Saturday, 2 November 2013


Readers may find this useful: A prayer before connecting to the internet by Fr John Zuhlsdorf. Translations into about 40 languages are provided.

Gavin Ashenden has written on his blog about Hate, homophobia and holiness.
In response Colin Coward has written The Christian neurosis.

Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division, gave this speech this week: Law, Morality and Religion in the Family Courts.
Sir James’s speech, and the reaction to it, has prompted Frank Cranmer of Law & Religion UK to write: The President of the Family Division on family law, morality and religion.

Posted by Peter Owen on Saturday, 2 November 2013 at 11:00am GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Opinion

The Munby speech and reactions deserve a prominent position. It is a significant contribution to the debate.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Saturday, 2 November 2013 at 4:32pm GMT

Ashenden writes: "So we have two cultures set against each other. One secular and self indulgent, already experiencing the spasm of its own incontinent death throes; and one transformative and with the experience of being always renewed and capable of capturing whole cultures and civilisations with its empowered sacrificial love."

But only one of these "cultures" thinks that beating gay man to death and gang-raping lesbians to "cure them" is a good thing. And if I have to pick my friends, I tend to assume that the killers and the rapists are bad people. Ashenden obviously disagrees. You can tell a lot about a man by the company he keeps.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Saturday, 2 November 2013 at 8:26pm GMT

Gavin Ashenden says

“I accept repulsion against criminalising sexual behaviour, pace Uganda – but I have had just as much experience of English bishops acting as bullies and thugs!”

My response: You’ve experienced, from English bishops, corrective rape? Locked in prison for years? Castration? Being set upon w/ hammers or machetes? Being “necklaced” w/ a gasoline-filled tire, and set on fire? Do tell.

Otherwise, please desist this OBSCENE hyperbole.

Posted by: JCF on Saturday, 2 November 2013 at 9:31pm GMT

Mr Ashenden - Gore Vidal didn't 'invent' the use of the word gay even if he tried to claim he did. It has been around for about two centuries describing deviant sexual behaviour and for the best part of a century as relating to homosexuals. See the relevant Wikipedia article.

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Saturday, 2 November 2013 at 9:38pm GMT

Sir James Munby does point up the problems that would occur with the imposition of a theocratic state. In a poly-cultural society, there surely is no room for imposing the values of one particular religious culture over another?

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Saturday, 2 November 2013 at 11:53pm GMT

Here is what I posted to Gavin:

Gavin, we know each other, and I presume you know that I disagree (or that I might disagree) with you on the presenting issue (though not entirely: I think I’m probably with Rowan on this one). I thought we knew each other well enough to presume that neither of us would ever resort to describing the other’s position in such terms as ‘There is very little power of the Holy Spirit in this vapid self indulgent spirituality’; but that’s what you’re doing, and not just to me. The real challenge is to see at least the kernel of truth in the other position, but to deny the Spirit entirely is perilous, really perilous. To couch such denials in polarising people into so-called liberal/so-called orthodox (evil/good?) camps does little justice to far too many of us, even if one grants that you were resorting to hyperbole.

Here’s some friend-to-friend advice (I apologise for the presumption in offering it and admit that I rarely heed it myself): next time, imagine your interlocutor as being one of the holiest people you know (despite his or her holding a different opinion on whatever the issue is) and then write. It’s a twist on one of Ignatius of Loyola’s rules about putting the best interpretation on another’s position. It also allows some space to apply one of his ‘second week’ rules: those with some sense of their own sin will be more likely to be deceived by something having the appearance of good than with something obviously evil. If there is a weakness in the arguments used by those who urge a reconsideration of attitudes towards homosexuality and homosexual practice, then ascribing that weakness to surrendering to ‘secular narcissistic hedonism’ is to write off the possibility of exploring more subtle (and, frankly, much more likely) deceptions. If you’re convinced of your position and feel a call to witness to it, I suspect this would be a much more useful, and dare I say more charitable, way of proceeding.

Apologies for such a public cor ad cor loquitur, but I hope you take this in the spirit in which it is offered.

Posted by: Joe on Sunday, 3 November 2013 at 1:05am GMT

Munby P refers at length to the DPP v Shaw as the last hurrah for the old morality. It should be recalled that, even at the time, it provoked a good deal of criticism - and not merely amongst H. L. A. Hart and his school. It also played some part in convincing many lawyers in Australia, for example (where there was never any offence of a conspiracy to corrupt public morals) that the House of Lords (i.e., the Privy Council) was perhaps not an ideal court of final appeal.

Munby refers to Simonds' speech. Even by the standards of his time, Simonds was a very conservative chancery practitioner (see, for example, the rather withering description of his role as lord chancellor in Robert Stevens' Law and Politics or the faintly damning praise in R. F. V. Heuston's Lives of the Lord Chancellors).

In the same Shaw case, the pre-eminent lord of appeal of his day, Lord Reid, had this to say:

"Even if there is still a vestigial power of this kind it ought not, in my view, to be used unless there appears to be general agreement that the offence to which it is applied ought to be criminal if committed by an individual. Notoriously there are wide differences of opinion today as to how far the law ought to punish immoral acts which are not done in the face of the public. Some think that the law already goes too far, some that it does not go far enough. Parliament is the proper place, and I am firmly of opinion the only proper place, to settle that. When there is sufficient support from public opinion, Parliament does not hesitate to intervene. Where Parliament fears to tread it is not for the courts to rush in."

The speech given by Reid quoted above was a more accurate summation of a large body of judicial opinion in the early 1960s than was Simonds'. In short, the wide consensus of opinion was that judges needed to retreat from the bedroom. More especially, the appellate committee was notorious at that time for construing statutes very strictly (especially in tax cases); Reid and others felt that it would be hypocritical for conservative judges to interpret certain rules (relating to tax) strictly, but others (relating to sex) expansively.

Munby also refers to the Upfill v Wright case of 1911, in which Darling J (later Lord Darling) indicated that the Prayer Book was, in effect, part of the laws of England. It must be stressed that Darling was just about the worst hack political judge elevated to the High Court bench in his day (for which Halsbury and Salisbury were to blame); his otherwise inexplicable elevation to the appellate committee was a considerable scandal - and his behaviour in that tribunal did not disappoint his many critics. Any assertion made by Darling must be taken with a large pinch of jurisprudential salt.

Posted by: J Drever on Sunday, 3 November 2013 at 1:53am GMT

Ashenden has some nerve telling gay people that they don't really exist and that they have been tricked into believing their identities are stable (fluidity doesn't mean what he thinks it means) while at the same time boasting about Christians basing their ENTIRE identity on a religious myth that requires blind faith. If any identity is less stable and more fluid, it has to be one based on religion. People convert and deconvert all the time from many religions but besides a few deluded christian "ex-gays" sexuality is a very stable category for most heteros, homos and bis.

Posted by: etseq on Sunday, 3 November 2013 at 4:40am GMT

Gavin has posted a wonderful and generous reply on his blog, one that opens doors that could lead in time to our identifying what's underneath all these impassioned shots across the bow.

Posted by: Joe on Sunday, 3 November 2013 at 9:27am GMT

Re Ashenden: why would it be 'contradicting the Gospels' if Pilling legitimises same sex blessings? I'm not aware of anything in the Gospels that can reasonably be taken this way.

Posted by: Flora Alexander on Sunday, 3 November 2013 at 2:19pm GMT

"So we have two cultures set against each other. One secular and self indulgent, already experiencing the spasm of its own incontinent death throes; and one transformative and with the experience of being always renewed and capable of capturing whole cultures and civilisations with its empowered sacrificial love."

Among my friends, several of the same-sex marriages and relationships are the most stable, and noneof my gay friends has had a divorce. in fact, I have seen tremendous devotion, sacrifice and growth. And this is "self indulgent, already experiencing the spasm of its own incontinent death "?

As for "transformative and with the experience of being always renewed," may I say that my ten year relationship with my partner, before his death, brought me back to the church through gratitude, taught me unconditional love, rubbed quite a few of my selfish corners off, and was in instrument of tremendous personal and spiritual growth that have changed my life and cemented me to my church community because of my growth, and because of their unquestioning welcome?

Posted by: Nathaniel Brown on Sunday, 3 November 2013 at 6:51pm GMT

Thanks for Father Z's prayer resource. Desperately needed by all in these days of debate.

Posted by: Pam on Sunday, 3 November 2013 at 9:24pm GMT

Joe, I went looking for that "wonderful and generous reply" on Gavin's blog you spoke of . . . but the entire blog seems to have gone missing! O_o

Posted by: JCF on Sunday, 3 November 2013 at 10:14pm GMT

Thank you, Nathaniel, for your moving testimony. It is from such as your comments that faith is renewed in those among us who have known the great love of God in a human same-sex relationship. Faithfulness is surely the key here - whether heterosexual or other relationships. God is Love, and wherever true love is found, there is God!

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 3 November 2013 at 10:21pm GMT

I'm still amazed that the religious right defines this issue in terms of permission and self-indulgence, that all this gay business is just so much willful and selfish disobedience of benevolent Sky-Daddy.

Stack up the lists of anti-gay activists and gay activists together and compare how many have lost livelihoods, suffered injuries, and been killed for their beliefs and actions, and then tell me which one is really the more self-indulgent.

Scott Lively and his lawsuit problems are small potatoes compared to Fanny Ann Eddy's death by gang-rape and machete, or Harvey Milk shot dead in his office in San Francisco's city hall. The Ugandan police (and their enablers in the Ugandan press) can do as many pistol-drops and make up as many stories as they want, but we all know why David Kato died.
Maybe Scott Lively and his kind didn't pull any triggers, but they certainly enabled those who did by making sexual minorities out to be a little less than fully human and fully loved by God.

A lot of people suffered much (and many died) so that my partner and I could enjoy a life together of freedom and dignity. That seems to me much more truly Christlike than a well-funded public scold singling out sexual minorities for special scorn and laying burdens on them that he would never imagine bearing himself.

As the Archbishop of Canterbury recently admitted, the British public's growing objection to all the religious anti-gay stuff (and the American public's too) is a moral one; that such a position is morally defective by being arbitrary and unjust, contrary to reason, evidence, experience, and justice. Worst of all, it is contrary to a Loving God who made all people in all their abundant variety in His image, and wasted nothing in their creation.

Posted by: FD Blanchard on Sunday, 3 November 2013 at 11:51pm GMT

Has Gavin Ashenden taken his blog down - it now seems to be completely empty?

Posted by: Anne2 on Monday, 4 November 2013 at 8:20am GMT

In fact Gavin Ashenden’s post has been reposted here but it doesn’t include the comments that others here have referred to.

I have to say that I find it very shocking that the holder of a doctorate and, one who, until recently, was a university lecturer could write such an incoherent and confused piece. Moreover, it is almost wholly lacking in Christian charity. I can only assume that Dr Ashenden wrote the piece in a frenzy and pressed the send button before he’d re-read it. Where to begin? The most egregious error is in the characterisation of liberalism. I quote, for example, ‘a decadent liberalism - a spirituality that celebrates the nice without being able to deliver it; a spirituality that surrenders to secular narcissistic hedonism its [sic] the authority to make ethical analyses’. I would call myself a liberal Anglican, even a Guardianista perhaps, but neither I nor others I know would begin to recognise this definition of liberalism. Dr Ashenden has created a convenient fiction as a target for his distress and has set-up a false dichotomy between two cultures which only exist in his fevered imagination. Clearly, in this world view, my Christianity is not real Christianity and I am filled with hate. We simply cannot move forward if this kind of offensive nonsense is being peddled. It behoves all of us to understand each other’s position honestly. Liberal Christianity is a well-articulated and intellectually coherent position which does not simply embrace ’anything goes’ nor is it an unthinking embracing of contemporary culture and mores. A piece such as this does nothing to bring together differing viewpoints. I would have expected better of a former university chaplain and lecturer. Perhaps it is not surprising that he has taken his blog down.

Posted by: Daniel Lamont on Monday, 4 November 2013 at 3:16pm GMT

"Stack up the lists of anti-gay activists and gay activists together and compare how many have lost livelihoods, suffered injuries, and been killed for their beliefs and actions, and then tell me which one is really the more self-indulgent."

It would be interesting as well to compare the sides in terms of who is making the most money. Lively, Brian Brown, Pat Robertson... Hate pays, fear raises money... But neither seems very Christ-like.

Posted by: Nathaniel Brown on Monday, 4 November 2013 at 4:41pm GMT

Nathaniel Brown and FD Blanchard's posts express my sense of things, and are move and encourage me.

Being in my sixties, I well remember my childhood and teens in the bad old days. Indeed it has taken Britain a very long time to recognise the civil rights of lgbt., let alone begin to give recognition to our needs and what may lead to our flourishing.

I recognize the terrible treatment of states and public around the world.

I find the words and deeds of anti-gay church members hard to take.

Posted by: Laurie Roberts on Monday, 4 November 2013 at 8:41pm GMT

I write to add my voice to those appalled by Gavin Ashenden's violent, demeaning, and ill-founded vitriol, but, especially, also, to thank FD Blanchard and Nathaniel Brown for their edifying contributions. I'm ashamed to be part of any body, let alone one that would attain to the status of the Body of Christ, of which Mr Ashenden is part, and hugely moved, and glad, to be part of that fabric of which FD Blanchard and Nathaniel Brown are fellow threads.

Posted by: James on Monday, 4 November 2013 at 10:08pm GMT

Not sure whether this is of any interest or relevance, but Gavin Ashenden was preaching at the Chapel Royal, St James Palace this last Sunday morning; which suggests he has the ear of at least some part of the Establishment....

Posted by: peter kettle on Tuesday, 5 November 2013 at 9:06am GMT

Daniel Lamont: exactly. Perfect summary of everything that is wrong with Ashenden's post, and I'm glad that it has been reposted somewhere for posterity.

Before he took the blog down, I posted a comment to the following effect: calling the love in gay relationships "evil", or mere "doing what we want" is to try and escape the central difficulty of the issues by pretending gay relationships to be something they're not (and those words and phrases appearing in both Ashenden's and Ould's recent offerings). It's hard to see how gay Christians who try to live a life of love and self-sacrifice, both in and beyond the relationship with their partners, can but be offended by Ashenden and Ould's theology-by-wishful-thinking. I hope that some vague realization of this is behind his decision to pull the blog down, but there may be... other... reasons, I suppose.

Posted by: AndrewT on Tuesday, 5 November 2013 at 9:41am GMT

The Chapel Royal? Where the greatest music of Byrd and Purcell was first heard? Now that is REALLY offensive (as well as all the other points made above)

Posted by: iain mclean on Tuesday, 5 November 2013 at 9:52am GMT

'Gavin Ashenden was preaching at the Chapel Royal, St James Palace this last Sunday morning; which suggests he has the ear of at least some part of the Establishment....'

No, it means that in 2008 someone suggested his name as a Queen's Chaplain. Wearing a red cassock, attending a Royal Garden Party and preaching once a year in the Chapel Royal is what is expected in return. There is no suggestion that any ears are involved or that anyone is listening.

Posted by: Nigel LLoyd on Tuesday, 5 November 2013 at 10:29am GMT

Yes, I wonder how those in the straight establishment in church and state manage to read the Book of the displaced, deported and marginalised. What sense can those who are at ease in Zion make of the lives of lgbtq people lived out in the shadow of Babylon - exiles to anti-gay words and actions ?

No coincidence that we hear nothing of Jesus' message of the realm of god from the establishment, that killed him and goes on attacking his poor body wherever they come across it. And I 'm not talking about mainstream churches as his body...

May I recommend The Queer Bible Commentary to Gavin, and indeed to all who still turn to the Bible with expectation.

Also this year's Reith Lectures open a window or even a door....

... and you may go in....

Posted by: Laurie Roberts on Tuesday, 5 November 2013 at 10:49am GMT

Ashenden's comments are of course very annoying because they don't bear much relationship to the truth in any way shape or form (it also saddens me that his blog is again accessible).

It is a very sad indictment of religious thinking.

Of course so much gets amalgamated that it's difficult to unpick. I think the starting point is his liking of GAFCON and desire to put them in the right and defend them against people like Andrew Brown.

In addition is the curious phrase "God spoke to me about the practice of homosexuality". Now that he is receiving personal revelations a la St Paul it is going to be very difficult to enter into discussion or debate with him. He is in fact now a Prophet not a disputant. The more latter day Prophets there are the less we will read the Bible and try to discern its meanings because there's someone with an open channel as it were receiving live updates. There is only one thing worse than an inerrant Bible and that is when it receives inerrant interpreters.

All in all a very unpleasant episode.

Posted by: Craig Nelson on Tuesday, 5 November 2013 at 11:09am GMT

it's not an indictment of religious thinking, it's an indictment of what happens when you can only make your point by distorting the truth and setting up a straw man because there IS no coherent other point to be made.

It's a fact that people are born gay, it's a fact that many many have tried to be cured only to end up as broken people or suicides.

Any genuine theology will have to take the very real failure to cure people who were desperate to conform to traditional morality into account.

And the only possible answer to gay people would be that for some completely inexplicable reason God insists that a substantial minority of mankind lives the kind of life that is more likely to result in loneliness, depression, alcoholism and suicide, for no apparent moral good either to them or to the rest of society.

That is of course no answer anyone could possibly give, not even the most hardened homophobe, and so people like Dr Ashenden have no choice but to misrepresent gay people and liberal Christianity in order to make their point.

What all this thrashing really proves is that civilised society and civilised church have won the argument and that it is only a matter of time until the anti-gay stance of the church changes.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Tuesday, 5 November 2013 at 11:38am GMT

Dr Ashenden's blog post "Hate, homophobia and holiness", and the comments on it, have re-appeared.

Posted by: Peter Owen on Tuesday, 5 November 2013 at 1:36pm GMT

'What all this thrashing really proves is that civilised society and civilised church have won the argument and that it is only a matter of time until the anti-gay stance of the church changes.'

I think that's true.

Posted by: John on Tuesday, 5 November 2013 at 2:15pm GMT

Laurie Roberts: I was unaware of the Queer Bible Commentary until you mentioned it - thanks. But I find that even the Kindle version in $67!!!!

Why this should be, I have no idea.

Posted by: Nathaniel Brown on Tuesday, 5 November 2013 at 4:56pm GMT

ah yes, Nathaniel, that's steep ! I got mine (hb book)in a SCM reduction a year or two back. I hope it's still available, as I think you would enjoy it. It has brought me back to the Bible I must say.

Also Take Back The Word is real good (must check names of Editors etc., as senior moment !).

Also : In Memory of Her great feminist work which I still read and reread from time to time.

I do hope you manage to get it.

Posted by: Laurie Roberts on Tuesday, 5 November 2013 at 11:15pm GMT

Thank you Erika for your needful corrective. Of course not all religious thinking is equally indicted. What I meant though as that only in religious circles is it normal to expect this kind of speech and find it completely normal - even normative in many cases.

Dr Ashendon is just kicking sand in our eys. Probably because he can. Possibly to get a reaction.

Posted by: Craig Nelson on Wednesday, 6 November 2013 at 4:23pm GMT

Laurie- Thanks! I've just ordered Take Back the Word (Bass & West, ed.) for $5.00. The cheapest Queer Bible I could find was $49, second hand.

I found some of Bishop Spong's books helpful, and for anyone interested, the following were of great comfort and use – from a reading list I’ve handed out at church from time to time when I’ve preached (thus creating an onerous precedent for our rector!):

Daniel A. Helminiak, What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality, Alamo Square Press, 1994 – Examination of Biblical texts.

Richard Holloway, Dancing on the Edge, Fount/Harper Collins (UK), 1997 – Tremendously exciting look at core Christian beliefs in the post-modern age.

Richard Holloway, Godless Morality, Canongate (UK) 1999 – Presents a superb & challenging way of examining inherited dogma. Highly recommended as a basis for further examination and discussion.

Howard H. Bess, Pastor, I am Gay, Palmer Publishing, 1995 – A very readable look at issues surrounding homosexuality by an American Baptist Minister. Probably the easiest source for broader examination of the "troublesome verses". Highly recommended.

But at the end of the day, my ten years of life, learning and joy with my partner Chris did more to bring me to God than all the books in my library.

Posted by: Nathaniel Brown on Wednesday, 6 November 2013 at 4:53pm GMT

"The cheapest Queer Bible I could find was $49, second hand."

I wonder if this is the first time in history these same words have been strung together in a sentence.

Posted by: cseitz on Wednesday, 6 November 2013 at 6:14pm GMT

"I wonder if this is the first time in history these same words have been strung together in a sentence."

Certainly not, much as it may come as a shock in those purported academic institutions which have tuned out any and all of the literature on the subject since circa 1962.

Posted by: Geoff on Thursday, 7 November 2013 at 6:49pm GMT

Andrew Brown who stirred Ashenden to opine so disturbingly inaccurately in the name of Holy truth has an interesting report on the Munby speech here:

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Thursday, 7 November 2013 at 9:20pm GMT

Nathaniel thanks !

Yes, that's the one.

I got my Queer Bible Commentary via the post from London for £95 - I must have been lucky. It is invaluable.

But so is Take Back The Word - glad you obtained it.

Chris Glaser's books of devotions for lgbt are also very good, I find.

Posted by: Laurie Roberts on Tuesday, 12 November 2013 at 5:47pm GMT

Correction ! C My typo I guess !

My QBC was reduced to £9.95 !!

The decimal point means (almost!) everything !!

Posted by: Laurie Roberts on Wednesday, 13 November 2013 at 4:53pm GMT
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