the ordination of women. We didn’t have any women priests or bishops until it happened. We do have clergy is same sex relationships.
It is also inevitable because once evangelicals (among whom I count Steve Chalke) begin to see this as a matter for development, then things will develop.
Andrew, you obviously don’t get it when you say of Ian’s arguments that “… The problem Ian is that you don’t really make any new points.” … because Ian doesn’t need to. The arguments he has offered are clear ones. God changes us and so experience and feelings that you refer to are NOT evidence but are merely transitory. It is you, Andrew, that needs to come up with substantially better arguments because so far your arguments have failed.
If the CoE unequivocal condemns homosexuality in 2050, there’s no way it’ll remain the state church of England. If a majority of English Anglicans believe it’s the piece of staying true to the gospel, they’ll pay it; but in that case, have you given much thought to the practicalities of disestablishment?
Or d’you believe that there’s a realistic prospect of Western society backtracking on equality, repealing equal marriage, and coming once again to condemn gay relationships?
Surely James, it is essential that the Church remains a Church much more than whether it is an instrument of State. To be a Church it has to be Christian. By definition it has to fully believe in Jesus Christ and it must believe in the Scriptures in the same way that Jesus Christ believes in the Scriptures. That is hard. However to twist and distort what Jesus says or to twist and distort the meaning of Scripture is the point at which it ceases to be Church and a new word will have to be found for the empty husk that remains.
Steve Chalke, by contrast is quoted as saying that “… when Chalke has explicitly said that he rejects much of the Old Testament, and some New Testament texts …” and therefore he has walked away for the belief in Scripture that Jesus Christ has.
Yes Clive, I see why the majority of evangelicals are set against any change, and are likely to remain so; which is why I’d like to know how it’s proposed that the CoE go forward from here.
Only way I can see is the church splitting: can’t see the patience of other groups, whether Anglo-Catholic, liberal, or even moderate, lasting to anything like 2050. In their eyes, endorsing the current teaching, even by inaction, will fast become the moral equivalent of discrimination on the grounds of race or sex; for many, it already is.
That being so, surely it’s time to start looking at the practicalities of splitting, from real estate, to finances. Crucial is to avoid a cluster like ACNA splitting from TEC, and the ensuing lawsuits. If a way can be found to divide the CoE amicably, it’d be a powerful witness, and would salvage at least something from this trainwreck.
Conflating all non-“Evangelical” groups with being those who wish to distort and twist the meaning of Jesus Christ’s work is completely untrue. The vast majority wish to carry on being Christian.
Clive, I’m happy to make clear that Christians from a range of theological positions take a traditional position on sexuality.
This is beside the main point: how does the CoE go forward?
James, I am not sure many people are proposing that ‘The C of E condemns homosexuality’. I am not.
What I am proposing is that the C of E stays with its historic understanding that marriage is between one man and one woman, and that both the ‘one’ and the sex difference are not amended.
That decision does not depend on what society does. But movements in society don’t continue in the same direction for ever.
Ian, if you believe that homosexuality’s sinful (the inescapable outcome of the traditional understanding), then why is “condemn” inappropriate?
In any case, accepting, arguendo, that it is, whatever disapproval is called, it’s there, and isn’t tenable for a state church, unless society does reverse course on gay rights. Assuming that it doesn’t (at least before 2050), how d’you see the CofE adapting?
I don’t believe that ‘homosexuality is sinful’. In fact, I have yet to find a good definition of what ‘homosexuality’ actually is.
I think Scripture says two things: that same-sex sexual activity is sinful, and that marriage is between one man and one woman. That is currently the Church of England’s official position, and there have been no sufficiently substantial theological arguments to change this.
The ‘state’ nature of a ‘state church’ is to have the opportunity for the church to share the gospel with the whole nation. There is no doubt at all in my mind that the majority of the population do not believe Jesus rose bodily from the dead, or that repentance and forgiveness are pre-requisites for salvation.
So is the C of E going to change its view on that?
James, like Ian I do NOT believe that the Church condemns homosexuality. Nor do I believe that people have to affirm every whimsical idea that LGBT people invent in order show a pretence on non-confrontation.
Ian, by homosexuality, I simply mean sexual activity between people of the same sex: the CoE itself uses the word in its Higton motion (“homosexual genital acts”).
As for the wider theological implications of establishment, you’re right, but these don’t tend to raise the same passions as gay rights. In a pluralist society that espouses religious equality as a core value, there’d be good arguments for secularism regardless, but the church’s position of sexuality presses the issue.
Btw, it is worth reflecting on what is happening in the Church in Wales and in New Zealand. Hints that there might be change, but then none actually materialising appears to infuriate the ‘change’ lobby and is denounced as homophobic.
From the article:
“How will Chalke respond to people in consensual abusive relationships? The success of Fifty Shades of Grey demonstrates that this is hardly a minority interest. You might disapprove of this behaviour, but how do you make people who are committed to this feel ‘welcomed, embraced, included and affirmed?’ Do you need to resort to ‘hating the sin, loving the sinner?’ ”
And if you resort to ‘hating the sin, loving the sinner’ in the case of other sexual preferences than straight-forward same-sex monogamy, why is it hateful when applied to gays?
The whole thing is full of holes and inconsistency.
Again from the article:
“I want to reject any violence or unfair discrimination on the grounds of sexuality, but without thereby saying I affirm all expressions of sexuality. In a context where affirmation of the person has been collapsed into approval of actions, it is difficult to find any public space to do the first without communicating the second.”
But Ian, the problem here is that those who define the new orthodoxy on sexual matters have ruled that any hesitation to affirm all expressions of sexuality is unfair discrimination and enables those who would commit violence. Thus it is, in their view, contradictory to say you reject unfair discrimination while at the same time withholding affirmation.
“Chalke told me himself…that my attitude was ‘hateful to gay people’ “. – it sounds as if Chalke thinks that God’s attitude to Ananias and Sapphira was also ‘hateful’
I have just been reading this:
‘ “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the Lord loves he chastens
and scourges every son whom He receives.”
If you endure chastening
God deals with you as He deals with sons;
for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?
But if you are without chastening,
of which we have all become partakers,
then you are illegitimate and not sons.’
And on the subject of ‘radical inclusion’ – for a variety of reasons people are excluded, often temporarily, in all areas of life. I have just thought of one instance of this: several years ago a man was asked by a leader at our church to leave a service because the man kept shouting out abusive comments during the sermon. This man was escorted to a another area in the church and offered pastoral support. Personally I was relieved that this man was asked to leave because he had been sitting behind me and had pulled my hair several times during the service.
I am not surprised Steve Chalke has ended up here given his underlying departure from the Christian tradition on what Scripture is – http://www.christiantoday.com/article/has.steve.chalke.fallen.for.the.oldest.trick.in.the.book/36138.htm
David, thanks for your link to your article in CT. I made similar observations about Steve’s position in earlier blog posts.
It saddens me that Steve Chalke now thinks he can pick and choose his verses from the Bible. I remember the amazing time my son had in his Bible story class at New Wine in the 1990s – he really had a talent for bringing the bible to life. As Jesus said: “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world if he loses his life”. I was also shocked that he referred to “his church” – is he now the Messiah?
If you have been to New Wine recently you will realise that things are not all well. The kids aactivities especially for the younger ones are still lovelly.
The rest resembles mostly new age festival and worship. Still popular but rather sad at the direction now being travelled.
We will not be taking our family again
We gave up going in the early 2000’s as we considered that the worship events and songs had become as you describe. Yes,yes, yes Lord is one my particularly detested songs. I actually had to walk out on one occasion infuriated by the thought that all the “yes’ had no biblical reference point or understanding of our sinful nature which tomorrow would be saying no.
I think we all need to spend some time in the Prayer Book and return to basics – coming before God with a humble and contrite heart.
I hear much about the high suicide rate of young gay men, and it always seems to be related to “homophobic” bullying. Has any research been done into whether some at least, are suicidal because they do not want to be gay in the first place? If so, is that not a good reason for groups like Core to at least try to help them explore the reasons behind this and see if they can help? It does not seem fair that help is available for people who want to be gay, yet not for people who don’t. I have read stories of people who have been able to resume a normal heterosexual life after such help.
I think the bishop of Southwark is right (Ian has quoted him elsewhere in the comments), when he says that change to the church’s teaching/canon law is unlikely in the short or medium term (30 years or so). This will inevitably mean more pressure from society, of course it will, but rather than succumb to public pressure I think that this ongoing and many-sided debate (a debate not unique to the CofE, lest we forget it) is actually demonstrating, and quite effectively too, both the resolve and capability of the church to stand firm to it’s teaching, while also being willing to reflect on and debate that teaching in the context of continuing social change.
Therefore it is no surprise that Steve (as others have done) is “taking matters into his own hands” as it were, and choosing to indirectly apply pressure on the church by acting as if a true consensus had already happened. I find this so frustrating because on so many other things (child trafficking/gang culture for instance) I think Steve Chalke is at the forefront of a battle we should all be fighting and I want to talk positively about Oasis and the work it does without having to add what many would see as a homophobic caveat; “I agree with and support Oasis, with the exception of……”.
What I respect most about “Living Out” is they are willing and able to engage with the issues, fight their cause and legitimately make a case for revision, but all the time recognizing that it must be within a context of current obedience to established practice. They are not willing to let the issue go, but neither are they willing to pre-empt it. This is what good disagreement looks like.
I wanted to add a question as well as a comment Ian. You said…
“men are inherently more inclined to promiscuity than women, and this effect is heightened in the context of male same-sex couples.”
I don’t disagree with the point you’re making, but what would say to those who increasingly would argue over use of the word “inherently” here? What do you mean by it? Are males more disposed to promiscuity than females because of something genetic, and how does this interact/effect the role of social conditioning, if indeed it does? To what degree would you separate or combine the two?
I ask because I know people who would argue strongly that the reason this pattern can be observed is not because it is innate behavior tied to genetics, but because it is conformity (often unconsciously) to societal expectations and hence the word “inherent” is misleading.
Well, first observation is that this is a cultural universal, so the idea that it is tied to particular social expectations is implausible.
Secondly, I think it fascinating that, when there is so much about evolution floating around, and often used as an explanation for how so much of the world is, it seems remarkable that people discount the idea that millions of years of evolution hasn’t left its mark on human behaviour.
I think that this is deeply formed in the biology of men, and it is connected with everything from differences in body, brain and hormones.
Does that answer your question?
It’s hardly an argument against lesbianism though.
Is there any argument against lesbianism? What is the problem?
Well there’s a reading of Romans 1.26b as referring to lesbianism, though it may (more likely?) refer to women being transgressive by, for example, being on top during heterosexual intercourse, and thus subverting their (inferior) gender role. If it does refer to women having sex with women it cannot, as other texts may do, refer to anal intercourse. It would also be the only mention in the whole of scripture (not to mention other, rhetorical readings of Romans 1 which see this passage as the voice of one of Paul’s opponents). And the later rabbis weren’t too worried about it – except that you couldn’t marry a priest if you had indulged in it. Is this a blessing or a curse?
Except that, by the first century, the phrase from Lev 18.22 mishkav zachar, was taken to mean any same-sex sexual relationship.
Your comment about Romans 1 is based on a couple of fallacies, the first being that ‘nature’ refers to an individual, rather than the created order, and the second that Paul’s prohibitions flow from his belief in women’s inferiority.
Neither have support from the text.
According to Paul and, perhaps, any 1st C male in the ANE (Greek or Jew) the created order would have decreed that the woman was inferior and should not usurp a male role – in the bedroom or anywhere else. Jesus and Paul subverted this – to some extent.
I’m quite surprised that you see both Paul and Jesus as trapped in their culture and unable to transcend it…quite against the evidence of the texts of the NT.
If what you say were true, Paul could never have written:
‘the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife’
Nor could he have written:
‘woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman’
Nor could he have argued that women as much as men are given gifts by the Spirit, nor called women deacons, leaders and apostles.
It is very striking that none of the texts in Paul relating to same-sex relations are at all connected to his comments he makes about male-female relations.
I didn’t say Jesus and Paul were trapped by their culture. I said that they, sometimes, subverted it. But not always.
You said ‘According to Paul and, perhaps, any 1st C male in the ANE (Greek or Jew) the created order would have decreed that the woman was inferior and should not usurp a male role.’
I don’t think the texts support that.
Some texts do Ian, 1 Cor, 11.3, 7-10 (for example).
Ian, you say:
“Except that, by the first century, the phrase from Lev 18.22 mishkav zachar, was taken to mean any same-sex sexual relationship.”
I would be genuinely interested in your sources for that, as other scholars argue that the Rabbinic literature treats female same-sex relationships differently from male same-sex relationships.
Yes, it does answer my question, but the question wasn’t really mine. It was more an attempt to pre-empt some questions that might well be raised (if not already) as this debate rolls onward, about the nature (or ‘source’ if you prefer) of sexual behavior.
“…Deeply formed…” is a nice ambiguity, but I don’t think it gets to the ‘black-and-white’ core of what will increasingly, I feel, be a semantic battleground, hence my choice to ask you a question about specific wording rather than the far more blunt; Is homosexuality an innate/inherent, or even genetic disposition?
This is another sad milestone on the road to perdition. I have watched the demise of a local 5 site mega church which in less than a year has shrunk by 2/3 and is down to a single location. While we see much hand-wringing over same sex marriage but what of the 2/3 of the congregation forced out of the church to make way forvgay marriage? What pastoral care plans are in place for these newly disenfranchised church members? Do we need a new Stephen Care ministry? Perhaps a new outreach “No Heterosexual Left Behind”? Or perhaps HLM – Heterosexual Lives Matter, unless they refuse to bake a gay wedding cake, then they should have all assets seized, business closed and owners jailed? Oh what a wicked web we weave when first we practice to deceive…ourselves.
What is your context Ray? I am not sure this decline is quite matched by anything here, and Chalke’s church is (to my knowledge) flourishing.
(Mind you, any gay-friendly venue in London isn’t going to be short of visitors…!)
I think an intriguing thing would be to compare the suicide rate in straight people too. I wouldn’t be surprised if the rate of suicide among all men around 25 is six times higher than all men over the age of 45 and falls by 50% if in a loving monogamous relationship. But if that is the case (i.e. the comparable statistics are the same) I’m not sure what force the research has at all. But certainly none to warrant the huge leap that is made because of it.
I’m sure an Assistant Professor might have time to research the answer (sadly I don’t, but would love to hear if you do find the answer).
Adrian, thanks, that is a really interesting question. I haven’t looked at the methodology of the research, but I think you are right that it needs to be done.
The church was profiled in Christianity Today- Eastlake Church in Seattle Washington, USA with Pastor Ryan Meeks. When Ryan expressed full support for both gay marriage and the LGBTQ community, he lost 2/3 of his congregation. There is no shortage of gay friendly churches, but running over the an evangelical church with the gay marriage lawn mower is always going to be ugly. Maybe there will emerge at gay church planters union but what Ryan did was inexcusable.
I cannot help thinking that Chalke has timed this announcement to coincide with the Baptist Assembly (that is shortly to open later his month )in order to put pressure on the Baptist Council. It’s an astute political move on his part.
If the Baptist Union condones in any shape or form SSM among its churches and accredited ministers then it will drive a wedge through the Baptist movement that will see it either breaking up or severely diminished. If you consider SSM to be sin then there cannot be ‘good disagreement’. It will cause the Baptist’s much vaunted ‘Declaration of Principle ‘to be stretched to the point where it is very likely to snap.
Chris, that’s an interesting observation and I think you are right. Either Steve or his advisors are canny political operators…ruthless even.
If Steve Chalke wanted to apply pressure, he would have done it before Baptist Council, not Baptist Assembly.
The Declaration of Principle affirms the right of each Baptist church to decide this issue as it believes led by God. Some Baptist churches have already registered for same-sex marriages (Oasis will not be the first).
Trying to tell a Baptist church what they must do really would be against Baptist principles. That is also, incidentally, why Steve Chalke is not being disobedient – it is up to each individual Church Meeting.
Ian, calling opponents ‘ruthless’ is a cheap shot.
Not so. He is being disobedient. The rules for minsterial conduct state that:
5.1.2 Homosexual orientation (whether male or female) is not of itself a reason for exclusion from the Ministry, but homosexual genital practice is to be regarded as conduct unbecoming.
Chalke hinself may not be engaging in homosexual gential practice but by facilitating SSM in his church and being prepared to conduct SSM services he is condoning it and that is de facto conduct unbecoming.
Chris, you are wrong. Please feel free to check with the Ministries team at Baptist Union headquarters in Didcot if you wish to confirm this. It is not conduct unbecoming to register a church for same-sex marriage, or to conduct such a marriage in accordance with the wish of the church meeting.
The situation is simple. Baptist ministers may not themselves be in same-sex sexual relationships (and hence cannot enter a same-sex marriage themselves).
However, Baptist ministers are at complete liberty to:
a) argue for same-sex marriage
b) if the church meeting has so agreed, to register a church for same-sex weddings
c) if the church meeting has so agreed, to conduct same-sex weddings.
I repeat, to talk of Steve Chalke as being disobedient (whether or not you agree with him) is simply wrong.
My apologies Jonathan you are technically correct. I would say however ,that his actions have gone against the general consensus among churches in the Union and is likely to test the Declaration of Principle as an instrument of unity to breaking point. The BU could well see a deep and damaging split over this issue.
Ian thank you for another excellent post. I can’t keep up with your output!
Several things occur to me.
One, I think the sexuality problem in our society is a heterosexual one. Sex as a leisure activity is the norm. Sex before marriage is the norm. I have never heard a sermon against these things – which are contrary to Christian teaching.
I have heard many sermons against homosexuality in evangelical Anglican and Pentecostalist churches.
So, if breaking Christian teaching for heterosexuals is hardly challenged by the churches is it any surprise that gay people don’t adhere to Christian teaching? I have no idea and it is way beyond my experience to know if it is true that gay men are less faithful than opposite sex couples, but it strikes me as a bit rich to say to gay people “you can’t get married’ and then criticise them, for not adhering to the standards of marriage !
Richard, thanks for your encouragement! I would agree with you that hetersexual practice is the problem. I have heard—and given—teaching on this, and evangelical churches do more often than others…though are then accused of being ‘obsessed’ with sex!
But the ethic situation is rather different. If you believe that sex before marriage is wrong, but that marriage is right, then the former is remedied by the latter. So if an unmarried other-sex couple who are living together come to be married, you would encourage this.
But *if* you believe that same-sex sex is wrong, then it cannot be remedied in the same way along a trajectory. So the two situations are not parallel ethically and pastorally.
I am not hear arguing for this view: I am just pointing out the differences.
Just sent a comment. But want to add:
My belief is that Christian sacraments bear fruit in the lives of believers. One of the fruits of marriage is fidelity, same sex couples need to be offered the sacrament of marriage so that they may bear the fruit of fidelity within the Christian community.
And finally, surely sacraments are not the reward for good behaviour but the means to attain it. If some gay men (in your view) find it hard to be faithful they, surely, are most in need of the sacrament of marriage?
First, I would remind you that marriage is not a ‘sacrament’ in the C of E! But, taking this line of reasoning, sacraments are a means of grace *not* because they create the desired virtues, but because they recognise and confirm the virtue that is being expressed, in this sense. I don’t baptise someone in order to create a sense of faith in them; baptism is an outward sign of both the invitation of God *and* the response of faith already in the one being baptised. I offer people communion not to *make* them part of the body of Christ, but to express that inward reality in an outward and tangible way.
Likewise, in marriage (if you do want to treat it as sacrament), marriage does not bestow a holy estate upon people; it is the sign and the seal of the holy commitment that two people wish to make to one another. So it is a sign and seal of that holiness, not the thing which creates it. I cannot marriage an unfaithful or unloving couple and thing that I am thereby conferring grace upon them.
I agree that, if gay men are better in a stable, committed relationship, I should encourage that and support it and even make some provision for it. But that neither needs marriage to make it happen, nor does calling it ‘marriage’ thereby make it holy.
The Living Out ethos is an entirely valid position for those individuals who wish to commit to it. However, in the Church of England, we are not asking civil partnered or same-sex married people to adopt the Living Out ethos before they can become part of our church congregations (they are to be welcomed and not questioned on the nature of their relationships). Increasingly, as time goes on, Living Out people will find themselves fellowshipping alongside civil partnered and same-sex married people. This may or may not cause them any difficulties (that’s only for them to say) but if they are genuinely responding to God’s call to celibacy, they will surely find themselves equipped and supported.
All the Christian gay couples I know are committed to monogamy. As an evangelical, I’d like all of Nottingham’s gay people to become part of my church, to come to faith in Jesus and to find life in all its fullness for themselves (this may include a commitment to the Living Out position or it may include monogamous marriage to a same-sex partner – this is for them to work out in partnership with God).
I am not held responsible to God for the ‘sins’ of my neighbour – I am held accountable to God for how I represent Jesus. Can I ask why we are judging people who do not profess any Christian faith, who are not to be held to Christian standards and who don’t have the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit for daily living? Would gay people (not in faith) coming across this article, feel drawn to learn more about Christianity or would they shake the dust from their feet and walk away?
“We don’t judge non-Christians … so we shouldn’t discourage people from taking drugs”
“We don’t judge non-Christians … so we should be fine with them lying”
“We don’t judge non-Christians … so we will encourage them in self-harm if they feel so inclined”
“We don’t judge non-Christians … so we’re fine with corruption amongst them”
All of the above are obviously foolish. Yet if society is trending to condone something harmful or immoral (abortion, fornication, divorce, take your pick) and shame those who disagree, why is there a sudden need to say “God calls on you to repent (but not of that)”?
Ceasing to fornicate doesn’t make you right with God. But there are two issues with fornication: God hates it, and it’s bad for you and for society. And it does no good for us to say “As long as you’re not Christian, your sin won’t hurt you”. It will. It will hurt you in this life, and in the next. The grace of God both calls and enables us to be freed from sin, and this includes the sins that the world wants to indulge in and the sins that the world hates.
Now, if you are simply saying that “Not doing sin X” is a pre-requisite for being invited to hear the gospel, then I agree. But the Church is called to hate all sins, and inevitably that must include X.
Visitors to our churches must hear the message of hope and grace, not judgement alone. In the gospel accounts, Jesus frequently goes to the broken over the impressive. But the broken accept the gospel not because they are more deserving, but because they are more humble – it can be easier for the one with nothing to put it all under Jesus’ authority. But if those who hear the gospel know they are broken, and will not embrace the gospel unless we affirm X, perhaps the fundamental problem is that they want to love X more than God?
Andrew, the Gospel of Jesus releases us from the need to judge others (we know that we will all be judged by God through Jesus – this is no longer our problem). We are saved by grace and know forgiveness of sins – and as we are forgiven so we forgive others. St Paul states “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?” 1 Corinthians 5:12.
Someone may lie to me and I am to forgive them – actually forgive them for the first seventy times seven times that they lie to me. Hopefully by the time we have reached number 490, we will have developed the kind of relationship where this person feels they can tell me the truth.
When we judge someone we will inevitably fall prey to prejudiced, biased, only-knowing-half-the-facts judgementalism which becomes self-serving and God-dishonouring. Even worse, it could make that person feel that they are unloved by God and unwanted by the Church – here we start serving the Devil’s purposes, who wants nothing more than people walking away from Christianity.
Those of us who insist on being the Sin Police for all the people we know, for all the sins they commit, in all the days of their lives will find themselves run ragged with exhaustion – human beings, as noted by someone above, are notorious repeat offenders.
But we’re not talking about judging those outside the church. If you can quote St. Paul in one part of his letter to the Corinthians, why not this passage below too?
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this?
Discipline does not preclude forgiveness.
But Jane, the Living Out position is not ‘this is what we choose for ourselves’ but ‘This is what we believe God calls all Christian to follow.’
If you think that position is fine and you agree with it, I am delighted.
Ian, the Living Out website seems to feature particular people who hold a particular viewpoint but for themselves only – I really don’t think that the Living Out view is that everyone is obliged to hold this view ( and especially if you happen to be gay and in a same-sex relationship). It is no problem to me if people hold this view – for themselves. If on the strength of this view they attempt to micro-manage the lives, beliefs and discipleship of other people, I would have a problem.
Ah Andrew, – he problem is that people like Jane above do not think that SSM is sinful. One has to decide whether you think it is sin or not. That is why there cannot be ‘good disagreement” between the two parties.
Chris that argument just doesn’t work in the C of E. The C of E ordains women even though some people say that is an ontological impossibility. We have now achieved good disagreement on that issue despite seemingly intractable opposing views. There will be good disagreement on this issue in the same way. That is what the Archbishop is working towards.
The idea that ‘what is sinful’ doesn’t work in the C of E is bizarre. What on earth do you do in your Sunday services?
This is not what the ABC is working towards…though if he were that doesn’t determine the position of the C of E. Archbishops, like Councils, do err from time to time.
It would be helpful if you actually engaged with what I put rather than with what you think I put Ian.
Of course ‘what is sinful’ works. The point is that not everyone believes same sex activity is sinful, just as huge numbers of Roman Catholic men and women do not believe using artificial means of contraception is sinful – and so they use it without resorting to the confessional.
What you can’t logically say, as Chris was trying to, is that there can’t, logically, be good disagreement between those who think one thing is a sin and those who think another on these matters. It makes no sense.
This has been a very helpful thread to read. Thank you for all the thoughtful contributions. I’m a bit concerned at some over simplification of Steve Chalke’s Approach to Scripture but it’s not for me to address that. The mental health research lacks some context and it would be good to dig into that a bit more. There is probably quite a lot to consider about change and process. It’s an unavoidable fact that personality and leadership style will contribute different and important elements to the character of this conversation.My hope is that both the impatient radical and the reflective conservative will be able to keep talking together, listening carefully to one another. When the almost immovable traditionalist feels able to join the conversation, then we may hope to travel well together. We are going to need a lot of grace.
Thanks Bernadette for your comments. I think, though, I would resist the idea that the C of E can continue in the current ‘limbo’. At some point a line will need to be drawn under the debate. There are other, more important, things to focus on.
“There are other, more important, things to focus on”
Absolutely so. Do you think if no agreement was reached that a line would ever be drawn under the debate? Of course not. Good disagreement will have to be reached in the way it has been for women’s ministry simply because we can’t carry on in the current limbo.
Again, I don’t see why it is inevitable just because it is inevitable.
I think you are wrong Ian (and the Bishop of Southwark) that it will take 30 years, though by saying this you are admitting that the Church’s ‘teaching’ will change. In fact, the Church has, largely, already changed. The analogy would be the Roman Catholic Church, where the majority of practising Catholics ignore their Church’s ‘teaching’ and use artificial contraception. Some day, the ‘official’ Church will catch up with them. Ditto women priest/deacons – a change which might be being considered currently and which mainly Catholics suport. The Holy Spirit does not confine herself to magisteriums, Houses of Bishops of Synods.
Perhaps not. But the Spirit is part of the godhead, and ‘with him there is no shadow of turning’ or self-contradiction. When we think the Spirit says the opposite of the Spirit-breathed Scriptures, we have a problem.
I love your characteristic use of language. ‘When you say it won’t change for 30 years, you are saying it will change.’ No, I am saying it won’t change for 30 years.
When you make words mean the opposite of what they say, no wonder there is a problem making sense of Scripture!
Scriptures can easily be spirit breathed for a particular time and context. There is nothing contradictory in that.
Andrew, if you really merely believe that Scripture is only for “… a particular time and context…” then why read it and preach on it at all. The foundation of the Church of England includes Scripture and says that we are not allowed to act contrary to Scripture. Therefore Scripture, as Jesus Christ believes in it and uses it, really does have meaning for all time and Ian is correct when he says that “… When we think the Spirit says the opposite of the Spirit-breathed Scriptures, we have a problem…”
“Andrew, if you really merely believe that Scripture is only for “… a particular time and context…” then why read it and preach on it at all. The foundation of the Church of England includes Scripture and says that we are not allowed to act contrary to Scripture. ”
Clive: we read it and preach on it to help us understand what people believed then – which influenced what they wrote. But our understanding is different, so scripture has to be applied differently. This is just basic stuff.
What are you referring to when you say that the foundation of the C of E says ‘we are not allowed to act contrary to scripture’?
‘we read it and preach on it to help us understand what people believed then – which influenced what they wrote. But our understanding is different, so scripture has to be applied differently.’
No, this is not ‘just basic stuff.’ This is radical liberal stuff, and it is not supported by the formularies of the Church of England.
Ian you wrote: “No, this is not ‘just basic stuff.’ This is radical liberal stuff, and it is not supported by the formularies of the Church of England.”
The question “what did they believe then that made them express things in the way that they did?” has been one of the very basic theological questions around for fifty years or more, explored of course in ‘Honest to God’ and other volumes. I was taught to ask it during A level religious studies in the 1970s, and at three world class University theology departments since – Birmingham, Oxford and Exeter. It is absolutely basic.
Please do explain where it is not supported by your interpretation of the formularies of the Church of England.
‘But our understanding is different, so scripture has to be applied differently.’
So, despite the widespread acceptance of Moses’ permission for divorce, why did Jesus hark back to Genesis and insist that it implied that God’s will for lifelong marital permanence was unrevoked?
Consider the significant harm such doctrinaire views, as espoused by John the Baptist and Christ, inflicted on hapless Herodias> Married off at such a tender age to Herod Philip, only to be denounced for the Levitical violation triggered by the one genuine choice she made by divorcing him (with Rome’s blessing) to marry Antipas.
Why did Christ not apply scripture in a way which was consonant with His contemporaries’ far more permissive difference in understanding? Or abandon all such prohibitive inferences from the Genesis narrative?
Your approach just generates more contradictions with Christ’s own recorded approach to scripture.
I don’t have a problem because I don’t think the Spirit is saying anything which opposes scripture. We have been able – through the guidance of the Spirit – to read texts afresh in the light of the gospel, so that the church has changed its mind on, for example, slavery and the role of women; as it changed its mind on the admission of gentiles (despite what the texts seemed to say).
And I think your second point is mere semantics. There is a difference between: ‘the Vatican won’t change for 30 years’ and ‘the Vatican won’t change’.
sorry “many Catholics support”
To go back to the issue of societal views if the current rise of interest in, and adherence to, Islam continues the climate by 2050 could be quite different.
one quick thing: a couple of days back you wrote, “Except that, by the first century, the phrase from Lev 18.22 mishkav zachar, was taken to mean any same-sex sexual relationship”.
But that phrase doesn’t appear in Lev 18:22 which, transliterated, runs:
ve’et zakhar lo tishkav mishkevei ishah toevah hi [and with a male you shall not lie the lyings of a woman; it is abhorrent] (Sources here: Rabbi Steven Greenberg and Gareth Moore OP).
Secondly, what evidence is there that this was taken to prohibit any same-sex sexual relationship?
in friendship, Blair
Ian Paul, I wonder if you might please clarify why you quote this research about infidelity in male same-sex couples at length? I understand that you’re responding to Steve Chalke’s reference to this research, but you also seem to dismiss its relevance to church teaching. Are you saying that the church needs to respond to this aspect of culture in a particular way? I ask out of genuine interest, as I’m not entirely understanding how you’re linking the statistics to the response.
With thanks, D.
Thanks David. The reason for mentioning it is threefold. First, quite a lot of the discussions that I get involved with move quickly into the question of ‘harm’: does the Church’s teaching cause harm to gay people, and if so, is it defensible? I think this is an important question, but taken on face value assumes a kind of consequentialist ethic which raises lots of other questions.
However, I still think that any pastorally responsible theological ethic needs to take seriously the question Steve is raising here (which is point two). But point three is that this research needs some exploration. As is often the case with such studies, there likely many assumptions made, and the simple conclusion Steve Chalke draws is not the only way to respond. I think (on the research itself) more work needs to be done.
Ian, how is it in question whether the church’s traditional teaching causes harm? As you know, there’s a vast amount of testimony from LGBT people that it does: testimony that’s specific and convincing.
Rather, the issue is whether the harm caused is justifiable.
Thank you, Ian, for your response. I agree with you, and I agree with James also. I don’t hear the people in Living Out describing celibacy or abstinence as a painless process. For those of us who think any decision the church makes cannot be purely (or even primarily) consequentialist, the question becomes whether or not same-sex marriage represents a fundamental departure from marriage in scripture and in tradition. And yet, the consequences of any decision the church makes cannot be overlooked, as everyone seems to hold that marriage has purpose.
I’ve had a lot of conversations over the past year with people opposed to SSM, and it seems that most see the purposes of marriage as profoundly related to gender. This is where I depart. And from what I’ve seen Steve Chalke write elsewhere, I understand that he too wishes to uphold a conservative view of marriage – except that he doesn’t see gender as falling outside those boundaries. I understand this is a position you and many who follow your blog disagree with. But this is my point: the issue keeps coming back to the question of whether or not Christian marriage has a “gendered” purpose.
Yes I think you are right. And the reason that I believe marriage should be sex differentiated (sexed rather than ‘gendered’) is because always and everywhere that is how scripture characterises it. In fact, in the Genesis accounts, specifically emphasised by Jesus in his teaching on marriage, sex differentiation is offered as *the* reason for the existence of marriage. ‘For this reason…’ What reason? Because the (in some sense) unitary adam has been sex differentiated into ish (man) and ishshah (woman) ‘…a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined [once again] with his wife.’
To reduce this emphasis to companionship, kinship, or covenant friendship is special pleading. The shape of the narrative, indeed its climax (if you will excuse the pun) is this reunion of what God had divided in sex differentiation.
Well, it seems pretty absurd to me to use the term “special pleading” in not seeing “sex differentiation” as “*the* reason” for marriage.
The BCP would clearly be special pleading as Cramner came down clearly on the side of the Reformation debates which saw procreation as the first ordinance for marriage (see the marriage service). Applying your hermeneutical lens to the biblical texts would seem to bear ou Cramner’s view which contradicts yours. In Gen. 1:26 and 28 we see that the reason given for the creation of male and female is subjugation of the earth [stewardship, if you want], in imitation of the heavenly beings, which is to be achieved by their fecundity. The woman in Gen. 2:15-24 is given to the man as a helper in his naming of the creatures and plants which – as I’m sure you know – represents subjugation of the earth in ancient Near Eastern (and biblical) depictions of royalty / proto-royalty (the man and woman being the latter). From Gen. 1:26-28, we can see that this domination is achieved by procreation. Interesting then, I think, that Jesus’ discussions of divorce in both Matthew and Mark are immediately followed by expressions of the importance of children. So, with the churches failure to condemn contraception, or couples choosing not to have children – or, indeed, the optional removal of the references to ‘fruitfulness’ some centuries ago (an *acknowledgement* that some particular couples which the church chooses to marry are *specifically* identified as unable to reproduce) – well a lot of “special pleading” there, eh?
Let’s add to this that Jesus raises both the point in both passages *specifically* in order to challenge divorce. Laying aside the flat contradiction between Mark’s unconditional condemnation and Matthew’s exception for “porneia,” we can still be clear that the CofE breaks this fundamental tenet of marriage according to Jesus in the Gospels, by permitting the remarriage of divorcees in much broader circumstances than even Matthew allows. Special pleading much?
So how many different points does one plead, before the pleading is no longer special?
How many theologians and documents of the church can you name before the twentieth century which say that sexual differentiation is the primary reason for the existence of marriage? Surely the mass of Christianity for the best part of two millenia wasn’t special pleading?
Where does one begin to address your gross distortion.
God said: ‘It’s not good that man should be alone’. Yet, your thesis that ‘the reason given for creation of male and female was subjugation of the earth’ suggest that the scripture implies God’s purpose in remedying aloneness and providing a ‘help meet for him’ was the good of subjugating the earth.
Well, this notion is simply false. ‘For this cause’ follows straight on from Adam’s fulfilment in calling God’s female creation ‘flesh of my flesh and bone of my bones’
‘For this cause’ presents the reunion through marriage of what was differentiated by divine design as the impetus for leaving the descent group to form a new nucleus of kinship. It is kinship under divine impetus.
We probably agree on Christ’s induction of God’s will for marital permanence and monogamy from the Genesis archetype, only for you to abandon the one other induction of God’s will for marriage. That’s a special pleading!
“Surely the mass of Christianity for the best part of two millenia wasn’t special pleading?’
Agreed. So, let’s concur with ‘the mass of Christianity for the best part of two millennia’, which viewed sexual differentiation as the divinely instigated impetus for marriage.
It’s Christ who makes the inductive link, declaring that the Genesis account of marriage’s divine impetus which evoked Adam’s response is evidence of God’s will for marriage (lifelong permanence). He gives this precedence over Moses’ later permission for divorce, which was a provisional measure to accommodate human intransigence.
What you haven’t explained is why the only moral induction from the creation narrative, which your theology of marriage entertains, is God’s will for permanence and monogamy.
As evidenced by his preaching in Lystra and in Athens, St. Paul’s consistently commences the proclamation of the gospel to the Gentiles by declaring what is self-evident from the creation of the world: God’s transcendent goodness in ordering the created world for our good.
In Romans, St. Paul explains the progression of God’s judgement on those who do not respond with appropriate gratitude for what can be self-evidently induced about God’s supreme goodness in His ordering of the ‘creation of the world’.
We should remember that St. Paul classifies covetousness as idolatry. Idolatry is simply undue servility towards the created things. Modern society has also ‘worshipped and served the creature more than the creator, who is blessed forever’. The ancient heathens merely objectified that servility by carving statues to represent and placate the causes of their material hopes and fears.
Modern consumerist society still has a servile dependence on created things, as evidenced by its unbridled obsession with material, cultural and technological novelty.
God’s response, as described by Paul, is a principle of justice: handing over those who abandon the God-given insight about His nature (as derived from the created order) to the custody of their desires to do as they please. The concomitant behaviour mirrors their ingratitude for what was the pursuit of desires, even rejecting what is *equally* self-evident of sexual purpose.
This means that the argument which rejects the induction that sexual purpose is self-evident from the created order is consistent with the argument that rejects the induction that God’s transcendent attributes are self-evident from the created order. According to the apostolic account, both incur God’s rejection.
I prefer James Byron’s honesty in declaring the biblical position to be wrong. But, no amount of adept theological footwork can change the induction derived from scripture which links the creation narrative to both God’s will for marriage and to God’s opposition of sexual conduct which contradicts what can also be induced from the creation narrative.
David S.: ‘“Surely the mass of Christianity for the best part of two millenia wasn’t special pleading?’
“Agreed. So, let’s concur with ‘the mass of Christianity for the best part of two millennia’, which viewed sexual differentiation as the divinely instigated impetus for marriage.'”
Fascinating. You’ve re-stated as though it’s a fact that the mass of Christianity for the best part of two millennia has agreed that marriage results from sexual differentiation. And yet, once again, neither you nor Ian can rise to my challenge and name even ONE SINGLE EXAMPLE of a theological text or document of the church before the twentieth century which states this. Not a single one; let alone evidence that this case was being made throughout two millennia.
The dominant view of the church – that is, the dominant interpretation of the Scriptures so far as I can see – is that marriage was ordained primarily for procreation. This was Augustine’s view, this was St Thomas Aquinas’ view, and this was the adopted clearly and explicitly into the Anglican formularies. Yet *I* am accused of revisionism, while you promote this doctrine which you cannot support from any pre-twentieth century text except your own modern reading of Jesus’ statements in the Gospels! And you and Ian, who spend so much time arguing that people like Jeremy Pemberton should be disciplined for apparently disobeying the doctrine of the church, are now insisting that your special doctrine of marriage which flies in the face of the explicit teachings of the Prayer Book is right, and that everyone else has been guilty of special pleading. If you want to defend the doctrine of the primary ordinance of marriage (the actual doctrine of the church), why don’t you go ahead and defend marriage as chiefly ordained for the purpose of procreation? Why don’t you condemn all those couples who have married in the CofE over the centuries with the ‘prayers for fruitfulness’ omitted? Why don’t you spend this time criticising married couples who have decided not to have children and who use contraception to make this so?
So, let’s debate Augustine. He wrote:
‘Forasmuch as each man is a part of the human race, and human nature is something social, and has for a great and natural good, the power also of friendship; on this account God willed to create all men out of one, in order that they might be held in their society not only by likeness of kind, but also by bond of kindred. Therefore the first natural bond of human society is man and wife.’
‘Nor did God create these each by himself, and join them together as alien by birth: but He created the one out of the other, setting a sign also of the power of the union in the side, whence she was drawn, was formed. For they are joined one to another side by side, who walk together, and look together whither they walk.’
‘Then follows the connection of fellowship in children, which is the one alone worthy fruit, not of the union of male and female, but of the sexual intercourse. For it were possible that there should exist in either sex, even without such intercourse, a certain friendly and true union of the one ruling, and the other obeying.’
So, Augustine distinguishes the marital union which forms the first natural bond of kindred (which I called kinship) from the subsequent ‘connection of fellowship in children’, which he viewed as the ‘fruit of the sexual intercourse’, rather than the fruit of ‘union of male and female’.
He surmised that, absent the Fall, God might have granted some means other than intercourse for man to increase and multiply, or meant it as a spiritual figure: ‘whereby it is said, Increase, and be ye multiplied, be understood to be by advance of mind, and abundance of virtue, as it is set in the Psalm, You shall multiply me in my soul by virtue;
Again, Augustine states of marriage: ‘there is good ground to inquire for what reason it be a good. And this seems not to me to be merely on account of the begetting of children, but also on account of the natural society itself in a difference of sex. Otherwise it would not any longer be called marriage in the case of old persons, especially if either they had lost sons, or had given birth to none. But now in good, although aged, marriage, albeit there has withered away the glow of full age between male and female, yet there lives in full vigour the order of charity between husband and wife’
So, St. Augustine’s discourse from Genesis sees the good of marriage as comprised of the begetting of children and the natural society itself in a difference of sex. Given that he readily accepted that a marriage might exist without begetting children, the latter good of natural society itself in a difference of sex
Maybe you can explain how a same-sex relationship can ever achieve the God-given marital good of what Augustine calls ‘the natural society in a difference of sex’, but I really can’t see see how Augustine advances your cause.
Oh, and Augustine (admittedly taking a dim view of unbridled lust in marriage, as does 1 Thess. 4:4 – 6) doesn’t condemn sex without procreative intent in marriage:
there are many matrons to whom she is to be preferred; who, although they are not adulteresses, yet force their husbands, for the most part also wishing to exercise continence, to pay the due of the flesh, not through desire of children, but through glow of lust making an intemperate use of their very right; in whose marriages, however, this very thing, that they are married, is a good.
For for this purpose are they married, that the lust being brought under a lawful bond, should not float at large without form and loose; having of itself weakness of flesh that cannot be curbed, but of marriage fellowship of faith that cannot be dissolved;
David S., [a bit short of time, I am quite indebted to Uta Ranke-Heinemann, “Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven” for most of the following references in Augustine, in which they are quoted in full:] the fact you can pull a few quotes from Augustine speaking about man-woman being part of the nature and ordinance of marriage, does not prove anything other than that Augustine saw procreation as the primary reason for marriage.
As your quotations themselves show – sexual masculinity and femininity had nothing to do with any kind of complimentary nature of man and woman (although elsewhere, in De Genersi ad Litteram 5.5-9, Augustine states that there could have been no purpose for which the woman could have been a helper to the man in Eden other than that of procreation – a passage Thomas Aquinas quotes and follows). Their desire for children would be ‘spiritual’ (De Bono Conjugali). For Augustine recognised a high ideal of marriage beyond the sexual, which was a more spiritual intellectual union – without sexual intercourse which was necessarily sinful even if it could be pardoned if conducted for the purpose of procreation rather than pleasure (see, for example, de Peccato Originali 42; de Nuptuis et Concupiscentia 1.14; Against Julian 4.29).
So when Ian says that sexual differentiation – rather than gender-differentiation – is “*the* reason” for marriage his views are quite opposite to those of Augustine, who would have considered sexual intercourse within marriage, conducted for the purpose of expressing sexual-differentiation, as not only inherently sinful, but also unpardoned by a primary will for procreation. Hence Augustine opposed the use of contraception, both by artificial means and by having intercourse only at points in the menstraul-cycle at which the wife cannot concieve (see The Morality of the Manicheans 18.65; Against Faustus 15.7; Marriage and Laciviousness 1.15, 17; The Adulterous Relations 2.12).
Further passages in which Augustine states that procreation is the primary purpose for marriage and marital sex, include Against Julian 5 and, of course, his long discussions of the matter in City of God. And the key point: the three goods of marriage in the CofE prayer books – which were formulated by Augustine and of which marriage is the primary good – were directly adopted into the CofE’s pray books. Procreation is seen as the chief good and purpose of marriage – this was responding to a well-documented 16th – 17th century debate as to whether the primacy of procreation should be retained.
I’m certainly no expert on Augustine myself – have studied Confessions (in Engish) in detail, and otherwise read a lot of secondary literature on his works. But it seems utterly absurd to me to suggest that Augustine thought anything other than that procreation was the highest purpose of marriage. Can you find any reputable scholar or theological interpreter of Augustine who thinks otherwise?
I still await a single Christian theological text or doctrine of the church from before the twentieth century which states that the Bible considers sexual-differentiation the primary purpose of marriage. I hope you will find at least one, and not too obscure. For given the liberality with which you and Ian like to call for people who deviate from the teachings of the church to be disciplined, it would be most tiresome to have to call for the disciplining of these Evangelicals making this new-fangled claim that sexual differentiation is the reason (or the primary reason) for marriage.
Ian stated: In fact, in the Genesis accounts, specifically emphasized by Jesus in his teaching on marriage, sex differentiation is offered as *the* reason for the existence of marriage.
You stated: ‘So when Ian says that sexual differentiation – rather than gender-differentiation – is “*the* reason” for marriage his views are quite opposite to those of Augustine, who would have considered sexual intercourse within marriage, conducted for the purpose of expressing sexual-differentiation, as not only inherently sinful, but also unpardoned by a primary will for procreation.
However, Ian didn’t state that sexual intercourse in marriage is conducted for the purpose of expressing sexual differentiation.
Instead, Ian stated, by referring to the Genesis verses so clearly juxtaposed by Christ, that sexual differentiation was reason for the *existence* of marriage: ‘“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh.
Reason is the factor which explains the existence of something. While that factor may be indispensable to it, it doesn’t make it the sole purpose of the same. Light is the reason for the existence of photosynthesis. Light is indispensable to it. Nevertheless, light is not the primary purpose of photosynthesis.
Despite this, you’ve misrepresented Ian’s position to be that ‘the Bible considers sexual-differentiation the primary purpose of marriage And while you continue to conflate them, you can’t deny that St. Augustine clearly distinguished the bond of kindred from the subsequent ‘connection in having children’.
Whatever Augustine’s position on the primacy of procreation, he did not consider the good of procreation to be indispensable to all marriage, In contrast, he did consider ‘the natural society itself in a difference of sex’ to be indispensable:
‘there is good ground to inquire for what reason it be a good. And this seems not to me to be merely on account of the begetting of children, but also on account of the natural society itself in a difference of sex.
It’s a clumsy attempt at sleight of hand to mention that for Augustine ‘procreation is seen as the chief good and purpose of marriage’, only to hope we can’t see your distraction from the fact that you have yet to explain how a same-sex relationship can ever achieve the God-given marital good of what Augustine calls ‘the natural society itself in a difference of sex’.
It’s just plain disingenuous to lop off the ‘natural society’ prefixing this phrase in order to imply that Evangelicals are reducing the purpose of marriage to ‘a difference of sex’!
Dear David Shepherd
Thank you for your clear lucid distilled theology. I have been watching the birds in my garden building their nests, the female laying her eggs and nurturing them to birth and the male bird feeding the female to enable this and then the fevered feeding of the young in the nest culminating in the fledging. I was reminded of St Paul saying that there is no excuse for us not understanding as we have the whole witness of creation. The great sin of mankind is to make himself God as we are witnessing with the rise of gender ideology – mankind creating as many identities as he sees fit and denying male and female reality.
“I was reminded of St Paul saying that there is no excuse for us not understanding as we have the whole witness of creation.” “…and denying male and female reality.”
I’m guessing that St Paul was unfamiliar with the Syngnathidae family of fish, filial and sexual cannibalism, and sequential hermaphroditism – all widespread across ‘creation’. But I’m sure the birds in your garden are lovely. Was the female bird wearing a little gingham pinny?
Dicto simpliciter secundum quid – the converse accident fallacy.
You should know the difference between induction from creation and your attempt at deduction from creation.
I’m guessing that you’re unfamiliar with the banded mongoose, which is given to close-family inbreeding. Or should the emulation of that particular species (and consequent inbreeding depression in humans) become acceptable behaviour because it is found in our fallen ‘creation’?
And of course we all need to remember that when Paul uses the word ‘nature’ he is neither referring to individuals’ natural inclinations, nor nature as it simply is to the observer, but the natural order as God intended it in the creation narratives—as it means all through Scripture.
This is not a scientific nor a personal term but a theological one.
Yes the birds are lovely. They are all clothed by our Heavenly Father in their various colours as Jesus pointed out and are beautiful without need of mankind. Certainly not a gingham pinny! As St Paul was referring to what could clearly be see – scuba diving was not an option.
am wondering if you might answer the question I raised in a comment on the 15th..? I note that Jonathan Tallon has asked something very similar today also…
in friendship, Blair
Thanks for yet another helpful blog post on this subject which is very timely here in New Zealand. I think that you do make an important point re inclusion, and my apologies if this has already been picked up in the (extensive) thread above. Just to say that defining anything automatically creates a boundary. Where there are boundaries, some relationships fall within and some without. Definition is by definition 🙂 exclusionary.