on Saturday, 6 August 2016 at 10.00 am by Peter Owen
categorised as Opinion
Andrew Lightbown In praise of Woodhead & Brown
Bishop David Gillett Positive about Scripture: Positive about Equal Marriage
Hattie Williams Church Times Spare Mrs May all these imaginary childhoods
David’s post is really useful and I commend it (I commented there – a bit too long to re-post here). He describes a really interesting way of responding to scripture, and the idea that two divergent views may both be valuable… that different people may respond in different ways to the same text.
The esteemed Roman Catholic scripture scholar, Luke Johnson, has stated that the Bible is definitively opposed to same sex relations, and in this he agrees with many others (NT Wright, Markus Bockmuehl, Oliver O’Donovan, Bernadette Brooten, and the list goes on). He just thinks the Bible is not directly helpful given the emergence of a “new thing.” I have chronicled the changing view of progressives on this issue in numerous publications. The Bishop here falls in the camp of saying ‘the Bible says a lot of things’ and whatever it may say about ss conduct is trumped by things it… Read more »
I welcome +David’s writing that it is possible to conclude that the Bible does authorise same sex unions and that the correct approach is to read the Bible as a narrative so that no verse can be understood in isolation but only as part of the whole. The Bible is also clear that different standards apply to different people according to the level of understanding they have developed. We should accept that; however, there is nothing in the Bible, read either literally or as narrative, that suggests the Church’s teaching should embrace such a diversity. In terms of teaching there… Read more »
As an evangelical who genuinely wants to engage in a generous way with the issues of human sexuality I read David Gillett’s article with some interest. However, I was very disappointed – it comes across as the ‘same old’ that we’ve been hearing for years. In particular I was really disappointed by the way that he conflates uncritically the concept of ‘being gay’ with that of ‘experiencing same sex attraction’. The two are not the same, and there are those who experience same sex attraction but wouldn’t dream of calling themselves ‘gay’. So is ‘experiencing same sex attraction the God-given… Read more »
A fantastic piece by Andrew Lightbown. As finances are increasingly centralised, it is inevitable that management will be too. Follow the money remains an apt adage. Andrew is right to say that centralisation is dangerous. His argument, and an accurate one, is that doing so reduces local responsiveness. He misses a bigger point. Central management of an organisation as large and complex as CofE requires a very capable manager. The thing is, do we wish to choose an Archbishop of Canterbury because of his/her management talent? And, do we want to choose diocesan bishops for their ability as middle managers?… Read more »
There is little new ground to cover in this debate. One comments on bishop David Gillett’s very fine article by re-stating what one has already said i.e. appeals to a biblical ethic, or to a so called revealed morality, or even to what Gillett refers to early in his article as “…a deeper view of the Bible’s authority over our lives…” are all problematic in terms of grappling with contemporary bio-ethical issues in human sexuality. Something more than reading the bible is required. The more that is required is a systematic understanding of transcendent values including values which transcend the… Read more »
Bishop Gillett’s post testifies to emergence from the peculiar bubble of “the Bible settles it” that dominated Christian thinking for a time, and even then was very selectively applied. Of course, Anglicans should be in the forefront on this, as they have long (and officially) recognized a hierarchy of values within the texts of the Bible (dividing ‘moral’ from ceremonial’ for instance). Orienting ones moral compass on the commandment to love of God and of neighbor as oneself accords with two NT proponents of that hierarchy of values.
Yes, Christopher, ‘the Bible’ might appear to ‘be against’ S/S relationships; but what abut Jesus? What does He say, do you think? Could you be making an idol of ‘words in a Book’, forgetting the fact that ‘The Word became flesh and dwelt among us’?
Sorry, I thought the point fairly obvious. It was that Luke Johnson joined other NT scholars in concurring that key NT texts do in fact condemn what we would call ss relations.
And that we have a panoply of views now appearing in the name of approving ss relations. That they are different and even contradictory does not matter because the ’cause’ calls for whatever remedy is at hand.
The Luke Johnson I was referring to is the subject of my discussion in Figured Out (2001, WJK Press).
Peter K, at some level, liberal argument will always be “same old”, just as conservative arguments are. I do find the complimentary argument singularly unimpressive, though. Yes, people are created male and female (leaving aside that this is in itself a crude generalism, considering all we know about gender these days). And yes, it takes a man and a woman to have a baby. But that’s as far as it goes. Gay and lesbian people remain male and female, straight people do not all procreate. If you really want to make this the one huge defining difference you have to… Read more »
Kate Can I ask you to clarify two things in your post:
You say ‘The Bible is also clear that different standards apply to different people according to the level of understanding they have developed’. Can you give an example of where you find this in the Bible?
Are you saying that sexual compatibility is only possible between a man and a woman?
Peter K+, I agree very much. Liberals are presenting arguments in language they understand and using liberal memos. To convince evangelicals and anglo-catholics, the argument clearly needs to be taken to them in language they understand and that means properly structured theology. As to “be fruitful”, should someone who is unmarried or divorced follow the instruction? Should a man married to an infertile or post-menopausal woman set her aside? Obviously not. So the instruction to be fruitful has to be read with the caveat “if circumstances permit”. It doesn’t instruct us to change adverse circumstances such as by divorcing a… Read more »
Ron–a false trail. Though popular amongst Valentinians (the spirit gives higher knowledge than scriptural testimony of prophets and apostles).
My point was that liberal NT scholars accept that scripture is opposed to ss relations. They don’t reach this judgment based upon a crude “Jesus v scripture.”
David, one obvious passage is 1 Corinthians 8, but the Bible (particularly the OT) has many examples. For instance doesn’t Moses give instructions for having more than one wife? People were allowed to keep slaves because the understanding that slavery is abhorrent hadn’t yet developed. And so on. As to your other point, I am just saying that for a Christian – whether that Christian is straight or gay – sexual compatibility should be irrelevant to the question of “suitability” of a partner Peter raised. Indeed, I think a straight man actually sins if he says “If I marry it… Read more »
Kate, “To convince evangelicals and anglo-catholics, the argument clearly needs to be taken to them in language they understand and that means properly structured theology.” Quite apart from the fact that this theology exists and that the main challenge seems to be to get people to read it and engage with it rather than to pretend it isn’t there, I think we have to be clear that there is no single killer argument that will make everyone sit up and say “Ah, now I get it, of course!” Everyone will be persuaded by a different approach. And, to some extent,… Read more »
Erika & Kate, thank you for your comments. just to pick up on one or two points: The Hebrew words used for male and female very much mean ‘bodily male’ and ‘bodily female’ – they’re the same ones used about the animals in the Noah’s ark story, who were expected to get down to business and repopulate the world! I see this bodily dimension as being very helpful and indeed in understanding gender identity, since without it we quickly descend into clichés – ‘men are brave, courageous, whereas women are caring, sensitive’ etc. Can we properly define male and female… Read more »
Erika, just to add – yes I really does think that it matters that men and women are needed to make a baby. Whatever our ‘spiritual taxonomy’ may be, all of us are physical beings, the biological product of a man and a woman, however complex our stories have been since that point.
Peter, thank you, I hope you will take the time to read some of the books I recommended, especially Tobias Haller, and then come back here and engage with their arguments. Regarding your point that men and women are needed to make a baby… yes. But the question is whether having babies is something best done within marriage or whether it is an absolute requirement. The church does not refuse to marry people who are knowingly not capable of having children. And it marries people who have no intention of having children. And it marries asexual people who will not… Read more »
@cseitz, ” I thought the point fairly obvious. It was that Luke Johnson joined other NT scholars in concurring that key NT texts do in fact condemn what we would call ss relations.” Interesting to compare Luke Timothy Johnson’s full position to your stripping down of his argument to his starting point re texts, and where he takes that v. where you would take it. As he develops his position, and despite his starting point, Johnson does a really good job of demonstrating that we cannot live by text alone on this one. Pace both you and Johnson the notion… Read more »
“Also, longitudinal studies show that for many people one’s levels of same sex attraction can change over time (in both directions)” Peter K Could you provide the references to the *original* research please? I see this sort of thing quoted a lot by conservatives and yet the research is never referenced. I am aware of only one good quality study which showed some possible fluidity in women’s sexual orientations over time. The author of this research is categorically clear that her studies do not in any way support a conservative christian view of human sexuality. Bearing in mind that science… Read more »
Three comments in response to Peter K+. Genesis 1:27 and 5:2 speak of “male and female” as nouns, not adjectives, best translated “a male and a female.” Referring this to classes of people instead of two individuals leads to much unproductive theological reflection about the nature of the image of God, and a defective anthropology that understands humanity dualistically. For final authority, Jesus’ reading of the passage holds it to be about a pair: the “two” who become one. (Mark 10:8; as in Matthew, Jesus picks up the LXX of Genesis with “the two” — an emphasis not needed in… Read more »
Kate thanks – but I don’t find in 1 Cor 8 anything about ‘different standards apply to different people according to the level of understanding they have developed’. It is about an early Christian community divided over how to cope with the issue of eating meat previously offered to idols.
“biblical exegesis by itself lacks the competence to do” is biblical interpretation, in the life of the church, through the ages, and in relation to natural law a la Aquinas.
The alternative is:
“Thus says M. Gillis” — about which there was never much doubt!
I would be grateful if Dr Seitz would kindly expand his elliptical comment posted at 7.21 BST. As it stands, it makes no sense to me whatsoever.
@cseitz, “…in relation to natural law a la Aquinas.” And yet it is interesting to see modern Roman Catholic theologians in various disciplines, as they move away from natural law, or least acknowledge its current limitations, struggle with the dynamic tension between resourcement in juxtaposition to aggiornamento. One can sense the frustration in, just for example, Luke Timothy Johnson’s article, whose position you introduced into this thread. ” ‘Thus says M. Gillis’ — about which there was never much doubt!” ( : Well I did say there was not much new ground to cover at present, and I have been… Read more »
Further proof that we cannot share a denomination with those who are inextricably opposed to same-sex relationships and refuse to accept any but the literal reading (as long as it doesn’t inconvenience *them*, of course). Give it up. Why let them continue trying to do damage to us? It’s ridiculous and certainly nothing that in any way remotely resembles charity, discipline or love. This insistence that only one denomination all together can possibly serve as the Church Universal is human pride, and deserving of rebuke. Let them go, these who need certainties no one – including God – ever offered.
Andrew Lightbown. Thank you for your critique. I share many of your concerns. I would be very interested to hear what you would include in a strategy you regard as the right forward to the challenges we are facing. When I listen to Linda Woodhead I share her concerns too but feel I am missing positive persuasive alternatives. I want to be doing more than moaning from the sidelines at this point.
MarkBrunson. Who are ‘we’ and ‘they’ in your post? And in what way your approach here is any more charitable than ‘theirs’ is not immediately apparent to this reader.
“the literal reading” Of course all reading is literal reading…the transformation of the term “literal” to the realm of historical reference is a strange species of modernity. What blogs reveal is the way the tribes of modernity now just talk past one another. I am probably regarded as the premier exponent of extended sense and figural exegesis in my field. The “literal sense” for Aquinas, e.g., was not a historical sense as we mean it, but the divine sense across time in its widest reach. But we are trapped in the categories of historical reference and ‘facticity’–look at the odd… Read more »
In Christ, there is neither male nor female.
Surely the Imago Dei resides in every single person regardless of their marital status. Our human participation in the divine does not depend on being joined to another human being, whether gay or straight.
“In my opinion church policy, whether social or pastoral or moral, that is grounded in an effort to see the unwavering will of God dictated or revealed and binding for all time in passages that are culturally conditioned or pragmatically over focused or theoretically naive simply does not and cannot inform the current state of the question.” – Rod Gillis Now on this I agree with Christopher Seitz. Christianity is not a moral code, but the worship of a God. Our role is to discern His will as best we can and follow it even if personally we find it… Read more »
Kate, a difficulty lies in what is meant by “a scriptural basis” for change. All Christians are aware of the Bible, but there are many and disparate ways in which they read and use and interpret the Bible. And often the differences in dogma stem from that. At one end you have people who read the entire bible literally as fact. At another (but not the only) end, there are those like myself who believe that the Bible is fallible, and that although it reports encounters with God, these are human and limited reports, by people – like ourselves –… Read more »
Kate, I sometimes think you are seeking a ‘magic theology’ that will convince everyone on scriptural grounds that gay sex is right. However, I believe that people need to be convinced on conscientious grounds… the exercise of human conscience… beyond anything specific the Bible teaches on human sexuality (which may be heteronormative or culturally indoctrinated by the social and religious establishments of the time). I take the view that the entire Bible is subordinate to the primary imperative and command to love. Everything else has to be read (or dismissed) in that context. THAT is my scriptural basis, which in… Read more »
@ Kate, “…our response should be to follow the most restrictive path of Scripture as we understand it, or contemporary morality if stricter.” Why would one advocate such an approach as they the best way of discerning the ought? “… it seems there is no freely available theology supporting a change in teaching on same sex relationships.” Actually, while open to critique, the recent Canadian document, This Holy Estate, certainly meets the test of the challenge you throw out. http://www.anglican.ca/wp-content/uploads/Marriage_Canon_REPORT_15Sept22.pdf However, there is a better way forward in terms of a values based ethic. One thinks of transcendent values. Values… Read more »
We do seem to be talking past each other, but I don’t believe it boils doen to a surmised “literal” or “figural” reading on either side. The canonical problem, looking at the corpus as a whole, concerns what conclusion we draw as to “the divine sense across time in its widest reach” — it is fair to say that different readers will find different threads that they can rightly say meet that criterion. It is also fair to say that one cannot quite ignore the details (in which I think both devils and angels dwell) and that the overarching wave… Read more »
Thanks for your thoughts, Tobias. I will read your blog with interest. However I don’t see how one can keep Genesis 1 away from at least being on conversational terms with the Trinity and our doctrine of marriage. Agreed, it’s not a developed doctrine at this point, but given the teaching of the wider church about the sacrament of marriage, its prominence in the creation accounts, and that the church’s teaching is that marriage is ‘a gift of God in creation’ it’s pretty well impossible to ignore. I’d agree that if we try to ‘map upwards’ as it were, and… Read more »
Peter K, I’m not sure I understand you fully, and a comment thread may not be the best place to try to explain or understand. But I think it is helpful to distinguish between fruits of the body and fruits of the spirit. I also think it is helpful to disentangle Genesis 1 — which packs a great deal into a small space. The denseness of the image of God verse can obscure the fact that it contains three clauses, and I prefer to see them as linked but affirming different things. I am also at pains to preserve the… Read more »
Peter K, could I ask you to explain why the fruitfulness argument is so important, yet it does not apply to straight people when they cannot or do not want to have children, and why it does not apply to gay people when they have their own children or adopt and foster? Many years ago my ex-husband married a woman who had a 15-year old daughter. They did not want any more children. I married my wife and together we brought up my then primary school aged children. We did not want any more children. By what theological reasoning is… Read more »
“However, there is a better way forward in terms of a values based ethic. One thinks of transcendent values. Values ( transcendent, non-transcendent, positive, negative, convivial, alienating) permeate scripture, are diffused in scriptural narratives, are embedded in the outlook of scriptural writers; but the same values are also found in our contemporary horizon(s) in theological discourse, in pastoral policies and pragmatic pastoral responses. Values are found in the wider modern horizon, in the voices from a variety of religious faiths, and in the voices of those who profess no religious faith.”
Rod, a fabulous paragraph. Thank you.
If any are interested I wrote the entry on ‘Trinity in the Old Testament’ for the volume produced by Oxford U Press. ‘In beginning’ (an unusual form in Hebrew) was taken by John 1 and by all the Fathers as less temporal and more agency in intention: ‘in arche’ and ‘bereshith’ was ‘in he who is beginning before any created being’ or in Philo ‘in the torah of God through which he did all his planning to come’. Proverbs 8 is likely the most quoted text in all Trinitarian discussion, and it also focuses on Genesis 1 and divine agency… Read more »
Although we already have the royal ‘we’ in the UK, and the word for God, plural in Hebrew, seems similarly to intend a singular meaning… I find something felicitous about the third word, ‘Elohim’, being a plural form… given that God is three persons yet one God. Just out of interest (addressing Peter or Christopher – or anyone else who can enlighten) where are the insinuations of Trinity in Genesis 1 and 2. I can see the Ruach brooding over the waters, but I don’t see Jesus – except by backwards working from John 1 (which is kind of cheating).… Read more »
Susannah; I find most helpful, in your problem of finding Jesus at work in Creation, this possible understanding of the relevant passage on Creation in Genesis –
Christ, The Word, spoken by The Father, was borne on the breath of The Spirit, in a way that brought Creation into being!
Simplistic? Maybe, but adequate for our human capacity to analyse a great mystery.
David Runcorn, If it seems uncharitable, perhaps it is a reflection of what conservatives do to liberals. My charitability, however, lay in having no desire to force conservatives to stay in a situation in which they feel they endanger their souls, nor glbti’s in a situation in which we feel endangered by those who *should* be our brothers. The differences are too fundamental to allow a mere live-and-let-live approach in a single ecclesial structure. It is mere human pride and vanity, in any case, to assume that the Church Universal must have all the same practices and be under one… Read more »
Once again, Kate, there has *been* robust theology.
That it does not meet your preconceptions does not, in any way, make it less robust.
Which is kind of cheating…
Here is the mindset with which the modern historicist is burdened. Did God create without divine personal agency?
Progressively and not retrospectively.
A personal God–without the panoply of gods of polytheism –relates through his Logos and by the Spirit, that Logos in time coming out of figural and sacramental presence to be born of a woman.
See my OUP entry. Also Matthew Bates’ The Birth of the Trinity (OUP 2015).
Christopher, I was being a little light-hearted and mischievous (in fun) when I said “which is kind of cheating”. I like to tease a bit provocatively sometimes. For the record, I do indeed see the Trinitarian God at work in the recorded accounts of OT writers. And if God is God, then that’s not really retrospectively imposed, since God operates in eternity and knows ‘the end’ from ‘the beginning’ (though the writers themselves did not). Taken as a religious text written by Israelites for their Israelite religion, there is no intended indication of a Trinity. And, again being mischievous, I… Read more »
That it doesn’t feel robust to those whose minds needs to be changed is what matters, not my mind.
The modern convention is to present a narrative in timeline sequence so it is easy to assume that Genesis 2 follows Genesis 1 in time. I don’t read it that way but see Genesis 2 as expanding upon key events within Genesis 1. Thus the Genesis 1 portrayal of male and female describes the position after the Fall, with the Pre-Fall relationship described in Genesis 2 as simply “companionship”. I don’t see fruitfulness – or marriage – as part of the original divine plan but as a reaction to eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Indeed, the whole… Read more »
For me then, the debate about marriage is a debate about relative imperfection. Is it more imperfect for a man to marry another man than to marry a woman or is it more imperfect when marrying to see men and women as distinct genders rather than seeing simply the image of God in which gender is irrelevant? It is not an irrelevant debate because of the impact on lives but nonetheless for me it remains a debate about relative imperfection when most Christians should aspire instead not to be married in the Biblical sense. Susannah keeps reminding us that we… Read more »
Incidentally, one counter to the idea from Genesis that marriage is between one man and one woman is to look at the other end of the Bible and to marriage within Revelation 19. By then, marriage has become purely a relationship between the Lamb as a proxy for Jesus / God / the Spirit (but apparently genderless) and a bride which is generally accepted as a symbol for the church, and again genderless. There’s also no suggestion of fruitfulness from the marriage in a sexual sense. Genesis is a difficult book to understand but Revelation is many times harder. There… Read more »