Comments: opinion

An eleventh question for the C of E to ask itself is where are its scholar bishops? With the recent demise of John Austin Baker I wonder where on the current Bench would there be any bishop capable of writing something like "the Foolishness of God" or "The Church and the Bomb"? Of course, Tom Wright would be in a similar league but he has now gone North of the Border leaving the entire current College of Bishops totally bereft of scholars of a similar stature.

Posted by Father David at Saturday, 14 June 2014 at 11:34am BST

LOVE the editor's note! Thank you for the deep chuckle.

Posted by Erika Baker at Saturday, 14 June 2014 at 12:02pm BST

References to Nazi and Stalinist monstrosity, assisted suicide and the deceit that preceded the Iraq war .... this man has serious problems!
Tobias has it. Oh! Yes he has.
To repeat the calumny:
"For two thousand years everyone agreed what and who a bishop was, and then came NT Wright!"

Posted by Martin Reynolds at Saturday, 14 June 2014 at 1:12pm BST

N.T./Tom Wright shows how powerful the coming backlash will be.

He uses every rhetorical trick in the book to steamroll equal marriage, as he's previously used them to steamroll opposition to a physical resurrection in academia. Anyone who thinks he's foredoomed should note how entrenched supernaturalism has become in theology, thanks to his work. Whatever the merits of their arguments, his opponents are afraid to cross him.

The coming fight will be be about power, not justice. Wright is a genius at using authoritarian tactics. If he decides to lead the charge against equal marriage, there's a genuine risk of repeal in the next decade.

Posted by James Byron at Saturday, 14 June 2014 at 1:25pm BST

It is quite clear from Tom Wright's teaching that we can't have gay marriage because God created sea and dry land. To disagree with this plain fact is to be like a Nazi.
Some evangelicals certainly know how to be both incomprehensible and highly offensive.

Posted by FrDavidH at Saturday, 14 June 2014 at 2:37pm BST

Not to be picky, but David's title doesn't specify the number, and there are eight points, not ten.

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Saturday, 14 June 2014 at 3:55pm BST

"Obviously he is also unaware that the English word “black” derives from the Anglo-saxon blæc — meaning “white.” (Think “bleach”). But let that pass."

Words are tricky things ... agendas make them so. please check here ... (will have to cut and paste 'm afraid)

Posted by Andrew F. Pierce at Saturday, 14 June 2014 at 5:29pm BST

Bravo Fr David H and well said.

Posted by Sara MacVane at Saturday, 14 June 2014 at 5:48pm BST

Nazis redefined words so ban doing that! And they built motorways - ban them! A-roads only from now on! And they used banners - pull them down, all you evil nasty church ladies sewing circles! And posters - no more advertising! And music. And.. And..

Rules of online debate - 1st to mention Hitler loses. Applies here, I think.

Posted by Jeremy Fagan at Saturday, 14 June 2014 at 6:00pm BST

The use of the "reductio ad Hitlerum" (the mention of Hitler and the Nazis) is generally taken to mean that the user knows he/she has lost the argument and is forced to rely on bluff and bluster. It took N T Wright a mere 40 seconds to get there.

Posted by Robin at Saturday, 14 June 2014 at 6:54pm BST

Thanks Tim, Maths was never my strong point. The Bench also greatly misses Rowan who has a brain the size of a planet, even though lesser mortals used to say that they often couldn't understand the point he was making.

As for Queen Elizabeth considering for a single moment, the "A" word, please God, that's a non-starter as she will, I am sure, wish to reign longer than Victoria and become the longest reigning British monarch ever. Long May she reign.

Posted by Father David at Saturday, 14 June 2014 at 7:23pm BST

Andrew, it has been a long time since my undergraduate days studying Anglo-Saxon, but if you check the Anglo-Saxon online dictionary, you'll find much more detail about this. The lexical problem is that blæc is used in AS to modify both dark and light objects, and one can only determine the meaning from the context. My point is that words to not have the kind of absolute meaning that NTW seems to think they ought to have.

For further detail, see or check your online etymological dictionary under "bleach"

"Old English blæcan 'bleach, whiten,'... The same root probably produced black; perhaps because both black and white are colorless, or because both are associated with burning."

Language can be a very tricky thing. As I observed in another context, in language meaning and usage are delicately intertwined, but usage always wins.

Posted by Tobias Haller at Saturday, 14 June 2014 at 8:01pm BST

Tobias's rejoinder is well worth a read and a reminder for me to read his blog on a regular basis. Also checkout some of the learned comments in the comments section (including Anglo-Saxon terminology for marriage prior to the French origins of 'marier' and 'mariage'.

Some people hold to this very fixed view of genders and gender based institutions that they can never change over time. Likewise and not coincidentally words are also like fixed essences that can never and must never change over time. It's a little like God not only created land, sea, animals (all in their kinds - no evolution where one thing might over time become another thing) he also made all the words that must stay the same to the end of time. Whatever you do don't change the words (I think that this means that dictionaries as well as the Bible are divinely inspired)....

Even in past times it is not clear that marriage 'meant' opposite sex only. For instance in the 1975 poll while support for same sex marriage was only 16% the percentage in unambiguous support for man-woman marriage only was only 53%. Less than 10 years after the decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales only a bare majority of people believed in this kind of strict definitionality.

Generally in most countries there is a spread of opinion between those who support the right of same sex couples to marry and those against (in many including the UK and US a settled majority are in favour). You don't take opinion polls on the meaning of 'black' and 'white' because there isn't a debate about that.

One could say the word 'priest' means a 'man' who.... or 'voting' means a man able to vote and no amount of ordaining women or allowing them to vote will change the meaning of the aforementioned as men only terms....

Posted by Craig Nelson at Saturday, 14 June 2014 at 8:45pm BST

Yes, James Barr turned the TDOT and TDNY upside down by pointing out how unreliable etymology is. As my teacher Marvin Pope used to say, in Lane's Arabic dictionary a root means X, its opposite, and something to do with a camel. So just pointing out the eccentricities of word evolution tells us very little.

Culture can make the word 'marriage' refer to something new. But that will not dislodge use of the word to mean what has traditionally been associated with the 'goods of marriage.' People will continue to associate that meaning with the Christian understanding. Others will have their 'Christian meaning,' and the debate will shift away from what the word means and what the state of affairs is to which a word corresponds.

If people think one word will correspond equally to same-sex marriage and something like a standard marriage rite (1979 BCP), what they really mean is, some will want this to be so. Equally, others will differentiate them. That is what it means for cultures to adapt words.

Arabic had an equivalent to 'manna' but the word gathered a specific meaning due to its associations with the narratives of Israel's life with God.

Posted by cseitz at Saturday, 14 June 2014 at 9:02pm BST

Dear Father David

I am one of those lesser mortals you are referring to....


Posted by Fr Paul at Saturday, 14 June 2014 at 9:11pm BST

James Byron says:
"If he (Tom Wright) decides to lead the charge against equal marriage, there's a genuine risk of repeal in the next decade."

No, there isn't - not a cat in hell's chance. All those MPs and Lords are going to have their minds changed by this stuff? It ain't gonna happen.

Posted by Jeremy Pemberton at Saturday, 14 June 2014 at 9:48pm BST

Thanks for the link Peter

Father David - scholar bishops are a fine thing, but the issues my piece raises are mostly not ones of scholarship. In my diocese half of our 498 churches are of 24 members or less, the CofE nationally is heading rapidly for a situation where a full-time workforce of 5,000 is running an institution designed for 3x that figure.

The structural issues do beg the theological ones - what is the church for, what is mission etc. - but since nearly all the CofE leadership is academically educated and loves to debate theology, we're far better at doing the theology and nothing like good enough at dealing with the structures.

Posted by David Keen at Saturday, 14 June 2014 at 10:15pm BST

The long game may well play into N.T. Wright's hands, Jeremy. If the Conservatives lose the 2015 election badly, same-sex marriage will be scapegoated. To compete with UKIP the party could easily swing to the right and pledge to repeal equal marriage.

Demographics also favor repeal. As noted by Stonewall's research in schools, homophobia is endemic among the young. If the church pushes a traditional line in its own schools it'll have millions of ready converts.

HTB also has vast influence in the corridors of power. They've kept quiet about marriage equality so far, but if Wright rallies the troops, that silence ends.

This is a man who, through sheer force of personality, has destroyed the academic credibility of anyone who dares to challenge his assertion that the evidence proves Jesus' resurrection. Wright is a political master. Every fight he's waged, he's won. We underestimate him at our peril.

Posted by James Byron at Sunday, 15 June 2014 at 12:46am BST

Dear Fr. Paul, Take heart, we are all equally loved in the eyes of God.

David Keen, What is the CofE doing about this dire structural problem? It seems to me that many dioceses are simply increasing the number of Archdeacons! I can't quite see how promoting Reverends to Venerables will somehow solve the problem.

Posted by Father David at Sunday, 15 June 2014 at 6:57am BST

James, I still think your scenario is extraordinarily unlikely. I know Tom Wright well personally, and while these are clearly his views now, he is not someone who is going to show the necessary overwhelming obsession nor the required degree of hysterical homophobia of, say, an Andrea Minchiello Williams, that would be necessary to lead an attempt to reverse what is a law that is approved by a majority of the population.

Besides which, even if Cameron leads the Conservatives to defeat, he will be not be replaced by a government any less sympathetic to supporting and entrenching LGBT rights.

I am not advocating complacency, there is lots to fight for still (not least in the Church of England). But on this point, and with this person, I think we all can sleep easy in our beds.

Posted by Jeremy Pemberton at Sunday, 15 June 2014 at 8:24am BST

I agree the chances of any repeal are non-existent. Firstly these sort of things don't get repealed in the UK. Once decided by Parliament by convention there the matter rests. Second marriage equality has independently been voted by the Scottish Parliament. Third the majorities in favour of marriage equality were 2/3 in both chambers. And, apart from the fact that Labour and LibDems fully support marriage equality it is also supported by the majority of the Tory front bench - the Tories will not want the issue resurrecting.

Posted by Craig Nelson at Sunday, 15 June 2014 at 8:57am BST

I agree with Jeremy P that there's no chance whatsoever of equal marriage being repealed: certain reforms (like certain arguments) are so obviously good that they 'stick'. As for Wright, he nearly always argues as a biblical fundamentalist (I suppose his support of WO might be considered an exception). But I wonder, James, how your postings here square with your oft-repeated contention that he is 'sincere' in his 'anti-gay' stance? For me, he's mostly motivated (a) by desire for power and (b) fideistic anxiety. Many Evangelicals are so motivated, but with most (b) comes first and (a) is consequent (other people's non-acceptance of their positions threatens them), whereas I think with Wright it is the other way round. As for his practical influence/power, it's surely on the wane - even his greatest admirers are getting fed up with his ridiculous verbosity (as with the Paul opera). I wonder also how Father David squares his endorsement here of Wright as a major theologican on the basis of his 'anti-gay' position with his much more enthusiastic (and much juster ) endorsement of Jeffrey John as a theologian.

Posted by John at Sunday, 15 June 2014 at 10:13am BST

I was sometimes bemused when I was ordained 40 years ago to hear more senior clergy debating "What is the Church for?". Four decades later David Keen is asking the same question. One rarely hears employees of, say, Energy Companies, players on football teams, or doctors and chaplains in the NHS asking what they are "for". I respectfully suggest that someone who doesn't know what the Church of England and its structures are "for" shouldn't have joined it.

Posted by FrDavidH at Sunday, 15 June 2014 at 11:13am BST

Interesting that Wright asserts the importance of binary. I have often thought evangelical theology too dualist whereas mystical theology is unitary.

Posted by sjh at Sunday, 15 June 2014 at 1:03pm BST

I also think we should all here be engaging with David Keen's reflections. The figures are indeed frightening.

Posted by John at Sunday, 15 June 2014 at 3:29pm BST

FrDavidH: there are lively debates going on at the moment over what schools and the NHS are 'for', any institution that doesn't remind itself of its basic purpose and values is on the way to becoming a mausoleum.

The Church of England hasn't asked the question hard enough, we have confused form with content and ended up with a top-heavy and increasingly unworkable structure. The CofE is not 'for' a daily/weekly eucharist, led by a priest (theological graduate), in a consecrated building, within a parish boundary. None of these things is essential to the nature of the church, but we're finding it very hard to conceive of existing in any other way.

Posted by David Keen at Sunday, 15 June 2014 at 4:50pm BST

Wright is consistently off message, which is great for those who believe in equality and the dignity of the human person. One should leave him to his difficulties.

Jurgen Moltmann, who has not embraced full equality for same-sex couples, nevertheless has said that the idea that sex-discordant couples are better than same-sex couples is heresy. It goes against justification by faith alone. Likewise, imposing celibacy on one category of person goes against the Reformed theology.

What is it about the C of E that it elevates homophobia and misogyny to dogma? Good works and self-righteousness do not make a good church.

Gary Paul Gilbert

Posted by Gary Paul Gilbert at Sunday, 15 June 2014 at 6:42pm BST

I would suggest to David Keen that schools exist to educate children and the NHS exists to meet people's medical needs. I see no problem in debating how such organisations are efficiently structured, which is not the same as arguing what they are "for". I cannot agree with David's assertion that a priest celebrating the Eucharist is not essential to the nature of the Church. If the mass is not essential, what on earth is? Messy Church? The Mothers Union? The Church Fete?

Posted by FrDavidH at Sunday, 15 June 2014 at 6:47pm BST

Legislation does not change language, except on the forms the government issues. All around the world, people now tick the same box next to the same word for "married," in whatever language it is expressed, whether they form a same- or a mixed-sex couple. This is what marriage equality means in a legal context, and the language used in law and society reflects that equality. The number of places in which this is true has been increasing, and I see no signs of reversal, though the pace may slow or halt at some point.

Posted by Tobias Haller at Sunday, 15 June 2014 at 8:22pm BST

Craig & Jeremy, I agree that repeal's unlikely, but it's far from impossible. If Labour get elected & get the blame for more cuts, a right wing Conservative Party could replace them come 2020. This is obviously speculative in the extreme, but I do believe it's a possibility. Even if there is a convention (and I'm not sure which one would apply), Parliament breaks them all the time.

John, I guess we disagree about the primacy of fideistic anxiety (great phrase!) in Wright. He's said he's always believed in God and Christ, and knew he'd be ordained as a boy. None of his vocational training lessens that emotional pull. Just the opposite; it allows him to justify it. It's a damning indictment of academia that Wright's reached the level he has without challenging his apologetic bias. Critical thinking, where art thou?

Posted by James Byron at Sunday, 15 June 2014 at 8:30pm BST

Culture does lots of things with words. The christian community can follow those changes.

Equally, christian communities will continue to bring together separated genders, so Genesis, into the sacrament of marraige as Christ deferred to that in Matthew 19 and at Cana in Galilee.

This will remain the understanding--thick description--of Christian marraige. Others will now use the word to refer to same sex couples in the light of cultural and legal OK in certain sections of the West.

Posted by cseitz at Monday, 16 June 2014 at 1:07am BST

cseitz and NT Wright: Please be aware that you don't speak for all Christians, any more than I do. Quakers, Unitarians, and some Methodists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians, UCC.... all accept a theology of equal marriage, grounded in their respective Reformation theologies.

For the Quaker theology, see

Posted by iain mclean at Monday, 16 June 2014 at 10:25am BST

Not speaking for all who call themselves Christians; or secular culture favouring ss marriage, was precisely the point. Please re-read.

Posted by cseitz at Monday, 16 June 2014 at 12:15pm BST

Cseitz: I think I read correctly the last time. Your 2nd last sentence at 01.07 am bst purports to speak for me ( if you think Quakers are Christian.) Please don't.. And if you think those I listed in my last are not Christian, feel free to say so.

Posted by Iain mclean at Monday, 16 June 2014 at 3:51pm BST


To be be fair to T Wright (did I write that?), he himself has never concealed his belief that academic research into the NT and Christian belief/practice go hand in hand. That presumably is also the view of the academically distinguished cseitz of these columns. My own experience as an academic in a different discipline in several different university contexts is that NT (and related) departments aren't terribly highly rated by the other departments. As an academic who sometimes now also dips his toe into NT contexts and regularly attends high-powered NT seminars, I find that most NT scholars (mostly believers) do observe the academic-faith boundaries, though, reasonably enough, not so much in post-paper discussions. Here in Durham leaders of a highly Evangelical non-C of E church are impeccably academic in seminar contexts, even if their paper-delivery style can be a bit hieratical.

Posted by John at Monday, 16 June 2014 at 3:55pm BST

David Keen's 8 points were originally written for the Methodist Church in GB. In that context, it is worth pointing out that few Churches in the Christian world have been as ruthless and unsentimental about closing places of worship, and few have seen a decline quite as precipitous.

Whatever 'the answer' is (and I very much doubt there's one) I don't believe the evidence, including that emerging from the Church Growth Research Programme, supports the idea that closing churches without good reason, or on a large scale, is a good idea.

That having been said, he is right to point out the acuteness of the demographic crisis we are heading towards. I think it's always useful to think through what the Church is for - although surely it must always amount to "proclaiming the good news of salvation in Christ until He comes again".

One datum rarely considered is why there was a 13% drop in the proportion of people in England & Wales describing themselves as even nominally Christian between 2001 and 2011, well beyond what can be attributed to the age profile of Christians, especially when heavy migration from Eastern Europe and Africa was bolstering the figure. We need to explain why several million people decided they weren't going to associate themselves with the word "Christian" when filling out their census forms in 2011 when they had 10 years earlier.

British Christianity's signature issue in the 2000s was opposition to LGBT equality, which had particularly heavy support among the young. An unusually pious Christian Prime Minister started an unpopular and ultimately disastrous war in support of the most overtly Christian US administration in living memory. Although most British Christians, across denominations and the liberal-conservative divide, were sceptical or hostile, the damage was done. (Think of Blair praying with Bush before they decided to bomb Baghdad).

I think those were two major brand-defining issues that caused enormous damage to the perception of Christianity. I do not think fixing them is about being 'correct' on these or any particular issue - quite apart from the fact that humpty has already fallen off the wall, I do not think people come to church to do things they could do by joining Amnesty or Friends of the Earth. I think people will come to church if they encounter the divine there.

Posted by Gerry Lynch at Monday, 16 June 2014 at 4:49pm BST

cseitz: "thick" and "thin" are just as patronising and insulting descriptors as "right" and "wrong".

The notion that heterosexuals marrying have access to some kind of "thicker" reality denied to same-sex couples may make a kind of ideological sense to you - but it has to do so in the face of the "stunning quality" (the ABC's description) of some gay relationships. I am not arguing for the necessary "thickness" of all same-sex marriages, nor indeed that marriage needs rescuing from heterosexual Christians whose divorce rate is greater than the rest of the population, and where domestic cruelty and violence are at least as prevalent. What I am saying is that perhaps you need to have your own "Rise, Peter, kill and eat" moment, that allows you to recognise that in some same-sex marriages as in some heterosexual ones, there is a union of two who are very different, regardless of their genders, that is fruitful and blessed. Not sure I can help you get there, but I hope you do in the end.

Posted by Jeremy Pemberton at Monday, 16 June 2014 at 5:22pm BST

Thank you Tobias. Your words are balm for an aching soul...

Posted by Cynthia at Monday, 16 June 2014 at 5:25pm BST

I will never forget the summer back in the 1990s when I decided to spend an hour each day reading through N.T. Wright's 'The New Testament and the People of God' and 'Jesus and the Victory of God'. To say that that that summer revolutionized my understanding of the gospels would be an understatement. His description of 'First Century Judaisms' alone was worth the price of the two books for me.

I've read my share of scholars but I'm no scholar myself, so I certainly don't feel qualified to evaluate Wright's scholarship. I do know that he help this old fashioned evangelical to get out from under the faith/works conundrum and to try to understand the New Testament in terms of its own categories, not the categories I bring to it. I certainly don't agree with everything he says, but I continue to appreciate his work.

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Monday, 16 June 2014 at 5:36pm BST

With ya on Wright's honesty, John: he not only admits his bias, he embraces it as a virtue.

Fitting evidence to your beliefs is incompatible with critical scholarship. Hard as it would be, if people like Wright are unwilling to even attempt impartiality, they should be failed at an early stage. Colleges bounded by statements of faith ought to be denied accreditation for the same reason.

Wright's talents are obvious, but if I read, say, E.P. Sanders, I can be sure that he isn't inserting his beliefs into the mouths of Jesus and Paul.

Posted by James Byron at Monday, 16 June 2014 at 6:57pm BST

"I cannot agree with David's assertion that a priest celebrating the Eucharist is not essential to the nature of the Church. If the mass is not essential, what on earth is?"

Mission is far more essential to the nature of the church than a priest celebrating the eucharist. Jesus didn't say 'go into all the world and ordain people to pray over bread and wine'. The CofE, out of self-preservation as much as anything, is finally waking up to the fact that Jesus sent the apostles into the world to make disciples, and that perhaps we should be doing that too.

Posted by David Keen at Monday, 16 June 2014 at 11:00pm BST

NT Wright's recent popular "Revelation for Everyone" (written, of course, by Tom Wright) claims the Letter to Thyatira is a heartfelt cry against same-sex marriage.

Given that the main market for his popular books is the less mad end of American Evangelicalism and they were up in arms against gay marriage at the time, let the reader understand. I also bet he'll be a born again convert to the virtues of same-sex relationships once the potential market for his books has made the same switch, which is currently happening quickly.

There is about as much chance of gay marriage being repealed in the UK as there is of Cardinal Keith O'Brien becoming the next Pope. The idea that a retired Church of England bishop could lead a dramatic reversal of public sentiment is even more eccentric - let's remember that both Carey and Nazir Ali tried that to little effect. I really hope people on this blog don't imagine the Church of England shapes public opinion, do they?

Posted by The Rev'd Mervyn Noote at Monday, 16 June 2014 at 11:15pm BST

"Jesus didn't say 'go into all the world and ordain people to pray over bread and wine'."

Jesus spent a significant amount of his mission breaking bread and being present with his disciples and 'enquirers'. There should be no discontinuity, I suggest, between (on the one hand) us continuing to break bread and experience his presence, and (on the other) our mission to the world.

This is the main theme of the new sister blog

Posted by Simon Kershaw at Monday, 16 June 2014 at 11:19pm BST

What is the Church for? Surely "to glorify God and to enjoy Him for ever."

Posted by Father David at Tuesday, 17 June 2014 at 5:08am BST

As for the football comment, this TA editor thinks that awareness of what the world is interested in 'outside Church', preferably without belittling it, is a helpful trait in presenting the Church and the gospel message to the world. An awful lot more people will watch the England games (and other World Cup matches) than will be in Church on Sunday.

Posted by Simon Kershaw at Tuesday, 17 June 2014 at 7:48am BST

Equal marriage was repealed by referenda in California and Maine, two states of the union that are generally more liberal than England and Wales.

Most people are indifferent. Just a decade or so back, they were indifferent about the ban on gay people in the British military, Section 28, and the remnants of the Labouchere amendment. In the late-seventies, establishment liberals were complacent about the inevitable spread of acceptance in the church. If you'd predicted that, in 2014, its gay members would be a marginalized and silenced scapegoat, condemned overwhelmingly by synod, and forced to suppress their sexuality for life, you'd have been called a fantasist.

Being confident that something can't happen is an excellent way to ensure that it does.

Posted by James Byron at Tuesday, 17 June 2014 at 8:37am BST

Interesting responses to David Keen's remarks about the Eucharist (much truer and better term than 'the Mass'). Simon K must be right. One of the most striking features of many 'Biblically-faithful' churches is their completely un-biblical neglect of the foundational Christian service, amounting in many cases to a celebration only once a month, if that.

Posted by John at Tuesday, 17 June 2014 at 8:53am BST

"amounting in many cases to a celebration only once a month, if that."

Whereas we know that Jesus faithfully did it every Sabbath?

Posted by Erika Baker at Tuesday, 17 June 2014 at 11:33am BST

James Byron,

Fitting evidence to existing beliefs is exactly what "critical scholarship" does. I'm not a scientist, but I guess if you gave Richard Dawkins and Francis Collins, or John Polkinghorne and Stephen Hawking, the same evidence, they might give you very different answers to some questions. I am a historian and historians constantly fit evidence to their existing theories. There are all sorts of reasons to advance or defend particular ideas: the need to say something new for a PhD, pride at not wanting your previous theory proved wrong, wanting a view of the past which justifies a present campaign (Eric Hobsbawm's Marxist view of history). I also teach A Level New Testament and in my weekly encounters with EP Sanders' views I don't see any impartiality in his work. The key to good scholarship is not a pretended neutrality but honesty about your presuppositions, eg Wright.

Posted by NJ at Tuesday, 17 June 2014 at 12:21pm BST

Jesus wasn't a Christian, Erika.

Posted by John at Tuesday, 17 June 2014 at 12:38pm BST

NJ, I agree that biased scholarship is a cross-disciplinary problem, 'cause confirmation bias and pride are universal. It's however the opposite of critical scholarship. Critical thinking seeks to identify and counteract prejudice. It's imperfect, but it's a lot less imperfect than the alternative. Due to its revelation claims, religious dogma is especially susceptible to confirmation bias. Ideological systems like Marxism, religions in all but name, are equally blinkered.

I also agree that Wright identifies his biases, but he skips the crucial second stage of attempting to counter them. Instead, he excuses himself by projecting his approach onto others, and claiming that all scholarship is subjective. Wright can go po-mo with the best when it suits.

Sanders' Jesus passes the Schweitzer test with flying colors, in that the apocalyptic prophet that Sanders reconstructs is a world away from his author's opinions. That's what I mean by impartiality. Wright's Jesus just happens to be impeccably orthodox.

We're entitled to our own opinions, not our own facts.

Posted by James Byron at Tuesday, 17 June 2014 at 1:45pm BST

So where does it say in the bible that to be authentic you have to offer a Eucharist at prescribed intervals of more than one a month?
I grew up in a country where we had a Eucharist about 3 times a year. Those services were absolute solemn highlights in the church calendar. It never occurred to us that we weren't being properly Christian.

Posted by Erika Baker at Tuesday, 17 June 2014 at 1:57pm BST

Erika: Where does it say in the Bible that same-sex marriage is permissible?

Posted by FrDavidH at Tuesday, 17 June 2014 at 3:00pm BST

Hear, hear, Erika. In the C of E when I was a kid, once a month was the norm (except for what C.S. Lewis called 'the early celebrrrrrrrrration'). Let's show some awareness of Anglican history here.

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Tuesday, 17 June 2014 at 3:27pm BST

It doesn't state it specifically in those terms because it is assumed. See Paul on the Eucharist to the Corinthians, the Gospel accounts of the Last Supper (which institutes a service, does it not?), the Gospel according to John (which doesn't have the Last Supper in the narrative but clearly alludes to the Eucharist), the accounts of Christian celebrations in Acts where 'the breaking of bread' connotes the Eucharist, and Luke's Emmaus narrative, ONE of whose many points is to validate the Eucharist, instituted at the Last Supper, by showing that it WORKS ('he was made known in the breaking of bread'). See also Pliny's account of Christian religious practice and the ignorant pagan belief that Christians ate babies (a distorted perception of the Eucharist). Protestant downplaying of all this material has of course been historically driven by anti-Popery. There's no excuse for it now.

Posted by John at Tuesday, 17 June 2014 at 3:33pm BST

John: only 1 of the 3 gospels (Luke) has the command 'do this in remembrance of me'. Jesus was constantly eating with people as a sign of acceptance into the Kingdom of God, eating together was a sign of fellowship and community, it didn't suddenly lose all its cultural meanings and turn into the eucharist the moment Jesus handed the cup round.

What's more, in Acts eating together is depicted as part of the communal life of the church, of what happens after you've become a disciple of Jesus. The proclamation of Jesus happens through healing and preaching. Yes the church needs both, but the CofE has made a priest-led eucharist the touchstone of 'proper church', and it isn't.

Posted by David Keen at Tuesday, 17 June 2014 at 4:00pm BST

@James Byron, the referendum in Maine that repealed marriage equality was itself repealed by the voters a few years later.

If the Supreme Court had not upheld the overturning of the California proposition on a technicality, it would most certainly have been repealed by popular vote.

Oregon was slated to repeal their voter-passed ban this year, although the courts have now made that moot.

While the US National Organization for (straight only) marriage dreams of repealing equal marriage in the US, it is not going to happen.

But I agree that they can still cause trouble.

Posted by IT at Tuesday, 17 June 2014 at 5:19pm BST

When comparing Britain and America, it's important to remember that in England, principle's considered vulgar.

The 2012 Maine referendum was won by mass organization and millions spent on advertising. Supporters of equal marriage learned from the Prop. 8 debacle and got a slick PR operation going to sweep four states. In America, equal marriage is a popular movement, one that taps the Civil Rights legacy, and has mainline churches on-board.

Britain, without America's grass-roots democracy, is a different world, where gay rights have been used as a weapon in an establishment civil war. As illustrated by Labour's first-term hostility, and Cameron's not-so-distant enthusiasm for Section 28, for both political cheerleaders, gay rights were a means to an end.

It's been a very happy accident, but the way gay rights were passed in Britain makes English gains precarious in a way American gains aren't. (Scotland's on firmer ground.) The House of Bishops, and Synod in general, illustrate just how callous English patricians can be when it suits. If the lobby fodder in Westminster saw political advantage in switching sides, they'd abandon the cause in a heartbeat.

Posted by James Byron at Tuesday, 17 June 2014 at 6:20pm BST

In the United States, legislators, voters, and courts have decided for marriage equality. Courts have been helpful when the legislatures are locked or the majority has voted for unequal treatment of a particular group. All three have to be encouraged for lasting results.

The biggest issue is equal protection. A state must have a compelling reason to treat a group who have had a history of discrimination differently, especially when a state abridges a group's fundamental constitutional rights. The equal protection clause in the 14th amendment was put there because freed slaves at the end of the Civil War were being denied their constitutional rights. They were easily beaten up, arrested, and even murdered because neither the police nor the courts in the former Confederate states would protect them.

In England, Parliament brought marriage equality without a court pushing them to do so. This is good in some ways but, in other ways, it is not because there is no recognition that the right to marry is a fundamental right which no legislative body should be allowed to deny.

Gary Paul Gilbert

Posted by Gary Paul Gilbert at Wednesday, 18 June 2014 at 6:04am BST

I have no difficulty in recognising the institution of the Eucharist in the bible. I questioned your dismissal of denominations who don't celebrate it frequently enough as unbiblical.

FrDavidH - what has the frequency of the Eucharist to do with same sex marriage? I must be misunderstanding your question.

Posted by Erika Baker at Wednesday, 18 June 2014 at 9:01am BST

David Keen still hasn't told us what constitutes a 'proper' Church. After we have made more people His disciples, what structure does Mr Keen envisage we invite them to attend, apart from one where a 'priest prays over bread and wine'?

Posted by FrDavidH at Wednesday, 18 June 2014 at 9:23am BST


Our comments overlapped, but mine I think already answered yours. I'm here arguing a very 'traditionalist' case, and that's important for many reasons (not only because it is correct), not least because it shows that many 'liberals' agree fundamentally with 'traditionalists' on one of the most important things about Christianity. But - just to complicate things - and horrify 'traditionalists' - I'd like to make it clear that I'm not personally committed to a PRIEST-LED Eucharist. Of course, as I've already implied, I salute your concern with the figures, just as I salute that of other Evangelical Anglicans (including the estimable Lee Proudlove).

Posted by John at Wednesday, 18 June 2014 at 9:26am BST

Erika: I'm puzzled how people use 'proof' texts to prove a point, like the Institution of the Eucharist for instance.
And then claim belief in same-sex marriage, for example, for which no proof texts exist.

Posted by FrDavidH at Wednesday, 18 June 2014 at 10:31am BST

Not clear to me, Erika, on what ground(s) you're questioning it.

Posted by Erika at Wednesday, 18 June 2014 at 11:54am BST

I don't use proof texts for anything.
I can see that Jesus broke bread and gave thanks and gave it to his disciples ... and that he said to do this in remembrance of him.

So the idea that the church celebrates a meal is biblical.
What John said is that it is unbiblical not to do it often enough (without specifying what often might mean but implying that it's more than once a month).
And I don't see anything anywhere that justifies such a statement.

I hope it is clear by now that I am doing nothing more dramatic than asking John where he thinks the frequency of the Eucharist is mentioned in the bible so he can dismiss congregations who celebrate it less frequently as unbiblical.

Posted by Erika Baker at Wednesday, 18 June 2014 at 12:19pm BST

FrDavidH - if our vision of discipleship is people 'attending' something, then we really are in trouble.

Jesus left the disciples with the principal task of making and baptising new disciples and teaching them what they themselves had learned from Jesus. What that looked like is visible in the book of Acts - proclaiming the risen Jesus, meeting together to eat, learn, pray, share and worship. Sharing meals, bread and wine, and possessions, were expressions of belonging.

If you pushed me, I'd say that a church engaged in mission but not celebrating the eucharist was closer to being 'proper church' than one which celebrates the eucharist but doesn't engage in mission.

Some questions back: to be 'proper' church, do we need an academically educated priesthood, paid full time? Do we need to hold weekly eucharists in a consecrated building? Do we need a consecrated building? (and if so, how many - 16,000?) At what point do these structures become an impediment to the mission of the church, rather than an asset?

Posted by David Keen at Wednesday, 18 June 2014 at 12:19pm BST

David Keen : "Proclaiming the risen Jesus, meeting together to eat, learn, pray, share and worship"

Apart from not sharing possessions, the above seems simply to be a description of the Alpha course, which takes place in a building which people 'attend'. You seem to want something akin to the hippie communes of the 1960s which, for all their good intentions, were idealistic and unrealistic. Are prepared to sell your possessions, move out of a vicarage, close your church, and simply engage in mission?

Posted by FrDavidH at Wednesday, 18 June 2014 at 1:34pm BST

Don't see what your're getting at, Erika. I have adduced a range of evidence which seems to me (and obviously not just to me) to show that the Eucharist was THE Christian 'service' from the beginnings of Christianity in the 30s. This would seem to be an important pointer to our priorities today. When I note that many avowedly 'biblical' people follow this instruction very poorly, I'm making an ancillary point about the selectivity (or in some cases lack of knowledge) of their use of biblical material.

Obviously, I do not accept that appeal to biblical evidence of this kind equates to the use (or disregard) of 'proof texts' concerning a particular issue.


I'm afraid I think that your description and contextualisation of the Eucharist - 'Sharing meals, bread and wine, and possessions, were expressions of belonging' - are grievously under-theologised. That apart (but it's a big 'that apart'), I applaud your concerns.

Posted by John at Wednesday, 18 June 2014 at 1:47pm BST

all I'm getting at is that I asked for some explanation of your statement.
Your last comment goes a little way towards providing an explanation for your view.
You're still being very cryptic.

What is frequent enough, who decides, and on what biblical grounds is anything less than that not enough, rather than not customary?

It's a question I haven't engaged with before, you made a comment that intrigued me and all I'm trying to do is understand the basis for your comment because I don't really want to believe that it's just a swipe against Protestants.

Posted by Erika Baker at Wednesday, 18 June 2014 at 3:36pm BST

John 'grievously under-theologised', I think you've just given me the new tagline for my blog. Having said that, I still maintain that we read some of our eucharistic theology back into scripture, rather than finding it there in the first place.

FrDavidH - that brief description was my paraphrase of how Luke describes the early church in Acts 1-4. If the Alpha course more truly matches this description than the average parish church, then I'd suggest this raises more issues about parish churches than it does about the Alpha course.

Posted by David Keen at Wednesday, 18 June 2014 at 4:45pm BST

Back on thread, I was intrigued to read this article at T19, from The Daily Caller. LGBT Historians, Social Scientists and Anthropologists are the people cited.

"According to the experts on homosexuality across centuries and continents, being gay is a relatively recent social construction. Few scholars with advanced degrees in anthropology or history who concentrate on homosexuality believe gays have existed in any cultures before or outside ours, much less in all cultures. These professors work closely with an ever-growing body of knowledge that directly contradicts “born that way” ideology.

For example, historian Dr. Martin Duberman, founder of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies, said “no good scientific work establishes that people are born gay or straight.” And cultural anthropologist Dr. Esther Newton (University of Michigan) called one study linking sexual orientation to biological traits ludicrous: “Any anthropologist who has looked cross-culturally (knows) it’s impossible that that’s true, because sexuality is structured in such different ways in different cultures.”
While biology certainly plays a role in sexual behavior, no “gay gene” has been found, and whatever natural-science data exists for inborn sexual orientations is preliminary and disputed. So to date, the totality of the scholarly research on homosexuality indicates gayness is much more socio-cultural than biological."

Posted by cseitz at Wednesday, 18 June 2014 at 7:17pm BST

Sorry if I'm being obtuse, if one holds the Gospel accounts of the last supper and 1 Corinthians 11 to be remotely correct, the Eucharist is *a* principal task Jesus taught his followers to do.

If the Last Supper was all about having nice meals together occasionally, and not about actually eating Christ's body and drinking His blood (spiritually or literally), why do the Gospel accounts record Christ as saying exactly that, and why does Paul in 1 Corinthians 11 posit such dire consequences for those who partake unworthily?

The Eucharist has many layers of meaning of course, and it is often a more powerful proclamation of Christ's word than preaching or praying for healing. Especially when you remember all that stuff about settling your grievance with your brother before you come to the altar.

I'm astonished that some here seem to reduce the Eucharist to an optional extra. The basic actions and form are about the only thing that have united Christians across all denominations, places and times, even though the interpretation of them has often caused division and bloodshed.

Posted by Gerry Lynch at Wednesday, 18 June 2014 at 7:25pm BST

Erika, you still haven't produced any arguments! And it wasn't (just) a 'swipe against Protestants': I include myself among 'Protestants', though also among 'reformed Catholics'. And on this occasion - and no one here has produced any counter-arguments - I think (and have argued) the 'Catholic' tradition (flawed in many ways as it was in practice) is essentially correct.

David, you might maintain it but you have to show it by argument. And of of course 'our eucharistic theology' is historically the Catholic eucharistic theology (about whose meaning one can of course debate), not at all a modern interpretation.

Father David, about time you forgave me, don't you think?

Posted by John at Wednesday, 18 June 2014 at 7:38pm BST


Can I just add: I do appreciate your good humour.

Posted by John at Wednesday, 18 June 2014 at 8:04pm BST

Although Mr Keen seems unhappy with the number of clergy and Church buildings, I note he doesn't answer my question as to whether he includes himself, and is willing to close the 'consecrated' building he attends,and whether he will forgo his own stipend and living to improve matters.
*David must also be aware of countless Catholic-minded priests and people throughout our Communion who devoutly offer the Eucharistic Sacrifice on a weekly (or daily) basis to be nourished by the Body of the Risen Christ. It seems unnecessarily critical to dismiss their deep and profound belief simply as "a priest saying prayers over bread and wine"

Posted by FrDavidH at Wednesday, 18 June 2014 at 8:12pm BST


Just look at these arguments! Look at the "evidence" for there being no homosexuals (which, I'm sure, just like the "dialogues" don't actually *include* homosexuals or even truly divergent viewpoints)! Look at the ongoing clamor over a liturgical act!

How, How, HOW?!!!! . . . could people possibly see the church as out of touch, navel-gazing, self-obsessed, bigoted and anti-intellectual?! Where could such a view POSSIBLY come from?

Posted by MarkBrunson at Thursday, 19 June 2014 at 7:15am BST

Gerry Lynch: only in Luke and Acts is the Last Supper account accompanied by the instruction 'do this in remembrance of me'. In Mark and Matthew there is no command to 'do this'. That's quite odd, if this was supposed to be something the church repeatedly observed. I'm not suggesting the Eucharist isn't important, but I do think we have focused on it as a sign of 'proper' church at the expense of other things which are just as central, if not more so, to the church in the new testament.

John - you caught me on a good day!

FrDavidH - our consecrated building is full to bursting and we already use a nearby community centre because the church, built 600 years ago, is struggling to cope with now being in a large urban area. Many parishes are not so fortunate - over half the churches in my Diocese (Bath and Wells) have 24 members or less, about 100 of those are of a size that would fit more naturally into a front room than a church building.

Anyway, time you answered some of my questions instead of me answering yours ;-)

Posted by David Keen at Thursday, 19 June 2014 at 7:42am BST

I wasn't making arguments! I was asking a question!

Posted by Erika Baker at Thursday, 19 June 2014 at 9:43am BST

David Keen

I have just got in from presiding at Holy Communion on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, (known in some quarters as Corpus Christi). The second of the appointed readings was St Paul's first letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 11.23 - 26). Unless my bible is incorrect there is an invitation to 'do this in remembrance of me.'
From memory I was told that this was the earliest account of the Last Supper pre-dating the Gospels and their accounts.

Tim N

Posted by Tim N at Thursday, 19 June 2014 at 11:06am BST

I didn't think anyone had said that we should not celebrate the Eucharist, the question is whether it is the only central thing about church.
David Keen's questions are too important to be dismissed or distorted and I would really like to see some answers to them.

Would it help if we asked the question differently? Could we say that the main role of the priest is to celebrate the Eucharist but that that is not the main reason for the existence of church?

Posted by Erika Baker at Thursday, 19 June 2014 at 1:03pm BST

"which, I'm sure, just like the "dialogues" don't actually *include* homosexuals..."

As the comment above made clear:

"Given the stakes, most gays and lesbians are dismissive or hostile toward anyone who doesn’t think being gay is an essential, natural characteristic of some members of the human race.

But a surprising group of people doesn’t think that – namely, scholars of gay history and anthropology. They’re almost all LGBT themselves, and they have decisively shown that gayness is a product of Western society originating about 150 years ago."

Posted by cseitz at Thursday, 19 June 2014 at 1:54pm BST

Erika asks "Could we say that the main role of the priest is to celebrate the Eucharist but that that is not the main reason for the existence of church?"

That's much worse Erika! It goes much further from where we should be than anything said so far.

Posted by Simon Kershaw at Thursday, 19 June 2014 at 2:19pm BST

it's worse than what? And why?
So far, very little has been said than "David is wrong".

Posted by Erika Baker at Thursday, 19 June 2014 at 2:25pm BST

Erika -- "the main role of the priest is to celebrate the Eucharist" presupposes what a priest is, what their role should be, and worse still, suggests that it is the priest alone who 'celebrates' the eucharist, rather than it being a corporate act of the whole assembled people of God. As for "the main reason for the existence of church" that's another whole can of worms. One might plausibly argue that our goal is call all to sit and dine in the household of God; and what is the eucharist but a share, a foretaste, of that feast at God's table?

But I am holding fire; keeping my powder dry for a discussion on the sister liturgy blog where several of these topics have already been suggested and others are waiting to see the light of day.

Posted by Simon Kershaw at Thursday, 19 June 2014 at 2:57pm BST

Erika - I'm glad it's not just me who sees a problem here. I can't quite see what Simon is getting at. If mission theology is primarily shaped by eucharistic theology, then surely that is putting the cart before the horse?

Our clergy training institutions & models spend a lot of time training priests to celebrate the eucharist, but next to no time training them to lead people to faith and disciple them. Here's a snippet from 'Towards the Conversion of England', an Anglican report published in 1945
"By every means possible the clergy must be set free from all hindrances, spiritual as well as material, which prevent them from exercising an evangelistic ministry. More particularly must they be given time to fulfil their primary responsibility of training the laity for evangelism."

We have done nothing about this and 70 years later wonder why the CofE is in near terminal decline.

Tim N - fair enough, but Jesus didn't say 'every week'. Matthew and Mark don't have that command at all, and John omits the Last Supper entirely.

Posted by David Keen at Thursday, 19 June 2014 at 3:55pm BST

I am in complete agreement with David Keen. The New Testament church is missionary organization; every gospel ends with some variation on a missionary call to continue the work of Christ, spread the gospel, make disciples etc. Yes, of course we are to share the Lord's Supper, but interestingly, in the NT this is not associated with the elders (presbyters/priests) and is never mentioned as one of their responsibilities.

I think we are far too prone these days to see the ministry of the whole Church in relation to the ministry of its ordained clergy, rather than seeing the ministry of ordained clergy in terms of Christ's call to the whole church to go out in mission and evangelism to the whole world (a call which is clearly expressed in various ways at the end of every gospel and the beginning of the Book of Acts).

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Thursday, 19 June 2014 at 4:26pm BST

Tim: as I wrote above, the gospels tell us that one of the principal ways in which Jesus preached the good news was to sit (or 'recline') with people -- eating with them and being present. In so doing he was making real and present the kingdom that he proclaimed, making real the forgiveness of sins that he proclaimed, making real the mutual reconciliation and social justice that he proclaimed. It is hard to see something more important than continuing this.

Do we over-clericalise and over-ritualize the eucharist? I would argue that we do. Does that mean we should minimize the importance of breaking bread together and sharing the presence of Christ? I would argue that we should not.

Posted by Simon Kershaw at Thursday, 19 June 2014 at 4:59pm BST

Simon, in the Anglican churches our problem is not that we minimize the importance of breaking bread together and sharing the presence of Christ (surely every command of Christ is important,). Rather, our problem is that we tend to minimize the importance of everything else in relation to this. I would argue (and I think David would too) that this is to get things out of proportion.

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Thursday, 19 June 2014 at 5:13pm BST

David Keen says: "If our vision of discipleship is people 'attending' something, then we really are in trouble".....(and then later)
...."our consecrated building is full to bursting".
I am pleased Mr Keen has a large congregation which shows signs of successful evangelism. But there are many old buildings with 20 or so faithful folk who try to be a Christian presence in less vibrant communities.. Implicit in David's remarks is the question whether these places should be closed down. I would rather have a few faithful Christians thinly spread, rather than centrally-located mega-Churches where contact with communities is lost.
The argument about frequency of the Eucharist is obviously a division of opinion between churchmanships. I'm sure we'd agree that successful evangelical Churches place more emphasis on preaching and singing than on sacramental worship which belongs to mainstream Anglicanism as exemplified by our Cathedrals.

Posted by FrDavidH at Thursday, 19 June 2014 at 5:25pm BST

"So to date, the totality of the scholarly research on homosexuality indicates gayness is much more socio-cultural than biological."

Thank you for sharing the news that people with PhD's aren't above the human tendency to cull their favorite bits of scholarship (or the Bible) to suit their bigotries.

No gayness before the 20-21st Centuries! Anyone read Plato's Symposium?

You can't say both that Leviticus is right AND that there was no gayness back then. Please!

The "totality of the scholarly research" indeed! Lame. Simply lame. But thank you, it definitely clarifies the quality of mind and heart being applied to the issue...

Posted by Cynthia at Thursday, 19 June 2014 at 5:40pm BST

Looks like a comment went missing.

Kindly read the link. The majority of people cited identified as LGBT.

Posted by cseitz at Thursday, 19 June 2014 at 6:33pm BST

FrDavidH says: 'I'm sure we'd agree that successful evangelical Churches place more emphasis on preaching and singing than on sacramental worship which belongs to mainstream Anglicanism as exemplified by our Cathedrals.'

Well, that puts us evangelicals in our place, doesn't it? We're not 'mainstream Anglicans'! (says who?) Let me point out once again that in the 18th century, the average frequency of Eucharistic celebrations in the vast majority of English churches was about 4 times a year. Like it or not, in those days those were mainstream Anglicans. Funny how we all tend to define 'mainstream' from our own viewpoint!

As for cathedrals, well, I have spent my entire ministry in western and northern Canada, in small isolated communities with just the sort of churches Fr David is talking about (look up Ulukhaktok, Northwest Territories, Canada on Google maps and you'll see what i mean; that was my parish from 1988-91. Many times, those churches have beaten themselves up because it is simply not possible for them to offer cathedral-style worship, which they have been taught is the norm. To say that 'our cathedrals' exemplify mainstream Anglicanism is to denigrate the vast majority of the churches of the Anglican communion. God is not calling them to be pale imitations of cathedrals. God is calling them to be faithful to his mission in their own context, whatever that might be.

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Thursday, 19 June 2014 at 6:49pm BST

FrDavidH implicit in my comments is the question of whether some churches would do better if they were freed from the burden of maintaining a building that is no longer fit for purpose. We have at least to be able to ask that question, rather than always assume that the answer is 'no'

Posted by David Keen at Thursday, 19 June 2014 at 7:33pm BST

"I would rather have a few faithful Christians thinly spread, rather than centrally-located mega-Churches where contact with communities is lost."

But that's not the alternative. The alternative in many cases, especially in the largely rural Bath and Wells Diocese David talks about, is to have more united benefices with more lay involvement, more lay led Services, lay pastoral teams, organised transport between the churches for those who don't drive etc.

The stumbling block is often a deep resistance by members of the congregation to worship in a different parish. Because for many it's not (just) about the worship but about being in their own church in which they've been for decades and decades.
Changing some of those attitudes is one of the challenges.

Posted by Erika Baker at Thursday, 19 June 2014 at 9:20pm BST

Not true. In fact, BS. Biologists are quite clear there is a strong genetic component to our sexual orientation. LGBT people have existed in every culture. And homosexuality is observed in many non-human species.

Where social scientists and anti-gay activists go wrong is their failure to recognize that just because there is a genetic component, that does not mean that the genetics is absolute. Genetics for complex traits is NEVER absolute -- and never linked to just one gene. Otherwise, I could point to a gene for intelligence (which would seem to be unrepresented in some anti-gay activists ;-)

A well written general description of the evidence by geneticist Dean Hamer is here:
and there's also more here

Really, the efforts of people to pretend that LGBT folks do not exist, which is generally done with fingers in their ears unwilling to hear OUR experiences.... it's demeaning. And shameful.

Posted by IT at Thursday, 19 June 2014 at 9:56pm BST

Tim: I hope that my comments have suggested that these should not be separate things, they are the same thing. Our concern for justice is what we celebrate and do in the eucharist; our concern to feed the hungry is what we celebrate and do in the eucharist. And so on.

Don't misunderstand me: when I say 'is what we celebrate and do' what I mean is 'what we should be celebrating and what we should be doing'. Most of the time we aren't actually doing anything of the sort; instead we are tied up in devotion and ritual, which can seem to be done almost for its own sake.

But I cling to what we see Jesus doing in the gospel narratives: eating with friends and sinners, with collaborators and prostitutes and the diseased and impoverished -- breaking bread and being present with them. My suggestion is that we need to recover a bit more of what Jesus was doing ... not just proclaiming the kingdom, but actually living it and feasting in it.

Posted by Simon Kershaw at Thursday, 19 June 2014 at 11:08pm BST

Let me try again....

IT--sounds like biologists are but one group weighing in.

Are you simply declaring these LGBT scholars wrong?

"Given the stakes, most gays and lesbians are dismissive or hostile toward anyone who doesn’t think being gay is an essential, natural characteristic of some members of the human race.

But a surprising group of people doesn’t think that – namely, scholars of gay history and anthropology. They’re almost all LGBT themselves, and they have decisively shown that gayness is a product of Western society originating about 150 years ago."

Posted by cseitz at Thursday, 19 June 2014 at 11:32pm BST

'While biology certainly plays a role in sexual behavior...'

Who'd have thought it ?

Some very homophobic comments on here seem to go unchecked. May be ignoring is best -I dunno.

The perfect arrogance of heterosexism and its servants.

Posted by Revd Laurie Roberts at Friday, 20 June 2014 at 12:48am BST

"gayness is much more socio-cultural than biological."

It's just like feminism. It's just a socio-cultural construct of the late 20th century. And, as we all know, before that time, females didn't exist.

"gayness is a product of Western society originating about 150 years ago."

Ruth Tiffany Barnhouse, the Episcopal Church's court psychiatrist 35 years ago, wrote ("Homosexuality: A symbolic confusion") that homosexuality was a Western creation caused by absent fathers during the Second World War and that she had been assured by state officials that there were no homosexuals in Communist China.

Some obvious disagreements here about the time that homosexuality was created, of course.

In addition, I also had some friends at the time who were both gay and Chinese who that thought Ms. Barnhouse was not only incredibly wrong about her assertion of that there were no homosexuals in China but were astounded by her gullibility of accepting at face value anything that the Communist Chinese officials would state about anything whatsoever, much less homosexuality.

Posted by dr.primrose at Friday, 20 June 2014 at 1:35am BST

"Are you simply declaring these LGBT scholars wrong? "

Yes. Agendas don't make evidence. The "scholarship" presented is questionable. Perhaps it's a sort of Stockholm Syndrome, held hostage by homophobic society so long they have to fit in. Don't know. I do know that the ivory tower doesn't fit the real world experience.

Let's try this: Richard Dawkins is a scholar and a scientist - he says there's no God. Are you simply saying he's wrong?! GASP!

Posted by MarkBrunson at Friday, 20 June 2014 at 4:44am BST

And . . . we're still left with the fact that all of this, from start to finish, is a list of entirely self-centered, insider concerns which have nothing to do with the wider world, so, it's no wonder church is dying.

Before I hear about soup kitchens and concerns addressed in other threads - this has some 97 comments, at current. There is little to no interest in social justice issues, which the church leadership largely dismisses as somehow not the concern of God.

The society has moved past both ivory tower what-ifs and religious homophobia to accept homosexuality as neither harmful nor "unnatural." They've seen the fruits of church teaching - horrifying, poisonous fruit - and moved on, rightly deciding that the church has only harm to offer.

Church schools - who cares? Even in the UK, who cares? People flood into churches that suddenly have a good OFSTED report in the hope of getting their kids into a decent school with a rep to go and bang away at a "respectable career" in a broken world, not because Christianity has to offer anything to the repairing of a broken world.

It isn't just that the arguments don't matter because church doesn't matter, it's that church doesn't matter because these arguments don't matter.

Yes, there are parishes that do soup kitchens, significant outreach, and yet, here, we actually find it laughable that a parish should divest itself in the light of immense human suffering and, basically, live as the founder of our religion did. Unthinkable, apparently.

Church numbers growing in conservative churches? Maybe, if you can actually believe the numbers, which I really question. Mostly what they have is entertainment - a message that you're special and wicked people are taking things from you; that it's fine to hate the people you hate, because God does, too; that your nationalism isn't in opposition to the Gospel, but in accord, because God especially favors your nation. With the resurgence of Ayn Rand, these churches, too, are falling off. Why waste a Sunday, when you can just read *Atlas Shrugged*? It's the same thing.

Anecdotal evidence aside, we aren't getting the job done, folks, and all this nonsense is why.

Posted by MarkBrunson at Friday, 20 June 2014 at 5:04am BST

"Some very homophobic comments on here seem to go unchecked."

Yes. I've noticed that, Laurie. It's a strange sort of primness of this site that is shocked and horrified by any challenge to the status quo, but perfectly happy to put up soul, mind and hope-crushing statements and "evidence" like those from *that* poster.

Apparently, open challenge is a no-no while a polite blade through the ribs is terribly, terribly proper.

Posted by MarkBrunson at Friday, 20 June 2014 at 6:30am BST

I didn't mean to imply, as Tim Chesterton suggests, that parish churches should all try to emulate cathedral worship. That would be impossible. My contention is that most 'mainstream' Anglican parishes offer the Eucharist as their main service, whereas Evangelicals appeal to a different constituency. (I agree this wasn't so in the 18th Century, but most of us have moved on).
I contend that ' mainstream' Anglicanism is more in tune with the sensibilities of the English people. The 'conservative' agendas of the ironically-named Anglican Mainstream, and Reform are likely to be met with repugnance by fair-minded English men and women. Sadly, this is the brush with which Evangelicalism is tarred.

Posted by FrDavidH at Friday, 20 June 2014 at 8:10am BST

Why is the "cause" of homosexuality relevant?

Posted by Erika Baker at Friday, 20 June 2014 at 9:15am BST

The article in question, an editorial from The Daily Caller, to some extent confuses and misrepresents the work of the social scientists being reported. I know at least one of them personally, and am familiar with his work. The social scientists are not claiming that persons attracted to members of the same sex did not exist in antiquity. What they are saying is that the construction of an identity labeled as "gay" or "homosexual" is -- wherever it happens -- a social phenomenon, not a biological one. That is what they mean by saying that "being gay" is not a biological, but a social reality. What they are saying, essentially, is that it is illogical to state, for example, that "Socrates was gay." In a way, it is as much a misstatement as saying, "Jesus was a Roman Catholic." It is about categories, not personal realities, inclinations, or behaviors.

That being said, I think it is also important to recall that such social constructions do show up from time to time in antiquity. For example, while it is true that a Hellenistic male adult could both be married and have an intimate sexual relationship with a pais, and would not be "categorized" as anything but a normal citizen, but a man who showed a predilection, as an adult, for assuming what is regarded as a "female" role would be stigmatized, as would an adult man who consorted regularly with such men -- as the literature bears ample witness. This would not, however, be on account of opprobrium towards "homosexuality" (a nonexistent concept) but because of the opprobrium attached to "effeminacy" -- a reflection of the second-class status of women. In other cultures, such as some Native American communities, in which women are not seen as second-class (though assigned sex-linked social roles), a man who assumed a "female" role might be honored and respected -- but would still not be thought of in the same terms as the modern "gay."

Posted by Tobias Haller at Friday, 20 June 2014 at 1:57pm BST

I'm not an expert on the Classical evidence, though I certainly think it has to be used with a lot more care than by Cynthia (above). My impression is, however, that whereas 'authoritative' analyses used to be sure that there was no recognition of a gay identity in the Classical world, some more recent analyses are less sure about this. I'm with the latter. The portrayal of Cleisthenes, for example, in Aristophanes' comedies seems to show a gay identity, not just someone who sometimes commits homosexual acts nor someone who is bisexual (as are several in Plato's 'Symposium'). As for why the 'cause' of homosexulaity is relevant, Erika, you know as well as I do that it's not relevant to people like you and me and most of us here on TA, but that it may be a relevant topic of debate in theological contexts (whether it is 'natural' or not, etc.).

Posted by John at Friday, 20 June 2014 at 3:32pm BST

the legitimate topic for theological debate is the morality of something not its biological or otherwise origin.

The danger in concentrating on cause is that you end up with the idea that gay people would be properly moral if only they could be. And the thought that you might abort them selectively if a gay gene was found.

It's like harping on about the cause of left-handedness as if that said anything about how to treat a left-handed person.

The question of cause is of academic interest only. The only reasonable question is whether there is anything remotely immoral about being gay and partnered. Everything else is a distraction.

Posted by Erika Baker at Friday, 20 June 2014 at 4:23pm BST

I'm not sure either how far Tobias' distinctions (penultimate sentence) get us. Granted the absence of the single word 'homosexual', may not the language 'man behaving like a woman' or of 'softness' (very common in Greek and Latin) yield a concept of such men? And what of Sappho, whose own poems celebrate same-sex love, and who is described by Horace as 'mascula Sappho', or of the Anacreon poem which works on the assumption that Lesbian girls are lesbian?

Posted by John at Friday, 20 June 2014 at 4:30pm BST

Fr David says, 'I contend that 'mainstream' Anglicanism is more in tune with the sensibilities of the English people.'

If that is the case, why don't more of them come to those services of the Eucharist which mainstream Anglicanism offers as its main service?

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Friday, 20 June 2014 at 4:54pm BST

I suggest, in answer to Tim Chesterton, that the English have never been particularly religious, but among those who are, the limited appeal of evangelicalism is alien to the more reserved English culture. I would love if more people attended Church but suspect the rise of secularism, along with a perceived misogyny and homophobia, and the reported opinions in the media of people such as Lord Carey, Chris Sugden and Rod Thomas add to our alienation.

Posted by FrDavidH at Friday, 20 June 2014 at 6:04pm BST

I think the obvious significance is that the idea 'I am born gay' is hardly a universal idea. It exists--as a claim--in certain present locations (chiefly in the West), and almost nowhere prior to the last 150 years.

I was present at a large Chinese speaking congregation in Toronto and heard the announcements being made, and the word 'gay' popped up. They did not have a word of their own for this, much as in Hebrew there is no noun form, or in any language until relatively recently and then only selectively.

We are told it is imperative to listen to LGBT folk. I agree. But that includes them all.

Posted by cseitz at Friday, 20 June 2014 at 6:16pm BST

John, this is not "my" distinction, but that of the social scientists. They distinguish between modern categories such as "gay" -- which includes both identity and affirmation -- and such categories as "effeminate" or "soft" from earlier eras. They feel "gay" is an inappropriate word to apply in those other cultural contexts.

The confusion here resulted in people thinking that these scholars were saying that same-sex attraction did not exist until modern times. I'm simply trying to clarify that is not what they were saying.

And yes, as I noted, the classical period had words to describe people with same-sex attraction or behavior, but the sociologists' argument is that they did not mean by this the same thing that "queer theorists" mean by "gay" or "queer." It is a technical distinction, but the article referred to above -- and some commenters here -- have misunderstood what the sociologists were saying. We are once more dealing with the meaning of words -- and sociologists often give words a much narrower meaning than the popular press. Hence the confusion.

Even in a modern context, AIDS workers have to be very careful to distinguish between "gay men" and "men who have sex with men" but who do not identify themselves as "gay" -- and who would strenuously object to that categorization.

Posted by Tobias Haller at Friday, 20 June 2014 at 6:37pm BST

Of course the scholars thought people had sexual desires, and acted on them, with members of their same sex.

The same scholars also concluded this did not include even remotely the idea that thet were Gay or belonged to an identity genetically given. That is a recent and local claim.

Posted by cseitz at Friday, 20 June 2014 at 9:28pm BST

As Tobias points out, "gay" is just one of the modern possibilities for expressing same-sex attraction. Different opportunities in different cultures. The attraction always has been present, as evidenced by its existence throughout the animal world. Some native groups in the US called it being "two-spirited," there is a concept of a third sex in India. Abe Lincoln happily shared a narrow bed for four years with Joshua Speed -- but there was no category at the time for their love, so they separated and married, making Mary Todd bitter in the process despite Abe's affection for her. His eye kept landing on men (The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln: C. A. Tripp).

The list of famous gays of history isn't fiction, whatever expressions were possible for them. Alexander the Great had a "deep and close" life-long relationship with Hephaestion, modeled on Achilles and Patroclus; later he was close to Darius's favorite, Bagoas. (Yes, the record is thin on such things, and Shakespeare didn't write half his sonnets to a beautiful blond youth.)

Then there was the Emperor Hadrian (who ended Judean political history and leveled Jerusalem) and Antinous:

Even in marble, they look a couple.

Posted by Murdoch at Friday, 20 June 2014 at 11:50pm BST

Fr. David, It is said that when John Wesley preached at Haworth when William Grimshaw was the rector, they had to take out one of the church windows and build a platform in it so that people both outside and inside the church could hear him. It is also said that twelve bottles of wine were used for the communion service that day.

Apparently the 'reserved' English had no problem with Wesley's evangelicalism.

(Source: G.R. Balleine: 'A History of the Evangelical Party in the Church of England').

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Saturday, 21 June 2014 at 12:01am BST

Yes, Tobias, I understand what you're saying and I understand what they're saying. I think they at least may be wrong. As for 'self-identification', Sappho surely effectively does that? (And to a degree on the male side Socrates, Alcibiades, et al.) I think that in the ancient world (as in other worlds), a very, very important distinction is that between available attitudes and realities. When Caesar's soldiers sing that 'Nicomedes subjugated Caesar', they are enlisting the view that passive male homosexual sex is effeminising, but the striking thing about the sentiment is that it's joking and affectionate. One might compare 'ancient attitudes' (how lazy these formulations are) to cunnilingus. One can indeed find lots of evidence of disapprobation (as effeminising of the male, etc.), but people did it, and there's counter evidence that they thought everybody did it (as surely they did). In the Jewish context, because of Jewish obsession with 'clean' and 'unclean' (which, however, differs only in degree from Greeks and Romans), condemnation of homosexual behaviour is characteristically sharper than in the Graeco-Roman context, but it's impossible to believe that there weren't gay people, recognised as such, and most of us here agree (as presumably you would) that what's striking about Jesus is that he says nothing about them. That's the defence we should insist on - not the spurious 'ancient people didn't have the concept of gayness'.

Posted by John at Saturday, 21 June 2014 at 6:24am BST

John, the issue here is not a matter of defence, but of the misrepresentation of the views of Duberman, et alia, by the author of the Daily Caller article. Duberman, in particular, would not recognize the distortion as representing his work. If you want a better idea of what he is dealing with, I commend any of his very helpful books, such as "Hidden from History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past" or "About Time: Exploring the Gay Past." The Foreword to the former has some very helpful discussion of the issue of the meaning of "gay" and the division of opinion in the scholarly community as to its proper use -- a distinction of which the Daily Caller author seems entirely unaware. The scholars are using it as a term of art referring to a social construction, and the DC author is hearing it as a reference to anyone with same-sex attraction or action. The scholars do not by any means deny that sexual orientation has a biological component, which is the misreading advanced above.

I'll let the matter rest with that.

Posted by Tobias Haller at Saturday, 21 June 2014 at 1:51pm BST

And, for what it's worth, I don't know of anyone who claims that social constructs are genetically given -- other than those who claim that "marriage" or the nuclear family are "natural."

Posted by Tobias Haller at Saturday, 21 June 2014 at 2:51pm BST

Well I tried, I really did, but the thread has proved once again the 3rd Law of Thinking Anglicans: that any comments thread which passes 20 items always ends up on the topic of sex.

Posted by David Keen at Saturday, 21 June 2014 at 10:55pm BST

Tim Chesterton extols the charisma of the Founder of Methodism as an example of evangelicalism's popularity. In England, Methodism struggles to survive and attracts hardly anybody new into its ranks.

Posted by FrDavidH at Sunday, 22 June 2014 at 10:28am BST


I think you got a fair amount of discussion. As for the other thing, the 'fault' (if that's the word) was not only on the side of the usual suspects (including me): cseitz played a big role.


We're misfiring at the moment. Of course I agree with you on most things - certainly the essentials - but I think (as you seemingly do not) that in certain contexts it's important to frame arguments in ways which don't immediately alienate 'the other side' and avoid those which have no chance whatsoever of persuading them. Extreme example: I think (as presumably many people here think) that for unattached people a one-night stand can be a perfectly good thing - but I'm not going to discuss sexual ethics with cseitz or Father David on such a basis.

Posted by John at Sunday, 22 June 2014 at 2:59pm BST

In summary, for the lay person such as myself, identity politics, with labels such as "gay," is a modern phenomenon. Right? While the attraction and behaviors are clearly a part of our human existence throughout recorded history. Did I get that right?

And this is all relevant because…?

Didn't someone say "feminism is new, while women certainly aren't?" Isn't this the same thing?

Posted by Cynthia at Sunday, 22 June 2014 at 11:29pm BST

Spot on, Cynthia. It only becomes relevant when people misrepresent or misunderstand it -- as one or the other did the Daily Caller article.

Posted by Tobias Haller at Monday, 23 June 2014 at 1:14pm BST

Cynthia, if the modern, western LGBT reality is the result of social construction, then it would be incorrect to say 'I was born Gay.' That is an important corrective.

Posted by cseitz at Monday, 23 June 2014 at 1:41pm BST

"Cynthia, if the modern, western LGBT reality is the result of social construction, then it would be incorrect to say 'I was born Gay.' That is an important corrective."

Um, no not at all cseitz! It's like "I was born female" I'm only a "feminist" because at some point we noticed that our identity relegated us to second class status and made us vulnerable to abuse.

People have been born gay forever. We only name it in modern times.

The reality isn't new, only the name, along with modern concepts like human rights are new.

Thank you Tobias, I'm getting a clearer picture of what the scholarship says, and how it may be misused.

Posted by Cynthia at Monday, 23 June 2014 at 5:00pm BST

"People have been born gay forever. We only name it in modern times."

Well, of course that is the point in dispute. You can't dig up the dead and tell them they were in fact Gay but didn't know it. History does not work that way. Moses didn't *really* know about carburation, but under a different name.

This is frequently termed a 'whig account of history.'

Posted by cseitz at Monday, 23 June 2014 at 11:12pm BST

Dear cseitz, Franz Schubert was almost certainly gay, his dates are 1797-1828. As was Jean-Baptiste Lully, 1632-1687, and definitely Tchaikovsky, 1840-1893. It wouldn't take long to come up with legions of names of performers, composers, writers, and artists who are known to have been gay. Whatever they called it, or not, in their respective languages they got involved in same sex relationships.

We're not talking about internal combustion engines or the cotton gin here. Human behaviour is not a new invention. There was no schizophrenia before someone named it? No cancer before someone named it? No five stages of grief before someone named it? No feminism until someone named it? No abolitionist movement before it was named? (Tell that one to the Quakers).

Naming is typically the result of applying to a label to observed behaviour. It doesn't work the other way around. No adolescent is influenced in their sexual proclivities because someone named the behaviour!

This is kind of sad, actually.

Posted by Cynthia at Tuesday, 24 June 2014 at 7:38pm BST

Cynthia, I think what you are trying to say is that largely homosexually oriented people have existed in the west in the last centuries. That does not make them 'Gay' in the modern use of that term and it does not mean they laid claim to a DNA like 'identity' marker. The very idea of an identity that one is born with, that is a fixed marker, is an idea of recent vintage. The entire point of the Daily Caller essay was dispassionately and accurately to make that point. Gayness as a modern phenomenon is the consequence of a combination of factors, a major one of them being social construction. That explains the density of the phenomenon in some geographical/cultural regions and not in others -- hence the observations of LGBT anthropologists.

It is an entirely different theological point whether 'identities in nature' are ever fixed or ultimate realities, in Christ, in whom we have died. This is the point that Oliver O'Donovan and Wesley Hill both make.

Posted by cseitz at Tuesday, 24 June 2014 at 10:43pm BST

"That explains the density of the phenomenon in some geographical/cultural regions and not in others"

Um, don't you think it's possible that intolerance and hate explains the "density" phenomenon? How many people are out in countries where you can be jailed for it? Where a local paper prints the photos and location information about gays (or suspected gays) to direct thugs to find them and beat them, or kill them?

Where there is a concept of human rights and equal protection, you will see a greater density of LGBT people.

Posted by Cynthia at Wednesday, 25 June 2014 at 4:55pm BST

I think it is a factor, but not one of scale. I agree with the LGBT anthropologists, and many others, here.

Posted by cseitz at Wednesday, 25 June 2014 at 6:56pm BST

"I agree with the LGBT anthropologists"

And I still have legions of gay musicians, artists, and writers who lived the "gay lifestyle" long before it became a part of identity politics, like feminism. And there are my ancestors, the Greeks. Opa!

Posted by Cynthia at Thursday, 26 June 2014 at 6:07pm BST
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