Vicky Beeching and the sexuality debate

Screen-Shot-2014-04-13-at-13.22.40-1024x561Vicky Beeching is a reasonably well-known figure in media circles. She often comments on Sky News about Christianity in the public sphere, is a contributor to Thought for the Day, and (rather occasionally now) blogs. Vicky studied theology at Wycliffe Hall in Oxford, then spent 8 years in the States where she established a reputation as a singer-songwriter. She is now enrolled for a PhD programme in Durham.

Vicky recently announced that she is supportive of those who want the Church of England to change its teaching on same-sex unions, and has become an ‘Ambassador’ for Accepting Evangelicals. The dynamic of this and the debate around it illustrates some important issues in this discussion.

She recently published a blog post entitled ‘LGBT Theology: what does the Bible say?’ But the curious thing is that she never actually answers the question. After commenting on the (often unpleasant) reaction to her announcement, she says she had concluded that blogs are not the best way to explore the issue. However, she then goes on to draw some parallels:

Many people argued that the Bible supported slavery until they put time into prayerful study and realised they were wrong.

Many used to (and some still do) argue the Bible says women should have no place within the priesthood, and should never preach or teach in church. Lots of people have realised from prayerful study that this is not what the Bible actually says.

Superficial readings of texts should never be the foundation of our arguments. Nor should parroting off the things we’ve simply been told by others in church.

The quite strong implication of these comments is that the traditional view is simplistic, and equivalent to supporting slavery or opposing women’s leadership, neither of which is true. The best response to these observations comes from Baptist theologian Steve Holmes—but you won’t find this, because his comments are buried under the more recent avalanche of unmoderated comments.

The slavery/women comparisons. These are often made, and really interesting. As you know, I’m sure, slavery was more-or-less eliminated from the Roman empire quite quickly as a result of Christian ethical reflection; come the ‘European discovery of the world’ (the world knew it was there all along, as far as I can see…), there was a huge economic compulsion to engage in slavery, and as a result a series of (well-studied) exegetical gymnastics to try to get around what seemed to many to be a clear prohibition. To cast the history as a uniformly pro-slavery hermeneutic one day being overcome is to badly misunderstand it. (The history could, if one was being provocative, actually be read the other way up: in the West (only) we currently face a huge cultural pressure to revise classical Christian understandings of sexuality, and the exegetical gymnastics engaged in by some – only some – of the books on your list might be compared to those offered by the pro-slavery writers of five and two centuries ago…)

On gender, again as I’m sure you know, the lasting Christian opposition to female priests came from an adoption of Aristotelian biology, which saw being female as being defectively human; once we, thankfully, got over that misbegotten idea, things changed fairly quickly in some places, and a whole variety of, often rapidly shifting, arguments got made in others to try to shore up the tradition. The first application of this is to note that we never read Biblical texts outside of our cultural context, and our interpretations are always coloured by our assumptions (we probably shouldn’t condemn earlier theologians too harshly for accepting the best science of their day…). Drawing an analogy to our present debate over sexuality, we might suggest a parallel argument to the effect that we didn’t used to understand sexual orientation, but now do, and so our readings need to be revised. Apart from the exegetical problems with the analogy (see Webb for the still-standard treatment, of course), this places huge weight on our understanding of sexual orientation, which anthropologists of sexuality would tell us is very locally culturally constructed, and post-Foucauldian queer theorists would want to deconstruct thoroughly as oppressive. So there’s an entire argument to be had about what we mean by ‘sexuality’ before we turn to the texts, and which will seriously affect our reading of the texts.

Vicky then lists some resources for people to read, headlining Matthew Vines, James Brownson and Jeffrey John, and mentioning Robert Gagnon as a kind of footnote. Holmes again responds helpfully:

Gagnon’s book is the best on detailed exegesis, but ought to come with a health warning; the tone is often unpleasant (& when he strays off exegesis into other fields he is often badly wrong). We really need something as detailed but written with more grace…

Vines and John – really? Two of the poorest books on that side of the debate, surely? (better than Robinson’s God Believes in Love, but that is hardly saying much…)

715FfnQMPZL._SL1250_I have offered a critique of Brownson’s reading of the Genesis texts—which I don’t find very convincing. Tom Creedy has offered a more lengthy comment on his blog, where he also very helpfully gives a wider list of resources. The best thing about Steve Holmes and Tom Creedy’s comments is that they ask hard questions—but do so in the clear context of mutual respect and affirmation. Nevertheless, the hard questions remain, and Tom highlights a central one: how are we reading the biblical texts, and (how) are we discussing them?

He notes the importance of Richard Davidson’s Flame of Yahweh: sexuality in the Old Testament. ‘Magisterial in its treatment…this 800+ page doorstop is brilliantly thorough, and gracious in tone.’ On the NT he recommends work from a ‘revisionist’ scholar, William Loader, Sexuality in the New Testament: understanding the key texts. Both of these, from quite different perspectives, argue comprehensively and coherently that the position Vicky is advocating is not supported by a responsible read of the texts.

This all highlights something vital in this debate. In an interview in Christian Today, Vicky says she still wants to be known as an evangelical:

CT: Do you still consider yourself an evangelical?

VB: It’s important to me to retain evangelicalism as part my Christian identity. I don’t think the two [evangelicalism and supporting same-sex relationships] are incompatible. I don’t want to lose what evangelical means; there are so many good aspects of it. The Bible is as important as ever; my LGBT theology comes from a high view of scripture, not throwing the Bible out the window. People have accused me of watering down what the Bible says, but for me it’s about using the brain God has given us to put the verses [about homosexuality] into their proper historical context.

This means that, as someone who has established herself in a role of leadership, at least in terms of public presence, she will need to offer an account of her reading of Scripture. But how to do it? She plans to write a book, but not blog about this issue—which I think is exactly the wrong way forward. There are already a good number of books out there, so another one will only be good news for the publishing industry. But, critically, a blog discussion could achieve precisely what a book might well fail to do.

When you write a book, you can choose who you want to listen to, and who you want to ignore—you can carefully select your dialogue partners, and choose not to engage with those who are too challenging or awkward. And this is precisely what Matthew Vines appears to have done in his influential book. On a blog, you cannot do this, as it is much harder to avoid being challenged to engage with the tough questions—and this works all ways. I have here hosted some very awkward questions from people who disagree with me—and as a result, my view has changed and developed, and I think some of theirs has too. Of course, you then are open to abuse and hostility—but there are really easy ways to manage that:

  • moderate comments—i.e., delete ones that breach standards of respect
  • restrict who can comment
  • turn comments off altogether
  • host a debate between yourself and someone with the opposite view
  • post your views as a guest on someone else’s blog, so they have to deal with the nasty comments.

Vicky’s other stated aim is to ‘host a genuine debate, with people talking to, rather than past, each other’. I think she is quite right here—this is exactly what is needed. But in writing a book, rather than putting her views out for debate, I think she is encouraging the sceptics who think that her views won’t be offering anything original or persuasive, and won’t stand up to scrutiny, even of the most charitable kind. Steve Holmes’ comments already hint at that.

Vicky’s is clearly an important voice for Christians and the Church in the media. I worry that her approach to this issue has already clearly alienated a good number. Those she refers to who have boycotted her songs might be being vindictive. But if a genuine debate is going to happen, surely some of them need to be won back. As with the EA’s decision about Steve Chalke, it is just possible that they have thought through the issues carefully and have good, pastoral, biblical and theological reasons for their decision. So my hope and prayer is that, as she says, Vicky’s discussion might indeed foster more dialogue rather than more division—and to do that, I think it will need to be offered online.

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51 thoughts on “Vicky Beeching and the sexuality debate”

  1. Having looked at the comments that appear on Vicky’s blog (and she has moderated them to remove the worst) then I don’t blame her for concluding that her blog isn’t going to work as a place where people hear and consider carefully the reasoned arguments of others, but would degenerate into a shouting match. This blog stands a much better chance of genuine dialogue, because of a different readership. She wants the debate to happen; she’s going to enter itself (by book); she’s pointed people to some of the people already involved in that debate. I think it’s a bit unfair to demand that she personally should do more.

    • Hmmm…but given the books she’s cited, I have some sympathy with the sceptics who say this is just a way of avoiding scrutiny.

      As Martin points out below, if negative comments or abuse is an issue, there are easy ways to filter this out and have a productive online engagement. Correct me if I am wrong, but doesn’t this blog manage it?

  2. Thanks for this analysis Ian. A moderated blog discussion between select parties would be more helpful than an open comment blog. Something like a round table discussion in blog form.

  3. Evangelicalism will struggle not to tear itself apart over sexuality ’cause it’s a battlefield in a proxy war over biblical authority. Even if affirmation is framed as reinterpreting the Bible, instead of disagreeing with it, the fight’s been so long and hard that affirming gay people’s relationships will be viewed as a surrender to liberalism.

    So far, affirming evangelicals are promptly marginalized, but if social acceptance of gay people continues to grow, so too will the pressure to read the Bible in a different way.

    • Yes, I think you are right about the real issue…which makes Vicky’s approach look even more obtuse.

      I am not convinced though on interpretation following social acceptance. It has happened the other way at times in the past.

      • It has, with the crucial difference that Christians had a strong case.

        The case against affirming gay relationships rests wholly on authority: the Bible gives no reason whatsoever for condemning homosexuality, it just does it. The substantive arguments offered (procreation; complementarity) can only respond to the command. Their weakness can be witnessed in the shredding they’ve received in the U.S. district courts, from judges of all political stripes.

        Traditionalists are asking people to choose between either affirming relationships that are, in Justin Welby’s words, “stunnning,” or telling them to suppress their sexuality for life for no better reason than “the Bible says so.” People are being asked to condemn love and endorse harm. One path leads to joy and wholeness, the other loneliness and self-loathing.

        By their fruits …

        • I don’t think that is true actually. Reading canonically, Leviticus (implicitly) and Romans (explicitly) refer back to the creation narrative.

          Given the state of the US legal system, I am not over-worried that the US courts don’t find a theological position coherent in law. To look to this is to make something of a category error.

          No-one is telling anyone to ‘suppress’ their sexuality—but we find it hard to imagine anything else in our sexualised culture. The idea that celibate Christians (of any kind) are living lives of loneliness and self-loathing is a bizarre generalisations. Do visit the blog Spiritual Friendship to find a rich and joyful reflection on what this all means.

          • Paul doesn’t tie his condemnation of sodomy to the creation narrative, and even he had, he still doesn’t explain what’s wrong with same-sex relationships, likely ’cause their wrongness seemed obvious to someone who followed the law of Moses.

            U.S. federal courts aren’t in a particular state. Like any system, they have their flaws, but those flaws haven’t been on display in the ‘Windsor’ rulings: the district court judgments have been consistently thorough and articulate.

            There’s a crucial difference between choosing celibacy, and having celibacy imposed. As a married man, you can surely empathize with gay people who love their partner as much as you love your wife. Even if you didn’t find someone, you wouldn’t have felt any shame in your sexuality. We don’t compartmentalize ourselves. Saying, “Any expression of your sexuality is wrong” comes across as “You’re wrong.”

            Out of interest, has discussing this with lesbian and gay family and friends changed your views at all? Because experience is what’s shifting opinions. If the church’s condemnation appears unreasoned, it’ll lose on both emotional and rational grounds.

          • ‘Paul doesn’t tie his condemnation of sodomy to the creation narrative’. Yes he does. There are clear allusions to Gen 1 at points in Rom 1, and argues that same-sex relations are a rejection of God’s intention in creation.

            The US judicial system has dependence on the executive in a way which couldn’t happen in the UK, and the legal culture appears much more litigious than over here.

            I am not sure that anyone who accepts the authority of Christian teaching ‘chooses’ celibacy in that sense. Yes, of course I can and need to sympathise, but the scenario you pose already makes an assumption about options.

            As I say in the post, conversations with gay and transgender friends and family have affected my views, but not made me believe that the Church’s teaching on sexual activity is mistaken.

  4. I’m sure Vicky Beeching means well, but her attempts to explain away clear Biblical prohibitions are no more convincing than the arguments of any of the other revisionists. They want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to be Christian while supporting behaviour specifically condemned in Christian scripture. I find such a position untenable and while compassion might excuse the impulse to remake Christianity so that their gay friends don’t have to live out the misery of enforced lifelong celibacy, it can’t make what God has called wrong right.

    The truth as told in the Bible is that God has condemned gays to suffer a particularly unpleasant form of emotional and physical torture. He has prohibited us from having intimate relationships with anyone we might want to have an imtimate relationship with, offering no explanation for why he singles us out for this cruel treatment beyond “I’m God so obey me or go to hell”.

    The cruelty of the prohibition is compounded by its lack of sense and logic. Gays harm nobody. The arguments of the traditionalists about why our relationships are sinful are no more convincing than the twitterings of the revisionists about why they’re just fine. “Natural law” and “complementarity” have to be two of the most ludicrous philosophies ever spouted by Christian apologists looking for ways to justify the unjustifiable. The love and lives of countless gay couples expose them for the nonsense they are. But despite this, the fact remains that God condemns homosexual acts, and because he’s God we have to obey whether we understand – and whether we like it – or not.

    That being the case, the natural response of any gay person is going to be to examine the claims of this God. Who is he? By what right does he tell us how to live our lives? Why should we obey him? Does he even exist or is he a figment of the imagination? A figment who very conveniently provides those who rule us with justification for their rule.

    This is what I have done and I’ve come to the conclusion that the whole Christian narrative is nothing more than politically inspired fiction. And while I should welcome Ms Beeching’s efforts to reinterpret that fiction in a more gay-friendly manner, intellectual honesty compels me to point out that her arguments are weak and not in accord with the internal logic of very story she draws them from.

    Trying to convince me that the Bible says gay is OK is like trying to convince me that Orcs are cute, cuddly and misunderstood in Tolkien’s corpus. However uncomfortable modern man might be with Tolkien’s vision of broken and unredeemable black men (which is basically what the Orcs are), the fact remains they’re an integral part of the legend and have to be accepted as such for the legend to make any sense. Same thing with gays and the Bible. The only difference is that we’re redeemable – just. And only by dint of a life spent in the misery of solitary confinement, which is a punishment few of us are willing to endure, so in reality we’re just as doomed as any Orc. Such is the basic plot of the Christian narrative, as it affects gays at least. Abandon all hope ye gay who enters there…

    • Etienne, your writing is as lyrical as ever! As you know, I agree with you on the clarity of the Bible, but not on the pastoral results of that, or your overall evaluation.

      You example of the Orcs in LOTR is interesting…though I think for Tolkien they are Germans not blacks.

      • Germans or blacks, the point is they’re unredeemable. There’s no grace for an Orc. They’re born into hell, they live and die in hell and are then banished to the Outer Darkness. So much for benevolent and forgiving God, eh?

        Of course that’s just fiction. But there are parallels between the way Orcs are treated by Tolkien and the way gays are treated in the Bible. We’re both seen as broken and twisted. Unnatural, if you will. Our respective desires can never be redeemed. There’s no way the Orc’s desire to kill and destroy can ever be sanctified. Neither can a gay’s desire for his own sex. In both cases the only choices are lifelong renunciation or damnation. Of course it’s never envisaged that the Orcs will repent. Neither are they given a path to salvation. Gays are, at least in theory. But the path laid out for us is one we can never follow, so we’re ultimately just as doomed as any Orc.

        Salvation for gays is the ultimate Christian fraud. A path so impossible to tread, it might as well not exist. Complete renunciation of all intimate relationships for life is one of two options we’re given. The second is marriage to someone we can neither desire nor love, but simply go through the motions of matrimony with. Both add up to effective lifelong celibacy, loneliness and alienation. Both are equally impossible to envisage by anyone whose psyche is not submerged in religious mania and a compulsion for self-mortification.

        Mr Paul will of course recommend that I take another look at the Living Out! site, hoping, it would seem, that the posturing of the flagellants who created it will persuade me that suffering for God is a noble thing that I too should aspire to. Pari perdu, I’m afraid. It’s a vision of hell peopled by overweight celibate gay Christians and their subliminal message that chocolate Hobnobs are the universal panacea for all the deprivations of enforced celibacy, because apparently gluttony is apparently not a sin when it serves to distract us from lust and sodomy. Eew! It’s enough to sends a shiver down the spine of even the most convinced gay atheist. A vision of what our lives will become if religious mania is ever again allowed to rule our lives.

        There are no solutions for gay people within the Christian religion. Just pigeonholes into which we can be stuffed and a blind eye turned while we indulge ourselves in lesser categories of sin as compensation for giving up the most heinous sin of all: to love someone of our own gender. It’s this lack of ability to deal with the real phenomenon of homosexuality other than by sweeping it under the carpet that helps to convince that me Christianity must be false doctrine. A real God would have a place for us in his creation and a way for us to lead fulfilling, relational lives. He wouldn’t torture us in pursuit of some arbitrary man+woman ideal.

        • ‘Germans or blacks, the point is they’re unredeemable. There’s no grace for an Orc.’. And of course that is precisely where you are mistaken in the parallel with the Bible.

          All the NT writers are clear that no-one is beyond redemption, and Paul emphasises it. ‘I was the chief of sinners…but even I received mercy.’

          • Probably about as hard as it was for the weatlhy man to sell all of his possessions.

            I find the arguments presented to be equally applicable to any sin one might struggle with.

            It does seem quite a lot easier to tell someone to do without pornography than a same sex sexual relationship.

            Indeed salvation is quite impossible for the sinner.

  5. I think you need to give her a bit of time and grace to develop her understandings. You, Ould, Holmes et al hold yourselves up as experts on sexuality – and maybe you are. But as soon as anyone else tries to get into the ring to have their say you bite their heads off like baying wolves!

    • Thanks Ori. I am not sure that I have anywhere held myself up as an expert…but I have looked carefully at many of the arguments.

      I am very happy for Vicky to take her time to develop her views. But if that needs to happen, then she really needs to stop saying things in public. Christian leaders have a responsibility in their teaching not to mislead others. If her view is not yet developed, why is she now actively lobbying for change in the church’s teaching?

  6. After reading your discussion the following scripture came to mind: “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” 2 Timothy 4:3

    • Anne-Christina, thanks—I have heard other people comment in a similar vein.

      On the one hand, I don’t think Paul was looking ahead 2000 years to our time; there are plenty of other examples in his nearer history.

      However, I do think this verse touches on a timeless feature of the human condition—to say thinks that people will like. This pressure is particularly developed in the age of social media. ‘Like’s means clicks, and for some people clicks means income…

  7. I happen to agree with Jonathan on this one. It is clear to me from some of the stuff she retweeted on Twitter at the time of her original posting that Vicky was on the receiving end of some very nasty, often very misogynistic, personal abuse, something that the likes of you and I (ie men) just do not have to put up with. I note that, with one exception, all the other commenters here so far are also men. I suggest that this blog and Vicky’s are not equivalent forums in terms of the tone of the discussion, and that is not Vicky’s fault – she tried.

    You suggest ways in which Vicky might manage comments in a blog discussion. Of those, almost all would still involve her in having to face said nastiness, even if those comments were none made public. If the alternative were to switch comments off entirely, then I see little advantage over a book in terms of interaction and discussion. I think it is up to Vicky to make those decisions herself without undue pressure (I must confess the word bullying came to mind), and without aspersions being cast over her motivations for doing so.

    • I agree with you that it is hard for men to appreciate the impact of abusive communications for women, and it is an indictment of the way that social media is often used.

      On the other hand, it seems to me that evangelicals are perfectly at liberty to stop singing Vicky’s songs when they feel she is undermining evangelical faith. I suspect that folk who supported and encouraged her in the States could well be feeling betraying and disappointed, and I am surprised that this might be news to her.

      But your last comments puzzle me. If Vicky was a private individual, then fair enough. But she is a national spokesperson for faith, and the first responsibility for anyone in Christian leadership is to think very carefully about what we teach, and have worked through our understanding before going public—especially on such important and controversial issues such as this. Vicky is not just expressing a personal opinion, she is actively campaigning.

      I think I need you to give evidence of where I have behaved in a bullying way, or ask you to withdraw that comment. Thanks.

      • I have no problem with evangelicals who may wish to stop singing/listening to Vicky’s songs in protest – that is indeed their right, and I understand how some may feel disappointed, even betrayed, by her change of perspective. That is not the issue. We also agree that Christian leaders should take care in what and how they communicate. But there also needs to be space for them to ask hard questions and to work out their responses.
        I was rather hesitant about using the word bullying in the first place and will withdraw that in relation to both the article and your comments.

        Nevertheless, I still feel that among the perfectly valid points you make, the overall effect of the article and your subsequent responses to others’ comments comes across as rather pointed and personal, especially in the motives you imply concerning her choice of vehicle to express her views. And while I claim no inside knowledge on the matter, I think I have given a fairly clear indication as to why I believe your preferred forum might not be so straightforward for Vicky as you seem to suggest.

  8. I should add that I am probably as disappointed as you are that Vicky will not be completing her proposed series, though for different reasons.

  9. All,
    I have said under “Was Jesus inclusive?” that I think this debate is harmful and I must take my own advice and avoid it. James Byron manages to say that this is a proxy war. It is a war in which real people get hurt, even to death. What I hear listening to the voices is that where the energy in the debate is coming from and where the confrontations take place are so far apart that there is no possibility of constructive debate or any deep learning. What is it they say about people who do the same thing and expect something different to happen as a result?

    • I agree the debate is harmful, and I doubt it’s any coincidence that gay men were targeted with such vehemence when homophobia was widespread in society. In the eighties, at the height of the AIDs epidemic, gay people were a vulnerable minority. In condemning them so loudly, the church wasn’t marching boldly against culture, it was in lockstep with its worst aspects.

      The traditionalist position can move past that, but only if it’s empathic and proportionate, and ensures that lesbian and gay people are talked with, not about.

      Most important for the health of the church is that the affirming position be accepted as an equal, and traditionalists agree to stop trying to make gay and lesbian people who don’t share their conclusions live by their standards. This is part of a wider need for evangelicals and other traditionalists to accept liberalism as a legitimate theology, and its adherents as valued sisters & brothers in Christ.

      Tolerance must cut both ways.

      • James, I think you are seriously misrepresenting folk who are now defending the Church’s teaching.

        At the height of the AIDS epidemic, it was evangelicals who were at the forefront of caring for victims and establishing AIDS charities. I cannot dispute the hideous things that have been done to gay people, but I cannot think of a single example in the UK of evangelicals teaching hatred of the gay community.

        Many of the most conservative evangelical leaders that I know continue to be concerned to offer a empathetic engagement—but within the church’s teaching. Tolerance is about respecting those with whom you disagree, not having to agree with them.

        Adrian, this agenda is being run by the ‘revisionist’ not ‘traditionalist’ lobby. This blog post is a good example—simply responding to what someone else is pushing. I would much rather be able to focus on other issues.

        • How about Andrea Minichiello Williams’ Jamaican speech from late last year? She’s not a marginal figure in British evangelicalism, either: in addition to serving on General Synod, she’s CEO of Christian Concern and the Christian Legal Centre.

          I know that many evangelicals are personally kind to gay people, whether in hospices, or elsewhere.

          Those acts of kindness don’t change the fact that the LGB community have been disproportionately targeted, whether in 1987’s Higton Motion, or in the naked homophobia on display in the 1998 Lambeth Conference, likened by Richard Holloway to a Nuremberg rally. Homophobia that wasn’t confined to the church. The same year in which he failed to control Lambeth, George Carey opposed equalizing the age of consent in the name of a majority of English bishops.

          Is it any coincidence that the church has become a lot quieter about its teaching as social acceptance of lesbian and gay people has spread?

        • The Church, and evangelicals on the frontline, has vociferously opposed any extension of civil liberties and rights for gay people since decriminalisation. I cannot think of a single instance when it has not. It still does in other countries, and the evangelical lobby is strangely silent on the issue.

        • I think there is a valid parallel with antisemitism here. Very few now preach outright hatred, whatever may have been the case in the past, and certainly not against individuals. Nevertheless, as with teachings of contempt against Judaism, the overall, drip-drip effect of consistently negative preaching about homosexuality (both orientation and “practice”) encourages congregations to keep “the problem” at arms length and to see LGBT people in terms of “the other”. Whatever empathetic engagement such preachers and teachers may themselves achieve at an individual, personal level can often be obscured.

  10. As to whether print or blog is the best way of moving the discussion forward, we should not assume that all blogs are as polite and reasoned as Psephizo – some contain far too many nasty, vindictive and irrational posts. Sure, they can be moderated, but then one runs the risk of being charged with excluding valid voices even if the criteria are based on rules about respect. I can understand why Vicky would want to avoid blogging as a way of continuing the discussion. But I’m not sure that print will help much either.

    The debate seems to be at the point where most of the data is out there – we just don’t agree about it. And it is so often overlaid by hurt, personal and corporate. Perhaps, as has been suggested already the best way forward is in conversation where we genuinely engage with others.

    There are many voices to be heard. For example, James Byron mentions the difference between choosing celibacy and having it imposed – granted (and what right do I as a happily married person to comment?) but is the dichotomy that pointed? What about those like Wesley Hill and Sam Alberry, who see celibacy as imposed but also as a choice? This is the view that tends to be marginalised in much of the debate.

    Have you seen Brian McLaren’s blog where he talks about four zones? I don’t agree with his conclusions, but it’s an interesting take –

    • John, thanks for your wise words. Yes, indeed, listening conversation is what is needed, and (somewhat surprisingly) this is what the C of E is planning!

      I agree with you about voices that have not been heard, and try to remind people of those.

      But i am not quite sure you are right that the ‘data is out there, we just don’t agree on it’. It is really striking that Brownson and Vines simply ignore quite a lot of the data in order to construct their arguments. Why is that? Many would conclude that the data does not suit their case—though I guess the same could be said of some on the ‘traditional’ side.

      As I have mentioned elsewhere—and in fact as Etienne above articulates—I think there is quite a convincing case that the biblical data is both clear, and (as Wes Hill and Sam Alberry would contend) relevant.

      Acknowledging that would clear the air, and I think allow us to explore what is really at stake here, both personally and theologically.

      • Surely if they can ignore it, it must be out there? I wouldn’t want to claim that any reading of a text is final – there must always be the openness to new possibilites. But I agree that we must beware the mental gymnastics involved in making the text say what it does not say. We can say that it is culturally conditioned and no longer relevant, if we choose (I do not). We can have the intellectual honesty, as does Etienne, to reject the Christian faith. What we cannot do is to make the texts say other than they do – and, yes, I know that there are debates about meanings of words.
        And, incidentally, I am planning to use the Wonder of the Cross on Sunday. It’s a great song, with great truth, even if I disagree with its writer on other issues

      • “Acknowledging that would clear the air…”

        I assume you mean here that the biblical data is clear and relevant. It won’t be acknowledged because the biblical data isn’t clear, and its relevance is disputable.

        For example, Romans 1:26-27. I have yet to see the traditional side engage properly with arguments that the primary reference is to frenzied, self-harming, promiscuous sexual activity connected with goddess worship (though maybe I’ve just missed it). This relates to the biblical data itself.

        For example, lending money at interest. This seems to me a much more relevant parallel than slavery or women (though I would argue there are some parallels with these as well). I haven’t seen a thorough engagement with this parallel whereby a practice universally condemned by the Church for many centuries became acceptable because the context was different. This relates to the relevance of the biblical data.

        As you say, traditional interpretations can ignore data as well.

        • Jonathan, I don’t really know what you mean by ‘I have yet to see…’. Do you mean you have not yet read them? What do you make of Richard Hays in ‘Moral Vision..’, one of the best short treatments? If you have not read Robert Gagnon, what about commentaries? Do you disagree with Fitzmyer, and if so, why? Or N T Wright? Or James Dunn? Or Cranfield?

      • “Moving the discussion forward” is just another way of saying I disagree with you and I intend to change your mind. Vicky Beeching even stated that as her goal in her interview. “She wants be part of changing the evanglical church” As if the church established by Jesus Christ can be changed.

        I certainly feel ostracized for believing the plain reading of scripture.

        There will be a new witch hunt – but it won’t be for homosexuals.

  11. This is an actuarial joke that, allegedly, some actuaries find funny. “An actuary is always right, and even when they are not they can prove that they are”. To my mind the evangelical mindset is best characterised by its compulsion to defend. It is so difficult to reach out.

  12. S. Holmes just picks up any stone he can find. He cannot cogently argue both that the leadership of women was opposed because of the Aristotelian view that women were defective males, and that marriage must involve a man and a woman because the two are complementary.

  13. No instance has persuaded you that the Church’s teaching on this matter of sexual activity is mistaken? You mean, like Theodosius decreeing that this should justify you being burned alive? Justinian asserting in the Pandects that it ought to be punished because it causes earthquakes (which amazingly found its way into the Muslim ahadith)? Saint Peter Damian’s little book, maybe? so nasty that even such a liberal as pope Leo IX to whom it was dedicated refused to endorse it. None of the reasons or arguments Evangelicals now raise against gay sex and relationships have historically been used to a argue against their immorality in the past. Tradition condemned homosexuality on utterly different grounds.

    • When I say ‘the Church’s teaching’ I am talking about the current teaching of the Church of which I am a member—which explicitly rejects all the things you list. So, ‘Yes.’

      I’ve no idea what you mean by ‘None of the reasons or arguments Evangelicals now raise against gay sex and relationships have historically been used to a argue against their immorality in the past.’ Evangelicals base their case on a reading of Scripture which has clear and consistent precedents.

      • I meant it was generally opposed for causing natural disasters (Justinian, Chrysostom…) probably based on the Sodom story, it was often the latter story which was used to decry the practice, which is no longer the case, Rm 1, to my knowledge was very seldom alleged against it, it was opposed as being non-procreative (Aquinas), or as variously demeaning to male superiority… you name it, but none or very few of the arguments that Evangelicals now use were quoted in the Fathers, if any at all.

          • The interpretation is not a novelty. As I demonstrate, my reading of the OT is in line with rabbinical understanding from the first century. It’s just that the Fathers often looked to other arguments, often quite unconnected with the text. I don’t think these arguments, cited above, are either reliable nor compelling.

          • Beg your pardon, but I’m not aware of any first century rabbinical literature (bar arguably the New Testament, if Danny Boyarin is to be believed), at best oral tradition from the tannaim and amoraim. And no, your interpretation is definitely not in line with theirs.

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