Comments: civil partnerships: individual bishops views

Knowing +Tom Wright's rep as the most moderate (even liberal) of the "antis", I felt obliged to read his 'Ad Clerum.' There I found

"1987, when Synod clearly and unambiguously reaffirmed the biblical and traditional teaching of not only the Anglican Communion but almost all Christians worldwide, namely that sexual relations are to be celebrated within, and only within, the marriage of a man and a woman"

... the same ol', same ol' *duplicitous blather*, and everything went downhill from there. ["biblical and traditional" being oh . . . around 40 years old or so? Except maybe the phrase "a man and A woman" being used against the practice of *polygamy*?]

"I am bound to say that I regard the creation of such [same-sex union-blessing] services as exhibiting a serious lack of integrity."

LACK OF INTEGRITY??? How can he *say* such words, without his tongue falling out of his mouth? Bishop 'Black Hole', meet kettle. >:-(

"I shall be very sorry if members of the clergy, by holding ‘services of blessing’ or near equivalent, force me to make disciplinary enquiries . . . if with reluctance I am forced, by those who decide to go this route, to change my practice to meet the new situation."

What, there's a gun to his head? "Force" here, is more of the delusions of "the victimized". {sarcasm on} Nasty lil f*gg*ts (and man-hating d*kes) 'having their way' w/ +Tom. Boo hoo! {sarcasm off}

"But it can’t happen by people creating ‘facts on the ground’, deliberately flouting the church’s well-known teaching, and then requiring that the teaching be adjusted to fit."

This is the same line o' bull that he's said about +GR, right? That *human beings' lives* can be REDUCED to mere "facts". :-(

"the church's well-known teaching": no, that would be the obsessively well-publicized edict of a reactionary *faction* of the church---one that has never been conceded to, because it is *inconsistent* w/ Scripture, Tradition and Reason.

If +Tom Wright is the best that the antis can produce, their case is even weaker than I thought...

Posted by J. C. Fisher at Wednesday, 14 December 2005 at 7:21pm GMT

I bet the parties to a civil partnership will enter it without a whit of regard for the position of the CoE which interestingly is still wringing its hands over women bishops and what to do, what to do!

I think I will just cite the report on human sexuality from the Diocese of Milwaukee to summarize my own position on this matter. (Available at )

" 10.3a The Classic View

To be faithful sexual beings means to live out the human sexual relationship in the context of the male-female covenant of marriage as governed by the commandments of
God. Scripture is clear that all sexual relations outside of the covenant of marriage are sinful (Mark 7:21–23//Matt 15:19; Rom 1:22–32; 1 Cor 5:10–11, 6:9–20; Gal 5:19–21;
Col 3:5, 8; 1 Tim 1:8–11).

10.3b An Emerging View
Sexuality is fundamental to one’s bodily existence and sense of self. The full expression of one’s sexuality through intercourse with another person is legitimate, meaningful, and good only when it occurs in a fully committed personal relationship.
“One basic principle is definitely implicit in Christian thinking about sexual relations. It may be put this way: the greater the degree of personal intimacy, the greater should be
the degree of personal commitment.. . . . For Christian tradition this has been, as it were, codified in the principle that full sexual intercourse requires total commitment, that is, in the words of the marriage service, ‘faithful’ and ‘forsaking all others,’ ‘to have and to hold ... for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part.’”41
Therefore, to be a faithful sexual being involves personal relationship, commitment, and fidelity to the other person. For heterosexual persons, this is undertaken through the covenant of marriage. For homosexual persons, there is as yet no comparable institution recognized by society.
Nevertheless, we recognize the possibility and need of homosexual persons to undertake the same kind of total commitment to one another in a permanent relationship of mutual love. "

These sorts of reports have been cropping up all over the Episcopal Church in the past year or so. They reflect the work of various bodies and positions who find themselves face to face with people who civil law recognizes as having freedoms and duties they did not recognize before (horrors!)

Now I find nothing to cite as error or as sin in these conclusions. They are grounded in what I and no doubt those who pen them, think is the guiding and transformative power of the Spirit.

Though I am sure that others will find in them the seeds of a "new religion" or some such.

I suppose it will take the CoE simply forever to come up with something similar?

Posted by RMF at Wednesday, 14 December 2005 at 9:00pm GMT

"Sexuality is fundamental to one’s bodily existence and sense of self."

This statement needs extensive qualification and discussion of the nuances. We should be willing to question the assumptions of our culture in this area. Is it fair to say that sexual expression in specific ways is a "need", in the same way that air, food, and shelter are "needs"? Who gets to decide? Only the person experiencing the "need"?

"Therefore, to be a faithful sexual being involves personal relationship, commitment, and fidelity to the other person. For heterosexual persons, this is undertaken through the covenant of marriage."

It is also undertaken through close friendships and comradeship, at least it was until our culture decided that romantic/sexual relationsihps are the only way to find faithfulness and commitment.

Posted by nathan at Wednesday, 14 December 2005 at 11:06pm GMT

Fisher; Perhaps you'd like to explain how Durham has shown a lack of integrity?

Posted by Peter O at Wednesday, 14 December 2005 at 11:11pm GMT

Interesting double standards in Bishop Hind's letter:

"In accordance with traditional practice, I do not intend that in this diocese there should be unreasonable questioning of either clergy or lay people about their personal attitudes or behaviour." . . . . . "Furthermore, I will expect those who advise me and the area bishops to assure us that candidates for holy orders in the diocese understand and accept what it means to “model their life and that of their household according to the mind of Christ.”"

It seems to me that if you are already ordained then British politeness rules and nobody will question you too closely. But if you are presenting yourself as a candidate for ordination then expect an inquisition.


Posted by Simon Dawson at Thursday, 15 December 2005 at 12:06am GMT

In defence of Tom Wright (who is wrong) I would say that his position translates into "don't ask, don't tell", which is not by any means the same as "exterminate the pooves".

I believe, too, that he would be just as hard on clergy trying to contract second, or third marriages. I think that he is unrealistic about sexuality, but there is a difference between being conservative by temperament and upbringing and being actively bigoted.

There may of course be a back story here which will prove me entirely wrong. That would depend on what he knows about the intentions of his own clergy, and what he has said to them privately.

Posted by Andrew Brown at Thursday, 15 December 2005 at 8:52am GMT

So we're finally getting towards a clear idea of what this debate is really about. It's not about people's bits, but rather, what one is expected to feel towards one's own and opposite gender.
On the one side, we have the biblical argument that marriage is between ONE man and ONE woman (which could have more to do with abrogating polygamy); what is important is that it is two individuals of different plumbings being joined up. Add in the deterministic idea of what one is destined to - and these people seem to have a dead certainty as to who will get a harp in the clouds.
On the other, we have *relationships* between two (preferably not more than two) persons. Here we find a worldview that gives a slightly better deal to freewill and the movement of the Spirit.
But hang on, isn't marriage itself a *relationship*? In which case, what matters is not the man-woman thing, but persons.
So what we're really getting our knickers in a twist about here is actually personhood in Christ. Surely personhood derives a large part of it's meaning through one's capacity to enter into a deeper relationship to those around us - be they one's spouse, spice or work mate or someone one would not be legally eligible to marry anyway - rather than one's eligibility to enter a particular (and exclusive) form of institution? For my money, personhood in Christ and its implications for our life in the Church of God is a much more interesting discussion.

Posted by k1eranc at Thursday, 15 December 2005 at 12:04pm GMT

From the Changing Attitude rough guide:

"We suggest that as Anglicans who are used to words meaning what we want them to mean, it is possible to hold a service in church following the registration of a Civil Partnership."

Not sure whether to be amused or worried by the first half of the sentence...! It is hard to tell to what extent Colin's tongue is in his cheek.

JCF I am pretty surprised at your vitriolic attack on Tom Wright. Clearly you have every right to disagree with his views but how precisely has he demonstrated a serious lack of integrity? And the expression "facts on the ground" is clearly not a very good one but is hardly reductionist; rather it expresses frustration with those who are changing church teaching and practice without establishing consensus first, given the current (though not necessarily final) statement in Issues in HS etc.

Posted by Sean Doherty at Thursday, 15 December 2005 at 4:55pm GMT

See above re "duplicitous blather"

How can any Christian (nevermind bishop) *seriously* think that the Bible

1) considers the concept of *same-sex marriage* (of two *homosexual persons*), but

2) rejects it?

(It's debateable whether even the NT considers *opposite-sex marriage* in a healthy, partnership-of-equals we value today)

It's because I recognize +Wright's *intelligence*, that I don't believe that he believes the above.

Ergo, he is claiming the Bible is saying something that he knows it doesn't.

Ergo, he lacks integrity. Period.

[However, he is still a bishop---and a priest---in the Anglican Communion: one from whom I would gladly receive Christ's Body & Blood. Re Matt. 5:23-24, it really would be best if we reconciled . . . but if I have to leave the altar, then he does too! ;-/]

Posted by J. C. Fisher at Friday, 16 December 2005 at 4:14am GMT

JCF: Despite the multiple ergos I am still not following you. How does Wright's position follow from the syllogism you set out? I am not aware that it needs to, since his argument is based on two separate presuppositions, namely:

1) A claim about the teaching of the Bible and tradition: "sexual relations are to be celebrated within, and only within, the marriage of a man and a woman" NB this does NOT require that the Bible explicitly note and reject the concept of same-sex marriage but simply it's teaching on sex. The Bible nowhere condemns the use of nuclear weapons but to many Christians including me it is a simple enough extrapolation of its teaching to say that they are wrong.

2) A claim about due process: "Whatever one’s views of the underlying issue, you simply can’t side-step the proper process in a matter as serious as this."

So I still fail to see how this exhibits a lack of integrity. Just because someone disagrees with you, does not mean they lack integrity.

k1eranc: Forgive me if I am wary of the identification of the freedom of the will with the movement of the Holy Spirit. In the words of Basil Fawlty, "this is exactly how Nazi Germany started".

Posted by Sean Doherty at Friday, 16 December 2005 at 11:29am GMT

Why not read Wright's Romans commentary? It is quite tightly argued.

Don't you think the words of Basil Fawlty are funny precisely because people are always likening everything they don't like to 'the way Nazi Germany started'?

A scholar in thrall to his temperament and upbringing is not a scholar at all. The whole point about scholarship is the ability to question presuppositions.

Posted by Christopher Shell at Friday, 16 December 2005 at 1:12pm GMT

More on Tom Wright. He says:

"We have voted as a Communion and a Church to have women priests, to admit children to Communion before Confirmation, and so on. Change can and does happen. But it can’t happen by people creating ‘facts on the ground’, deliberately flouting the church’s well-known teaching, and then requiring that the teaching be adjusted to fit."

Some "Communion" that exists only in Tom Wright's head might have voted to have women priests before people locally created facts on the ground which prompted the debate, but the Anglican Communion certainly didn't. Nor has it even yet voted as a communion to have women priests - many provinces still don't accept this development.

This has been a consistent theme with +Durham: wait for universal consensus, then change, just like we did with women. Except we didn't. Doh!

Posted by Matthew Duckett at Friday, 16 December 2005 at 5:21pm GMT

Sean, you're missing the point:

Assertions that the Bible teaches "one man, one woman marriage" EXIST *only* in REACTION TO homosexual couples' (legitimate) claim to marriage for their relationships (w/ the possible polygamy exception I noted).

To say "the teaching of the Bible and tradition: 'sexual relations are to be celebrated within, and only within, the marriage of a man and a woman'" puts the cart before the horse.

To *knowingly* argue such sophistry (NOT a mere "disagreement")---ergo---lacks integrity.

I really think I'm being perfectly clear about this ("let the reader understand"). To disagree w/ me, because your particular ox is being gored (Welcome to *our world*, straight Anglicans!), doesn't mean I'm mistaken---or obfuscating.

Though of course, me being me, it's possible. ;-/

Posted by J. C. Fisher at Friday, 16 December 2005 at 9:07pm GMT

James DG Dunn in his The Theology of St. Paul the Apostle (1998)argues along very traditional lines, especially in his chapter "Ethics in Practice: How Should Believers Live?"

However, Dr. Dunn shares some interesting information in a footnote (p.692): "Much quoted is the statement of Apollodorus (mid-4th century BCE): 'We have courtesans for pleasure, concubines for the day-to-day care of the body, and wives to bear legitimate children and to maintain faithful guardianship of household affairs'" - Pseudo-Demosthenes, Orations 59.122).

Another ancient writer might have added MALAKOI (Gk.)/MOLLES (Lat.), 'Lustknaben' (Ger.), 'toy boys'to the list of sexual venues for pleasure.

Didn't St. Paul's sexual ethics address the mores of the ancient world? If so, how can this kind of amoral, exploitive behavior be compared to committed, monogamous same-gender relationships in the 21st century?

One can be very biblical in one's sexual ethics and still hold, on the basis of historical evidence, that St. Paul was addressing a different kind of behavior than is being addressed by the Bishops' Guidelines relating to the CPA.

Posted by John Henry at Saturday, 17 December 2005 at 4:16am GMT

JCF: firstly, I really think you'll struggle to prove that assertions of the heterosexuality of marriage are made only against homosexual claims and in fact I find it faintly hilarious, given Genesis 2 and Jesus's pronouncements upon it. I think you'll also struggle to maintain it in view of the church fathers, where AFAIK there was no concept of same-sex marriage in question. Have I followed your argument correctly?!

Whether this is even so or not, doesn't my own struggle to understand where you are coming from on this point indicate that it is a potentially intelligently and sincerely held view (whether correct or not) rather than a piece of sophistry?

I am not disagreeing with you simply because my "ox is being gored" but because my church is being torn apart (as is yours) - this is important and petulance won't help anyone.

Posted by Sean Doherty at Saturday, 17 December 2005 at 11:08am GMT

Given the lack of knowledge and understanding of gay sexual orientation at the time when the people who wrote the Bible lived, its hardly surprising.

Its only when you stop making ludicrous claims for what is a book - no more, no less, that we can hope to gain any sort of rational perspective on the subject. Traditional Christianity will always be incapable of doing so - thats why revision is needed, and ECUSA are showing us the way. if that leads to a breakup of the Anglican 'Communion', then all well and good - it will be a relief not to be affiliated to organisations such as the Nigerian church.

Posted by Merseymike at Saturday, 17 December 2005 at 1:14pm GMT

Dear John Henry, I think that you are making a mistake by assuming that St Paul ONLY had in mind the mores of the ancient world. He would also have had in mind the moral teachings of the Jewish Law regarding forbidden sexual behaviours.. (Jesus said he came to fulfill the law, not to do away with it). Furthermore the Romans passage, among others, does not suggest that one person is using the other, but implies mutuality!

Posted by Dave at Saturday, 17 December 2005 at 2:54pm GMT

Dear Mike, that book contains the sayings and writings of Christ, His Apostles and the Prophets. It is not just "a book - no more, no less".

I do not understand what the definition of Christian or Anglican would be if we were to decide that these saying and writings are only of equal, or less, value than anyone else's opinions or theories.

Doesn't such liberalism just lose any distinctively Christian identity?

Posted by Dave at Sunday, 18 December 2005 at 12:58pm GMT


It is ignorant to claim that there was no evidence of awareness of homosexual orientation in ancient times - a look through classical literature would swiftly disabuse you of that notion. However even if it were the case its hermenutical relevance would be extremely dubious given the positive teaching of Scripture (not simply its negative prohibitions) on sexual identity as male and female.

Obviously you have rejected trad. Christianity's understanding of the Bible, as you freely admit and as you have every right to do. I have no problem with that and you are welcome to do so although I happen to think you are incorrect. The question is not whether you as an individual are welcome to do so but whether the church as a whole is free to do so. It is hardly surprising that people don't want the entire church to set themselves outside of what Christians have historically believed!

Posted by Sean Doherty at Monday, 19 December 2005 at 11:23am GMT

No, Sean, not true. Awareness of same-sex acts, certainly, but not orientation as identity in the way we would understand it now.

You forget, though, that I regard the Bible as both a human creation and a product of its time, and that I believe the Church does need to revise some of its teachings. thats why I am a liberal and happy to be a revisionist, although that term is usually used as an insult.

Posted by Merseymike at Monday, 19 December 2005 at 9:25pm GMT

1) In fact, there is awareness of orientation (i.e. that some people are almost exclusively sexually attracted to members of their own sex) not just acts. I don't have the references handy but am happy to dig them out.

2) Sexual orientation in the way "we would understand it now" is itself a fluid concept over which there is even today some disagreement which makes the simplistic judgements of essentialism untenable anyway.

Posted by Sean Doherty at Thursday, 22 December 2005 at 12:25pm GMT

I've read them , Sean, and I remain unconvinced, as do almost all sociologists working in this area.

I would agree that there is fluidity and that we should not be frightened of that. But that is no excuse for retaining adherence to past beliefs.

The problem is, I think, that I don't believe in revealed religious truth in the way you do, and so we speak from very different starting points.

Posted by Merseymike at Thursday, 22 December 2005 at 1:45pm GMT

Of course. My point is much more that because of the completely different starting points, it's hardly reasonable of you to expect anyone else in the church to come round to your point of view without difficulty. My response was much more to do with your "ludicrous claims" point.

I am surprised that sociologists have anything to do with the interpretation of classical texts which classical scholars seem pretty clear about. Please could you explain more as this would seem to be a potentially fruitful area of dialogue.

Posted by Sean Doherty at Thursday, 22 December 2005 at 4:15pm GMT

It would be interesting and probably revealing to have an article or two, and a debate, on "what is religious truth" !

Posted by Dave at Thursday, 22 December 2005 at 5:09pm GMT

Sean ; this is a question of understanding the meaning of social construction and how we might interpret it. For example, can an act be thought to mean the same thing in a very different cultural context. Classical scholars do not themselves hold to a single interpretation, of course, but if one holds the view that contemporary 'homosexuality' is a relatively recent concept in terms of a distinct orientation and personal identity, as opposed to simply an activity, then it takes on a very different tack. Have you read Jeffrey Weeks, David Greenberg, David Halperin?

I would class myself as a moderate constructionist, I accept sexual drives and orientation, but understanding of them is socially constructed. Same with religion, only I think thats entirely a human creation. I've just joined Sea of Faith, by the way!

There is also the question of looking at the Bible sociologically - as itself, a social construction.

Of course, this is problematic if you do believe in revealed truth.

Posted by Merseymike at Thursday, 22 December 2005 at 11:57pm GMT

Dear Mike, To begin to convince people like me (and most people who believe and trust in a personal God and His self-revelation) you would have to show that homosexuality was a new phenomenon, or that the new understanding was so different that the previous revelations wouldn't apply in that case. A revised understanding of human sexuality isn't enough.

But the Biblical passages (especially in the NT) don't just address "heteros" doing homosexual acts for kicks, and the basis isn't just hetero-right homo-wrong, as most other options are also prohibited, and even hetero-sexuality is strictly lomoted (eg Jesus saying that to look at a woman lustfully is the same as committing adultery in your heart). I suppose the general message is "sex is powerful stuff; and can be dangerous" which is I think borne out by the experience of the last 50 years in the UK where more sexual freedom has been associated with greater relationship break-down and booming levels of sexually transmitted diseases - some fatal !

Posted by Dave at Friday, 23 December 2005 at 8:56am GMT

And to do that, Dave, you would have to stop looking at the Bible in the way you do!

I don't think either of us are going to be convinced. There's simply no common ground. For me, the problem is essentially your religion - its that, not your attitude to gays and lesbians, which has to go.

Posted by Merseymike at Friday, 23 December 2005 at 10:07am GMT

I think that is very helpful in terms of my understanding you in particular Mike but unrepresentative in that most Christians who identify themselves as gay etc. do not wish to jettison the religion itself.

That makes our classical/sociological point much less important, since even if one could show that Paul had homosexual orientation and identity in some sense as a target in Romans 1, that would not be relevant to you since you would have no qualms about rejecting the idea that what he wrote was inspired by God.

However, the majority of Christians I have come across who argue for a revision of the church's teaching on this matter have been strong essentialists and also believers, in some sense, in the authority of the Bible. So for them it is highly relevant whether Paul could have had homosexual orientation in view. The claim usually made is that Paul could have had no concept of homosexual orientation as a hard-wired and fixed disposition and furthermore could have only been referring to pederasty and therefore his strictures could not possibly apply to adult consensual permanent exclusive relationships. In contrast to this it isn't it at least clear in antiquity that such non-exploitative and loving relationships existed and that there is an understanding that some people prefer sexual activity with members of the same sex?

Posted by Sean Doherty at Friday, 23 December 2005 at 1:11pm GMT

No, it isn't, Sean, as I have already stated. I would say that. I am a moderate on the essentialist/constructionist debate. I do believe there is such a thing as an essential 'homosexuality' in the sense of orientation. I also think it would be quite impossible for Paul to understand that orientation as there wasn't the social construction of gay identity available to do so. His vision was by necessary partial and hindered by that lack of knowledge.

So, whilst he was probably referring to pederasty given that was the common pattern then, it has no connection at all to the contemporary gay identity or relationship, as that wasn't a construct which existed then. Frankly, whatever he had to say is simply, thus, irrelevant. Its simply a culturally conditioned response, and we now have the ability to recognise its limitations.

I do feel that there needs to be major revisions of traditional Christian doctrine - in that sense I'm nearer Jack Spong than Gene Robinson! I don't believe the Bible was inspired by God, I think the writers of the Bible were inspired by their faith in God to write as they did. But I think the Bible is a human creation. So, yes, the tortuous attempts to explain away its homophobia aren't really necessary - it simply reflects the outlook of its human authors.

Posted by Merseymike at Friday, 23 December 2005 at 4:14pm GMT

Bishop David Jenkins' sermon at the blessing of the Civil Partnership of an anglican vicar and his partner is available online at:

Posted by James at Saturday, 24 December 2005 at 10:29am GMT

Merry Christmas Mike (and All), You mentioned " homosexual orientation as a hard-wired and fixed disposition".. but I don't think that this is borne out in all cases. Have you seen the experiences from Canadian clergy and laity in their testimony to the Canadian HoB on

Posted by Dave at Tuesday, 27 December 2005 at 6:37pm GMT
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