Friday, 11 May 2012

Church of Ireland: Sexuality resolutions to be reintroduced

This morning there is a further development in this story. From the official news service:

Following morning devotions, the Archbishop of Armagh announced that the majority of the bishops were of the view that the General Synod should have the opportunity to discuss the issues raised by Motions 8a to c on Human Sexuality in the Context of Christian Belief which was not able to happen yesterday. He said a revised motion was to be introduced. The discussion on the new motion will take place tomorrow morning (Saturday) immediately after the completion of consideration of Bill No 6.

Belfast Newsletter CoI U-turn on gay row motion

THE Church of Ireland will debate gay relationships tomorrow after a decision to stop the debate taking place was effectively overturned following behind the scenes negotiations in Dublin today.

A motion brought to the church’s General Synod by two bishops to re-affirm the church’s teaching that marriage is only between a man and a woman was ruled out of order by the Archbishop of Armagh, Alan Harper, on Thursday in dramatic scenes which led to two other motions about same-sex relationships being withdrawn.

But between Thursday night and Friday morning, conservative members of the church succeeded in bundling all three motions together and re-introducing them for discussion on Saturday morning under Standing Order 31 (d) in what could be a bitter debate.

Tomorrow’s motions will allow for the church to publicly discuss homosexuality for the first time since the News Letter revealed last September that Dean Tom Gordon had become the first serving Church of Ireland cleric to enter a civil partnership.

The three original motions had been presented by the liberal Archbishop of Dublin, Michael Jackson, and the evangelical bishop of Down and Dromore, Harold Miller in a public show of unity.

But on Thursday as the first motion came to be debated the liberal Bishop of Cashel and Ossory, Michael Burrows, raised a point of order about his fellow bishops’ motion which led to Archbishop Alan Harper ruling that it could not be discussed.

Bishop Burrows, who was aware of Dean Gordon’s civil partnership before it took place, was openly jeered by large sections of the synod in Dublin’s Christchurch Cathedral but applauded loudly by others in a public sign of the considerable strain within the church.

Reintroducing the motion has infuriated some liberal members of the church who yesterday believed that they had defeated a motion which they believe will make it harder to get the church to accept gay relationships at a later point.

The Church of Ireland press office said that while the text of the three motions had now been incorporated into a single motion, the ‘preamble’ to the original motions had been dropped.

That preamble had said: “Having regard to the present discussions in the Church of Ireland on Human Sexuality in the Context of Christian Belief, the General Synod affirms that…”

The full text of the motion now reads:

HUMAN SEXUALITY IN THE CONTEXT OF CHRISTIAN BELIEF

To the Honorary Secretaries:

I wish to propose the following motion under Standing Order 31(d)

The General Synod affirms that:

The Church of Ireland, mindful of the Preamble and Declaration, believes and accepts the Holy Scriptures as revealing all things necessary for eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ;

The Church of Ireland continues to uphold its teaching that marriage is part of God’s creation and a holy mystery in which one man and one woman become one flesh, as provided for in Canon 31:

‘The Church of Ireland affirms, according to our Lord’s teaching that marriage is in its purpose a union permanent and life-long, for better or worse, till death do them part, of one man with one woman, to the exclusion of all others on either side, for the procreation and nurture of children, for the hallowing and right direction of the natural instincts and affections, and for the mutual society, help and comfort which the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity’.

The Church of Ireland recognises for itself and of itself, no other understanding of marriage than that provided for in the totality of Canon 31. The Church of Ireland teaches therefore that faithfulness within marriage is the only normative context for sexual intercourse. Members of the Church of Ireland are required by the Catechism to keep their bodies in ‘temperance, soberness and chastity’. Clergy are called in the Ordinal to be ‘wholesome examples and patterns to the flock of Jesus Christ’.

The Church of Ireland welcomes all people to be members of the Church. It is acknowledged, however, that members of the Church have at times hurt and wounded people by words and actions, in relation to human sexuality.

Therefore, in order that the Church of Ireland is experienced as a ‘safe place’ and enabled in its reflection, the Church of Ireland affirms:

A continuing commitment to love our neighbour, and opposition to all unbiblical and uncharitable actions and attitudes in respect of human sexuality from whatever perspective, including bigotry, hurtful words or actions, and demeaning or damaging language;

A willingness to increase our awareness of the complex issues regarding human sexuality;

A determination to welcome and to make disciples of all people.

The Church of Ireland is mindful that for all who believe ‘there is no distinction’ and that ‘all have sinned and come short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:22 - 23) and are in need of God’s grace and mercy. We seek to be a community modelled on God’s love for the world as revealed in Jesus Christ. We wish that all members of the Church, through the teaching of the scriptures, the nourishment of the sacraments, and the prayerful and pastoral support of a Christian community will fulfil their unique contribution to God’s purposes for our world.

That the General Synod requests the Standing Committee to progress work on the issue of Human Sexuality in the Context of Christian Belief and also to bring a proposal to General Synod 2013 for the formation of a Select Committee with terms of reference including reporting procedures.

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Comments

It is blindingly obvious that the only thing to do at this stage is to suspend all further discussion of any motion relating to sexuality and marriage. 'Abide,' says Christ, not 'legislate.' Leave it alone, Your Grace. We're just not ready. Unity cannot be imposed.

Posted by: Rupert Moreton on Friday, 11 May 2012 at 1:30pm BST

I take the view that a Church, when it is so minded, does have the right to determine its boundaries. It is clearly unwelcoming to gay people in an active relationship and all that about bad language is so much flannel. The obvious thing is for gay people to leave. I don't go on about entryism on the one hand, where other people start defining what are the boundaries of a Church, as in Southwark, to then not allow the relevant authority to define its boundaries. Ambiguity - old rules undecided - allow for space, but defining again makes things clear.

Posted by: Pluralist on Friday, 11 May 2012 at 1:38pm BST

Oh dear.
What an awful report.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Friday, 11 May 2012 at 2:07pm BST

What MartinR said.

Kyrie eleison!

Posted by: JCF on Friday, 11 May 2012 at 10:07pm BST

Oh dear, indeed. But it is never just or only or mainly about sexuality. It is about how we can read the Bible. It is about how we understand Jesus. It is about how we live life. About how we understand the whole way we understand our relationship with the world: cautious, legalistic, fear-based, narrow/dangerous, grace-based, hopeful, open. That is why it matters to each and every one of us - this is why this issue is THE issue. It is not just about LGBT although I do realise is a pressing matter, life and death,even,to them. But the truth is, it is life or death to us all.

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Friday, 11 May 2012 at 11:19pm BST

So...

LIBERAL FILTER ON: ignore or side-step that bit of Canon 31 ('of one man with one woman'), since the framers of those canons clearly didn't have in mind the faithful monogamous same-sex relationships that we see around us today. And, er, considering their 'lived reality', and the listening process and, um, inclusion, blah, blah, ad infinitum) and we're all happy, right?

LIBERAL FILTER OFF.

Posted by: David Shepherd on Saturday, 12 May 2012 at 9:18am BST

The report in the Belfast Newsletter above claiming a Bishop "was openly jeered by large sections of the synod" was contradicted by an email from someone there that says: "It was not like that.".

Not all decency lost then.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Saturday, 12 May 2012 at 1:51pm BST

Once again I find myself agreeing with Rosemary Hannah's analysis. These divergent opinions are not just about sex but about "how we read the bible".

Evolution, zoology, geology, genetics, palaentology, astrophysics etc have all called into question the way Genesis should be read. Like a divine sign to our age, literalism is overthrown.

That then opens up debates on inerrancy, on what is meant by inspiration, on whether God really *did* mandate and order the ethnic cleansing of the Canaanites, or whether it was just the narrative of the victors, whether such accounts were even a reality at the time of the events at all, or the product of a religious community centuries later, whether the plagues of Egypt were historical events or part of a national myth, whether God dictated the bible word for word, or whether the bible was the fallible attempt of sincere people to explain - in the context and limits of their own culture, society, prejudices, scientific knowledge or lack of it - the encounters they experienced with God.

"How we read the bible" is a far deeper question that the simplistic "the bible is always right". In what sense (or means of understanding and contextualising) is the bible right? Are the authors infallible? Were they dictating uniform morality for all cultures and all times? What are the key values on which biblical understanding needs to be rooted?

And I'd suggest Christ gave us the greatest commandments - to love - in the context of which, all of the rest of the bible needs to be read, interpreted, contextualised, understood.

And one... just one of many... of the issues to be understood, is human sexuality. And here too, we should set our understandings in the context of the primacy of love. Fidelity and love are primary values. They contextualise the bible.

What exactly should we make of terms like "a biblical understanding of marriage"? Should 1st Century CE or 7th Century BC social attitudes be perpetuated for ever? How we read the bible extends beyond sex, to whether God ever mandates ethnic cleansing and the wiping out of babies, the elderly, civilians. Or whether human beings had primate ancestors. Or Noah's Ark was real.

Literalism is more or less exposed. The most significant question is "In what sense is the bible inerrant, if it is?"

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Saturday, 12 May 2012 at 9:05pm BST

Susannah, of course, is right when she say that, for the fundamentalists (who may or may not have booed a Bishop of the Church in Synod) the issue is not really about sexuality itself - but rather about how they discern the Bible's treatment of sexuality. In fact, the majority of texts on the subject seem to have grave difficulty with those disposed towards heterosexual conduct - certainly about divorce and promiscuity.

In today's debate about Gay Marriage, the idea is to alleviate the need for casual sex amongst those who happen to be intrinsically Gay, preferring to offer the prospect of life-long, monogamous and loving relationships amongst Gays - thereby offering a wholesome example for heterosexuals.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 13 May 2012 at 2:48am BST

David, tell us about *your own filter*, please. Self-identifying liberals can speak for themselves.

Posted by: JCF on Sunday, 13 May 2012 at 8:12am BST

Father Ron,

I think what I'm implying is that you can oppose gay or lesbian intimacy out of loyalty to what you understand the bible to mean... rather than out of homophobia.

What complicates the matter is that many people are sexist or homophobic as well, and then their "way of reading the bible" mandates their inherent homophobia.

My point really is that the debate over homosexuality is simply a flash point and focus for the deeper debate of whether and in what way the Bible is inerrant.

It seems like a God-given sign for our age, that literalism has been subverted by the advance of scientific knowledge. And if genetic and geological knowledge can subvert a literal reading of early Genesis, then psychological and neurological knowledge can subvert a literal reading of texts against gay sex.

At the very least, the old, literal, watertight literal inerrancy of the bible has unravelled. That then leaves people to pick 'n' mix whether they think certain parts of the bible are symbolic rather than literal, or cultural rather than perpetual and universal, and whether the authors are effectively dictaphones for a divine voice, or fallible people of faith, giving 'best shot' attempts at making sense of encounters with the divine and the mysterious.

But to the extent that people DO read the bible as inerrant (very few choose to admit to reading it literally these days, so they are already pick 'n' mixing what they choose to make literal or choose to make non-literal) then such people are holding a line on homosexuality (and many other teachings) out of loyalty to God.

To this extent I believe it is important to respect and remember that people can hold different views to my own, and hold them with integrity (within the parameters of their own view of the Bible).

That doesn't mean that I agree with them. And it doesn't mean they don't have culturalised and entrenched homophobia as well. But their views are firmed up by a fidelity to the particular way they believe the bible should be handled.

The issue of biblical inerrancy has huge repercussions. The grievous conflicts over human sexuality are just a sideshow of the pivotal issue. Tragically though, that sideshow - exacerbated by assumed biblical mandate - diminishes and reduces decent people's lives.

Susannah

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Sunday, 13 May 2012 at 12:04pm BST

Susannah

"I think what I'm implying is that you can oppose gay or lesbian intimacy out of loyalty to what you understand the bible to mean... rather than out of homophobia."

I'm not so sure. And I don't think that the debate on how to interpret the Bible is any more than a smokescreen either.
Because no-one, absolutely no-one takes the bible literally.
Everyone recognises myth, parable and even "literalists" distinguish between those things that have to be interpreted and those that can, indeed be read as literal.

And so it comes down to what we want to read in the bible. A large number of people still want to see anti-gay sentiment in it - and so they will find it and read it literally.
People used to want to read pro-slavery arguments in the bible and they were able to do it - until society and the church at large no longer wanted to read pro-slavery arguments in it - and now we don't find them in there any longer.

We still find anti-divorce arguments in the bible, but most literalist, and certainly the church as a whole, have found compassionate ways of reading these "literal" verses so that divorcees are no longer shunned and seen as un-Christian.

Staggeringly, the whole "literal" debate focuses on issues of sex and sexuality and on the status of women.
There is no fierce demand by "literalists" that we must use all our money to look after the poor, for example. We hear no sermons about the evils of money. People are not excluded from Lambeth for not fighting poverty enough.
We are very very culturally limited in our "literalism".

(1/2)

Posted by: Erika Baker on Sunday, 13 May 2012 at 6:48pm BST

The real difference between my evangelical friends and my liberal friends is that liberals are willing to say "the bible is wrong here", or "this is cultural and out-dated", whereas my evangelical friends would never treat the bible like that but would search and pray until they found a way of incorporating difficult passages in their understanding of an issue.

There are many accepting evangelicals who treat the bible with just as much love and respect as those who claim biblical orthodoxy for themselves, and yet they come to a pro-gay reading of it.

Those who find it difficult will still accept that not a single one of the verses describe the kind of loving relationships we experience and talk about, so they understand that it is very problematic to apply them “literally”.

People who really cannot (yet) find any outright support for same sex loving relationships in the bible then emphasise the passages that tell them not to judge and to treat supposed sinners with kindness.

Whichever way we look at this - we all read into the bible what we expect to find in it, and we can all use it to confirm our own pre-judgements.


(2/2)

Posted by: Erika Baker on Sunday, 13 May 2012 at 6:48pm BST

So, what do presumed literalists like me believe?

Peter claimed, 'For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit'

I fully believe that MEN spoke: that they were fallible humans and that they expressed themselves using metaphors and idioms that related to their era. Nevertheless, Peter explains that the Holy Spirit steered their insights to predict events and warn generations with salvific clarity far beyond their own era and nation: 'It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven.' (1 Pet. 1:12)

A good example is Isaiah testifying of the sufferings of Christ, 'He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities' (Is. 53:5) How does an 8th Century BC prophet deliver this message to first century Christians? Is it by memorized traditions, or by the written word? If his insights are faithfully committed to later generations by the latter means, it must be preserved through generations. That, by itself, would require supernatural means.

In the latter part of the second letter to Timothy, Paul, in reminding Timothy of the value of the written Law and the Prophets that he would have memorized from infancy, declares: 'all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.' (2 Tim. 3:16) Paul is describing scripture, the writings of the Law and the Prophets as the exhalation of God's breath. This statement indicates divine origin, authority and empowerment needed to preserve scripture's efficacy. Christ's own position was that scripture was the revelation of One God, so that a self-contradictory interpretation could not be valid: 'Now scripture is not broken'.

Yet, there is one way to avoid that trap, here we see several liberal commenters on a mission to invalidate very specific scriptures that contradict their own sexual traits. That is disingenuous, at best. My question, then, would be, 'why not invalidate the whole bible as atheists do, not just those that censure homosexual acts?' The atheist position that dismisses any idea of divine inspiration is, at least, internally consistent and far more worthy of respect.

Posted by: David Shepherd on Monday, 14 May 2012 at 12:57am BST

Well Erika, I would say I have a liberal approach to the Bible, but I disagree with your analysis of what the biblical authors thought about man-man sex.

My reading of the bible is that it condemns man-man sex where it has anything to say about it.

It originally advocates stoning. Man-man sex is regarded (to use the Muslim term) as 'haram'. It is outside the acceptable boundaries of their society. There was homophobia back then as there is today. And no effort is made in the new testament to repudiate previous condemnation of man-man sex.

On the contrary, wherever anything man-man is mentioned, it is condemned. So I'd say that the religious communities that generated the Old Testament and the religious communities that generated the New Testament did not approve of man-man sex.

This would not be entirely surprising, given that even sex between men and women is portrayed as something strictly policed. And this narrative is continued in the Qur'an.

I just get the impression that the Abrahamic religions saw man-man sex as 'haram'.

I've heard the various arguments about the precise words used etc and what I regard as a rationalisation of the unappealing condemnation in the Bible of man-man sex.

I think people want to "make the bible more palatable" and improve its sale pitch. But I don't buy that. I think the bible reflects the cultural values of those religious societies which generated its texts.

And I believe man-man sex was off limits and, in fact, abhorrent to the religious establishment.

Yet I fully endorse gay and lesbian relationships as a Christian (though I myself am heterosexual). I just regard the biblical authors as fallible, and writing in their own contexts.

I don't try to water down the hard things I think the Bible says... about Adam and Eve's ancestry... or the rescue of all species in the Ark... or the Canaanite massacres supposedly mandated by God... or the condemnation of men when they lie with men.

To me, HOW the bible is seen as inerrant, if it is, is crucial to all these issues.

To me, the bible is not inerrant. Therefore I look to principles of love in gay and lesbian issues. I think the surface text condemns man-man sex. But we need to search deeper than the surface. And search and activate our consciences as well.

Susannah

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Monday, 14 May 2012 at 3:09am BST

Susannah,
"Well Erika, I would say I have a liberal approach to the Bible, but I disagree with your analysis of what the biblical authors thought about man-man sex."

But that's precisely my point.

We can approach the bible in various ways, none of them provides a foregone conclusion to how we read it or which verses we emphasise.

This is not about inerrancy or literalism but about which verses we declare to be inerrant, which verses we emphasise and which ones we read literally.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Monday, 14 May 2012 at 9:46am BST

Susannah,

I don't actually think that I said anything at all about how I read the verses.

I was trying to explain what I believe to be the core difference between a liberal approach to the bible and an evangelical one - both of which I respect.

Liberals are happier to say that the bible is simply wrong on some issues and they are also willing to dismiss things as cultural and therefore no longer applicable.
My evangelical friends do not do this. They will not just dismiss a part of the text but they will try to find ways of making it speak to them when it clearly seems to be unpalatable.

I have some pro-gay evangelical friends who have come to the conclusion that what the bible says about same sex relationships is not applicable to the kind of relationships we are talking about today, because it all refers to casual sex, temple prostitution and idolatry.
You can come to a different conclusion, but all I'm saying is that some of my friends who do believe in the inerrancy of the bible have nevertheless come to read those texts in this way.

Others have not done that, but they have come to believe that the texts about same sex love are of secondary importance and that they are less important than the command that we should not judge. Others, again, have come to believe that it's an issue between the "sinner" and God.

These are all people who believe in the inerrancy of the bible.

To me, this clearly proves that people who want to prohibit same sex love us the argument of inerrancy to shore up their anti-gay views.

It’s easy to dismiss liberal approaches as unorthodox if one if so minded.
But when fellow evangelicals use the same fundamental approaches to Scripture, yet come up with different conclusions, then it’s time to accept that “inerrancy” is just another one of those sledgehammers that is fundamentally meaningless.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Monday, 14 May 2012 at 10:16am BST

'Loyalty to the Bible'.

Don't make me laugh !

Posted by: LaurenceR on Monday, 14 May 2012 at 12:18pm BST

David wrote: "Yet, there is one way to avoid that trap, here we see several liberal commenters on a mission to invalidate very specific scriptures that contradict their own sexual traits. That is disingenuous, at best."

David, I am one of those liberal commenters, here in this thread.

Firstly, my support for a Christian recognition and celebration of gay and lesbian sex, does not reflect my own sexual traits. You have made an assumption there. I am heterosexual.

So I am not arguing for a contextual reading of the bible to mandate my own sexual orientation.

On the contrary, I believe those biblical texts that refer to man-man sex, condemn it. I believe that man-man sex was beyond the acceptable values of the religious communities that generated the great Abrahamic religions.

So the 'sex' issue is not my motivation for challenging scriptural literalism.

My motivation is honesty and truth. It is recognising the world as it is, as we have discovered it. It is recognising that theories of evolution almost certainly repudiate the literal Genesis account, as do geology, palaeontology, genetics, and astrophysics (among other disciplines as well).

I believe that through this emerging science, God is speaking to us. In a sense, through humanity's own journey of wanting to find out truth, God is giving us a divinely-ordained challenge. And saying, "Alright, then if the science seems true, what does that tell you about the scriptural texts which people took to be literal fact?"

And it is intellectually honest - not disingenuous as you put it - to face up to these challenges to think. The other route is denial of the world as it is, which loses the bible credibility among millions of decent truth-seekers, who can no longer take some biblical assertions literally, as in any way serious ore deserving of respect.

Literalism is an affront to decent, truth-seeking people, and renders Christianity like other religious fundamentalisms in our world today, reacting to human advances by retreating into a dogmatic corral, and asserting "the bible is true because the bible says it is true".

But in what sense is the bible true?

And in what sense is the inerrant purpose of God discernable in the unfolding revelation of the Bible, and the unfolding revelation of Christian tradition and experience?

No, I was not trying to ameliorate the surface texts of scripture to make them validate my sexual orientation. I have the same orientation as you. I agree that the texts (in isolation) condemn man-man sex. I am not being disingenuous.

I am saying that the bible is more powerful, not less powerful, if it is read in a less literal way, instead of perpetuating old myths and assumptions, and suspending human conscience, where dogma trumps the desire to interpret God's inerrant purposes of love.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Monday, 14 May 2012 at 1:23pm BST

"And it is intellectually honest - not disingenuous as you put it - to face up to these challenges to think. The other route is denial of the world as it is, which loses the bible credibility among millions of decent truth-seekers, who can no longer take some biblical assertions literally, as in any way serious ore deserving of respect.

Literalism is an affront to decent, truth-seeking people, and renders Christianity like other religious fundamentalisms in our world today, reacting to human advances by retreating into a dogmatic corral, and asserting "the bible is true because the bible says it is true".

AMEN to that!!

I would add that Literalism doesn't exist as those who are literalist are happy to pick and choose what they are literal about.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Monday, 14 May 2012 at 8:18pm BST

Erika: "To me, this clearly proves that people who want to prohibit same sex love use the argument of inerrancy to shore up their anti-gay views."

No I really don't agree. I agree that innate homophobia might often exist. It always has. But it may not.

It is reasonable that someone - out of loyalty to God and their belief in an inerrant bible - may decide, even against their own sympathy for gay couples, that as the inerrant bible condemns man-man sex, they should accept that as God's point of view.

This seems credible to me especially as if I felt the bible was inerrant, I too would conclude that God condemned man-man sex, since at surface level I believe that it does.

If I, who endorse gay sex, can see that there's a strong argument, based on inerrancy, for prohibiting man-man sex, then why shouldn't anyone else, if they believe in inerrancy?

To me, the problem IS inerrancy. I don't really take the 'only talking about casual sex' thing seriously (though others may) because it seems blazingly obvious that the tone and culture surrounding religious communities of the great Abrahamic faiths are incredibly protective of a contained version of sex within marriage, linked to God's great creation plan of men and women in complemnetary roles, for procreation; and that these religious communities would almost certainly have seen male-male sexual relations as 'haram' whether they were casual, commercial, idolatrous, or relational in a marriage sense.

I simply believe that the concept of inerrancy drives people - out of loyalty to God - to read these products of these religious communities, as if they were teachings for all communities and for all time.

The fact that within evangelical circles there may be subsets, who come to different interpretations of texts, doesn't change the fact that their conclusions are dogmatically-driven. And dogma can often involve attempts to control other people's lives, certainly within the church.

I think the bible is far harsher than some suggest with regard to same-sex intercourse. But I think the bible is wrong about that.

In that liberation to read the bible with conscience - a liberation you too express - I find agreement with you.

But I won't sugarcoat what I believe to be the unpalatable attitude of abrahamic faith communities to human sexuality outside of male-female marriage. I don't believe for a moment that the bible is only condemning casual gay sex. These communities would have opposed *all* same-sex intercourse.

Susannah

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Monday, 14 May 2012 at 8:56pm BST

Susannah,

I think we're not as far apart as it seems.
You are making the point that the bible has a few verses that oppose male same sex activity. And you are saying that if you were a literalist, you would have to conclude that same sex relationships are forbidden.

But what, then, do you make of my evangelical literalist friends who read the same passages and say that they literally say nothing about long term stable relationships and that they therefore do not speak to the question?

Or what do you make of my other evangelical literalist friends who take the commandment not to judge literally and who give it greater prominence than the condemnation of 2 men having sex?

I am not an evangelical, I have no truck at all with literalism of any kind. To that extent, I am an obsever in this debate.

But three different groups of people tell me that they believe the bible to be inerrant and they all come to different conclusions about the same topic, all using the same fundamental principle of reading and praying through Scripture.

As a bystander I can only conclude that "literalism" isn't what it's commonly assumed to be.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Monday, 14 May 2012 at 11:09pm BST

Susannah,

Thank you. While we may disagree on the nature of inerrancy, you've properly stated the majority evangelical position from a standpoint of one who will gain far more acceptance and far less antipathy on TA than I ever will. My question to you remains, 'Why not jettison the whole bible as atheists do?'

I understand your point about the discoveries of science, but reconciling scripture with science is not the same as dismissing unpalatable biblical ideas about God. As with your 'principles of love', your attempt to explain away the divine authorisation of the massacre of the Canaanites reveals a moral strait-jacket. The exodus from Egypt formed Israel uniquely in human history into a direct agent of divine power. Let's say you remove Israel's agency in the slaughter of innocents. You still have the same all-powerful God who, to this day, allows countless innocent lives to endure the indiscriminate fatal harm caused by disease and natural disasters. If we can reconcile that reality with a loving all-powerful God (who can in eternity reverse all innocent suffering), we can reconcile Israel as an agent of the same God.

There are separated and divorced evangelicals, who, in endeavouring to follow Christ (and probably against their personal yearning for a new life partner), find themselves unable to re-marry out of loyalty to Christ's teaching on the lifelong permanence of marriage. They do not capitalise on today's more relaxed church stance on re-marriage. They do judge themselves by the same yardstick that they apply elsewhere.

Posted by: David Shepherd on Tuesday, 15 May 2012 at 3:20am BST

"There are separated and divorced evangelicals, who, in endeavouring to follow Christ (and probably against their personal yearning for a new life partner), find themselves unable to re-marry out of loyalty to Christ's teaching on the lifelong permanence of marriage. They do not capitalise on today's more relaxed church stance on re-marriage. They do judge themselves by the same yardstick that they apply elsewhere."

A most admirable stance and one that every committed Christian should apply to same sex relationships too.
Let people do what they believe to be right but live your own life according to your own standards and understanding of what God requires from us.
I hugely respect Christians who do this.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Tuesday, 15 May 2012 at 9:33am BST

"Why not jettison the whole bible as atheists do?"
- David Shepherd -

I can't speak for Susannah on this issue, but I can speak for many other Christians who, like me, do acknowledge the place of the Scriptures in our understanding of God's way with humanity - through the incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension (celebrated today) of God's Only-Begotten Son, Jesus Christ.

However, whatever else it may be, The Bible of not a 'print-out' of God's unadulterated Word for all peoples of all times. The human agents God has used in the production of the biblical literature - which is composed of many genres of writing - is inescapably intermingled with the natural and contemporary prejudices of the writer - as well as that of the eventual interpreters - including us.

This is precisely why the modern reader cannot logically connect the different creation stories as a series of factual happenings in the physical world that we know more facts about today. What the authors of the Scriptures were keen to set forth was the 'essence' of what they perceived, at the time, as the divine initiative at work in their local communities.

All Prophecy has to be fulfilled, in order to be accounted genuine, and there are times when God 'held back His anger' from a situation which had altered from its expected perpetrator's original intention. This introduces an element of change that can seem to 'change the mind of God', thus implying some doubt about God's omnipotence in every circumstance of life as we know it.

That God is still communicating with creation, and with God's human children, is a factor sometimes seemingly denied by the Biblical Literalists, who seem to want to believe in an inexorable course of action that has been 'set off' by God from the beginning of the world.

However, the course of human history has shown a degree of progression that bespeaks the promise of Christ that: "When the Holy Spirit comes S/He will lead you into all the truth - the truth about Me, the truth about sin...". That truth is still being revealed, by the Holy spirit who is still at work in the world - not only in the Church but in the world, created and redeemed by God-in-Christ.

This is why the Anglican Communion Churches still rely on 'Scripture, Tradition and Reason'

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Wednesday, 16 May 2012 at 11:29pm BST

!!! David, why would I, as a Christian, want to "jettison the whole bible" !!!

I mean really, why would I want to do that?

+

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Thursday, 17 May 2012 at 9:53pm BST

Ron,

Regardless of how truth is being revealed or communicated to creation, the real issue is not whether revelation continues (it does), but whether it can contradict past OT and NT revelation. While there are many extra-biblical cultural traditions of which we all partake, we should oppose blatantly contra-biblical traditions as heresy, including those that claim that the Messiah did not participate in mortal human life.

Tell me whether a new revelation could also contradict the fact of that incarnation, or that it was the Christ, Jesus from Nazareth, crucified under Pontius Pilate who secured our redemption, and not another? Can't 'progress' tamper with that?

Additionally, you highlight the prejudices of prophets as capable of subverting 'God-breathed' scripture, yet you refuse to examine whether your own prejudices might be the basis of relegating specific bits of scripture to nothing more than extravagantly biased delusions, while lauding other more supportive texts as sublimely insightful. How can you claim that your own insight, that contradicts scripture and tradition, is unimpaired reason versus self-excusing prejudice?

We can all quote the credos of faith, but ultimately if I ask you whether you believe that Jesus brought Lazarus back to life from physical death, the Christian answer should be 'yes', rather than saying that he might have, that he could have, but that it's more important to discern it as a subtle literary metaphor employed to exhort us to find hope in the midst of despair.

Finally, your interpretation of Christ's promise of the Holy Spirit contradicts His own interpretation. The apostolic eye-witness, John, declared that Jesus said, 'when He (the Holy Spirit) is come, He will convict the world (i.e. current order of godless humanity) of sin, of righteousness and judgment'. Unlike you, Christ did not claim that the Holy Spirit would commend contra-biblical worldliness as divinely authorised 'progress'.

Posted by: David Shepherd on Friday, 18 May 2012 at 12:25am BST

" Unlike you, Christ did not claim that the Holy Spirit would commend contra-biblical worldliness as divinely authorised 'progress'." - David Shepherd -

It all depends on what you consider to be 'contra- biblical worldliness'.

e.g: the position of women in the Bible - both Old and New Testaments - was contradicted by Jesus. As modern society has (so slowly) come to realise that Paul was actually already speaking truth when he said that "In Christ, there is neither male nor female" - Paul was overcoming his own inherited prejudice here. But it has taken the Holy Spirit time to progressively inform the Church of this reality. In fact, the H.S. is still having to work on conservative church people about this.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 20 May 2012 at 12:06pm BST
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