Sunday, 22 December 2013

Jamaica conference and Christian Concern: an update

Updated Christmas Eve

The silence of Christian Concern was broken briefly when, for a short time, a copy of an article supporting Andrea Minichiello Williams appeared there, with the title Questioning a bishop’s duty to “uphold biblical truth and refute doctrinal error” but it was taken down very quickly. But not quickly enough.

The article, originally titled Sad Day for Church of England when Changing Attitude Drives Episcopal Oversight, was written by the Reverend Julian Mann, Vicar of the Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge, a parish in the Diocese of Sheffield, and had originally appeared here, and has also been reproduced here.

Richard Bartholomew has updated his earlier article with this new one: Christian Concern’s Jamaica Anti-Gay Controversy Grows.

He writes:

…Certainly, I too thought the comments attributed to Williams were surprisingly virulent, which was why I maintained some caution when I quoted Buzzfeed myself. But if anything was amiss, why hasn’t Williams sought to set the record straight? I see no reason why Feder needs to defend his journalism when his subject has made no complaint of inaccuracy…

…This is the only response that Christian Concern has made on the matter, and it gives no indication that “the stand taken” by Williams has been misrepresented by Buzzfeed or the Independent. And there’s no explanation for why the article has now been removed.


Christian Concern has published this video which contains Andrea Williams Christmas message. There are some generalised indirect references to recent events in this.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Sunday, 22 December 2013 at 4:05pm GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England | equality legislation

In the conversation about whether Buzzfeed can be trusted as a source, everyone seems to have completely overlooked that some of the material also appears in the Jamaica Gleaner, which is hardly a pro-LGBT news source. True, it's a shorter article, but they *claim* to have been present, and the quote they give from Andrea is nearly word for word identical to one part of the Buzzfeed report. That would be odd if it was all a twisted, biased account by Buzzfeed.

It's of course possible that when they say 'AMW told the Gleaner' what they mean is that they both had access to the same press crib sheet, or even that they borrowed from Buzzfeed - it's certainly odd that they both chose the same quote. If the Gleaner reporter is able to confirm that they were at least drawing from conference press material and that she spoke/is quoted in favour of retaining the buggery law, then it would be difficult for even the most cautious person to have very much doubt that this is what happened.

Even as their direct quote stands, it can be taken to understand that she opposes any rights for Jamaican gay men:

"What Jamaica needs to understand is that the homosexual activists have an incremental agenda; because this is where its starts, by them asking for rights, and then our society's morals become redefined,"

Posted by: Kate Smith on Sunday, 22 December 2013 at 4:38pm GMT

So, the silence from Mrs Williams deepens, all reference to this catastrophic gaffe is to be removed, and attempts to discredit Dr Feder fell at the first fence.

It won't work.

She might have had a chance of shrugging this off if it hadn't been for the outrageous Tom Daley remarks, now she and her organisation are forever linked with recriminalising gay people.

Gay organisations, particularly the Christian ones, should be investing in careful essays drawing out the consequences of their support for maintaining and increasing anti gay laws.
The fact is these people not only want to be able to curse and hurt us, they want to see us locked up.

Every time someone Googles her name or that of her organisation their nasty credentials should be identified.
When she does emerge from purdah then her presence at gatherings should be notified to the press and several people should be briefed to attend and close question her about their support for locking us up.

I am sure this will be the beginning of the end for her here in the UK, but the money flowing in is quite substantial and probably comes from some of the usual sources, so she will probably reinvent her organisation as a worldwide movement.

One can hope that those with some decency such as Nazir Ali will denounce their partners, but then again the financial ties may prove difficult to undo.

On a final point, if I were the person advising Mrs Williams what to do in the present circumstances I would be telling her to hunker down too ...... If she wants to know what I think she should do afterwards, well, my fees would be excessive!

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Sunday, 22 December 2013 at 10:14pm GMT

Hello Martin - I believe her next scheduled public appearance is at an Anglican Mainstream 'What Shall We Do With Them Tharrr Gays' conference in central London on 18th and 19th January. (I think the dates have been moved forward a bit, and I did wonder whether that was just coincidence, or because she'll still be in a nuclear bunker earlier in the month). Either way, I can't believe that anyone's memory is really that short, and I agree it's going to be immensely hard for her not to give some sort of account sooner or later. And yes, Tom Daley really has spread it far and wide - I don't think the Plymouth Herald has been very preoccupied with fundamentalist activists before. ( - love the commenter who says 'I'm confused: I'm gay, but my dad is still alive')

Posted by: Kate Smith on Sunday, 22 December 2013 at 10:53pm GMT

Yes the dates have been changed, and the amended details are here:

London 16 January. Northern Ireland 18 January.

The conference is organised by Core Issues Trust and Christian Concern, not by Anglican Mainstream.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Sunday, 22 December 2013 at 11:14pm GMT

What a farce this is.

Either Williams said it, or she was misquoted. If she was misquoted, offer a correction. If she said it, own the statements, and explain why she takes the stance she does.

This silence does no good to her or Christian Concern.

Posted by: James Byron on Sunday, 22 December 2013 at 11:49pm GMT

"The Bishop of Chichester, the Right Revd Martin Warner, an Anglo-Catholic who leads a hitherto traditionalist diocese"

Meow! O_o

Posted by: JCF on Monday, 23 December 2013 at 5:54am GMT

Before Mrs Williams' appalling views were made known, Peter Ould made a similar speculation about Tom Daley, linking the sad death of his father with Tom's joyous coming out. It is understandable that Ould should spring to Williams' defence when his view are not too dissimilar.

Posted by: FrDavidH on Monday, 23 December 2013 at 7:51am GMT

Steady on David, all I did was ask the question whether there was a connection. I did not assert that such a connection was the cause.

Here's exactly what I wrote:

"I actually find this really interesting (and well done Tom for having the courage to be open and honest).

So what label are you going to give Tom? Is he bi-sexual? Is this one bloke the only man he’s ever really fancied? If so, does that make him a straight guy dating a man? And is that at all linked to the loss of his father at such a crucial time in his life (I’m intrigued as to why he feels “safe”)?

I would love to sit down with Tom and explore it all a bit more.

One thing’s for sure, using “gay” and “straight” as prescriptive identities means that we restrict ourselves in genuinely understanding people’s sexual identities."

If you think that's the same position as Andrea allegedly espoused then you need to brush up on your English comprehension skills.

Posted by: Peter Ould on Monday, 23 December 2013 at 11:21am GMT

I was particularly upset by the way Julian Mann's article defending Mrs Williams was written to make a connection that somehow the Bishop of Chichester was in some sort of alliance with Changing Attitude, simply because his press release was quoted on CA's website. The sort of guilt-by-association that the conspiracy theorists of Anglican Mainstream promote are hardly in line with the desire they have to uphold biblical values. Bearing false witness (even by journalistic sleight of hand) is still a sin. But, as ever, Anglican Mainstream are willing to sin "for the greater good of the gospel" (sic).

The line that Mann trots out (which I've heard regularly from Conservative Evangelicals) is that person A is a "biblical, orthodox Christian doing 'gospel ministry'" and therefore should be immune from the criticism of their fellow Christians, whereas person B is a "liberal preacher of a 'different gospel'", should be always seen as in the wrong and is therefore fair game for criticism whenever it suits. A complete double standard of course and I cannot see why intelligent people can't see it for the hypocrisy it is.

Posted by: Simon Butler on Monday, 23 December 2013 at 1:47pm GMT

FrDavidH, I don't think I would ever characterise Tom Daley's 'coming out' as 'joyous'. 'Tentative', 'cautious', 'qualified' would be better descriptions. Those of us on the progressive side of this argument need to be careful not to want to make people 'fit' what we want them to be.

Posted by: Simon Butler on Monday, 23 December 2013 at 1:50pm GMT

I notice that, although the event is not, apparently, organised by Anglican Mainstream, Andrew Symes of AM has equal billing to Williams on the event's website.

I also note that they have managed to get a Labour Co-operative MP as the opening speaker at the London conference. Extraordinary! I wonder what his constituents will think about this, especally after Williams' Jamaica/Daley debacle.

"Opening Mr Geraint Davies, MP for Swansea West" (quote from event publicity material)

Posted by: Laurence Cunnington on Monday, 23 December 2013 at 2:18pm GMT

Laurence's reference to Geraint Davies is interesting. Mr Davies recently had some publicity for a proposal to ban "gay conversion therapies" which he described quite rightly as "a terrible practice". What is Anglican Mainstream up to?

Posted by: cryptogram on Monday, 23 December 2013 at 4:12pm GMT

Peter Ould's logic chopping cannot mask what he is saying.

"is that at all linked to the loss of his father at such a crucial time in his life" undoubtedly suggests a link, even if it does not assert it. It's silly, both ways.

Posted by: badman on Monday, 23 December 2013 at 4:15pm GMT

Anecdotal evidence to be sure, but I came out as gay in my teens. My father knew about it and accepted me from the beginning. I was 42 when he died.
I was very fortunate, especially for that time and place (Texas in the 1970s).

Posted by: FD Blanchard on Monday, 23 December 2013 at 4:37pm GMT

It ought to work both ways,FD Blanchard, did your father's death make you straight?

Posted by: Erika Baker on Monday, 23 December 2013 at 5:56pm GMT


No. How about you?

Posted by: FD Blanchard on Monday, 23 December 2013 at 7:22pm GMT

To be fair to Peter Ould, he takes a position, and stands by it. His blog is open for comments, to which he responds.

If Williams believes that the expression of gay men's sexuality should be re-criminalized, I disagree in the strongest possible terms, but I would respect her courage if she did the same. We could at least engage with the view.

This silence I do not respect. Phantom edits on webpages are just bizarre.

Posted by: James Byron on Monday, 23 December 2013 at 8:58pm GMT

FD Blanchard,
as Facebook says, "it's complicated". I always thought I was bisexual but I did not get civil partnered until after my mother had died. A clear shift there. My father died last year so I'm not sure yet what will happen. Who knows, I might yet have to end up divorcing my wife.

And, James, I do not respect anyone who calls for the criminalisation of homosexuality on Christian grounds. You can just, but only just, still believe homosexuality to be immoral at some completely inexplicable level and against God's will. But there is nothing Christian about calling for gay people to be treated as criminals. That is nothing but homophobia cloaked in religious language.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Tuesday, 24 December 2013 at 9:51am GMT

I await with interest Ms Williams' comments on the posthumous pardon announced this morning for Alan Turing!

Posted by: RPNewark on Tuesday, 24 December 2013 at 10:16am GMT

The video does not deny the words attributed to her. She simply says she fears only The Lord Jesus Christ and not the effects of her words on the life & safety of others.

Posted by: Commentator on Tuesday, 24 December 2013 at 10:35am GMT

James Byron: "To be fair to Peter Ould, he takes a position, and stands by it"
On the contrary. To imply in a question that Tom Daley's bereavement has made him gay is both insensitive and highly offensive.
Then Ould denies even implying it.

Posted by: FrDavidH on Tuesday, 24 December 2013 at 11:02am GMT

Oooh look, she's popped up:

She says she 'fears not man' - but clearly not to the extent of giving any sort of concrete explanation of her behaviour. And she sounds more than a little sorry for herself.

Posted by: Kate Smith on Tuesday, 24 December 2013 at 11:02am GMT

With you all the way, Erika. It's the inability to explain why it's sinful that drives me insane.

Posted by: Lorenzo on Tuesday, 24 December 2013 at 11:38am GMT

As a Canadian Anglican, born and bred, used as I am to even all the varied dulcet tones of Yankees, I ask, what on earth is that accent Andrea Williams has?

Posted by: Randal Oulton on Tuesday, 24 December 2013 at 12:20pm GMT

"To imply in a question that Tom Daley's bereavement has made him gay is both insensitive and highly offensive."

I agree. Good job I didn't do that then isn't it?

Posted by: Peter Ould on Tuesday, 24 December 2013 at 2:45pm GMT

"what on earth is that accent Andrea Williams has?" Randal Oulton

Sounds like a North London suburbs accent to me - from the few seconds I could bear to listen to.

Posted by: Laurence Cunnington on Tuesday, 24 December 2013 at 5:31pm GMT

Erika, I can respect someone's courage without respecting them (beyond the respect we're all due as human beings).

I believe that religious condemnations of gay sexuality are homophobic in and of themselves, but wouldn't deny that they're Christian. A 2,000 year old faith does not endorse modern values of pluralism and toleration. It can adapt, and I believe it must adapt, but criminalizing homosexuality is, sadly, in line with scripture and tradition.

I just think that scripture and tradition are wrong on this, as they are in so much else. Criminalizing the expression of gay people's sexuality is a horrific position.

Posted by: James Byron on Tuesday, 24 December 2013 at 8:35pm GMT

"Good job I didn't do that then isn't it?"

So it was a different Peter Ould who quoted himself upthread as "ask[ing] the question whether there was a connection" and musing "is that at all related to the loss of his father"? To raise the question is clearly to imply it. That kind of unsavoury speculation is ugly enough, but as Fr David indicates, you could at least salvage some shred of honour by copping to it instead of finding fault with everyone else for being able to read your own words on this thread. Need a shovel?

Posted by: Geoff on Wednesday, 25 December 2013 at 3:40pm GMT

I only half agree. Criminalising homosexuality is clearly in line with tradition but I don't see where it is in line with Scripture.
The real difficulty we have with Scripture is that it very often calls perfectly legal behaviour immoral and asks us not to hide behind laws but to take our moral responsibility extremely seriously.

Tax collectors were acting in line with the law but not according to Christian principles. Divorce was legal but is declared to be immoral.
Temple prostitution was legal and yet is clearly not seen as moral.

Whatever one tries to make of those very few verses that can, conceivably be interpreted as against homosexuality, they do not indicate that homosexuality was or should have been illegal, far less attract serious punishments.

Supporting the criminalisation of homosexuality is not Scriptural, and considering what we know about it by now and that it does absolutely no harm to anyone, to call for its criminalisation is deeply immoral, unscriptural and unchristian.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Thursday, 26 December 2013 at 5:25pm GMT

Towards the end of the comments following "Tom Daley comes out" Mr Ould wrote this:

Peter Ould Mod • 21 days ago− + ⚑Well I don't want to go "I told you so", but I told you so. Misses his father, feels safe with a 39yo.

Posted by: Perry Butler on Thursday, 26 December 2013 at 5:38pm GMT

We used to live and work in the next parish to Oughtibridge which could then be described as 'open evangelical' and where the Vicar was Ian Harland, later Bishop of Carlisle.How times and the Church change for the worse. I think the blog supporting Mrs Williams is a tragic insult to all faithful Christian gay and lesbian people and no reflection of the universal love of God revealed at Christmas.

Posted by: Jean Mayland on Thursday, 26 December 2013 at 5:55pm GMT

I agree, Erika, that the tension between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law is a central theme in the Bible. That doesn't mean, however, that letter and spirit can't combine in ways that we believe are wrong.

While scripture isn't a legal how-to, the infamous Leviticus 20:13 is unambiguous. It can, of course, be argued that it's suspended in the new covenant, but suspension isn't made explicit: far from it, Paul's condemnation of same-sex acts makes an alternative reading at least as credible.

I agree, in the strongest possible terms, that it's deeply immoral to call for the criminalization of homosexuality. Much as I'd like to, I can't agree that it's unscriptural or unchristian.

Posted by: James Byron on Thursday, 26 December 2013 at 11:05pm GMT

Leviticus 20:13 says, "If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them."

I think one of the problems the literalists have is trying to explain why the first half literally applies but the second half doesn't (since virtually none of them can stomach arguing that the second half literally applies as well). Frankly, their attempts to dance around the second half sound not terribly different from their criticisms of those who say the first half no longer applies.

Posted by: dr.primrose on Friday, 27 December 2013 at 1:27am GMT

even Leviticus isn't as clear cut as it seems. This is what Accepting Evangelicals say about it:

Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 27 December 2013 at 9:48am GMT

I always thought it was a mistake to use the 'I was always gay' argument, not least because it leaves every bi person out on a limb. For many it is true, but not for all. My view would be that it is better to point out that gay relationships are morally neutral. As good and as bad a straight ones. As supportive, as dedicated, as venial and as abusive as straight ones can be.

Williams accent is bog standard English Suburbia. How she can confuse Jesus's message of love, forgiveness and radical change with hers of condemnation and misery dear alone knows.

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Friday, 27 December 2013 at 12:24pm GMT

Accepting Evangelicals' dual commitment to defending biblical authority and affirming LGBT people is going to color their reading, as it's colored the reading of the scriptural ban on women speaking in church and holding authority. I've no doubt that they're sincere Erika, but that conflict of interest sows the seeds for a powerful confirmation bias.

Dr. Primrose is right to say that it's all or nothing with these prohibitions. That's why the cannier advocates of biblical gay-bashing cast Leviticus aside and set out stall on the Pauline material; which is no disadvantage to them, as it makes same-sex relationships a "salvation issue."

Realpolitik will ensure that the reinterpretation of the "clobber verses" becomes the norm, but, against my own wishes, I can't join in it. Instead I have to say that the Bible is wrong.

Posted by: James Byron on Friday, 27 December 2013 at 4:09pm GMT

For the final time, I have never anywhere suggested that Tom Daley losing his father "made him gay". I wish people would take their "either gay or straight" binary lenses off and look at what I did write not what they think, using their own sexuality framework, I meant when I wrote what I wrote.

Posted by: Peter Ould on Friday, 27 December 2013 at 5:01pm GMT

In one of the more recent studies, and in discussions at SBL, William Loader has concluded--in his latest nearly 600 page study of sexuality in the Ancient World--that the Biblical references to sexuality--OT, Paul, Jesus himself--are no help for the modern homosexual movement, and are fairly consistently opposed to what today goes under its banner. He rejects the claim that Paul would not have understood what today's goes as "homosexual identity." He simply concluded that all of that will have to prove irrelevant if one is in favor of SS blessings, as is he.

Posted by: cseitz on Friday, 27 December 2013 at 8:22pm GMT

Well said, cseitz, well said.

The Christian movement to end homophobia has stalled, in large part, because it plays a weak hand when it argues that the Bible doesn't condemn homosexual lovemaking. By making this argument, it implicitly accepts biblical authority.

A call to justice shouldn't use the language of power.

Posted by: James Byron on Friday, 27 December 2013 at 9:33pm GMT

for me, it's not so much about sincerity but about what actually speaks to people. There is no killer argument. What convinces one is a complete illogical aside to the other.
The point, for me, is that there is no one way of reading anything, as the different approaches of different people show.
To say that Scripture "clearly" condemns this or that is as dangerous as to say that it "clearly" doesn't.

And my question to all those who want to hold on to a condemnatory reading is still "why"?
What is immoral about homosexuality? Why would a loving God condemn a whole group of people to a life we know to be diminished and full of psychological problems for many, when they can benefit from stable relationships like any straight person, and when no single discernible moral harm results to them or to society from doing so?
A God placing pointless burdens on a group of people for no reason - that is not the God we know from Scripture.
And however sincere anyone's belief in that God is, unless they can explain the why convincingly, they are being rightly more and more ignored by people in church.
Society has rightly ignored them for a long time.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 27 December 2013 at 10:06pm GMT

Erika: While I accept, readily, that interpreting texts isn't a science, I'm not so far along the po-mo track that I'll say anything goes. Words are signifiers, and some meanings are more likely than others: given the linguistics, time and culture, it's likely that the biblical references condemn same-gender sexuality in all its forms.

They're wrong.

You're right to say that this runs against evidence, and does harm. That's the crux: authoritarian thinking subordinates evidence to obedience. The Bible says it, we believe it, end of debate. In an authoritarian framework, words are judged by their source, not their merits. You can obey without understanding. In fact, it's essential.

That's why a justice-based argument should challenge authoritarianism head-on.

Posted by: James Byron on Friday, 27 December 2013 at 10:51pm GMT

I'm not saying that anything goes either. I'm saying that there is excellent pro-gay theology around, much of it looking at different scriptural angles and sticking points. And for every argument supporting the idea that homosexuality is immoral there is at least one very deep and good one against it.
Which one will convince the individual depends on them, on their particular sticking point and on how they receive the opposing argument.

If you're interested in a scholarly biblical analysis of the topic you could do worse than read Tobias Haller's Reasonable and Holy. It's a small volume but very dense, not at all simplistic and taking the actual texts very very seriously.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Saturday, 28 December 2013 at 6:59am GMT

Thanks for the recommendation, Erika. I've given Haller a quick google, & the reviews describe 'Reasonable and Holy' as defending same-sex relationships from a conservative position.

I wish Haller luck, but think in different terms myself, and believe the conservative axioms (revelation, authority, etc) are seriously problematic in and of themselves. Personally, I'm with Richard Holloway's 'Godless Morality.'

Change within the church will, I accept, come from a coalition built across the theological spectrum.

Posted by: James Byron on Saturday, 28 December 2013 at 11:01pm GMT

James, I am not sure any longer what we're talking about. You suggested that there is no way round accepting that Scripture does, indeed, condemn homosexuality. So I pointed you to Tobias who does take all the conservative arguments and demolishes every single one of them by means of proper scholarship while remaining true to Scripture.

Of course, as I said previously, everyone is convinced by different arguments, your inner conviction takes you towards Richard Holloway. That's fine - but please don't make the mistake of saying that other routes of coming to the same conclusion are not possible.

And I think it's important to recognise that and to run with it. Because we will be talking to people with all kinds of different starting points and it is not helpful to restrict ourselves to one line of argument only. We should at least be familiar with others, so we can point people to them who ask questions in a different way.

You could follow Tobias' blog "in a Godward Direction" for a while. I think you will find that you're not too far apart as far as "authority" is concerned.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Sunday, 29 December 2013 at 9:06am GMT

"...who does take all the conservative arguments and demolishes every single one of them by means of proper scholarship while remaining true to Scripture."

Well, that certainly ought to settle it!

Posted by: cseitz on Sunday, 29 December 2013 at 1:56pm GMT

As it happens, Erika, my "inner conviction" takes me towards saying that the Bible doesn't condemn gay sexuality across the board. I'd like to believe that. Unfortunately, I don't believe the evidence points in that direction, and must follow it where (I believe) it leads.

I've looked into Haller's arguments further -- particularly the blog posts on which 'Reasonable and Holy' is based -- and he takes a standard approach to "saving" the Bible: in short, limiting the scope of the "clobber verses" so that they don't apply to faithful and monogamous gay relationships as currently understood. Conservatives find this unconvincing: and I'm forced to agree with them. Is it possible to conclude that the Bible doesn't condemn sex between persons of the same gender in all circumstances? Yes, of course it is. However, I don't believe that it's likely.

It may be that me and Haller aren't so far apart on biblical authority: in which case, I wonder why he doesn't try to change conservatives' minds on that, rather than on what the Bible says.

As I said, I accept that change in the church must come from a coalition that extends across the theological spectrum. I speak only for myself.

Posted by: James Byron on Sunday, 29 December 2013 at 7:46pm GMT

C Seitz,
it won't settle it in the minds of those who do not want to change their minds.
But it enables people like me to point faithful evangelicals to different hermeneutics that can help them to come to different conclusions.
Very few are still completely entrenched. The balance of opinion in the church is shifting and it is work like Tobias's that has contributed a great deal towards it.
That's enough.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Sunday, 29 December 2013 at 9:35pm GMT

I don't know if you are a biblical scholar with a sound knowledge of Greek and Hebrew. If you are, do read the book properly before you dismiss it.
If you are not, please don't make the mistake of dismissing it on the basis of some cursory glancing at it.
Your suspicions about Tobias Haller's motives are not relevant, the coherency of the argument he makes is what counts.

He is trying to change people's minds about what the bible says because he genuinely does not believe that it says that.
I find that admirable, after all, if we take Scripture seriously at any level, we ought to really want to know what it says and not insist on reading our own prejudices into it.

The other reason for that approach is that it engages with the objections people actually have instead of telling them they ought not to have them.

I'm afraid what you are doing is as damaging as what conservatives are doing - taking a half read, half understood argument and dismissing it.

Again, I am absolutely not interested in getting you to change your personal view. Mine is between yours and Tobias's, I am not half as orthodox as he is. But I really value his work because it has huge scholarly integrity and it does, if read carefully, destroy the careless "you cannot prove that Scripture doesn't condemn homosexuality" argument. Yes you can. And there are some for whom that is hugely important.
We should not, in a public debate, give our opponents the impression that we agree with one of their key objections. Especially not when there is absolutely no need to do so.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Monday, 30 December 2013 at 9:36am GMT

Thanks, I'll stick with the serious historical work of Loader, who is also a progressive, and whose conclusions disagree with the 'hermeneutical' gymnastics you mention. Have a read while you are commending this smaller, popular work by a Gay apologist.

Posted by: cseitz on Monday, 30 December 2013 at 1:16pm GMT

C Seitz,
I wasn't expecting you to agree with Tobias Haller, you are not one of those who are still trying to make up their minds, after all.
No, on this forum and others, people like you and me talk to each other knowing very well that we will never change one another's mind. The real purpose of the conversation is to address those who are reading but not necessarily commenting.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Monday, 30 December 2013 at 4:24pm GMT

Dr. Seitz, you refer to Tobias Haller's book as a "smaller, popular work by a Gay apologist." Could you explain, please, which of these characteristics of the work necessarily render its arguments invalid (and why)?

And while we're at it, given the topic that inspired this thread, could you perhaps let us know if you agree or disagree with Andrea Williams about the value of criminal sanctions for homosexual activity?

Posted by: WilliamK on Monday, 30 December 2013 at 8:58pm GMT

Any text must be interpreted in light of its surrounding culture.

The 1st century Jewish attitude to homosexuality is no great mystery. The Mosaic law condemns sexual acts between men in any and all circumstances. Paul of Tarsus, Pharisee and scholar, would be well aware of this. He condemns sex between men with the unusual compound 'arsenokoitai,' but its meaning is, also, no great mystery. 'Arseno,' men, and 'koitai,' lying with. Romans is even less ambiguous, and probably refers to lesbianism, too. None of the saving-throws about temples and idolatry are in the text, they must be read-in.

The Bible's meaning is only "disputed" because so many Christians invest the text with authority. If they could just say, "Whatever it means, if it condemns gay sex in all circumstances, it's wrong," this wouldn't be an issue.

I have, doubtless, missed some of the nuances of Haller's argument, and as I've said, I don't doubt his sincerity. I understand its theological foundations well enough. Could be that the best tactic is to keep quiet and allow eisegesis to run its course. Problem with that is, it does nothing to counter conservatives who are (rightly, in my view) unconvinced, and fights the argument on their terms.

Posted by: James Byron on Monday, 30 December 2013 at 10:25pm GMT

there are many different intellectual stumbling blocks for opposing gay equality. And once someone is stuck in a particular place, and if they are genuinely not homophobic but grappling with the issue, then they will only move on when they have come across an answer to their particular stumbling block.

It is therefore important that there are different people around who can address the different stumbling blocks. You address one of them, Tobias Haller addresses another.
Neither are right or wrong in any abstract sense at all, both are right or wrong for particular individuals who are grappling with the question.
They both must co-exist, as must the many other approaches people are taking in this debate.

What I argue against, most strongly, is for those on our side of the debate to dismiss each other's arguments. All we can say is that they do not speak to us because they don't deal with the questions we would have had or that they don't engage with the way we understand our faith.
To say that they are wrong in some objective way is not constructive.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Tuesday, 31 December 2013 at 10:31am GMT

I thought the next iteration of progressivist religion would be the struggle between lockian purists and laissez-faire 'diversity' proponents.

It may be that it pits Holloway/Spong proponents (the sources are all flawed; we need a new Christianity) and the ingenuity efforts (just tilt the texts to the left and they will look different).

For those interested in an engagement with Haller, you can always visit Anglican Down Under archives. There was quite a long exchange there, with Fr Haller contributing ab und zu.

Posted by: cseitz on Tuesday, 31 December 2013 at 2:25pm GMT

I have had many fascinating conversations with religious people from all over the spectrum of theological conviction. It's enriching to discover each other's difference and similarities and the reasons for them.
It only ever becomes a battle when people abuse religious language in an attempt to impose social controls on others.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 1 January 2014 at 11:16am GMT

That sounds very grand.

I believe the issue is whether scripture and its reception in the history of the church organically encloses its present ecclesial manifestation, and where.

For James and others, this is a pointless question. What difference would that make? We are at present able to evaluate what is not just 'good' but 'Christianly good' without reference to all this 'text authority.' Indeed, it is likely in the way and outmoded both.

You have a different view. That's fine.

But it likely means--or manifestly means--there will not be the kind of enriching exchange of views for everyone's uplifting that you envision. Honesty means that it will expose deep and unbridgeable differences.

And so it has and will.

Posted by: cseitz on Wednesday, 1 January 2014 at 6:15pm GMT

Erika, I can accept the pragmatic case for keeping quiet. If the "what the Bible *really* says ..." approach worked, I might well accept that the ends justified the means.

Problem is, I don't think it does work. There's no Galatians 3 "hook" to hang the reinterpretation on, no positive examples of gay relationships in scripture. The attempts to read gay sexuality in to David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, have been ridiculed, and not without cause.

You seem to be going beyond pragmatism, and arguing for total subjectivism. Not "what the text (likely) says" but "what the text says *to me*." If the Bible can mean anything to anyone, why bother with biblical authority at all?

Posted by: James Byron on Wednesday, 1 January 2014 at 9:44pm GMT

some of my friends share your views but they do not try to impose them on me. They just live out their convictions in their own lives.
Which means that the "unbridgeable differences" are not that important after all. We can still be friends, we just disagree about some things.
The problem arises when someone feels that their views have to rule the world and in particular my own personal life. While my views may not rules theirs.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 1 January 2014 at 11:12pm GMT

I'm not arguing for subjectivism.
I'm a pragmatist and I want Christians of all flavours to "get" gay equality. It’s a bit like slavery – Christians of all churchmanship rightly find it abhorrent. Their theological reasons for finding it abhorrent are irrelevant to me, as long as they find it abhorrent.

I'm saying that where you see absolutely no evidence for a particular view, other people do see it, and if they are presented with a different view of the same bible verse, a light can go on.
Why is that not valid just because I don't understand or share their way of looking at things?
For every single biblical interpretation you will find serious and good theology. I don’t know about you, but I cannot sit in intellectual judgement and “know” which one is objectively true. Only God can do that. And we are asked to have faith in him and to follow him to the best of our ability. We are not asked to be clever theologians and get everything right. As if we could. In the end, the only test is: by their fruits shall you tell them.

And for biblical authority, I'm with Tobias Haller who rightly points out that nothing has any authority over us unless we grant it. The Q'ran has no authority over me because I do not believe in it. The bible has authority to the extent that I understand it, or that other people's exegesis helps me to understand it, and to the extent that it make sense in my heart.
And so what C Seitz supports will never ever make any sense to me, whereas what you say may well.
Objective truth? Clearly not, or all of Christianity would not be seriously debating faith in all its permutations, people's faith would not grow and change.

I am talking about faith journeys, and I want to convince people of the gay issue wherever they may be in their personal journey - whether that coincides with mine or not. And to do that, I have to use the arguments that might chime with them, not the ones that reflect my own theological approach.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 1 January 2014 at 11:13pm GMT

The other thing is that I’m a translator. I know how difficult it is to translate even modern texts and concepts faithfully into another language. Even when I can phone the author and ask her what she really meant to say.
I know how many completely understandable mistakes creep in. How often a translator has to make an interpretative choice because the nuances of the original cannot possibly be rendered faithfully into the other language.
And I’m only talking about 2 contemporary European languages!

So when someone like Tobias takes a biblical text and, using proper context and linguistic assessment, analyses that something simply does not mean what we commonly believe it to mean, I respect that.
I would not go back to the English language texts I have been reading and insist that their meaning is crystal clear.
I would at least have to allow the possibility that he was right.

But IF he is right, it is a big deal. Because if biblical authority means anything at all, it has has to mean that we try to understand the original as well as we possibly can. And that if evidence of misinterpretation comes to light, we should accept it gladly. Because we don’t want to shore up our prejudices but discover what the bible actually says…
That does not stop us from subsequently adopting your approach and dismissing it on the grounds that it is not contemporary.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 1 January 2014 at 11:30pm GMT

"And so what C Seitz supports will never ever make any sense to me" -- I did not know you had read anything by me on these topics. The Character of Christian Scripture (2011) is my most recent book, and there is a chapter on tacit knowledge and how the BCP has shaped that. Having published several essays on the sexuality debate over the past twenty years, I determined sometime ago that we were facing two very different threshold understandings of how Christians read scripture.

I also see two different understandings now working themselves out within progressivist Christianity.

Posted by: cseitz on Thursday, 2 January 2014 at 2:19pm GMT

we do indeed have completely different understandings. The CoE itself is built on the awareness that there are completely different strands of churchmanship and corresponding theology, and it has been a miracle example in keeping them all under one umbrella. Dioceses are served by Anglo-Catholic bishops or evangelical bishops, they each take turns in providing the Archbishop of Canterbury.

It is a very successful example of unity (but not uniformity) in Christ and it works because people attend the kind of local church that suits their own taste and theology while being friendly and polite to those they do not share so much with.

We are quite aware of the unbridgeable differences. They just don't matter, by and large.
They do matter at times - like in the women priest and women bishops debate. And so far, the church has always found a creative solution to keep everyone on board.

The gay issue will be no different.

In practice, I go to church on a Sunday, I ask my neighbour in the pew how her week was and if her mother is getting better. I ask the neighbour on my other side whether his children have heard about their university applications yet and, my, didn’t it rain last night!

We then worship side by side, singing and praying. We listen to the sermon. We might agree on some of it or not. We share the Peace. We kneel side by side at the altar.
We have a coffee after the Service where we might talk about who brings what to the next event.
We wish each other a good week.
We leave.
We meet again next Sunday.

I may not have any idea what those 2 people think about biblical authority, whether they identify as socially or theologically liberal or conservative and on which issues. Because we must also not forget that “liberal” isn’t a blanket description. People can be “liberal” on sexuality but not on women priests etc. Their approach to Scripture can be traditional but they can still come to liberal conclusions on social issues.

You can make the difference into a big deal. It does not have to be one.
Ideally, we don’t focus on each other but we worship side by side focusing on God.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Thursday, 2 January 2014 at 5:27pm GMT

Just for avoidance of doubt, I was referring to your position and that of someone like James. I wasn't speaking of the 'conservative' position.

Posted by: cseitz on Thursday, 2 January 2014 at 7:28pm GMT

Epistemology and church politics are tangled here, Erika. (It was ever thus!) The split between modernism and post-modernism highlighted by cseitz plays into that.

I don't for a second claim to have access to "objective" truth, and accept everything you say about translation being interpretation, but do believe that some readings are likelier than others. That's just my subjective perspective, granted, which is why it should be tested by offering it up for criticism.

Pragmatism, for me, is taking the path most likely to deliver up results, but not at any cost. It's tempting to go po-mo let the text say anything, but if we do that, how do we argue against interpretations we consider to be both harmful and wrong?

And for all the post-modernist caveats, I do believe that truth exists, and can be searched for.

By their fruits? Well yes, to an extent. I'm not solely a consequentialist. Means matter as much as ends: indeed, means often shape ends.

Posted by: James Byron on Thursday, 2 January 2014 at 9:21pm GMT

I think the difference is that if I met you for a drink I'd be fighting for my right to live my life as God calls me to live it.
If I met James for a drink we'd spend a few wonderful hours together discussing our faith, we'd go home, challenged, moved on, affirmed or bored... but not threatened.
We disagree (maybe) but we fight no existential battles.

There's no need.
Unless you throw the desire to control each other into the mix.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Thursday, 2 January 2014 at 11:23pm GMT

like you, I also believe that some reading are likelier than others.
But we differ in which readings we consider to be main stumbling blocks (I've never been interested in Ruth and Naomi or David and Jonathan), and we differ in our assessment of what makes a likely reading.

That's why the approaches that answer both our questions have to have equal status.

And it depends on what truth we believe exists and can be searched for.
What is our actual question here?
Mine is: "are gay relationships sinful".
And the truth of that question is "no", and the answer can be arrived at by a huge variety of theological paths.

How do we argue against interpretations we know to be harmful and wrong? But showing them to be harmful.

And I return to my core question that no-one from the other side has yet even attempted to answer:
We know that stable same sex relationships have the same emotional benefits as stable straight ones. Whereas forcing people - any group of people- to live lonely lives leads to a host of psychological troubles.
Where is there any evidence at all in Scripture that God demands a sacrifice like that of a whole group of people for no apparent moral benefit to them or to society?

This God is not the God of Scripture. This God does not exist. He is a figment of the imagination of those who abuse him to shore up their prejudices.

But if you ask for cast iron evidence that will suddenly convince everyone - it does not exist either.
That's my point. All we can do is to address every individual with the theological arguments that might, just might, help them to remove the blinkers.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Thursday, 2 January 2014 at 11:33pm GMT

"...if I met you for a drink I'd be fighting for my right to live my life as God calls me to live it."

If one wants to appeal to this kind of thinking, it obviously runs in two directions.

I'm personally not as confident that Christians can understand their destiny in such clear terms anyway ("right to live my life").

"Your life is hid with God in Christ" makes sense to me.

Posted by: cseitz on Friday, 3 January 2014 at 6:25pm GMT

two directions?
I have no intention of telling you how to live, far less lobbying for churches and governments to legislate how you must live.

I am fighting this battle because conservatives try very hard to legislate how I must live according to their understanding. And they seem to be pretty sure about everyone's destiny and of God's requirements. So sure that they go as far as Ms Williams (who this post was initially about) who traveled to Jamaica to lobby against the civil treatment of gay people there.

This is a one way street. And we are fighting for the freedom of gay people to live as they believe is right according to their view of God's will for them.
Give up trying to control us according to your view of God's will for us and we will happily live side by side. Your side will think that we're wrong, we will think that your side is wrong. And... there it will end.

It all still boils down to a desire to control people that has nothing to do with Christianity.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 3 January 2014 at 9:31pm GMT

I doubt anyone--Christian or otherwise--is going to control Erika Baker. Grace and peace.

Posted by: cseitz on Saturday, 4 January 2014 at 1:58pm GMT

And to you, CSeitz.
Thank you for this conversation.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Saturday, 4 January 2014 at 11:01pm GMT
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