Wednesday, 20 July 2016

32 evangelicals lack confidence in shared conversations process

32 members of the General Synod have signed a statement which has been published on the Anglican Mainstream website. The full text of the statement and the list of signatories is copied below the fold.

The matter has been reported in Christian Today by Harry Farley. His story is headlined Divisions deepen in Church of England as conservatives express ‘lack of confidence’ in gay marriage talks.

He notes that Lambeth Palace has declined to comment on the statement.

It was also reported in Anglican Ink by George Conger who noted that the 32 were “members of the 1990 Group on General Synod” and that the statement has been sent in a letter to the College of Bishops. His article is headlined General Synod shared sex conversations place unity above truth, critics charge.

“We, the undersigned members of the General Synod, wish to express our lack of confidence in the process of the Shared Conversations. Whatever their stated purposes, the outcome has not led to a greater confidence that the Church will be guided by the authoritative voice of the Scriptures, and its decisive shaping of traditional Anglican teaching, in any forthcoming discussions.”

Rosemary Lyon – Blackburn
Stephen Boyall – Blackburn
Kathy Playle – Chelmsford
Mary Durlacher – Chelmsford
David Banting – Chelmsford
Debbie Woods – Chester
Jeremy Harris – Chester
Lorna Ashworth – Chichester
Andrea Minichiello Williams – Chichester
Rachel Bell – Derby
Giles Williams – Europe
Helen Lamb – Ely
William Belcher – Gloucester
Chik Kaw Tan – Lichfield
Shaun Morris – Lichfield
Chris Gill – Lichfield
Debbie Buggs – London
Sarah Finch – London
Clive Scowen – London
Charlie Skrine -London
Margaret Parrett – Manchester
Caroline Herbert – Norwich
Graham Caskie – Oxford
Andrew Bell – Oxford
Andrew Presland – Peterborough
Mark Lucas – Peterborough
Ian Dobbie – Rochester
Angus MacLeay – Rochester
Jane Patterson -Sheffield
Brian Wilson – Southwark
Susie Leafe – Truro
Chris Fry – Winchester

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Wednesday, 20 July 2016 at 2:39pm BST | TrackBack
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Comments

Hmmm... the Anglican Mainstream article says:

"serious questions remain about the viability of maintaining surface unity in the church while allowing contradictory doctrinal positions"

But the fact of the matter is, there ARE contradictory doctrinal positions in the Church.

However, one doctrinal position about which there is no contradiction, is that we are called to love one another.

And our unity is not founded on uniformity, but on the grace and love we encounter in Jesus Christ.

Since there are, manifestly, "doctrinal contradictions" on the matter of human sexuality, and different beliefs held in good conscience by fellow Christians... do we throw unity out of the window? or, recognising the reality of the dilemma, do we seek the grace and love of Jesus Christ, to love one another, seek each other's flourishing even when we disagree, and base our unity not on anything "surface" but on the only true union and communion we have...

...a union and communion in Christ Jesus, and the eternal community and relationship of the Holy Trinity, a unity in love and grace, a sharing and communion with one another in the eternal household of God.

It is perfectly possible, if we seek grace and love, to really love one another in our differences. And to live in relationship with one another, in a unity in diversity, which allows for conscientious differences in belief, but which majors on service, and ministry, right where we are... in a diversity of expressions... but all seeking the utmost priority, the grace that God may give us, to open our hearts to love.

Surely that's better than schism, that inevitably occurs if we insist on our belief dominating someone else's?

Of course, people may reply: "You're advocating relativism, but truth isn't relative."

I'd say: "No, I'm advocating love, and community, and recognition of difference. And no, truth isn't relative, though it may be relatively understood... but truth - the most profound truth - is LOVE.

And *that* is the test in all this. Not 'Who is right?' but 'Do we dare to open our hearts to love, to really value and pray for those with different opinions, to pray for their flourishing, and to pray for grace in our dealings?"

Truth may be 'relatively' understood by different people, but Love isn't relative. Love is the primary language of God, the primary command. And indeed, it is possible to be 'right' about something, but still fall short of love. I've been to churches like that, full of righteousness, but somehow cold.

Yet 'the greatest is love'. We don't need to dominate one another's consciences. We don't need to divide and separate. How is that like the community and eternal communion of the Holy Trinity? That union that has been going on forever, which, alone, is the unity we are invited to be part of. We can leave judgment to God. But we can't postpone love.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Wednesday, 20 July 2016 at 4:36pm BST

The 1990 group - when I joined Synod in 1997 I was invited to join this group by someone who said 'This group is for the real evangelicals on Synod. We think EGGS is a bit wet.'

I declined his kind invitation, saying I thought he thought I was more conservative on some issues than I actually was (and am). And I am somebody who still believes in penal substitution as an atonement model!

Posted by: Charles Read on Wednesday, 20 July 2016 at 4:42pm BST

Hmmm. The phrase, "Round up the usual suspects," comes to mind.

Posted by: RPNewark on Wednesday, 20 July 2016 at 5:18pm BST

When did the place of gay people in the sacramental life of the Church become the single doctrine that seems worth fighting about? We have disagreed for centuries on matters of some significance (e.g. The Doctrine of the Eucharist, Prayers for the Departed, the role of Mary, even the number of sacraments), but we just carried on with the usual sense of Anglican comprehensiveness. To hear these people, the whole Bible is really about one issue, the Gospels are full of references to homosexuality, and the whole life and ministry of the Church has a single focus-keeping gay people out. In this day and age it is difficult for gay people to be talked about BY by others who have the right to treat us like house plants or a breed of dog. Certainly sub-human and definitely great sinners. It is no longer acceptable to treat people of colour, those with disabilities, or even left-handed people as if they are aberrations. When will they actually think that gay people are human beings, made by the same Creator?

Posted by: Richard Grand on Wednesday, 20 July 2016 at 6:43pm BST

The 1990 Group was created during the Fourth General Synod (1985-1990) by Hugh Craig, a prominent layman from Oxford, who had earlier served on the General Assembly. It sought to identify and encourage conservative evangelicals, ordained and lay, to stand for the 1990 General Synod in preparation for the final stages of the women priests’ legislation. It also opposed such developments as the abolition of the freehold. By the time I was asked to join it in 1994 its membership included a few who were supportive of women’s ministry. It was a secret group for a time, later acknowledging its existence but not its membership. I was never comfortable as a member and finally severed my contacts in 1999 when I started to serve on the Synod’s Panel of Chairmen. They remained very nice to me, hoping to be called to speak in debates! That is the origin of what appears today to be largely the same set up. The composition of these signatories is interesting, consisting of 32 members (15 of whom are women), only five of whom are clergy, from across 19 dioceses. 19 are newly elected members of General Synod, so in that sense they are not the usual suspects. Some names I would expect to see as signatories are missing. There are quite a lot more conservatives by my reckoning, but perhaps they decided not to associate their name with this. This group believes that the Shared Conversations are designed to facilitate change, and if you want no change you will of course act in this way. Quite what the initiative will achieve is less clear. The announcement marks the end of the Shared Conversations political truce. It was good while it lasted, but now the gloves are coming off.

Posted by: Anthony Archer on Wednesday, 20 July 2016 at 9:16pm BST

Thank you, Susannah. Your opening sentences say it all. And John Wesley said something similar long ago : we cannot think alike but we can love alike. I myself believe in "traditional marriage" but I happily accept that you and many other Christians believe the definition of marriage should be extended - and I may yet change my mind! Or, to take another example, I am a convinced unitarian Anglican but I happily accept that you and many other Christians are Trinitarian. The heart of the matter is found in the heart of the Scriptures, words that I think trump anything else that they contain. "Whoever loves, is born of God and knows God" or "What does the LORD require of you - only this - to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God". Or as Jesus said (S.Luke 10.28), if we care for God and neighbour, in the way that the Samaritan did, we shall "live" and find "eternal life". By God's grace. That's challenging enough for me.

Posted by: John Bunyan on Wednesday, 20 July 2016 at 10:27pm BST

The reality of the C of E is that it has been, and remains, reasonably progressive overall and yet contains a conservative element who believe themselves to be their 'bother's keeper.' The C of E has always sought to accommodate and appease the conservative voice - flying and special purpose Bishops for example, and will continue to do so. The C of E has lived with 'doctrinal contradictions' for most of its existence and should continue to do so. The Bishops should get on and authorize some pastoral liturgies and promote the principle of subsidiarity as a the basis for overall unity. Being comfortable with and, being prepared to act as an 'agent of subsidiarity' should be a determining factor in the appointment of bishops.

Posted by: Andrew Lightbown on Wednesday, 20 July 2016 at 11:00pm BST

Well, I lack confidence that these "evangelicals" know anything of the GOOD news of Jesus Christ, so there's that.

Posted by: JCF on Thursday, 21 July 2016 at 2:14am BST

I would say, Andrew Lightbown, not "brother's keeper" but, rather, "brother's ruler." They like power and authority, they love a sense of self-righteous control over the lives of others, rather than simply over some ecclesial structure. That is why I see them as far more dangerous than other progressive Christians do. They are fond of quoting Romans, but only the parts that *seem* to give judgment and death, while ignoring the central focus which is that of Peter's vision, extended beyond mere dietary laws - do not call unclean what God calls clean. They want to control minds and hearts, and that is far more dangerous than simple power-brokering.

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Thursday, 21 July 2016 at 6:06am BST

Perhaps the politicisation of the General Synod is one of the reasons for the low turnout in Synod elections...leading to an unrepresentative Synod which can become the playground for activists who represent more extreme positions than one usually encounters in the parishes.

Posted by: Perry Butler on Thursday, 21 July 2016 at 6:32am BST

Well I'm sure the Cof E will eventually accommodate this view in a church within a church...but the male headship bishop is probably inclusive of this theological view anyway.

Posted by: robert ian williams on Thursday, 21 July 2016 at 8:24am BST

Thanks for insight and background in these comments. Prayers from across the Pond for grace and wisdom for all in C of E.

Posted by: mdav on Thursday, 21 July 2016 at 9:14am BST

Just as a matter of interest, as a counterpoint to conservative literalism, can anyone share a link to a theologically sound argument in favour of same sex marriage?

Posted by: Kate on Thursday, 21 July 2016 at 11:25am BST

" can anyone share a link to a theologically sound argument in favour of same sex marriage?"

That, Kate, is the million dollar question!

Posted by: Peter Kay on Thursday, 21 July 2016 at 12:27pm BST

One has to smile at the self-designation "evangelical". Neo-nomian is a more apt description.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Thursday, 21 July 2016 at 1:28pm BST

Kate, there aren't any theologically sound arguments *against* same-sex marriage...

Posted by: Fr Andrew on Thursday, 21 July 2016 at 1:35pm BST

Five years ago, when the Church of England was similarly divided over the issue of women bishops, a significant group, including 5 bishops, 70 priests and 1500 laity left the C of E to join the Catholic Church, where they formed a distinctive group known as the Ordinariate.

Is history going to repeat itself? That time, it was mostly Anglocatholics who made the move. This time it could be mainly Evangelicals.

Posted by: PaulWaddington on Thursday, 21 July 2016 at 1:40pm BST

Kate - this is a really important question and not just for evangelicals. I am struggling to find anything. Any suggestions? In the recent 'Journeys in grace and truth' I wrote, 'The Evangelical tradition has its own passionate and particular devotion to the Bible that is not always easy for those outside to understand. In this context it means that if scripture is believed to condemn same-sex relationships this is primarily a matter of obedience to what the Bible teaches. The criticism or scorn of others will not sway them. After all doesn't the New Testament warn the followers of Christ to expect rejection? This is a theological issue. It needs to be addressed theologically. My conservative friends are right to insist on that - though it concerns me that this tradition has yet to really become aware of the impact of its teaching on those whose lives bear the weight and consequence of their beliefs.'

Posted by: David Runcorn on Thursday, 21 July 2016 at 2:15pm BST

Fr Andrew, that is not quite true. Marriage is subject to annulment until consummated and the Bible, when read literally, does speak against same sex consummation.

David, I have seen nothing and I agree conservatives are right to expect it. Indeed we liberals should expect it. I personally understand the theology - I think - but without training in theological rigour I am not sure I could do the argument justice. That's especially so as I believe that correctly expressed the argument will be fully permissive of same sex marriage but will equally discourage all marriage.

Posted by: Kate on Thursday, 21 July 2016 at 3:55pm BST

I believe there is a clear and coherent theology against two people of the same sex having sex together. David Runcorn sets it out perfectly. That's why I believe that at all costs we need to respect the consciences of people who embrace that theology.

There are plenty of people who present theological counter-arguments.

But our present impasse is not going to be resolved by one group convincing the other - that simply isn't going to happen.

Rather, the key issue and question, is: how do we accommodate these conflicting views and theologies? How to we disagree well? How do we find grace and love to co-exist, in the kinds of ways that puritans and catholic-inclined found ways to co-exist in historic Anglicanism, creating in the process a Communion that was special, and diverse, and none the worse for that?

In short, do we have it in ourselves, to respect right of conscientious belief, and protect that right, even when we disagree profoundly?

The test is love, not rigid dogmatism.

Anglicanism has historically found ways to include, for example in the Elizabethan Settlement which, though politically constrained, managed to accommodate many more catholic-inclined people - and many in the general populace - rather than going the way of total schism. By the time of the Stuarts, Anglicanism was emerging with its own identity, as opposed to the Puritan faction. Puritans wanted only their own dogma (and there is an echo in that today) whereas Elizabeth had overseen an inclusion that made it possible either to believe in the Presence at eucharist, or see the bread and wine as simply acts of remembrance. The wording in the 1559 prayer book allows for the consciences of both groups of people.

Many would say that Anglicanism is blessed by its avoidance of schism and sect, and by the creative tensions and diversity, that accommodated different theologies, and different sincere consciences.

When diverse consciences create stress on filial relationships, there is always another way forward... a 'via media' if you like... I'd argue it is the high and holy way of love. It urges us to fall back on love, on Christ, on the grace of God.

And it enables us to love one another, pray for one another's flourishing.

We really do need another settlement today. An acceptance of diversity of opinion. A respect for conscientious belief and faith. And a letting go of domination, falling back on the Love of God.

God grant us grace and mercy.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Thursday, 21 July 2016 at 4:17pm BST

Kate,
I would have thought that, once you get over the idea that same sex relationships are sinful, every argument for straight marriage is also one for gay marriage. Marriage is marriage, after all.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Thursday, 21 July 2016 at 5:09pm BST

Kate, may I suggest Fr. Tobias Haller's book, "Reasonable and Holy"? I see that it is available on amazon, but I won't post a link here because I believe links don't work in comment posts.

Fr. Haller participates in comments here at TA and perhaps he can point you to other resources.

Posted by: Dennis Roberts on Thursday, 21 July 2016 at 5:57pm BST

Kate - I suspect "theological soundness" will depend on where you are starting from. For where these 32 are then I think making any case would be an impossibility. That's their point, isn't it? However I and many others think Jeffrey John's "Permanent, Faithful, Stable" (new edition) makes the case.

Posted by: Stephen De Silva on Thursday, 21 July 2016 at 6:07pm BST

Kate, you might look at the report of the Marriage Canon Commission of the Anglican Church of Canada

http://www.anglican.ca/wp-content/uploads/Marriage_Canon_REPORT_15Sept22.pdf/cogs/cmc/submissions/

Posted by: Copyhold on Thursday, 21 July 2016 at 6:53pm BST

Erika Not quite. Writing as carefully and sensitively as I can .... there are a number of evangelicals, and some beyond, who whilst fully supporting and wanting to bless faithful, committed, lifelong same-sex unions want to keep the word 'marriage' for what is distinctive about heterosexual union. Equal but different. They know the law out there has changed and that this is probably exasperating for many watching. But this is part of what this debate involves for them. I have civil partnered friends who feel the same actually. They are not happy calling their union 'marriage' and feel there is a great deal still to talk through theologically in this profound social evolution of human relating and belonging. So the relationship of marriage to what some have provisionally called 'covenant partnership' is at the heart of the discussion for some.

Posted by: David Runcorn on Thursday, 21 July 2016 at 7:09pm BST

Kate, there are indeed many theological arguments against same sex marriage, but no sound ones. Reading the Bible 'literally' (i.e interpreting it in a particular tradition) is not a theological argument, much less a sound one.

Some theological arguments for equal marriage can be found in Adrian Thatcher's God, Sex and Gender (10.1.3 and referring back to 6.2ff) but I doubt it is available on line.

If by 'sound' you mean, one that conservatives will accept, then the answer is obviously 'no' because the theology of someone like Thatcher would not be recognised as such by a conservative (just as I wouldn't recognise a position that is basically 'it says in the Bible' has any theological value).

Posted by: Fr Andrew on Thursday, 21 July 2016 at 7:56pm BST

We debate "Who is right? Who is right? Who is right?"

We have been debating it for decades now. And in the process we are wounded.

To the outside world, our debates seem barren.

But perhaps the problem is, we're not asking the question that really needs to be asked.

And because we're not asking the question, we are not healed.

And the question could be: "How can I love? How can I open my heart to love? How can I open my heart to the healing my church so badly needs?"

On either side of the valley, different parties build their defences, construct their divides.

And yet, there may be a via media, a way that leads to truth, that goes right up the middle of the valley, past the arguments on either side, until at last it comes to truth.

The truth is love. Jesus Christ is that love. Take this cup. Take this cup, given to you. Take this cup. This is my blood which I shed for you. Drink of it. Do this in remembrance of me.

What is truth?

Here it is. Here it is, at the meeting place. Here is Jesus Christ. Here is love. Here is our healing.

What shall we discover, when we drink? That it never runs dry. It wells up from within and flows over, pours over, but never runs dry.

"My cup overflows. My cup overflows. My cup overflows."

A reality more real than anything. Alive with love.

"Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit."

Because it is in the overflow of love... in the pouring out of our lives... that we hope that one day our church, our people, our land may be healed.

Love is the answer. Are we willing to ask the question? Are we willing to come down from the hillsides, from the fortifications of our own moral high ground, from the ramparts of our 'rightness', and, instead, meet in the valley and journey together until we come to that place where we are touched by Jesus Christ?

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Thursday, 21 July 2016 at 8:26pm BST

Kate, I know nothing about the legal requirements for marriage in England. The legal requirements vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction in the English speaking world. And, contrary to much popular thinking, many of them do not require "consumation" to make the marriage legal.

For example, in California (where I live), the only legal requirements for marriage are (1) consent, (2) a state-issued license, and (3) a "solemnization" of some sort. "Consumation" is not required.

A "physical incapacity" for "entering the marriage state" that (1) exists at the time of marriage and (2) is "incurable" makes the marriage "voidable" in California. This means that one party can seek a court decree to annul the marriage on this ground but the marriage is valid unless a decree of annulment is granted (unlike things like incest or bigamy which render a marriage "void" even without a court decree). But a party has to seek a court decree annulling the marriage on that ground within four years of the marriage or that ground for seeking an annulment is lost. In addition, the failure to "consumate" where there is a physical capacity to do so has no effect on the validity of the marriage.

Posted by: dr.primrose on Thursday, 21 July 2016 at 8:48pm BST

Kate,
Marriage is not "subject to annulment if not consumated". Non-consumation makes a marriage voidable (not void!) if, and only if, one of the partners could reasonably have expected for it to be consumated and have been misled or if neither party ever intended the marriage to exist.
If, for example, someone marries a disabled person and knows in advance that sexual intercourse is not possible, the marriage cannot be annulled on the grounds of non-consumation.

The circumstance is today largely used to annul sham marriages for purposes of illegal immigration.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Thursday, 21 July 2016 at 9:23pm BST

The link appears to be broken.

This one works

http://www.anglican.ca/about/ccc/cogs/cmc/submissions/

Can you correct the original post (at 6:53 pm)

Posted by: copyhold on Thursday, 21 July 2016 at 10:18pm BST

The Marriage Canon Commission Report is certainly interesting and takes an approach I had not seen before, in particular how it approaches Genesis. It was good to see Genesis addressed so fully since this is probably the most important Scriptural material on gender, sex and marriage, being the material referenced by Christ. The distinction between companionship and marriage is familiar but the distinction between Adam and male humans is novel and I must reread Genesis to consider this properly.

Perhaps the most important section IMO is the suggestion that Anglicans embrace a threefold understanding of Scripture combining the text with tradition and the best of contemporary reason. The latter is something not usually seen in conservative commentaries.

For me it is a highly commendable effort but I can see too that it perhaps lacks full rigour and might not be convincing to conservatives. I would be interested in other views and am grateful for the suggested reading, thank you.

Posted by: Kate on Thursday, 21 July 2016 at 11:27pm BST

Erika
Thanks for the correction but I think the point remains that marriage is as you say voidable until consummated (which is the historic teaching of the Church of Rome for instance too) so it is the physical act which makes the indisoluble Union.

Posted by: Kate on Thursday, 21 July 2016 at 11:32pm BST

David (Runcorn), perhaps because I have only relatively recently come to support same sex marriage, I recognise that recognition of a relationship as a "marriage" is a key issue for both sides because it is the (translation of) the term used in Scripture.


Susannah, yes love is at the centre of this but for conservatives that means love for the Lord and consequently fighting to ensure that His church upholds His teaching (as they see it), pretty much the point David is making.

Posted by: Kate on Friday, 22 July 2016 at 12:20am BST

Kate,

To your clear scripture, I would respond with this clear scripture,

"Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean."

Now, it is clear that the conservatives are putting a stumbling block of a rather large and severe nature before GLBTI with no clear warrant other than readings of Jewish ritual law and *extremely* dubious views of homosexuality presented by "Paul" in the same epistle, and whose pronouncements on who and what gets in the Kingdom is in direct contravention to Jesus' recorded teaching that "With God, all things are possible."

Theology is the art of church lawyering - making whatever argument serves your purpose for gaining power. Until the churches stop trying to be clever and show off their debate skills, they won't embrace justice or righteousness, but mere power and self-aggrandizement.

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Friday, 22 July 2016 at 6:27am BST

A different theological perspective was expressed by a man, who at that time was my bishop. Visiting a hospice for gay men who were dying of AIDS (in those early days) he said. "In the love I have seen, given by those men to their dying partners, I have seen the face of Christ". For me, promoting, encouraging and supporting relationships that show 'the face of Christ' (which must include blessing them) is where the focus of our theology should be. Starting from this point, there is plenty of biblical material to be found, which can take us on to a rather more creative vision of what it means to be Christ for a broken world.

Posted by: Nigel LLoyd on Friday, 22 July 2016 at 7:48am BST

Some of the most godly people I know are gay. And married. I see the Fruits of the Spirit in the way they love and serve me and those around them. These are devoted followers of Jesus. And they challenge me to be a better follower myself.

If there is no clear prohibition against gay marriage or relationships in the NT, why should not these individuals be able to marry? The prohibitions we get in the NT vis-a-vis homosexuality are in the context of letters to particular churches for particular, peculiar instruction in the first century BC in a very circumscribed geographical area of the globe.

Posted by: mdav on Friday, 22 July 2016 at 8:29am BST

Kate,
no, that's not what the definition means, because non-consummated marriages are also valid (voidable, not void).

You could say that, in some circumstances, a non-consummated marriage can be annulled.
That's like saying that in some circumstances, such as infidelity, marriages can end in divorce.

These marriages will be 100% valid until their annulment/divorce. And if a betrayed partner does not file for divorce, the betrayal itself does not invalidate the marriage.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 22 July 2016 at 10:08am BST

David Runcorn,

I know that not everyone accepts arguments for marriage equality. That does not invalidate those arguments per se, it just means that they are not persuasive to all people.

Many gay people, as well as many feminists, don't like marriage because of its patriarchal history. That is not an argument against marriage as such, even if it is a perfectly understandable reason for individual couples.

I remember a long conversation about marriage equality with someone who was grappling with this issue and who was very much of the "equal but different" persuasion.
They changed their mind when it became impossible to find one single criterion that is always present in straight marriages and never in same sex marriages and that would make these marriages obviously different.

Theologically, every single argument for straight marriage is also an argument for same sex marriage.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 22 July 2016 at 10:14am BST

I agree with Nigel. I believe we need to recognise the presence of Christ in the loving, caring relationships of people. Those relationships that sanctify lives and open up faith to the commitment, covenant and fidelity of God.

As a nurse, death is familiar to me. I had 17 deaths this past winter. Do we seriously think - in final illness and point of death - that what we believe doctrinally (our doctrinal purity) is what most people need? They need love. They need someone to hold their hands, to meet their practical needs, to be a presence beside them.

In short, love is the primary thing. Love is, as any reading of scripture must indicate, the primary command. Everything else in scripture needs to be read in the context of the imperative to love.

And that core 'theology' is what we all need, whether it is partners facing AIDS, or parents confronted with the end of life of their children. Dogma is put in perspective. The big 'doctrine' comes into vision and perspective. And that doctrine turns out to be: love one another.

In opening up to love, we open up to Christ. We know Christ present. It is presence at the bedside of a dying man. It is presence in the person we meet begging in the street (including Christ's presence in them). It is presence in the love and joy and tenderness and intimacy (and implicit sacrifice and suffering) of our deepest relationships.

The presence of God.

In our Church - faced with various theological views and doctrines - we need a sense of perspective. We need the centrality of love in the way we treat one another. We need the presence of Christ, whether in human interaction or in sacrament. The whole of life boils down to that need, that challenge, and that searing command: love.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Friday, 22 July 2016 at 10:52am BST

We are called, beckoned, invited to open our lives to the unity and communion of the holy Trinity - the true meaning of love and relationship in all eternity. There, we shall find unity. And though we all come before God in diversity and adversity - like the dying woman or man, in the end what we are really called to, what we come down to, is not moral righteousness and doctrinal purity... not 'Who is right?'... but 'Can we find love, and open our hearts to love, even love of our enemies, love of people who are different to us?'

Then we'll encounter the Face of God. Then we'll have our perspective right. Then people beyond the Church will 'see how we love one another'.

And at the point of our death, or the death of another human being, it is that love that is at the heart of what matters. The real test in our Church today is not 'Who is right?' but 'Can we love?'

Can we love enough to journey together, to do the serious things together (serving our communities), to pray for each other's flourishing, in a way that supercedes doctrinal differences, and surrenders the primacy to the call to love one another?

That requires all the patient qualities of love, it requires respect for difference, respect for conscientious belief, and above all love and care for the preciousness of people whose views we don't hold ourselves.

I believe the eternal unity I mentioned is only found in God, not in our institutional uniformity. As St Paul wrote, if we have not love...

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Friday, 22 July 2016 at 10:53am BST

Erika
No. If the church accepts - and that is what matters not secular law - that at least some marriages can be voided or annulled because of non-consummation then clearly two only become one flesh upon consummation because otherwise annulment wouldn't ever be possible.

(Mark, sorry to answer comments out of sequence. I wrote a reply to you but lost it and will redo later on.)

Posted by: Kate on Friday, 22 July 2016 at 11:15am BST

I'm a little puzzled by the expression, "Anglican Mainstream." I didn't know we had one, But if we did, I'd have supposed it had something to do with subscription to the Prayerbook.

I'd also like to add that those leaning into biblical texts to justify their, uh, negative attitudes toward gay people are referring to texts and a code that sanctions genocide, unprovoked war-making and pillaging from your neighbors what you did not create or earn yourself. I'm referring not only to Leviticus, obviously, though (to make an understatement) plenty in that book ought to give decent people pause; but the books of Numbers, Joshua, Samuel and Kings portray an out-and-out-barbaric society (by the standards of the non-theistic modern state) - and those are the "good guys"! Much that we find in Israel's ethical and moral code has long been rejected in the West. Remnants of it or its like persist in both "christian" and "Islamic" parts of Africa. At any rate, I personally don't think the books I've mentioned prove themselves terribly reliable as a guide to constructing a decent society. Reading the books I've mentioned in their entirety will quickly reveal that those still choking on treating gay people decently are straining out a gnat and swallowing a freakin' elephant.

Posted by: Daniel Berry NYC on Friday, 22 July 2016 at 11:38am BST

David, personally, I have nothing against someone who doesn't believe that two people of the same gender can marry (as opposed to blocking legal equality, which I strong disagree with), but this debate has passed. Marriage equality's becoming the norm throughout the West, and "Equal but different" now has all the appeal of "separate but equal."

This time warp's so disconnected from society it's surreal. Why should any confident, self-resepcting young gay person want to join a church that acts like it's still the 1970s, and expects LGBT people to accept what tolerance they're given and be thankful for it? I'd have no hesitation in advising anyone considering it to think again, and to find a church in which they're treated as equals.

Posted by: James Byron on Friday, 22 July 2016 at 11:43am BST

Susannah, for me much of what you write is what Genesis terms companionship rather than love. Sacrifice is often a key part of love for example. Since entering into a same sex marriage distresses so many of our fellow Christians, the loving thing to do is not to marry someone of the same sex.

I don't dispute that love is the crux. Of course it is. But since most marriages involve a degree of selfishness (isn't this whole debate about people wanting to marry someone to whom they feel a sexual attraction?) I don't personally feel that arguments based on love offer much in terms of the permissibility of same sex marriage or sex for Christians. Indeed, the reason why Christians are called to singlehood is because our love for Jesus, and our commitment to Him, should exceed our love for a partner.

A number of conservative critiques of what they heard during shared conversations is that some liberals think that waving the banner of love is sufficient to justify same sex marriage. I happen to agree with them that much more rigour is needed.


Posted by: Kate on Friday, 22 July 2016 at 11:53am BST

Kate, I'd say this is because a relationship (or sex, or a covenant) does not suddenly become immoral simply because the gender of one of the partner changes. If it does, no one has convincingly been able to show me how or why.

Posted by: lorenzo on Friday, 22 July 2016 at 12:35pm BST

"Since entering into a same sex marriage distresses so many of our fellow Christians, the loving thing to do is not to marry someone of the same sex."

I cannot think of a worse reason for not marrying the person you love than because it might 'distress' some third party's apparently fragile Christian faith. 'Diddums' or 'Get over yourself' are the correct responses to these easily-distressed souls, in my opinion.

Posted by: Laurence Cunnington on Friday, 22 July 2016 at 5:01pm BST

Laurence, well said!

Posted by: James Byron on Friday, 22 July 2016 at 5:31pm BST

If someone feels that "... this whole debate about people wanting to marry someone to whom they feel a sexual attraction..." I can only say that they have missed most of what marriage is all about, by equating love with sex alone. Marriage is often - usually? - triggered by sexual attraction, but also by sympathy, shared loves, by feeling more alive with that person; and as marriage matures it becomes a platform for growth, maturing, mutual care...

To reduce the desire to marry, to celebrate and confirm a lifetime commitment to love an honor, to experience the relationship of Christ's devoted love through marriage - to reduce this to sex appeal is so far short of the purpose and desire to marry as to demonstrate an almost complete lack of understanding of what marriage is. And to deny any group the experience of all these good things is to shut them off from the Grace that comes through marriage.

Posted by: Nathaniel Brown on Friday, 22 July 2016 at 5:44pm BST

Anglican mainstream is anything that opposes women bishops and the gay agenda. you will find on every other issue, outside of the Holy Trinity, that they are totally at variance.

Posted by: robert ian williams on Friday, 22 July 2016 at 7:38pm BST

Laurence, the point is that an unfocused appeal to love each other does not get past the negative passages in the Bible.

Mark, I promised you a response. Personally I think that passage in Romans is one of the planks in the argument for same sex marriage but the objections I have heard to it is that it is written about dietary choices and, without further work, it's application to same sex marriage can be questioned. The key though is that it proves that OT prohibitions are not necessarily still in force but need to be assessed against a new thinking Christianity. In short, it justifies the need to apply contemporary reasoning when we read the Bible as described in the excellent Canadian report.

Posted by: Kate on Friday, 22 July 2016 at 8:34pm BST

Kate,
Annulment because of non-consummation is a secular concept, a legal concept, not a Christian one.

And it does not apply if people know they cannot or will not consummate a marriage. If you married a disabled person and knew you would not be able to consummate the marriage, you could not later annul it on the grounds of non-consummation.
Likewise, if one or both partners were asexual and had no intention of having sex, they would also not be able to annul the marriage on the grounds of non-consummation.

And consummation is a very narrowly defined concept referring to one particular sexual act only. Once.

So if a same sex couple marries, knowing they cannot consummate the marriage in the legal sense, they cannot later annul the marriage.

The key is not the non-consummation as such but the fact that one party had different expectations.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 22 July 2016 at 9:11pm BST

Is anybody besides me fascinated by this definition of "Anglican Mainstream" that RIW posited, above?

"Anglican mainstream is anything that opposes women bishops and the gay agenda. you will find on every other issue, outside of the Holy Trinity, that they are totally at variance."

This is so shocking I can't conceive of where to begin responding..

Posted by: Daniel Berry, NYC on Friday, 22 July 2016 at 10:16pm BST

Daniel, I believe RIW is referring to a website entitled "Anglican Mainstream"--a very conservative site. Some surveys have shown that the rank and file in the pews are much more conservative than priests, but that is often influenced by location and population. Personally, TEC has so many alternate services, prayers, etc. and so many priests/bishops who write their own stuff or who say, "Believe whatever you want" or "I don't cross my fingers saying the Creeds, I just don't interpret them literally" that I don't think there is a "mainstream" anymore.

Posted by: Chris H on Saturday, 23 July 2016 at 3:06am BST

Anglican Mainstream defines itself by the Jerusalem Declaration and the CofE Evangelical Council. I don't agree with Anglican Mainstream, but RIW is not far off the mark.

Posted by: Richard on Saturday, 23 July 2016 at 6:06am BST

Kate, surely when it comes to the permissibility or morality of pretty much anything, the burden of proof lies with those who want to declare anything sinful or forbidden. Ubi dubium, ibi libertas. We do not go about our daily lives wondering whether everything we do is justifiable, we just get on with life unless we have a good reason to abstain from doing something.

Even when it comes to the old canard of dietary laws (the Bible also bans the eating of shellfish, etc), conservative exegesis fails quite spectacularly, IMV. Nowhere in Scripture are these defined as being 'sumptuary' or ceremonial laws which can be dispensed with. Eating is very much a moral act and some of the kosher laws are powerfully reasserted in the New Testament (it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us that you should abstain from...) and yet they are utterly ignored for non-Scriptural reasons.

The prohibition on same-sex sex however, is rabidly upheld, whereas no underlying moral underlying principle can be discerned.

Posted by: lorenzo on Saturday, 23 July 2016 at 6:51am BST

Ubi dubium, ibi libertas

Each to his or her own on that, Lorenzo, I think. For myself though I don't want to come before the Lord and say, "But Lord, nobody proved to me that it was sinful." He has given me Scripture to guide me; I believe that I have a responsibility to try to understand it and follow it. I will fail through miscomprehension, self-delusion and wilful sinfulness but I still wish to do my best for Him because I love Him.

In terms of same sex stuff though, it is prima facie sinful on a literal reading of Scripture so personally I do think the burden of proof is reversed and that it is for liberals to set out a convincing theological basis if we want the church to change traditional teaching. I believe it can be done but most conservatives feel it hasn't been done through the shared conversations process and that doesn't surprise me because I don't think properly reasoned theological arguments for same sex relationships are presently freely circulating.

I agree that conservatives dogmatically uphold literal teaching on same sex relationships which (for the most part) doesn't affect them, but are relaxed about dietary laws and keeping the Sabbath (eg are willing to drive) which do affect them. It is galling isn't it? But it is also irrelevant because we should not judge them so our arguments for same sex relationships should stand on their own merits and not be based on a disparity of treatment.

You may well disagree with me. I know that my approach to many things other than same sex marriage is very conservative and probably therefore out of step with how many TA contributors view things.

Posted by: Kate on Saturday, 23 July 2016 at 8:47am BST

@Chris H: Thanks for your response. I've heard of, and, perhaps, personally know of, priests who mess around with the liturgy in the way you describe, though it's been many a long year since I've been exposed to it (I'm in the diocese and City of New York, but often visit North Carolina, and find a high degree of integrity in the services I attend there). I came into the Episcopal Church from the Roman church in the early '70's, riding a wave of disgust that included the way Roman clergy all over the US put made-up things in their liturgy--usually silly, and always distracting. Perhaps the same thing was happening in the Episcopal Church. Certainly, (to be fair) in those years, many Anglo-catholic parishes opted for the Anglican Missal and/or other "enrichments," Some, I suppose, still do; but much or most of what was provided in the Missals was made permissible in the rubrics of TEC's 1979 Book, making that a non-issue. Interestingly, "Rite III" of the American Book does, in fact, make a made-up-mass legal if the accompanying rubrics and guidelines are followed. Anyway, to the point of "mainstream," from what you tell me about the website called Anglican Mainstream, well, it reminds me of Jerry Falwell's organization, which he called "The Moral Majority," which, as many commented, was neither.

Posted by: Daniel Berry on Saturday, 23 July 2016 at 11:00am BST

Just a question then, Kate: how do YOU demonstrate that something's NOT sinful?

Posted by: Lorenzo on Saturday, 23 July 2016 at 1:23pm BST

Kate, I appreciate what you're saying, but it simply doesn't fit the entirety of the epistle, which makes it quite clear that Paul's concern is the self-appointed "guardians" that have troubled the Church from It's beginning. I also decline to allow those "guardians" the right to set a slippery, frankly dubious hermeneutic - if they wish to champion plain reading, surely the author would've specified "no food" rather than "nothing" as unclean. For myself, I do not hold the author's intention as the only viable interpretation.

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Sunday, 24 July 2016 at 2:05pm BST

Mark
It would take a Biblical scholar who understands the Aramaic, but not only does that passage talk about food it uses the term "unclean", which is very different to "sinful" or "abomination" (and I presume that is reflected in the Aramaic).

Lorenzo
It needs a Biblical scholar, which I am not. There are so many subtleties at work here that a translation is inadequate.

However, I think the starting point is to accept that before Jesus was born, same sex relationships were sinful. I think it is very hard to argue otherwise. To suggest that has changed in the absence of specific recorded teaching from Jesus can then clearly only be done by analysing how Jesus transformed our relationship with sin, with the Law and with God. Then the treatment should consider whether those general principles apply to same sex relationships.

At each step the argument should be grounded in specific, literal Scripture. If for some steps the argument relies on inferences instead, then the use of inferences should be justified from Scripture.

If for personal conscience people wish to short-circuit that rigour and enter in to a civil same sex marriage then that civil marriage is something the church should support and recognise in terms of the freedom of conscience many on TA advocate. But before the church changes its teaching and starts conducting same sex marriages (or allowing any priests to do so) then I believe we need proper Scriptural justification in place. I believe that can be done, but I don't think it has been done yet. And I think conservatives are right to be cautious until it is done. I had assumed someone had done it, but one outcome of the shared conversations process is that it is clear it hasn't.

What we need now is an English equivalent of the Canadian report but with much more detail in the theology section. In the meantime we should be scheduling a vote in anticipation of that report. Documenting the theology is an important procedural step which must be completed but it shouldn't be allowed to delay the change many of us know is needed.

And hopefully if the Scriptural justification was clearly set out, many conservatives could then support same sex marriage and we can avoid a split.

Posted by: Kate on Sunday, 24 July 2016 at 6:57pm BST

Kate, I always wonder why so many Anglicans seem so confused about why Christianity only continues to observe some of the prohibitions found in the OT Law.

This is discussed by Jesus himself in Matthew eg 5:17-20, 12:1-14 and 15:1-20, and was formularised by the CofE in Article 7 of the "Thirty-nine Articles of Religion" found in the Book of Common Prayer (if you can follow the old language):

"The Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to Mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man. Wherefore they are not to be heard, which feign that the old Fathers did look only for transitory promises. 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."

The CofE has all 39 online here: https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-worship/worship/book-of-common-prayer/articles-of-religion.aspx#VII

Posted by: Rev David on Sunday, 24 July 2016 at 7:34pm BST

Really? So unless one has a clear scriptural warrant one should suspect an activity to be sinful, if I understand what you wrote? I'd say that whatever's not specifically proscribed by Scripture's fine, not that everything not specifically cleared by Scripture is sinful. You said that the burden of proof lies with people who want to exonerate something, but clearly it's the opposite. How would you go about demonstrating that something as harmless as crochet or macrame is not sinful, for instance? Tall order if one follows your method.

Posted by: Lorenzo on Sunday, 24 July 2016 at 11:47pm BST

"What is written in the Scriptures? Jesus asked him. "How do you read it?"

" 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind' and 'Love your neighbour as yourself.' "

"You have answered correctly," Jesus said. "Do this and you will live."

(Luke 10:27)

"All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

(Matthew 22:40)

"So in everything, do to others as you would have done to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets."

(Matthew 7:12)

"The entire Law is fulfilled in a single decree: Love your neighbour as yourself."

(Galatians 5:14)

"He who loves his neighbour has fulfilled the Law"... "Love does no wrong to its neighbour. Therefore Love is the fulfilment of the Law"

(Romans 13)

"Do you think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets? I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfil them."

(Matthew 5:17).

* * * * * * * * *

The entire Bible needs to be read and understood in the superceding and overruling context of the Great Commandment.

Whether dietary issues, temporary cultural ideas, myths, stories, human and fallible attempts to understand... or deeply profound moments of insight...

The entire body of work needs to be read in the context of the primary command: to love.

Is a committed and caring and sacrificial and tender relationship loving? Does it enhance two people's lives through love? Should we love people for who they are?

Framing issues in the context of the command to love... is surely the starting point of any theology.

Where the Bible is always completely right, or can contain fallible ideas and mistakes (as I believe), one thing it is not wrong about, and Jesus is not wrong about, is that Love supercedes all, and fulfils all.

"It is written," Jesus often said... "But I say..."

He was turning the world on its head. When the Spirit comes, and we open our hearts to the overwhelming power of God's Love, we become the Law and the Prophets.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Monday, 25 July 2016 at 5:59am BST

Even when we disagree, love between Christians is more important than the things we disagree about. Love is the substance. Love is the primary issue. How we love, is a bigger test than 'Is my theology better than yours?'

Theology can be really helpful, to reflect and understand, but the great passages on love fulfil theology, and set out in simple terms what is absolutely the most important thing.

Gay and lesbian sex is right, not because it is theologically proved by set texts, but because it is loving and that makes it right.

He set it out in such direct and simple terms, not in fancy and intricate theology.

This is summed up in reply to the question, "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?" In response, Jesus makes it plain that do to so, we must obey all the commandments perfectly, which dismays the questioner. But what Jesus points to, again and again, is that Love is the perfection of the Law, the fulfilment of the Law, of all of it.

When we LOVE, we open ourselves to the outpouring and reality of eternal life.

Love is the great Law, and to the extent that two men or two women deeply love and care and sacrifice, including intimate and tender love expressed physically, then they are following the commandment of Jesus Christ.

"God is love, and all who live in love, live in God, and God in them." (1 John 4:16)

Let's get on with it. Let's get down to it. Whether that is church unity and fellowship in love, or raunchy and gloriously happy sex with the person we love. Or service of the poor and lonely and hungry.

We have our clear instruction. It is Jesus's revolutionary way. He illustrated it in his life and in the love he poured out, to death, to the point of no turning back. Love is the whole point. It's more important to do it than to debate it.

We don't need vast theology libraries. It's not meant to be that complicated. We need, like children, to respond and love with simplicity and kindness. We need to obey the command. We do it because we open our hearts, we open our consciences, and the overwhelming love of God then prompts our consciences to what is right, and this love is God's primary imperative.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Monday, 25 July 2016 at 6:01am BST

Yes, Rev David. My personal understanding is this...

In Genesis there was the miracles of creation which was challenged by sin. At that time, the remedy was to treat the symptoms which unfolded in the Law revealed through the early patriarchs, especially Moses. The Law also helped us to avoid sin. To keep the instructions to manageable precautions of necessity it was broad brush and risked "false positives" such as people believing it was sinful to heal on the Sabbath.

In NT, these events are reset. The miracle of incarnation of Jesus reenacts the miracle of creation. Again this is challenged by sin, and Jesus is put to death. This time God, however, responds with a new miracle to conquer sin directly - the resurrection. So we no longer need the Law because it was fulfilled by the incarnation of Jesus.

There is a modern tendency to see Genesis as a myth rather than a miracle, and to focus on the miracle of resurrection of Jesus and to downplay thr miracle of his incarnation in immaculate conception. It seems to me that if Christianity is effectively reduced to a single miracle (the resurrection) it is easy to overlook the importance of Jesus explaining how God has responded to sin. Yet, I believe, it is by recognising and understanding the trinity of God and the associated miracles that we can begin to try to understand passages like those from Matthew you listed.

For me the Law goes from being sterile to being revealed. Not replaced or redundant, but a compass to our consciences. The difficulty is, and we see this in Acts and the Epistles, is that we must now look to the spiritual reasons behind the Law, precisely as Jesus taught.

The "good news" is that in the resurrection we now have a full answer to sin, rather than simply trying to reduce how often we sin (the Law), but it is to the incarnation of Jesus to which we should cling, not his resurrection. The new compact with God though is twofold, firstly faith in Jesus, and secondly trying to avoid sin by +understanding+ what is sinful and why. In this the Spirit is our guide and comfort.

Several people have suggested that the same sex marriage discussions are a proxy debate. I agree - I believe at a certain level they are a proxy debate for the nature of the Trinity of God and the threefold creation miracles. Or put another way, it is only when the church is united in its understanding of the incarnation and resurrection, and of passages like those in Matthew, that we will stop having endless proxy debates about same sex marriage, women priests, circumcision and all the other red herrings which have cropped up over the years.

Posted by: Kate on Monday, 25 July 2016 at 8:35am BST

Rev David,

The confusion if there is any is to why conservatives are so selective in what they retain.

Obviously, the 39 Articles are not in the Bible (and if you're going for sola scriptura, best not to cite them), and to the best of my knowledge nor is the notion that there are separate Ceremonial, Civil and Moral commandments. In the OT *all* commandments (whether they touch on matters of food, behaviour, ceremony, civil organisation etc.) are moral. Leviticus does not say 'and now some moral law, now some ceremonial'.

The convenient (and unscriptural) division of the OT law into 'moral' and 'ceremonial/ cultic' is paradoxically an invention of the Reformers.

I don't think enlightenment is really served by citing cherry picked chapter and verse (so I won't); however it would be difficult to take an overall view of Paul's letters and think that Christians are still bound by the letter of OT law.

Posted by: Fr Andrew on Monday, 25 July 2016 at 10:22am BST

I keep hearing and reading that the more liberal or progressive people in the CofE should respect the views of those who call themselves evangelical, and that we should acknowledge their right to hold the viewpoint they do. Fair enough - but that should cut both ways and it doesn't.

I attended one of the Shared Conversation groups when we were intited to "share" our personal experiences, having been reassured that everyone would be treated with respect, etc, etc, etc. One of the people in my group had been married to a man who came out as gay: he'd only married because he'd been advised to do so by an evangelical cleric who told him to "marry himself straight". This woman's experience has been devastating yet one of the other members of the group seriously suggested that SHE was the greater sinner (a) because they'd divorced, and (b) because she hadn't "worked" on the marriage, implying it was her fault he was gay.

The Cof E needs to decide whether it sticks with bigotry and ignorance or is brave enough to embody the love for ALL of which Christ spoke.

Posted by: JayCee on Monday, 25 July 2016 at 12:54pm BST

"the same sex marriage discussions are a proxy debate"

Not in my household, they are not. This is not theory or theological debating. This is my life. The Church's refusal to marry my partner and me, in the household of God, in the presence of my friends and relatives... with all the sacramental blessing and witness to community involved (which the Church withholds from us)... is not proxy for us. It affects us directly.

Homophobia and marginalisation are not proxy issues. They are what they are themselves. They are not red herrings. They are issues of immediate and direct concern themselves.

I really don't mind if someone believes in the Trinity or (like John Bunyan who posts here) in a Unitarian God. Good for him, whichever he believes: what matters far more is his capacity to love. But I care when people get discriminated against. Because that is the persecution of people's love and the wounding of love. It can be profoundly damaging.

Theological debate may change some people's behaviours and values - but they are more likely to be touched by love. The most important thing of all is that we prioritise love, and that is the key priority of the Bible. When I love my partner, our lives... our real lives... make the world a better place. Same when we love our neighbours.

We need love in the Church, far more than we need endless theological debate. The debates really aren't new. People simply have different opinions. The question is: prioritising love, how do we handle difference, how do we disagree and yet still share faith in Jesus Christ, in love, in service, in fellowship?

I don't think it will be resolved by one argument defeating another argument. It will be resolved if we open our hearts to love. Then we can co-exist, not dominate, and get on with the ministries and service of a desperately needy world.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Monday, 25 July 2016 at 2:41pm BST

The 'reification of the Bible' is one approach to Christian faith. It is an elevated view of the Bible which for some people is a line in the sand, a conscientious integrity and belief. The Bible is seen as ‘flawless’ and we have to conform to it, whatever it says (or make it conform to what we believe!). After all, it is ‘the Word of God’ which is also a name for Jesus. So the Bible and Jesus get elided, and the authority of the Bible is elevated by association. It cannot get things wrong. For others that seems like almost idolatry.

Yet however stark the differences... still... we can love. But theological domination won't suffice. It will just drive schism. The shortfall is in love for one another. With love, we can co-exist. With love, we can pray for one another's flourishing. And with love, we can recognise one another's consciences and differences, and say: that is for God to address, not me. What I have to do... is the elderly neighbour next door, the tragic diminutions of poverty all over the world, how I treat my partner, how I care for colleagues, who's going to visit the lonely old lady who is marooned in hospital, how we can help young people find meaning and hope in life, how we can love one another - with kindness and support - in our church community.

It never ends. So yes, in that sense, our endless debating on sex is a red herring to the love that's needed by so many people. But it is not a red herring, or a proxy debate, to people who are LGBT+. It is our lives. And again, the answer is love.

The answer is nearly always love.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Monday, 25 July 2016 at 2:43pm BST

Rev David, what do you think of the explicit command the god of Israel gives to Samuel, to Saul, to Joshua and others to commit unstinting genocide against the peoples living on the lands Israel wanted, and then simply to take all their belongings? What do you think of people who say that god commanded them to commit horrible crimes? Many so-called Christians believe this moral code us unacceptable, while it's entirely acceptable to mistreat gay people. Well, why not the rest of the same code? http://www.evilbible.com/

Posted by: Daniel Berry, NYC on Monday, 25 July 2016 at 7:26pm BST

Dear Kate, Yes. And the Epistle to the Hebrews covers a lot of the themes you are thinking about... starting with the incarnation and including the self sacrifice, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, and moving on to the life of faith etc. I guess you know it well, but if not (many people seem to ignore Hebrews as too hard) it's well worth a read - to support your thinking.

Posted by: Rev David on Tuesday, 26 July 2016 at 12:04am BST

Dear Susanna, love -loving God with everything we are, and loving neighbour as ourself- are the greatest commandments. But J esus and the other people quoted in the New Testament see this as compatible with personal righteousness, self denial, chastity and the like. So we have to acknowledge that he 'desires of the flesh' are seen as incompatible with Christian discipleship.

ps Fr Andrew, you can't reject the 39 Articles on the basis of "sola scriptura"... because "sola scriptura" isn't in the Bible either!

pps Daniel, early in the Bible God sends a flood to destroy humankind, not just the people in one city. It ends with the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars suffering eternal judgement, and at the turning point Jesus comes to earth and says He has to die in our place - He suffers judgement in our place. Is belief in any of this 'acceptable' in your view?

Posted by: Rev David on Tuesday, 26 July 2016 at 12:44am BST

Daniel

Try this http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/february-web-only/exorcising-marcions-ghost.html

Posted by: Kate on Tuesday, 26 July 2016 at 2:07am BST

I would have to have more clarification, Kate, that "unclean" and "abomination," or "sin" are not intimately related before I would rest *any* confidence on that reading!

And, as I said, it really doesn't matter what was intended - once writing is published, it becomes the province of all involved in the dialogue, not just the author. To elevate scripture to infallibility is absolutely beyond the pale, for me. I will not accept it, and consider it a dangerous fallacy. This is because it elevates the person writing it to the level of God's infallibility, which truly *is* abomination, to my mind. God speaks through Scripture, doubtless, as God speaks through all things. The place given Scripture is because it was written *about* God directly by those believed to have directly experienced God in some special way. This does not make them infallible. Nor did Scripture stop speaking once printed, like an instruction manual for a dvd player. It is an ongoing dialogue in which God continues to inform and enlarge the message by our interaction with it - not in a slavish form, which is wrong, but in a way that brings to bear all the self that God created. The Truth is not printed there, but comes through interaction with it. This is the process of *lectio divina*, as I understand it - one of the many, many, many babies thrown out with the bathwater by rabid reformers and protestant theologians looking to enlarge themselves.

Scriptural truth is not a publication, but a dialogue of individual, reason, faith, tradition, experience, and the printed word. What the author has intended may or may not be the important part of the message and is the least important part of that dialogue, since it is only ever God's intention that matters in Scripture.

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Tuesday, 26 July 2016 at 6:42am BST

We *can* love, Susannah, but they choose not to. Again, I cannot speak for the CofE, but this refusal to love in TEC means that we cannot share a denomination with them.

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Tuesday, 26 July 2016 at 6:46am BST

Mark, Jesus was encouraged to say that OT Law was fallible. He deliberately avoided doing so. Where then is our justification for doing differently?

Posted by: Kate on Tuesday, 26 July 2016 at 10:43am BST

Kate, our Lord did admit the Law was fallible in several places, most obviously in the very passage conservatives are fond of quoting on the definition of marriage (Moses gave this commandment because of your hardness of heart, however in the beginning it was not so, etc) and proceeds to rescind the concessions made by Moses (note, Moses, not God)

Posted by: lorenzo on Tuesday, 26 July 2016 at 4:08pm BST

Yet, He did say that our grasp of it is corrupted, and you are still trying to rope me in to a hermeneutic that I believe fundamentally unsound - "It is infallible, because it says so, and it is true because it is infallible!" This is why we cannot share in a denomination with these people, as they will simply reject any interpretation. I can see no place for the God Who still reveals Himself, no actual *caritas* in theirs, so I must reject their hermeneutic, as well.

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Tuesday, 26 July 2016 at 4:48pm BST

Kate, as for our justification, I'm a simple man and no theologian; I've no interest in erudition or showing off my debate skills. Simply put, we lgbti's are asking for bread and fish and being given snakes and scorpions. When the breakdown of reality is that fundamental, the Truth can *not* be in it.

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Tuesday, 26 July 2016 at 5:38pm BST

Fr. Andrew, the judicious Hooker has a useful passage on the "Moral Law" of the OT, which he confines to the Decalogue for a number of reasons he spells out (largely as to its delivery in a particular fashion directly from God and not over time through Moses. Jesus appears to be aware of such a distinction in how he treats the divorce ruling; and in how he summarizes the commandments for the rich young ruler; the only law he cites from Leviticus is that of love of neighbor.) Hooker's case would explain why the Decalogue forms such a central role in the liturgy as Anglicans crafted it.

On the other matter, I disagree with the conclusion that Scripture rules out same-sex marriage. Scripture says very little about marriage, and what it says is not consistent (Jesus himself points to the contradiction concerning lifelong fidelity). If we are to privilege the teaching of Jesus over the other witnesses (which I think we ought to do) then the idea of a merely "scriptural" infallibility evaporates. Instead we are left with a dominical conclusion: marriage entails permanent, faithful monogamy (contrary to other options provided in Scripture.) The argument is then about whether the moral values of permanence, faithfulness, and exclusivity can apply to couples of the same sex. The case has been made that they can, and the argument has been accepted by some, not by others.

Posted by: Tobias Haller on Tuesday, 26 July 2016 at 6:53pm BST

Rev David--the flood story is an interesting religious story just as the Eden story is. Even says that the god had repented of what a bad job he'd done in creating humankind, and decided to wipe it out and start over. He doesn't, however, wipe out Noah's son who sexually violated him.

Seriously, bro, do you think the bible is some kind of magic book?

Posted by: Daniel Berry, NYC on Tuesday, 26 July 2016 at 7:01pm BST

I find it odd that people find it easy to accept that the Triune God can do seeming impossible metaphysical things like Jesus dying as propiation for our sins so that we might enjoy eternal life in a Heaven which transcends all rules of nature and physics, but struggle with the idea that the same God did relatively mundane things like sending a massive flood...

Tobias, I agree with you.

Rev David, it actually is ages since I read Hebrews. Some here seem to struggle with the OT and in turn I must confess that the portion of the Bible I in turn find most problematic is the Epistles. I will give it a go over the next few days.

Posted by: Kate on Wednesday, 27 July 2016 at 2:36am BST

It isn't His ability we question, Kate, but the necessity, the wisdom and the sense of it. Why would God waste His time on tricks, vengeful pettiness, and foot-stamping displays of power when He knows it will not change hearts or minds. Why murder His entire humanity, but for a handful?

If there is no reality in God, no rationality as He created it in the universe, then it simply can't be accepted as God. It can be accepted as a story, which conveys a truth, but not as history, because, then, God would either be insane or completely absent of His own Creation and its function. Christianity needs to grown up and accept responsibility for its co-creation with God, and learning to face reality through the symbolic and interpretive lessons of Scripture, rather than retreating into fantasy like the servant burying his talent!

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Wednesday, 27 July 2016 at 9:32am BST

Noah's Ark... well I disagree with your suggested view, Kate, but whatever floats your boat.

The thing is, in a Church where we hold different views, how do we disagree well, and access love and grace in doing so? Because the debates will go on forever.

So straight off, I want to say - regardless of your view about Noah - that I affirm you as a good and decent Christian, admire your loving nature, and believe we can hold different views and yet still open the floodgates of our hearts to the Love of God.

With regard to what I believe is the myth of Noah. It's a superb story, a myth told around campfires, where people will have received it in wonder and imagination, opening up to truth at a subconscious level, to archetypes, to divine realities to do with the fundamental nature of spiritual baptism.

Understood this way, it is like looking down a telescope the right way, and the story enlarges our view. Viewed down the wrong end of the telescope, as fact, I believe the story is reduced and diminished... and ultimately appals truth-seekers who can see around them a world for which there is no evidence of this claimed event.

If we resort to what is effectively fundamentalism and literalism, then how can we expect truth-seekers to take us seriously?

The resurrection of Jesus is indeed miraculous, and an example of supernature - of a deeper reality breaking in on our world. But that was a one-off event, not subverting the world we can see and test and understand, just not provable at this distance in time. In contrast, evidence of a worldwide flood and genetic descent of all creatures from a handful 6000 years ago (or whenever) is demonstrably lacking and contradicted by the tangible world around us.

If we go down the path of literalism, I believe we reduce the Bible, not enlarge it. Truth can be accessed imaginatively, and archetypically, through subconscious as well as pedantic factuality. The Bible can be fallible and yet deeply authentic.

In an age of fundamentalism, I fear that repudiation of evolution, or assertion of Noah - not to mention attributing God with ethnic cleansing and homophobia - will put more and more people off believing the stunning and profound truths for which the Bible does, indeed, act as a conduit.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Wednesday, 27 July 2016 at 10:52am BST

I can't believe we're having a discussion about whether or not Noah's flood was real. Have any of you ever taken even an introductory OT course? For crying out loud.

Posted by: Daniel Berry, NYC on Wednesday, 27 July 2016 at 1:34pm BST

The problems and dangers of religious fundamentalism - whether Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish - are acute issues in an age of terror. Daniel, the discussion over textual literalism is surely relevant in the face of a retreat from Enlightenment and scientific understanding, and the effect that fundamentalism can have on young or easily-influenced minds, alienated from the world around them.

I'm not remotely attributing those impulses to Kate, in this present discussion. However, we live in a world where religion gets used to justify... homophobia, sexism, attacks on educators, even terror on every side.

The issue is particularly acute in Islam today, where there is a struggle between fundamentalism and moderate Islam. But in Christianity too, fundamentalist interpretations of scripture are arguably dangerous.

To me, Noah as fact is insane (it may not be for other people). Did the penguins arrive in Jaffa by iceberg? Did Noah send emissaries to gather up the hundreds of different Amazonian tree frogs in the as yet unexplored depths of the rainforests? Were the polar bears summoned by the North wind? Did the duck-billed platypuses swim to Noah from Australia? Were the pandas brought in by wagon? Were all the different species of snakes somehow magically gathered from the six continents?

And what for? If God was so magic as to do all that, then he would also have been magic enough simply to restore the whole lot after the flood went down.

Which begs the question: what flood? A worldwide flood that destroyed all animal life on the planet - even those animals living in the high Himalaya. A flood so high that the Ark was finally deposited upon the heights of Mt Ararat? There is simply no geological evidence to suggest such a flood occurred in human history.

And so on. But if Noah's myth, and the myth of Adam and Eve are somehow factually real (because they have to be, for fear of subverting an infallible bible), then what problem is it to have a 'God' who mandates and sanctions ethnic cleansing, a 'God' who would have men stoned for having sex together, a 'God' who commands that women sit under the headship of men?

In the end, people will believe what they will believe, and we must love not hate, and try to co-exist and seek grace, even when we disagree. But we should certainly disagree.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Wednesday, 27 July 2016 at 3:15pm BST

And this business about whether or not the OT or the Law is "fallible" really misses the mark. Fallible or infallible just isn't a category for how Israel saw it. The way of life their priests codified as The Law was the way that Israel distinguised itself from its neighbors. It was seen as "right for Israel" as a mark of fidelity to the covenant. When we start reading back into it with categories that didn't exist in biblical hermeneutic for many centuries after a canon began to get established (and I would point out that consensus as to that point STILL has not been reached) then we're introducing thought-lines about the bible that are foreign to the type of literature it is. GET A GRIP, folks.

Posted by: Daniel Berry, NYC on Wednesday, 27 July 2016 at 10:52pm BST

Daniel, I can understand the concept that the OT was "right for Israel".

It was the codification and foundation narrative of a religious and political community, writing with their own agenda in mind.

What I challenge is the assertion that we can 'cut and paste' their narrative and rules... or indeed the NT equivalent... and implant them unquestioningly on our world today and how we ought to live our lives.

When people try to use scripture as mandate for condemning or limiting or marginalising LGBT+ lives (or repudiating scientific facts), then the issues of fallibility and infallibility become acutely relevant.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Thursday, 28 July 2016 at 12:12pm BST

I cannot identify with many of the themes in recent comments.

In Acts 28:23, St Paul witnesses at length about Jesus "explaining about the kingdom of God, and from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets he tried to persuade them about Jesus." I can't reconcile that with the suggestion that OT Law is somehow not relevant anymore. Indeed, as Anglicans we believe in the Trinity and that means the Lord our God in OT just as much as Jesus in NT.

Secondly, fundamentally I see Christianity as a religion with miracles at its heart.

I can only conclude that the 32 Evangelicals are right to object because I don't think a convincing theological case for change was made to Synod. It needs to be - and I believe it can be. And I believe that if liberals genuinely believe in respecting individual consciences they will see that the only way forwards is to invest the time to win the theological debate.

Posted by: Kate on Thursday, 28 July 2016 at 1:15pm BST

For what its worth, I was not insisting on a particular understanding of the historicity of Noah's flood.

My point was that Daniel was decrying a God that told the people of Israel to exterminate a city that had led them in to sin, unbelief and judgement... but he was not worrying about the God who, earlier in the OT, destroys the human race because of sin and unbelief and, at the end of the NT, destroys everyone who has not repented of their sin and unbelief.

Posted by: Rev David on Thursday, 28 July 2016 at 1:30pm BST

Kate, I think you'll find Hebrews very pertinent to your thinking - quite a lot of what you said early in the thread sounds like the writer to the Hebrews!

Posted by: Rev David on Thursday, 28 July 2016 at 1:32pm BST

Re scientific facts

I really can't let that one go. Scientific facts, like the benefits of cigarettes, eating fat, the use of aspirin etc change over the years.

There is evidence of a global catastrophe / flood. Try reading Graham Hancock. There have also been many more localised, if still major, inundations such as the North Sea.

Then so far as creation is concerned, there are legitimate scientific theories that we live in a simulation and of course under quantum physics, it is possible (albeit unlikely) that the earth sprung into existence 4000 years ago. So even Genesis is not incompatible with science.

Now you might argue that science suggests the Biblical creation story is very unlikely but that's only if you take an atheist position and don't include the Bible as data in the calculation of probabilities.

Posted by: Kate on Thursday, 28 July 2016 at 7:06pm BST

Rev David, you misread my comments - or seem to. If I've given the impression that I"m "Not worrying about" the god who created the flood or, at the end of the last book of the bible, throws everybody who doesn't pass muster into a horrible fire, then please let me correct that misapprehension: From my standpoint, any of those stories are equally revolting. Of course, a lot of people get a lot of mileage out that kind of story by making themselves the few who are faithful to such a god, and, therefore, the only ones not deserving such a horrible end. the bible is full of such self-justifying hatred. I don't find it in the Gospel, however - note, I said "Gospel," not gospels. One can find plenty of it in the gospels, especially Matthew. I don't think much of it. I'll return to one of my favorite themes: this sort of barbarity belongs in the Bronze-Age that spawned it. It has no place in a modern state or a decent society. though in our time many conservatives seem to long for such a dispensation--often the same ones found in, er, compromising positions after they've finished unloading on how evil gay people are.

Posted by: Daniel Berry, NYC on Thursday, 28 July 2016 at 10:44pm BST

Rev David, concerning Hebrews

Thank you for suggesting I read Hebrews. I have to say that until recently I wasn't ready to approach its message, and even now I am conscious it has depths I struggle to recognise, let alone comprehend.

I found this very helpful commentary on it

https://www.crossway.org/blog/2015/07/why-study-the-book-of-hebrews by Michael Capps

I think you drew my attention to it because of what it says about the New Covenant and the Law but what resonated more is what Capps highlights when he says that

"As a pastor, my fear is that, even if the people in our churches know some Bible stories, they’re often still missing the Bible’s story."

And

"The Bible is one great story—the story of Jesus. If you don't understand this central truth, you'll miss the point of the Bible."

The Old Testament is just as important to understanding Jesus as is the New.

Hebrews doesn't tell us in detail how to respond to OT Law like the Pauline Epistles but reminds us that OT Law cannot make us perfect which should be our aspiration in the New Covenant. It is teaching of a far higher order. I would conclude that Hebrews is authority that we are freed from the absolute prohibition against gay sex, but equally charged with the knowledge that gay sex is perilous. Allowed but requiring of great discernment if practiced. It says nothing, I think on same sex marriage.

Hebrews speaks to sacrifice and discipline. For me, it also carries warning for those who present themselves as priests. As you say, it is a very difficult book and I for one am barely ready to appreciate its teaching - reading it again was a very humbling experience.

I thank you.

Posted by: Kate on Friday, 29 July 2016 at 1:54am BST

The other thing which really, really strikes me from Hebrews is that the Church of England should desist from using the term priest. In Hebrews, the role of priest is clearly identified as someone who offers sacrifices to God on behalf of the people but in the New Covenant Christ was the one, true sacrifice and the role of priest is redundant (being replaced by presbyter or perhaps minister).

I think this has implications for the calls for arrangements which respect the freedom of conscience for priests. If they were priests, taking a role between the people and God, then there would be a case for freedom of conscience. As presbyters, however, they remain at one with the people, just with their teaching formally recognised by the laying on of hands (as distinct to deacons who are teachers with only informal recognition).

Just as I think there is a need for a proper theological study of same sex marriage to be promulgated before a change in teaching, equally I now feel that before a change which embodies freedom of conscience is made that the theological basis of allowing such diversity also needs to be critically examined before it is adopted.

Posted by: Kate on Friday, 29 July 2016 at 3:12am BST

To Susannah, Daniel etc

I think in terms of how we view Scriptures we can usefully turn to the recognised Anglican understanding. Catholics and others believe in sola scriptura (although how that is reconciled with Papal infallibility is beyond me) but as Anglicans we believe in prima scriptura. As Wikipedia explains:

"Prima scriptura suggests that ways of knowing or understanding God and his will that do not originate from canonized scripture are perhaps helpful in interpreting that scripture, but testable by the canon and correctable by it, if they seem to contradict the scriptures."

As I have said several times, the issue of same sex marriage is one where there does seem to be a prima facies contradiction with elements of Scripture. So while issues like equality, the inherent love of many same sex couples and individual conscience are our prompts to review our understanding of Scripture, nonetheless the precepts which make us Anglicans rather than a Reformed Church, require us to test those inclinations against Scripture before we make a change. I know many fear that such an examination might cause Synod to remain against same sex marriage, if we truly believe that the change is God's will then we should trust in the Spirit that a thorough examination of the theology will back a change.

I would also add that just as we should resist liberal calls for change without the disciple of examination against the principle of prima scriptura, equally we must resist the conservatives who are seeking to apply sola scriptura rather than prima scriptura. We should not automatically be bound by traditional understanding of marriage - the very essence of Anglicanism requires us to test that traditional understanding of marriage and, while I feel that shared conversations were a waste of time, the refusal of conservatives to enter into discussions on changing the definition of marriage seems to me to be un-Anglican.

I think I understand things better now than I did before and I believe ABC should have faced down the Primates and reminded them what makes Anglicans Anglican rather than Catholic or Reformed. That should be his role as an Instrument of Communion and in not providing clear leadership to the Primates, and now to Synod, I think he is increasing the risk of schism.

Posted by: Kate on Friday, 29 July 2016 at 3:55am BST

Well, Kate, that depends on which "theology" you are willing to embrace, and, honestly, it seems you had no intention of listening to any point of view that didn't fit your definition of theology.

So . . .

We're back to not being able to share a denomination. I wish those who cannot live with us well, but well elsewhere than in TEC. By all means we should help them relocate, if they need it, but we cannot be in the same house.

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Friday, 29 July 2016 at 4:31am BST

Daniel,

For myself, I cannot believe in Noah any more than in Gilgamesh. Or that seven Sumerian deities created the world in one day from a dragon's corpse. I don't believe that, if I find myself in Japan's forests on a day of sun and rain together, and spy a group of foxes, that they are kitsune in a wedding procession. I don't believe I'll find Taoist immortals on Laoshan, nor Five Elements Mountain, where the Jade Emperor sips elixir and eats peaches. I don't believe we'll find Shambalah by wandering in the Himalayas, nor beautiful Krishna playing his flute by the river meadows of India. I don't believe that Zeus and his dysfunctional family live on the peak of Olympus, nor that rainbows over Scandinavia will provide a bridge to Odin's brawling, joyful, welcoming hall. If I run across a large spider in Africa, it won't speak, and the only trick it's likely to pull is to give a painful, venomous bite. If I put off in a coracle from western Ireland, I'll drown, not find the isle of Tir-na-nog. Arthur doesn't wait on Avalon.

If I wander the swamps, creeks and fields down here in south Georgia, I won't find the wise Horned Serpent, the fierce Wampus cat, or the deadly Kolowa of my great-grandmother's people. I won't find Skinwalkers in the southwestern deserts, nor the Wendigo stalking the wintry forests of the Great Lakes and Canada.

They are legends, beautiful and fearsome, that tell us truths about ourselves, our world and our relationship to mystery. For some people, for whom the world is simply too frightening or boring or disorderly, they want to cling to the literal reality - those must have sweet reason to reason away their unreason, to be approached from a very basic level to show why the basic logical underpinnings simply don't hold within its own narrative reality.

As seen, it doesn't usually work, but we have to try, otherwise they will miss the actual truth the legends try to convey.

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Friday, 29 July 2016 at 5:05am BST

Tour de force, Mark Brunson. Myths and legends lose their power if we try to reduce them to facts.

"They are legends, beautiful and fearsome, that tell us truths about ourselves, our world and our relationship to mystery."

That is wonderfully put.

When indigenous people in Australia 'go walkabout', they are not seeking a sort of tourist trip of the outback, at the factual level. Rather, they seek to empty themselves in a way, to let go, to open themselves up to the whole of nature and a mystery of which they are tiny parts. They are looking to open up to a world and a consciousness on a different plane, not a cerebral one. The plane of the archetype, the plane of the subconscious, and simple awareness. Truth gets imparted without having to be analysed. or theologically worked out.

Same with a myth like the story of Noah. It is incredibly deep. It's doesn't need to be a factual account. It is a way of opening up to truth, imaginatively, intuitively. It's beyond cerebral controls. The imagery and the situation are wondrous. Without even understanding how, or the ways in which the story resonates with future events in Jesus Christ, it imparts deep meaning... not about pairs of animals, not about an actual mountain-high flood... but an intuively grasped recognition of spiritual experience and reality: the baptismal nature of dying to self, being lost and buried and dependent on God, and then being raised or delivered, and restored into a new life, fresher than anything in the old.

Noah mirrors the Red Sea legend, the legend of Jonah in the whale, Daniel entombed with the lions, the four persons in the fiery furnace, Joseph in the pit, the Israelites in the desert, the baptism John was doing in the Jordan, and - of course - the greatest baptism of all: the baptism that Jesus underwent day by day, and to his death - dying to self, being abandoned (like Noah when he was lost on an horizonless ocean entombed in his boat - and the restoration that this baptismal reality leads to.

And that's before you even get to the accompanying concept of covenant. The story of Noah is absolutely fantastic. It is not about anteaters, it is not about facts.

It is central imagery of what spiritual experience is all about.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Friday, 29 July 2016 at 9:26am BST

How do we receive the Bible? By living it.

The myth of Noah draws us intuitively into the life of God.

"I have a baptism to undergo," Jesus said. And further, "You will be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with... by which he meant his death."

Opening up to God means opening up to Love. It means surrendering control, and letting God's life flood through a person. It is going under... like you go under into an imaginative story... but it is also coming alive. Truth gets imparted whole like that sometimes, without analysis.

Each one of us is called to a Noah situation... abandoning ourselves to the living God... opening to the love of God... loving the people we meet on our journey.

Jonah is part of the same archetype - as Jesus said, "The only sign I give you is the sign of Jonah." And its significance is not its factuality at all.

And the ancient myth of the flood (not unique to Judaism) points instinctively to these deep spiritual truths. Polar bears, koalas and zebras are a distraction. Factuality diminishes the achingly beautiful power of myth.

In the same way, I fear that fundamentalism and literalism demean the Bible, reduce it, and in the process make God seem like a petty tyrant willing to wipe out all humanity, slaughter Canaanite children, stone people for being different, cast most of humanity away to hell without parole.

We are far too cerebral much of the time. God is revealed to little children, to uneducated people who just love their neighbours, and it doesn't say anywhere that life in God is better if you have a string of theology degrees.

Christians need to go walkabout more often. They need campfire stories and dreamtimes. What matters is opening up, not systematically constructing theories of love, but rather, simply, doing it.

"We have a baptism to undergo" - but do we dare to die, the way Jesus died from day to day? Do we dare to abandon ourselves - like Noah - and hand ourselves over to the flood-tides of God's love?

Very few of us do.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Friday, 29 July 2016 at 9:35am BST

There's literal truth, and there's mythical (or metaphorical, if you prefer) truth. And then sometimes we can only see a biblical story as an earlier (and maybe not very good) attempt to understand the concept of God and the divine, and its role in our world. So when we read that God repented of creating the human race and decided to wipe them out in a global flood, it's not unreasonable to feel that just maybe the writer of the narrative was missing the point a little, and had misunderstood the role of the divine in the story. If you want to be charitable, you might prefer to say 'simplified' or 'exaggerated' rather than 'misunderstood'.

Does that mean we are superior to these earlier story-tellers? No, of course not. I'm sure we are just as capable of misunderstanding the role of the divine in our world, including perhaps some things that our predecessors understood really well. But on other matters we might well feel that we have actually understood them a bit better than those who told and recorded and edited stories three thousand years ago, not least because we know a bit more about how the world actually works. That will influence our understanding of the literal truth.

Posted by: Simon Kershaw on Friday, 29 July 2016 at 11:31am BST

@ Mark Brunson,

It's well put. If we cling to the literal words of the myths you cite and try to define and confine truth with and to them, we'll go askew of Truth as surely as we would if we simply dismissed the myths as mere legends.

It kinda reminds me of the exchange between Eustace Scrubb and the aged star in the Chronicles of Narnia. Eustace is surprised to find that a star is an actual intelligent celestial being, and says, "I thought a star was just burning gases." The star answers, "that is what a star is made of--not what a star is."

Biblical literalism isn't really different from an attempt to reduce our humanity to Carbon, Oxygen, Hydrogen and Nitrogen.

Posted by: Daniel Berry, NYC on Friday, 29 July 2016 at 11:37am BST

One of the most common difficulties non-believers (and wavering believers) have with the Bible is struggling to understand why God doesn't do something about evildoers to reduce suffering. With the Flood, he did. It also explains why He doesn't do things that way anymore.

If you reduce the Noah story to just a myth, you remove the hands-on action many people need to see in order to believe.

Posted by: Kate on Friday, 29 July 2016 at 12:51pm BST

"Just" a myth is a profound misunderstanding of both myth and its importance!

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Friday, 29 July 2016 at 10:21pm BST

And Kate, "hands on" is very apt, as God "does something" about us gays, too: He tells you to kill us. There's no room for mercy or compassion in Mosaic Law, no place for repentance, just death in that literal and inerrant OT reading.

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Friday, 29 July 2016 at 10:42pm BST

«"Just" a myth is a profound misunderstanding of both myth and its importance!»

If the resurrection of Jesus was just a myth, TA would probably not exist. It is the reality which matters, not the myth.

Posted by: Kate on Saturday, 30 July 2016 at 11:43am BST

Kate "It is the reality which matters, not the myth". Not so sure about that. I would argue that it is our beliefs and (even more importantly) the way we behave as a result that matters.

The parable of the sheep and the goats is very clear, and Jesus in that story doesn't say the goats are condemned for the way they think or what they believe about anything, but only on the basis of their actual behaviour.

Posted by: Simon Kershaw on Saturday, 30 July 2016 at 1:32pm BST

Anglican Ink are reporting that a Primates Meeting has been scheduled for October 2017.

http://www.anglican.ink/article/october-2017-primates-meeting-scheduled

Posted by: Kate on Monday, 1 August 2016 at 10:49am BST

As we have no actual proof of it, it *is* a myth, Kate. That's what you don't get. And, no, what *did* happen doesn't matter, but what *does* happen, and, if God doesn't communicate with you, personally and now, then faith in an unprovable historical report (which is not the same as objective reality) is empty and useless.

I notice you still dance around the subject of what it would really *mean* to accept the OT literally. Is it a responsibility you choose not to shoulder? If so, can you really call it faith?

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Wednesday, 3 August 2016 at 6:59am BST

'The criticism or scorn of others will not sway them. After all doesn't the New Testament warn the followers of Christ to expect rejection?


- though it concerns me that this tradition has yet to really become aware of the impact of its teaching on those whose lives bear the weight and consequence of their beliefs.'

Posted by: David Runcorn on Thursday, 21 July 2016 at 2:15pm BST

Lesbian and gay Christians certainly know a great deal about rejection - and much more.

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Monday, 8 August 2016 at 4:12pm BST

'The criticism or scorn of others will not sway them. After all doesn't the New Testament warn the followers of Christ to expect rejection?


- though it concerns me that this tradition has yet to really become aware of the impact of its teaching on those whose lives bear the weight and consequence of their beliefs.'

Posted by: David Runcorn on Thursday, 21 July 2016 at 2:15pm BST

Lesbian and gay Christians certainly know a great deal about rejection - and much more.

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Monday, 8 August 2016 at 4:20pm BST

In my opinion, there is far too much concern for so-called 'theology' - often masking for self-indulgence or obsessionality.

The real world actually awaits ! Some real care for others , and engagement would be really be good news !


What is the connection between the assault referenced below, and homophobic 'theological reflections' of all kinds ?


http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2016/08/01/internet-raises-thousands-for-couple-who-endured-horrific-homophobic-attack-on-holiday/

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Monday, 8 August 2016 at 4:41pm BST

Who is my neighbour ?

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Monday, 8 August 2016 at 4:42pm BST

Precisely, Laurence.

I maintain that theology has devolved to mere courtroom antics, at best, and mental masturbation, at worst, with a few notable and largely-ignored exceptions who provide cogent answers, and, thus, aren't diverting enough for mass consumption.

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Tuesday, 9 August 2016 at 6:07am BST

Laurence: "Who is my neighbour ?"

Jesus attributes moral value to people who the religious elite regard as "other"... the Samaritan, the person who's gay... if the great command says to love our neighbours, that's a pretty strong imperative.

Love fulfils the Law. Opening our hearts to the love of God, opening our hearts to the stranger and the outcast, the people who are 'other', the people we share our lives with on this planet for such a little time... that is the Law and the Prophets.

Theology is not so much about talking, as doing, and what do we have to do? We have to love. It is the commandment that subordinates all other commandments.

However righteous we think our dogma is, "if you have not love..." as it says in the epistle... all you are is dissonant noise.

Who is my neighbour? My neighbour is anyone who needs love, who may be open to love, who may have more love in their hearts than I do, for all I know.

It is all about opening up to God, not enclosing God in tight dogma and rules. Letting the love of God to flow free at last in our little, weak and fallible lives...

I pray so. Because we will not be on this planet long. There is so little time, and at some point our talking and debating needs to subside, and we simply need to get on and do what Jesus above all commands: to love.

Sometimes talking and debating becomes a prevarication, putting off the real challenges and costly demands of love, of loving our neighbours. If I’m honest (and I’ll speak for myself) we keep putting love off, because we are selfish and lazy and reluctant to go where it hurts.

Our faith is not theories. It is action. It is people's lives. What the whole world needs is love in action, day by day, and people who dare to die to self.

The world is desperate for it... it is the absolute imperative. Your question (and Jesus's question) is radically profound. It re-directs theology, and urges us to be transformed, and to transform theology so that it becomes the way we live, and the love we can give and receive, as we open up to God, and truly open our hearts to Jesus Christ.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Tuesday, 9 August 2016 at 10:57am BST
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