Comments: Opinion - 20 February 2016

If it looks like a diplomat, and sounds like a diplomat, it might be a churchman. Diplomats actually work for politicians. They are (usually) more adept at the finer points of getting along with people and extracting information for the benefit of their nation. That is what they do. Does the church want to do diplomacy? Maybe it's a necessity. Maybe not. I'll be diplomatic about it and say that the Bishop of Truro seems a very fine churchman.

Posted by Pam at Saturday, 20 February 2016 at 9:16pm GMT

Angus Ritchie has some powerful arguments for "Two Integrities" - something that had not been heard of in the Church of England until the advent of women clergy. Since that time, the Church has recognised that women are equal to men in the sight of God.

Now the Church has come to the place where - maybe at first through a process of "Two Integrities" - we will come to realise that homo and heterosexual people are also equal in the sight of God, deserving of God's Blessing on their monogamously faithful Same-Sex relationships.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Sunday, 21 February 2016 at 9:18am GMT

To Jana Riess's list could be added:

Archbishop William Temple never said: "The Church is unique among human institutions in that it exists primarily for the benefit of those who are not its members" - or words to that effect.

Or if he did say it, no one seems to be able to find it in the published sources. There seems to be agreement that it is just the sort of think he might have said, but if he did, it was in an unpublished speech.

If anyone wants to contradict me, and give chapter and verse, I (and other Temple fans) would be very grateful.

Posted by Edward Prebble at Sunday, 21 February 2016 at 8:00pm GMT

Did St Francis of Assisi really say "Preach the Gospel. Use words if you have to"?

A former colleague used to cite that saintly authority frequently.

Posted by ExRevd at Monday, 22 February 2016 at 12:04am GMT

Ritchie is strong in arguing for "two integrities," but weak in trying to find a biblical loophole big enough to squeeze through committed gay relationships. Yet again, biblical authority is presupposed, and the affirming argument significantly weakened.

For God's sake, why not just concede this point? Paul of Tarsus wasn't God. He was a flawed human man. He persecuted the followers of Jesus; he condoned slavery; he thought the world was about to end; and he condemned homosexuality in all circumstances. He. Was. Wrong. Stop treating this man as an oracle.

The affirming argument has foundered on this for decades. I'm not one for the Rock of Peter, but even less the Rock of Paul.

Posted by James Byron at Monday, 22 February 2016 at 12:35am GMT

If "the only sixpenny article in a penny bazaar" didn't say "The church is the only organisation that exists for the benefit of others" (or words to that effect) then who did?
A little research suggests that it may well have been the German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer who might have been misquoted as he quite possibly said "The Church is the Church only when it exists for others".

Posted by Father David at Monday, 22 February 2016 at 6:22am GMT

The count shews 6 Comments but only 3 appear?

ED: there are 6 well now 7 that appear to me.

He that hath eyes to see...


Posted by Father David at Monday, 22 February 2016 at 9:58am GMT

Francis never said it, it cannot be found in any of his writings and actually unlikely if you read his work that emphasised preaching coupled with works of poverty and charity

Posted by Paul at Monday, 22 February 2016 at 6:01pm GMT

"For God's sake, why not just concede this point? Paul of Tarsus ... condemned homosexuality in all circumstances. He. Was. Wrong."

Not doubting that Paul was wrong on many things, JamesB. I just don't see how it's POSSIBLE for him to have condemned a concept that wasn't discovered/named for 1900 years. Why do you want to accept deeply (anachronistically) flawed, homophobic Bible translation&interpretation?

Posted by JCF at Tuesday, 23 February 2016 at 4:04am GMT

James Byron does point to a fundamental problem - possibly a fundamental heresy - common to all established Christian denominations: all give equal honor and authority to human beings who wrote the scriptures as they do to God, and worse, elevate Paul's teachings above and beyond those of Jesus *within that scriptural framework*!

It isn't a problem of hermeneutics or cultural difference, but a faith-wide endemic error - scripture is NOT God, and can and must be interpreted within a living context held in greater, or at least equal, importance with the texts.

Posted by MarkBrunson at Tuesday, 23 February 2016 at 7:44am GMT

JCF, by "homosexuality," I'm not referring to the concept of sexual orientation (which, as you rightly say, came centuries later), but sexual activity between people of the same gender.

Given that the Mosaic law condemned men having sex with men unreservedly, that Paul was a devout Jew and Pharisee, and that the plain reading of his authentic letters is condemnation (probably including lesbianism), the religious, textual and cultural factors combine to make an affirming reading of Paul extremely unlikely. I don't want to accept this -- just the opposite -- but I don't see how I can do otherwise without blatant eisegesis.

Since I can say that the Bible's wrong regardless, that's just what I do. I'd flip the question about: why do so many in the affirming camp allow their position to be framed by the very doctrine of authority that caused oppression to begin with?

Posted by James Byron at Tuesday, 23 February 2016 at 9:46am GMT

I completely agree with James: by far the greatest likelihood is that the early Christian communities would have condemned man-man sex as sinful.

The point (as Mark suggests) is that we risk making the Bible into an idolatry if we insist it is inerrant and infallible. Why shouldn't the authors of the Bible get some things wrong, or be culturally conservative on some issues?

After all... was Noah's Ark true? did Adam and Eve have no ancestors? Were all the languages of the world diversified at the Tower of Babel? Did God really command the ethnic cleansing of the Canaanites? Did death only enter the world after ‘Eve’ ate an apple? Should women submit because of that mythical sin? etc etc.

And IF some things in the Bible are cultural misconstructions, THEN why not the verses that seem to be critical of man-man sex (which assuredly did not begin 1900 years later!)?

By far the greater likelihood seems to me to be that the contemporary Jewish religious communities, and the early Christian communities, would have regarded man-man sex as appalling. The verses that exist in the Bible are not positive, and there is no affirmation of man-man sex, so either the Bible is wrong or it is not: and that is an almost ideological divide that extends beyond merely the sexual debate.

If you believe the Bible is inerrant, then it is well possible - in good conscience - to regard sex between two men as profoundly sinful. And in a sense, those of us with more liberal views probably need to respect the right of some Christians to exercise sincere conscience on such matters.

If the Bible is inerrant, then I'd argue that those who believe in inerrancy probably have a stronger case than those who don't.

(Concluded in next post.)

Posted by Susannah Clark at Tuesday, 23 February 2016 at 11:01am GMT

But then, there are already precedents (like some listed above) for a Bible that is expressed through fallible humans like you and like me... making mistakes, which are subsequently seen to be palpably untrue.

The way we regard the Bible, and how we read it, as inerrant truth or fallible attempts to describe divine encounters... these are the fundamental forks in the path to divergent consciences.

Whichever way, we can still access God, and it is grace - not one path or the other - which opens us to grace, to union in Christ, and communion with one another. As I say, I believe James Byron's viewpoint is logically irresistible: the Bible authors just got it wrong.

Some people are scared to admit that possibility, out of a kind of deferential approach to scripture. Others discover that the alternative can be a more open Christianity, where we need to use our God-given consciences to determine moral situations... with love taking priority over all.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Tuesday, 23 February 2016 at 11:02am GMT

"why do so many in the affirming camp allow their position to be framed by the very doctrine of authority that caused oppression to begin with?"

Because so many of us actually truly don't believe that your interpretation is correct.

If Paul could not know about homosexuality, it stands to reason that he would condemn all same sex activity. What you know about something influences how you interpret it.

You then have to look at WHY he condemned it, not the mere fact that he did.

Why does it matter? Because there are thousands of gay evangelicals who believe in the authority of Scripture and who don't want to have to change that in order to find themselves and their relationships included in the church.
It's not necessary to leave the evangelical framework in order to come to a different understanding about same sex relationships.

That is precisely the point.

Posted by Erika Baker at Tuesday, 23 February 2016 at 11:27am GMT

"You then have to look at WHY [Paul] condemned it, not the mere fact that he did."

I couldn't agree more, Erika, but that isn't an authoritarian POV. Authoritarianism is rooted in power and obedience, not reason and persuasion. The whole point of authoritarianism is that "why" doesn't matter: all that matters is that an order be valid and understood. Once it is, you obey, end of debate. An enlisted man may believe that an officer is wrong, but their opinion counts for nothing: they do as they're told, or face the consequences.

I agree that gay relationships can be affirmed within this framework (you just make the Bible say what you want: see women's ministry, slavery, divorce, etc). I don't agree that it's a good mindset to have, and don't see why liberals shouldn't challenge it at every turn. That should be done regardless of what the Bible says about homosexuality. The more people who leave an authoritarian framework, the better.

Posted by James Byron at Tuesday, 23 February 2016 at 12:30pm GMT

And very eloquently put, Susannah: you've laid it out as comprehensively and succinctly as I've seen. :-)

Mark has it exactly right: Bibliolatry is a faith-wide endemic error. It must be fought, regardless of whether the church comes to affirm gay relationships on other grounds. Liberalism isn't a single-issue position; it's a radically different framework. It seeks to overturn authoritarian orthodoxy, and far from being ashamed, I'm proud of it.

If authoritarianism isn't fought, some new target will be selected, and we'll be straight back to where we started. For all our sakes, this cycle must be broken.

Posted by James Byron at Tuesday, 23 February 2016 at 12:41pm GMT


I do not believe in the integrity of contorting biblical interpretation in order to maintain the concept of 'inerrancy' while trying to argue one's way out of difficult things that the Bible asserts.

That's a bit like fundamentalists who argue that dinosaurs must have existed at the time of humans, since they could not die out before the Fall, when death was allegedly introduced.

Even if gay romantic love and sex are a new thing - do we really believe that anyway - the bible makes no effort to amend the 'haram' nature of one man having sex with another. It's pretty probable, however one wants to package things differently, and sanitise things, that Jewish religious communities and their early Christian successors would have regarded anything but man-female sex within marriage, frankly, corrupt and an abomination.

But facts can get contorted and subordinated to the need to protect biblical inerrancy.

It can also be a way of trying to make biblical inerrancy more palatable - in the face of, frankly, the embarrassment of what the Bible has to say in the context of men having sex together. It almost certainly just wasn't on.

In contrast, the argument that, quite simply, the Bible can sometimes be wrong, seems to create fear and trembling among those who have elevated it to an infallibility that (on the basis of other misconstructions) it just doesn't seem to possess.

So text gets contorted to mean something that wasn't intended, just to protect the infallibility, on the subconscious grounds and terror, that if one verse is wrong, then how do we know that others aren't too... where does it all end... with pick and mix (they allege)... and the fear that their whole presupposition of biblical inerrancy may come tumbling down.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Tuesday, 23 February 2016 at 12:45pm GMT

We may not believe the Pope is infallible, so why should Paul be? Why aren't biblical authors as fallible as the rest of us. If God is truly God, and allows us to discover different and conflicting accounts of creation, then why not other things too. Perhaps God oversaw the Enlightenment knowing that it would introduce precedents for daring to say "We need to set biblical text in context, not as infallibility, but as culturally-influenced attempts to make sense of mysteries and the deeper reality of God, and to open up the exercise of our conscience (instead of a sort of biblically-dictated suspension of individual conscience)."

When the authors are fallible, there is no disgrace if they wrote with their own precepts, some right and some wrong.

And no disgrace either in saying 'The Bible can be wrong.' Wrong on man-man sex, and wrong on other things as well.

What I find suspect, though, is trying to re-frame an original text out of the context and intent of its original authors, and alleging their original intent and words were something else, and meant something else.

To protect an over-arching ideology of inerrancy.

Nothing in the Bible indicates the religious communities of Judaism and Christianity would go 'Whoop-de-Doo' about two men having sex. Or that the text - which originally called for stoning - has swung to some kind of affirmation.

Like James Byron, I am convinced that the bible authors and their communities regard ANY male-male sex as appalling and abominable.

Screw making it just about male prostitutes as some apologists do. I believe they inflate that argument to defend their ideology - which is not about sex but about the inerrant nature of the 'Word of God'.

According to the biblical authors, man-man sex is just plain wrong... but they could be wrong about that... because they are human, because they are fallible, because they write from within their own contexts and communities.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Tuesday, 23 February 2016 at 12:48pm GMT

The Bible being wrong about specifics does not make it wrong about fundamental principles - for example the Greatest Commandment of Love, in the context of which, the whole of the Bible can make sense, even if the specifics are sometimes wrong. Perhaps the whole (and fallible) bible needs to be read in the context of love’s primacy – and perhaps the challenge for us is to open to love and grace, which is superbly communicated in biblical texts however fallible they are in detail. Perhaps the entire Bible is meant to be subordinated to the primacy of God’s call to love (both in interpretation by exercise of conscience, and in action).

But this has been argued over and over. I'd argue that what matters most is opening our hearts to that Love, opening our hearts to God.

In the end, perhaps it really doesn't matter if some of the biblical authors' assertions are wrong, but they were still those authors' intentions. What worries me is making their words say something the authors didn't intend to say. I have more confidence in the supporter of infallibility saying 'The bible condemns two men having sex' because I think they are right. I think it does.

I think that is at least honest and consistent. It just doesn't happen to be the path of biblical fallibility that other Christians acknowledge, and everything the Spirit may do when we open the door to deconstruction of the Bible, and seek out the primary imperatives of love.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Tuesday, 23 February 2016 at 12:49pm GMT

"I do not believe in the integrity of contorting biblical interpretation in order to maintain the concept of 'inerrancy' while trying to argue one's way out of difficult things that the Bible asserts."

I don't believe that this is what evangelical are doing.
Certainly, all my lgbt conservative evangelical friends are absolutely clear that passages have to be read in context. Even Ian Paul wouldn’t disagree with that.
And they are firmly of the opinion that context changes when you discover that something you had thought to be true isn’t true.

We are not doing them a favour by joining their distractors and insisting that they’re not true evangelicals and that they “try to argue their way out of difficult things.”
They are not. They are reading what it says, know that it cannot apply to them, because Paul didn’t know people like them, and that his words therefore have to be understood in a different context.

We do not need to believe that evangelical theology is as shallow than many of our distractors have already made it.
That’s where I would agree with James. They are not the only ones setting the framework of the debate.

And if my lgbt conservative evangelical friends tell me they believe in Scriptural authority, but that they understand a few passages differently to the accepted reading, then we need to do them the courtesy of accepting their way of combining being gay with being conservative evangelicals.

They are using their arguments in their own churches to change these churches.
It’s not helpful if we tell them that they can’t.
They’re misunderstood enough in their own circles. It would help if we didn't misunderstand them too.

We do not have to share their arguments in order to accept that they are nevertheless valid arguments.

Posted by Erika Baker at Tuesday, 23 February 2016 at 4:57pm GMT

In discussing Paul's attitude toward same-sex relations, it's important to remember what Paul actually said (and didn't say).

According to the actual text of Romans 1, Paul is condemning homosexuality resulting from idolatry. Paul says that the "wicked," although they knew God, did not honor or give thanks to God, and "exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animal or reptiles." (vv. 21-23, NRSV).

"Therefore" ("Dio" in Greek), "God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity" (v. 24) because (again) they worshiped a creature rather than the Creator (v. 25).

Paul then continues with another causative phrase related to the previous discussion of idolatry. "For this reason" ("Dia touto" in Greek), "God gave them up to degrading passions," meaning at this point men and women having sexual relations with members of the same sex (vv. 26-27; I don't think the NRSV translation in quite accurate here but this is the gist of it).

Paul then continues in v. 28 with further comments about the results of people of failing to properly acknowledge God, i.e., people who worship idols rather God.

The context of the text is idolatry and Paul's condemnation of same-sex relations caused by idolatry in the first century Graeco-Roman world. Using this text to condemn gay and lesbian people who are faithful Christians and not idol worshippers seriously misuses what Paul actually said.

Posted by dr.primrose at Tuesday, 23 February 2016 at 5:35pm GMT

While I respect the deep scholarship that has resulted, I still cannot commend an attitude which holds that the scriptures are so absolutely above question that they need to be exhaustively studied in order for us to say, "No. This is not a correct understanding. If we err in rejecting it, we do so in good faith trusting in God's Mercy."

It's why I have a real problem with making verses of psalms and other scripture "optional" in the lectionary because they are bloody or violent or unpleasant. This sends a message to kids, to new hearers of the scripture, that the Bible is free of unpleasant and incorrect teaching!

Posted by MarkBrunson at Wednesday, 24 February 2016 at 5:44am GMT

I suspect there aren't lots of folk on this site who think that the Bible is "absolutely correct." But I think it's extremely important to know what it says in the context of the author's time and place, which can be a place quite alien to us 21st Christians, before we start considering the issue of whether the particular passage continues to apply to us and, if so, how and to what extent.

Posted by dr.primrose at Wednesday, 24 February 2016 at 11:29pm GMT
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Please note that comments are limited to 400 words. Comments that are longer than 400 words will not be approved.

Cookies are used to remember your personal information between visits to the site. This information is stored on your computer and used to refill the text boxes on your next visit. Any cookie is deleted if you select 'No'. By ticking 'Yes' you agree to this use of a cookie by this site. No third-party cookies are used, and cookies are not used for analytical, advertising, or other purposes.