Saturday, 22 March 2014

More on same sex marriage and on the Pilling report

The Church Times article by Will Adam which was previously subscriber-only is now available to all: Breaking the rules on gay marriage.

PICTURE the scene: the Bishop’s post is being opened, and among the invitations, job applications, and clerical outfitters’ catalogues are three troubling pieces of correspondence.

The first is from the Diocesan Director of Ordinands, informing the Bishop that an ordinand in training, who is in the process of looking for a title post in the diocese, has entered into a same-sex marriage.

The second is a letter of complaint from a group of parishioners that the Vicar of X has just used the form of service for prayer and dedication after a civil marriage from Common Worship: Pastoral Services to bless a same-sex marriage in church.

The third is from the churchwarden of Y to say that the Rector has just come back from holiday with the news that the trip was a honeymoon, and a new (same-sex) spouse has moved into the Rectory.

What is the Bishop to do?

This week’s Church Times carries a report by Madeleine Davies headlined Bishops start quizzing their clergy.

Gay clergy have this week been describing the ramifications of the pastoral guidance on same-sex marriage, issued by the House of Bishops last month. Bishops have begun meeting gay clergy, at least five of whom are reported to be planning to marry…

And there is a report in the Camden New Journal Two Camden vicars to defy Church of England ban on blessing same-sex marriages.

…In what could become a test case, the Rev Anne Stevens, of St Pancras New Church, in Euston, and Father Andrew Cain, of St James’s in West Hampstead and St Mary’s in Kilburn, will campaign for the law to be changed.

Blessing services will be offered at St Pancras church, with prayers and thanksgiving at St James’s, when the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 comes in on March 29.

Under the act there is a “quadruple lock” that prevents the marriages or blessing the marriages of gay couples in the Church of England.

More Camden churches are expected to follow their lead with a letter signed by local clergy due to be released next week…

Andrew Symes has written at Anglican Mainstream Same sex marriage – are we allowed to pray about it? Try to ignore his comment about the weather.

There is a very interesting exchange of views about the Pilling report between Sean Doherty and Malcolm Brown.
See A Response to the Pilling Report and then A response to Sean Doherty’s KLICE Comment on the Pilling Report The latter explains quite a lot about how the report was written.

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Categorised as: Church of England

The answer to Andrew Symes' question "are we allowed to pray about it" would be a clear "yes, but it looks like people don't want to, or only in private".
Presumably, God won't ignore prayers just because they're not public and visible, so there should be nothing to stop Andrew to pray whatever he believes he needs to pray for.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Saturday, 22 March 2014 at 7:22pm GMT

There's a great piece by Matthew Parris in today's 'Times' on gay marriage, in which he pays handsome tribute to the decency of 'the British people' in getting things to where they are now. Why is this relevant to this site? Because it demonstrates yet again that opponents of gay marriage are bound to lose - which includes the equivocal C of E Establishment.

Posted by: John on Saturday, 22 March 2014 at 7:28pm GMT

Reading Malcolm Brown's redaction history of Pilling leaves any reasonable person thinking: what a completely mad enterprise to embark on in the first place.

The aim was to deal with SSM without taking sides.

We know from my surveys with YouGov that Anglicans are split about 50:50 on allowing SSM. We also know they are split on politics (albeit with a lean to the right).

Now imagine setting out to write a report which lays out the ground on politics without taking sides, as a prolegomenon to 'facilitated conversations' aimed at 'reconciling' right wingers and left wingers and reaching some agreed political stance which allows the CofE to move forward.

Crazy, no? Well no more so than doing the same on personal morality. On politics, the church thinks we're grown-up enough to make up our own minds. Why not on whom we chose to love?

Pilling should be treated as the reductio ad absurdum of the hopeless attempt to find an inappropriate level of consensus amongst Anglicans of good faith and many hues.

Posted by: Linda Woodhead on Saturday, 22 March 2014 at 9:00pm GMT

Andrewe Symes' remark about the connection between the state of the weather and the Church's acceptance of the LGBTI community, seems more like the utterances of the loony fundamentalist in the U.S., who blamed HIV/Aids for all sorts of weather problems there.

When will the 'Mainstream' loonies realise how ridiculous they sound to people who have minds to understand the realities of life as it is lived in this present day and age? Their 'Slipstream' theology is certainly awesome to contemplate. Sadly, though it captures the imagination of the doom-sayers of our world.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 23 March 2014 at 12:03am GMT

Did Andrew Symes really say that the purpose of his praying on the first day the evil gays can get married is to "do business with God"?

I'm not sure how that's compatible with the idea that God is sovereign over creation. I thought Christians were supposed to do what God wants and not the other way round. But it seems Andrew thinks this is subject to a bit of businesslike negotiation.

I was relieved to note that he isn't "saying that gay marriage is worse than atrocities in Syria or starvation in Sudan". I was in some doubt about that, myself, so I'm relieved to note that while two chicks getting hitched is bad enough that (and I quote) "We can’t be certain about the direct link between bad weather and the gay marriage legislation", it isn't quite in the same league as deliberately starving children to consciously fulfil a war plan.

Posted by: The Rev'd Mervyn Noote on Sunday, 23 March 2014 at 1:01am GMT

Was he serious about the weather being a sign from God? I guess so because he also blamed the bad economy on "sin" - we usually here that kind of nonsense from the hardcore fundie calvinists in the US. That kind of crazy talk reminds me of Jim Jones...

Posted by: etseq on Sunday, 23 March 2014 at 3:47am GMT

Also, I have to say Malcolm Brown's summary of the science reminds me of creationists contending that the science on evolution is "debatable" and "biased by funding" Almost all of the major biological studies have been funded by grants from the NSF or similar federal sources in the US. If he really believes those sources and scientists are "biased" towards gays, well that tells you alot about the state of the Church of England. Honestly, does he think that the pseudoscience put out by NARTH or the old freudian theories from 30 years ago have any scientific merit?

Posted by: etseq on Sunday, 23 March 2014 at 4:01am GMT

Couldn't agree more with Linda about the madness of Pilling's mandated neutrality. This reached its nadir when the report equated the Core Issues Trust with the Royal College of Psychiatrists. We're entitled to our own views, not our own facts.

To draw a well-worn but still illuminating comparison, imagine if the 1960s Episcopal Church had issued such a report on segregation. If would rightly be denounced. Diversity has limits.

Posted by: James Byron on Sunday, 23 March 2014 at 6:49am GMT

Of course the real question is how did God order authority in his Church. I acn't see that this botch is the way his Holy Spirit would guide his Church. Maybe thats why I couldn't remain Anglican.I need an infallible confirmation for what I believe, and if there isn't one, Christianity has no real claim on my soul.

Posted by: robert ian williams on Sunday, 23 March 2014 at 7:43am GMT

The piece by Will Adams is excellent in pointing out how uncharted are the waters, but I think also reveals that he probably spends his time with nice people who are generally reluctant to make waves in the unplumb'd, salt, estranging seas of this issue.

A legal dispute about same sex marriage amongst employees of the Church of England could have several different venues, but ultimately would end up at an employment tribunal or the chain of appeals that proceed from there. A priest marries, a bishop attempts to discipline them, the priest is either dismissed (ie, it end up at an ET) or argues they have been constructively dismissed by some other action of the bishop (ET again).

The argument that an ET's writ does not run to freehold vicars is now much weaker. See Sharpe v Worcester [1], which explicitly rejected with respect to an Anglican benefice the Supreme Court's holding in Preston [2] that a Methodist minister is not an employee.

The church is now on the horns of a tricky dilemma. If it holds a disciplinary process which ends up at an ET, the queue of journalists out of the door will make it into a three-ring circus. The CofE will find its equivocation and desperate attempts to satisfy everyone do not survive public scrutiny, and even if they won the ET the victory would be Pyrrhic in terms of overall effect.

If it doesn't, it faces the problem that ETs are very receptive to arguments based on custom and practice: if n people have done something without being disciplined, ETs take a very dim view of an attempt to discipline the n+1th. They will take the argument that "I assumed that the policy had been allowed to lapse because other people were not disciplined" much more seriously than a criminal court would over CPS charging decisions, because employers' disciplinary policies are not statute law and change much more informally. So failure to bring disciplinary measures for the initial cases will make it virtually impossible to bring them at all: an ET would reject later actions out of hand.

[1] The Reverend Sharpe v (1) The Worcester Diocesan Board of Finance Ltd & (2) The Bishop of Worcester (2013) UKEAT/0243/12

[2] The President of the Methodist Conference v Preston [2013] UKSC 29

Posted by: Interested Observer on Sunday, 23 March 2014 at 7:58am GMT

Various bishops have said that the point of the facilitated conversations is to try to find a way of disagreeing more amicably. The conversations will take place in an atmosphere of rapidly changing social perceptions, with equal marriage no doubt becoming even more widely acceptable. In addition, within the church there will be the unedifying spectacle of protracted legal cases arising from botched attempts at "discipline", and also increasing levels of defiance and disobedience.

The differences between this issue and the women's ordination one are sufficient that the idea of finding a way of differing amicably is, as Linda says, hopeless. Opponents of equal rights and treatment for LGBT people will not be happy if each parish is allowed to make up its own policy.

Some people say this is a "second order" issue, and the only hope is that the facilitated conversations will get everyone to agree that, to take the heat out of it. However, the backdrop to the "conversations" will be pushing in the other direction.

The silver lining of the facilitated conversations is that they will presumably demonstrate clearly that every line has been tried and that what Linda calls the "inappropriate level of consensus" is indeed hopeless. Then we can start on the real work of setting up a much looser federation (or network, or non-federation) of churches which can actually live and preach the Gospel.

Posted by: Turbulent priest on Sunday, 23 March 2014 at 8:04am GMT

"I need an infallible confirmation for what I believe, and if there isn't one, Christianity has no real claim on my soul." - Commenter -

Oh dear. Bang goes St. Paul's theory about faith being the substance of things hoped for - not seen!
If Faith depended on the infallibity of Church Leaders, We would have lost the plot ages ago.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 23 March 2014 at 8:47am GMT

"Some people say this is a "second order" issue"

For most churchgoers and people who wish the church well, it is: they are more concerned about justice, poverty and equality.

For a smaller number of people it is personal, in that it affects themselves and their friends and family, and for them it is first order.

For a small handful of obsessives like Andrew Symes, it is the single defining issue of our times, more important than war and starvation.

Unfortunately, the CofE believes that appeasing Andrew Symes is more important that justice, peace, poverty and equality.

It isn't a first order issue until the church makes it so. They have made it so.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Sunday, 23 March 2014 at 9:57am GMT

"I need an infallible confirmation for what I believe..."

Since the only source for such confirmation would be another human being, I don't see how that's even possible.

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Sunday, 23 March 2014 at 10:30am GMT

There's zero chance that gay relationships will become a "second order issue." Thanks to Paul's words in Corinthians, those evangelicals who oppose homosexuality are convinced that it's a "salvation issue." In their eyes, if they agree to disagree, they're allowing people to burn in hell.

Posted by: James Byron on Sunday, 23 March 2014 at 11:09am GMT

Interested Observer gives another good analysis of why the Church of England would be very foolish to pursue a priest who marries.

The argument that they must either discipline all or none is well made, and I would add that the apologies some bishops have already made would not bode well for any hearing.

On another thread I argue that the Anglican Communion is over, the train wreck is reaching a point where no amount of discipline on marriage will overcome the welcome for civil partners. Nearly everyone in he UK struggles to recognise how a civil partnership as presently on offer in registry offices, or even in one of the churches now registered, with all the added vows and symbols is different from a marriage. Global South folk are not looking to be reasonable and this finesse will just be rejected. They have already left and are busy formalising the alternative structures.

Perhaps as the CofE is allowed to recognise this, and that will take a great deal of courage from Welby, the main struggle against gays will wither away almost overnight.
Although the Orthodox are increasingly belligerent the Evangelicals are tottering and the RCs no longer want to see it as a make or break issue, indeed they want to move past it and leave it alone rather than continuing to pick at it so it will fester and damage them ......
So, I think in a very short time we will see that the world has once again moved on and the CofE will have to move on.
I still don't see the guidance lasting to the winter ......

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Sunday, 23 March 2014 at 11:36am GMT

"... the Evangelicals are tottering ..."

On the contrary, they're bankrolling the church. They have numbers, key positions, and the Global South. Above all, they have conviction.

The liberal habit of keeping their heads down and waiting for social pressure to do the job for them won't wash this time. This won't fix itself. Loathe the idea as they might, if liberals care about gay people, we're gonna have to fight. As we should have in 1987. In 1991. In 2003. In 2010. The brute truth is that evangelicals have fought for their beliefs and we betrayed ours. They're better than us.

If we don't fight, ironically, affirming evangelicals will end up doing the job for us, as evangelicals have won the battle for women's ministry. Problem is, the affirming evangelical camp is so small and marginal that'll take a good half century. Would be nice if we didn't have to wait that long.

Posted by: James Byron on Sunday, 23 March 2014 at 2:47pm GMT

Or perhaps the bad weather is visited upon the UK because people like Symes refuse to recognize the equality of their LGBT brothers and sisters? I seem to remember that Sodom was destroyed because the Sodomites refused to give hospitality to strangers.

Posted by: Nathaniel Brown on Sunday, 23 March 2014 at 6:32pm GMT

"Since the only source for such confirmation would be another human being, I don't see how that's even possible."

Read Luke 22... Simon Peter confirming the brethren with an UNFAILING faith, as determined by Our Lord himself.

God's plan so beautifully clear in embryo, that at Chalcedon the bishops shouted " Peter has spoken through Leo."

Posted by: Robert ian Williams on Sunday, 23 March 2014 at 7:39pm GMT

The article from the Church Times about bishops quizzing their clergy contains an unremarked but striking admission of where this is going to end:

"[My Bishop] was with HR, and I was with a union rep."

A Human Resources department and a union rep? Those are the sort of people you make sure are present at initial meetings of processes that can end with dismissal, so that you can't be accused of procedural irregularities when it gets to the tribunal. Clearly, Sharpe v Worcester has had an effect, because once you have an HR person, with that name, you have given up any pretence that the relationship isn't employee-employer, and are admitting that standard employment law governs the situation. And want to cover yourself for the eventual tribunal.

If the CofE are going straight for the "how do we make this disciplinary process tribunal-proof?" position, they are by implication anticipating fighting an ET on the issue. They might even win. But they must have a death-wish, because "CofE sacks man for marrying; employment tribunal in progress" is a horrible, horrible headline.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Sunday, 23 March 2014 at 7:48pm GMT

I assume the reference to bad weather is a reference this:

Posted by: Interested Observer on Sunday, 23 March 2014 at 7:50pm GMT

You're right, Interested Observer, it's suicidal. The church's idea of cultural diversity appears to be the embrace of seppuku.

Posted by: James Byron on Sunday, 23 March 2014 at 8:29pm GMT

Today's (Sunday's) Los Angeles Times contains an article, written by Anglican priest, about how anti-Gay American evanglists are marketing their "hate" (his word) abroad --,0,2345261.story#axzz2wouzPkpG

Posted by: dr.primrose on Sunday, 23 March 2014 at 8:39pm GMT

I agree with James Byron about the strength of the opposition to allowing any concession on the Guidelines.

I think that part of the reason that the opposition to women bishops collapsed so quickly is that opponents decided to regroup, realising that the same concerns were better shunted into a battle against SSM.

The SAME concerns? Yes because this is still a battle to preserve 'traditional masculinity'. The give away is that the idea of the 'complementarity of men and women' is being used (again) as the bottom line of the arguments put forward against SSM by FAOC and the bishops.

SSM marriage threatens this 'doctrine' (ha ha, for it is no such thing) more even than the ordination of women did, for you can still claim that women's ministry is 'complementary' to men's. But SSM is a direct threat to 'M-F complementarity' and so to 'hegemonic masculinity' as gender studies likes to call it. Opponents of homosexuality loathe it because it is unmanly.

Just look at the websites of Christian evangelical men who have 'overcome' their homosexuality - shaved heads, blokiness, above-average-number-of-children, and all the other accoutrements of 'real manhood'.

Only this time the battle will be MUCH harder (and here I think the bishops et al have made a miscalculation) because whereas women who wanted to be ordained were prepared to put up with fudge, compromise, insults, bullying etc. gay men won't - they have more power, influence and sense of entitlement.

Moreover, the ordination of women only affected a few 'odd' people who want to be vicars. SSM is something all sorts and conditions of men and women will want - and which through friends and family - will radiate out into society.

So it will be a very, very nasty - but very, very important - battle.

Posted by: Linda Woodhead on Sunday, 23 March 2014 at 9:29pm GMT

To put it concisely: if the patriarchs don't win this battle over SSM they will be emasculated (sic) far more effectively than they have been over women's ordination.

Posted by: Linda Woodhead on Sunday, 23 March 2014 at 9:33pm GMT

Andrew Symes article it seems to me to be largely handwringing about 'what to do'. There is something profoundly pathetic if it is true that evangelicals are playing down the idea of a day of prayer on 29th March because they will be seen to be 'negative' or 'sending out the wrong message'. They seem to know that they have lost the plot, that they are regarded as either irrelevant or incorrigibly homophobic or both and that the best thing to do is to stay silent. (Reminds me of racists who while still holding their unpalatable views now know better than to air them in public because they are fearful of the consequences.)

So what to do? Well the answer seems to be to pray in private. But I have to ask why that will work this time when all the prayer, which has been offered over the past year or more, both in England and Wales and then in Scotland, just hasn't worked, or at least not in any way which Evangelicals would recognise. I wonder what those poor people felt who 'witnessed' outside parliament when the equal marriage law was voted through by extraordinarily large majorities. Has their God deserted them?

Who knows? But the upshot must be that the faithful remnant, increasingly small and increasingly marginalised from the mainstream of society and eventualy the Church, will struggle mightily. There are already real signs that those on the wrong side of this argument are becoming increasingly embittered and that their preconditions for entering facilitated conversations (Biblical inerrancy and no betrayal of traditional teachings) mean that there can be no real dialogue. A recent offering, also on 'Anglical Mainstream' by the former Bishop of Lewes confirms that this is so.

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Sunday, 23 March 2014 at 9:43pm GMT

"Evangelical" in the comment above was meant to refer to the wider Church community, I was casting my eye around the surveys of young Evangelicals in the developed countries and it seems they are "tottering". Roman Catholic youth who are very conservative on abortion and liturgy are almost all comfortable with gay equality.
Sorry not to be clear.
I am not sure if younger UK Anglican Evangelicals are following this trend. Perhaps others can say ......?

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Sunday, 23 March 2014 at 9:57pm GMT

"Opponents of homosexuality loathe it because it is unmanly."

In many cases I agree, Linda. The visceral homophobia of Nigeria and Uganda (and a great many British and Americans) is all about male dominance. As Richard Holloway phrased it with ferocious but illuminating bluntness, so far as a patriarch's concerned, "Men fuck. Women get fucked. Q.E.D." This savage framework, obsessed with dominance and submission, views gay men as traitors to their gender (lesbians are largely ignored).

It's complicated by evangelicals who don't think like this, evangelicals who genuinely oppose gay relationships because a few verses in the Bible condemn homosexuality. The lines of course blur, but I think this constituency is dominant in the Church of England. Open evangelicals like Pete Broadbent, Ian Paul, Tom Wright and Andrew Goddard clearly don't hate gay people or desire patriarchy: they're not homophobic in a strict sense, but their belief in biblical authority has driven them to advocate a homophobic position.

It's tempting to accuse the open evangelicals of being homophobes who use the Bible as an excuse, but I believe it's a mistake. They don't have an ulterior motive; they genuinely believe what they say they believe. Any opposition has to tailor itself to that reality.

Posted by: James Byron on Sunday, 23 March 2014 at 11:56pm GMT

Martin, you are right that young Christians of all churches and hues are following the trend in favour of SSM. And alongside age, gender is the other big factor - women more in favour than men. It's a myth that younger Christians, including churchgoers, are not liberalising on personal morality.

But they (the young, women) are of course not the ones calling the shots in the CofE. If they were, we would not be in this mess.

Those most opposed to SSM are 50s+ males, especially those who take their authority from religious sources. Remind you of anyone?

Posted by: Linda Woodhead on Monday, 24 March 2014 at 12:14am GMT

I wonder whether it really will get nasty. Since Pilling I have been fascinated to see how the conversation on evangelical blogs has changed and become much more nuanced and controversial.
So far, the CoE hasn't actually been debating homosexuality at all at any meaningful level.

But if the facilitated conversation really takes off and if people do start to talk properly, it could just as well be that the dam will burst, a few furies will leave the CoE and the official prejudice against gay people will simply collapse with a little squeak.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Monday, 24 March 2014 at 8:32am GMT

One thing that really does worry me is what would happen if it did get really nasty and if those lgbt people who are currently still acting with as much Christian love as they can muster finally get so angry that they start outing bishops.

There is a distinct difference between the two debates. There are no closeted women, none who lead hypocritical lives while pretending not to be women.
That changes the internal dynamics of the situation considerably.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Monday, 24 March 2014 at 8:59am GMT

James Byron says (of 'open evangelicals' like me), 'their belief in biblical authority has driven them to advocate a homophobic position'.

When I was ordained as a priest in the Anglican Church of Canada, I was required to make the following statement: 'I believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the word of God containing all things necessary to salvation'.

Sounds like belief in biblical authority to me. But it was not my evangelicalism that required me to state that belief, it was the liturgy of the Anglican Church of Canada.

Posted by: Tim Chesterton on Monday, 24 March 2014 at 9:54am GMT

Perhaps the reason younger people have less difficulty with SSM - or homosexuality generally - is because for them it is a clear that sexual attraction is not chosen, but is an ontological "given" for gay persons. Therefore it doesn't fall under the rubric of "morality," so isn't comparable to, for example, abortion.

Anyone who believes homosexuality to be, in itself, sinful, hasn't bitten that bullet. Deliberately to "choose" to be gay would arguably be insane, considering the high price exacted for it historically and currently. For those unclear about that, simply consider the case of Uganda.

Posted by: Daniel Berry, NYC on Monday, 24 March 2014 at 10:44am GMT

Going further with my previous posting, use of the bible as a science book has been a bugaboo of Jews and Christians for quite some time--though, I believe, more so for Christians. We've abandoned (after many a long struggle, but one which seems again to have reared its head here in the US) using the bible as an astronomy, archeology, cosmology, geology, medical or anthropology text. Crossing the frontier of abandoning using it for a social or behavioral science text remains before us. Otherwise reasonable, intelligent people continue to trip on that transition, persisting in fighting the centuries-ago battle waged by the institutional church nearly four centuries ago against Galileo.

Posted by: Daniel Berry, NYC on Monday, 24 March 2014 at 11:05am GMT

Yes, I laughed through gritted teeth, Linda!

So, the battle, you say is going to be very nasty.

And what might be the outcomes we are looking for?

As I reflect on James Byron's assessment of some Evangelicals from the Fulcrum leadership team, I wonder if we have not already moved considerably towards seeing this as adiaphora?

It was Tom Wright who saw this as the essential first step and what I was perhaps clumsily saying above is that (with the exception of the Orthodox) there seems to be a consensus building that might say that it is a matter upon which we can disagree. I recognise that he went on, in his section of the Windsor Report, to argue that we have not got there yet - but I think the defection of the Global South is going to change the balance here quite soon.
The whole tenor of Welby's approach since he took office seems to me aimed at this outcome, the language surrounding facilitated conversations etc. Williams felt unable to unloose the shackle of "Issues" but Welby did so almost immediately allowing, no encouraging, his fellow bishops to publicly dissent and now it seems that consent to its position has vanished from the list of essential requirements for a bishop.

If, as I am suggesting, the breach with the Global South is recognised soon(before they do more damage) then their agencies in England might filter off those like Andrea Williams into their parallel churches. Having rejected wholly the Indaba approach, they are unlikely to want to remain in a Church where these conversations open the door to living together in disagreement.

I am an outsider, only looking at what appears to be happening, and I might be missing the mark by a long way, but it does seem to me that while "The Guidance" is a poor document, it too sees itself as a holding position while we sort out how we can disagree fruitfully. That must make the absolutists even of the Fulcrum variety, a little uncomfortable.

Perhaps the Anglican Mainstream, Fulcrum, Church Society types have already lost. They have in fact just circled the wagons and the ammunition is running out?

This is adiaphora, we must learn to live together respectfully.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Monday, 24 March 2014 at 11:48am GMT

Can we please stop calling Andrew Goddard and Tom Wright 'open evangelicals'? FULCRUM is not open,it subscribed at its outset to the St Andrew's Day Statement. Bishop Tom Wright does not think that homosexual couples deserve the use of the word 'love'. A careful reading of FULCRUM would show how difficult it is to put any distance between its position on the issue of homosexuality and that taken by ANGLICAM MAINSTREAM. Their position on the ordination of women may differ but not on homosexuality.

Posted by: Commentator on Monday, 24 March 2014 at 3:36pm GMT

Yesterday (Sunday) I posted a link to a story in yesterday's Los Angeles Times, written by an Anglican priest (from the name, Kapya Kaoma, apparently African) concerning "How anti-gay Christians evangelize hate abroad: In the countries where American evangelicals market their culture wars, persecution follows."

I included the link but the comment did not appear and apparently went into spam.

He says in part:

"The vitriol that has fueled U.S. culture wars for so long is now being exported, and some of our most ardent culture warriors are finding a far more receptive audience abroad.


"In March 2009, while in Kampala, Uganda, researching reports of U.S. right-wing evangelical involvement in attacks on LGBTQ equality and reproductive justice, I was invited to a three-day conference on homosexuality hosted by the Family Life Network, which is based in New York. The keynote speaker was Scott Lively from Springfield, Mass., who introduced himself as a leading expert on the 'international homosexual agenda.' I filmed Lively over the course of two days as he instructed religious and political leaders about how gays were coming to Uganda from the West to 'recruit children into homosexuality.'

"Some of his assertions would have been laughable had he not been so deadly serious. He claimed that a gay clique that included Adolf Hitler was behind the Holocaust, and he insinuated that gay people fueled the Rwandan genocide.

"In the United States, Lively is widely dismissed as an anti-gay firebrand and Holocaust revisionist. But in Uganda, he was presented — and accepted — as a leading international authority. The public persecution of LGBTQ people escalated after Lively's conference, with one local newspaper publishing the pictures and addresses of activists under the headline, 'Hang Them.'


"In recent years, millions of dollars have been funneled from anti-LGBTQ evangelical conservatives to Uganda, funding local pastors and training them to adopt and mirror the culture-war language of the U.S. Christian right. Bahati and a notorious anti-gay pastor, Martin Ssempa, were personally mentored by U.S. conservatives. ***

"Other prominent right-wing evangelicals have also made Uganda appearances, including California's Rick Warren and Lou Engle, who founded TheCall ministry. They met with politicians, hosted rallies and public meetings, and used their influence and credibility to contribute to a culture war in Uganda much more intense and explosive than anything seen in the United States; Lively himself described the work as a 'nuclear bomb' in Uganda."

ED: found your original post in the spam filter and posted it.

Posted by: dr.primrose on Monday, 24 March 2014 at 5:15pm GMT

" 'I believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the word of God containing all things necessary to salvation'." - Tim Chesterton -

Yes, Tim. You are quite right about this.

However, Holy Scripture also contains thing 'not necessary for salvation', and it is precisely these 'things' that are being contested in today's Church

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Monday, 24 March 2014 at 8:28pm GMT

There is so much to think about in the comments on this thread.

Firstly, Daniel Berry's excellent reminder of the almost blind following of the biblical commentary on matters that have been proved fallacious in our modern scientific world.

Secondly, Martin Reynolds' realistic assessment of the situation vis a vis the Global South's move towards schismatic withdrawal from the Communion.

Thirdly, Dr. Primrose's discovery of the underground movement by American Fundamentalists in Africa (especially Uganda), offering resources to local Church and Government agencies to wage war on homosexuals.

What more evidence does one need of the practical advantages of the Church of England, and those Provinces of the Communion that believe in the power of the Gospel to deliver from institutional homophobia and misogyny, in being pro-active in our embrace of Gospel enlightenment?

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Monday, 24 March 2014 at 8:47pm GMT

'I believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the word of God containing all things necessary to salvation'.

That the Scriptures contain all things necessary to salvation does not mean, conversely, that all things in the Scriptures are necessary to salvation.

For instance, the Scriptures (in the same book that many translate as condemning homosexuality) also condemns the eating of shellfish and of pork. Do you eat shrimp and bacon? It condemns the eating of meat and dairy products in the same meal. Do you enjoy the occasional cheeseburger? It calls for a "year of jubilee" every seven years, when all debts are forgiven. Shall we call on banks to forgive all mortgage payments after seven years?

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Monday, 24 March 2014 at 9:22pm GMT

Once again:

Whether we agree with one another on specific issues, or not, we are One in Christ. It is only, ever, in Christ that we have union and communion. We are not One because of agreed or imposed uniformity. We are not One because we all share exactly the same theology. We are One in Christ, whether in our fallibility we agree or not.

Therefore, unity is a given if you are a Christian, but we all variously live in disparate and different communities, cultures, and traditions - responding in ministry to the real lives and needs of local communities.

In other words, "unity in diversity" should be seen as a pretty natural state of being, a maturity even, that allows "space of conscience" to people with differing theologies, values and beliefs.

To try to impose one-sided, partisan uniformity is to attempt The Covenant all over again, and we've already repudiated that approach as a Church.

Regardless of top-down attempts to enforce uniformity, the reality on the ground is that people of good faith and conscience WILL marry, WILL bless gay and lesbian couples, WILL be diverse... and yes, that is a defiance... but it is a defiance of love, an act of conscience... the conscience of individual priests, and PCCs, and local church communities.

There IS no consensus. There IS no uniformity of faith and conscience. But there IS a diverse and multi-faceted community (or communities) of faith and love and service. The idea that you sanction and discipline someone for being different is extraordinary. It's an imperial paradigm.

Meanwhile, in the 'small world' of intimate, personal relationships... at parish level... and in the privacy of homes... people give themselves, they treasure, they love, they care.

We all need 'space for grace'. And "Unity in Diversity" is the only way we will manage to uphold and continue the Anglican charism, which has given something precious to the world *because* of its breadth and variety of expression and belief. We have to have the maturity to agree to disagree, but to retain bonds of love for one another, in the knowledge of the eternal unity and communion of the Holy Trinity, and of our eternal calling to live in Jesus Christ.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Monday, 24 March 2014 at 10:08pm GMT

Yes, Pat, believe it or not, I do understand what a responsible hermeneutic looks like. Like most evangelicals, I use it all the time. Nor was I particularly interested in getting into an argument about shellfish, bacon, the year of Jubilee, or verses referring to homosexuality.

The point I wanted to make was simply to protest against the idea that evangelicals have some weird view of biblical authority. We don't. Our view is exactly that expressed in the formularies and liturgies of pretty well all the Anglican churches around the world.

Posted by: Tim Chesterton on Tuesday, 25 March 2014 at 1:59am GMT

Pat says"For instance, the Scriptures (in the same book that many translate as condemning homosexuality) also condemns the eating of shellfish and of pork. Do you eat shrimp and bacon? It condemns the eating of meat and dairy products in the same meal. Do you enjoy the occasional cheeseburger?"

Response: There is a distinction between the moral law ( eternal) and the ritual law revisable)...our Lord declared all foods clean, but as regards moral issues, through his Apostles ( he that hears you, hears me) he continued the ban on homosexual sex and other issues, and he also tightened laws for baptized christians, like divorce and polygamy.

Posted by: robert ian williams on Tuesday, 25 March 2014 at 5:42am GMT

Erika, you are right that a big difference between the SSM struggle and that over women's ordination (besides fact the latter took over a century to win) is that there have always been gay men in the highest positions of the church.

Continuing with the parallel with women one might predict that gay clergy will marry first and become acceptable (will there be 'alternative oversight??) but gay bishops will not be allowed to marry.

But whillst it's highly unlikely that a married gay man or woman will be appointed bishop under the present system, existing bishops might decide to marry.

Again,this puts a different complexion on things.

There are a lot of highly unpredictable elements in the SSM struggle which were absent in relation to women, where things were often all-too-predictable.

Posted by: Linda Woodhead on Tuesday, 25 March 2014 at 7:33am GMT

Robert Ian Williams, a couple of problems with what you say about Leviticus.

First. Forget shrimps. Why ignore Lev 18:18 on marrying your deceased wife's sister but take 18:21 a few verses later on lying with a man as sacrosanct?

I would seriously like to hear an answer to that, because I keep asking and no-one will answer.

Second. The salient distinction is not just ritual v moral law, but purity laws v moral laws.

I would say the opposition to same-sex relations is about purity (social boundaries/in-out groups) rather than morality, because the objections I hear to homosexuality are not moral ones, they are transgression ones.

Thus when I ask people in national surveys why they are pro SSM the main reason given is a moral one (equality of the sexes), whereas the main reason con is a purity/boundary one (marriage is between a man and a woman).

Posted by: Linda Woodhead on Tuesday, 25 March 2014 at 8:56am GMT

"he also tightened laws for baptized christians, like divorce and polygamy."

That's presumably why the CofE refuses blessings, marriages and, indeed, appointment as bishop to people who are either divorced or are married to people who are divorced, I take it.

The CofE's position of divorce has changed radically. Claiming that as an example of immutable moral law is simply counter-factual.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Tuesday, 25 March 2014 at 9:04am GMT

what worries me is what will happen if the hypocrisy should be blown away and if it became open who had simply paid lip services to the current CoE policy yet taken an active part in creating it.

There is a level of dishonesty about the lgbt debate that did not exist in the women priest debate.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Tuesday, 25 March 2014 at 9:25am GMT

The problem, Mr Williams, is that the distinction between moral and ceremonial commandments made by the articles (among many places) is not biblical at all. 'for whoever keeps the whole law but fails in on one point has become accountable for all of it' (James 2.10). Ask any Jewish child. The Rabbis certainly never saw any such divide, indeed they generally taught that the hukim (decrees of the great King, the commandments for which no discernible reason can be found) are to be kept as virtuously as the mishpatim, the other, morally obvious commandments.

Posted by: Lorenzo Fernandez-Vicente on Tuesday, 25 March 2014 at 9:32am GMT

Linda W: Way back, I think there were some unpredicatble moments in the women priest business: the question of women ordained abroad not being allowed to minister here led to the formation of the St Hilda Community (where they were welcomed until the then Bp London kicked us out,) but the community itself became a really fertile garden of inclusive liturgy - and priesthood.

Erika B: actually, there might be some closeted women in this debate, but at least women are not invisible! I sat through a deanery chapter last week with, I suspect, at least 25% gay membership, and the discussion was all about 'it' ' this issue' and h......ity' When I could bear it no longer, I reminded them that there might just be gay people present and that I was fed up, nearly 40 years on, being talked ABOUT; some degree of sombreness descended on the meeting..... Invisibility is indeed part of the problem - and not only for gay bishops.

Posted by: peter kettle on Tuesday, 25 March 2014 at 11:01am GMT

"There is a distinction between the moral law ( eternal) and the ritual law revisable)."

This is the problem - there is no such distinction. There is NO SUCH THING as "moral" or "ritual" law in the Bible. Law is law. The only way of dividing the two is to choose which laws you think are eternal, so it becomes a circular argument: this law does not apply now, therefore it is a ritual law, therefore it does not apply now.

When Peter saw his vision and was commanded to eat, he then went and met with Gentiles in their home. These Gentiles were not only see as impure because of their food, but also a host of other customs and practices.

Jesus did indeed tighten the "rules" on divorce, but we have to ask why. We have to look at the context of how women were treated in 1st century Palestine if we are to decide whether the rule still applies. I would argue that in a society where divorced women are not automatically at risk of starvation or prostitution, Jesus' words do not still constitute an unbreakable law forcing, among other things, abused women to remain with their husbands. This is how we have to interpret and apply scripture.

As regards polygamy, the only mention is that elders should be the husband of one wife - presumably other Christians could still be polygamous? How can this be a "tightened law" when no such "law" previously existed at all?

There is a reasonable argument to be made about what relationships are or are not acceptable for Christians, but it is not black and white. Is a heterosexual marriage acceptable if the husband is abusive, is a same-sex marriage acceptable if the couple are celibate, or if they are not?

It might also be noted that the phrase "baptised Christians" is an odd phrase. Was Jesus talking to baptised Christians when he spoke about divorce? Does not Christian morality apply to all, whatever their religion. Isn't morality what is right, so should it not apply to all?

The Bible is quite a conservative book - it was written a long time ago - but, we must be very careful that we don't feed our own conservative views into it!

Posted by: Iain Baxter on Tuesday, 25 March 2014 at 11:12am GMT

Everything I read on Thinking Anglicans at the moment, seems to be good news. I think the phrase "... the Evangelicals are tottering ..." should have been "the Evangelicals are changing", because they clearly are.

The fact that Andrew Symes could not find a church to make a public act of praying against equal marriage shows how the ground has shifted. This is not cowardice from church leaders (well, maybe a little) but is mainly because they know that people in the pews - even in Conservative Evangelical churches - are divided.

Majorities may not be found in synod yet, but the reality on the ground is ever clearer.

Posted by: Iain Baxter on Tuesday, 25 March 2014 at 11:13am GMT

Peter Kettle,
apologies, I must have expressed myself badly. There are men, bishops, who make a point of appearing to be straight while being gay.

There were never any women who could pretend to be men, support pro-male theologies while secretly suppressing their true identities.

The women priests debate was "cleaner" in that sense, simpler, and without the level of hypocrisy we have in the gay debate.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Tuesday, 25 March 2014 at 2:16pm GMT

"Can we please stop calling Andrew Goddard and Tom Wright 'open evangelicals'?"

I bet, Commentator, that they're not even true Scotsmen. ;-)

All the people I listed, and Fulcrum, are passionate in their support of women's ministry, accept scientific findings, and take a nuanced approach to biblical interpretation. By any reasonable measure, they're open evangelicals. All kinds of evangelicalism have strong boundaries: open evangelicalism means, in addition to these, being open to truth from outside the evangelical framework.

Wright and Goddard know and work alongside plenty of gay people. I've seen no evidence that they're personally homophobic, and I doubt I ever will. They oppose gay relationships not out of bigotry, but out of obedience to scripture. With cruel irony, the likely reason that homosexuality is condemned in the Bible -- patriarchy -- is something Wright and Goddard strongly oppose. When it comes to homosexuality, obeying the Bible makes them go against their own inclinations. It makes Pete Broadbent, a man who fought for gay civil rights when homophobia was endemic, oppose equal marriage. That's the tragedy of it: for authoritarians, *whether* the Bible says something trumps *why* it says something. Obedience tramples reason.

Sad thing is, because the opposition of most open evangelicals to gay relationships isn't driven by prejudice, that no amount of human contact will shift them. It makes the problem so much worse.

Posted by: James Byron on Tuesday, 25 March 2014 at 2:55pm GMT

'Jesus did indeed tighten the "rules" on divorce, but we have to ask why...'

He tells us why. He quotes Genesis as God's intention. Say he's wrong about that (James Bryon) but don't sociologize his own stated logic.

The rules applying to Gentiles in Acts 15 are drawn explicitly from Leviticus, btw. Those pertaining to the 'sojourner in the midst of Israel.' See Bauckham, Bockmuehl, et al on this.

I have my own treatment of natural/positive law and the distinctions that grow up in the tradition in Seitz/Braaten 'I am the LORD your God' (2005).

Posted by: cseitz on Tuesday, 25 March 2014 at 3:51pm GMT

you guys are still trying to make the bible into a behavioral science textbook just as the church onces tried to make it an astronomy book.

What the bible says about men having sex with men is without basis in what the behavioral sciences tell us about gay people--and straight people. Instead the bible--and many people posting here-reduce same-sex love to genital acts. How many of you heterosexuals would like to have their marriages so-reduced?

And, once again: your whole premise is based on the utterly fallacious "idea" that one "chooses" to be gay. How can you NOT realize that you'd have to be insane to choose to be gay?? Look at what it has cost untold numbers of us! As my father used to say, "if being gay were a choice, it wouldn't take you long to make a different one."

You guys really need to get over that nonsense.

Posted by: Daniel Berry, NYC on Tuesday, 25 March 2014 at 5:08pm GMT

Several people have responded to the claim that there is a distinction between the moral law, which is allegedly eternal, and the ritual law, which is allegedly revisable. I merely want to add a couple of comments in light of the actual Biblical text.

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."

Virtually all those "conservatives" who find the first half of this verse binding do not find the second half of this verse to be binding. Even Uganda backed down from going that far.

Why? Is the first half "moral" and therefore eternal while the second half is "ritual" and therefore revisable? How does anyone make that distinction and on what basis is that distinction made?

Jesus and the apostles modified the Torah laws concerning divorce and food. Where in the Bible do Jesus or the apostles say that, while homosexuals remain bad people, the requirement in the Torah to kill them no longer applies? They don't.

Bottom line, "liberals" say the whole verse no longer applies; "conservatives" (or virtualy all of them anyway) say the second half no longer applies. In reality, both "liberals" and "conservatives" are using the same approach to Biblical interpretation -- they agree on how to apply it to the second half of this verse but they disagee about how to apply it to first half of this verse.

In light of their interpretation of this verse, for "conservatives" to say they they are upholding the "moral" and "eternal" parts of the Torah is, frankly, rubbish.

Posted by: dr.primrose on Tuesday, 25 March 2014 at 5:45pm GMT

James Byron

'Sad thing is, because the opposition of most open evangelicals to gay relationships isn't driven by prejudice, that no amount of human contact will shift them. It makes the problem so much worse.'

I don't understand your logic here. It is easier to engage with people whose views are based on prejudice than on biblical interpretation? Is that your claim? Sorry if I am misreading you.
My experience is that since prejudice is not a rationally held position it is much harder to engage with at all.
But if the issue is theological then we engage theologically. This is what evangelicals expect to do. It is foundational to good faith. And this is happening. And things are changing significantly. Be encouraged.

Posted by: David Runcorn on Tuesday, 25 March 2014 at 5:52pm GMT

One of the strangest aspects of this discussion is the authority we are asked to give to statements like "They oppose gay relationships not out of bigotry, but out of obedience to scripture."

What makes this strange is that we are being asked to excuse some folks' opposition to gay relationships because they claim to be operating "out of obedience to scripture."

Except that people who make this claim are making the decision to isolate a small number of biblical texts and give them authority they do not grant to many other biblical passages.

There is a blatant inconsistency here that undermines the integrity of any such claim. That's the point that folks are trying to make, politely, by casual references to shrimp, etc.

I see no point in giving folks a free ride because they choose to wrap themselves in an arbitrary and willful set of decisions they have chosen to make about which biblical passages they will value and which they will ignore.

Posted by: jnwall on Tuesday, 25 March 2014 at 5:58pm GMT

Peter Kettle, if your percentages are correct - and I'm sure they are - then you've really got to fight. You will find plenty of support from the rest of us. You will win.

James, I welcome your continual insistence that Christians who oppose gay behaviour/marriage aren't necessarily 'homophobic', because too much of the discussion on TA is just lazy. As for whether the gentlemen in question can be characterised as 'open', Wright (whom you see to know about) seems to me pretty 'closed': he believes in 'the Fall' and he can write a book about the problem of evil which has at best (I write from memory) one allusion to evolution and science. That's not serious theology. As for his personal dealings with gay people/men, Father Mark once challenged him by contrasting his ease with gay people (including Mark) in Oxford days and his more recent stance - and the normally incessantly voluble Wright had nothing to say in reply.

AS for your problem, it is a problem, but I do still think that practicalities - the unholy stink that will arise if punitive measures taken - will have uncanny persuasive power.

Posted by: John on Tuesday, 25 March 2014 at 6:14pm GMT

David, this is why I think prejudiced views are easier to shift:-

Prejudice, being irrational, has a shaky foundation, and can in consequence be overcome through familiarity. Witness all the testimonies of people who changed their minds when they got to know a target of their bigotry, and saw their humanity. Few want to be thought of as a hateful bigot. If people are unable to defend their views, oft-times, they'll reconsider them.

Reasoned positions are much harder to budge, because they're built on solid ground. Goddard, Broadbent and Wright aren't bigots. They know and work with gay people. Other evangelicals *are* gay, openly so, but are convinced that expressing their sexuality is a sin. The only way their views will budge is if they become convinced the Bible says something different, or abandon the concept of biblical authority altogether, shattering the ground of their faith.

Posted by: James Byron on Tuesday, 25 March 2014 at 7:09pm GMT

I agree with James Byron on this one, and disagree that the Church's understanding of marriage is based on "a small number of biblical texts." Genesis, Exodus, Hosea, Isaiah, Deuteronomy, Jesus, Paul, Revelation all speak of marriage/betrothal and the Church's marriage rites have followed them and the logic of Jesus in Matthew 19.

What is less clear to me is how the authoritarianism of James is more neutral and acceptable than what he opposes.

Posted by: cseitz on Tuesday, 25 March 2014 at 7:22pm GMT

I think the problem is that you believe that the bible has nothing positive to say to gay people and that it condemns same sex relationships.

Not everyone believes that, not every evangelical believes that.
But I can see that if you are convinced of it, you do not think it will be possible for evangelicals to change their minds without giving up the concept of authority of scripture.

But I would say that says more about how you read the bible than it does about evangelicals like David Runcorn.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Tuesday, 25 March 2014 at 7:43pm GMT

'I do understand what a responsible hermeneutic looks like. Like most evangelicals, I use it all the time.'

What evidence is there to back up this claim ?

Were it true, then Evangelicals would not be treating us lgbt as they are, both in England shall we say, and in Uganda. To name but two.

Posted by: Revd Laurie Roberts on Tuesday, 25 March 2014 at 9:36pm GMT

David Runcorn, I am not encouraged. It is taking far too long; and in the process losing its savour and significance.

By the time Evangelicals and whoever else have 'done the theology' the rest of us, whether christian or not, will simply shrug. Many of us have lost interest, as we are getting on with our lives, without religious / Evangelical approval.

Posted by: Revd Laurie Roberts on Tuesday, 25 March 2014 at 9:41pm GMT

Re: the claim that "The only way [evangelicals']views will budge is if they become convinced the Bible says something different, or abandon the concept of biblical authority altogether, shattering the ground of their faith."

This is nonsense. The decision to believe that Leviticus 20:13 expresses the absolute, eternal word of God is a decision to which people have come on their own, unsupported by evidence either internal or external.

These folks have invented, and decided to adopt, this position. They have invented their God, and chosen to worship him. They chose this position; they may, anytime they want to, choose another.

I pray for their souls, that they have chosen to worship a God of their own invention.

Posted by: JNWALL on Tuesday, 25 March 2014 at 9:55pm GMT

I said, 'I do understand what a responsible hermeneutic looks like. Like most evangelicals, I use it all the time.'

And Revd Laurie Roberts replied: 'What evidence is there to back up this claim ?

Were it true, then Evangelicals would not be treating us lgbt as they are, both in England shall we say, and in Uganda. To name but two.'

Laurie, it sounds as if you aren't willing to believe it is a responsible hermeneutic unless it arrives at the same conclusions you have arrived at.

Posted by: Tim Chesterton on Wednesday, 26 March 2014 at 9:28am GMT

Laurie. What can I say? That I have come embarrassing late to this revolution of love and inclusion to take my stand alongside those who have carried the burden through the heat of the day? I have. That I am ashamed and repent of this? I do. That it has left a legacy of untold damage and brokenness, exhaustion and hidden suffering? It has. (And I know women at this moment, bruised and wearied, as the women bishops decision seems at last to be going through, who find themselves wondering if they have the strength for what is now to come.)
I was pondering this text recently …. ‘he shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied’ Is 53. I pray this for all who need it far more than I hope I ever will.

Posted by: David Runcorn on Wednesday, 26 March 2014 at 10:27am GMT

Tim (and also David Runcorn),

as you are clearly not arriving at the same conclusions as some of the other evangelicals who comment here, but who would also claim to be using a responsible hermeneutic, it would really help if you could expand a little.

You see, our problem is that evangelicals of all hues and shades make the same claim yet come to wildly different conclusions - including those in Uganda.
And many of the people who comment here have been terribly hurt by churches over the years.

We would really like to understand how your approach is different to that that leads to harmful theologies and the harmful treatment of gay people.

There are clearly conversations going on in evangelical circles right now to change the balance. But few of dare go into these places.

It would be really helpful if those of you who feel comfortable enough to come here could help us a little more to become more sympathetic to modern evangelicals and to support their cause.

I, for one, am tired of the suspicions all round, but I don't think they can be relieved unless people like you help us a little more.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 26 March 2014 at 10:32am GMT

This is has been a frustrating thread, pretty much displaying how fractured the hermeneutic of the Church of England has become. (My fellow Episcopalians are like this, too.) And the bishops are not helping.

I very much agree with Tim Chesterton that what should be the Evangelical hermeneutic is strongly encoded in the Prayer Book and the Articles of Religion.

There is indeed teaching in the Holy Scriptures that may be positive to homosexual identity and partnership (Isaiah 56; I Samuel 18 (especially if you note similarities and differences with Genesis 2); Matthew 19), even if the witness is negative or at the minimum neutral on physical intimacy. However, that teaching raises serious doctrinal issues long swept under the rug among people who may claim to share churchmanship, which like evolution, no one wants to deal with.

Where there is dispute is about how that hermeneutic is applied doctrinally in three areas: (1) "sacramental" theology (scare quotes because marriage is not a sacrament, it is an (e)state "of life commended by the Scriptures"; (2) the application of accommodationism to Biblical authority; and (3) anthropology: how does our restoration in Christ Jesus map onto the fallenness of our nature. I'd very much like to see Evangelicals in the Church of England talk about these points.

"God hates shrimp" is a red kosher herring argument to anyone working through these issues. The commandments beyond human reason, hukim in Hebrew, or statutes in English are the object of understanding for the Psalmist: "Teach me, O Lord, the way of thy statutes, and I shall keep it to the end" (Ps. 119:33). And in many traditional Anglican rites, the Liturgy of the Word begins with the Summary of the Law and the Decalogue (and the division into the First and Second Tables). The Summary is Jesus's response to the concern of the Psalmist (and those who followed in reflection).

Except when the eating of food touches the Decalogue (e.g., in terms of idolatry or covetousness), it is irrelevant, as Article VII says, "Although the Law given from God by Moses, as touching Ceremonies and Rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the Civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral." (And it really helps to read the Lutheran Confessions to decode the Articles sometimes.)

Sex is very much a matter of the Decalogue, especially given the teaching on the intensive requirements of the Decalogue in Matthew 5.

Posted by: Caelius Spinator on Wednesday, 26 March 2014 at 12:42pm GMT

One of the issues at present is that Scripture is open to interpretation, and that interpretation must be made by someone. As an "authority" Scripture requires an executive to both to interpret and enforce -- it is not self-actualizing, and obviously not perspicacious in all instances -- there are difficult and contested passages. In Anglicanism the agent of interpretation and application is the church, which, as Anglicanism also holds, is also capable of error. So a degree of humility is warranted.

Claims that one is "just following Scripture" have to be tested -- and found consistent. One of the things seems to have offended the God of the Prophets is the use of unequal weights and measures. Bringing up of Genesis against same-sex couples, rather than in Jeremiads against divorce and remarriage (which is how Jesus applies it) is perhaps the best example of inconsistency in submission to "biblical authority." (I am not calling, by the way, for a reversal on the attitude to divorce and remarriage, but an application of the same principles by which this attitude was changed on what to many appears to be a "clear teaching" of Scripture long maintained in the tradition, and manifestly reasonable.)

Scripture nowhere mentions same-sex marriage. The closest it may come is 1 Samuel, although as Hooker would note, that is historical, not legal. So all talk of "scriptural authority" on this subject has to be conditioned by an appeal to interpretative authority.

Which can err.

Posted by: Tobias Haller on Wednesday, 26 March 2014 at 2:57pm GMT

Thanks Erika for your thoughtful queries to Tim and David. I come late to this thread, but would nonetheless like to respond to you.

Yes, there are 'conversations going on in evangelical circles right now to change the balance'. I, and others, have engaged with issues around the bible and homosexuality on the Fulcrum website over the past three or four years. To me the 'anti-gay' statements in scripture need to be seen as contextual. Put over-simply: those in the OT concern laws of patriarchy; and those in the NT are linked with godless idolatry (Romans 1) and, in all likelihood, with slavery and sexual dominance (1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy).

It seems improbable that the bible was aware of faithful, godly, committed gay relationships within its various cultural contexts. I suggest we should look rather to Jesus' words for assessing the lives of others, for us to include our gay brothers and sisters: "Thus you will know them by their fruits" (Matthew 7:20) and, in similar situations, heed his admonition to his followers: "Whoever is not against us is for us" (Mark 9:40).

For a fuller exposition of such a hermeneutic, see David Runcorn's Appendix to the Pilling Report (see, too, the website of Accepting Evangelicals).

Posted by: Roger Hurding on Wednesday, 26 March 2014 at 3:00pm GMT

'Laurie,(sic) it sounds as if you aren't willing to believe it is a responsible hermeneutic unless it arrives at the same conclusions you have arrived at.'

Posted by: Tim Chesterton on Wednesday, 26 March 2014 at 9:28am GMT

Have you never heard of projection?

What conclusions have I arrived at? I hear in the news the suffering of lgbt around the world. I know from my own treatment from childhood until today how society and Church treat gays. Including 'aversion therapy' in my late teens by the NHS.

As Evangelicals and their organisation improve their treatment of lgbt at a snail-pace I am of course, glad to see them bowing to the inevitable, but political astuteness comes across as cynical, and not in the true evangelical spirit of the Beatitudes. World Vision have now decided not to oppress their gay couples.

Churches in general, and Evangelicals in particular need to apologise to the lgbt communities for their conduct, knowing that their is no form of words which can make up for the suffering of so many women, men and young people down the centuries, at the hands of Churches and Evangelicals.

Mr Chesterton, your sense of *entitlement leads you to think, that you are in a position to lecture those of us, who have been and are oppressed, by institutional religious homophobia.

* 'family man, story teller...'

Posted by: Revd Laurie Roberts on Wednesday, 26 March 2014 at 3:25pm GMT

"Yes, there are 'conversations going on in evangelical circles right now to change the balance'. "

To a certain extent, so what? One is reminded of a quote attributed to Lord Palmerston: "Only three people...have ever really understood the Schleswig-Holstein business—the Prince Consort, who is dead—a German professor, who has gone mad—and I, who have forgotten all about it."

Society has moved on. The marriages start in less than 60 hours' time. Ministers in the CofE will inevitably start to offer blessings, and indeed will start to get married themselves. They will be backed by their parish councils and other local governance. The CofE will not discipline them, because it realises that to do so would be suicidal and that, ultimately, it does not have the battalions.

So the evangelicals emerge in a year's time and say "oh, actually, we were wrong, and same-sex marriage is fine and dandy". No-one will care, because same-sex marriages will be embedded in civil and religious society. Suppose they emerge in a year's time and say "actually, we were righter than we knew, and same-sex marriages are an unforgivable sin". No-one will care, because same-sex marriages will be embedded in civil and religious society.

Knocking the subject around is interesting, and maybe we throw some light. But in a year's time? The only people who care will be dead, mad or will have forgotten.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Wednesday, 26 March 2014 at 3:50pm GMT

Erika, thanks for your question, which of course I will not have time to do justice to. If I wanted to duck the issue (and I don't particularly, but time is pressing and no comment of 400 words can do justice to it) I would simply say, read Richard Hays 'The Moral Vision of the New Testament', in which he proposes a pretty sophisticated methodology for applying NT teaching to ethical issues, and then gives five examples to demonstrate how his method can be used. Be warned; it's not a thin book.

Long ago I read C.S. Lewis' 'Mere Christianity' and was impressed with the section in the intro where he compares different Christian traditions to rooms in a house. He tells people (I'm quoting from memory) 'When you have chosen your own room, be kind to those who have chosen others...If they are your enemies, you are under orders to pray for them. That is one of the rules common to the whole house'. I guess I do not make the assumption that people of good will using a responsible hermeneutic will always come to the same conclusion. One then has to decide which issues are of such moment that they threaten core Christian beliefs and true fellowship in the gospel, and which are of lesser importance. Evangelicals have a long history of recognizing this reality: different beliefs on eschatology, infant baptism, church order and episcopacy, political involvement, use of alcohol and tobacco, war and violence etc. are just a few examples of differences present in every interdenominational evangelical gathering. Some of those folks use simplistic 'the Bible says' approaches; others use what I would call 'a responsible hermeneutic'.

So the issue for people like David and me (hi David, I don't know you!) is 'Is homosexuality a core issue, or not?' Some say it is, others say it isn't, and those who say it isn't are often not in agreement on same sex blessings/gay marriage etc. I suspect that David and I might not be in the same place on that subject. But he's right; the conversation is going on in evangelical circles for sure.

That's the best I can do on a busy working morning.

Posted by: Tim Chesterton on Wednesday, 26 March 2014 at 3:50pm GMT

Erika, I accept that the Bible can be interpreted in a pro-gay fashion. It's a lot harder than interpreting it to support women's ministry, requires a ton of speculation and the reading-in of facts not in evidence (Paul was condemning idolatry and sexual abuse; David and Jonathan were gay lovers, etc), but it can be done.

Problem is, it's not that convincing, which is why open evangelical heavy-hitters like Graham Kings, Wright and Goddard haven't been convinced. Rowan Williams, insofar as we can tell, actually retreated from his previously liberal stance on gay sexuality, and now holds a conservative position.

If a pro-gay reading was strong, I'd expect men like Wright or Broadbent to hold it. (John describes Wright's discomfort above; Broadbent actively fought homophobic legislation.) Evangelicals who experience homosexual attraction, such as Peter Ould, and the folk on, should certainly be convinced, but they're not.

The fact that they're taking a position against their own interest adds weight to their views.

Posted by: James Byron on Wednesday, 26 March 2014 at 4:18pm GMT

Thank you, David. It was all going fairly well, for me, until you appeared to compare the stresses of middle class Anglican women over being ordained bishop ! Then I thought, that you still don't get it. I sympathize with those battling for ordination of women to episcopate.

But lgbt young and old black and white, are being oppressed, suppressed, murdered, and executed around the world.

And in America the physical attack of gay youth has been enshrined in their legislation.

Posted by: Revd Laurie Roberts (not McCain) on Wednesday, 26 March 2014 at 4:44pm GMT

Tim said, "Laurie, it sounds as if you aren't willing to believe it is a responsible hermeneutic unless it arrives at the same conclusions you have arrived at."

You shall know them by their fruits. If a hermeneutic yields irresponsible conclusions, as in Uganda, then it cannot be called responsible in any meaningful sennse.

Posted by: Geoff on Wednesday, 26 March 2014 at 4:50pm GMT

World Vision's step towards treating lgbt with some respect has been typified as a 'betray of the gospel'. I want nothing to do with that toxic 'gospel'.

what price hermeneutics ?

Posted by: Revd Laurie Roberts on Wednesday, 26 March 2014 at 4:59pm GMT

thank you for reminding me of David's contribution to Pilling, I've re-read it and it's an impressive example of pro gay evangelical hermeneutics.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 26 March 2014 at 6:28pm GMT

I have just been alerted to this thread and would also like to respond to the question Erika poses, agreeing in passing with the views expressed in Roger Hurding's response.

As an evangelical I recognise that there are theologies espoused by some more conservative evangelicals in here and in other countries, that have often made life intolerably painful for LGBT Christians. They make the good news into bad news. I believe their approach is based on an over literalistic and at times simplistic approach to the scriptures. Usually they have no real commitment to a hermeneutical approach that would ask questions of the social and religious milieu of the original writing, nor of the changed social conditions in which we live, nor of the scientific understanding that we now have.

Another reason that I and many of my evangelical friends come to a view that accepts and affirms same sex relationships is because we ask different questions of the bible than those of a more traditionalist viewpoint. It is clear to me for instance that some are from birth same sex oriented and that therefore the partner God would wish for them is one of the same sex. In other words my reading of the early chapters of Genesis gives a different answer because I am asking of it what I see as a more relevant question. It follows that my view of the gospel is one that would fully welcome and want to bless and celebrate with those who enter into a committed same sex relationship.

But it is clear that this is a debate which at the moment divides evangelicals in more directions than did the issue of women's ministry which in general led to the distinction between conservative and open. While there are an increasing number of open evangelicals who accept same sex relationships and equal marriage some, likely still the majority, do not. But my experience is that more are looking afresh at the issue, and beginning to see a new reading which liberates the gospel to be good news for all.

Posted by: David Gillett on Wednesday, 26 March 2014 at 8:02pm GMT

I feel my earlier comment has been swamped out and disregarded.

Maybe it's not who's 'right' that matters, but the grace and love with which we disagree.

"You are One in Me. Watcha going to do about that?"

The principle of unity in diversity may be a huge part of the Anglican charism.

'Unless you love one another', people!

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Wednesday, 26 March 2014 at 10:10pm GMT

It is worth noting that the Episcopal bishops of the four dioceses that cover the state of Michigan came out with a joint statement in favor of marriage equality. Perhaps it is worth comparing this with the recent statement by the bishops in the Church of England.

(These aren't the first diocesan bishops in the Episcopal Church to call for marriage equality. A large number have done so. These are just the first to do so following the CoE's recent statement.)

Posted by: Dennis on Thursday, 27 March 2014 at 2:46am GMT

'Mr Chesterton, your sense of *entitlement leads you to think, that you are in a position to lecture those of us, who have been and are oppressed, by institutional religious homophobia.'

Mr. Roberts, I apologize if I have offended you by using your first name. I live and work in a culture where that is considered normal. I'm happy to be called 'Tim', by the way.

As for lecturing, I'm not aware of having lectured you, or any other gay person for that matter, but if I have, I apologize for that, too. But I must confess to being mystified by the accusations you make against me in your most recent post, given that I don't think we've ever met or had anything other than a very superficial acquaintance on the Internet.

Posted by: Tim Chesterton on Thursday, 27 March 2014 at 4:48am GMT

From near its very beginning an understanding that theological formulae or hermeneutics automatically translated into liturgical articulation broke asunder. Gardiner helped us with that in 1549. We have never been of one mind on the interpretation of even things like the Articles and the Prayer Book.

What is clear to me is that we all privilege portions of the Bible and that does not make any of us necessarily less faithful. What is also clear is that the argument for slavery in Scripture is quite strong, and abolitionists often had a weak claim in this regard. When we misidentify what Scripture is for, as a morality guide or a science textbook, we get into trouble and find ourselves down the road having to eat crow because our errors have been manifest, vicious, and cruel in the Name of Jesus who died on a cross for us.

Challengeability is central to Anglican understandings of authority as the late Bp Sykes noted well, as is our being broken and therefore prone to error as the late Bp Ramsey noted. These are gifts among the certainties of so many Christians.

Posted by: Christopher on Thursday, 27 March 2014 at 5:03am GMT

What price indeed, Laurie: under pressure from evangelicals, World Vision have just reversed course, and once again excluded married gay couples.

They're "brokenhearted." Not about the hurt they've caused gay people. Oh no, "over the pain and confusion we have caused many of our friends, who saw this decision as a reversal of our strong commitment to Biblical authority." Followed -- of course -- by the usual cant about loving all regardless of sexual orientation. Y'all separate but equal.

Biblical authority once again crushes people. That's what authoritarianism does. Always has, always will.

Posted by: James Byron on Thursday, 27 March 2014 at 7:03am GMT

I suppose it depends on what we want, doesn’t it.
I would love to be in a church in which all 3 stands can be united again properly under the same umbrella. To me, that is one of the biggest achievements of the CoE, unlike any other church I know of. It’s a model of being the body of Christ together, even or because of not agreeing on everything.

And so I am hugely grateful for evangelicals here explaining their thinking.
And I am a little dismayed at the “too little, too late, irrelevant” shouts.

It is clear that people are changing their minds and it is clear that they are finding the arguments persuasive. Those who don’t are not superior intellects but, maybe, despite other assumptions, they are simply prejudiced and not ready to shift yet.

I want what Susannah wants. I want us to be able to kneel side by side, with no-one exercising any power over the other. I have no problem with calling someone a friend but still thinking that on some issues, he’s simply wrong. Just that.

And I want to say to people here who don’t know Tim Chesterton that he and his wife are personal friends of ours. Tim runs one of the most truly inclusive parishes that welcomes, genuinely welcomes gay couples and their children. He does more to make his church inclusive than many a hand wringing liberal.
Why should he not be allowed to have some personal doubts left about whether God truly approves of same sex sexuality? Isn’t it rather a sign of genuine integrity if he keeps his doubts to himself and does not make them a problem for his congregation?

Why can this not be enough for us? Why can we not celebrate this? Must we really have intellectual conformity?

I have evangelical friends, genuine friends. They are not prejudiced. Their spiritual approach is different from mine but we are all focused on God, not on controlling others.

I do not like the way the evangelical side of church has become associated with everything rigid and hateful. And I believe that more and more evangelicals don’t like it either and are desperately trying to change it. They deserve our full support. For practical reasons but also because if we value the CoE , if we value the concept of unit without uniformity, it is worth it.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Thursday, 27 March 2014 at 9:00am GMT


Don't think you were swamped out. I certainly agreed with you - whole-heartedly. These debates here, quite rightly, are almost all about getting Evangelicals (of some kind) to accept or at least tolerate liberal positions - and liberal lives. Personally (and obviously it's less acute for me, because I'm not [now] gay), I do experience considerable toleration from Evangelical Anglicans - and I reciprocate it. Much of the acrimony occurs at the margins of church life. The irreducible minimum for liberals on this issue remains some degree of practical implementation of church blessings/services, with no compulsion. I think that will be conceded.

Posted by: John on Thursday, 27 March 2014 at 9:43am GMT

There is much here to support my earlier contention that we have already well past our objective when we can respectfully disagree and that this matter is now adiaphora.
Amazing what ten years and a new bishop at Lambeth and Rome can achieve.
With the Primate of Nigeria now claiming that the vicious anti-gay legislation in his own country and Uganda was initiated and led by the Church we have reached a point that all those now opposing marriage equality are going to be seen as those who want deeper dungeons and higher gallows.

With their active support of the present leadership of the Global South I think its going to be almost impossible for the "Fulcrum leadership team" to escape their role in giving succor and encouragement to these violent homophobes. Indeed, I suspect that the likes of Anglican Mainstream and Andrea Williams will have a "Fred Phelps effect" on the debate driving many undecideds into agreement with us simply because they don't want to be associated with the "if they refuse to be cured, lock 'em up" brigade.

The excellent contribution to Pilling by David Runcorn and bishop David Gillett's analysis above all point to the fact that we have reached that tipping point. bishop David points to the fact that Evangelicals are not divided, they are fractured with many opposing and nuanced positions.

I believe Welby has read the graffiti accurately. He is cautious, giving it a couple of years to move along, which will see gay marriage thoroughly embedded, and even less of an issue.
What I think we will find as the months go on is an obvious division between those who welcome and are comfortable with a Christian faith that claims divine inspiration for its homophobia and many who are deeply uncomfortable and for who the sort of argument " I only did it because I felt God was ordering me to do it." Just wont wash any longer.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Thursday, 27 March 2014 at 10:45am GMT

James, you say,

"The fact that they're taking a position against their own interest adds weight to their views."

I think that is not a reasonable inference to draw. They do not come to their conclusions in a free and unsocialised context. They come from a tradition of interpretation that has had a massive taboo on same-sex relations. The taboo is maintained by a rigid interpretation of a very few texts, and some over-arching claims of various kinds (Gagnon and Dow with scary naturalistic claims, Complementarianism which is applied more or less crudely). It is not surprising that they are not able to move beyond that.

Posted by: Jeremy Pemberton on Thursday, 27 March 2014 at 1:11pm GMT

There's an interesting article on the BBC website, "The people who oppose the gay marriage law". Well, not so interesting to anyone reasonably versed in the debate. But what is genuinely interesting is the editorial note at the end: "Correction: A quote by Fiona O'Reilly has been removed that implied that the Catholic Church for England and Wales accepted the passing of the law on civil partnerships, which, in fact, the church opposed."

Hmm, so let's nip over to Newssniffer and look at the edit.

She's originally quoted as saying:

"The church was absolutely happy to see civil partnership law passed," adds O'Reilly. "But marriage is a unique kind of relationship that involves a man and a woman and their ability to create new life in the form of children. The church isn't looking to impose its understanding of marriage on others, but it is looking for its understanding of marriage to be protected.""

In the final version, it reads:

"Marriage is a unique kind of relationship that involves a man and a woman and their ability to create new life in the form of children," says O'Reilly. "The church isn't looking to impose its understanding of marriage on others, but it is looking for its understanding of marriage to be protected."

Isn't that interesting?

Posted by: Interested Observer on Thursday, 27 March 2014 at 1:21pm GMT

Well spotted, IO! The Catholics (well, one Catholic at least) withdraw the false claim that they always supported CPs. The same false claim has now been made by official C of E documents in numerous places. Could those who know how to get false claims retracted please bring their weight to bear?

Don't ask me or Linda Woodhead. We will just be dismissed as liberal tubthumpers if we try to correct another historical misstatement.

Posted by: iain mclean on Thursday, 27 March 2014 at 2:30pm GMT

"World Vision have just reversed course, and once again excluded married gay couples."

And for reasons which make it quite clear that conservative evangelicals are people who should not be given the benefit of the doubt.

See and

What lovely people evangelicals are. So moral. So ethical. So caring. They wouldn't threaten to undermine charitable projects in a doomed attempt to reverse equality for same-sex couples, would they? Oh, they would.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Thursday, 27 March 2014 at 3:12pm GMT

Blessings on Mother Anne and Father Andrew for moving forward in conscience. They are apparently ready to accept the consequences of their efforts for justice. No good deed has ever gone unpunished, that's why we kill our prophets. I hope that they gather significant support. They'll have my prayers from far away. (Not so far in the summer).

Posted by: Cynthia on Thursday, 27 March 2014 at 5:07pm GMT

I strongly agree with Susannah and Erika's conciliatory tone. Our individual and collective focus needs to be on God, and surely we can learn from one another, kneeling, as you say, 'side by side'.

As we see from the constructive contributions of David Runcorn, David Gillett and Martin Reynolds, there is change afoot amongst evangelicals in their understanding of what it means to be gay. This is to be celebrated as we seek to move forward within the time-honoured practice in Anglicanism of looking to scripture, tradition and reason, adding, as we surely must, what we can learn from experience, not least from our gay sisters and brothers.

Posted by: Roger Hurding on Thursday, 27 March 2014 at 5:16pm GMT

The ban on women being in authority over men was just as entrenched, Jeremy, and open evangelicals overcame that. Just as they've accepted the Theory of Evolution and, for the most part, the existence of fixed sexual orientation. If anyone can overcome received ideas, it's them.

Either anti-gay tradition is uniquely entrenched, or the Bible really is as one-sided as they say. Since I agree with their interpretation of the Bible, and see open evangelicals who otherwise act against tradition standing firm on sexuality, despite not being homophobic, I side with option two.

Which brings me back to what I've said all along: treating any book, institution or person as a source of moral authority is dangerous and wrong. Ethics should be formed by evidence and reason, not commands. To decide ethical questions by obeying orders is amoral, and subverts the whole purpose of forming ethics: to replace might with right.

Some evangelicals happening to come down on the right side of a dispute doesn't change the underlying flaw in authoritarianism. They're doing the right thing for the wrong reason.

Posted by: James Byron on Thursday, 27 March 2014 at 7:36pm GMT

WE must find a way of getting along, or we have MAD (mutually assured destruction). Thse purges are deeply harmful and divisive. But that means that we really MUST get along--which means that the conservatives MUST tolerate gay people getting married, and the gay people getting married MUST accept that some of the people in the pew next to them do not approve.

Please also see my discussion of this (from the perspective of the US, and political correctness run amok) at

Posted by: IT on Thursday, 27 March 2014 at 8:33pm GMT

Welby's trying to have his cake and eat it.

I doubt it will end well.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Thursday, 27 March 2014 at 9:44pm GMT

'Tim runs one of the most truly inclusive parishes that welcomes, genuinely welcomes gay couples and their children. He does more to make his church inclusive than many a hand wringing liberal.
Why should he not be allowed to have some personal doubts left about whether God truly approves of same sex sexuality? Isn’t it rather a sign of genuine integrity if he keeps his doubts to himself and does not make them a problem for his congregation?'

I am sorry, Erika, but this sounds like some kind of confused double-think to me.

How can a minister 'make his church more inclusive' while he has 'some personal doubts left about whether God truly approves of same sex sexuality' ?

If this is considered to be some kind of progress then I am totally nonplussed and I give up.

Posted by: Revd Laurie Roberts on Thursday, 27 March 2014 at 9:53pm GMT

Roger, you 'have come late, here,' as you say, but do not hesitate to commend a 'conciliatory tone', subtly criticising by implication, those of us, who refuse to be silenced or seconded into a complacent view of religion and lgbt.

While Evangelicals hone their hermaneutic and feel quietly content, in the real world, lgbt suffer around the world from religiously inspired and / or supported homophobia.

One 'small' instance.

Posted by: Revd Laurie Roberts on Thursday, 27 March 2014 at 10:04pm GMT

I checked the World Vision website. It seems World Vision USA that has reversed its decision to employ people in same sex marriages. World Vision UK claims to employ people according to criteria relating to ability to do the job. That's good, I don't wish to cancel my sponsorship.

Posted by: Susan Cooper on Thursday, 27 March 2014 at 10:20pm GMT

'How can a minister 'make his church more inclusive' while he has 'some personal doubts left about whether God truly approves of same sex sexuality' ?'

You know, this thread isn't about me. If you want to get to know me better, Laurie, feel free to email me. The address is on my blog which you appear to have visited.

Posted by: Tim Chesterton on Friday, 28 March 2014 at 1:30am GMT

This is depressing beyond belief.

We cannot coexist in this faith. Gays must either submit to being dehumanized and psychologically-tortured, their straight supporters must submit to being "ritually impure" and objects of a condescending contempt for their embrace of evil and dissolution, or we must find a separate place and find a way to preserve it from the other sorts. There is no way we can be together, and I'm not sure that our liberal supporters have either the viciousness nor the armor to fight against the "conservatives," who are without scruple.

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Friday, 28 March 2014 at 6:48am GMT

Don't give up yet Laurie!
I am sure, if you think about it in a different way you will see the story of Tim's parish is exemplary.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Friday, 28 March 2014 at 7:30am GMT

real life isn't as black and white as the internet makes it seem. And in real life we do not focus on one issue only and judge people by their thoughts on that alone.

In most cases we don't even have a clue what they're thinking about something we might strongly disagree with. And it is completely irrelevant as long as they treat us and others with love and respect and as genuine equals.

I don't want everyone just to be my clone in all aspects of my thinking.

If we insist that we can disregard how someone lives and acts until we know every deepest thought they have and until we agree with that thought, we are in deep trouble.

It’s more helpful and more realistic to walk alongside people and if we’re privileged enough be allowed to discover a little about what they’re thinking. If they really trust us they even tell us why they’re thinking it, what doubts they have, what prayers they pray.

I have frequently found that people I count to be genuinely on the same wave length because we passionately campaign for lgbt equality together suddenly become strangers and occasionally even unlikeable when the conversation turns to other topics. And on forums like TA we are in danger of becoming single issues people who judge others by that issue alone. Even if it is one that affects our own lives deeply, we should see others as holistic and complex wholes – just as we insist on being seen by them.

I have spent years campaigning to be seen as a complex human being in relationship with the world and not as the woman who has sex with a woman. It is harmful to my soul and theirs if they reduce me to that. By the same token is it harmful to their soul and mine if I reduce them to ‘the person who isn’t quite sure about same sex sexuality’, never mind how they actually live.

It’s a dangerous and dehumanizing game, whichever side plays it.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 28 March 2014 at 8:47am GMT

"They're doing the right thing for the wrong reason."

Wouldn't it help if you actually listened to the evangelicals who have changed their minds and to their reasons for it?
Your insistence that they cannot change their minds because of a different reading of Scripture flies in the face of what they are actually telling us.

I can see that for you the bible is as crystal clear as it is for those who oppose gay relationships.
That doesn't make it so, that just means that you and they have not been able to read it in another way.

When people who take the bible extremely seriously tell me that they have been able to change their minds and when they can show convincingly on what biblical grounds they have done so, I really can no longer insist that I know better and that what they have done is not possible.

It's the kind of reasoning that's rooted in deep prejudice and that seems to be as unshakeable in some anti-gay evangelicals as it is in you.

I have been at the receiving end of prejudice for long enough. I know how it works, how it dismisses everyone who doesn't fit the preconception, how it insists that one's own premise is the only right one ...

The evidence is here, right on this thread. People engaging constructively and giving sound biblical reasons for why they have come to pro-gay conclusions.
Simply dismissing them does not make them wrong.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 28 March 2014 at 8:56am GMT

"not sure that our liberal supporters have either the viciousness nor the armor to fight against the "conservatives," who are without scruple."

In the US, it's possible the conservatives have the numbers, and the fact that marriage laws are state rather than federal means that there's going to be endless to-ing and fro-ing which might, ultimately, end up in the Supreme Court (although it's unlikely that would avail the conservatives, which is why they aren't too keen on that path).

In the UK? Not so much. The legislations passed virtually nem con north and south of the border, and weddings start in England and Wales in about fourteen hours time. Symes and his ilk can froth in futile rage, but that's all it is: futile rage. Their ranting and raving, their dire warnings of the end of the world, their prayer and legal action: none of it has achieved anything. One might almost think their God isn't listening to them. Welby is signalling a climb down which, reading between the lines, means that the CofE realises it doesn't have the troops to fight a war, and therefore that ministers who bless same-sex weddings or, indeed, enter into them themselves, won't be disciplined.

Welby has presumably realised that no matter how friendly he is with GAFCON bishops, without broad public support in the UK the CofE ceases to exist, becoming at best a derided cult existing on the margins of society. He's seen how much organised public opposition there is to same-sex marriage (none, for practical purposes), how much support he had in parliament (essentially none, and I think that shocked him) and how many churches appear to be gearing up to defy him (quite a few). He's not a headbanging obsessive, and he realises that a summer of local paper front pages with photographs of happy couples will make him look stupid and weird.

So it's over. The CofE will quietly row back the silly triple-lock, and will be conducting same-sex weddings in house within the decade. Symes will froth ineffectually, and every time there's a spare phonebox his entire membership will meet in it. It's all over, though.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Friday, 28 March 2014 at 9:56am GMT

Laurie, the Tennessee Bill you refer to is quite outrageous in its support of anti-gay religious views. Like you, I abhor all homophobia.

Posted by: Roger Hurding on Friday, 28 March 2014 at 11:58am GMT

I believe our calling is to make every effort to co-exist in faith.

In terms of eternal reality, whether we agree in marriage for all regardless of gender, or not, we are eternally and only ever One in Jesus Christ.

In other words, we are eternal cohabitants with the people who think oppositely to us, whether we like it or not.

To me, what the leadership of our Church in England should do is make a 'Declaration of Unity in Diversity' and this should be the ground rule for the future life of our Church.

They should then extend that Declaration and call for tolerance, love and accommodation of difference, as an Invitation for all other branches of the Anglican Communion to sign up to.

What you would then get is a self-selection, between those who truly believe we remain in union and communion, on the basis of our eternal union in Christ (whatever our differences) and those who self-select to repudiate that welcome.

There is no consensus.

Therefore the leaders of our Church in England need to decide: are they going to repudiate our union and communion in Christ? Or accept that we have to agree to disagree, in a mature co-existence.

The challenge in this whole debate, is how we co-exist and maintain love despite differences.

Because this is exactly where grace comes in. It was the challenge the Anglican Church faced in its early days when it tried to accommodate different kinds of churchmanship in its finely balanced language in its prayer books. The charism of the Anglican Church is not Calvinist, puritan or catholic. It springs from the grace that can grow between differing traditions to make something unique and distinct from rigid extremes and sects.

I am perfectly aware that some parties would choose not to sign up to such a Declaration. That would be their free choice. But Anglicanism is rooted in this kind of trumping of difference by grace and love. Henry VIII may not be a great religious role model, but he remained basically catholic to his dying day. Elizabeth sought settlement rather than sectarianism. I believe they were agents used by God for purposes of grace.

There is a need for a new Settlement. Anglicanism calls for maturity to co-exist in grace with one another. And that is perfectly possible, it just takes generosity of love.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Friday, 28 March 2014 at 12:52pm GMT

Interested Observer sums it well.
Though , I think we will see moves within five years.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Friday, 28 March 2014 at 4:08pm GMT

I've both listened to affirming evangelicals and accepted their sincerity, Erika.

As noted above, I accept that a gay affirming hermeneutic is possible. I just don't find it convincing, and, for the reasons given, I don't believe that most open evangelicals who oppose gay relationships do so out of prejudice.

Do you actually disagree with my reasons for opposing appeals to authority? If not, I don't think our positions are that far apart. More a matter of emphasis than substance.

Posted by: James Byron on Friday, 28 March 2014 at 4:09pm GMT

Susan Cooper,
"World Vision UK claims to employ people according to criteria relating to ability to do the job."

They previous sentence on their website says that they do not discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation.

For me that's not enough. I would like to see confirmation that they will not discriminate on grounds of marital status either.

I think those of us who are concerned about this should email them and ask them to consider including that confirmation on their website.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 28 March 2014 at 4:13pm GMT

For those who might be interested, this is World Vision Canada's statement:

Posted by: Tim Chesterton on Friday, 28 March 2014 at 5:22pm GMT

as I said before, I believe that the emotional conviction comes first, the reasoning follows.

We cannot believe what we cannot believe. No amount of Scriptural proof texting will turn a committed evangelical pacifist into someone supporting wars of any kind or the death penalty. No amount of Scriptural proof texting will turn an evangelical who supports these things into a passionate pacifist.
In both cases, their whole being would recoil at the thought and they would not be able to truly "believe" the scriptural evidence.

I don't believe that many people hold purely rational beliefs on important issues like sexuality etc. that are one of the powerful driving forces in all of us. I don't believe that it is even possible to do so.

There are several ways of reading Scripture, or of interpreting Tradition, or of seeing the sacrament of marriage (each aspect being given more weight, more ”authority” by some spiritual traditions and less by others). Even “reason” and “evidence” are fluid concepts cited by various people in favour of every kind of social policy. And which “reason” or “evidence” we believe in is also largely down to our underlying deep preferences.

And I believe that people will feel drawn to those interpretations that either confirm their emotional positions or that gently challenge them in a direction they are already willing to be challenged.

Authority of Scripture is a catch-all terms that all evangelicals use to explain any social political position they might support.
The question is "authority of which parts of Scripture".

So, yes, I think I disagree with your reasons for opposing appeals to authority.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 28 March 2014 at 5:57pm GMT

I agree with what I understand to be James Byron's view (correct me if I'm wrong James) that the Bible is basically opposed to the idea of man-man, or any kind of sex except male-female, in the context of marriage.

At surface level, it is pretty clear to me that the intention and viewpoint of the (various) authors is to affirm male-female sex within marriage, and - where male-male sex is mentioned - it is seen as 'haram', with no later attempt made to contradict that.

All references to male-male sex are negative.

More significantly, the principle of a man and a woman having sex only inside marriage, and the portrayal of marriage... what it is modelled on (God's original setting in Genesis) and what it points to (Christ and the Bride)... seems to set clear parameters, which exclude either male-female out of wedlock, or male-male in any circumstances whatsoever.

Moreover, culturally, I'm pretty clear that these were prevalent attitudes of the religious communities at the time the texts were written.

The thing is though...

The Bible, at this surface reading, is probably just plain wrong.

I see the Bible as something to be understood in context. They were writing within their own social contexts.

However, as living Christians in living communities, we live within *our* own social contexts. And need to respond to dominant Bible messages, such as the primacy of love.

If I understand James right, opposition to gay sex may be an outcome of insisting the bible is inerrant.

I think the Bible... in its account of creation, its Noah narrative, its supposed divine mandate for the ethnic cleansing of Canaan, and yes, its hostility to man-man sex... is profoundly wrong, while still resonating with a profound quest and journey for truth and encounter with God.

The dividing line in this whole debate is about 'how' we read the bible. Beyond that, it is about the grace and love we seek, in the way we differ.

That grace, in my opinion, is at the heart of everything, and matters more than dogma, uniformity, or allegiance. We need to hold onto the bonds of unity and love, in our diversity. Conscience should be protected, whichever 'side' one identifies with, and we should look to the person and their faith, and we should keep living our lives in the context of our shared union in Jesus Christ.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Friday, 28 March 2014 at 6:02pm GMT

A really interesting thread. Thanks TA for the facilitated conversation.

There was a throwaway remark which didn’t get picked up which disturbed me: “It was all going fairly well, for me, until you appeared to compare the stresses of middle class Anglican women over being ordained bishop… you still don't get it…I sympathize with those battling for ordination of women to episcopate… But lgbt young and old black and white, are being oppressed, suppressed, murdered, and executed around the world.”

I am a middle-class white women myself and yes it’s well-known we are a bunch of are Chelsea-tractor-driving, road-hogging, yummy-mummy, want-it-all, too-posh-to-push, pampered, narcissists, but before I rush off for my manicure can I just say:

Let’s not get into the game of playing ‘my rights count for more that your rights’, because once one person’s equality counts for less than another’s, equality has gone out of the window.

Inequality is directly correlated with violence and abuse. Gender-based violence is the most extensive of all forms of violence – in every country, every class, every part of the world. It tends to diminish when women gain greater equality (and yes, we are talking not only about sexual abuse and rape, but violence and murder.)

Having women in positions of leadership is a massively important way of establishing greater equality between the sexes. And having women in positions of leadership in the great patriarchal religions has enormous symbolic significance. So yes it really does matter, even if we discount the hopes and vocations of the white middle-class women who have struggled for it, along with some men, over many generations and more than a century.

Posted by: Linda Woodhead on Friday, 28 March 2014 at 6:56pm GMT

Inequality is directly correlated with economic exploitation. There are other elements as well, but I personally see economic violation of lives as being a primary determinant of inequality, poor health, marginalisation, and general disempowerment.

Physical violence and abuse are horrifying expressions of power by bad people, but economic violence is in my view a far vaster agent of inequality, affecting women and men alike. As men and women, we may collaborate in whole systems of economic oppression (we almost certainly do) but as men and women we are in this together, and suffer together as well.

I would hate to see a feminist-style slant, where the solidarity of human suffering is reduced to one gender's interests, when clearly most human suffering is not caused by gender divides, though some is.

When it comes to inequality, gender is not in the same league as the wastes and ravages of poverty wreaked by the capitalist system on men and women alike.

Having said all that, I do completely agree with Linda that denying women full and equal roles in church life (and not just complementary roles) is symbolic and important.

Inequality is wrong wherever it occurs, and I think that's what Linda was saying: that there isn't a hierarchy of inequalities, wrong is just wrong. Some aspects of inequality, however, are more pressing than whether women become bishops.

We spend volumes of words on sex and gender here at Thinking Anglicans, far less on poverty and exploitation.

I suppose that's because there is greater agreement on the issue of poverty, and we debate the areas of disagreement. Though I personally wonder whether our 'agreement' on poverty arises from conviction or complacency.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Friday, 28 March 2014 at 7:29pm GMT

"A really interesting thread. Thanks TA for the facilitated conversation." Amen to Linda Woodhead's comment.

I am reminded of a great quote from James Callaghan, Labour PM of UK in the 1970's, when pressed to say where he stood on some controversial issue of the day: "You know, I find that where I stand is increasingly dependent on where I sit".

An interesting example from recent history is the differing stands taken by Rowan Williams as he moved from a chair of theology to the throne of St Augustine.

When I sit with my daughter and daughter-in-law, and reflect on their experience of oppression, and prejudice about who they are as precious Christians , and precious humans made in the image of God, I find myself agreeing with Laurie Roberts and James Byron, and want to declaim that there can be no compromise here; the bible and the Christian tradition are wrong, and our churches must enter a period of repentance before they can claim any integrity as they attempt to engage in ministry and mission in the contemporary world, especially among LGBT folk.

On the other hand, when I sit with my evangelical friends who are trying from their position to engage prayerfully and openly with the reality of the vast changes occurring around us it feels different. Tim Chesterton appears to be in that category - I don't know you, Tim, but greetings - and in New Zealand, I would cite Peter Carrell and his blog "Anglican Downunder". When sitting in that sort of company, I find myself saying things similar to Erika here. Let's talk more, lets keep channels open, lets work together to find a way forward, let's find ways to agree to disagree.

As I try to accommodate both viewpoints in my own psyche and spirituality, I think the answer is to keep changing where I sit - not only back and forth between the two "seats" described here, but being open to try new ones.

Posted by: Edward Prebble on Friday, 28 March 2014 at 10:37pm GMT

Thanks, Tim Chesterton, for your link to the Canadian branch of World Vision, which states quite clearly that it is not linked with the homophobic views of the U.S. Branch. The higher vision of serving God's children - irrespective of race, gender or sexual orientation seems, to me, to be more representative of the Christian Gospel.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Saturday, 29 March 2014 at 12:03am GMT

For the most part in the USA, Evangelical Christianity is a lot less polite than anything we would see on Thinking Anglicans. There is a loud angry contingent that is getting louder and angrier as it finds itself on the losing side of the political argument over all things gay. What is doubly infuriating for them is that they are used to winning, and winning handily at the ballot box for decades. Now, they are losing public opinion and more seriously, they are losing elections.
On the other hand, American evangelical Christianity is not a monolith, and there are cracks showing in its stands on gay issues. There are a lot of younger evangelicals who are tired of the whole issue and find it an embarrassing liability. Either they would like to move toward acceptance of gay Christians, or set the issue aside. There are growing numbers of evangelical families that now must deal with the reality of openly gay children in their midst. Not too long ago, the conventional way of dealing with openly gay offspring was to toss them out into the street. As more people in evangelical families are coming out, that is becoming an ever less attractive option.

I've always wondered why some people made the whole gay issue such a central and defining one for the Christian faith. I can't see heterosexuality on the same level of sanctity as The Trinity, the Resurrection, or the Incarnation. The furious and violent reactions always seemed to me to be disproportionate. Christianity is not a fertility religion. It's not the old Roman religion of the sacred household Lares and the ancestral busts. We enter salvation as individuals, not as families, tribes, or nations. I don't see heterosexuality as in any way threatened by freedom and dignity for gay folk. There are as many gay folk now as there always have been, and always will be. No one converts to homosexuality (despite all the hysterical fears over "recruitment"), and you can't catch it like a cold. People either are or they aren't gay. No one ever chose to be gay off a menu of options, or filled out any application forms; no more so than anyone ever chose to be heterosexual. Same sexuality is neither a crime nor a disease. It is morally neutral like all sexuality. There will always be some straight couples who happen to have a gay child. That's neither a crime nor a misfortune.

I'm happy to make common cause with those who might have their reservations about my family life (I already do so). I've never thought gay versus straight was central to the Christian faith.

However, I think people should be aware that there is a whole lot of anger and hurt out there in the gay community, and it would be irresponsible of us to deny that the churches are a big cause of it. Even my own household is divided by this legacy. I am a churchgoer and a serious believer. My partner wants as little to do with Christianity as possible. Some of us can see past the ugliness to the revolutionary promise in the person of Christ. Others of us can't see past the hatred and hypocrisy.

Posted by: FD Blanchard on Saturday, 29 March 2014 at 12:11am GMT

"On the other hand, when I sit with my evangelical friends who are trying from their position to engage prayerfully and openly with the reality of the vast changes occurring around us"

The changes caused to western society by the introduction of same-sex marriage are utterly trivial as compared to the changes caused to South African society by the end of white rule. How much slack do you think should be cut a hypothetical middle-aged white church-goer who stood up and said "you know, I still don't think they're fully human, and I think people should respect my conscientious objection to this new idea that they should be considered as worthy of any sort of respect"?

Indeed, Andrew Symes' excuse is that homosexuality was only legalised in his lifetime, so he really can't get to grips with it. The Race Relations Act was passed in his lifetime too, and more recently: if someone were today to put up a "no blacks" sign outside their church, would anyone nod sagely and say "well, it takes a long time for people to become used to new realities, and we much accept their principled continuation of old certainties?"

Why is it that homophobia is cut a large length of slack for people to wrestle prayerfully with new realities (etc), while attempting to argue that you're too old to stop being racist would be treated as the toxic nonsense that it is?

Posted by: Interested Observer on Saturday, 29 March 2014 at 7:24am GMT

I agree that "the emotional conviction comes first, the reasoning follows," Erika. We (myself totally included) use arguments to justify a position built on feelings. We disagree, I think, on what those feelings are.

I don't believe that most open evangelicals who condemn homosexually are homophobic. They aren't using the Bible to justify a prejudice against gay people. Instead, I believe that they first embrace authoritarian religion out of a powerful emotional need for certainty. A conversion experience is a catalyst, or an evangelical belief held since childhood. That religious system *then* drives them to act against their own inclinations when it comes to affirming gay relationships.

Which comes right back to what I've been saying: the authoritarian framework is itself a problem, in that it fires our worst aspects. Instead of giving the nod to dogmatic use of the Bible because it fulfills an emotional need, we should challenge it for precisely that reason. Humanity is at its most dangerous when emotion casts out evidence. That's the definition of prejudice, the crucible in which Salem, McCarthyism, and segregation were forged. Liberalism should promote an alternative, encourage all to fight against our emotions when those emotions lead to a dark place. Our mind should work with our heart.

I'm all for compromising with every shade of theology to get change. I can, simultaneously, express disagreement with a way of thinking I find profoundly troubling.

Posted by: James Byron on Saturday, 29 March 2014 at 9:48am GMT

Superb comment by James Byron, with which I very much agree.

My own experience operated precisely that way.

Prior to an evangelical conversion experience, I had no views on homosexuality and my outlook had been liberal, and tending towards a Woodstock view of the world!

Upon conversion, and subsequent tutelage in an evangelical tradition, which taught the absolute authority of the bible, I suspended belief in evidence, and saw adherence to scripture as a loyalty to God and an obligation.

As a result, I stopped believing in evolution, I started believing in male headship, and I became strongly condemnatory of male-male sex.

The problem was, exactly as James has put it, the concept of the Bible as an inerrant authority. This provided me with security, certainty and a kind of comfort blanket.

When this concept of biblical certainty crumbled... as personal conscience and reason asserted itself, quite rightly, because God has given us conscience to exercise... it was like an opening up to freedom and generosity.

It was a false concept of how to read the bible that had effectively imprisoned me for 10 years and closed my mind, even to abundant evidence, not to mention human compassion.

So, yes, I agree with James. With regard to man-man sex... I don't think the bible is misunderstood, and referring only to prostitutes or anything like that... I think the bible is just wrong about it, at least as far as out times and our society is concerned.

It simply expresses the cultural values and prejudices of the religious communities which generated it. That doesn't negate the profound seeking after God, and profound encounters and insights. But the Bible is written in certain cultural contexts which reflect the values of specific cultures and religious agenda.

We need to be set free from the false paradigm that, somehow, word for word, the Bible is a kind of text from God, dictated in some kind of automatic writing to the authors.

The authors were fallible human beings, trying fallibly to make sense of their lives, and the Bible is fallible too, though a container of amazing insights about love and sacrifice and God.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Saturday, 29 March 2014 at 12:38pm GMT

Very moving testimony from an evangelical couple in Seattle who unexpectedly found themselves having to face the gay issue in a very personal way with an openly gay son. They found their way through the experience with their love for their son, and their faith, not only intact, but strengthened.

They are hardly alone among evangelicals.

Dan Savage, who is not a Christian and is usually a ferocious antagonist of anti-gay religious leaders, provided a safe forum for gay Christians, especially gay evangelicals and evangelical families with gay children, to come out; the Not All Like That (NALT) project.

Posted by: FD Blanchard on Saturday, 29 March 2014 at 1:37pm GMT

I second Susannah Clark's comment on Biblical authority.

The Bible is not the Quran. It is not a book written by God. It is testimony to God's actions in history. Anyone who has ever served on a jury knows how imperfect even the most scrupulously honest testimony can be. The Bible is the testimony that we have, and as such, is the touchstone of our faith. While it will always speak to us, and we will always hear God's voice speaking to us through it, it is also a Bronze Age book describing a world that no longer exists.
I don't think we should imagine that God ever stopped speaking and acting in our world when the Bible canons were closed. I suspect that God does not regard the Bible as a script that He feels bound to follow.

Posted by: FD Blanchard on Saturday, 29 March 2014 at 1:47pm GMT

So we come full circle in this thread back to where we started – the absurdity of the Pilling exercise. Pilling as a symptom of the out-dated absurdity of trying to impose unity of moral (or political) conviction on the whole of the CofE, let alone the whole Anglican communion.

A lot of this thread is about whether, given the different stances on SSM in the Church, the views of the pros should be imposed on the antis, or the antis on the pros. The bishops think the latter – until such time as all agree. Some who support SSM think the former.

But a third option is also expressed here, which is the liberal option (liberal in a political philosophy sense). According to this, people should be free to make up their own minds about how they live their lives, even if they are in error – so long as they do not harm others (and harm is more than offence).

Why not apply this in the church? So long as a conviction is minimally decent (doesn’t harm others), and a reasonable case can be made for it in relation to scripture and tradition, people should be allowed to hold it, and not be marginalised for doing so – if they are large enough to form themselves into a self-sustaining, self-financing group. But they shouldn’t be able to impose it on others who disagree.

This is why I think the Church needs to abandon the now discredited idea of unity whereby all agree, and embrace a new kind of unity as a federation or franchise. Genuine pluralism, within a single body. That way different views will find their proper level (and level of support) over time. If we can live with our differences side by side, we will tolerate one another more, perhaps even learn from one another.

This way the CofE would become a model of how religious people can disagree without bullying or violence. Something rather unprecedented. At the moment we are a model of illiberalism and fudge.

Posted by: Linda Woodhead on Saturday, 29 March 2014 at 1:51pm GMT

"Very moving testimony from an evangelical couple in Seattle who..."

Engaged a 12 year old (A TWELVE YEAR OLD) in "reparative therapy" until he left home, broken and in despair, and took to drug addiction, but now realise that God wants something else for them as a family so it's all OK again. Which is lovely. They've been on a journey, and now feel fulfilled. Which is, also, lovely.

Some might say that attempting to "cure" as 12 year old (A TWELVE YEAR OLD) on "being gay" and then standing idly by as he leaves home and becomes a drug addict was a pretty low standard od parenting, and that rather than making smug videos about how lovely they are and how they're doing lovely things now some atonement and humility might be in order, but apparently not. It's all about them, and they're very pleased with themselves.

Next time I'm told that Christianity makes people better parents, I'll remember that video. They're utterly shameless.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Saturday, 29 March 2014 at 4:23pm GMT

"The problem was, exactly as James has put it, the concept of the Bible as an inerrant authority. This provided me with security, certainty and a kind of comfort blanket."

And I would ask whether it was not your emotional need for a security blanket that made you follow the concept of biblical authority with very rigid interpretations of social issues.

Can I ask what came first when you began to change - a different reading of the bible that allowed you to be more liberal or a move away from being able to believe in that kind of interpretation?

I am fascinated that you say that living together side by side in unity not uniformity would be unprecedented. Coming to the CoE from another denomination I always thought it was the key achievement of this church that has somehow managed to keep vastly different people, spiritualities and theologies under one relatively peaceful and cooperative roof.

We just need to remember the principle and apply it to same sex relationships.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Saturday, 29 March 2014 at 4:44pm GMT

Linda's summary is the precise conclusion I believe should be drawn from this thoughtful and intelligent thread.

In my view, the Church of England has the opportunity to create 'space' for grace, respect, love, and co-existence between people with differing faith views.

Isn't this, historically, exactly the way God has placed the Church of England over the centuries, making it more than a sect, and prompting Christians to explore grace and love of one another, not just insistent dogma imposed on every member?

Even in its first century after the Reformation, the ambiguous wording of the Prayer Book worked to reduce exclusion and enabled the evolution of a Church with a wide range of expressions, which makes Anglicanism distinct from just Calvinism, or just Roman Catholicism, or just fundamentalism.

Which is not to critique those traditions, but to suggest that Anglicanism's history and charism involves diversity of views, and the challenge (and scope for grace) involved in loving one's fellow Christians even in a fellowship of diversity.

The 'push' and historic impulse of Anglicanism seems to me to be an invitation of God to explore co-existence in a way that fulfils the longing of God that people might "see how these Christians love one another".

Perhaps the call to grace, the call to love, is more important to God than doctrinal uniformity and dogma as words that separate us, one from another, in an already divided world.

If so, then the Covenant, and the Bishops' recent letter, in seeking to impose uniformity when there IS no consensus, may be precisely the wrong direction.

In many ways, the best of what Anglicanism is capable of, might be the opposite of sectarianism and doctrinal exactitude.

So yes, 'unity in diversity'... which requires maturity and generosity, but also the deep confession that we find unity and union, and a share of the eternal communion, in Jesus Christ alone... not in our doctrinal rectitude.

Love is the primary commandment. The whole Bible needs to be read, and interpreted, in the context of this call to love and grace.

Jesus still speaks to us, is still our Living Word, and still calls us to new life, through the Spirit who will renew the face of the earth.

Conscience is not just a rule book. It operates in response to the actual world we live in, and calls us to open to love.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Saturday, 29 March 2014 at 5:17pm GMT

And also in the last couple of days

Mother on Trial for Killing 4-Year-Old Son Reportedly Because He Was Gay

Eight-year-old girl Sunnie Kahle pulled out of a Christian school 'for being too much like a boy'

There's a long way to go.

Posted by: John Roch on Saturday, 29 March 2014 at 5:33pm GMT

On patience, comfort and the Holy Scriptures:

"For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope" -- Romans 15 and the language adopted by the architect of the BCP for Collect Advent 2.

What Herbert spoke of as nourishment at the breast.

What Gregory the Great called a river in which infants wade and elephants swim.

What Origen called more arresting than any poetry or philosophy he had encountered.

What Auerbach described--in comparison to Homeric epic--as overwhelming our world and demanding our assent.

What Hooker called that to which our highest assent was most due.

What the Articles describe as conveying One Gospel in two dispensations by the only mediator between God and humanity.

All this against selectivity and truncation(Marcion), higher spiritual experience (Gnosticism), making one part repugnant to another (see Art XX), false literalism (scribes and Pharisees), historicism (Baconian rationalism), moralism (Kant), and on it goes.

Posted by: cseitz on Saturday, 29 March 2014 at 5:47pm GMT

Erika thank you for your response to Linda. I too was struggling to recognise her understanding of Pilling as another (typical?) attempt by the CofE to impose and force unity by bullying and violence. Makes me wonder if 'facilitated conversations' is an Anglican version of water boarding.

Susannah, I recognise your story only too well. Thank you for sharing it. But it sounds as if you have gone from an oppressive and actually unbiblical view of Bible to no discernible doctrine of scripture at all. 'Wrong', 'fallible' but with 'Amazing insights' is someway short of an Anglican doctrine of scripture let alone an healthy evangelical one. Sorry if I misunderstood you.

Posted by: David Runcorn on Saturday, 29 March 2014 at 5:50pm GMT

"I don't believe that most open evangelicals who condemn homosexuality are homophobic."

I'm still trying to understand where we differ and why.
Could you explain why you believe that these people, who are clearly not open on homosexuality, are not prejudiced? Because they are friendly and polite when dealing with gay people? Because they look friendly? Because they use moderate and unemotional language?
Do we really know what is it deep down that makes people able to believe on thing and not another?

When some people have been able to read scripture differently and strongly support women priests, yet those same people seem to be unable to apply the same hermeneutic to same sexuality - what is it that makes you so sure that their approach to biblical authority is the underlying factor, not some deeply held emotional reluctance?

Posted by: Erika Baker on Saturday, 29 March 2014 at 6:24pm GMT

Erika, sadly the CofE has not succeeded in keeping everyone under one roof. I personally know of so many people who have left in the last 20 years because they felt they had no place, and my statistics tell the same story - for both clergy and laity.

David, I don't find my own theological position or that of many other faithful Anglicans reflected in Pilling, or in many of the church's previous statements on sexuality, and I am not the only one to have had the experience of sitting on a Church commission (the Doctrine Commission in my case) and having my contribution erased without my consent.

Unity has been bought at the price of silencing or dismissing many Anglican voices - which is a good example of what Bourdieu would call symbolic violence.

That's not the broad church I grew up in, which had space for mavericks and dissenting bishops and troublesome rebels and people who were generally off message. But - lest we get too rosy-tinted, there were horrible exceptions - e.g. remarried clergy, out gay people, and women asking for equal treatment. It completely broke some people.

I agree with Susannah that the CofE has the right foundations on which to build something better and more truly Christ-like, and I hope we will.

Posted by: Linda Woodhead on Saturday, 29 March 2014 at 7:29pm GMT

Frankly, I thought the couple in the video were quite contrite and remorseful.

For that one couple there are 100 others who've done far worse things to their children, and are not the least bit sorry about it.

There are still a lot of parents in the USA and elsewhere eager to offer up their children (especially their gay children, but not exclusively so) as sacrifices upon the fiery altar of orthodoxy. And in most cases, there is no angel to stop it and no ram in the bushes. The only god who would accept such sacrifices is a monster.

Evangelical Christianity in the USA is not nice at all. If we Yanks seem a little strident in our tone here on these scrupulously polite comment threads, it's because so many people have declared holy war and have decided that some of us are the devil's minions and deserve no quarter.

Posted by: FD Blanchard on Sunday, 30 March 2014 at 1:49am BST

"For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope"

And a substantial part of what we should learn is that these things written aforetime are not always correct, either as science, history, or sociology.

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Sunday, 30 March 2014 at 3:56am BST

Linda, I have no wish to tread on your bruises. I understand the concept of ‘symbolic violence’ and can think of my own examples of where I have experienced this at work in the church. And I have never forgotten the counsel offered an ordinand (reportedly the young John Robinson): ‘If you wish to be part of the Church of England you need almost as high a doctrine of corruption as you do of glory’.

But I am still struggling with your claim to find a culture of coercive, institutional authority at work here. When the Pilling working group gave very large space within its report to its one dissenting voice it was a gracious reflection of the struggle of doing policy in a church of wide diversity where authority simply cannot be imposed. What parish priest in the CofE doesn’t knows the desparate temptation to resort to the dark arts to get anything done? It is more common in the present tensions of SSM and the ordination/consecration of women to lambast the inability of the CofE to lead with any firmness at all. The Bishop’s pastoral letter on Equal Marriage was widely derided simply because it is unenforceable.

Yes, I too know people who have left. Some because the church was not being authoritative enough. And not just conservative enforcers at this point. There are liberal voices (often on these threads) calling for other views would be ‘reigned in’. Liberalism does not automatically equate with ‘tolerance’. There are symbolic bruises there too.
‘This is not the broad church I grew up in’. The broad church I grew up in marginalised women, was tolerant of racism, was only just responding to marital breakdown with any pastoral compassion while its symbolic and actual marginalising of LGBTs was wholly unchallenged. This is not the society or world we grew up in either - and for much of this I am grateful.

Posted by: David Runcorn on Sunday, 30 March 2014 at 8:20am BST

While we can't be certain about motive, Erika, if the anti-gay statement is against both interest and inclination, it's strong evidence that it's not rooted in homophobia, but in obedience to the Bible. It's not about how polite they are -- any bigot can cloak hatred in sugared words -- but about whether an anti-gay view appears at-odds with their own desires.

Openly gay but celibate evangelicals are the most convincing. They're not closeted, self-hating homophobes: they embrace their sexuality, but they believe the Bible calls them to celibacy, often at the cost of much pain and denial.

Men like Pete Broadbent are also in a strong position: it's a rare homophobe who actively fights for gay rights in a homophobic climate, as Broadbent did in the late Eighties. It's also a rare homophobe who's a passionate supporter of women's rights, as Tom Wright and George Carey are.

Susannah Clark describes the process in her brave and insightful post above. Her conversion experience was the catalyst for her adoption not only of an anti-gay position, but of a position directly against her own interest (male headship). When she, remarkably, moved beyond authoritarianism, those views left her.

She describes how obedience to the Bible suppressed her conscience and ability to consider evidence. "[The Bible] imprisoned me for 10 years and closed my mind, even to abundant evidence, not to mention human compassion." We can weigh the evidence now. Is that not sufficient proof that an authoritarian mindset is a problem?

Posted by: James Byron on Sunday, 30 March 2014 at 12:17pm BST

I suppose there's a difference between keeping every individual on board and remaining a multi faceted organisation.
Women's role in society is still not fully resolved and has been a bitterly fought question in our lifetime. It is no wonder that it still reverberates in church. The same goes for homosexuality, possibly more so because it's the newer hot button issue and therefore not yet as resolved.

And whenever these major debates happen individuals suffer and many leave the church. I'm not defending it or condoning it!

But that does not mean that the CoE itself does not have a successful history in riding those storms and remaining more or less intact.
We've done it over so many theological and social political topics, we're in the process of doing it again over women bishops, and I hope we'll succeed in doing it over lgbt equality too.

It was encouraging that the Covenant proposal was roundly defeated in the CoE. Now we just need to remember that we are the Church of England, not a doctrinally unifiable universal Anglican Church.

I expect that those who really cannot cope with gay equality will eventually splinter off with as much devastating impact the Ordinariate had on the CoE - none at all.
The rest of us can then get on with accepting lgbt people as equals at all levels and move on to the next divisive topic.

It will take a bit more time, but I think it's the only realistic outcome.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Sunday, 30 March 2014 at 4:16pm BST

"[The Bible] imprisoned me for 10 years and closed my mind, even to abundant evidence, not to mention human compassion." We can weigh the evidence now. Is that not sufficient proof that an authoritarian mindset is a problem?"

That's why I asked Susannah what made her change her mind.
I'm not saying that we cannot be caught up in the belief that something has authority over us and that something can be Scripture.

I think I am still saying that in order to fight it, we need to be sure that the idea of giving Scripture authority over us is the root of the problem and not the emotional make up or our emotional response to any given issue that allows us to give a particular scriptural reading this authority. Because it will change our approach to the problem.

I admire people who believe the bible is anti gay yet campaign for gay acceptance. To my mind, these people do not emphasise the bible readings that encourage them to judge and condemn but they emphasise the readings that encourage them to love the sinner and not to judge.
They are a perfect example for how our underlying make-up influences how we read Scripture and what authority we grant different sections of it.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Sunday, 30 March 2014 at 9:00pm BST

I think my father's early death was probably the pivotal factor in reaching out to God beyond a conservative reading of the bible.

I thought: How could this man, who did not profess a Christian faith, this dear and liberal man, who had made huge sacrifices for our family... how could this good and decent man be consigned to hell forever, which seemed the most likely prospect if the Bible was to be accepted as authoritative at surface level.

And if, as some tried, it was argued that maybe he escaped that fate, because only God knew his inner heart... then what about other people's daddies? The prospect and possibility of the eternal loss of my own daddy, made it seem insufferable that the same fate, at least, awaited other people's dear and much loved parents.

In addition, though I studied the bible so hard, page by page, and verse by verse, and believed I owed God loyalty of obedience to what it said, internally my personal conscience ached, the defence caused great and growing internal tension.

Until, in the end, I dared to believe in God, beyond the confines of the bible, and God's love, and it was like a huge release of tension, like running out of a forest, across a broad and lovely meadow, in the bright sunlight.

The world - and my faith - did not come to an end. Far from it. It has seemed to deepen and grow (however fallible I am)and it sustains me in my nursing, and it is an open place, that no longer needs to control, but simply invites... love and trust and delight in the warm love of God.

I still think the bible is amazing. But I am not scared... that if I disbelieve one part, the rest of it will become unbelievable.

I think it is that fear, that leads many people to insist on word by word, and verse by verse, authority. The idea that if you take one brick out of the dam wall, the whole dam will collapse and the water run out.

That has not been my experience at all.

What I found, was the openness of grace. Albeit it we are flawed and fallible. But in the end, it is love that is the greatest of all, not dogma and tight control.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Sunday, 30 March 2014 at 11:32pm BST

"Openly gay but celibate evangelicals are the most convincing. They're not closeted, self-hating homophobes"

News to me!

Seriously, though, I'm not sure why James seems to think that anti-gay Christians who support e.g. women's ordination have _more_ integrity. If anything, the pick-and-choosiness of it is even more craven. It's as if they're trying to put the toothpaste back into the tube now they've realized the gender-neutrality they previously championed has implications they find iffy.

And since +Pete Willesden objected to the nomination of Jeffrey John, a man who conducts his personal life exactly as +Pete supposedly thinks a gay priest should, he's hardly in a "strong position" not to be called a homophobe, even if a "rare" one. If anything, his appalling conduct on that occasion vividly illustrates that for all their talk about separating the sinner from the sin, and being concerned with biblical behaviour rather than condemning people for who they are, they really do just want us to go away. Being "openly gay but celibate" clearly didn't make Jeffrey John any more "convincing" to +Pete and his co-signatories. I'm glad to hear - and it's news to me - that he fought against Thatcherite homophobia but that does not buy him a lifetime free pass.

Posted by: Geoff on Monday, 31 March 2014 at 3:39am BST

"Is that not sufficient proof that an authoritarian mindset is a problem?"

No. I'm sorry, maybe it makes me a bad person, but I don't find the testimony of western people who claim that their attitudes were shaped by biblical literalism terribly persuasive. If you're living in rural Afghanistan, the argument that it's hard to obtain a wordview other than through the frosted glass of religious obscurantism is absolutely compelling, and it is perfectly reasonable to assess people's attitudes and behaviours in the context of the distorted and restricted education (if that is not dignifying it) they have received.

However, that is not the case for university-educated westerners who decide that they're going to treat the bible as authoritative and put aside all knowledge of evolution (for example). That's a choice: a choice to be ignorant. They know better, but choose to pretend they don't. That's nothing to do with "authoritarian": a bunch of YECs didn't come around and wave cheap Kalashnikov copies at you in your student digs, and Wikipedia and the science library were just as accessible to you before your "conversion" as afterwards.

Moral agency matters. Christian western homophobes are not, with a tiny handful of exceptions to do with people raised by exclusive brethren or whatever, the victims of distorted upbringings that force them into certain positions. They've made an active and conscious choice to hold those views, or to hold the meta-view ("the bible is literally true") from which they derive them, and should be granted moral agency and held to account for those choices.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Monday, 31 March 2014 at 7:17am BST

Thank you Susannah,
my understanding of your moving account seems to confirm that your unease with what you had been taught came first, then your slow movement to intellectual freedom.

Cynthia says on another thread that she believes (about women priests) as she does not in spite of but because of the way she reads Scripture.

If we read Scripture and come to conservative conclusions about women and sexuality, then it is not the concept of authority of scripture that's at fault but our trust in the interpretation of those whose exegesis we decide to trust and believe in.

Lose the underlying emotional acceptance of how we've been taught to read Scripture and we will find other ways that are more wholesome and healing.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Monday, 31 March 2014 at 8:52am BST

Susannah, many thanks for sharing something of your journey towards a more open view to the bible, not least through the early death of your father. I find what you say most moving.

Like you, I'm vary wary of a literalistic reading of scripture. As you say, 'the bible is amazing' - full of metaphor, symbol, poetry and story, as well as exposition and declaration. Lately, I have been especially helped by a number of women theologians in their refreshing and creative take on scripture, including Sarah Coakley, Ellen F Davis, Zoe Bennett and Barbara Brown Taylor.

And Erika, I appreciate what you say about women's ministry and lgbt rights and trust that the C of E, so belatedly, will have the wisdom and grace to embrace both in the coming months and years.

Posted by: Roger Hurding on Monday, 31 March 2014 at 10:01am BST

Thankfully, this debate is not about me (though it impacts on my life).

So tracking back to the topic, what I am basically advocating is that Anglicans who disagree with gay sex or marriage should respect the consciences of the other 50% (and growing generationally) of Anglicans who support it, and seek ongoing unity in the diversity that is clear and apparent.

And - perhaps more challengingly to many commentators here - Anglicans who endorse and celebrate gay sex or marriage should show a whole lot more *respect* for the consciences of the 50% of Anglicans who disagree with it.

It works both ways.

The 'leaders' of our Church in England should take a mature lead... and rescind their efforts to impose the uniformity of one 50% on the consciences of the other 50%. And instead, they should delegate decision making on this issue to local PCCs and priests, and local communities.

Any other approach is doomed to failure.

And the world will not end (nor will be flooded because of it...). Because our unity and communion is only and eternally in Jesus Christ. Our part in the process is love, patience, generosity, and grace.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Monday, 31 March 2014 at 1:41pm BST

I could certainly accept that as an interim compromise, Susannah.

Whether it can hold long term I'm not so sure. Unlike the women bishop question gay equality is not really something an organisation can be in two minds about forever because it is not about "separate but equal" but about a refusal to see gay people as truly equal.

And I would hope that in 20-30 years time there will be one official CoE position on this, although individual priests should still have an opt-out.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Monday, 31 March 2014 at 4:26pm BST

I think it's a conscience issue, Erika, both ways.

I think individual Christians, and local church communities (aka PCCs) can in good conscience disagree with lesbian and gay sex and marriage.

Conversely, and at present, individual Christians, and local church communities (aka PCCs) do indeed in good conscience agree with lesbian and gay sex.

This is to do with sincerely held conscience, and as such, I believe that top-down uniformity should be resisted, and local church communities should be allowed to decide whether to opt in or opt out.

What's wrong with the current situation is that those who agree with gay sex and marriage are having their sincere conscience overruled by a demand for uniformity.

That seems wrong to me, and in the same way I think it would be wrong the other way round.

We need to love each other as Christians, and learn to co-exist, not stalk off in a strop. That way leads to endless sectarianism.

Co-existence, on the basis of a 'unity in diversity' allows for grace and affirmation of bonds of love, and the continuation of that unity and communion that we shall always have - in all eternity - in Jesus Christ.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Monday, 31 March 2014 at 5:44pm BST

I agree, Susannah, it's a conscience issue. As are women priests, but the CoE has come to a place where it has made up its mind firmly in favour. That does not mean it cannot respect the conscience of individuals who cannot cope.

The same should happen for same sex marriage, not that the CoE itself tries to hold 2 conflicting views in tension, but that is ends up firmly supporting marriage equality while making space for the conscience of individuals who cannot cope.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Monday, 31 March 2014 at 7:11pm BST

"I think individual Christians, and local church communities (aka PCCs) can in good conscience disagree with lesbian and gay sex and marriage." (Erika)

So we're just using "conscience" as a placeholder word at this point?

Posted by: Geoff on Tuesday, 1 April 2014 at 4:09am BST

Geoff, the Bible's mixed on women's ministry, but universal in its condemnation of homosexuality. The two aren't the same. I think the Bible's wrong, but Pete Broadbent can't say that. The evangelical sticking point with Jeffrey John was that he hadn't repented of his past sexual relationship. I find that demand intrusive and cruel in the extreme, but evangelicalism's hardheaded when it comes to scripture.

Interested Observer, as this isn't a court of law, I'm not assigning blame; but if I were, I'd have to note that conversion experiences are deeply emotional. It's not a simple matter of conscious decision. Evangelicals feel obliged to do things against their better instincts. Just witness the stories of the gay men on

Posted by: James Byron on Tuesday, 1 April 2014 at 5:25am BST

I could not accept a conscience that opposed gay equality, but I could accept one that opposed marriage equality.
So what I would want to see is a full celebration of Civil Partnerships with blessing in church that are almost like a marriage service, just as we have for divorced couples.

And I would also like to see those who want to officiate at gay marriages to be able to do so, just as we can with divorced couples.

If those are givens, I could live with the odd priest whose theology of marriage meant he or she could not marry a gay couple.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Tuesday, 1 April 2014 at 8:49am BST

"Geoff, the Bible's mixed on women's ministry, but universal in its condemnation of homosexuality."

As the Bible knows nothing of the late-Victorian concept of "homosexuality," it of course can neither condemn nor condone it. And as I said, even the most hardline bend over backwards to say (however disingenuously, in my view) that they are not opposed to unexpressed homosexuality.

In any event, we're talking about the same Bible that, in addition to proscribing certain types of male-male sex in Leviticus, discounts the relevance of gender to salvation entirely in Galatians, endorses marriage to one person as a lesser evil than unbridled lust in I Corinthians, warns against "exchanging" one's natural sexual orientation in Romans 1, and in Our Lord's own words as recorded by Matthew acknowledges that sexual minorities are a fact of creation? If that's not "mixed," I don't know what is: it's only "universal" if you allow the contras to pre-define which passages are relevant.

And in fact, though the Bible is certainly polyphonic on the role of women in general, it is pretty unambiguous that that does not extend to teaching or preaching authority over men.

Posted by: Geoff on Tuesday, 1 April 2014 at 5:50pm BST

"Evangelicals feel obliged to do things against their better instincts."


I'm not sure that's a justification. There's rather too much "you know, Mr Gay Person, I'd love to approve of your marriage which looks lovely and supportive and caring, not to mention faithful, and both my heart and my head says that I should, but *regretful shrug*, *faint moue*, *what can you do frown*, *sincere smile* I'm afraid that my evangelical beliefs mean that I have no option but to condemn you for undermining marriage, encouraging the decline of the Roman Empire and harming children. Please accept that these quotation marks I'm going to put around your false and dangerous fake marriage are not my doing, but *John Malkovich in Dangerous Liasons sociopath thousand-yard stare* I'm afraid I have no choice".

Christians, like everyone else have moral agency. "I didn't want to do it, but my religion forced me to" says appalling things both about the person and the religion. If people want to discriminate against homosexuals, that's their choice, and they should accept responsibility for their decisions. To claim that somehow they were forced into it is just moral cowardice.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Wednesday, 2 April 2014 at 10:24am BST

Thank you, Interested Observer.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 2 April 2014 at 12:38pm BST

Interested Observer, what if they just believe it's wrong?

Are we going to kick them out of the church or something? Break off communion with them? Discount all other aspects of their faith and service and probably genuine love and good intentions?

Believing that man-man sex is wrong, is not a small matter to someone who believes in the authority of the bible and takes it at face value.

I'd say it was a matter of personal conscience, and although as a lesbian woman I am saddened by this repudiation of what is intimate and precious for me (and dismayed at the repercussions where they turn violent)... yet even so, I cannot dismiss the journey they are on, as if God is not alongside them...

So, instead, the challenge is mainly for me, not them... to keep loving them, to value them, to challenge them, to ask blessing on them.

The heart of this issue (I believe) is not alienation from one another (though people may alienate themselves), but co-existence, love, understanding, and seeking the unique and valuable person created by God, with all that means in terms of their sincere faith, their potential, and the (often not easy) community and communion we share with one another.

To repeat: they believe that man-man sex is wrong. They believe the bible teaches that. They believe the bible should be believed.

I see this very much as an issue of conscience, even though I hold a contrary position, and have a conscience of my own.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Wednesday, 2 April 2014 at 9:42pm BST

My main complaint in these recent weeks is directed towards the 'leaders' of the church, who protect the consciences of one group, but do not protect the consciences of the other group, even though they know the church is divided down the middle on this issue.

I'm simply saying there is a better way, which is to acknowledge the consciences of both groups, and stop trying to impose a false uniformity.

Instead, the 'leaders' of the church should recognise that this is an issue where there is diversity of opinion, and where there will be a diversity of pastoral situations and expressions, which really, is just the reality.

Yet we can still seek unity in diversity. We are One in Jesus Christ, even though we are not uniform. Ours is a patchwork church, with all the colour and variety and tensions that brings. It should not be a dogmatically rigid church, ruled by an 'imperium' from above.

At this juncture, in particular, priests should be allowed to marry same-sex partners, and PCCs and local church communities should be able to exercise good conscience in blessing gay and lesbian marriages and partnerships... (and ultimately, I'd hope, in celebrating the sacrament of their marriage services).

But wanting conscience (at this juncture) protected for people like myself, in my view goes hand in hand with respecting that one day the consciences of other people may also need protection, as the church reflects society's changes, which we are already seeing in the younger generation.

Conscience should be protected. Not just "my" conscience because it's better.

The Bishops are failing to protect conscience at this moment in time, and that is a very grave and serious failure.

They have resorted to power. Top down demands for uniformity. We've already encountered that in The Covenant, and it was repudiated. It rides roughshod over people's consciences and communities' consciences, and makes intolerable demands on people's intimacies and integrities.

The Letter has to be rescinded. Or collectively ignored.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Wednesday, 2 April 2014 at 10:23pm BST

"To repeat: they believe that man-man sex is wrong. They believe the bible teaches that. They believe the bible should be believed."

But they also believe that their view must be imposed on those who do not believe it.
That's what we're arguing about.

People can believe what they like. They should not be able to control others.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Thursday, 3 April 2014 at 8:59am BST

I agree with you, Erika.

On the basis of your principle, Anglican churches that believe that women should not be priests, or bishops, should not have the views of others imposed on them. Their conscience should be protected.

And on the basis of your principle, Anglican churches that oppose gay and lesbian sex and marriage, should not have the views of others imposed on them. Their conscience should be protected into the future.

And yes, addressing the immediate situation, I have agreed with you all along (and most people in this thread) that where priests and local Anglican church communities want to celebrate and bless gay and lesbian sex and marriage, they should not have the views of others imposed on them. Their conscience should be protected.

I'm advocating this very principle, and suggesting that the mature way to handle diversity of opinions, is to acknowledge unity even if we have hold differing beliefs.

It works both ways though. If protection of conscience is right, then that includes the protection of conscience for people who hold opposite views to our own.

And I suspect that's where the exercise of grace comes into play, and the learning experience for all concerned, and what can make the Anglican Church a platform for that grace and co-existence, in ways that distinguish its development from more strictly sectarian or imposed systems.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Saturday, 5 April 2014 at 12:07pm BST
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