Comments: Andrew Goddard writes about Pastoral Accommodation

"The overwhelming majority" that Andrew Goddard claims would not accept accommodation of different conscience and practice is actually a fringe of clerics and conservative lay people, whereas surveys suggest that the wider 'majority' of Church Membership are actually increasingly relaxed about gay sex, and would be willing to accept (or would welcome) what Andrew terms 'accommodation', but is in fact further liberalisation and respect for a diversity of consciences.

Andrew writes as if the status quo is set in stone, disregarding the reality that society and the church are both in process. It may, indeed, end up with Andrew's section of the Church of England being the ones who need 'accommodation' for their consciences (and the right to opt out) in a Church that chooses to move on in a recognition of the de facto diversity of conscience on the ground and in the pews.

More and more people really don't care if two men or two women love each other.

He goes on to write: "More fundamentally, there is a problem of principle: it appears to worsen the habit of institutional hypocrisy."

Is it hypocritical to champion or affirm the love between two people? Or is that integrity and justice? Perhaps what Andrew isolates as church teaching is actually NOT what most English church members any longer believe? And perhaps a less hypocritical position would be to acknowledge a variety of consciences and integrities.

To be plain: my love for my girl does not need or seek to be 'accommodated'. It is not up for negotiation. It needs (or welcomes) celebration, and that is up to individual Christians and individual churches. If Andrew can't bring himself to join in, then I'd 'accommodate' his right to his conscience, because (seemingly unlike some) I believe in respect for individual conscience within our shared church.

But more and more people will be happy to affirm and celebrate what is... let's face it... devotion, commitment, and love.

Andrew only posits the nuclear option of 'changing the church's teaching' from A to its opposite, Z. But actually the necessary pre-requisite is less polar. It is simply to acknowledge the truth: that beliefs on sexuality are diverse, and the church should be less absolutist, and show respect and allowance for a diversity of practices, liturgies, and conscientious beliefs.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Tuesday, 11 October 2016 at 9:08pm BST

Andrew Goddard is, indeed, a doughty warrior for what he sees as moral righteousness. What he seems to close his eyes to is the fact that the modern world does not see other-than-heterosexual relationships as wicked and against God's provision for the exercise (or not) of one's innate sexual orientation.

Dogmatic mediaeval understanding of human sexuality is no longer acceptable in a world that has a more mature outlook on the nature of sexual differentiation than that of the Bible.

Even Jesus recognised that heterosexual procreation and marriage was not the norm for everybody. In fact, Jesus Himself never married but had at least one 'special friendship' - a phenomenon forbidden in mediaeval monastic communities - in John the 'Beloved Disciple'.

In Matthew's Gospel, Chapter 19, Jesus first speaks about the need for faithfulness in heterosexual marriage. He then, in the same conversation, explained that there was another class of people - eunuchs - (looked down on in that culture, too) whom he recognised as not to be expected, able or willing, to marry in the 'normal way' to procreate.

Delineating 3 possibilities, Jesus spoke of eunuchs, firstly; as "born that way from their mother's womb". Secondly, there were eunuchs "made so by men". Thirdly; "eunuchs who have made themselves that way for the sake of the kingdom of heaven".

The third category, of their own volition, offer their virginity for Christ.

The second category, through the determination of others (papal castrati or Nubian slaves), who become so by force of circumstance, voluntarily or not.

The first category, however, may just be people incapable of, or disinclined by their given nature, to procreate.

These were categories of procreative and non-procreative humans recognised by Jesus. Why do we have a problem in identifying such today?

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Tuesday, 11 October 2016 at 10:06pm BST

While I don't agree with the underlying position Andrew broadly advocates, this is a very helpful piece of clear thinking in establishing what comes next. There is no shirking away from the immense challenge for the Church of England. If we wish to embrace same-sex relationships, and a definition of sexuality as beyond one woman + one man = for life, then we need the theological courage to say so and to defend our convictions, rather than the mealy-mouthed accommodation of "pastoral need". Thank you Andrew.

Posted by Peter S at Tuesday, 11 October 2016 at 10:45pm BST

I am with Peter S. Andrew should be congratulated on high quality work. I likewise disagree with the underlying position put forward by Andrew and also agree with him that a pastoral accommodation is simply not an acceptable outcome.

My biggest disagreement with Andrew though is that he relies upon church teaching rather than the Bible. Moreover, I believe the Bible when correctly read is supportive of same set relationships.

What Andrew has done is highlight that the only way the Church can accept same set marriage is by accepting that revised understanding and changing teaching. What Andrew doesn't develop is that if the teaching changes, his arguments against pastoral accommodations retain their force and that it would not be acceptable for any clergy to deny the validity of same set marriage.

In practice, I suspect we will end up with some muddy grey outcome but it is good that someone who doesn't accept same set marriage also sees that muddy grey is simply not viable.

Posted by Kate at Wednesday, 12 October 2016 at 1:53am BST

"A reticence by most bishops ... to teach and to explain the church’s position, a growing number of them wishing to see it changed and sometimes campaigning for this,"

This is true of one or two of them among 150 or so... the evangelical paranoia is showing. I am beginning to suspect that it is they who know that their position is untenable in the long run.

Posted by Lorenzo at Wednesday, 12 October 2016 at 7:58am BST

Credit where it's due: Andrew Goddard knows how to complicate things; but as Susannah Clark notes above, there is a simpler — and I daresay better — way: "to acknowledge the truth: that beliefs on sexuality are diverse, and the church should be less absolutist, and show respect and allowance for a diversity of practices, liturgies, and conscientious beliefs."

As is so often the case in theological debates, Andrew is right in what he affirms but wrong in what he denies: a simple pastoral accommodation will not do; what's needed is recognition that faithful, loving LGBTI relationships are as legitimate as similar heterosexual relationships — then to do as the URC did, to give individual churches the freedom to affirm, bless and celebrate or not, without any compulsion either way.

Why is such a simple solution so difficult to accept?

Posted by Phil Groom at Wednesday, 12 October 2016 at 9:21am BST

Andrew is arguing that remarriage after divorce is acceptable because there can be special circumstances which only benefit a few people.

Andrew is equally arguing that wanting to spend ones life with someone of the same sex isn't special circumstances.

Aren't we back into ground favoured by politicians of being willing to make exceptions so long as not many people benefit from those exceptions? Within a Christian, and hopefully moral, context can such a policy be acceptable? I think not. If we are going to make exceptions then surely the exceptions we make - if indeed recognising a same sex marriage is an exception - should benefit the most people possible not the least?

Posted by Kate at Wednesday, 12 October 2016 at 10:16am BST

What we are seeing is a convergence of thinking embracing the Global South and traditional Christians like Andrew Goddard within the Church of England. Neither believe that marriage can be shifted onto different ground, and share the view--probably embraced by most liberals--that things like 'pastoral accommodation' are just inadequate compromises that no one really favors.

Posted by cseitz at Wednesday, 12 October 2016 at 10:23am BST

How long did the CofE hierarchy spend fighting the important and entirely rational battle over whether a man might marry his deceased wife's sister? How ridiculous did that make it look?

Posted by Interested Observer at Wednesday, 12 October 2016 at 10:24am BST

'he relies upon church teaching rather than the Bible'. Kate, no one reads the Bible simply off the page, uninterpreted. We all read the Bible within communities that have worked out their understanding of the text. There is no one 'church teaching' either. Andrew is part of a conservative church tradition in the way it interprets the Bible. You and I have drawn on other approaches to scripture on which to base our own conviction on this topic. But we are all drawing on received teachings in that sense aren't we?

Posted by David Runcorn at Wednesday, 12 October 2016 at 11:15am BST

It's amazing how change becomes an 'immense challenge' when it's change you don't want. If only these people were around 500 or so years ago: perhaps then the Reformation would have never happened. But then again, they would have wanted that far, far bigger change to the church's teaching wouldn't they?

I certainly remember the chill in my soul I experienced listening to an address Andrew Goddard gave in the University Church in Oxford more than a decade ago: it was standard anti-gay conservative stuff and I don't detect any change here. I think that far from congratulating him on the thoroughness and quality of his work we should be recognising this for what it is: an attempt to prevent any pro-gay change happening.

'Oh it's so difficult' 'Oh it's such a major change'. Right.

Homophobic is as homophobic does, however eloquent and studied its presentation.

Posted by Fr Andrew at Wednesday, 12 October 2016 at 11:25am BST

I don't think I understand what Andrew Goddard is saying.
At present, the official position of the CoE is that all may be in Civil Partnerships, which are presumed to be celibate, but that only clergy must give assurance that their CP is celibate, while lay people should not be asked at all.
There is no blessing for same sex marriages but pastorally appropriate prayers may be said after the couple has been informed of the official position of the CoE that marriage is between a man and a woman, and has been asked to state their reasons for departing from this position.

That is already pastoral accommodation.
Is Andrew suggesting that this should all be reversed?
If he isn't, then surely, his theological boat has already sailed and we're only asking about what accommodation to offer, not whether to offer any?

Posted by Erika Baker at Wednesday, 12 October 2016 at 1:14pm BST

"Accommodation" is stillborn: it'll satisfy no one, and won't prevent schism. Affirmation's where it's at.

Posted by James Byron at Wednesday, 12 October 2016 at 2:46pm BST

The focus in Goddard's reports is too narrow and fails to acknowledge the diversity of doctrine on heterosexual marriage through history - patriarchal, complementary and egalitarian. The debate on same-sex marriage is very simple, as has already been addressed. Start from where people are at in society and develop a theology that fits, as with the three alternative theological bases for heterosexual marriage. The Book of Common Prayer's marriage liturgy shows how our thinking on marriage has developed quite radically over the centuries as society has advanced and women have gradually acquired equal status on sovereignty, obedience and property rights. The wedding at Cana reading can, I think, apply to all contemporary understandings of marriage, including same-sex ones. Many of those who claim to be traditionalists are in fact revisionists when it comes to opposite-sex marriage.

Posted by Andrew at Wednesday, 12 October 2016 at 5:27pm BST

«Accommodation" is stillborn: it'll satisfy no one, and won't prevent schism. Affirmation's where it's at. ,»

Absolutely

«Kate, no one reads the Bible simply off the page, uninterpreted. We all read the Bible within communities that have worked out their understanding of the text.»

Any decent PHD student knows the difference between primary and secondary sources. (Any decent arts or divinity student should too but university teaching isn't always as good as it should be.) Secondary source can be useful for understanding historiography etc but Andrew is setting out the underlying rights and wrongs. For that only primary sources - the books of the Bible - are relevant. Secondary sources like the Pilling Report are useful to explain why people think as they do but in terms of the underlying issues are academically and theologically irrelevant.

Posted by Kate at Wednesday, 12 October 2016 at 5:48pm BST

Phil Groom: "do as the URC did... give individual churches the freedom to affirm, bless and celebrate or not, without any compulsion either way."

James Byron: "'Accommodation' is stillborn: it'll satisfy no one, and won't prevent schism. Affirmation's where it's at."

These comments home in on the crux. Gay and lesbian couples don't want to feel "tolerated". They want to commune with people who affirm and celebrate who they are, how precious their love is, and the holy sanctity of their relationships.

We need to stop dominating one another.

If you want to affirm and rejoice in the covenanted relationship of my girl and I, praise God! And thank you. Those are the individuals, communities and churches where we know we are more than just 'tolerated'.

And if, in all good conscience, you cannot affirm our love and covenanted relationship, then I respect your right of conscience too. What you can't do is trample on my conscience, and the conscience of others. The Church holds diverse views on sexuality - that's the de facto reality and the truth. Instead of demanding just one view, we should 'get past' the debates... and elevate affairs to seeking grace to love one another in all our diversity.

As Phil says, there should be no compulsion on anybody. If you don't believe in gay sex, then find yourself a woman. If you don't believe in lesbian sex, then find yourself a man.

And as James says, what we seek - whether we are hetero or homo - is *affirmation*. Love is so precious and fragile in this world. Love is also the greatest commandment. Love deserves celebration, not just a pious toleration and implicit criticism.

People's conscience and beliefs need to be respected. It's not complicated to live and let live, and elevate the discourse to grace and love.

Unless you insist on 'dominating' the other person. The solution is grace and love, not theological domination. We already know we don't agree. The issue is: yes, but can we still love one another and co-exist?

Posted by Susannah Clark at Wednesday, 12 October 2016 at 8:26pm BST

I'm not entirely in agreement with Andrew Goddard's dismissal of 'Pastoral Accommodation. Was that not the basis of Jesus' personal ministry to all whom he met in his lifetime.

The Church's Ministry is, at base, the Ministry of Reconciliation - a ministry that brings together the situation of humankind and the Mercy of a Loving, Creator God. This makes sense when we examine at depth the way in which Jesus spent his time, creatively, with sinners. Now that is 'Pastoral Accommodation' at its very best.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Wednesday, 12 October 2016 at 9:03pm BST

A.G. is entirely correct. The Anglican Church needs to stop thinking of itself as an institution brought into being by man on man's terms.Christ founded the Church on His Words.His Holy Writ states that same sex relationships are sin.

Posted by Glen Young at Wednesday, 12 October 2016 at 11:22pm BST

What "Pastoral Accommodation" and care is being given to the 30 sacked Bell ringers of York Minster by the tower lock changing Dean and Chapter? Yet more wonderful self-inflicted publicity for the Church of England! NOT!

Posted by Father David at Thursday, 13 October 2016 at 5:52am BST

Kate,

Please read up on reception aesthetics and you might understand what's being said about interpretation (not to mention that the Bible is not the primary source, but, through translation, only a secondary source).

Posted by Mark Brunson at Thursday, 13 October 2016 at 7:15am BST

Andrew Goddard raises an important issue. There is a case for an approach to this issue based on pastoral accommodation (I think Helmut Thielicke was the first to propose this, in the early 1960s). However it is not entirely satisfactory and that of acceptance of theological diversity seems preferable.

Posted by Savi Hensman at Thursday, 13 October 2016 at 4:09pm BST

Mark,
It is a matter of debate what language Bible is the primary source. There's a strong argument that for Anglicans, or at least members of the Church of England, the King James Bible is primary, but it's also possible to make arguments for Latin or Hebrew / Greek / Aramaic. I mostly take your point, but there's a certain greyness there.

I don't agree with you about reception aesthetics though. I think if an author wants to rely on that, they need to explicitly mention it.

Posted by Kate at Thursday, 13 October 2016 at 5:37pm BST

Thanks for cluing me in about that, Father David. If nothing else, shows that, if the CoE boss class didn't have "issues," then by golly, it'd create them!

Gauche isn't the half of it. In the immortal words of Buffy Summers, are you even made of human parts?

Posted by James Byron at Thursday, 13 October 2016 at 9:17pm BST

It doesn't matter what the author *wants*, Kate. That's the point of reception aesthetics. The meaning of the text will always - no debate about it - be a product of what the author intended and what the reader interprets it to mean.

There is also no debate that the Scripture did *not* originate in English. Sorry. That's a non-starter, as well.

Posted by MarkBrunson at Friday, 14 October 2016 at 5:09am BST

No, I'm not saying that Scripture started in English but it is possible to argue that for the Church of England an English version of the Bible is the foundation document. Personally I don't think it's the strongest argument, but it would be wrong not be recognise it as a possible argument.

Posted by Kate at Friday, 14 October 2016 at 6:20pm BST

Are there any examples of Jesus refusing "pastoral accommodation"?

Posted by Cynthia at Saturday, 15 October 2016 at 4:02am BST

It strikes me that Goddard's arguments, particularly in the detailed section on how the church has come both to change its teaching and to make pastoral accommodation concerning remarriage after divorce, demonstrate a willingness to read texts (both liturgical and biblical) in the broadest and most flexible sense possible when applied to such changes and accommodations. Goddard appears not to show the same flexibility and generosity in his reading of texts concerning same-sexuality, and pastoral accommodation for same-sex couples who take advantage of the civil law to marry. So it appears to me that his inability to see a possibility for accommodation in the latter case is based on part on an unwillingness to weigh the evidence equally on both sides, but to excuse (if not condone) on one side rather than the other.

Posted by Tobias Haller at Monday, 17 October 2016 at 3:16pm BST

Thank you Tobias. I have noticed this with other otherwise creative and flexible evangelical theologians and it has puzzled me. It is also very difficult to engage with them precisely because of this issue is being treated is somehow 'different' in nature and content from any other issue.

Posted by David Runcorn at Monday, 17 October 2016 at 7:37pm BST

It is a pity that we have no detailed historical and theological study of the Church of England and contraception 1880s to 1958.This would be very instructive with regard to how the Church has coped with moral change and the theological and ecclesiastical dynamic in the process.This was a very significant change ( not that people realise that now....after all there is some evidence it prompted the papal encyclical Casti Conubi which firmed up RC teaching) Prof Basil Mitchell (alas the reference isn't to hand) said the tenacity of the RC Church in upholding their teaching is because they know a lot more will need to be rethought...and many RC moral theologians today would say Protestant rethinking on same sex relationships are the result of a "capitulation" with regard to contraception.

Posted by Perry Butler at Tuesday, 18 October 2016 at 8:04am BST

Unless the Church of England decides to forego its identification as part of the catholic church and declare its participation in the Anglican Communion a sham, the belief that English is the language of the foundational document is wrong. Absolutely wrong. No, we should *not* be entertaining a demonstrably incorrect misapprehension as a valid viewpoint.

Posted by MarkBrunson at Wednesday, 19 October 2016 at 7:06am BST

Mark, I think you are being overly assertive. It's not entirely clear after all what should be regarded as the original language of the Gospels for instance as Jesus probably spoke in an Aramaic dialect but it remains possible he taught in Hebrew.

Leaving that aside, Article XXIV says

"It is a thing plainly repugnant to the Word of God, and the custom of the Primitive Church to have public Prayer in the Church, or to minister the Sacraments, in a tongue not understanded of the people."

Now while that doesn't mention Scripture explicitly it is certainly possible that someone could see that an English version of the Bible as foundational for members of the Church of England - after all that is the language used during the celebration of sacraments.

Indeed, Article VI identifies the books in the Anglican Canon and names them in English. If the name of the definitely canonical books are rendered in English, how can it be said that English is not the language of the books themselves?

I understand all the arguments against English and they are persuasive but I think it is hard to argue against someone who feels English is the definitive version for Anglicans.

Posted by Kate at Thursday, 20 October 2016 at 7:53pm BST

No, Kate. All that says is that it is repugnant to read in a way that cannot be understood. It is NOT - again, NOT - the same as saying English is the foundational language. All the mental and verbal gymnastics in the world are not going to change that.

". . for Anglicans" - so, the CofE is *not* part of the universal church. Good to know. It gives even better reasons for TEC to leave it behind.

Is "overly assertive" the new pol-speak for "based in fact?" If you want to argue that there are people so misled and nationalistic that they wish to believe Jesus and God spoke English to their followers and wrote in English to make a book, then I agree. Those people are wrong. They will be wrong. The universe will not suddenly change to make them right.

Posted by MarkBrunson at Friday, 21 October 2016 at 6:24am BST
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