Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Reactions to the House of Bishops statement - episode 10

Updated twice on Tuesday evening

The soap opera continues.

Bosco Peters has written Rethinking marriage? He concludes this way:

…By the 1928 marriage rite, wives obeying their husband had gone, and with it the biblical submit-and-subject wording. In only one prayer was the allusion retained that in marriage “is signified and represented the spiritual marriage and unity betwixt Christ and his Church”. [In the CofE Common Worship rite that becomes, “they shall be united with one another in heart, body and mind, as Christ is united with his bride, the Church” or “they shall be united in that love as Christ is united with his Church”].

Because the union of Christ and His church is an unbreakable union, Marriage-is-like-Christ-and-His-church imagery comes together with marriage-is-indissoluble. Furthermore inevitably with the inequality of Christ and His Church, this image comes with an inequality between husband and wife, and a distinction of their roles.

New Zealand Anglicanism shifted from a firmly-held “marriage cannot be dissolved” to “a couple when getting married should intend to stay together”. ALL references to Marriage-is-like-Christ-and-His-church imagery were completely removed from the three different rites available for getting married in the 1989 New Zealand Prayer Book. Even the Church of England’s own Common Worship rite has removed all but the tiniest single vestigial allusion (quoted above) to what was clearly once a dominant biblical paradigm for marriage.

What once again is clear when those who say the debates are not sourced in prejudice about homosexuality, but are about integrity to scripture and tradition, is that whilst a sea change has occurred in the understanding of marriage, they have only begun to register an issue when the direction heads towards committed same-sex couples.

In the discussion about whether gender difference is essential to marriage it is clear where the inner logic of the trajectory of Christian marriage changes leads, and that the Church of England bishops’ statement is on the wrong side of that trajectory.

Andrew Goddard has written an article in two long parts for Fulcrum:

The House of Bishops’ Pastoral Guidance on Same-Sex Marriage Part I – Engaging with the Critics

The divisions within the Church of England and the multiple challenges it faces in the light of the advent of same-sex marriage have become even clearer and more serious in the weeks since the House of Bishops Pastoral Guidance. In what follows I explore three areas where the bishops have been criticised and offer a defence of their stance…

The House of Bishops’ Pastoral Guidance on Same-Sex Marriage Part II - Raising Questions and Recognising Challenges

This second part turns to highlight three areas of ambiguitiy, unclarity or inconsistency before concluding with some thoughts on the challenges we now face…

He concludes with this:

…One reason that further practical guidance is unlikely from the House of Bishops is that some of its members do not personally believe that the church’s doctrine of marriage as being a union of a man and a woman is true and something which “most benefits society” (para 8). Others, although personally convinced of such a view, are concerned about the implications – in church and wider society – of following that commitment through in church teaching and practice. Those concerns will have been deepened by the strength of criticism they have faced for upholding the teaching and following it through even to the extent they have done.

The sad reality is that a house divided against itself cannot stand. Although it is reported that only one bishop voted against the guidance, it is also being claimed that a significant number, even a majority, are not personally happy with it. The reactions to the guidance make clear just how extensive the divisions are in the wider church and thus how difficult the environment for the facilitated conversations is going to be. They also perhaps highlight two areas where the conversations need to focus their attention but which were largely unaddressed by the Pilling Report:

(1) What doctrine of marriage should the Church have and how should it then bear faithful witness to that in ordering its own life and in mission in a wider society which recognises same-sex marriage? and

(2) What is to be done, what new church structures may be needed, so that those who find themselves unable to accept the conclusions on the doctrine of marriage and its practical implications can faithfully bear witness to their understanding of marriage without undermining the mind of the majority or condemning the Church of England to continuing destructive conflict over this issue?

Giles Fraser has written Gay clergy marriages: the final chapter of the Anglican Communion fiction.

…All this means that the bishops won’t be able to do a damn thing about their clergy having same-sex marriages. As the bishop of Buckingham explained: “If a member of the clergy wants to marry, I may like or not like the match, but I have no legal power to stop them marrying.” And when this happens, the toys will be thrown from many a Nigerian church pram. The fiction that is the Anglican Communion will be over and we can go back to being the Church of England, rather than the local arm of the empire at prayer. And thank God for that.

Updates

Peter Ould has published CDM or EJM? in which an anonymous correspondent who has “considerable experience in the exercising of the Clergy Discipline Measure and the processes before it and who has a firm founding in Ecclesiastical Law ” writes that:

…There can be no doubt that for a member of the clergy to commit matrimony in a civil register office with another person of the same sex, would be both perfectly legal according to the new Act of Parliament, and conduct unbecoming a clerk in holy orders so far as the Church of England is concerned. That Act of Parliament acknowledges that the law of the Church diverges from that of the state in such matters, and expressly permits the Church to act independently where marriage discipline is concerned. Even if Church legislation directly contradicts the law of Parliament, the Act expressly allows for this.

The House of Bishops has expressly stated that it will not allow the clergy to enter into same-sex marriages. This statement forms part of the discipline of the Church, since the House of Bishops is the teaching authority for the Church, and its members administer the CDM. All of the clergy in office have signed the Declaration of Assent and have taken an oath of canonical obedience. The latter commits them to obeying the canon law of the Church of England, including the lawful directions of their bishop where he has authority to do so.

There can therefore be no doubt that a CDM tribunal will rule that a same-sex marriage by one of the clergy constitutes conduct unbecoming, just as surely as if the minister concerned had committed adultery or some other act of immorality of a sexual nature. This is not a matter of doctrine but of morality…

But do read the whole article.

Andrew Symes of Anglican Mainstream has written for the American Anglican Council: Gay marriage and the Church’s response

…But also among those holding to a conservative position there are divisions. Should Christian sexual ethics be explained outside the community of faith? Should Anglicans protest against gay marriage outside registry offices, or the teaching of homosexual practice in schools? Could it ever be right (even if not canonically appropriate) to refuse sacraments to those who have entered a same sex marriage against pastoral advice? Should people with same sex attraction be enabled to seek skilled help to change if they so wish? What about the future of the Church – would it be a good thing to participate in facilitated conversations? Are there any circumstances in which it might be the best thing to form a separate Anglican administration, either linked to the Church of England or not? Is GAFCON the solution? All of these questions separate the confessing C of E Anglicans…

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Comments

Amen to Giles Fraser's article.

For those of us on the outside - and as an American and a gay man, I have been doubly on the outside - the C of E has wandered in the wilderness long enough, and has worshiped at the false altar of "unity" until it has been in danger of loosing its soul. It was never designed to be a world-wide community, and the sooner it returns to its roots as the Church of ENGLAND, the sooner it can exert real world leadership by being true to itself as a the via media we have loved in the past.

Posted by: Nathaniel Brown on Tuesday, 11 March 2014 at 6:41pm GMT

The Fulcum article is written in the language of an undergraduate essay, but still boils down to "homosexuality is different because it's obviously different, and anyone who says otherwise is wrong".

For example "The church has never formally suggested that clergy can be in a sexual relationship other than marriage as defined by canon." Is that so? So let's take the case of a bishop who is married to a divorced woman whose husband is still alive, Nick Holtam. Compassionate people make all sort of humane, decent and wise arguments as to why a woman who divorced in her teens should not be regarded irredeemably fallen (they might even talk about Christian forgiveness), and I would absolutely side with that argument; but then, I'm not claiming that the church holds bishops to a standard of marriage that same-sex marriage uniquely breaches. I wonder what the author of the essay thinks?

In the second part, the author talks about how churches will be in error if they do not quiz couples in same-sex marriages about their morals. I wonder if he is similarly proposing that co-habiting opposite-sex couples (who, again, have a "lifestyle...evidently contrary to biblical and church teaching") should be quizzed? On the face of it, he is: "respecting the freedom of conscience claimed by someone living contrary to the church’s teaching must not entail refusing to question them about their decision". Is the CofE seriously proposing to start a witchhunt, and I use the word advisedly, over pre-marital sex and pre-marital cohabitation? Because it is hard to imagine a better way to look like it's an inbred cult from the 1950s. And of course he's not proposing that at all, for reasons that (under all the "lunch with my tutor" verbiage) he doesn't address. Homosexuality is different, right?

Posted by: Interested Observer on Tuesday, 11 March 2014 at 8:24pm GMT

White flag from Andrew Goddard. How quickly things move, how quickly they change. How admirable and sensible the Bishop of Buckingham. Others will follow. Unbelievably, this thing is nearly over.

Posted by: John on Tuesday, 11 March 2014 at 8:24pm GMT

"Furthermore inevitably with the inequality of Christ and His Church, this image comes with an inequality between husband and wife, and a distinction of their roles."

Yes, this has been the logic of the marriage rite. Whether it 'times out' or has some kind of sell-by date' and then goes stale appears to be what is meant by aappeal to a 'trajectory.' (This is a funny account of Christian Time, with its Whig assumptions about inevitable progress, but leave that aside).

The relevant question in the present climate is whether the logic of this language (“is signified and represented the spiritual marriage and unity betwixt Christ and his Church”. [In the CofE Common Worship rite that becomes, “they shall be united with one another in heart, body and mind, as Christ is united with his bride, the Church” or “they shall be united in that love as Christ is united with his Church”].) really does not matter anymore? Paul said this, but it was just him opining. 'People used to believe these kinds of things, they used to be in Prayer Books and were used when marriage was solemnized, but they are simply wrong statements' -- is this where the present logic is? Genesis, Jesus, and Paul do not form a bundle of associations reinforcing one another, but each are wrong for different reasons/varieties of cultural limitation?

Posted by: cseitz on Tuesday, 11 March 2014 at 8:29pm GMT

The Bishop of Buckingham seems to be unaware or neglects the fact that the concept of a national church was a complete anathema to the New Testament. As far as Holy Scripture is concerned there was the local church and the universal church and that was it!

Posted by: Father David on Tuesday, 11 March 2014 at 9:10pm GMT

"'Furthermore inevitably with the inequality of Christ and His Church, this image comes with an inequality between husband and wife, and a distinction of their roles.'

"Yes, this has been the logic of the marriage rite. Whether it 'times out' or has some kind of sell-by date' and then goes stale appears to be what is meant by aappeal to a 'trajectory.'"

Sometimes, I wonder which thing disturbs the opponents of same-sex marriage the most -- that they can't figure out the "distinction of [the partners'] roles" or that they don't like a relationship lacking "inequality."

I think this is why so many women I know support same-sex marriage. They are quite aware this is ultimately a fight about the relationship norm between the partners in marriage -- whether same-sex or opposite-sex -- and have no desire to be shoved back into a feudal, subservient role simply because they are women.

Posted by: dr.primrose on Tuesday, 11 March 2014 at 10:11pm GMT

Yet again, in Andrew Goddard, we have a nice, modern, "open" evangelical, who supports women's ministry and takes a nuanced approach to the Bible, spending a great deal of time & effort trying to restrict the rights of gay people.

Can we please dispense with the fiction that it's only "conservative" evangelicals who are the problem?

Posted by: James Byron on Tuesday, 11 March 2014 at 10:12pm GMT

I stopped reading the Peter Ould piece at the first line, which starts "This morning the Guardian Komment Macht Frei published". That is an absolutely foul allusion, and I cannot believe that anyone could write that and still think of themselves as having moral weight at all. Ould can presumably find someway to justify to himself why the Guardian's comment pages are somehow equivalent to a place where millions died, but I'll leave him to make the argument to himself.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Tuesday, 11 March 2014 at 10:32pm GMT

The mystery/sacrament of Christ and the Church is not one of subservience.

My question was whether this mystery is no longer useful to describe the marriage of men and women (as different)? It has timed out. It was Paul just offering his own private view.

Posted by: cseitz on Tuesday, 11 March 2014 at 10:37pm GMT

A CDM tribunal might well rule that a clergy same sex marriage is conduct unbecoming, because every single CDM decision and CDM appeal on the CofE website finds against the clergy, many of them on questions of sexual conduct.

But the issue is whether the CDM covers a complaint about same sex marriage at all.

It is pretty clear that it does not. The CDM Code of Practice signed by Lord Justice Mummery says that “Allegations of misconduct against clergy relating to doctrine (i.e. what clergy believe, and preach, teach or express)... do not fall within the Measure and any appropriate proceedings would have to be taken under the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure”.

A clergyman who believes that his same sex marriage is moral and in accordance with Scripture, and who not only preaches and teaches that, but “expresses” it in his own life by marrying, is well within this.

If a CDM Tribunal acts in such a case, the Administrative Court of the High Court of Justice will have power to quash any decision and grant an injunction against it, on the grounds that is acting outside its powers (ultra vires) and with no jurisdiction. I would be amazed if anyone in the Church of England was allowed to take it that far even if someone like the Bishop of Winchester would like to. All the signs are that there is widespread regret in the House of Bishops that they raised the disciplinary threat at all.

Posted by: badman on Tuesday, 11 March 2014 at 10:37pm GMT

"The mystery/sacrament of Christ and the Church is not one of subservience." Agreed.
But the discussion here is about marriage, not theology.

Posted by: dr.primrose on Tuesday, 11 March 2014 at 10:58pm GMT

"...the concept of a national church was a complete anathema to the New Testament. As far as Holy Scripture is concerned there was the local church and the universal church and that was it!"

And yet -

In an age of instant communication, a "national" church, that is one defined by common language, customs and (to some degree) liturgy, one could say that "national" is "local." And one doubts if Scriptural universal church is the same thing as the "Anglican Communion," in any sense of ruling or setting the rules. Surely it means the universality of all believing Christians, whose life experience and customs differ across the globe.

Posted by: Nathaniel Brown on Tuesday, 11 March 2014 at 11:10pm GMT

We need our very own pro-marriage equality bishops, that's what we need !

Posted by: Revd Laurie Roberts on Tuesday, 11 March 2014 at 11:13pm GMT

Marriage is now without theological content.

I think the Church was wise to assume it needed guidance from God's act in Creation, Jesus' reference to this, and Paul's account of a great mystery. Marriage rites have been so guided.

If people want to find another zone of warrant, that will doubtless have its own challenges.

Posted by: cseitz on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 12:13am GMT

"The relevant question in the present climate is whether the logic of this language (“is signified and represented the spiritual marriage and unity betwixt Christ and his Church”. [In the CofE Common Worship rite that becomes, “they shall be united with one another in heart, body and mind, as Christ is united with his bride, the Church” or “they shall be united in that love as Christ is united with his Church”].) really does not matter anymore? "

Of course this language matters. The point is that it isn't gender dependent.

I'll leave the equality part and "distinction of roles" alone for now. It speaks for itself and I have to go make dinner and then get out the power tools to make some serious repairs on my house.

Posted by: Cynthia on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 12:22am GMT

"Although it is reported that only one bishop voted against the guidance, it is also being claimed that a significant number, even a majority, are not personally happy with it."

Is this true?

Is it the House of Bishops? Or the House of Groupthink?

Posted by: Jeremy on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 1:25am GMT

I, too, stopped reading the Peter Ould text on the first line. The piece is offensive and cheapens the debate by making unfounded comparisons to the Holocaust. The guy doesn't seem to have understood the seriousness of Auschwitz. I don't want to know what he thinks of Jews.


Gary Paul Gilbert

Posted by: Gary Paul Gilbert on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 1:45am GMT

It ought to be more widely known just how far from being "moderate" Andrew Goddard is on this issue. He played a leading part in the extremely nasty campaign for getting Jeffrey John out of Reading, and his wife was one of the original trustees of Anglican Mainstream, which was founded as part of the same campaign.

Posted by: Commentator on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 1:49am GMT

Ah, the joy of language! Peter Ould quotes his legal chum:
"There can be no doubt that for a member of the clergy to commit matrimony in a civil register office with another person of the same sex, would be both perfectly legal according to the new Act of Parliament, and conduct unbecoming a clerk in holy orders so far as the Church of England is concerned."

Commit matrimony? Isn't committing a word that we usually associate with sin? Would you ever describe a heterosexual couple as committing matrimony?

But note, he does not attempt to pretend that such a marriage would not be a marriage, and unlike some right-wing commentators he does not use scare quotes around the word. He just slips into sin language for describing the act of doing something that in all others contexts would be a cause for celebration. But that sleight of hand will not work.

Posted by: Jeremy Pemberton on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 5:38am GMT

@badman, the reason that tribunals find against clergy is that only the most blatant cases get to tribunal. Most (over 95 per cent, I think) CDM complaints against clergy are dismissed by the diocesan bishop (in CofE doublespeak, "resolved"). In my view the process is, contrary to the indication of tribunals, heavily biased towards the exoneration of clergy. Far more so than any other professional complaints mechanism I've come across.

Posted by: Andrew Wilshere on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 6:11am GMT

Surely the real paradigm shift was the acceptance of contraception. This was condemend at lambeth 1908 and 1920, but accepted in 1930.
So procreation becomes optional.

Posted by: Robert ian Williams on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 6:23am GMT

Reading some of these things (Bosco Peter and Giles Fraser, at least, excepted) I sometimes wonder if it's my vocation to feel shame on behalf of the shameless. Do any of you ever want to say, "You're not just having a private, disgracefully uncharitable thought (we ALL have those), we can all read what you just said"? [Like a friendly "word-to-the-wise, mate"]

Homophobes, stuck in the bottom of your holes? For your OWN sake, Stop Digging!!!

Posted by: JCF on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 7:39am GMT

RIW is surely right.The ( grudging) acceptance of contraception in 1930,rejected by Bishop Gore and a significant section of (particularly anglo-catholic) church opinion surely has had a major role in altering the Church's understanding of marriage. Somewhere the late Prof Basil Mitchell has an apposite quotation somewhere ( alas i cant find it) which points out that the reason the RC Church rejects contraception so forcefully is because it knows that if it changed on this issue ,significant other changes would have to follow

Posted by: PerryButler on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 8:18am GMT

The amusing and less amusing to-ing and fro-ing aside, there is a simple realpolitik here. If the CofE, corporately, attempted to discipline a member of the clergy or, indeed, the laity for a legal marriage conducted under the laws of the state, the roof would fall in on the Anglican church in England.

This isn't a debate about whether they have exceptions in law that allow them to bring such actions, because they probably do. This isn't a debate about whether clerical law touches on such marriages or whether articles 32 and 37 take it outside the church's code of discipline, because asking theological lawyers to reach a conclusion is like asking politicians to tell it to you straight. This is a simple case of the way it would work out in civil society.

The Church of England is a collaborator with many charities and other NGOs in a wide range of projects, both in this country and overseas. Most of those charities and NGOs have strong anti-discrimination policies which mean they will not sit down with people who are seen as sexist, racist or homophobic. The CofE has managed to skate over that by showing, to some extent accurately, that although it has problems it is on a journey whose destination is better: staging a last-ditch defence would end all that.

The government has made SSM a plank, indeed a joist, of its attempts to de-toxify the Conservatives in the aftermath of Section 28. It gave churches the right to not perform such marriages, as is right and proper, but attempts by an established church to use that to undermine the basic premise of SSM will not be tolerated. The CofE will find itself unwelcome amongst government, as much as amongst NGOs.

And finally, outside a small claque of obsessives and headbangers like Anglican Mainstream, SSM is simply not a big deal amongst Anglican communions. They're too busy running food projects for the needy, supporting lonely elderly and young people, helping the Scouts and Brownies and, indeed, praising their God as they find him, to get worked up about this stuff. But make it (essentially) a doctrinal point and ordinary Anglicans will find their children, brothers and friends regard them as members of a deeply, officially homophobic organisation. They'll no longer be able to assert that the church is loving and accepting but as unrepresentative minorities, they'll be members of a church which has crossed a substantial Rubicon. That will not stand.

So the House of Bishops has an existential choice. It can quietly ignore priests who marry, and be shouted at by a minority within its own organisation, and a bunch of (largely) African bishops. Or it can attempt to enforce the discipline it has so unwisely threatened, and find itself excluded from civil society in England. They need to think carefully.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 8:28am GMT

Commentator, by evangelical standards, Goddard *is* moderate. He's met with LGBT groups, takes a nuanced approach to the "issue," and there's no indication that he has any personal dislike of gay people. If he wasn't an evangelical, he'd likely be happy for gay couples.

That's the thing: the evangelical framework itself is the problem. So far as I can see, Goddard opposes gay sexuality because he honestly believes that it's wrong, and he believes that because the Bible condemns it.

Goddard seems a decent & sincere man. His authoritarian beliefs drive him to do cruel things. If homophobia in the church is ever to end, evangelical beliefs must be challenged.

Posted by: James Byron on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 8:48am GMT

Is Andrew Symes suggesting that, in his view, it would have been better if gay sex had not been decriminalised? This would set him apart from the mainstream of the Church of England and many theological conservatives who affirm human rights for all, even if they do not think same-sex partnerships should be celebrated.

Posted by: Savi Hensman on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 8:57am GMT

The discussion on this thread is evidence for non-Church people of the damage which religion can wreak in people's lives. That the happiness and employment prospects of a committed clergy couple is dependent upon interpretation of obscure, ancient texts must be baffling to them. Equally, a priest not employed by the Church, who writes a blog about his same-sex attraction, whilst being marred to a woman out of conformity to such texts, must appear frankly bizarre.

Posted by: Fr DavidH on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 9:08am GMT

Re cseitz's constant appeal to Genesis etc., there are plenty of competent theologians who argue that same-sex marriage (by definition for a minority of humankind) complements and does not displace the divine dispensation (if one is arguing within that framework, as liberals are not bound to do). The idea that any modification or extension of a principle represents its complete overthrow is not one that many people find persuasive, unless they are gripped by absolutist thinking or extreme anxiety, as of course so many Evangelicals are, but the New Testament by definition is not.

Posted by: John on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 9:55am GMT

Poor Andrew Symes, the despair in his article is palpable. But has he also completely lost the plot? His first paragraphs posits the existence of a conspiracy to undermine the church and its traditional teaching on sexual morality.

'The change has not evolved gradually, but has happened as part of a deliberate campaign. The change has been carefully controlled, by using media, the law and even science to promote the new ideas'.

Does he really believe that this 'deliberate campaign' has been crowned by a Conservative led government legalising same sex marriage. If so he must be living in another place altogether.

Conspiracy theorists look for explanation to events that they can't understand, combined with a belief that the 'establishment' tells lies. One is reminded of the theories around the destruction of the twin Towers (it was the Jews that did it), the assassination of Kennedy and many others. That Andrew Symes has had to resort to such codswollop means that he and those who think like him know that they have lost the argument.

And if he thinks that the way out of this is more prayer (which obviously hasn't worked yet) and teaching orthodox sexual morality to students in evangelical churches he is sadly misguided. If it is true that HTB is moderating its stance, or at least not talking about homosexuality because the congregations reject the teaching, then what hope has he?

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 9:58am GMT

Interested Observer has it exactly right. A single attempted action against a marrying clergyperson will doom the C of E (and almost certainly fail - worst of both worlds for the conservatives). It is evidently no use for people like me, Linda W, or Diarmaid M saying this to C of E central - we will predictably be dismissed as liberal tubthumpers even if our private correspondence is not posted without our consent, as happened last time.

If IO would like to de-anonymise him/herself and make these powerful points to Messrs Fittall and Arora, power to his/her elbow.

Posted by: iain mclean on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 11:43am GMT

James Byron, though I am not an evangelical myself, it is noteworthy that James Jones' evangelicalism led him to reverse his original stance on sexuality and become one of the most outspoken Church of England bishops in championing inclusion for lesbian and gay people, as well as opposing the Anglican Covenant, which could have greatly delayed progress towards a more inclusive stance. So this tradition has strengths as well as weaknesses.

Posted by: Savi Hensman on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 11:49am GMT

I've just been reading a review of a book by David Nirenberg in the NY Review of Books. The title is 'Anti-Judaism in The Western World' and as the reviewer Michael Walter says: 'The book is not about Jews at all or, at least, not about real Jews; it deals extensively and almost exclusively with imaginary Jews...... (Nirenberg's) argument is that a certain view of Judaism lies deep in the structure of Western civilization and has helped its intellectuals and polemicists explain Christian heresies, political tyrannies, medieval plagues, capitalist crises and revolutionary movements. Anti-Judaism is and has long been one of the most powerful theoretical systems "for making sense of the world."' Well, it occurs to me that if we just change the terminology slightly, we might gain some insight into homophobia, even as though who embody it deny it (again like anti-semites....'some of my best friends etc etc...'

Posted by: Sara MacVane on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 12:20pm GMT

Christ and Bride are not ' gender dependent'? Then why use the language of bride and marriage (following the prophets)?

Do you mean you do not want them to be, or do you mean Paul did not have gender in view?

Posted by: cseitz on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 1:56pm GMT

Peter Ould brings out the pedant in me. Joshua Rozenberg spells his name with a z.

Posted by: Flora Alexander on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 2:40pm GMT

"Can we please dispense with the fiction that it's only "conservative" evangelicals who are the problem?"

Evangelicals who are conservative on sexuality are the problem.

I urge people here not to tar all evangelicals with the same brush.
There are many evangelicals fighting homophobia from within.

There are evangelical gay church members, evangelical gay and pro-gay priests, pro gay evangelical support groups and lobby groups.

These groups and people need our support not our blanket dismissal of all things evangelical.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 4:14pm GMT

"Marriage is now without theological content."

I think a fairer statement to say that marriage does have theological content but it's content with which the opponents of same-sex marriage disagree with.

Marriage is moving from a theology of "wives should submit to their husbands in everything" to a theology of "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

Posted by: dr.primrose on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 5:31pm GMT

Trouble is the govt caught CofE on the hop. Latter governed by Canon Law & Canon B30 xplicitly states "the CofE affirms.... that marriage is in its nature a union permanent and life-long....of one man and one woman...." Whilst waiting for this canon to be altered or revoked, the CofE is in a cleft stick. Clergy and others will enter into civil same-sex marriages which are "legal" (that it cannot deny) but which in its own eyes are not "valid" because they do not conform to B30. Hence, by its own internal logic, clergy and others are not "married" whatever the State says, because they CANNOT be. So what price discipline then, since clergy have not "married" in the eyes of the Church?

Posted by: JJ on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 5:39pm GMT

"Christ and Bride are not ' gender dependent'? Then why use the language of bride and marriage (following the prophets)?"

Why use the language of "the four corners of the earth" or of stopping the sun? A poetic expression relies upon contemporary societal images, but it does not either define them or lock them in place for all time. It is a wonderful image, but it is about partnership and committed love as it is about gender.

Posted by: Nathaniel Brown on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 5:42pm GMT

Erika
Thank you for saying this.
You are absolutely right and I for one and grateful for your understanding and empathy.

Posted by: David Runcorn on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 6:06pm GMT

Paul (in Ephesians) also notes that the church is Christ's Body, which he loves and cleanses and cares for and nourishes. This reflects the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist as well as Marriage -- and is not limited to mixed couples.

Posted by: Tobias Haller on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 6:09pm GMT

Andrew Symes's article is the limit. He says: "The change has not evolved gradually, but has happened as part of a deliberate campaign". On this he is right in the sense that, yes, there has been a campaign, just as there has been for race equality, women's rights, disability rights, earlier changes to marriage law. All of these have been advanced by campaigns, and too often despite the church. But as Richard Ashby comments above, it is getting into conspiracy theory to think that the church has been deliberately targeted, although one can see why it will be if there is much more like Andrew Symes's article. And then he ends by talking about "teaching on gender and sexuality from a countercultural biblical perspective".
This is grotesque. Homophobia and prejudice are not countercultural.
Finally, I wonder if (sympathetic) commentators could refer to "equal marriage" rather than "gay marriage" or "same-sex marriage"?

Posted by: Bruce on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 8:59pm GMT

Bruce asks if we might use equal marriage, Perhaps we might just use marriage.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 10:27pm GMT

That's so important, it includes baptism and eucharist. One might so speculate.

But of course if it includes these things inside the developing sacramental life of Christ's Body, the Church, it does so for Paul in Ephesians because Christ the Lord has a Bride, the Church.

That is the language he uses that, if it grounds other things, it does so proceeding from marriage of man and woman (so Christ, so Genesis, so Paul). So also obvious in the Church and in her Marriage rites.

Posted by: cseitz on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 at 11:23pm GMT

"Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything." (Ephesians 5:22-24; NIV)

Does anyone really think that his would be an effective evangelistic approach to bring all the unchurched Millennials into the Church?

As I mentioned above, most women I know in the Church are fully aware that this dispute over the meaning of marriage is not limited to gay and lesbian people but to all women as well.

Posted by: dr.primose on Thursday, 13 March 2014 at 12:50am GMT

I too agree with Interested Observer and Iain.

A prosecution of someone for getting married would have been difficult to contemplate and harder to effect before the publication of letters from the bishop of Oxford and others. Now I think it impossible.

I suspect that it may even have begun to dawn on Fittall and Arora what a disaster they will face if there is even one such action.
I still think the Church is being overtaken by events and dynamic change and has no idea what to do next. Sadly looking at the reaction to Iain and the other academics it seems the advisors are just not up to the mark.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Thursday, 13 March 2014 at 2:11am GMT

@ cseitz: would Paul in 1st century CE Palestine speak of "Christ and His Church" as groom and groom (or bride and bride)?

No. But the Returning Christ just might! ;-)

The irony is, Jesus of Nazareth spoke of an idealized marriage ("Husbands, love your wives") which was very much counter-cultural to the religious authorities of his time.

So also, is the extension "Husbands, love your husbands/Wives, love your wives" largely counter-cultural to the religious authorities of OUR time.

But no less Good News thereby! :-)

Posted by: JCF on Thursday, 13 March 2014 at 2:21am GMT

Dr. Seitz is using a specious argument, working backward from a metaphor (the Church as Christ's bride) to a reality, the nature of marriage.

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Thursday, 13 March 2014 at 2:35am GMT

"So also obvious"

I'm afraid that the old bigotries are not so obvious anymore. Thank God! Using beautiful poetic imagery from the Bible literally to exclude others just isn't obvious. The idea that my 23 year relationship isn't sacramental is ridiculous. And how would anyone know otherwise?

Posted by: Cynthia on Thursday, 13 March 2014 at 4:09am GMT

Yes, Erika and David, there's affirming evangelicals. Crucial question is *why* they affirm gay relationships. Many affirming evangelicals go beyond the Bible: the less evangelical they are, the kinder they are. David, would you affirm gay relationships even if you believed the Bible to condemn them in all circumstances? If yes, your affirmation isn't evangelical in nature; if no, you've illustrated the problem.

Evangelicalism is authoritarian: obeying the Bible as a source of revelation. The evangelical way of thinking is a problem because it substitutes obedience for reason.

The problem is emphatically not evangelicals as people. I believe, David, that I've shown Goddard ample understanding and empathy. I disagree with evangelicalism precisely because I can see where he's coming from, and can see what those beliefs have done to him. Do either of you believe that Goddard would be saying this if he wasn't an evangelical? I sure don't.

Posted by: James Byron on Thursday, 13 March 2014 at 6:16am GMT

Yet Symes and his sola scriptura buddies cannot agree on the nature of heterosexual marriage and what the bible teacher, as some believe divorce and re-marriage is biblical and others that it is barred by the injunction of our Lord. As for contraception thay do not even realise the former opposition to it, and generally along with masturbation , this is no longer an issue.Indeed a recent book, published in Sydney about sex, aimed at teenagers condoned masturbation.

Posted by: Robert Ian Williams on Thursday, 13 March 2014 at 6:30am GMT

James,
on another blog I'm having a marriage equality conversation with a staunch anti gay Anglo-Catholic who uses the framework of his spirituality to deny me the right and the ability to get married.
That does not mean that all Anglo-Catholicism is rubbish, that just means that those who do not "get" marriage equality yet are still stuck in some ways of interpreting their faith that they will no longer do when they have changed their minds.

Evangelicals who support marriage equality do so precisely because they have started to read Scripture differently. They still give it the same "authority" but they are seeing some verses in a different light.

It's not the concept of scriptural authority that's wrong, it's what you do with it.
History shows that Christians have changed their reading of a lot of what was once apparently crystal clear. They're about to do it again.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Thursday, 13 March 2014 at 8:55am GMT

The usual definition of an Evangelical is someone who, when scripture, reason and tradition clash, will follow scripture.

Posted by: Erasmus on Thursday, 13 March 2014 at 8:56am GMT

cseitz: most NT scholars think Paul didn't write Ephesians.

James, surely it's not terribly useful to press people on why they may be 'liberal' on gay relationships. And where they aren't, it isn't terribly useful to begin the debate at the level of first principles (biblical interpretation), because you'll never (hardly ever) get them to rethink this. Better to operate on the level of practicalities - and practicalities do concentrate not minds but behaviour. At present, the bishops are busted (I hope/am pretty sure): they'll start adjusting. When equal marriages appear in church, people will just have to put up with them and in many cases will accede to them. It builds. That's the way to go (in my view).

Posted by: John on Thursday, 13 March 2014 at 9:24am GMT

"Marriage is now without theological content."
- cseitz -

Not so! Where marriage contains faithfulness, love and exclusive commitment, it is theologically presentable. It just does not have to be binary!

After all, the 'Marriage Feast of The Lamb' is not binary, nor does it have sexual or gender content. It is based on "The great love of God as revealed in the Son".

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Thursday, 13 March 2014 at 10:02am GMT

James with all respect I have challenged you before on these threads - as others have elsewhere - on the way you use the word 'evangelical'. I still don't think this is a tradition you understand. It is certainly much more diverse and complex than you allow.
And for my part you leave me feeling labelled rather than named.

Posted by: David Runcorn on Thursday, 13 March 2014 at 10:10am GMT

Does anyone happen to know if there are any substantial English denominations which the CofE would find it hard to dismiss as "not real Christians" (as is the case for Unitarians and even Quakers in the eyes of some conservatives) but which are likely to move towards equal marriage soon? My suspicion is that there are none, or none of significant size.

My impression is that both the Methodists and the URC have a milder form of the tensions that the CofE suffer from. They would also be reluctant to take a line substantially different from the CofE without strong support from their congregations, which they're unlikely to get. There would also be a lot of shared buildings issues, which would be difficult to resolve. And if CofE, Methodism and URC are unwilling to move until the others do, who else is left to influence them?

Posted by: Interested Observer on Thursday, 13 March 2014 at 11:12am GMT

Ephesians and the Pauline Letter Collection see D Trobisch, or B S Childs, or C Seitz, Colossians (Brazos, May 2014) where the character of households codes, Genesis, and the unique status of these vis-a-vis greco-roman milieu.

Posted by: cseitz on Thursday, 13 March 2014 at 12:20pm GMT

The Bible cannot be a first principle. The Bible is not self-interpreting.

The Bible, when read, is read in the context of a set of understandings about what kind of document it constitutes. Or, about what kinds of documents the various documents it contains happen to be.

The understandings of language, and of the kinds of writings, and of their significance, audience, etc are first principles when reading the Bible.

Posted by: jnwall on Thursday, 13 March 2014 at 1:00pm GMT

I'm an open member of Accepting Evangelicals and someone who has changed sides on this issue over the last 10 years. I also studied social anthropology a long time ago and I think one of the reaons conversations about sexuality don't get anywhere is that we are dealing with a TABOO (a little different from prejudice, stubbornness, legalism or authoritarianism). In my case I had to physically move out of the bubble that was reinforcing the taboo before I could escape its influence and be free to hear the Holy Spirit and understand scripture differently. Through pastoral engagement with LGBT people, Christians and others, in Spain, I then had my Acts 10:28 experience; "God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean." No amount of argument will win people over. Only love, prayer and the work of the Holy Spirit can overcome the taboo which is at the root of this. Come to Spain. The weather's nicer here too :)

Posted by: Rev Drew Tweedy on Thursday, 13 March 2014 at 3:43pm GMT

I think Interested Observer that the polity of the URC might mean some of their churches could move in the direction of allowing Same-Sex marriage, similarly the continuing Congregationalists which I believe has some "liberal" churches.The Methodist Church is quite centralised.How things will look in 10 yrs time is anyone's guess!!

Posted by: Perry Butler on Thursday, 13 March 2014 at 4:02pm GMT

Drew,
I agree that argument doesn't win people over. But people who are looking to change their minds because friendship with lgbt people is prompting them to reconsider their stance need arguments to help them along.

The other benefit of arguments is that they ought at least help people to see that another point of view is possible even if they don't share it.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Thursday, 13 March 2014 at 4:22pm GMT

Thanks Perry.

It caused me to fish out

http://www.urc.org.uk/what_we_do/towards_a_theology_of_same-sex_relationships.pdf

which is a well-argued piece broadly in favour of same sex marriage from a human and loving perspective, set against a rather trivial piece against based on literal readings of the OT (including the claim that you can't make exceptions to the prohibitions in Leviticus, which is going to come as some surprise to men in cotton-polyester slacks).

This makes me think the URC is like other denominations: carefully argued positions in favour of equality, and ranged against them knee-jerk conservatism which doesn't see the need to think too hard. It would be interesting to know what the narrative is three years later, with equal marriage now on the statute books.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Thursday, 13 March 2014 at 5:50pm GMT

I don't think Drew Tweedy need be too self-congratulatory ! Lgbt have been and are still being oppressed by the institutionally religious of all stripes, and suffering.

I also find the attribution of a change of mind/heart on the willingness to accept lgbt to 'the Holy Spirit' rather glib and thoughtless.

Appeals to religious authority and vague subjectivities has been the bed-rock of the oppression lgbt-- and remains so, in many countries.

Posted by: Revd Laurie Roberts on Thursday, 13 March 2014 at 6:01pm GMT

Erika, I believe that the concept of scriptural authority is itself the problem, since it's both fallacious and amoral. Arguments focus not on what's right, but on what the Bible says.

John makes a good point about practicality, but since the Bible is so negative about homosexuality, it's more practical to challenge the way of thinking that puts so much stock in it. It might be hard, but it isn't impossible.

David, I have no wish to unfairly label anyone. Could you explain where I've gone wrong about the concept of biblical authority, and its place within evangelicalism?

Posted by: James Byron on Thursday, 13 March 2014 at 8:03pm GMT

Following Perry Butler's point, the URC submission regarding the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill stated:

'The competent councils of the United Reformed Church have expressed no view on the general principle of the Bill and diverse convictions exist within the denomination. When the General Assembly next meets in 2014 it is possible that this may be left to local decision. In that event local churches opposed to same-sex marriage would certainly not be expected to facilitate it, but some local churches might wish to do so.

'It is therefore in the URC’s interest that the legal framework for marriage formation allows voluntary religious groups who do not accept same-sex marriage and those who do to act accordingly, without either feeling under legal pressure.'

Posted by: Savi Hensman on Thursday, 13 March 2014 at 10:28pm GMT

until evangelicals learn to stop reading the bible as a magic book and allow themselves to be tutored in what the bible actually *is* - culturally, sociologically, literarily and religiously - I'm afraid we're going to be doomed to repeat this ridiculous argument again and again and again. The bible is not a science book: we don't read it for instruction in geology, astronomy, cosmology, anthropology, or nuclear or quantum physics. Why do so many otherwise reasonably intelligent people insist on reading it as a guide to the social and behavioral sciences? Decent people are - or should be - horrified by much of what is acceptable or unacceptable in the same code that proscribes sexual activity between two persons of the same sex. Why do many such "decent" people, then, pluck this one idea out, write it large, shatter their churches, communities, even their families over this one not-at-all major idea from a Bronze-Age behavioral code?

Posted by: Daniel Berry, NYC on Thursday, 13 March 2014 at 10:52pm GMT

"The bible is not a science book: we don't read it for instruction in geology, astronomy, cosmology, anthropology, or nuclear or quantum physics"

Sadly, a lot of evangelicals do. Young Earth Creationists are hardly a rare breed. They're often stupid and dishonest, of course, as was seen in the disgraceful charade of Kitzmiller v Dover, but there's no doubt that they are sincere in their misguidedness.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Friday, 14 March 2014 at 1:24am GMT

Why do people insist on reading the Holy Bible " as a guide to the social and behavioural sciences?"
Er, maybe because the Good Book contains what is known as the Ten Commandments perhaps, which for thousands of years has provided an excellent guide for religious, social and moral behaviour and also contains a mandate as to the right relationship between God and man and person and person. More to the point Holy Scripture in the newer Testament also contains Our Blessed Lord's summary of that Law - the two great commands to Love both God and neighbour.

Posted by: Father David on Friday, 14 March 2014 at 7:35am GMT

James,
if we assume that God is good and that the bible points us to him, and if we therefore give the bible a level of authority over our lives that we don't give other books, where's the problem provided we don't come to harmful conclusions?
We don't complain when evangelicals "feed the poor" and "tend my sheep" and "love my neighbour as yourself" because the idea is embodied in the bible.
If people engage with that book properly and end up living a wholesome life that is focused on loving others and on supporting them - why should we object on principle?

We rightly object when they come to the wrong conclusions. And over time, they have always come to the right ones eventually. No-one uses the argument of scriptural authority to support slavery, racism or that women should be property of men.
Some still believe in male headship but so does, implicitly, a lot of our culture in a society in which women still don't have parity in top jobs and still earn less than men.
When things change in society they also, slowly, change in the churches.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 14 March 2014 at 8:10am GMT

But of course, Father David, the Bible contains much else, the moral value of which is far more dubious.

Posted by: Jeremy on Friday, 14 March 2014 at 9:29am GMT

Erika, the problem with giving anything "authority" is that we judge a view on its source, not its merits, which is disastrous. A lousy idea is a lousy idea, regardless of who said it.

Yes, evangelicals are often passionate: that passion can be appealing when you agree, but for every "feed the poor" there's a "ban abortion." Authoritarianism keeps repulsive views on life-support for far too long. Yes, they're eventually rejected when social pressure becomes too great, but how much damage is done in the meantime? Too much, I think, too much.

Authoritarianism is the enemy of liberalism. Liberals ought not to be shy about saying it.

Posted by: James Byron on Friday, 14 March 2014 at 9:56am GMT

But, of course, Jeremy, the Bible contains all that is necessary for us and for our salvation.

Posted by: Father David on Friday, 14 March 2014 at 12:27pm GMT

James,
I would agree with you more if there was an evangelical viewpoint on issues that was quite removed from the view other people in church and in society hold.

You find all kinds of people on all sides of any given moral argument. Not believing in the authority of scripture does not automatically make you socially liberal and believing in it does not automatically make you socially conservative.

Wouldn't it be more profitable to ask liberal evangelicals how they have come to be liberal while remaining evangelical and then use those argument in conversation with conservative evangelicals?

The vast majority of evangelicals supports women priests, only a few are still opposed to it on the basis of St Paul's supposedly very clear words against it.
About 50% of evangelicals, especially young ones, are now in favour of gay equality despite what appears to be a clear biblical prohibition.

It seems to be simply not true to say that there is something intrinsically wrong about being evangelical.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 14 March 2014 at 1:30pm GMT

"No-one uses the argument of scriptural authority to support slavery, racism or that women should be property of men."

Well, two out of three isn't bad. The "male headship" argument is not only still in circulation, but probably has more explicit traction today than a generation ago. That's because women used to be subordinate because society worked that way, so you didn't need to make an explicitly religious argument; now that society at large is less oppressive than it was (although there is still much work to do), those that want to subjugate women (and, of course, keep them out of pulpits) need a better argument than "well, it's obvious, innit?" and therefore seek backing in scripture.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Friday, 14 March 2014 at 1:45pm GMT

Jeremy, Fr David has elected to neglect the principal point in my posting, instead pointing to the Decalogue--hardly a satisfactory moral code--and finally pointing at the Summary of the Law, while ignoring how attitudes towards gay people don't align particularly well with it. Kinda trivializes my major point, which is that the bible is neither a magic nor a science book. yes, plenty can be found of value in the bible, but plenty also can be found (commanded by the god of the judges, for example) that one hopes reads as perfectly foul to decent people everywhere.

Posted by: Daniel Berry, NYC on Friday, 14 March 2014 at 2:06pm GMT

Interested Observer,
there is a difference between women being subservient to their husbands and being stupid enough to agreeing to that when they marry to women being literally the legal property of men.

In former times they were property and now not even the craziest male headship evangelical would still support that view.

Also, as I pointed out, the concept of female inferiority is not restricted to evangelicals, it is still prevalent even in our society where women are not equal in the workplace, still do the majority of housework and childcare, and are paid less then men.

The evangelical view of male headship is a reflection of that actual fact that still exists in society. Evangelicals and the idea of scriptural authority cannot be singled out as shocking evidence for how backward evangelicals are on women's rights.
We, society as a whole, should not congratulate ourselves smugly on doing much better.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 14 March 2014 at 3:15pm GMT

Interesting batting-to-and-fro of the various approaches available. I like Erika's point that (some) Christians who want to accept gay relationships need to be provided with the arguments that will enable them to do so. That means arguing with them 'from within' rather than radical dismissal of the OT as 'Stone Age' (vel sim.). As Erika has also pointed out, there is plenty of such material around (I particularly like Keith Ward in 'What the Bible Really Says'). I write '(some)', because I do think there are lots of others who just drift into such acceptance because they see healthy gay relationships. That kind might well find things more difficult if they were battered over the head with arguments. I find it hard to generalise. The important thing to hold on to is that this war is won (proleptically, as we pedants say).

Posted by: John on Friday, 14 March 2014 at 4:33pm GMT

"But, of course, Jeremy, the Bible contains all that is necessary for us and for our salvation."

Your illogic is showing.

What is necessary for us and our salvation is _not_ all the Bible.

Posted by: Jeremy on Friday, 14 March 2014 at 5:23pm GMT

Evidently Fr David doesn't know what is indicated by the phrase, "behavioral sciences."

Posted by: Daniel Berry, NYC on Friday, 14 March 2014 at 6:47pm GMT

James

It not just evangelicals who accept the authority of scripture. Nor am I aware that liberals do not actually (though this is the caricature of liberals by some Catholics and evangelicals).

But then it is not clear to me that you think any authority is a good thing. Though I have to say that you are sounding very - well - 'authoritarian' in your pronouncements here.

Posted by: David Runcorn on Friday, 14 March 2014 at 7:04pm GMT

Religion is usually bad news for LGBTs, which is why many have abandoned it. Secularists and humanists are generally much friendlier. Religion is often a bastion of sexism and homophobia.

Using religion as an excuse for singling out a group for second-class treatment is unaccpetable. Even if such discrimination is part of the the tradition, then it has to go because of the dignity of the human person.

Theology is usually a waste of time. One first has to change the larger society and then eventually churches will follow.

The question is what is to be done now? Some priests with same-sex partners will soon be married. And we shall see how the C of E responds.


Lay people who volunteer in church will also get married.


Gary Paul Gilbert

Posted by: Gary Paul Gilbert on Friday, 14 March 2014 at 7:17pm GMT

Erika, I've asked that of "liberal evangelicals" (they prefer "open evangelical," presumably to avoid guilt-by-association), and they say that they believe the Bible to endorse same-sex relationships. Given what the text says, that's a tough sell, and most evangelicals haven't bought it. Remember, Goddard *is* a "liberal evangelical."

Evangelicals *do* lag behind the evidence: they reject critical examination of the Bible near two centuries after it began, don't want Christians who deny the supernatural in the church, and belief in male headship is far from defeated (witness the rise of Mark Driscoll and the "new Calvinists"). Bob Jones University only allowed inter-racial dating in the year 2000!

This lag is caused by a way of thinking that makes us hostage to a source of authority, and makes every debate focus on its interpretation. As I said, d'you honestly believe that Goddard would be saying all this if he weren't an evangelical? If you don't, then you accept that evangelicalism is a problem, and we only disagree about the problem's extent.

Daniel Berry nails it: evangelicals need to stop reading the Bible as a magic book.

Posted by: James Byron on Friday, 14 March 2014 at 9:48pm GMT

David, I believe that any argument from authority is a fallacy. So does logic. However forceful, my views don't appeal to authority, but to evidence.

Erikia's right to say that evangelicals reflect social prejudice. What sets them apart is a way of thinking that lets them resist change and defend prejudice. A prejudiced non-evangelical has nothing to fall back on, and is free to change their mind. An evangelical can cloak prejudice in the authority of scripture.

*That* is the heart of the problem. The evangelical way of thinking facilitates the defense of prejudice, because it legitimizes unreasoned views.

Even worse than giving cover to bigots, evangelicalism causes non-prejudiced people like Goddard to take a homophobic position in order to defend biblical authority. Others here have condemned Goddard. I don't. I condemn the authoritarian thought mechanism that's brought him to this.

Dogmatism makes good people say terrible things.

Posted by: James Byron on Friday, 14 March 2014 at 10:37pm GMT

Father David May not know what behavioural sciences are but the Bible certainly does, for, like the now defunct News of the World, the whole of life is there!

Posted by: Father David on Saturday, 15 March 2014 at 6:57am GMT

James,
we seem to be stuck, don't we.
You don't seem to accept that evangelicals change their minds on social issues while still believing in Scriptural authority and even when they change their minds on social issues you criticise them for their faith and for the basis on which they may have changed their minds.

I don't understand at all why this is so important. It matters that people change their minds. But you only need to look at some militant atheists to realise that entrenched prejudice against all reason is not confined to one group of Christians.

There is no chance that you would be able to persuade the whole of the evangelical movement to change its religious views, however much you personally might feel it to be desirable.

Why can you not be happy if they change their minds about lgbt people and let us live the way God intends us to live? Do we really have to control how people think and believe? Are the fruit of their lives not valuable?

Andrew Goddard, however he may describe himself, is clearly conservative and not liberal or open on issues of sexuality. That doesn't mean that thousands of others aren't.
And if someone tells you they have changed their mind on the basis of a new reading of Scripture, and if the obvious trend among evangelicals is towards acceptance of lgbt people, why is that not enough?

Posted by: Erika Baker on Saturday, 15 March 2014 at 10:21am GMT

James,

I don't know what your church situation is. But believe me, there are hundreds, even thousands, of churches within the CoE who will accept you absolutely as you are, no questions asked. Admittedly, that is partly because they are desperate, but it is also because they are decent and, at least within the UK (I don't want to say England, because I am not myself English), most Christians' sense of natural justice trumps their 'theoretical' positions. Believe me, you are welcome.

Posted by: John on Saturday, 15 March 2014 at 8:23pm GMT

I accept that evangelicals can change their mind, Erika. My issue's how tough the chains of dogma make that change. That extends to dogma of all kinds.

Why is this important? If for no other reason, to stop another group being targeted. Dogmatic thinking demands a target, a process that can be witnessed everywhere from Marxist sects to the exclusive brethren.

I'll flip it about: why d'you think a way of thinking that rejects evidence for assertion -- a way of thinking that facilitates and legitimizes prejudice -- is no big deal?

If liberalism can't even oppose authoritarianism, what on earth is the point of it?

Posted by: James Byron on Sunday, 16 March 2014 at 6:19am GMT

Fr David, the bible doesn't know and isn't interested in the sciences, and it's foolish to try to reconcile the two.

Or do you believe the bible is right and Galileo was wrong?

You're painting yourself into the corner occupied by Sarah Palin.

Posted by: Daniel Berry, NYC on Sunday, 16 March 2014 at 12:41pm GMT

Personally I see no conflict between religion and science, unlike our great Victorian forebears who relished the great debate between Charles Darwin and Soapy Sam, Bishop of Oxford. In fact the more religion demystifies itself the more science discovers the mysteries of creation.
Thank you Daniel for that wonderful but deeply disturbing image of a corner of this wonderful God created universe occupied by Sarah Palin and myself - the mind boggles!

Posted by: Father David on Sunday, 16 March 2014 at 7:32pm GMT

James,
I believe that evangelicals are as open to evidence as the rest of us. When they have seen enough scientific evidence and when they have had enough experience of the reality of whoever they might be opposing, they find new ways of reading Scripture.

It's the same process that works for Anglo-Catholics, for non religious people, for anyone, really. We all have our prejudices and we find an intellectual framework that supports them. Until we change our minds and then we change how we see the framework.

That's how society has always changed and will continue to change. Some are faster, some are slower, that's all.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Sunday, 16 March 2014 at 7:51pm GMT

I agree that we all have prejudices and justifications for them.

What sets evangelicals apart is how rigid and overt their supporting framework is. Crucially, in legitimizing unevidenced opinions, it's different in kind from other ways of thinking. Following evidence is exactly what evangelicals don't (generally) do, because that's not how authoritarianism functions. The "evidence" they care about most is what the Bible says. Evangelicals tend to shift views only when social pressure becomes overwhelming. Just how much damage is done before then?

Back to Goddard: if he wasn't an evangelical, how likely is it that an extremely well educated man who knows gay people socially and isn't prejudiced would take the line he does? If you agree that his evangelical beliefs have brought him to this, Erika, you accept that those beliefs are a problem.

Posted by: James Byron on Sunday, 16 March 2014 at 10:41pm GMT

Fr David, you've once again pulled a sleight-of-hand, this time by changing poles of the argument from the bible and science to religion and science.

Surely you know the difference?

Posted by: Daniel Berry, NYC on Sunday, 16 March 2014 at 11:52pm GMT

Evangelicals may look at evidence and change their views on marriage equality, but their unquestioning acceptance of religious dogma makes them less likely to change their opinions. Likewise, religious people may be open to LGBT rights, but they are less likely than nonchurchgoers, which is one reason younger, educated people tend not trust organized religion.


Gary Paul Gilbert

Posted by: Gary Paul Gilbert on Monday, 17 March 2014 at 2:02am GMT

There are no flies on you, Daniel! I always regard submitting a comment to T A as rather like entering the lions den and feel at times like a sheep among the wolves when my comments receive such strong reactions; therefore I feel I have to be as shrewd as a snake and as innocent as a dove.
Perhaps I've missed my vocation and should have been a politician, just like Ms. Palin?

Posted by: Father David on Monday, 17 March 2014 at 8:09am GMT

Breaking News. Cosmologists are due to announce today that they have discovered echoes or ripples of the Big Bang. If that isn't religion, scripture and science being united, then I don't know what is! This morning on the Home Service this news was described as " the Holy Grail of cosmology".

Posted by: Father David on Monday, 17 March 2014 at 8:31am GMT

James,
I think our fundamental difference is that you believe that rigidity comes from an authoritarian faith whereas I believe that people who need rigidity and certainty gravitate to an authoritarian faith.

Goddard is an interesting example because where he is not prejudiced, i.e. with regard to women priests, he was one of the driving forces in the change of the majority evangelical position.
Where is is still prejudiced he tries hard to affirm old certainties.
And in both debates he appeals to the authority of Scripture.

And it's not just an evangelical problem. Roman Catholicism hasn't even got to the debate stage because its even more authoritarian structure successfully manages to squash all dissent.
At least in the CoE we're talking - and talking ultimately always results in change, which is why our evangelicals are all slowly changing.

I agree about damage being done. But I do think that is a function of any social change. It all starts out with a new premise the world declares to be completely ridiculous, a crackpot and immoral idea no decent person would entertain. Committed activists persists and slowly slowly the idea becomes mainstream. Eventually, those who remain opposed are seen as the immoral ones - like committed racists or men who oppress their wives and children.
Homosexuality is reaching that final point but isn't quite there yet. It is still - just - possible in society to hold anti gay views. It's even more possible in the church.
But I don't believe that this is because the church is intrinsically conservative and immoral but because it is one of the places where intrinsically conservative people who need structure and certainty gather. Once people are no longer afraid of change and no longer terrified that it will bring with it a tide of moral disintegration, they can better look at the arguments and change too.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Monday, 17 March 2014 at 8:57am GMT

94 comments on one posting in TA. This must be getting on for a record. Put all the postings together on the ten 'Reactions to the House of Bishops statement' and this must out do all others by a huge margin. Add together all the ink and on-line activity created by this Bishops' statement and it must overwhelm everything else the Bishops have chosen to write about. I very much doubt if they anticipated what a hornets' nest they were stirring up since they haven't yet learned that it is sometimes better to say nothing at all.

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Monday, 17 March 2014 at 9:44am GMT

Richard, some years ago TA comment regularly hit the 200 mark. I've often wondered why we've gone relatively quiet since. I suppose it's all been said.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Monday, 17 March 2014 at 12:49pm GMT

.... This morning on the Home Service ....
Posted by: Father David on Monday, 17 March 2014 at 8:31am GMT

The Home Service? Which decade of the last century are you living in, Father David? The BBC Home Service ceased broadcasting in 1967 - two years before the sacking of the last (as in final) Postmaster-General.

Posted by: RPNewark on Monday, 17 March 2014 at 8:08pm GMT

Couldn't agree more that it's a chicken and egg deal with dogmatic beliefs and institutions, Erika: they attract authoritarian personalities as much as they shape them.

Problem is, authoritarianism doesn't challenge those who would be bossmen, its arms them. It reinforces and focuses their worst aspects. Making "because I say so" a legitimate form of argument is dangerous beyond words.

Then there's authoritarianism's effect on others. With Goddard, I don't see any evidence that he *is* prejudiced against gay people, and plenty that he's driven by the Bible. Pete Broadbent certainly isn't homophobic: he fought for gay rights in the Eighties, yet he opposes homosexual relationships and same-sex marriage because of scripture.

If evangelicalism can drive men like Pete Broadbent and Andrew Goddard to this position, it's a problem in and of itself.

Posted by: James Byron on Monday, 17 March 2014 at 11:16pm GMT

James,
if evangelicals were pro gay in their Scripture believing youth and are anti gay in their Scripture believing middle age then something other than the concept of scriptural authority is happening.

Many others travel the opposite direction, almost 50% of evangelicals are no longer anti gay. And they also all believe in scriptural authority.

I don't find it helpful to challenge the concept of scriptural authority because people who need authority will find it and submit to it, whatever label appeals to them. They will not become less authoritarian or dogmatic people.

Within our church context, I think what I'm saying is that there is no person who lobbies against gay rights because Scripture tells them to.

There are people who don't get involved in the debate because they cannot read Scripture in a gay positive light yet know and love partnered gay people and know them not to be sinful. They make it their own problem.
But when someone wades into the battle against gay people you can be pretty sure that their motivation goes deeper than scriptural authority.

If they weren't evangelical they'd find other reasons for doing the same thing.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Tuesday, 18 March 2014 at 8:39am GMT

Yes, James, I agree "authoritarianism doesn't challenge those who would be bossmen, it arms them." Unlike a psychotherapist, a paper Pope can't talk back to the person who wants to ventriloquize God.

Religion is mostly bad news for LGBTs and women.

It takes lots of work to come up with a life-giving religion.

The larger society is already changing for the better, so it may not matter what the church leaders say.

Gary Paul Gilbert

Posted by: Gary Paul Gilbert on Tuesday, 18 March 2014 at 3:10pm GMT

Some evangelicals take positions so against their own interest -- most dramatically, gay and lesbian evangelicals who suppress their sexuality for life out of an honest belief that its expression is a sin -- that it can't be written off as bigoted people looking for an excuse.

At heart, evangelicalism, like all authoritarian systems, treats power as its own justification. It's might-makes-right.

Posted by: James Byron on Wednesday, 19 March 2014 at 10:07am GMT

James,
we're going round in circles.
Social conservatism is not restricted to evangelicals.
And not all evangelicals are socially conservative.

If the link was so obvious, would we not be able to say that all socially conservative people were also religious?
And that no evangelicals could be socially liberal?

There is a tension in religions, I accept that. It is based on the premise that God has given us standards for how to conduct our lives as wholesomely and morally as possible.
And all religions suffer from the difficulty of trying to interpret what that means, yet those who interpret are also fallible human beings.

I keep saying that we tend to identify with Jesus when we read the bible instead of identifying with those he spoke to!
And so we get on our high horses, claim to be able to judge where others go wrong, claim to have the only true answers.
And that power corrupts us, like all power corrupts.

All people of faith must be aware of that danger that is inherent in having faith.

And yes, those who like to appeal to Scripture as the ultimate authority find it easier to be dogmatic about their interpretations because they can avoid engaging with reason and science.

Up to a point.

Because the other reality is that the same faiths can be sources of genuine self examination, of critical engagement with our innate desire to judge and control others, and with our tendency to put ourselves first rather than God.

And there are evangelicals on both sides of that faith spectrum.
Roman Catholics are just as bad in that respect.
And Putin is not an evangelical, but look at the anti gay laws enacted in Russia.

It's the desire to control others that's at fault. And people with a desire to control will do that in any environment they find themselves in.


Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 19 March 2014 at 1:54pm GMT

I of course accept that not all social conservatives are evangelical, Erika. That's beside my point that the evangelical way of thinking -- obeying orders -- is a problem. A problem that extends to all forms of dogmatism. Not the only problem, of course, but a problem all the same.

The desire to control others isn't automatically bad. Depends on the reason. I desire the control of harmful behaviors to protect innocents. A reluctance to use coercive measures, even to prevent harm, does help explain liberalism's failure in stopping evangelicalism's long march through Anglicanism.

Posted by: James Byron on Thursday, 20 March 2014 at 6:21am GMT

James,
that's the problem, isn't it. That the desire to control isn't automatically bad. And people who are absolutely certain that homosexuality is sinful believe their desire to control is just.

And I agree that liberalism was a bit late to realise how dangerous the extreme right wing form of evangelicalism is.

But I would say that evangelicals themselves have woken up to it now. There are more and more controversial debates on evangelical blogs and forums and they are no longer united about homosexuality.
And the right wing, anti women, anti gay section is becoming more and more isolated.

I expect they will eventually break away, with as much devastating effect on the CoE as the break away of those joining the Ordinariate had - i.e. none at all.
And evangelicals will again be just that - a particular form of spirituality within the broad tent of the CoE, with its own strengths and weaknesses just as all the other expressions also have their own strengths and weaknesses.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Thursday, 20 March 2014 at 8:49am GMT
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