Monday, 10 August 2009

Changing Attitude on the Bishop of Durham

Updated Tuesday

Changing Attitude has published the first of two articles concerning the Bishop of Durham’s comments on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Reflections.

The first article is titled The dangerous Bishop of Durham – part 1.

The Bishop of Durham’s paper claiming to ‘unpack’ the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Reflections is dangerous for the Church of England, for LGBT people and for the worldwide Anglican Communion. People in the Changing Attitude network, gay and straight, are furious at his abuse and dishonesty. The paper reveals a bishop with a megalomaniacal drive to impose his own solution unilaterally on the Communion.

Durham would like The Episcopal Church and partnered LGBT people evicted from the Communion right now. His stand is unprincipled. The bishop has partnered lesbian and gay clergy in his own diocese and knows full well that there are many partnered clergy in the Church of England. Instead of addressing what he says is the impossibility of the church recognising same-sex blessings, he diverts attention away from home and focuses his attack on The Episcopal Church…

Part 2 is now published: The dangerous Bishop of Durham – part 2

The Bishop of Durham claims to speak for the House of Bishops and to know the mind of the Archbishop of Canterbury better than the Archbishop knows himself. He takes it upon himself to clarify and expand upon what the Archbishop ‘really meant’.

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Categorised as: Anglican Communion | Church of England

If we just ignore him, will he go away? Couldn't lightning just strike twice?

Posted by: choirboyfromhell on Monday, 10 August 2009 at 11:44pm BST

Well, now, this is the sort of thing I was hoping for. May there be much more of it.

Posted by: Charlotte on Tuesday, 11 August 2009 at 12:45am BST

This needed saying.

One of 'Durham's' recent predecessors was himself on public record as being no stranger to gay sex. There's no harm in that, say I. But as this statement says, there is harm in blatant dishonesty / play-acting and in attacking those least able to defend themselves. That means minorities here and in Africa and the East.

When will the C of E's own gay bishops speak out -- with the backing of some of their more rational colleagues, of course !

If the bishop of Liverpool can change, anyone can !

Posted by: Rev L Roberts on Tuesday, 11 August 2009 at 3:36am BST

Changing Attitude doesn't make the distinction between 'is it the case?' and 'is it good?'. But that is a distinction a seven-year-old can make.

A very unpleasant prosperity-theology song popularised by Donnie McClurkin runs: 'I'm walking in prosperity, living life the way it's meant to be. It's not wrong, dear: I belong here - so you might as well get used to me.'.

Mutatis mutandis, this is the same as 'We're here, we're queer, get used to it.'. (Overlooking the fact that nobody, but nobody, has ever denied the 'we're here' bit.)

Complete absence of rational argument. Omnipresence of power-discourse. Possession is nine tenths of the law.

Wright is not always right (who is?), but he is a clever guy and his examiners at university reckoned his special strength was philosophy. He is a trained thinker, and by far and away the leading thinker on the bench together with the ABC. The difference is that following his train of argument is much easier than in the case of the ABC: all the better.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Tuesday, 11 August 2009 at 9:10am BST

I think Wright is homophobic in the older sense of the word - all pretence at rationality disappears and what you get are views which appear to be influenced largely by a visceral dislike

Posted by: Merseymike on Tuesday, 11 August 2009 at 10:21am BST

Lesson from MP today: 1 Corinthians 12. What a profound meditation, esp.: vv. 12-26. Mutual support and encouragement and celebration in light of our differing strengths and weaknesses. So heartening to meditate on the body united. Though surely the most difficult thing to pull ourselves together, it is certainly what we should be striving toward. @ +Durham: surely a tidy severance is not the vision to be looking toward.

Posted by: Thomas on Tuesday, 11 August 2009 at 11:26am BST

Is Bishop Tom Wright becoming the new Nazir-Ali?
in his stand for the diminishment of TEC's place in the Communion based on his relationship with GAFCON and ACNA, or is he presuming to speak for the ABC and the ACC?

One would like to know this bishop's real agenda. Is it to rid the Communion of the prophetic element of TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada in their espousal of the Gospel imperative for the inclusion of All People? Or is it because he feels the Church is getting its corporate feet dirty by wading into the area of gender and sex?

The Archbishop of Canterbury is in the difficult situation of trying to keep the Communion together, while it seems to be Tom Wright's vocation to split it apart - on issues that seem to pale into insignificance when compared to the real problems facing our world at this present time. Gays and women will still be around in the Church when ACNA and GAFCON are discovered to have been temporary glitches on the face of the Communion.

What gays and women are asking for is an honest recognition of their integrity as fellow citizens in the Kingdom of God, and fellow ministers of the Gospel. Is that too much to ask?

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Tuesday, 11 August 2009 at 12:29pm BST

Christopher Shell says "(Overlooking the fact that nobody, but nobody, has ever denied the 'we're here' bit.)"

This is just plain wrong. Many of our brothers and sisters in Africa have asserted that homosexuality doesn't exist in Africa - and if it does, it is an infection from the west.

Perhaps Mr. Shell will remember that people started chanting "we're here..." when people started dying of AIDS - people everyone assumed to be not gay. Being in the closet is effectively not being here, not being seen. It is a sick and inhumane (abominable in the proper sense) way to live.

To somehow equate asserting the so called "prosperity Gospel" with asserting the fact that you exist seems confused at best, and deeply wounding at worst.

I have no doubt that Mr. Shell is a deeply loving and highly convicted Christian - I am sorry that he leaves me with the impression that he thinks the Anglican Communion would be a better place if people like me kept our mouths shut and learned to blend in.

God calls us to abundant life - not to half-living in the shadow.

Posted by: sw on Tuesday, 11 August 2009 at 5:49pm BST

"Mutatis mutandis, this is the same as 'We're here, we're queer, get used to it.'. (Overlooking the fact that nobody, but nobody, has ever denied the 'we're here' bit.)

Complete absence of rational argument. Omnipresence of power-discourse. Possession is nine tenths of the law."

I think you will find, over the course of history, the power structure has often denied the existence of those it finds uncomfortable. In this particular case, in many parts of the world, they still do. I refer you to Bishops Akinola and Orombi's statements regarding homosexuality in Africa or Mahmoud Ahmedinijad's assertion that there are no Iranian homosexuals.

Both are absurd on their face.

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Tuesday, 11 August 2009 at 5:55pm BST

Christopher Shell, I don't know what marks Tom Wright was awarded in his degree, but I do know there is a difference between intelligence and wisdom. Bishops should be notable for wisdom.

Posted by: toby forward on Tuesday, 11 August 2009 at 6:02pm BST

Christopher: there is the persistent suggestion behind many of your posts, such as that above, that Tom W = intellectual = rigorous = conservative = right; whereas gay-friendly = liberal = intellectually feeble/ untheological = wrong.

People who are highly intelligent can often have amazing lacunae - I remember, for example, being shocked that one don of my acquaintance who was a world leader in his field had such poor French that he couldn't read a wine label without everyone else present writhing in embarrassment. I think Tom Wright (and some others who adopt his views?) my be highly intelligent people with similar lacunae when it comes to dealing with gay people.

Posted by: Fr Mark on Tuesday, 11 August 2009 at 6:18pm BST

Sorry sw (and by proxy, Mr. S), I cannot go so far as you in presuming Mr. S to be loving.

Convicted, committed to his closed, final conservative views he ever so strictly seems to be.

Loving? Well, ah ... not so much.


Well, when you so persistently presume the worst about queer folks, so that they are expected to live down to the worst of your patent expectations or beliefs, is that loving?

Some think not. Some queer folks and allies think, not.


Well when you stand ready to use institutional force in church life, to ignore and demean the good in queer folks' committed love relationships, you've added behavioral meanness to the falsehood you already preach. If you preach always that domestic partnerships are innately evil, you've done the presumptive deed, you've tagged something common sense ethical good as something bad.

Is that loving?


Well, when you fail to credit a poster for building on a changed moral view, and instead presume the poster is sidestepping the moral issues, you have just mistaken the post and the poster. Is that loving?

A lot of posters would think not.


Mr. S's moral thinking constantly proceeds as if by his absolute religious conservative definition, queer folks as queer people, cannot have morally valuable heart motives which crucially affect how we ethically or religiously weigh their sexual acts. Is this categorical denial of, ignorance of - loving heart and human motives to queer folks, in itself an essentially loving habit of mind?

If Mr. S does bother to attribute heart motives to queer folks having sex, he preaches that people can have only one possible type of motivation. He asserts, such queer folks are always motivated by? - Abusive-selfish-cheap thrills lust with a capital L.

Ignore all the goods, presume nothing but bads? Loving?

A lot of real loving people might think, ... ah, well ... not so much.

Posted by: drdanfee on Tuesday, 11 August 2009 at 6:28pm BST

Christopher Shell is not only plain wrong, as sw comments, but dangerous in his assertion that nobody, but nobody has ever denied the ‘we’re here’ bit. Davis Mac-Iyalla has just sent me an email from a Nigerian with whom he has been in conversation. In his latest email, Ijendu Iheaka writes:

“I think I have cause now to confirm my fears that no real living Nigerian is a gay or lesbian or want to be associated with such filthy acts of madness. I am satisfied from my conversation with this entity called Mac-Iyalla to rightly assume that the MAC-IYALLA that has been communicating with me nothing but just a COMPUTER set up somewhere to simulate a human being in Nigeria who claims to be a gay. I will be on record that till date, I have not received any reply from MAC-IYALLA who I have written many months ago to give me reasons why Nigerians should believe they have gays in their midst. Only for his attempt to answer my questions, a computer-downloaded article from another source other than the claimant to the leadership of gays in this part of the world. Having made these submissions clear, I hope that the computer - MAC-IYALLA and its operators will cease from parading itself as a living gay in Nigeria.”

Nigerians are not alone in claiming that gay people don’t exist. In the UK, leaders of Anglican Mainstream and other conservative groupings claim that no-one is gay, but a heterosexual needing to be healed. Christopher, I’m not sure which part of the church you inhabit, but there are many, many people denying that gays exist.

Such denial of a person’s identity is abusive. It allows people to be abusive when they believe that a person isn’t really gay and can be healed or changed by reparative therapy or has demons that need to be exorcised, as happened to Richard Kirker at Lambeth 1998.

The Bishop of Durham’s ignorance about the reality of LGBT people in his own diocese and across the Anglican Communion isn’t as far removed from Ijendu Iheaka’s ideas about gay people as might be imagined. Both are dangerous for our health and well-being.

Posted by: Colin Coward on Tuesday, 11 August 2009 at 6:46pm BST

I'm glad to see that sw beat me to it, and reminded Dr. Shell that, in fact, "[m]any of our brothers and sisters in Africa have asserted that homosexuality doesn't exist in Africa - and if it does, it is an infection from the west." I would add only that this observation is not limited in the "Global South" to (some) African nations alone, but includes some other countries as well.

In this "gay denial," as in other things, these Global South brothers (and they seem more often indeed to be brothers almost entirely, and not so much sisters) seem to have taken a page from the playbook (or at least to be in the company of) folks such as Iran's "President" Ahmadinejad. "We're here, we're queer" retains its importance in many places around the world -- and, sadly, as much in some Anglican provinces as in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Said sw too: "To somehow equate asserting the so called 'prosperity Gospel' with asserting the fact that you exist seems confused at best, and deeply wounding at worst." Hear, hear, and let's expand upon this, for Donny McClurkin is not the African-American most appropriately cited as parallel here.

No, the appropriate person to cite is one commemorated in the Episcopal Church's calendar: Sojourner Truth. Her cry of "And ain't I a woman" (for those not familiar, please see here: is the true analog for actions such as the "census" of CoE LGBT clergy, for the point of such exercises, and the point of LGBT visibility in the Church, is not some selfish "prosperity gospel" but rather to follow Sister Sojourner in speaking truth to power and posing this question directly to Dr. Christopher Shell, and to +Tom Wright, and to +Michael Nazir-Ali, and to ++Peter Akinola, and to all their like-minded folk:

And ain't I a Christian?

Posted by: Viriato da Silva on Tuesday, 11 August 2009 at 7:05pm BST

Durham is emotionally stuck.

Two glue downs come to mind. One glue is about queer folks. The other glue is Durham – as a man, particularly.

One stuck foot?

The loud, closed conservative emotional Beef. Queer folks are allegedly motivated by careless, unthinking, cheap thrills lust. A scale, a cheap thrills depth, not equally a Big Beef about straight folks being straight.

Is the cheap thrills lust that straight folks exhibit a holy sign that they must stop being straight folks? Maybe, queer folks can be queer folks while finding ways to follow guidelines we publish and preach for transforming life and sex and relationships. That means, straight and queer folks can transform their sex lives through real care for the well-being of beloved, honest moral scrutiny of one's own needs or motives, informed-consenting physical relationships instead of violent-dominating ones, and so forth.

Durham will probably say back, all that is way too weak to stem the horrible cheap thrills tides of queer desire-identity; though it serves perfectly well when it comes to straight desire-identity. In fact, for straight folks, we reinforce the desire-identity matrix by publicly ritualizing straight desire-identity as high mutuality with very wide implications; on display for all to see - and supposedly, enjoy to the point of thanking God that such wonderful goodness exists in human life among us.

Durham (probably Canterbury, too?) have the other foot stuck fast, as well. Stuck in what?

Stuck in traditional straight privileges - to be morally way better as straight men, than queer men. This is a red hot deal, red hot as a poker right out of the fireplace. A deal which grasps traditional masculinity as a core moral obligation for straight men in particular. For straight men, seeing themselves as equal men to queer men is vexed, difficult, and sometimes nearly impossible. (Apologies to younger straight men who are allies, friends, family members. We are talking a gen thang.)

Moral lofty heights and palpable social distance are the markers which give us clues to this stuck foot.

Guiding global communion and covenant by two stuck feet is a very, very, very odd way to preach it. This is the same old Alpha Male chest beating. Bishops did it, back when slavery was getting shaky.

Think I'm kidding? Hyperbole? Just go back and read Jack Roger's book chapter, putting the two side by side, in print.

Posted by: drdanfee on Tuesday, 11 August 2009 at 7:24pm BST

Merseymike wrote: "I think Wright is homophobic in the older sense of the word - all pretence at rationality disappears and what you get are views which appear to be influenced largely by a visceral dislike."

This is from an oped article in the New York Times of May 27 2009 by Mike Kristof. Since someone emailed it to me, I assume the whole thing is available online. Here are two
paragraphs that are very much to the point. A study reveals that:

“Likewise, conservatives are more likely than liberals to sense contamination or perceive disgust. People who would be disgusted to find that they had accidentally sipped from an acquaintance’s drink are more likely to identify as conservatives.
“The upshot is that liberals and conservatives don’t just think differently, they also feel differently. This may even be a result, in part, of divergent neural responses.”

The orginal article has links to the studies that produced these results.

I think Wright and others take an unhealthy interest in other peoples' presumed sex lives.

Posted by: Cynthia Gilliatt on Tuesday, 11 August 2009 at 7:29pm BST

Regarding Mr. Shell's assumption that everyone knows we're here, I echo sw, and add that one need not even go to Africa to find people who believe GLBT people don't exist.
I'm a political activist in Denver, Colorado (USA). I have often spent time at the state legislature. In the 1990s, I encountered many rural legislators who absolutely insisted there were no "homosexuals" in their districts, and therefore felt free to vote with impunity against AIDS funding, civil rights legislation and the like. So, yes, "We're here!" is a statement that has to be made.
Regarding the lovely Bishop of Durham, ... After he cleanses the Anglican Communion of GLBT people, who is next? Women priests,bishops, and (horrors!) primates? Priests whose interpretation of Orthodox Anglicanism differs from his? People who disagree with his interpretation of the change that takes place to the elements during the Eucharist? (Transubstantiation? Consubstantiation?) Where does the cleansing of the Communion stop?

Posted by: peterpi on Tuesday, 11 August 2009 at 7:39pm BST

"Wright is not always right (who is?), but he is a clever guy and his examiners at university reckoned his special strength was philosophy"
- Christopher Shell -

My response to Christopher from Holy Writ:

"Let no-one deceive himself. If any one among you thinks he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written: *He catches the wise in their craftiness* and again, *The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile*, so let no one boast of men"
(1 Corinthians 3:18ff)

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Wednesday, 12 August 2009 at 1:56am BST

"And ain't I a Christian?"

Absolutely right. I wih every glbt person in the Communion would send an email to the ABC saying exactly this.

Posted by: Cynthia Gilliatt on Wednesday, 12 August 2009 at 4:26am BST

Wright and his fanboys aren't "rigorous" - they obfuscate, weave words in and out, present spurious "statistics," use entirely subjective analysis, and arrive at exactly the conclusion they *wanted* to arrive at. The use of such mental gymnastics is sophistry, purely and simply, and a way to make an otherwise bigoted and unintelligent person appear clever.

At least one here seems very upset that that little trick has been seen right through.

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Wednesday, 12 August 2009 at 4:46am BST

Christopher Shell wrote: ” doesn't make the distinction between 'is it the case?' and 'is it good?'. But that is a distinction a seven-year-old can make.”

A seven-year-old…

It is also a “distinction” which is a trap. A Platonist trap…

To make this “distinction” is almost automatically to v a l u e – and to value hierarchically is to d e – v a l u e. All your Errors come from that – your misunderstanding of “we’re here, we’re queer…” first, but no least.

Bishop Wright may not always be right, that's true – but “clever”… Not a word I would use about him.

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Wednesday, 12 August 2009 at 5:46am BST

Shell's arguments are however easily and calmly answered. To be sure LGBT people have a better argument that 'we are here'. That argument is that their partnerships, like those of straight people, have the potential to be a source of healing, help and growth for those in them. I say 'potential' because any relationship at all can be a source of harm as well as healing.

Posted by: RosemaryHannah on Wednesday, 12 August 2009 at 9:08am BST

The conservative evangelicals do not like Durham because he rejects justification by faith alone and the liberals don't like him! He must be pretty lonely in his Castle up in Bishop Auckland.

Posted by: Robert Ian Williams on Wednesday, 12 August 2009 at 10:35pm BST

"He must be pretty lonely in his Castle up in Bishop Auckland." - Robert I Williams -

From what I've heard, Robert, he's hardly there. Perhaps the Castle should be sold and the proceeds given to the poor of his diocese.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Wednesday, 12 August 2009 at 11:37pm BST

I think Tom Wright is homophobic in all senses of the word.

I think - as I have said before - he lacks all compassion.

Pace C Shell, I don't think he is a very good academic. I write as a professor in a different but related discipline. Two specific examples. First, some years ago, at a Durham NT seminar, when he was giving a critique of J D Crossan, I asked him: 'what's wrong with the Cynic model of Jesus?' He replied: 'they're never been able to provide any good parallels for the kingship'. As a world expert in ancient Cynicism, I can say (and have said in print) this is nonsense. Second, he thinks that the Greek 'matanoeite' means 'turn back'. It doesn't. More generally, he is incredibly verbose and self-indulgent. If you look at cutting-edge NT stuff, you will find rather few citations of NT Wright, even in pretty Evangelical scholars (such as Dunn and Bauckham). And, of course, as pretty well everyone in the Durham diocese agrees, he's a rotten bishop.

I think it vanishingly unlikely that such a figure would be appointed ABC in the UK of today.

Would it be so bad if RW ere succeeded by an Evangelical (other than Wright)? Not necessarily -many Evangelicals are decent - and in practice prize decency higher than their 'official' positions.

Posted by: john on Thursday, 13 August 2009 at 8:56pm BST

A lot of commenters (Colin C, sw, peterpi, Viriato) aren't making the distinction between 'do self-identified gay people exist?' and 'is there a category of people constituted gay as opposed to becoming so by circumstance, environment, or choice?'. I was right to say that no-one denies the first point; the people you mentioned are denying the second point, not the first.

Hi John-
Tom Wright rates as vastly cited if one takes, for example, the indexes of the most detailed (and indeed the least detailed) 20 books on any one of the historical Jesus, on Paul, on justification, on eschatology, and on various other topics, in the period 1990-date. You must know that your judgment is self-fulfilling if you use your own definition of a slippery term like 'cutting edge'. Equally suspect is your 'pretty much everyone in the Durham diocese'. It is good that you're sociable enough to be in touch with pretty much everyone there. Bauckham generally works on areas that don't overlap with Wright; Dunn generally does overlap and (being a comprehensive sort of writer) cites him often.

Hi Fr Ron-
We all know the 1 Cor passage; but all it says is that wisdom/learning (which the OT and Paul are, happily, full of) are an inadequate basis in the absence of Christ.

I love Cynthia's point about disgust. That is probably why 'Disgusted' inhabits Tunbridge Wells. Basil Fawlty (he of the conservative club) has a funny exchange about it being disgusting when someone else fails to shave and equally disgusting when he himself fails to.
If you are a world expert on ancient cynicism, then you'll also be aware that there are hundreds of sub-areas of NT scholarship. If you castigate Wright for being less expert than a world expert on just one of these chosen at random, then that's unfair, since his areas of expertise are above-average wide-ranging: Jesus, Paul, narrative theory, NT history, exegesis, justification, eschatology, and so on.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Friday, 14 August 2009 at 9:28am BST

'Bauckham generally works on areas that don't overlap with Wright; Dunn generally does overlap and (being a comprehensive sort of writer) cites him often.'

Bauckham's 'Jesus and the Eye-Witnesses'????

Dunn doesn't cite Wright often - try Dunn's 'Jesus Remembered' (in effect, Dunn's 'historical Jesus' book, dressed up) - and the citations are generally negative.

I live in the Durham diocese. Do you? I listen to what people say - including people who - one might think - would be Wright's natural allies. People generally aren't fools. They recognise crass egoism when they see it. Typical quote from (rather Evangelical) 90-year-old in our church: 'he's a display pony'.

Oxford joke of the late 80s. Highly distressed undergraduate contemplating suicide knocks on door of Worcester College Chaplain and pours out his woes. Chaplain looks up briefly and asks: 'Have you read my latest book?'

You don't seem to asnwer the two specific criticisms I make or indeed the general one about verbosity and self-indulgence. Funnily enough, the NT scholar who cites Wright most is ... Wright.

Posted by: john on Friday, 14 August 2009 at 10:56am BST

"...wisdom/learning (which the OT and Paul are, happily, full of) are an inadequate basis in the absence of Christ." - Chriostopher Shell -

Precisely the point I was trying to make, Mr Shell
The patent 'absence of Christ' from the bishop of Durham's attitude to the LGBT community is just as inadequate. Francis of Assisi, the simple friar had more compassion in his little toe than Bp. Tom Wright has in his whole body. Cold intellect just cannot match up to the virtue of true compassion.

"I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and of earth for revealing these things to the simple (and confounding the wise)" - Jesus

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Friday, 14 August 2009 at 11:14am BST

"A lot of commenters (Colin C, sw, peterpi, Viriato) aren't making the distinction between 'do self-identified gay people exist?' and 'is there a category of people constituted gay as opposed to becoming so by circumstance, environment, or choice?'. I was right to say that no-one denies the first point; the people you mentioned are denying the second point, not the first."

Choice? Choice? Tell me, Christopher, when did you choose to be straight? Because I can tell you, I don't recall ever making that choice myself. And, especially for those gays over the age of 40, why in the world would anyone CHOOSE to join a group that was universally reviled, subject to police raids on its gathering spots, public beatings, familial break-ups, etc.? Were they all masochists in addition to being gay?

And why does it matter if the functioning agent in determining sexual orientation is genetic or environmental? Either way, the person is what he/she is...through no active part of his/her own. And his/her following through on that orientation with another consenting adult in a committed monogamous relationship hurts no one else, either. It is not an abuse of power, like pedophilia or incest, and therefore does not constitute either a crime or a sin.

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Friday, 14 August 2009 at 11:32am BST

I thought +Wright had already said he would step down at 65 and since he is now in his early 60's he is unlikely to be going anywhere else until then ( after that who knows..a chair abroad?)I suspect, like a couple of others he was surprised to be past over for York.The Bench is changing quite a bit at the moment..with several more retirements to come.Its quite possible Rowan's successor isnt consecrated yet or might possibly be a suffragan.Who are the up and coming suffragans? The real problem is what sort of Anglican Communion will there be in 10yrs time...and will some of us really want to be in it?

Posted by: Perry Butler on Friday, 14 August 2009 at 12:01pm BST

Hi John-
Of course, I only mentioned Bauckham and Dunn because they were hand-selected by you; the relevant point is not whether two hand-selected scholars cite Wright positively (since that depends entirely on which two one picks) but whether scholars in general do. Bauckham's book is on a specialist subject (authorship and eyewitness) - not one that Wright has often dealt with in detail at all. Re Dunn I had only 'Beginning from Jerusalem' to hand (a repsectable number of references), but will check out Theology of Paul. But you are dealing with only 1% of NT scholarship here.

Verbosity - well, that's not a sin. CS Lewis has a similar style to Wright - namely, the sytyle of someone who enjoys a good long fireside conversation. One has to be long to deal with the issues adequately. There are scholars who write very densely at length - e.g., Beasley-Murray. Wright is crystal clear in style, which means it is less of an issue whether he is verbose or not.

Dr Wright does connect with people. He gives time to them. He gave time to my one-year-old. He is a happy guy whose international transdenominational following is large and who can be expected to fill a lecture hall like few others. Lecture attendance is often connected to the lecturer's personality. Others (but not many) do all these. But few of those manage to write comparable volume of decent books as well. Give the guy a break. He is not superman, and ad hominem discourse is not one of the highest sorts. If someone is international before getting a local post, it is criminal to ask them to downsize their world. The crying need is, rather, for many people to *broaden* their horizons. The wider a bishop's influence, the better, so who would complain about something good? Jesus in Mt 20.1ff. complained about such small-mindedness and complaint against something that's positively good (lit.: 'Is your eye evil because I am good?'). I gather his 2008 Lent book was Durham-colliery based, and that he is one of the North-East's biggest fans and advertisers.

I guess the joke had to clasify as a joke because it did not classify as historically accurate.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Friday, 14 August 2009 at 12:41pm BST

"A lot of commenters (Colin C, sw, peterpi, Viriato) aren't making the distinction between 'do self-identified gay people exist?' and 'is there a category of people constituted gay as opposed to becoming so by circumstance, environment, or choice?'."

Well, you see, Christopher, you have been posting here long enough that you know that last statement is just silly, and you know how it makes you look. That you can use the word "choice" shows clearly how difficult it is for you to accept some simple facts about gay people. Christian compassion demands we wonder why you are so adamant in your denial of the facts that you, an academic, are so willing to appear utterly unacademic in this particular area.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Friday, 14 August 2009 at 1:21pm BST


The point of the joke - obviously! - is that Wright was thought to be a rotten chaplain. And that was the way it was understood by the guy who told me about it - an alumnus of Worcester, whose Christianity - incidentally - is extremely orthodox, far, far more than mine.

Posted by: john on Friday, 14 August 2009 at 2:49pm BST

Christopher: "Give the guy a break"

I think we're all hoping the guy might give us a break, actually!

Posted by: Fr Mark on Friday, 14 August 2009 at 6:45pm BST

A person is not homophobic if they disagree with homosexual practice...for mnay homosexually orientated persons disagree with it. Just as a person is not racist if they have concerns about immigration. Come on lets have balance on this....Durham is a gentle man in te true sense of the word.. he has sincere convictions.however he accepts divorce and womens ordination, and one wonders how he can think St Paul got it wrong on these and not on gays.

Posted by: Robert Ian Williams on Saturday, 15 August 2009 at 7:42am BST

Hi Ford-
2 questions:
(1) If I say 'circumstance, environment or choice', then why are you treating the word 'or' as though it means 'and'? 'Or' implies (not ntecesarily correctly, of course) that there could be occasions where choice is not a factor but environemtn and/or circumstance is.
(2) How does one steer between the Scylla of choice and the Charybdis of being no more than an animal or robot?
I have quoted numerous criteria for distinguishing between the genetic and environmental elements, all of which put the environmental element heavily predominant: (1) identical twins; (2) urban/rural; (3) college/non-college; (4) brought up by homosexuals / not; (5) tragically subject to early homosexual abuse / not. Satinover, whose work is among the most detailed and intelligent (the guy has just added a summa cum laude physics to his other attainments), observed a pattern that researchers would presuoppose genetic primacy and conclude environmental primacy with surprise.

Hi John-
My impression as a contemporary was different but I am concerned by (a) the authority you give to small samples of people and (b) the authority you give to self-selected samples of people, i.e. one person's own acquaintances, who by virtue of flocking to that person will have certain family resemblances and therefore not be representative across the board.

Hi Pat-
The differences between genetic and environmental:
(1) The first is more literally endemic, part of one's identity. I say 'more' because even then it amounts in some cases (I exclude red hair etc.) to a predisposition;
(2) A lot of what happens formatively by circumstance and environment is harmful. Such as a formative sexual encounter e.g. an unwelcome one; an addiction; a longing to be associated with someone more macho; a longing to flee the opposite gender which has harmed one. Not all of these will apply in all instances; each may apply in some. You are not surely saying that everything that happens by circumstance or environment is morally neutral.
(3) One cannot term oneself 'a homosexual' by identity if the cause is environmental/circumstantial. It would then fall more into the category of associations/interests/favoured activities that have developed over the course of one's life.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Saturday, 15 August 2009 at 9:26am BST

Why isn't the evidence of Jesus himself recognised as decisive on the gay question? Qua fully human, he must have encountered homosexuality in the countryside and villages of Galilee, in the large crowds he attracted, and in the 'chorai' of cities like Gadara (and in Jerusalem, if he didn't go there just once as an adult). 'Must have', because it's everywhere and always has been. Qua fully God, he knew about it, because it's everywhere. Never a word of condemnation of it. The people he criticises most often and most strongly are religious hypocrites. Funny, that. Makes you think.

Posted by: john on Saturday, 15 August 2009 at 11:23am BST

Hi Ford-
'Utterly unacademic' (not to mention 'fundamentalist' and all the usual cliches) surely applies more to someone who calls highly contested matters 'simple facts'. It reminds me of the magazine-title 'The Plain Truth'.

It is certainly the case that anyone of prominence will have their detractors. Margaret Thatcher and Geoff Boycott (and I'm not saying I'm a fan of either) regularly topped both 'most popular' and 'least popular' polls simultaneously. Adherents of one view were dishonestly amazed that the opposing view was so popular. But it was. It is also always the case that the detractors will be right in *some* of what they say. That awful St Francis and the Muslims! That Mother Teresa and her dark night and financial demandingness. I am reminded of the man who wrote back: 'thanks for your letter detailing my shortcomings. But you are quite wrong. In fact, I am far worse than that.'
Truth lies in giving a comprehensive, balanced treatment.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Saturday, 15 August 2009 at 12:27pm BST


can I just ask you why you put such weight on the genetic / environmental distinction? Seems to me it's something of a red herring. Cystic fibrosis is (I hope I'm right in saying...) a condition caused solely by genetics. It does not follow from that, that it's a good thing in itself. On the other hand height (so I read in 'Scientific American Mind') is partly influenced by environmental factors - but that doesn't mean that being tall or short is pathological.

If that's valid, then even if homosexuality were solely genetic (for argument's sake - I accept it isn't) that wouldn't by itself mean it's A Good Thing. Likewise if it were solely environmentally caused (which it isn't given the evidence for some, even if small, genetic influence) that wouldn't by itself mean being gay is a pathology.

So, as I say, why put so much weight on this?

in friendship, Blair

Posted by: Blair on Sunday, 16 August 2009 at 12:02am BST

"(3) One cannot term oneself 'a homosexual' by identity if the cause is environmental/circumstantial. It would then fall more into the category of associations/interests/favoured activities that have developed over the course of one's life."

Huh? A term myself a "native New Yorker". I was born in New is an immutable fact of my life. But it is a result of purely environmental/circumstantial mother happened to be living in New York when I was born. Had she lived just ten miles to the west, I would be a native New Jerseyan.

Just because something is a result of environment or circumstance doesn't make it fall into the category of "associations/interests/favoured activities"...especially if those factors occurred so early in the individual's development--perhaps even in the womb--as to be beyond the individual's ability to change or, in many cases, even recall having happened.

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Sunday, 16 August 2009 at 12:39am BST


As I understand Christopher's argument, if homosexuality is primarily caused by environmental factors, as opposed to genetic ones, then it is not a genuinely natural condition, and hence can be changed.

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Sunday, 16 August 2009 at 12:01pm BST

Christopher, I see no benefit in engaging you on the actual facts of homosexuality. You have ignored the personal statements of gay people here for the past three years. You, an expert in a particular academic field with, I assume, no formal training in psychology or sexual behaviour, are at odds with the experts in that field. You cite references to discredited work and refuse to accept the reasons why the work was discredited. You have yet to explain why it is that you, a "truth seeker", find it so easy to be at odds with the experts in a field you have no expertise in. The thing is, as I have said on many ocasions, your position would be more respectable if you actually showed enough regard for gay people to engage with what we are instead of what you want to see us as being. But you do not. So what's the point? Your stereotypes of gay people colour your every encounter with us, in much the same way that my prejudices against Evangelicals colour my every engagement with you. But I know that my prejudices, easy though they may be to fall in to, are just prejudices and are among my many sins. That might not be much, but at least I don't seel to justify my prejudices with discredited "science".

Posted by: Ford Elms on Sunday, 16 August 2009 at 2:57pm BST

"Truth lies in giving a comprehensive, balanced treatment." - Christopher Shell -

Then when, Christopher, (Christ-bearer), for God's sake are we going to get this proposed *comprehensive, balanced treatment* from you in your blogging on this site?

Your scholarly input might be all very well in the lecture halls of some institute of esoteric learning, but frankly I find it often too dense (in the more flattering sense) and generally combative and reactionary, to be either uplifiting or helpful - certainly in the theological arena. I'm not sure what YOUR own particular scholastic field of study is, but I'm wondering whether it not dialectics rather than Christian Theology.

Not that everyone needs to be an expert N.T. theologian, like your friend Mr. Wright, to contribute to this blog. However most of us want to gain some insights into areas we may not have before considered, so that our take on subjects like the issues of gays and straights in the ministry of the Gospel might be enhanced, rather than kicked into touch, by a netball enthusiast.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Monday, 17 August 2009 at 4:37am BST

The answer to John's question of why did Jesus not comment on homosexuality.

He did and does , through his living Church.. he that hears you, hears me.

Go ye therefore into the whole world , baptizing and teaching in my name, AND LO I AM WITH YOU EVEN UNTO THE END OF THE AGE.

That is why when St Paul speaks on the subject , it is the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Posted by: Robert Ian Williams on Monday, 17 August 2009 at 6:49am BST

What things are immutable/unchangeable?-
(1) One's genes;
(2) One's past history.

What things are changeable, despite appearances?-
(1) One's taste in music or food. This is possible to change; for example, babies react very positively to Mozart, Haydn and Vivaldi in the womb, the very things that repulse them most when they become hoodies and hear them in the shopping centre as part of the hoodie-dispersal tactic. One can (I know: I've tried it) get used to white bread or 'juice drinks' and then educate one's habits into the consumption of brown bread and pure juice, and than end up not particularly likeing the former.
(2) One's addictions. AA is not going to say: We cannot cure you - it's too hard. Yet it *is* hard - it requires an identity-changing wrench from deep within.

It is clear that a lot depends on the typical age from which someone identifies as homosexual. If one takes the factors that have provided significant support for environmental primacy (rural/urban; college/non-college; identical twins; being brought up by homosexuals; being tragically subject to homosexual abuse) then the first two indicate a late-ish age of formation of such an identity, the fifth a variable one; in all 5, because of the environmental primacy, then the key is when the significant environmental factor takes hold. This will obviously happen at differing times in the formative years. Figures on the percentage significance of womb influences would therefore be useful.

Hi Blair-
I completely agree with you, & think you are misreading my point. I am not saying genetic=good and environmental=bad. I am saying genetic=inescapable whether good or bad and environmental = escapable whether good or bad. Goodness/badness are determined on other grounds.

Hi Ford-
Your last comment was very general - we should focus on facts and statistics. It cannot be the case that every single study I have cited is 'discredited': that is a massively inaccurate generalisation. I have a few times listed my 4 main criteria as (a) recentness, (b) size, (c) compatibility with other similar studies, (d) balance/unbiasedness of sample. Regarding (d), the study of children brought up by homosexuals which I am currently relying on actually deals *only* with studies done by homosexuals and pro-homosexuals, so eager is it to avoid claims of bias. The findings are not affected.
Witness to one's current feelings is not enough because one has to grasp the genetic/environmental nettle. That's why I persist in encouraging people to accentuate research and downplay the subjective and small-scale.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Monday, 17 August 2009 at 9:23am BST


(1) Obviously, Jesus trumps Paul every time. The minimal inference from the claim I made (which is correct) is that Jesus didn't give a hoot about the issue - that it just wasn't an issue.

(2) I'm glad you support the implications of 'I am with you till the end of time'. But you don't seem to see that they too undermine appeal to Paul as the ultimate authority.


Pity you couldn't be bothered to reply to my argument.

Posted by: john on Monday, 17 August 2009 at 12:33pm BST

Dr Wright is seen by some as too concerned for his own rightness; yet two of his very-oft-repeated bons mots are:
(1) On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays I think X, on Tuesdays and Thursdays Y. (That is, finely-balanced issues exist. Not every issue, of courese is finely-balanced.)
(2) I always tell my students that a certain percentage of what I or any other scholar is saying is mistaken; the trouble is, we never know which particular bits are mistaken and which are not.

If, however, he has a passion for truth then he is one of the goodies, the baddies being those who think truth does not matter. What could matter more? CS Lewis when in the Socratic Club at Oxford was seen as a bully by some. In fact, it is inevitable that someone who understands how important truth is will be thus seen by those who do not rise above an ad hominem view o fthe world.

Jesus did comment on homosexuality, not specifically but as part of the sexual immorality (as then understood by Jews) that he portrays as wrong in Mark 7.

Hi Fr Ron-
You're correct that I'm a NT historian not a theolog - theologs are speaking about very very big things and I am not sure I dare to do that or that I'm capable.
What I am trying to do is to get our discussion to be logic-based and large-scale-research-based - in order that it can be accurate.
'Combative' is not a bad thing but a neutral thing. In some circumstances it is, obviously, the most appropriate thing ('demolishing arguments' 2 Cor 10 etc.). Depends on the circumstances. However, 'reactionary' is just a silly word. It suffers from the presupposition that the newer something is the better it is, and we all know that not to be true. For example: I am not reactionary, just accurate, if I say that the portrait painters or composers of some given time in the last few hundred years may well have been better than those of today.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Monday, 17 August 2009 at 1:18pm BST

Christopher, why do you find it so easy to disagree with the experts in a field in which you have no expertise? Do you feel those experts are somehow compromised, and if so, why?

Posted by: Ford Elms on Monday, 17 August 2009 at 4:36pm BST

Hello again,

Christopher, picking up on your reply to me earlier today: you say that "genetic=inescapable whether good or bad and environmental = escapable whether good or bad". But this too is rather questionable isn't it? Not least because there are (I think) very few conditions that are 100% caused by one or the other, though I realise there are some other conditions, apart from cystic fibrosis which I mentioned, that are solely caused by genetics.

(As an aside I referred above to 'Scientific American Mind'. In the article (Feb/March 2006 issue pp50-57) it says of handedness that according to studies "its heritability - an estimate of what proportion of a trait's variability can be accounted for by genes - is only about 0.32, compared with, say, 0.84 for height". So if it's the case that handedness is not mostly accounted for by genetics, would you say that handedness is changeable?)

So I'm not sure where your point takes us. Are you implying that homosexuality is largely or solely environmentally caused, and so is "escapable" (or have I misunderstood)? To my knowledge studies (eg twin studies) show there is some genetic component, even if it's a relatively 'weak' influence. And studies (such as Jones and Yarhouse's) suggest that major orientation change is pretty rare. By the way, you talk of "large-scale research" in a reply to Fr Ron above - do you know of any large scale studies about orientation change? Not sure what you'd deem large-scale, but the studies I'm aware of seem small to me (200 participants or less; Jones and Yarhouse's study followed less than 100 people).

Lastly, "Goodness/badness are determined on other grounds" - what grounds do you favour?

in friendship, Blair

Posted by: Blair on Tuesday, 18 August 2009 at 12:10am BST

"The answer to John's question of why did Jesus not comment on homosexuality." - R.I.Williams -

Robert, instead of avoiding the issue, perhaps you could (as an ex theolog) have suggested the possibility that Jesus might have have been speaking about homosexuals in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 19, verse 12: "For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth....". This statement came from Jesus in the context of his being questioned about marriage (presumably in a hetero-sexual situation).

For Jesus to speak of a eunuch (incapable of procreation) having 'been so from birth', could be a possibile reference to a person unable to engage in a marriageable (sexual) relationship with a person of the opposite sex.

This would seem to be the only place in the New Testament where Jesus could have been speaking directly of the intrinsically homosexual person. He was not speaking, here. of the professed monk or nun - they are mentioned among those who choose the celibate life. Nor was he speaking of the category of thse who were castrated by order of the papal court to produce the male alto voice.

Jesus deliberately spoke of a category of eunuch -from his/her mother's womb. This could give a possible vindication for those of us who believe that homosexuality, per se, is God-given and intrinsic to a certain proportion of the population.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Tuesday, 18 August 2009 at 4:16am BST

'Jesus did comment on homosexuality, not specifically but as part of the sexual immorality (as then understood by Jews) that he portrays as wrong in Mark 7.'

I know these verses (21-22) are sometimes cited in this connection. But justifiably? 'Porneiai' does not naturally include homosexuality (think Greek),and the reference is to general sexual misconduct as assumed to be heterosexual - cf. 'moicheiai'. In any case, the reference does not begin to meet the argument that there is no specific condemnation of homosexuals whom Jesus, both as man and God, actually encountered.

As for Wright, note the order 'I or any other scholar'. I was brought up to believe that this order in English (as opposed to Latin or Greek) was bad English, indicative of unseemly egoism. That belief - widely disregarded now of course - is right. What I would expect of Wright.

But there is a more important point. Wright never seems to me to write as a scholar: he is always an advocate. There are Christian scholars just as Christian as him, just as convinced of the importance of Truth (Bauckham, Dunn, Barclay, Alexander x2, Barton, Stuckenbruck, Watson, Hengel ...) who do write as scholars. When I say this, I allow that it is of course entirely proper for Christian apologists sometimes to write apologetic/confessional works. But Wright never writes in proper scholarly mode (you yourself concede this, when you compare his characteristic style to Lewis').

You keep representing yourself as a NT scholar/historian. Could we have some backup for this?

I must admit I get fed up with people constantly debating the reality of homosexuality. The scientific evidence points strongly one way (one can always instance 'exceptions', differences of opinion re relative detail), in the animal world as well as the human (and the animal world is important corroboration). The literary evidence from practically all periods supports it. So does most people's experience and perception. When, amidst all the flummery, you categorise homosexual people's experience of themselves under the 'subjective', I am afraid I get angry.

Posted by: john on Tuesday, 18 August 2009 at 9:20am BST

Hi Ford-
Far from disagreeing with the experts I am agreeing with them, i.e. saying that the balance, sometimes the overwhelming balance, of research findings points a certain way. The APA may have ideological positions (and of course ideology is the main enemy of scholarhip, and also of genuine Christianity) but these stand or fall according to how far they are supported by the actual research findings. Criteria used: (1) how large scale? (2) how representative across the board? (3) how recent? (4) how compatible with other findings on the same topic?

Hi John-
What you say about the animal world needs unpacking. (a) Some species evidence homosexual behaviour, others don't. (Others do as a second-best when nothing else is available: some same-gender-establishment students, recent zoo penguin stories.) From that, we have no idea which 'lot' we should copy. (b) Come to that, what are we doing taking our lead from less intelligent (and more instinctive) creatures in the first place? You know we do that in hardly any walk of life, so it is no way honest to start doing it when it is convenient to back up a pre-existing preferred conclusion.
-You say literary evidence and people's experience supports homosexuality. If you are saying that it supports the existence of self-identifying and/or self-experiencing homosexuals - well, you could have knocked us down with a feather. You must know that that has never been the point at issue. The point at issue is largely the genetic/environmental one.
-I think the rules of the British New Testament Society/Conference are that anyone can attend who has or is working on a NT PhD. I only attended in 1999-2000, i.e. around the time I completed mine.
Where I 100% disagree is that scholarly mode cannot be chatty, bluff, friendly. Arfe you saying Lewis was not a scholar? Could anyone agree? The clear error is to focus on surface style not substance. Long words can, indeed, sometimes be a smokescreen for wanting to convince people you know more than you do: and I have envountered that time and again.

Hi Blair-
There is a lot of dishonesty and vested interest around the orientation-change thing, which sits ill with admitted simultaneous acceptance of Kinsey's sliding scale of orientations. We should examine sample-sizes and report back.
-Grounds of goodness and badness? For example: average life-expectancy; average health during life; rates of involvement in kind/unkind behaviour; degrees of maturity and stability in relationship.

Posted by: Chirstopher Shell on Wednesday, 19 August 2009 at 9:25am BST


You are very selective on what you respond on.

But as for the 'animal' evidence, you immediately misrepresent my point, which was only that the animal evidence forms part of the case for recognising homosexuality as a very widespread reality. You dispute this reality (yes, I know, we can 'unpack' "reality"). You, however, immediately go further by asking whether we should take animals as moral exemplars. I wasn't arguing that. You presumably know I wasn't. When people argue badly, there are a number of possible reasons. One, I'm afraid, is bad faith.

Posted by: john on Wednesday, 19 August 2009 at 10:32am BST

"....degrees of maturity and stability in relationship..."

Talk about self-fulfilling prophecies! Deny a specific group the one human institution designed to promote mature and stable relationships...and then use the lack of them to denigrate their desire for a mature and stable relationship!

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Wednesday, 19 August 2009 at 11:27am BST

To update: the studies known to me that deal with this reorientation subtopic include Shaeffer (1999), Byrd & Nicolosi (2002), Spitzer (2003), Karten (in or before 2006) Jones and Yarhouse (2007), Byrd (2008). Additions welcome, and between us I am sure we can crack the sample-size question.
What we are looking for is a percentage somewhere between 1% and 99%, with attention to cultural variations and the possible implications of these. The idea that either all or none will be expected to change orientation is absolutist and extremist, unworthy of major bodies.

Yes, I think we need to modify further the simple genetic=inescapable/ environmental=inescapable equations - as you suggest. The first of the two can scarcely be modified. One cannot alter one's genetics. One can, however, do various different things with genetic predispositions - which often amounts to the same thing.
Equally, it is hard to escape one's environment -but the more intelligent a given person is, the more they will be self-critical of their environment, and we are hopefully training people to be more, not less, intelligent.

Hi John-
If one were to say that homosexuality is not an issue the world revolves round, one would be correct. That is not a comment on its relative goodness or badness but on its relative prominence in an extremely large world. I think that in thinking Jesus could have been in favour of it (or that there's no evidence otherwise) you're on very thin ice:
(1) There are some moderns (Casey, Crossley) who think Jesus was always law-observant according to the earliest source Mark. (For the record, I don't necessarily agree; but I do agree that Jesus by and large transgressed the oral rabbinic code rather than the pentateuch, as indeed Mk 7 says.)
(2) The divorce logion is the most widely attested bar none. It shows Jesus to have been more rigid than almost anyone regarding marriage - particularly if (as is likely) the earliest form of the saying is in Mark.
(3) Jews of the time used attitudes to homosexuality as one of their main boundary markers distinguishing them from Greek culture. Paul in Rom 1 can even use homosexuality as the very first (and only specific) example that springs to mind of a representative gentile sin.
(4) Some things were also considered pretty unmentionable by the Jews of the time.
(5) If you don't mention something it can be, very often, because you agree with the status quo held to by your interlocutors ie pharisees.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Wednesday, 19 August 2009 at 12:39pm BST

"The APA may have ideological positions (and of course ideology is the main enemy of scholarhip, and also of genuine Christianity) but these stand or fall according to how far they are supported by the actual research findings."

So, the APA is acting on ideology rather than science? Or they aren't experts? Or they are not basing their statements on research findings? Or they mistake the findings of that research? Or they only pay attention to selective bits of research? What is it you are actually saying about the APA that justifies a scholar of early Church history disagreeing with them and implying not too subtly that he understands the research in this field better than they do, a field in which he has not provided any documentation of his expertise? I presume that you do not have any expertise in this field. If I am wrong, then please correct me.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Wednesday, 19 August 2009 at 5:40pm BST

Christopher, I notice you have not commented so far on my allusion to the possibility of Jesus having made a reference to homosexuals in his discourse to the disciples in the context of his discussion about marriage - and for whom it is applicable. In The Gospel of Matthew, chapter 19, verse 12, Matthew has Jesus saying these words: *There are eunuchs (incapable of procreating?) from their mother's womb*.

He speaks of other eunuchs who are so because of their treatment by others - castration; and others, because they have made the decision to remain (or become) celibate - a category of those who offer themselves voluntarily to become *religious* or (mainly) Roman Catholic priests.

Who, in your N.T. educated opinion, are those who have been eunuchs 'from their mother's womb?' Is it at all possible that this category may include those LGBT persons whose sexual identity may have been intrinsically influenced by the chromosomal environment in their mother's womb?

I would like your considered reply to this, please

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Thursday, 20 August 2009 at 12:04am BST


Sometimes, you just have to say to yourself that the person you've been having a discussion with is dwelling in some alternate reality and not "debating" in good faith. At that point, you have to move on and do what's right, despite the objections of that person. That's what we have to do with the anti-gay faction. Stop indulging their fantasies and self-justification and get on with overriding them.

Sometimes, you just have to say, "Well, this is reality and if you refuse it, that's your problem."

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Thursday, 20 August 2009 at 8:45am BST

Hi Ron-
yes, sorry, I was going to comment on that oft-cited passage. I think the key thing about eunuchs is that they don't have sex, so (given that it is homosexual sex not orientation that is the bone of contention) there are few groups of people less relevant to the discussion.

However, I do think that there is a clear category of people that function particularly well not in a marriage but in a same-gender community. Donald Cozzens gives details of people you might classify as gay thriving in the discipline provided by such a setting (whether in monasticism or as part of a grand queen's entourage of eunuchs in the olden days).

I also think Jesus never said it: it is a Matthean addition to Mark, and there is little evidence that Matthew had much access to firstt-hand material. That does not make it true or untrue. But I do think that once the later gospel-writers started playing around with Jesus's original sayings (in this case for the very good rabbinic reason of treating sub-topics not covered by the basic saying) they were in danger of muddying the picture.

Posted by: Chirstopher Shell on Thursday, 20 August 2009 at 1:09pm BST

Hi John-
At any given time, there may be over ten questions thrown out to me. As I've said before, I answer a lot of these and you must know that it is not fair or unbiased to hold me as being in the wrong for not responding on any given one especially when I have clearly commented on eight others! In any case I will always respond if you point out which particular one I have missed: guaranteed. Gripe over. ;o)

Bonobo chimps are one of the closest creatures to humans DNA-wise. The trouble is that if one takes all the other ones that are closest (or indeed most intelligent) one does not get a uniform picture.

I shall not be commenting for around a month as another sprog is impending, but hope to take up threads later: thanks.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Thursday, 20 August 2009 at 1:13pm BST

Hi Christopher (to use your lingo),

I think your responses are consistently skewed/disingenuous, and what one consistently gets is a sort of blizzard of erudition (or pseudo-erudition) masking an inability - or unwillingness - to engage precisely with precise arguments. Your last substantive response to me is a case in point.

If you were one of my students, I would give you a low 2.1. But then I'm known for my rigorous standards.

Congrats. on another sprog. When he/she/it attains maturity, he/she/it will look back in wonder and (I'm afraid) revulsion at their Dad's theological stances. By that time, 'Bishop Tom' will long since have been discredited.

Posted by: john on Thursday, 20 August 2009 at 7:08pm BST

Christopher, your comment on Eunuchs is the most bewildering/odd so far. Gay Eunuchs do have gay sex. Just as Heterosexual Eunuchs have heterosexual sex.

Indeed, through history Eunuchs had a most prolific sex life, except the few among them who had had everything cut off!

You need to do a bit of reading!

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Friday, 21 August 2009 at 3:54am BST

"I also think Jesus never said it: it is a Matthean addition to Mark, and there is little evidence that Matthew had much access to firstt-hand material. That does not make it true or untrue. But I do think that once the later gospel-writers started playing around with Jesus's original sayings (in this case for the very good rabbinic reason of treating sub-topics not covered by the basic saying) they were in danger of muddying the picture."

I find this fascinating. When we point to a GOSPEL saying of JESUS that helps support our position, Christopher dismisses it as "probably not really said by Jesus" and "not first-hand material". Yet, when we suggest that the phrases in PAUL'S letters that support his position were either added later, mis-translated, or are simply cultural artifacts, he defends them as rigorous doctrine.

I have to ask, Christopher--what are you? A Christian? Or a Paulist?

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Friday, 21 August 2009 at 11:33am BST

Hi Goran-
I am not saying you are wrong, but you need to be more precise in your definitions. Eunuch is clearly primarily an ancient category rather than a modern one. Two things they were largely known for were: (1) having no sperm-producing capacity and (2) attending queens for the very reason that they were the only men in no danger of impregnating them. Anyone born in situation (1) or similar would be a prime candidate to be a eunuch.

Hi John-
None of that is necessary since we can very easily give direct answers to everything. Pose me a list of direct questions and I will answer them one by one - in a month's time.
Socrates was a goodie for his precision and for his forcing others to answer specific questions, not questions of their own choosing. If I ever fail to emulate him then persist until I do so (and it is guaranteed that I will) - and I will do likewise with you. Blessings.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Friday, 21 August 2009 at 12:20pm BST

On the eunuch passage, this is a case where one really needs a good commentary, e.g. the Davies/Allison ICC one. There it emerges that Jesus' distinctions are traditional rabbinic ones and probably therefore authentic. But the eunuchs from birth are those with congenital genital disfunctions - as opposed to those castrated by men. (The third group are metaphorical eunuchs who eschew sex to get on with religious mission.) So Jesus isn't referring to gays. He's talking about marriage/sex or non-marriage/non-sex under the overall rubric of male and female created He them.

On the other hand, I don't think this passage can be pressed to yield the conclusion that the historical Jesus would have regarded active homoSEXUALITY as repugnant: he's talking within the norm (and heterosexuality is the norm - I use the term purely neutrally).

Christopher: you still don't see - or seem to see - what is at issue here. I mount an argument that Jesus (as opposed to Paul) did not disapprove of homsexuality. Of course, it is a provocative argument, but it is not addressed by GENERALISATIONS about Jesus' general position re THE LAW or divorce or about homosexuality as a religious/cultural marker of difference. If you want seriously to engage with my argument, you have first to engage with the claim that the historical Jesus must have encountered homosexuality. You don't do this at all - or only very obliquely - and not 'first'. The claim has to be tested/unpacked in all sorts of obvious ways (to which I have replies). So there IS a need of my rebukes, because you do not respond precisely to precise arguments, and there are two possible reasons for this: (a) lack of acumen; (b) bad faith.

Posted by: john on Friday, 21 August 2009 at 2:37pm BST

I need too be more precise in my definitions???

Eunuchs were used for prostitution! Both ways. Don't you know?

I suggest you do some reading on the love life of the Castratos, for instance.

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Saturday, 22 August 2009 at 3:55am BST

Hi Goran-
We are talking first century AD not the period of the catrati. You are speaking as though there is an eternal category eunuch that transcends language/translation, culture and time.
Anyway, had any been prostitutes in Jesus's time (& doubtless some were) he would obviously have wanted them out of it rather than affirming it.

Hi John-
The fallacy is: rabbinic therefore Jesus. Matthew was equally rabbinic if not more so - he is generally cited as the main NT rabbinic writer (with possible 'scribal' signature at end of Matt 13 and softening of markan references to scribes). Billerbeck's commentary on the NT giving rabbinic parallels devotes more space to Matt than to Mk-Lk-Jn-Ac put together (around 1100 prages to 850, from memory). The overall pattern is that Matthew has very little genuine historical material to add in Markan contexts. However, he will have been aware that Jesus's dictum raised questions about exceptional cases and needed unpacking. It was ripe for a bit of midrash.
If ever I don't respond to a given thing directly, just draw attention to it and I will do so.
Jesus encountered homosexuality but he also encountered thousands of other things, each of which may have made demands on his time and thought. The probability of his culture's priorities being those of the 21st century west are not generally high.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Saturday, 22 August 2009 at 12:34pm BST

Christopher, some things don't change - and neither do you it appears...

Just do the reading!

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Sunday, 23 August 2009 at 6:28am BST

"you just have to say to yourself that the person you've been having a discussion with is dwelling in some alternate reality and not "debating" in good faith."

Mark, this presupposes that I am attempting a "discussion" with Christopher. We have not been doing that for quite some time. How do you have a
discussion" with someone who, as has been accurately pointed out earlier on this thread, will always respond in a manner that is:

"consistently skewed/disingenuous, and what one consistently gets is a sort of blizzard of erudition (or pseudo-erudition) masking an inability - or unwillingness - to engage precisely with precise arguments."

This is not a person with whom one has a discussion or a debate. To attempt one is to invite intense frustration. My actions might not be terribly Christian, but they serve to relieve the frustration that comes from exposure to that kind of distortion of reality.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Sunday, 23 August 2009 at 2:09pm BST

Christopher Shell wrote: "The probability of his culture's priorities being those of the 21st century west are not generally high."

And yet... that is what is constantly clamed from anti Modernists ;=)

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Sunday, 23 August 2009 at 5:12pm BST


Actually, I think it's very Christian; you tried, they refused, and you're shaking the dust from your feet as testimony against them. You're refuting their claims publicly to enlighten others, even if the claimant has no capability to advance in understanding.

Of course, people like that tell you you're "not being very Christian" because, lacking Truth, they need the pathos of victimization.

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Monday, 24 August 2009 at 11:37am BST

Christopher (and John, in the context of your explanation about the 'eunuch from his mother's womb being congenitally, physically incapable of proceation), I feel here that theological discussion is often thwarted amongst the laity who are not privy to theological ecducation, simply because of the scholarly tendency to quote one or another's favourite commentator.

To speak of one commentator as 'authoritative', i.e. to be trusted more than another, is open to all sorts of disillusion and self-delusion. No one has the direct ear of God in matters which require to be debated and discussed in context in a search for truth, which will meet the real needs of Christians in this day and age. The biblical statement: "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us", seems far more enlightened an approcach to religious and moral problems, than the coldly dogmatic way of empirical statements. Rome is very good at this latter mode of teaching.

Scholarship is good and necessary. But it can never trump the existential evidence of lived lives. No one person has the whole truth - not even Saint Paul or any one of the New Testament writers. Therefore, exegesis needs to be open to 'What the Spirit is saying to the Church' in any and every situation which affects the lives and witness of God's people in every age.

This is a problem for the absolutists, like N.T.Wright, and the very best reason for much more open dialogue in the Body of the Church.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Tuesday, 25 August 2009 at 1:48am BST

"people like that tell you you're "not being very Christian" because, lacking Truth, they need the pathos of victimization."

How many times should I forgive my brother? Seven times? Being nasty isn't forgiveness. But it's also rather harmless, so I justify myself:-)

Posted by: Ford Elms on Tuesday, 25 August 2009 at 3:33pm BST

There's nothing I find more telling than the politician or other interlocutor who answers the question they wish they had been asked rather than the question they were actually asked. This tends to suggest (not prove) to me that they have something to hide. So certainly in my own case whenever I do not answer a question absolutely directly, press me on this and we will go on till I do so. I will try to answer all questions directly but may not always succeed.

Goran, from my little knowledge the famous castrati were far removed from Jesus's time and culture, and cannot therefore be first-degree relevant in interpreting a saying of Jesus. You can't disagree with that?

Fr Ron-
The idea of quoting one's favourite commentator is crazy when there are in any given case so many commentators. The best thing to do is familiarise oneself with as many as possible.
I disagree partly on what you say about the Holy Spirit. Everybody wants (and claims to have) the Holy Spirit on their side. One person's so-called discernmment of what the Spirit is saying (a) will differ markedly from another person's and (b) will often be in line with that person's already-existing tendencies. If one can trust anyone to speak about the Holy Spirit, it will be those Acts 15 participants who had experienced Pentecost. We are not so lucky. That is not to say that there is not substantial agreement among Christians over what sorts of things the Holy Spirit is and is not likely to 'say'.
You mention the competing claims of scholarship and experience. I disagree for two reasons: (1) They are complementary not competing. (2) No-one ever denied that people experience the homosexual urge and/or orientation. As you're aware, the debate has never been about that. It has always been about whether or not it is one of those urges or orientations that is good to act upon or whether (like many others) one of those that it is best not to act upon.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Saturday, 19 September 2009 at 12:04pm BST
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