What is the Bishop of Oxford thinking?

Steven Croft, the bishop of Oxford, yesterday published a booklet Together in Love and Faith, in which he sets out his thinking about same-sex relationships, and proposes that the Church of England should provide public services for the blessing of same-sex civil partnerships and marriages, but allow a conscience clause for those who dissent, and eventually conduct same-sex marriages. This is a view he shares with the three suffragans in the diocese, which is telling; despite most of the large churches being evangelical, Steven did not appoint any bishops who agree with the Church’s current doctrine. Steven realises that this will be divisive, and so proposes a structure of differentiation—something that he says the other three do not agree with.

I have known and worked with Steven on and off over the years, on Synod and Archbishops’ Council, and particularly in relation to ordination training. Up until now, he has only offered hints about his thinking, and his change of direction on this issue, and so it is helpful to now know where his thinking has got to. This short piece cannot offer a full critique of his booklet, but there is a similar length commentary by Vaughan Roberts, who leads St Ebbe’s, one of the largest churches in the diocese, available for free download from the Latimer Trust. I simply offer here some observations about some of the language used here and some of the arguments made.

Before considering the content of the booklet, it is worth asking why Steven has decided to publish this at this moment. The College of Bishops (consisting of all diocesan and suffragan bishops in the C of E) have just met for three days, will be meeting again in December, and there will then be a meeting of the House of Bishops (diocesans plus elected suffragans, who form one of the three houses in General Synod), in order to bring a proposal for a way forward to General Synod in February. John Inge, the bishop of Worcester, has just published a letter supporting Steven, so this has clearly been coordinated. But it seems very odd for two bishops to appear to be driving a coach and horses through an existing process. More than that, I don’t think there is any doubt that Steven’s proposal, were it tabled, would not reach the 2/3 majority required by Synod, so it has no real hope of being delivered. What, then, is Steven hoping to achieve?

We start with the booklet’s title: ‘Together’ in Love and Faith. This is rather odd, since Steven is completely clear that what he proposing will not command consensus, and in fact will bring division into his diocese, to the point at which he notes many bishops will be uncomfortable with his proposals. In fact, it will bring division not just to his diocese, and not just to the C of E, but to the Anglican Communion. I do find it remarkable that he is writing this hot on the heels of the Lambeth Conference, where it was abundantly clear that the move of some Western provinces to do what Steven is proposing has divided the Communion, perhaps terminally. When this was first mooted by The Episcopal Church in the US, it was believed by the majority to be a ‘tear in the fabric of the Communion’. And, as Darrin Snyder Belousek highlights, in his excellent Marriage, Scripture, and the Church:

The creational-covenant pattern of marriage…is a consensus doctrine of the church catholic. Until the present generation, all Christians everywhere have believed, and every branch of the Christian tradition has taught, that marriage is man-woman monogamy’ (p 52).

So Steven is proposing division within the Church, division from the Communion, and division from the beliefs of the church catholic. It doesn’t look very ‘together’ to me.

As he begins to explain the background to the booklet, he makes some strange assertions about where we have reached. First, in relation to LLF:

Most of the comments in Listening with love and faith that were on the theme of same-sex relationships and marriage expressed the hope that the LLF course might contribute to the acceptance of same-sex marriage or blessings of same-sex partnerships (page 76). (p 1).

Church Society issued a critique of the ‘Listening’ document for exactly this reason—that it presented views as if they were representative when there had been no proper sampling process. Eeva John, who has been convening the LLF project, replied to say that the book was not intended to be representative, and just offered a sample of views. So Steven is here using this book to draw a conclusion expressly ruled out by those leading the process.

He then suggests that his is something of a lone voice:

There are not many examples of bishops who advocate for change having set up either their proposals or the rationale for them. This can give me an inaccurate impression of a House of Bishops that is uniformly conservative. (p 2)

If that is so, then Steven must be the only person in the C of E who thinks this. Ten years ago, Nick Holtam, then bishop of Salisbury, ‘came out’ in favour of same-sex marriage and ‘split the Church‘. There has been a steady stream of comments on social media, of attendance at Pride events, of rainbow flags flying from cathedrals with episcopal approval. It is true that no-one has set out a rationale—but that is because the House of Bishops were supposed to be thinking about this together, not each one ploughing his or her own furrow!

Steven concludes his introduction by saying that his contribution ‘is offered hesitantly’ and that ‘I may be wrong’. I suppose this could sound like appropriate modesty—yet he knows his clergy, and he knows this is going to split his diocese. At his ordination, he was called to ‘share with their fellow presbyters the oversight of the Church, speaking in the name of God and expounding the gospel of salvation’, and he made vows to ‘teach the doctrine of Christ as the Church of England has received it, … refute error, and … hand on entire the faith that is entrusted to you’ as well as ‘promote peace and reconciliation in the Church’. So why create division and disunity on something on which he is not yet confident, but might still be wrong? Would it not be better to keep his own counsel until he is sure?

In Part 1, Steven recounts his own journey. He notes that when he came to Sheffield, he found ‘the diocese has a broad spread of views among its clergy’. This is a situation common across the C of E, but it is worth reflecting on what it means. What he is telling us is that there were many clergy who did not actually believe the doctrine of the Church of England on this matter, their own ordination vows notwithstanding. Has this been created by a failure in ordination training, or a failure in selection and discipline within the Church? It has certainly been exacerbated by a complete vacuum of episcopal teaching over a very long time. It does not appear that Steven’s response to this situation was to help his clergy understand, own, and teach the Church’s doctrine on marriage.

He then comments:

But I was already finding (I would find increasingly) tension between my commitment to this interpretation of scripture [‘orthodox and generous’] and my vocation as a priest and pastor and evangelist. (p 5)

Steven repeatedly calls himself ‘evangelical’, but this is a very long way from an evangelical understanding of Scripture. What he appears to be saying is that, on the question of marriage, sexuality, and sexual ethics, scripture is a hindrance to him and not a help. It is inhibiting his ministry in every area. This isn’t just at variance from an evangelical approach; it appears to be at odds with what the C of E states about scripture. Again, in the ordinal we find:

Will you be diligent in prayer, in reading Holy Scripture, and in all studies that will deepen your faith and fit you to bear witness to the truth of the gospel?

All our liturgy and formularies appear to assume that Scripture is an aid, not a hindrance—in fact, the greatest resource we have in shaping us and equipping us for ministry. Steven appears, in this area at least, to think differently.

Now you don’t have to read Scripture for long to realise that it is hardly an off-the-shelf, pastoral handbook. There are some very difficult things to read there, and since the context of Scripture is at some historical and cultural distance from us, it needs careful reading and interpretation—something this blog is dedicated to. Yet, as Queen Elizabeth II was told at her coronation as she was handed a Bible: ‘Here is Wisdom; this is the royal Law; these are the lively Oracles of God.’ If Scripture is not our foundation, formation, and guide for what it means to minister, then what is?

Steven notes that the 2017 report by the bishops, GS2055, was not ‘taken note of’ by Synod. He wishes now he had spoken out in dissent, though I am not sure what that would have achieved. What he does not comment on is the reason why this report was not received: some thought it too ‘conservative’, and others too ‘progressive’, pointing to the lack of an available ‘middle way’ even then. Neither does he recognise that, were it presented today, it would be received by Synod because of the shifts in Synod’s make up. (This variability in itself raises a question about the theological role of synodical government.)

In Part 2, Steven embarks on making the case for change. He starts by stating that ‘as an evangelical, I retain a high view of the authority of Scripture’—yet he has already made it clear that he is finding that Scripture undermines, rather than resources, his work as a ‘priest, pastor, and evangelist.’

He talks about the question of the pain of those who are LGBTQ+, and Vaughan Roberts engages well with that issue in his response. Steven then goes on to say some striking things about the relation between the Church and culture. There is a ‘divergence’ between the Church and society (p 13); this disjunction has grown sharper in recent years; ‘we seek to serve everyone, whatever their beliefs’ (p 14).

After commenting on ‘faithful, stable’ gay relationships, he returns to this theme in chapter 3 ‘Our culture’s moral view of the Church’s present policy.’ Culture sees same-sex attraction as a given, and therefore any limitation of sexual expression in this context is unjust.

We now have a profound dislocation between the Church of England – the establish church, and to serve the whole of our society – and the society we are called to serve… We are seem to inhabit a different moral universe. (p 20)

I confess I find this such strange language, I hardly know where to begin. What does it mean for the Church to ‘serve’ the society in which it is located? Is it to affirm that culture’s moral outlook, and accommodate itself to it? Such a claim completely ignores the historical reality of the church, not least the way that the the early church grew rapidly throughout the Roman Empire in the first three centuries—precisely by offering a radical, shocking alternative that was certainly viewed as immoral by the culture of the time, not least in the area of marriage and sexuality (Rodney Stark’s The Rise of Christianity is very good on this, as is The Patient Ferment of the Early Church by Alan Kreider). Surely the way we serve our communities and culture is the same way that Jesus did: by proclaiming the coming of the kingdom of God, with its radically inverted values, and inviting, challenging even, people to ‘repent’, that is, turn away from their current way of living, assumptions, and beliefs, and believe in this good news. I am puzzled that someone who has been so involved in evangelism could miss this.

Secondly, Steven’s language appears to ignore the basic orientation of Scripture, in particular, the New Testament, with its eschatological outlook. This sinful world is facing the judgement of God, yet the future kingdom has broken into the present, and God’s gracious invitation is that we should die (to sin, to our own selfish preoccupations, and to our previous way of seeing the world) and live a new, resurrection life after the pattern of Jesus. This isn’t a marginal idea; it is central to baptism (see Romans 6), the Christian rite of initiation. If we are not ‘living in a different moral universe’ from our surrounding culture, then we are not even at the starting gate. I wonder what on earth Steven thinks Jesus means when he says ‘If the world hates you, know that it has hated me first’ (John 15.18). The Johannine motif of ‘the world’ captures just this tension: on the one hand, God ‘loves the world’ (John 3.16), and we are therefore to be engaged in the world in loving service, but this world that God loves often rejects his invitation and in doing so is opposed to him. We should expect exactly the same response—offering loving service, but often finding ourselves at odds—as Christians always have.

Thirdly, Steven appears to have an odd view of what ‘culture’ believes. It is not the case that ‘culture’ merely thinks gay people should be able to marry; this is just the tip of the sexual revolution iceberg. Our culture is far from monochrome, but some of the major themes are expressive individualism, which includes the idea that we are primarily autonomous individuals, and that what we feel tells us what we should do and have the right to do. Sex is seen primarily as a leisure activity, which we can engage in without any restrictions and ties, as long as there is consent—though, paradoxically, which can also do great harm and so is view warily. Our bodies are containers for the real person, which is found by looking in, and so the body can be manipulated and changed to conform with our feelings about ourselves. I don’t think it is really possible to separate attitudes to gay marriage from these wider themes—and if a radical feminist believes it is high time to push back against this, why won’t a bishop? Does Steven think we should accommodated ourselves to these views? If not, why not, and if so, why not on gay marriage?

Two comments on Twitter this morning highlight the basic problems here.

Steven then goes on to make particular claims about the nature of same-sex sexual partnerships. He compares a gay relationship with his marriage, and sees many similarities (p 17). That is hardly surprising, if friendship, shared interests, and a commitment to journeying together are part of traditional marriage—but what does this tell us ethically? And why does sex need to be part of such a partnership, when such qualities are often present in committed celibate friendships? What he avoids is the things that set his marriage apart: bodily and therefore psychological differences; and the inherent possibility of procreation, leading to (biological) family. Steven does a similar misleading parsing when he talks about the ‘goods of marriage’ in Augustine (p 21). He lifts the goods of marriage completely out of their context, as if they are goods that might apply to any form of relationship, and ignores the context in Augustine and in the C of E Marriage Service of male and female, and sexual union as a reuniting of what God divided in the creation account of Gen 2. Why should we not apply these ‘goods’ to friendships? What does sex have to do with it? And if we ignore the form of ‘male and female’, why pay attention to ‘two’? Could this not apply to sexual groups? None of these questions are even hinted at, let alone answered.

Part of the rationale for the approach here is what Steven thinks culture believes about sexual orientation, which he appears to think we should believe too.

It is clear that we inhabit a broader culture in which attraction to a member of the same sex is believed not to be a matter of choice but genetic. This is the way you are. It is not something that could be changed or mitigated. (p 19)

Steven is here making a number of remarkable claims. The first is that genetics determine our sexuality. You don’t have to pause for many minutes to realise how improbable that claim is; perhaps the colour of my eyes might be genetically determined (setting aside the question of epigenetics) but how could something as complex and relational be fixed by my genes, when babies are not even born knowing there are two sexes, but have to learn this in their early months and years? In fact, research (mostly done by gay campaigners) suggests that genetics contributes around 11% to the determination of sexual orientation (if such a thing can be measured) and various environmental factors (parenting, relational experience, age differences, even social environment) all contribute. And, particularly in women, orientation is far from settled, and can be highly changeable through life. These things are all well established in the literature, so I wonder about Steven’s claim to have ‘read widely’; he appears to have not read much of this.

The second remarkable claim is that because something is not chosen, it must be morally acceptable. In what other area of life do we believe that? I cannot think of any connection with any mainstream system of Christian ethical thinking which would claim any such thing. And which ‘traditional’ Christian thinkers at the moment argue that we choose our orientation? I can think of none.

Steven then claims that the sense of injustice in the belief that marriage is between one man and one woman has caused ‘anger and alienation among a whole generation’. Yet research shows it is older church members, not the younger ones, who mostly agree with him. And even within his own diocese, the largest churches and those with most young people are almost entirely ones who hold to the current doctrine of the Church. In my city, Nottingham, there are many large and growing churches attracting young people; every single one of them holds to the Scriptural, traditional view of marriage. That is not to say that there are no issues there, or that the view of young people in these churches is uniform. But it does show that Steven’s claim here—that we must change to reach young people—is without foundation.

In part 3, Steven looks at the scriptural evidence which might support a change in the Church’s teaching. He suggests a range of principles for interpreting Scripture well, but I don’t think any of these follow either accepted evangelical or even academically respectable approaches, such as looking at context, reading the whole canon together, attending to the detailed content, or noting different kinds of writing which I have set out elsewhere.

His first principle is ‘Christ at the Centre’, but rather than focussing on the actual teaching of Jesus here, he collapses this into ‘the test of love’. That would be helpful, except that we live in a context where people claim that ‘love is love’ when there are many ways this word is used, and a culture which appears to believe that, if you don’t give someone what they want, that is ‘unloving’. So it is not a very helpful test.

Steven’s second principle is ‘The Primacy of Mercy’.

I realise that, of course, Jesus calls everyone to repentance and a change of heart, throughout his ministry. There is a strand in Jesus’ teaching about upholding righteousness and the law – sometimes setting out a much stricter interpretation than the rabbis of the day. But repeatedly in the gospels, judgement and mercy are brought into contrast with one another, through the encounters of Christ with the Pharisees and teachers of the law. In every instance, Christ prefers and privileges mercy, grace and gentleness. (p 28)

This is another point in the booklet where I had to ask myself which gospels Steven is reading. Jesus’ call to repentance isn’t a mere introduction; it sums up his ministry. He spent time with ‘toll collectors and sinners’ but precisely in order to bring them to repentance and change (Luke 5.32). Those who do not follow his teaching will find their lives destroyed like houses in a storm. The way to life is hard and the gate narrow, and few find it. Those who don’t listen to him will be thrown into outer darkness. He does not hold back in his stern judgement of those who disagree with him. And judgement will come on Jerusalem because the people did not recognise in Jesus the coming presence of God himself.

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, is a parody and a distortion of the Jesus we meet in the gospels—but it appears to be the Jesus that Steven wants to follows.

Even more startling is Steven’s next claim—that Jesus was ‘largely silent on the matters of human sexuality’. Curious then, that in the Sermon on the Mount in Matt 5, he chooses to put questions of sexual propriety as the second and third specific issues he addresses, in between murder and lying as core issues relating to discipleship. Curious too that, when the question of food laws and impurity arise in Mark 7.21, Jesus talks of the ‘evil thoughts’ which come from the heart and defile people, and lists three things related to sexuality amongst the 12, in first, fourth, and eighth position in his list. As John Nolland has shown, sexual ethics mattered to Jesus!

It is true that Jesus did not respond directly to the question of same-sex relations—because no Jew would need to raise that question with him. Rejection of all same-sex sex, in whatever context, was a uniform conviction in first century Judaism, and it was one of the main things (along with Sabbath observance, food law, and circumcision) which marked Jews out from gentiles. He does, though, in response to the question of divorce in Matt 19.3–6, go out of his way not just to focus on marriage, but to focus on God’s creation of humanity as male and female as the basis of marriage—exactly the issue that Paul picks up in Romans 1.

Steven’s cursory reading of Levitical texts on the basis of the fictional conversation in The West Wing is quite bizarre; the claim that ‘everything has changed’ so we pay no attention to Old Testament commands and ethics is breathtaking, and seems to follow the pattern of Marcion rather than Jesus. What is strange is that, every week in Confession in Communion in the C of E, we are reminded of Jesus’ summary of the greatest commandments—one of which comes from Leviticus, right between the two prohibitions on same-sex sex.

His discussion of the Pauline terms in 1 Cor 6.9 and 1 Tim 1.9 follows discredited readings of people like gay NT scholar Dale Martin (who goes on to argue that all forms of sex can be ‘Christian’) and appears to be out of touch with the mainstream consensus. For the avoidance of doubt, I repeat again here the list of scholars, all of whom think ‘traditional’ teaching is wrong, but who are all quite clear that they disagree with Scripture.

It is very possible that Paul knew of views which claimed some people had what we would call a homosexual orientation, though we cannot know for sure and certainly should not read our modern theories back into his world.  If he did, it is more likely that, like other Jews, he would have rejected them out of hand….He would have stood more strongly under the influence of Jewish creation tradition which declares human beings male and female, to which may well even be alluding in 1.26-27, and so seen same-sex sexual acts by people (all of whom he deemed heterosexual in our terms) as flouting divine order (William Loader, The New Testament on Sexuality pp 323–4).

Professor Gagnon and I are in substantial agreement that the biblical texts that deal specifically with homosexual practice condemn it unconditionally.  However, on the question of what the church might or should make of this we diverge sharply (Dan O Via, Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views p 93).

Where the Bible mentions homosexual behavior at all, it clearly condemns it. I freely grant that. The issue is precisely whether that Biblical judgment is correct (Walter Wink, “Homosexuality and the Bible”).

This is an issue of biblical authority. Despite much well-intentioned theological fancy footwork to the contrary, it is difficult to see the Bible as expressing anything else but disapproval of homosexual activity. (Diarmaid MacCulloch, Reformation: Europe’s House Divided, 1490-1700, p 705).

Homosexual activity was a subject on which there was a severe clash between Greco-Roman and Jewish views. Christianity, which accepted many aspects of Greco-Roman culture, in this case accepted the Jewish view so completely that the ways in which most of the people in the Roman Empire regarded homosexuality were obliterated, though now have been recovered by ancient historians…

Diaspora Jews had made sexual immorality and especially homosexual activity a major distinction between themselves and gentiles, and Paul repeated Diaspora Jewish vice lists. I see no reason to focus on homosexual acts as the one point of Paul’s vice lists [in 1 Cor 6.9] that must be maintained today.

As we read the conclusion of the chapter, I should remind readers of Paul’s own view of homosexual activities in Romans 1, where both males and females who have homosexual intercourse are condemned: ‘those who practice such things’ (the long list of vices, but the emphasis is on idolatry and homosexual conduct) ‘deserve to die’ (1.31). This passage does not depend on the term ‘soft’, but is completely in agreement with Philo and other Diaspora Jews. (E P Sanders Paul: The Apostle’s Life, Letters and Thought pp 344, 373).

The task demands intellectual honesty. I have little patience with efforts to make Scripture say something other than what it says, through appeals to linguistic or cultural subtleties. The exegetical situation is straightforward: we know what the text says. But what are we to do with what the text says?  I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good (Luke Timothy Johnson).

Steven does come clean at one point, when he comments (p 34):

Has our understanding of same-sex desire and attraction changed significantly because of advances in science, social science and culture, such that we would now offer a more nuanced interpretation for gender and same-gender relations? In my view that case can be made and, in the light of that increased and better understanding, justifies a careful revision to the doctrine and teaching of the Church.

In other words, no, Scripture does not tell us the truth about sexuality, and that presumably includes the teaching of Jesus. We need to look elsewhere, he believes.

He signs off the discussion of scripture with comparison between the debate about marriage, and previous debates about the ministry of women and slavery—but does so without actually attending to the very different nature of the issues, the biblical texts involved, and the differing things those texts say. In particular, he avoids the obvious reality that, on these other issues, the texts appear at first to pull in different directions. By contrast, on the question of male-female marriage and the implications for same-sex relations, the texts are univocal.

He claims that the trajectory of justice requires that we reject the teaching of Scripture on marriage—but fails then to notice that neither Jesus nor Paul, nor any of the OT prophets, with their insistent focus on justice, believed that the one followed from the other. He appeals to the Council of Acts 15, but ignores the fact that the Council’s decision was made in the light of scripture, not in defiance of it, and that admission of the gentiles fulfilled OT prophecy of God’s eschatological goal. Slightly inconveniently, the Council also ask that one of the key OT commands they adhere to is that of avoiding sexual immorality, which would of course have included same-sex sex.

Steven claims that the creation account in Gen 1.27, ‘God made humanity in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them’ puts our common humanity above our sexed nature, and allows for fluidity—against I think every single commentator who has written about this text, and in defiance of the way this text is read in the rest of Scripture.

He also cites the argument about relationships that produce ‘good fruit’, while setting aside both Paul’s contrast between the fruit of the Spirit and sexual immorality in Gal 5.19–22 (where, again, Paul includes not one but three terms related to sexuality), which for Paul would certainly have included same-sex sex. And the purpose of ‘fruit’ is the production of new plants and growth, as Jesus sets out in the parable of the sower in Mark 4. What has happened to Western churches who have abandoned historic teaching on marriage, and chosen to bless same-sex relationships? Every single one has experienced division and decline, with falling attendances actually accelerating. That is the ‘fruit’ test we should be paying attention to.

This post has ended up being much, much longer than I ever intended! The reason for this is that, as I wrote, I found so many bizarre claims in what Steven has written—and there are more that I have not commented on. His approach appears to be completely at odds with the processes that were agreed in the Church and by the bishops; he repeatedly makes quite implausible claims; he appears to be entirely out of touch with key areas of debate in relation to psychology, culture, and the biblical witness; and he offers the most peculiar interpretation of the relation of the Church to the world.

But, following the article title, I need to ask one final question: what is Steven Croft thinking?

The Church has long been facing a decline in attendance, which is rapidly coming to a crisis point in many dioceses. At the same time, these dioceses were also already facing acute financial pressures, which were then exacerbated by Covid. In response to the missional challenges, there has been proposed from the ‘centre’ a rethinking of the Church’s focus and activities, and this has faced stiff opposition from many quarters for a variety of reasons. Clergy have been increasingly feeling under pressure. And both churches and dioceses are now facing stern challenges with the cost of living increases, including energy prices. At the same time, on a wider scale, the Anglican Communion appears to be in its dying days as a meaningful fellowship.

Into this context, Steven now wants to bring division and disunity. This will have a direct impact on confidence, on mission and growth, and on finance. It feels as if the good ship Church of England is running on one engine, listing to port, holed at or below the waterline—and Captain Croft wants to grab the helm and steer her onto the rocks.

Lord have mercy.

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421 thoughts on “What is the Bishop of Oxford thinking?”

  1. ‘Bishop Steven also said many Christians in the Church of England hold and will continue to hold a traditional view of marriage and that those views should be honoured and respected.’

    I suspect he really meant to say ‘hounded and rejected’. Certainly this is what will happen in time. In principle, I have no problem with ‘hounded and rejected’. It reveals passion and conviction. It is a lack of such passion by evangelicals that has led to the sorry state not only f the C of E but other churches too. It is the lukewarm that Christ spew out.

    • But can you see how patronising Bp Croft’s words are?

      There is not a saint or luminary from the past that would not fall into his 2nd-class category of those he is ‘graciously’ honouring and respecting but not treating as a first class citizen (because they are not sufficiently approving of sexually louche behaviour?).

        • Advocating for marriage in church is sexually louche behaviour?

          Louche means ‘Oblique, not straightforward. Also, dubious, shifty, disreputable.’

          Sexual behaviour which is not within God’s plan (ie, occurring within a lifelong marriage between one man and one woman) is definitely not straightforward, is certainly dubious, and absolutely ought to be seen as disreputable.

          So yes, any sexual behaviour outside that (and that includes, say, all one-night stands) could certainly be described as sexually louche, and anyone who asks for the church to tolerate it could certainly be said to be advocating sexually louche behaviour.

        • Everyone knows that marriage is a word that refers to the start of a new family. Even if they did not know that (which they do) it can easily be seen that most people and cultures and written works agree with that. Anyone can change the meanings of words, usually those who want to socially engineer.

          Advocating (in a church context) for homosexual sexual behaviour began at exactly the same time as the sexual revolution. You can say the 2 are unconnected, but who would believe that? So there is an association with (rather than a revulsion with) the most antiChristian large scale social movement we have seen of late. Let that sink in?

          Together with that, where among the revisionists do we see the slightest acknowledgement of the epidemic of promiscuity and STIs among men who have sex with men (this shows the revisionists’ dishonesty and selectivity and devil’s-advocacy) let alone condemnation of such trends which are inimical to souls and families. You couldn’t make it up.

          • Everyone does not ‘know’ that. Another of your sweeping, unevidenced generalisations. Christians who get married in CoE churches will hear that marriage is for sexual intimacy and for nurturing family. Goods that are as open to gay couples as they are to straight.

            Far from ignoring your obsession with promiscuity and STIs, many revisionists, including me, have pointed out that you are positing a red herring. Maybe you hope it will give your arguments some credibility. It doesn’t. Faithfully married people, whether they are gay, straight, bi or pan are unlikely to catch STDs. If you really cared about people’s health and morals, you would be encouraging them to marry, not arguing that they shouldn’t.

          • A further thought is that the procreative end of marriage isn’t a teleconference good mentioned by either Jesus or Paul

          • Christians who get married in CoE churches will hear that marriage is for sexual intimacy and for nurturing family. Goods that are as open to gay couples as they are to straight.

            What a pathetically stunted, utilitarian view of marriage, that it’s about the ‘goods’ it provides for the couple, as if it were a family hatchback or a new sofa.

          • Family is equally open to ‘gay couples’ as to ‘straight’?


            The only way that is likely to happen is by brutally depriving some poor child of both their mum and their dad, or at most one of these,
            then secondly adding to this some official unhealed fissure between mum and dad
            then thirdly having some kind of household where there is not a male and female role model.

            And approving a society that tries to normalise such manglings, that cannot possibly come about naturally or by accident.

          • Yep. It’s called adoption. Probably not ideal. But then many ‘biological’ families aren’t ideal.
            Research shows that children do as well with same sex parenting as they do with mixed sex. There are even cases where kids do better if, for example, they have been abused by a ‘biological’ parent of one sex, they may be safer with parents of the other sex.
            And, of course, if you are implacably opposed to abortion, there will be many homeless an unwanted children.
            The same goes for step parents in mixed sex marriages and for adoptive parents in mixed sex marriages. And for doting aunts, uncles and godparents.
            There are many ways of being family and of being generative, as the Church recognises in the Marriage Service.

          • Yep. It’s called adoption.

            I haven’t seen any stories in the press about same-sex couples adopting children who have tragically lost their parents.

            I have seen a lot of stories about same-sex couples renting the wombs of poor women, as if they were gestatiory chattels, to produce offspring who are then torn away from their mothers.

            If it really was the case that same-sex couples wanting a family were providing homes for children who would otherwise be in care, then that would be one thing. Such a home would be less good than a stable home with two parents of opposite sexes, but probably better than being in care.

            But in practice that’s not what happens. Same-sex couples don’t want to adopt children, and they don’t. They create new children instead, and the children who need homes remain in care.

  2. I have to say that I’m totally in agreement with Ian Paul. Being a very simple bloke, I wouldn’t put it perhaps as beautifully, or as learnedly as he does. For me, regardless of my own views on homosexual or lesbian people (I’ve had works colleagues who were both) it all comes down to a simple matter of Bible authority.

    Like many Christians I was grounded in the ‘John Stott’ ideology – you take the clearest, most obvious meaning of Scripture as being the correct one. Given that, as some of the experts admit, the gay equality promoters are in complete error – the Bible is consistently opposed to any form of same sex relationship. There is no way round that. Full stop.

    My generation of converts were taught to ‘apply the scriptures to yourself’, and that meant we could be in for a lot of discomfort and difficulty if, for whatever reason, our ‘self’ didn’t conform to the Bible’s demands. That was as true for heterosexual Christians as it was for gay ones – unless you complied with the requirement of marriage, sorry, no sex. Yes, it was very uncomfortable, particularly for someone who was long term single, in a strand of churchmanship which allowed/s absolutely no room for any form of sexual expression or relief – and the obvious solitary substitute is both unsatisfying and frowned on. But, like it or not, we had to accept it – otherwise our committment to Christ was very much in question.

    That kind of blunt, straightforward speaking seems badly out of favour now – everything is about our ‘rights’, particularly of minority groups, to have their own way and it seems too many church leaders are happily trimming their sails to the wind of cultural popularity. We seem to be resembling far too closely the churches of Laodicia and Sardis for our future good.

    Part of me wonders why we bothered obeying the Lord’s teachings -and then I remember a memorial to the people martyred for their faith by Bloody Mary, which I saw near Bishop’s Stortford. All the names are of faithful ordinary Christians. There is not one single ordained person among them.

    • John Davies – I’d probably agree with all of that – and go further; even if one does comply with the requirements of marriage, the opportunities for such activities are very limited, since only complete idiots would even consider packing their bodies full of chemicals in order to avoid unwanted pregnancies anyway. In married life, sexual activities (at least between people possessed of a reasonable level of sanity) only take place when the two people involved both look forward to an increase in the size of their family as a result.

      But for me I’m not sure that it is bible authority – in the sense that the bible was only ever stating a position that seemed right to me. In other words, what is it that makes us accept bible authority? The Holy Spirit has to work in the heart and mind before a person comes to accept bible authority.

      • “In married life, sexual activities (at least between people possessed of a reasonable level of sanity) only take place when the two people involved both look forward to an increase in the size of their family as a result.”

        Jock you can’t really be serious here? Married people only have sex if they want to become pregnant?

          • Just to press you a little further. Within marriage…

            1. Sex must have the potential for pregnancy..


            2. Sex must be for the purpose of pregnancy..

            Or 3, something else more nuanced between the two?

            I understand the argument for 1, but even among my devout traditional Catholic friends I haven’t really encountered an argument for 2. Could you elaborate a little please?

          • Mat – well, the first of these is probably the way I see it. I’m dead against people using chemicals to prevent pregnancy – basically because the drugs and chemicals do muck about with the natural workings of the body and can have harmful side effects. I get the impression that the other methods aren’t fool-proof, so the couple has to be prepared to welcome a pregnancy if they try them.

            But there’s more to it than that – I do get the strong impression these days that it is considered normal to be a slave to – shall we say – sensual desires – and we can be left with the impression from reading even so-called ‘quality’ newspapers that sex, for its own sake, is somehow mandatory; if a couple aren’t having-it-off on a regular basis for purely recreational purposes – and enjoying it – then there is something wrong with the marriage, at least one of them is psychologically and emotionally unbalanced and they should seek help from a marriage guidance counsellor or psychiatrist.

            Of course, what goes on in other peoples marriages is none of my business, so best to stop here …..

          • “Of course, what goes on in other peoples marriages is none of my business, so best to stop here …”..

            Very good maxim Jock. It’s absolutely none of your business unless they wish to discuss it with you!

          • It’s absolutely none of your business unless they wish to discuss it with you!

            Out of interest is that the attitude you would take if someone you knew turned up with a hastily-made-up black eye, and kept flinching every time her husband came near her? ‘Absolutely none of my business unless they wish to discuss it with me!’?

          • Andrew – well, I’m happy to find that there is something we agree on!

            I’d go further though – I prefer if people don’t want to discuss these aspects of their private lives with me. Some things really should be kept firmly within the four walls of a household.

    • Of the 284 known martyrs executed under Mary I, 24 were ordained clergy (including Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer, Robert Ferrar, and John Hooper who were all Bishops).

  3. How about looking at marriage from first principles.
    Joseph’s dream: the sun and moon bowed down to him.
    Sun, moon = mother father. Stars =children.
    Moses comes along and possibly used this family history in his magnum opus, Genesis:
    the great lights = signs and seasons.
    Not just any sign or season. The Sign and The Season, also later to become The Day of The Lord.
    Forever the universe declares His Glory. The glory of the Son of Man. The Groom, rising like the sun , ready to run its course. Where?
    To catch up with the Moon.
    Jesus is the Sun.
    The Church is the Moon.
    It waxes and wanes on a 28 day cycle.
    The moon reflects the glory of the Sun.
    It seems weak but eventually it eclipses the sun and causes the stars to shine at midday.
    Once in a while, like the church it will become blood red; a sign of its persecution by the earth.
    The sun eclipsed = the stone rolling to seal its fate.
    The stone rolls away. Resurrection.
    Does not the heavens display His Glory?
    Where would we be if there were only two moons?
    Or, what if there were two suns?
    Or only stars?
    Does not nature cry out?

  4. Honestly. Where to begin on the bigoted bloggers latest rant, that is the question! It’s just shocking. Why he’s so verbose about this particular issue beggars belief. If it was a personal issue for him, like Prostate-Pete then at least we would understand why, but to concentrate so heavily on this particular issue is certainly questionable.

    It would take a lot of effort to take him to task in every point of his bigoted treatise, so instead I’ll thank the bishop for speaking out in our behalf and supporting us: don’t worry about the bigots, they’ve been doing this for years. But thankfully they’ll be dead soon (the older they get the less of them there are!)

    • bigoted
      obstinately or unreasonably attached to a belief, opinion, or faction, in particular prejudiced against or antagonistic towards a person or people on the basis of their membership of a particular group.
      “they’re pandering to a vocal minority of ill-informed and bigoted individuals”

  5. Lay persons in evangelical parishes might take the lead in deluging their diocesan bishop with the following letter. Laypersons must take the lead or else their vicars might face discipline. Letters carry more clout than emails.

    Dear [Bishop]

    We understand that, following the Living in Love and Faith initiative, the Church of England’s bishops are preparing a proposal for General Synod in February 2023 to re-evaluate the church’s position concerning wedding ceremonies between persons of the same sex, or blessings of such relationships. At present the church’s position is that these relationships are sinful in the eyes of God. The Church Times (November 4th 2022) has reported that “the bishops acknowledge that simply to restate the existing ban on same-sex blessings or marriage in church is not an option”.

    The Church’s present position is held because Jesus Christ affirmed that the written laws of Moses are given by His Father, who created the human race and understands it best. In those laws God describes sexual activity between two men as toevah. Please verify this Hebrew word for yourself. The passage also condemns further sexual practices of the Canaanites and outlaws them for Israelites. Although the laws of Moses do not apply within the church, God does not change his opinion of those practices. To question that opinion is to question whether the gospels record Jesus correctly. But if the gospels are in question then so is Christ’s Resurrection, in which case our faith is in vain.

    The purpose of this letter is not to enter into exegetical discussion even though more can be said. We write to inform you that, if you publicly support or vote for the changing of the Church’s position from that stated in scripture and 2000 years of church tradition, we shall henceforth make financial contributions to our parish church only in envelopes which state “None of this contribution is to be forwarded to the diocese.” We shall inform our treasurer and parish priest that this condition is be kept. We shall also seek to bring a motion of No Confidence in you at diocesan synod and/or vote against the passing of a diocesan budget.

    We urge you to heed Rev’d Sam Allberry and Rev’d Vaughan Roberts and others, who experience sexual attraction to other men but believe that God requires them not to act on it. We acknowledge that it is not a sin to experience temptation to act against God’s wishes, but only to yield to it. Rev’d Sam and Rev’d Vaughan have been washed in the blood of the Lamb and they have our utmost respect. God alone can answer whether same-sex attraction is part of God’s design plan or a result of the Fall and, through Christ’s endorsement of Torah and in other passages of scripture, He has answered clearly. At its peril does the Church dismiss the views of its Lord and saviour, and we shall contend for the faith once delivered to the saints.

    Yours sincerely

  6. Can I ask both sides of the argument to summarise what The Bible actually teaches on the issue of same-sex sexual activity?

    • I don’t know about ‘side’, but ISTM that the Bible teaches:

      a. That sexual relationships arise from the sex binary of male and female in creation.
      b. Therefore that one man, one woman marriage is the only appropriate place for sexual intimacy
      c. This ‘union of difference’ serves as a theological illustration of the relationship of God with his people
      d. That same-sex sex is, theologically, a rejection of God’s creation intention
      e. That we are not bound to act on all our desires and impulses
      f. That sexual identity and orientation does not define us, since in the end we will be ‘like the angels’, neither marrying nor giving in marriage. The fulfilment and intimacy that we humanly can find in marriage will be available to us all through our final union with God.

      Does that all make sense?

      • Thank you Ian. That’s a good summary of your position and one which can be defended by close exegesis of what The Bible says.

    • Good morning Professor,

      I’m interested in your post and also quite curious about your own thoughts, as somebody in Medicine with familiarity with scientific discipline (although in this topic there must be a big overlap with psychology). But also, as I understand you have a Christian faith.

      You ask for BOTH ‘sides’ of the argument, and as I am lesbian and Christian and affirm gay sexuality, I offer you my assessment of what the Bible actually teaches.

      To start with, it should be noted that the understanding of ‘what The Bible actually teaches’ depends on how Christians believe the Bible should be read, understood, and received. Indeed, in this sexuality debate that ‘approach’ to the Bible is often key.

      1. Traditionally, through history, most statements in the Bible have been seen as literal, to be literally believed, as divine statements from God for all societies and for all times and cultures. If ‘what the Bible says’ is to be read and received at face value, then even as an LGBT person I would say that the Bible (at face value) is fairly negative about, for example, man-man sex. It is clearly condemned in the Old Testament, and that position is never repudiated in the New Testament, and seems to be regarded as an ‘unholy’ activity by at least one author. So if, like fundamentalist Christians in the extreme case, the starting premiss is that the Bible is true in all of its statements, then a theology can certainly be found (in the ‘creation’ background of men and women differently being formed for reproduction, and everything that marriage brings, especially children). At the literal level, though socially liberal myself, I do think the authors of the Bible collectively (in their contemporary religious communities) were not ‘okay’ with men having sex with each other.

      I should, though, mention that arguments have been raised by some ‘liberals’, that the references to man-man sex that are criticised in a New Testament that widens the spiritual remit to Gentiles, to women, etc may – in translation – actually just apply to homosexual acts that are not rooted in devoted caring relationships. However I only mention that, as I’m not convinced that isn’t linguistic gymnastics to justify a different and more liberal view. On the basis that the Bible is ultimate authority, to be taken as God’s order for all societies, I believe those who oppose gay sex have a coherent theology.

      2. HOWEVER…

      There are many other Christians who, while revering much in what is written in the Bible, read, understand, and receive it in a more literary critical way. They observe that the authors were fallible human beings like ourselves, trying to make sense and report profound encounters with the mystery of God, but writing from within the context of their own times, their own society, their own cultures, and… significantly perhaps to someone like you in Medicine… writing from within the limits of their own scientific knowledge. Precedents for that aspect might be drawn from the very obvious lack of knowledge that Bible authors had of evolution (contrary to the idea of Adam having no parents) or Noah’s Ark (in the light or our modern geological knowledge and worldwide spread of vast numbers of animal species, not to mention the impossibility of worldwide flooding within human history, higher that the high mountains). I mention those things only as precedents. The point is, that at the other end of the spectrum from fundamentalism (which across various religions blights people’s lives) this more critical (in the sense of literary criticism, recognition of contexts etc) approach tries to drive to the heart of what was really being expressed, and why, allowing for the possibility that some verses and statements in the Bible are products of cultural context rather than statements to be enforced on all communities, in all times.

      Was the portrayal of man-man sex as ‘unholy’ basically the author trying to list examples of things which in his own time and religious community were regarded as ‘unholy’?

      For Christians who try to read the Bible, taking into account the actual contexts and boundaries of its authors, many will home in on the key principles of the Gospel as the lens for interpreting all the rest. The key assertion of God making covenant with us, in a devotion (giving of self) to the point of absolute commitment and no turning back (in the life, person, and death of Jesus Christ); and his resurrection, and call to us to ‘devote’ ourselves back to God, and open to… the flow of God’s love in us – love being the greatest commandment, and the filter through which the rest of the Bible needs to be interpreted and understood – and the flow of God’s love through us as we serve other people.

      The Bible read this way, requires intelligent and careful handling, and also requires that we engage with the Holy Spirit in our own lives today, as the Spirit speaks to our consciences and our hearts, and challenges us to discern love (and Jesus today) would actually say about social and scientific and moral questions today. Far from being a verbatim text sent from God to be followed in robot-like obedience, the Bible incites, it provokes, it inspires love, it shows us again and again God’s call to us to enter ‘covenant’ (giving of self) in a ‘baptismal burial’ of ourselves in the flow of God’s love to people, and in our worship of God.

      That is a huge challenge, and work of God-given conscience, and surrender to the love of God. In trying to read and navigate the Bible… in a way which has more credibility to many truth-seeking people today, and scientists like yourself… we acknowledge contexts rather than being fundamentalist, we acknowledge that authors wrote through their own cultural lenses, and we acknowledge the reality of God continuing to speak to us and our consciences, through the Holy Spirit today.

      Using this methodology, we look very very carefully at the conscience issues of today… women’s rights, racism, sexuality… and we try to seriously consider the fruits. For example, the experience in many modern societies, that devoted gay relationships can themselves be platforms of tenderness, caring, sacrifice, and a gift to others in the community, as well as being a kind of wholeness of who a person is, if that’s their sexual attraction. Opinions will vary, and as with heterosexuality, there will be negative versions – infidelity, porn, abuse – but the negative can always be used as a facile repudiation of what, frankly, is widely now be seen as – in faithful relationships – a blessing, a wholeness, a platform for good lives.

      The Church of England is divided pretty much down the middle on this sexuality issue (can’t prove which view now dominates, probably the liberal on with the age-group you mainly teach, I don’t know). Personally, as I think the Bishops may decide, we will simply have to accept there are two different views, and respect people’s right of conscience, and accommodate both views with respect. The different and conflicting views are simple ‘de facto’ reality, which the Bishop of Oxford and other bishops are trying to navigate.

      I hope this is of some help, and best wishes,

  7. 1 John 3:21
    Just because somebody advocates an action as permissible for a Christian does not mean it is right for everyone. Once you take a road there is often no going back and then your conscience will condemn you. Your faith will run the risk of shipwreck. You may find new friends and comrades down your chosen path but only your heart will know its own misery.


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