Comments: Carlisle clarifies

So, should the UK government promote the Biblical concept of marriage? I don't think Parliament is willing to legalize and promote polygamy. We tried that once in the USA.

Posted by Counterlight at Wednesday, 27 February 2008 at 1:45pm GMT

Interesting that the Bishop of Carlisle appears to recognize this "discontinuity" in the Scriptural witness concerning obedience to the State. I hope some day he will see that in extending the civil right (and and civil rite) of marriage to loving couples committed to each other for life, regardless of their gender, the State may in fact be "God's instrument for good."

Posted by Tobias Haller at Wednesday, 27 February 2008 at 3:33pm GMT

The usual advice is that if you are in a hole, stop digging - and best for Graham Dow not to remind people that he is there.

Posted by Pluralist at Wednesday, 27 February 2008 at 4:12pm GMT

No, it has not been 'imposing' anything - Dow may have forgotten that the gay rights legislation was voted for by all of the main parties and even a significant number of conservatives! That's called representative democracy. We do not have to ask permission from bishops first....and since when has an institution which the vast majority has no active connection with been 'significant'?

Of course society is instituting changes through the law - and they have the right to do so , taking into account, and rejecting, his advice that he and his church knows what is best for me and my life. They simply don't, and that's why I am no longer associated with it.

The Government's gay rights agenda is actually about equality and ensuring non-discrimination, which Dow clearly doesn't appear to grasp.

Posted by Merseymike at Wednesday, 27 February 2008 at 5:18pm GMT

Here is yet another Christian leader making it appear to the rest of the world that Christianity is opposed to concern for human rights and justice for gay people. What a catastrophic witness to the wider society! He thinks he's standing up for timeless values when it is clear to the rest of the world that he merely hasn't been able to get his head around living in a society that values honesty and commitment by gay people rather than stigmatising them. The Church of England is so poorly served by its leadership at the moment - can't we have at least some people (some women would be a start!) who might inspire us by having got a grip on what it is to be both a modern person and a Christian?

Posted by Fr Mark at Wednesday, 27 February 2008 at 9:15pm GMT

As Gough Whitlam could have said:

Well may we say 'God Save the Queen' because nothing will save the Bishop of Carlisle

Posted by kieran crichton at Wednesday, 27 February 2008 at 10:57pm GMT

At what point does a government stop being '“God’s instrument for good” (Romans 13), for example in the promotion of the equality and in social inclusion...' and start 'imposing its own moral agenda in a way that is contrary to long standing Christian morality'. The Bishop thinks that this point has been reached within the past two years or so. But why not when the equal age of consent was agreed some years ago, or in 1967 with the partial decrimilisation of homosexuality, or indeed in the wider spere of social relations with the 1857 Matrimonial Causes Act and the first introduction of civil divorce. All of which have been fiercely opposed by the bishops and much of the church and none of which have contributed to the end of civilisation as we know it.

One looks in vain for a church leadership which has some sense of history, a basic understanding of society today and a modicum of intelligence.

Posted by Richard Ashby at Thursday, 28 February 2008 at 12:06pm GMT

`I reminded those present of the difference attitude towards the Roman state between the Letter to the Romans and the Book of Revelation.'

Somehow, I'm unconvinced a lecture from Revelation would carry much sway in the House of Commons.

Posted by Tim at Friday, 29 February 2008 at 9:57am GMT

Richard could well have added the Deceased Wife's Sister legislation, which the bishops opposed diligently from 1841 to 1906, and even in 1949 they opposed the addition of a Divorced Wife's Sister provision, proposed by Lord Mancroft, grandfather of the one who's in the news today.

Posted by cryptogram at Friday, 29 February 2008 at 10:17am GMT

"Deceased Wife's Sister legislation, which the bishops opposed diligently from 1841 to 1906, and even in 1949 they opposed the addition of a Divorced Wife's Sister provision"

OK - help for the poor Yank. What are these? I think maybe I once knew, thanks to an English murder mystety, but am vague on the concept.

Posted by Cynthia Gilliatt at Friday, 29 February 2008 at 3:27pm GMT

Well, if we're going to look to history why not revisit the Tudor settlement of the scriptural tensions between Leviticus 18:16 and Deuteronomy 25:5. Whether the state was, in this case, "God's instrument for good" is a matter of dispute, but we would not be having this discussion had things gone otherwise.

Posted by Tobias Haller at Friday, 29 February 2008 at 4:32pm GMT

In England it took 65 years for legislation to pass through parliament permitting a man to marry the sister of his deceased wife, largely due to the opposition of the bishops, with plentiful quoting of Leviticus. (Familiar?)

Posted by cryptogram at Friday, 29 February 2008 at 10:46pm GMT

Hi Fr Mark-

What is so intrinsically good about being ' a modern person'? So much for people who lived in other ages. They just didn't get it. Salvation is to be born in the twentieth century.

In any case, there are about 7 (is it?) thousand million 'modern' people in the world. They are characterised more by their diversity than by their uniformity. I wouldn't like to predict what percentage of these 'moderns' agree with you.

Posted by Christopher Shell at Saturday, 1 March 2008 at 2:02pm GMT

Christopher: I don't think it's to do with whether being modern is better than living in an earlier time (I sometimes feel that life as an Anglican priest in the much more comfortable and liberal 18th century C of E must have been far preferable to today, for example). It is rather what is appropriate. One cannot speak to a society by adopting inappropriate forms of discourse: preaching a 19th century Anglican sermon showing how the lower orders should know their place ("the rich man in his castle, the poor man at the gate/ God made them high and lowly, and ordered their estate"), for example, would perhaps not be appropriate today. This doesn't have much to do with absolute doctrinal "truth", and it is a mistake to elevate too many things to the status of absolutes, a mistake that Anglican have sedulously avoided in the past.

The Bishop of Carlisle is clearly devoid of a sense of what is an appropriate form of discourse in today's Britain, and that is simply because he has a mentality that is closed-off and therefore stuck in a time lag. There is no high principle involved, I think. Conservative Evangelicals have long stayed within very small in-groups, and been suspicious of outsiders (I remember the trouble Con Evo student friends had from the CU whenever they had non-churchy girlfriends, for example). If he wants to be pre-modern in his attitudes to sexuality that is up to him: but he won't therefore be much use as a communicator of ethics in one of the world's most liberal societies. Just being "anti" is not good enough: we need people who can talk positively to gay people and not stigmatise them. Why is this at all controversial - it is obvious to all my non-Christian friends, who are mystified by why Anglicanism has recently suddenly become the "nasty" religion? We are in danger of going the same way as the Conservative Party before Cameron took over, which became "the nasty party" at its peril.

Posted by Fr Mark at Saturday, 1 March 2008 at 5:29pm GMT

Fr Mark-

I guess I still don't agree - for these reasons:

(1) What has being up-to-date got to do with anything? Being up-to-date is the default option for unthinking people who have not reviewed/weighed the various options. That doesn't make it either right or wrong, but it does make one wonder why uptodateness/fashionability is in any way a relevant issue.

(2) You are so wrong about the rich man in his castle. It was a wrong attitude then as well as now. You are not seriously suggesting it was right then and is wrong now? (I also doubt whether any preacher took their text from Mrs C F Alexander as opposed to holy writ.)

(3) No-one requires a brain to deduce what is fashionable, because we already know what is fashionable: it is all around us.

(4) We regularly have to suffer ideas/parties being divided into conservative/liberal as opposed to thinking/unthinking. Anyone who instinctively divides debates into conservative/liberal has already given themselves away as someone who sees fashionability as the main (or most interesting, most prominent?) issue when it comes to matters of truth. Whereas in fact not only is it *not* the main issue, it is very debatable whether it has any relevance to truth whatsoever.

(5) One has only to hold open the *possibility* (to put it no more strongly) that other ages and cultures than our own may in at least *some* matters have thought things through better than we. (Full marks to Bp Dow for considering this possible in principle.) Is this not even a possibility?

(6) Your proposal is a recipe for preaching to the converted, which is the last way that they will ever advance in understanding.

(7) Your use of the term 'pre-modern' exhibits chronological snobbery. How can Bp Dow help what his beliefs are anyway? - should he pretend to believe what he does not? Why should the particular beliefs you would compel him to hold in order to communicate effectively today (as you claim) by a remarkable coincidence happen to correspond to modern orthodoxy? Don't you think his hearers would be better served by having the options set before them rather than merely hearing what they are used to hearing or want to hear?

(8) It is not 'nasty' to speak one's actual beliefs truthfully, any more than a driving instructor is nasty to critique a student's performance. They are issues-directed not personally-directed. To flee even the possibility of being caricatured with a 'nasty' image is to put image and style above integrity and substance, and hence disqualify oneself from the business of debate.

Posted by Christopher Shell at Monday, 3 March 2008 at 1:52pm GMT

Christopher: you misunderstand me very much if you imagine me to be a himbo. I am so wedded to being out-of-date that (i) I go to church at all; and (ii) I loathe the ugly modern wrecking of traditional ecclesiastical aesthetics, to the point that you won't catch me celebrating without wearing a fiddleback. Do you share my Christian conservatism in these areas, or is it only when it comes to not being able to deal with gay people that antiquarianism trumps common sense?

I think the Gospel calls us to be profoundly counter-cultural: that is precisely why we should reject the traditional British malign majoritarianism of stigmatising and bullying those who are different and vulnerable (e.g. Jews, blacks, the Irish, gay people); as well as rejecting the values that see blatant desire for power and influence and browbeating others as acceptable (as practised by many Bible-believing Christians, in my experience). I understand my cultural and ecclesiastical traditions perfectly well enough, and inhabit them quite comfortably enough, to not make idols of them.

Posted by Fr Mark at Monday, 3 March 2008 at 10:54pm GMT

"It is not 'nasty' to speak one's actual beliefs truthfully, any more than a driving instructor is nasty to critique a student's performance. They are issues-directed not personally-directed."

Actually, there are driving instructors, teachers, preachers and managers who are fired from their jobs for exactly these reasons.

The objective is to have a mature soul who is capable of driving a car safely so that they, their passengers, other drivers, pedestrians and hopefully most animals don't get hospitalised or killed by incompetent driving skills.

An instructor who leaves their student paralysed with fear is a danger to both their student and the broader masses. The students that qualify from underneath such instructors are the source of Mr Bean and insurance ad skits.

Posted by Cheryl Va. at Tuesday, 4 March 2008 at 10:42am GMT

Hi Cheryl-
I am sure that plenty of instructors are rightly sacked for making theur students quivering wrecks, but what has that got to do with whether they can critique their students' performances? 'Critique' does not mean 'unconstructively criticise', it means 'review, saying what was good and what needs improvement/practice'.

Hi Fr Mark-
I was not talking about you and your character but about your proposals for Bp Dow having to lie about his true beliefs if he wished to be allowed the right to speak to 'modern' people at all.

I also agree that people are bullied for being different as opposed to being wrong. The truth is that majorities are not always right, and nor are minorities. Each case on its own merits. But the fact that being different is seen as the cardinal sin is so telling and such a giveaway. Because it means that so often people do not choose their beliefs and behaviour on the basis of conviction (what they think to be right and beneficial) but on the basis of conformity: they are absolutely terrified of being thought a freak or of having unpopular views. Which brings us back to the equally giveaway fact that people so regularly assess the value of competing ideas/theories according to the totally irrelevant criterion of how uptodate they are.

Posted by Christopher Shell at Tuesday, 4 March 2008 at 12:32pm GMT


Your postings continue to dodge the "how" and its impact.

Nor are we called to critique every problem.

Jesus' call to remove the plank from one's own eye before commenting on the splinter in another's comes to mind. Or his comments that only cast a stone at another if you are without sin, and no one threw one. Both are exhortations for restraint.

The sad thing is there are some feel that their position gives them the right to pass judgment on others, get a gaggle of them together and an "undesirable" in the church can run the gauntlet of "good advice" that is on their behalf.

A woman who comes to church service after being raped and bashed by her husband last night really doesn't need four "good" inteventions giving her housekeeping tips because her husband sought help because she is a terrible homemaker.

There might be nothing wrong with explaining how to clean an oven or stay on top of the laundry, but that really isn't the ministry that woman needs right now.

Posted by Cheryl Va. at Tuesday, 4 March 2008 at 7:42pm GMT

Christopher: I agree about conformity. Bishop Dow's views are those of the narrow conformity of the judgmental Christianity of my childhood. I think the Church needs the courage to be radical, and drop that awful inheritance. You sound as if you have no idea how dreadful it is to grow up gay in a hard-line Christian household.

I resent the canard, often repeated by those on the illiberal side of this debate, that the rest of us are feeble-minded. I think that refusing to face up to what the Spirit might be saying to us through the world in which we live is actually the feeble-minded option. It's not intellectual weakness that convinces me that the Church needs to engage better with the modern world. I see churches emptying rapidly right across Europe. The institution will not survive another generation. If you ask young Europeans why they don't go to church, the complex reasons generally boil down to the Church being judgemental and out of touch - precisely the direction that Con Evos are trying to push the C of E further towards. This is clearly catastrophic if one cares about the survival of the Church. It will not do to tell people, some of whose siblings/ cousins/ children/ grandchildren are happily living in same-sex marriages across the continent, that their relatives and friends are evil. It just won't wash anymore.

Posted by Fr Mark at Wednesday, 5 March 2008 at 8:28am GMT

Fr Mark
"This is clearly catastrophic if one cares about the survival of the Church."

If I'm honest I don't care much about the survival of the church as an aim in itself. I care about the survival of God as a valid concept in people's lives, as the Christian story as a guide to a God-filled life. If it happens that the church is no longer able to reach people and point them to God, then the church will die. And rightly so.

Posted by Erika Baker at Wednesday, 5 March 2008 at 7:32pm GMT

Erika: yes, of course you're quite right, point taken.

Posted by Fr Mark at Wednesday, 5 March 2008 at 9:23pm GMT

It is exactly this 'let's be cool and follow what the young ones think' that is so insecure and incorrect. Both young people and old have an immense amount to offer. But on average the older will have more wisdom than the younger - a fact agreed by most societies there have ever been - unlike ours who shunts the old out of sight and ridicules the grans who have physical symptoms resulting from their progeny's behaviour on 'Big Brother'. It is a well-known fact (!!) that our own society has a youth complex & it is mindless to just slip uncritically into it.

Posted by Christopher Shell at Saturday, 8 March 2008 at 1:33pm GMT

Christopher: you misunderstand completely, it's not about trying and failing to be trendy. There's nothing worse than ageing trendies in churches: I've always loathed the way aesthetic leftovers from the sixties have been trying to wreck churches ever since. Mostly they are, oddly, Con Evos, who get rid of anything beautiful or traditional in their churches, e.g. replacing choirs with moronic praise bands, replacing ancient chancels with vile magnolia-painted nylon-carpeted "worship spaces", etc. And yet these same people are telling me I'm not conservative enough!

No, it's not that at all that I am advocating. I think real Anglican conservatism is keeping the essentials (prayerful dignity in worship, beautiful music and visual art, etc) because these things raise our spirits Godwards; but, at the same time, we present the essentials in a way that is appropriate for our society today. To me, it is obvious that means not excluding, but rather going out of our way to include, people from ethnic minorities, women, gay people, anyone else who might otherwise feel traditional forms had a bias against them. That is intelligent conservatism, of the sort that Britain has always modelled rather well compared to other European societies in the past. The alternative is not conservatism at all but reactionism, which leads to institutions ossifying and then being completely swept away by revolution.

Isn't this obvious when you think about it? I mean, we gave up using Greek in the liturgy, and then later Latin, for exactly the same reasons, didn't we? We gave up stigmatising divorcees and unmarried parents for the same reasons, didn't we? We have given up supporting discrimination against everyone else - Jews, Roman Catholics, you name it - now it's time to lay Christian homophobia to rest along with Christian anti-Semitism and English anti-Catholicism.

Posted by Fr Mark at Saturday, 8 March 2008 at 5:42pm GMT

Who are these 'we' who have the aforementioned attitude to divorce? What I find really scary is this corporate personality, which by definition can only be made up of people who cannot or don't want to think for themselves. Divorce, on the contrary, is fairly clearly one of the things on which we have tolerably clear dominical teaching. Whether or not the anglican church accepts that teaching is utterly irrelevant: it is still there.

Any conceivable organisation has (and must have) a bias against someone. If its god is inclusivity it will have a bias against the non-inclusive. If its god is relativism and/or non-judgmentalism, it will have a bias against those who want to recognise that sins and sinful structures are real. And so on.

Posted by Christopher Shell at Monday, 10 March 2008 at 1:21pm GMT


It still bewilders me how you can be so insightful and yet so blind at the same time.

I actually think that was an excellent posting.

To continue your reasoning. It its God seeks balance it will have a bias against extremism. If its God seeks diversity it will have a bias against extinction. If its God seeks complexity it will have a bias against stagnation. If its God seeks peace it will have a bias against tyranny. If its God seeks faith it will have a bias against legalism. If its God seeks forgiveness it will have a bias against vengeance. If its God seeks love it will have a bias against hate. If its God seeks compassion it will have a bias against cruelty. If its God seeks meekness it will have bias against oppression. If its God seeks gentleness it will have a bias against violence. If its God seeks inclusionism it will have a bias against exclusionism.

The point of Jesus sacrifice was to moderate God's methods of expressing choices. Priests are no longer struck dead for approaching the Ark of the Covenant out of order. In fact the Ark sits in a museum where all and sundry can look upon it. If that isn't the proof of Jesus' success, then I don't know what is.

Posted by Cheryl Va. at Monday, 10 March 2008 at 6:31pm GMT

Hi Cheryl-

Shock sensation - the Ark of the Covenant has been found??! R u sure you have not been watching too much Indiana Jones?

People sometimes come along with fundamentalist blanket generalisations like 'Jesus was inclusive'. These result from accepting the bits of Jesus's sayings that we like and rejecting the bits we don't like. Everyone will admit that that is dishonest. He was (for example) inclusive (eventually) of Gentiles; exclusive of hypocritical pharisees; he warned all and sundry about the dangers of Sheol and/or Gehenna, a topic on which he probably has more to say than any other bible character; he said it was extremely hard for the rich to enter the kingdom; he said that many follow the broad road to destruction and few the narrow way to life. In Luke 11 (is it?) he mentions a gradation of beatings as eschatological puunishment.

By what contortion of the mind can the sayer of these sayings be portrayed as a simple inclusionist? A lot of it shows him as pretty markedly exclusive. There's so much more to it than that.

These are just a few random examples of how people's rather dogmatic and generalised picture of Jesus bears little relation to the more complex picture of Jesus that emerges from the gospels.

Posted by Christopher Shell at Tuesday, 11 March 2008 at 12:41pm GMT

Christopher, just remember that gay people were never mentioned by Jesus at all.

Posted by Fr Mark at Monday, 17 March 2008 at 9:38am GMT

At what point are Christians to allow freedom, and at what point are we to set moral law?

Posted by Benjamin at Sunday, 23 March 2008 at 3:55am GMT

I would have thought that all Christians would support freedom within a moral framework.

The problem only arises when one group tries to define for all times and for everyone else what "moral" is, thereby calling those who don't agree "immoral".
To me, that is immoral.

Posted by Erika Baker at Sunday, 23 March 2008 at 6:34pm GMT
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