Thursday, 16 June 2016

Bishops call for Church to change on gays

Updated Friday morning

A new book of essays, Journeys in Grace and Truth, edited by Jayne Ozanne, is launched this weekend. From the publicity:

Is it possible to hold a positive view of same-sex relationships while being a biblically rooted evangelical? These twelve senior Anglican Evangelicals believe so.

Journeys in Grace and Truth sets out the path each contributor has travelled to reach this point, involving moving encounters, scriptural exegesis and personal revelations. It is offered as a contribution to aid the discussion, and to broker deeper understanding between evangelicals and the wider Church.

Contributors include the Bishop of Liverpool, Paul Bayes, and the Bishop of Dorchester, Colin Fletcher, who have both been talking to the press.

Ruth Gledhill Christian Today Leading evangelical bishops call for Church to change on gays

… Bishop Fletcher criticises the “immense” damage to “far too many good Christian people” by the Church’s attitude to gay people. Bishop Bayes says: “We need to change the Church – to make room and to extend the table.”…

This article includes a video of an interview with the Bishop of Liverpool, which can also be viewed on YouTube.

Harriet Sherwood The Guardian Senior bishop calls for change in C of E attitudes to gay people

A senior bishop associated with the Church of England’s evangelical wing has called for far-reaching change in the church’s attitudes to lesbian and gay people and a meaningful welcome to Christians in same-sex relationships.

Acknowledging that he has been “profoundly changed” by encounters with lesbian and gay Christians, including within his own family, Paul Bayes, the bishop of Liverpool, has said: “I have come to believe that we need to change the church.”

LGBT people have been bruised and broken by the church, he said…


John Bingham The Telegraph Two bishops urge clerics to rethink ‘interpretations’ of the Bible which condemn homosexuality

The Diocese of Liverpool has published this article on its webpage: Church ‘must give a hearing to Evangelical Journeys of Acceptance for same-sex relationships’.

Posted by Peter Owen on Thursday, 16 June 2016 at 5:50pm BST | TrackBack
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Gordon Allport's classic work 'The Nature of Prejudice' (1954) stressed the way actual encounter with people regarded as 'other' was the most powerful way in which people's views were changed.

When people are encountered and got to know they become more 3-dimensional, they have life stories, they have humanity... they become harder to demonise and 'keep over there'... it becomes easier to see the whole of who they are: their work, their service, their ordinary lives.

I've personally seen the way evangelical priests have experienced this through close colleagues or family members being lesbian or gay. And I am moved by the way Paul Bayes has been touched in his heart by personal encounter.

It is wonderful to learn that the position of the bishops on LGBT issues is not monolithic.

And yes, change has to come. There are people here on this site who have been arguing that evangelical positions on sexuality are not monolithic, and that changing minds among evangelicals was a significant front in the struggle for change, and I admit I felt quite sceptical.

But Paul is at least trying to switch from 'tolerating' and 'not excluding' to more of an affirming and inclusive impulse, and putting his head above the parapet of the collective episcopal position - and I really appreciate that.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Thursday, 16 June 2016 at 6:21pm BST

It seems to me that "Is it possible to hold a positive view of same-sex relationships while being a biblically rooted evangelical?" is a foolish question. Of course it is. There are many biblically-rooted arguments underlying why we should, which seem to be too often ignored. But that's another issue.

A sad fact is that bible-based theology can prove almost anything, and has been used to justify half the horrors of history. The real question, I will submit, is whether anything other than Jesus' commandment to love one another is not all we need in the radical welcome which is the job of all Christians.

Posted by: Nathaniel Brown on Thursday, 16 June 2016 at 7:16pm BST

Attitudes are best changed by changing teaching.

Do the bishops unequivocally support: the repeal of the Higton motion and disavowal of 'Issues ...'; financial compensation for all clergy and other ministers and employees fired as a result; a formal and unequivocal apology for ever having passed it; and equal marriage?

In short, do they support equality? If yes, I warmly welcome their change of heart, best shown by suspending "discipline" in their jurisdictions; if no, it's yet more two-faced fence sitting, far more insulting than honest traditionalists.

Posted by: James Byron on Thursday, 16 June 2016 at 10:37pm BST

And at the same time we read that the Bishop of Birmingham is investigating a Vicar who participated in a same sex celebration. Why should we think that this is anything but yet more words. Do Bishops wonder why we don't trust them?

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Thursday, 16 June 2016 at 10:46pm BST

I see this as a potentially important step. It puts the Bible back into the debate. Without reading the essays, it is hard to say more. Certainly the public support of two evangelical bishops is welcome, although it is unclear whether they support same sex marriage and I fear the evangelical wing might unite behind a policy of being "welcoming" while still denying any meaningful changes.

Suppose a Disciple had asked Jesus, "Master, is it wrong for a man to lie with another man?" We can very strongly predict that Jesus would have answered with a parable rather than simply saying "yes" or "no". And that recognition alone suggests that there has to be a reassessment of any overly simplistic acceptance of OT teaching. We don't know what parable Jesus might have told but having more published views is good because we can see which resonate with the Spirit. One of the inherent weaknesses of shared conversations to my mind has been their private nature. I believe publication gives the Spirit more to work with and is a very positive step.

Posted by: Kate on Friday, 17 June 2016 at 6:08am BST

Thinking Anglicans can get an online discount for this book by using Coupon Code "TA2016" at the checkout on

Posted by: Jayne Ozanne on Friday, 17 June 2016 at 11:56am BST

"The real question, I will submit, is whether anything other than Jesus' commandment to love one another is not all we need in the radical welcome which is the job of all Christians."

Yes but we mustn't confuse erotic love with platonic love. The commandment exhorts the platonic love and it would be a perversion to use it to justify erotic love. So while the commandment can form part of an argument for same sex marriage it shouldn't be used, I submit, to support same sex sex.

Posted by: Kate on Friday, 17 June 2016 at 12:02pm BST

Thanks for the coupon code, Jayne. Book purchased and I look forward to reading it. Interesting set of contributors, several of whom participate here at Thinking Anglicans.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Friday, 17 June 2016 at 12:31pm BST

Whatever the subject matter, I profoundly wish we wouldn't play the "We can very strongly predict that Jesus would have answered..." game.

Jesus told us the Holy Spirit was being sent to lead *us* into all Truth. We need to take responsibility for what WE discern the Spirit is telling us, and not set up (inevitably competing) Magic 8 Ball Jesuses.

Posted by: JCF on Friday, 17 June 2016 at 12:33pm BST

"Whatever the subject matter, I profoundly wish we wouldn't play the "We can very strongly predict that Jesus would have answered..." game."

That is directed at me, I presume. I said we could predict the type of reply He would give, not the reply. And there is a big difference. Predicting what He would say is a mugs game, predicting a response in parable is entirely different and very likely.

Posted by: Kate on Friday, 17 June 2016 at 4:59pm BST

"Yes but we mustn't confuse erotic love with platonic love."

I don't think we do. No one is advocating for promiscuous sex. But sex within a marriage is part of the joy and fullness of life. To tell two persons of the same sex that they may love each other but "mustn't touch" is to deny the depth full dimension of love.

My love for my partner - this was before we had marriage - transformed my life, taught me what unconditional love was, and brought me back to the church in gratitude. To deny the full dimensionality of that love is to cut one off from the fullness of God's miraculous gift - the gift of experiencing physically the love we feel "platonically."

Posted by: Nathaniel Brown on Friday, 17 June 2016 at 5:56pm BST

I'm tempted to ask what took them so long. Still, let's be grateful for signs of progress.

Posted by: Flora Alexander on Friday, 17 June 2016 at 6:42pm BST

Kate - what is 'platonic love' exactly? Are you sure the Commandments teach it? Where exactly? The word did not exist then. Nor does 'eros' appear in the bible either. Isn't there danger of importing modern concepts back at this this point?

Posted by: David Runcorn on Friday, 17 June 2016 at 7:24pm BST

Richard Ashby,
why should I not believe the Bishop of Liverpool just because the Bishop of Birmingham thinks something different?

There's a very counter-productive tendency in lgbt-campaigning circles to call for change, and then, when someone shows signs of beginning to change, come down on them like a ton of bricks for not having changed sooner, not having changed comprehensively enough, not having single-handedly changed the whole church yet etc.

I welcome all change, however small, as a step in the right direction.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Saturday, 18 June 2016 at 5:22pm BST

Following your point about importing modern concepts, David, I recently wrote

It may be of interest, especially as the Greeks are getting a mention!

Posted by: Helen King on Saturday, 18 June 2016 at 7:04pm BST

The Valentine's Day statement in 2015 purported to be the unanimous teaching of the House of Bishops, threatening consequences to those clerics who broke its rules.

Now we have one bishop commending a book advocating acceptance by evangelicals of same sex relationships, though not marriage, and as far as I know, no relaxation of the rules for clergy in same sex relationships, while at exactly the same time another bishop is reported to be investigating a cleric who in some way facilitated a same sex celebration.

As far as I can see, nothing has changed. The Valentine's Day statement is still in force, the Higton resolution still stands. All bishops are supposedly bound by the statement and there is no indication that nice words from another one would mean any different outcome. We still await a declaration by a bishop that they will not act against any priest in a same sex marriage or who facilitates the celebration of one.

Until there are signs of action warm words are hollow.

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Saturday, 18 June 2016 at 8:00pm BST

Richard - which is the flaw in the GS Shared Conversation process. Individuals in favour of same sex marriage are inhibited in speaking up.

On the meaning of words, while I accept that Aramaic didn't have the variety of words for love present in Classical Greek, the Bible does differentiate between love and lust which is why I believe it is reasonable to exclude eros / lust from the commandment to love one another.

In terms of sex, we equally need to be aware that similarly there was no differentiation, of course, between protected and unprotected sex. It is therefore possible to read Bible verses not as condemning homosexuality per se but as condemning only unprotected sex, since that was the only envisaged type of sex. I am not saying that is necessarily the right interpretation but it does seem to lie within the range of possible interpretations.

Posted by: Kate on Sunday, 19 June 2016 at 8:07am BST

Kate - 'eros' is not simply another word for 'lust'. Where do you get that from? Nor is the discussion about Aramaic. For what it is worth I tend to speak of eros as agape in action. Agape without eros will lack the energy it needs - it will be bland, tame, benign. There is in holiness an energy that only eros provides. But eros without agape will probably be lust in the sense you use it. It is unsustainable, destructive and burns out everything it touches. So you can see I am starting from a completely different place from you and genuinely struggling to make sense of what you are claiming - not least from the biblical text.

Posted by: David Runcorn on Monday, 20 June 2016 at 9:58am BST

David, I agree that eros and agape are not mutually exclusive, and I believe we can find both in the person and nature of God. I don't think God just has a kind of sterilised agape love in isolation. I think God might well be passionate, dynamic in love, even longing and yearning for relationship with us.

In short, 'eros' is good. It is lovely. Like all good things it can be spoiled or misdirected. But to me God may well be wild and impulsive in feeling, and it is the fact that in perfection different aspects of love can combine and be wonderful, that to me makes God even more attractive and totally worth loving.

I believe Jesus was fully capable of feeling both kinds of love, and had a warmth and energy that was... maybe more robust than the 'nice and polite' religious circles we sometimes mix in.

I also don't think we should rule out quasi-sexual characteristics in God, and desire and attraction (since those can be wonderfully good things, so why might not God have them too)... but I don't necessarily expect you to journey quite that far with me!

Anyway, on the basis of previous exchanged comments with you, and your very gracious dialogue (in my opinion) and sometimes tolerance, any journey in shared faith with you would be pleasing, even if I rushed off along some paths that you didn't quite choose to go down!

God is so wondrous and exciting, and I love talking about what God may be like, and of course we have been given a chance to understand

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Monday, 20 June 2016 at 3:21pm BST

"Is it possible to hold a positive view of same-sex relationships while being a biblically rooted evangelical?"

Of course as evangelicalism and Protestantism are private judgement, and subject to changes in human thought and perception of " sola scriptura." That is why you need a divinely commissioned infallible Church.

Posted by: robert ian wiliams on Tuesday, 21 June 2016 at 10:37am BST

I have just read Anthony Archer's chapter in 'Journeys in Grace and Truth'. Anthony is a regular contributor here at Thinking Anglicans, and we have both been members of a lovely evangelical church in Hertfordshire.

I was moved by Anthony's honest account, by the way he moved from implicit disagreement with gay sex, to an affirming position. That is a journey I have shared, as I was once (on biblical grounds) very opposed to gay sexuality. It is interesting to speculate what changes people's minds, and ways God touches us, and gives us grace to open to other possibilities.

Clearly Anthony had the positive influence of lesbian and gay friends and godparents (having a full house of three lesbian and gay godparents is pretty good going, statistically!). He also recounts the 'good example' of a saintly churchwarden, and that person's grace towards a lesbian couple and their child at baptism.

And then there was reason, and the question: why would God create people the way they are, and then condemn them to lives of abstention, without covenanted partners like everyone else has?

Ultimately, Anthony clearly felt the need to read scripture carefully, and try to understand the contexts of the relevant passages. I don't share Anthony's position on this, but clearly Anthony does not feel the scriptures relate to gay sexual relationships of covenant and lifelong love.

The final section of the chapter is the most interesting to me: how do we actually handle a church which holds firm, but opposite, views on gay sexuality? What is the way forward? Especially given that the status quo is not really a workable option.

The key question Anthony raises is: Can we agree to disagree?

I think he is right to recognise that efforts to resolve the disagreement through scriptural 'proof' are expended. The gap in scriptural positions remains. That being the case, the focus needs to change to how the Church organises itself, if it is to agree to disagree (or if it is even willing to).

So... I have thoroughly enjoyed the first of 10 chapters, and I really respect Anthony for the journey he has made, and the way he champions and affirms the committed lives of LGBTI people.

This is a book of personal accounts, and I can hardly put it down, and I commend it.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Tuesday, 21 June 2016 at 7:35pm BST

There is no infallible church. That would be to elevate humans to the level of God, and there's no changing that fact by elaborate theological contortions.

It's ridiculous.

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Wednesday, 22 June 2016 at 6:25am BST

Mr. Williams, even the Vatican does not claim that there is, or can be, an "infallible Church". Nor are we in need of such a thing. The damage protected under the umbrella of "papal infallibility" is more than enough.

Posted by: Mary Clara on Wednesday, 22 June 2016 at 6:01pm BST

Universal catechism..with my addition

69 The Church is apostolic. She is built on a lasting foundation: "the twelve apostles of the Lamb" (Rev 21:14). She is indestructible (cf. Mt 16:18). She is upheld infallibly in the truth: Christ governs her through Peter and the other apostles, who are present in their successors, the Pope and the college of bishops.

870 ........ Nevertheless, many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside its visible confines"(LG 8).

(But sadly they are so often mixed with serious addendum)

Posted by: robert ian williams on Thursday, 23 June 2016 at 6:30pm BST


So how do you explain the Roman Catholic Church's turnarounds on Copernican cosmology and Darwinian evolution? Was it "infallible" when it said they were wrong and, in fact, blasphemous...or is it wrong now when it says they are not?

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Thursday, 23 June 2016 at 10:25pm BST
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