The Archbishop, Gay Marriage and Violence: What are the issues?

Sadly, but perhaps inevitably, Archbishop Justin’s excellent and wide-ranging LBC phone-in (transcript here and recording here) in which he talked about food banks, Jesus as defining who God is for us, poverty, church and politics, climate change has, in reporting, been almost wholly reduced to one short exchange responding to one of a number of questions relating to homosexuality.

Sadly, but perhaps inevitably, even that answer has then been seriously misunderstood and distorted in the critiques and led, as usual, to more heat than light (Thinking Anglicans has its usual helpful sample of reactions and less helpful range of comments here and here).  The incident Justin referred to, in which he connected posssible Church of England actions on same-sex relationships to the killing of Christians in Africa, is one which has clearly, and unsurprisingly, impacted him deeply and influences his engagement with the subject.   He has used it before in discussions about sexuality and Church of England policy, but never so publicly.  That it should have hit the headlines when said publicly is unsurprising given the combination of its shocking nature and many people’s ignorance about the reality.  Both elements were captured in almost the final words of the interview:

JO: So, a Christian on the ground in Africa could end up being on the receiving end of violence and abuse because of a decision taken at Lambeth Palace about sexual equality, about gay marriage?

JW: Yes, precisely.

JO: That’s not something I’ve heard before.

JW: I’m afraid it’s only too sadly true.

Thankfully, there does not appear to be any questioning of the truth of his personal testimony as to what he witnessed.  Nor have people disputed the shocking reason he was given to justify the mass murder of hundreds of Nigerian Christians (“if we leave a Christian community in this area we will all be made to become homosexual and so we’re going to kill the Christians”), of which he clearly said “this is not obviously something I think”.   That rationale highlights just how different our contexts are and how serious ignorance and prejudice towards gay, lesbian and bisexual people remains in many parts of the world.  There has, however, been much misunderstanding and unfair criticism of what he said.  There is a need to set it in context, to engage the broader questions of the nature and the rightness of his pattern of Christian moral reasoning and to consider what place his example should have in our thinking.

The Archbishop’s moral reasoning: what he did and didn’t say

Crude consequentialism or neighbour-love?

Some seem to have heard Archbishop Justin offering a crude form of consequentialism, the view that whether an action is right or wrong is determined solely by whether its consequences are good or bad: a consequence of the Church of England accepting gay marriage is that Christians in Africa will be killed, this is clearly wrong, therefore I am opposed to the Church of England accepting gay marriage. This has happened due to a mix of poor reporting of the interview and to the sad fact that consequentialism is often people’s default line of moral reasoning and so assumed to be the form of moral argument being presented.

It is important to locate the argument in the interview as a whole.  It was not referred to in two earlier exchanges on the substance of church teaching on sexuality at the start of the interview.  It arose in relation to a more specific and practical question from a clergywoman called Kes: given clergy have discretion in relation to remarrying divorced people, “why [in relation to blessing same-sex couples] can’t clergy be left to their own conscience while we’re waiting for the synodical process to happen, if there’s going to be a change with regard to equal marriage in church which so many of us want?”.

Justin’s initial response referred rather abstractly to the fact that in the Church of England “we’re linked to churches all round the world” and so “before we make a major change in how we understand what we should do, we have to listen to people, and go through a process of consultation and talking to people, and listening very carefully and praying, and without predetermined outcomes”. To follow the questioner’s proposal and “just do it now” would, he claimed, have an “absolutely catastrophic” impact on Christians far away and “we have to love them as much as we love the people who are here”.

This was, in short, an appeal to neighbour-love that politely suggested the questioner needed a bigger vision of what this fundamental Christian command required.  Justin made clear that we also have to listen to LGBT communities but we could not “suddenly say” (an emphasis on timing again) our position had changed.

Challenging caricatures

The interviewer then played this careful argument back as being heard to say to a gay Christian that they “can’t marry their partner in their church because of the conniptions it would give to some African, dare we say, less enlightened people in Africa”.  This, with its reduction of “catastrophic” consequences to “conniptions” and its dismissive, bordering on racist, view of opponents of same-sex marriage is what triggered the headline-hitting response.  The Archbishop first strongly rejected the description (“I don’t think we dare say less enlightened actually, I think that’s a neo-colonial approach and it’s one I really object to”) and then countered the view that it was all a matter of hysteria and rage rather than life and death:

I think it’s not about them having conniptions and getting irate, that’s nothing to do with it. It’s about the fact that I’ve stood by a grave side in Africa of a group of Christians who’d been attacked because of something that had happened far far away in America, and they were attacked by other people because of that and a lot of them had been killed.

The example then is not offered as a determining or even significant factor for defining church teaching on sexuality.  It is a robust counter to a crude and (as the interviewer subsequently confessed) ignorant – though not uncommon - caricature of his appeal to neighbour-love as a reason why the Church of England cannot immediately let clergy bless same-sex marriages.

It has, perhaps, been heard by some as implying that if they support the questioner’s  call for rapid changes they would be the cause of - or at least morally complicit in - any consequent suffering among African Christians.  This is, however, not what was said (although it should be noted that parallel accusations are quite often made against conservatives who are told that their moral teaching is the cause of - and they thus bear some responsibility for - the persecution, murder and suicide of LGBT people).

Open to change?

In fact, the Archbishop did not rule out the Church of England changing its views and practice.  He did make clear his own views, first to Anne Widdecombe (“My position is the historic position of the church, which is in our Canons, which says that sexual relations …should be within marriage and marriage is between a man and a woman”) and then, after his reference to African Christians, to the interviewer who asked about same-sex marriages in Anglican churches: “personally I look at the scriptures, I look at the teaching of the church, I listen to Christians around the world, and I have real hesitations about that”.  He also made clear – in response to Kes - what had to be involved in moving to such a decision, referring not only to listening to Christians in other parts of the world and to LGBT communities but to the fact “we have to look at the tradition of the church, and the teaching of the church, and the teaching of scripture, which is definitive in the end, before we come to a conclusion” (italics added).

In other words, Archbishop Justin is very far from offering a consequentialist argument that the cruel, wholly unjustifiable infliction of suffering on African Christians should determine and fix the church’s stance.  Rather, in the face of a call for a sudden change in church practice, he appealed to the classic Anglican process of patient corporate, reasoned ecclesial reflection which listens to a range of human experience and studies tradition and Scripture, with Scripture as definitive.

Thinking about consequences

The example the Archbishop gave does, however, present a real challenge to those pressing for change, particularly rapid change: what weight should be given to such unintended and unjustifiable but foreseeable and very negative consequences of an action which they judge to be good or permissible?

Without embracing consequentialism, Christian moral reasoning does take consequences seriously in determining whether an action is wise and prudent.  The tradition of double effect reasoning (for example in relation to targeting in war and treatment at the end of life) holds that once it is clear an action is good in itself or not absolutely prohibited, there is still a decision to be made as to whether it is morally justifiable in a particular case where its effects are both good and bad.  If the evil consequences are great (eg the medical treatment has serious damaging side-effects while only doing limited good) then the action – though not wrong and forbidden in itself - may be judged disproportionate and so unjustifed.

The Archbishop’s example is, of course, an even more complex one.  The negative effect here is not caused by our action (in the way a medical intervention causes both negative and positive consequences).  It is caused by others responding to our action with unambiguously evil acts. This is a significant difference and cautions against placing too much weight on this scenario in moral deliberation. Weighing foreseen but unintended and undesired consequences of our own actions is complex enough in moral deliberation.  Factoring in negative consequences we foresee as arising from likely evil actions by other agents in response to our good actions adds in yet another level of complexity.  Clearly here the level of our responsibility and possible moral complicity significantly diminishes, although the question cannot be totally ignored, particularly if the consequences are likely and as serious as mass murder.

Real and difficult moral questions and decisions

Two questions post-Pilling

Having clarified the Archbishop’s own position and noted the place of considering consequences in moral decision-making, what role should scenarios such as that he cited therefore have in our ethical thinking?  They open up at least two important questions for the process of our moral discernment.

First, at what point and with what weight should such negative consequences be considered in relation to the appeal to Scripture, tradition and reason?  The danger is that –particularly now they have been given such a high profile - such circumstantial and consequential factors will be given too prominent and formative a role in the church’s deliberation on the substantive issue.  Such factors should not, I believe, come into play in determining whether the church’s teaching on same-sex marriage is right or wrong (the current focus).  Their place is rather in deciding what, if the church concludes its current prohibition is wrong or at least uncertain, it should then say and do as a result.

Second, we need, therefore to being thinking about what weight should be given to the sort of example cited by the Archbishop if the current post-Pilling process leads the Church of England to discern that Scripture does not require the church to maintain its traditional teaching and practice (and so could perhaps allow clergy the freedom Kes sought) or even that it should change its teaching because it is wrong, unjust and a denial of love of neighbour.

Difficult choices – the costs of doing what we think is right

For those already convinced the church needs to change this is where more work is needed.  During the Reading Crisis, Bishop Richard Harries, in defending the appointment of Jeffrey John, took the admirably anti-consequentialist approach that he was doing what was right even if it was costly: fiat justitia ruat caelum - let justice be done, although the heavens fall.  The difficulty here is that the heavens will fall most heavily not on us but on fellow Christians a long way away from us.  Most of them are clearly committed to such a principled approach to Christian discipleship.  They know – much more than any of us - the reality that a commitment to doing justice and being faithful to Christ may lead to their death.

If – as seems likely – the Church of England changing its stance increases the risk of incidents such as those recounted by Archbishop Justin then, as he stated, love of neighbour must weigh heavily on us.  This reality may lead us to conclude – weighing the good and evil consequences - that we cannot change our stance even though we would wish to do so and believe we are permitted to do so.  Even though the bad consequences are not the consequence of our actions but of evil acts by others in response to our good actions we may consider they are so serious that we must refrain from doing the good we can do because of the greater evil others will then do.  The danger here is that this appears to amount to letting the most morally corrupt succeed in a form of moral blackmail.

We may, therefore, conclude that we have a moral obligation to embrace same-sex marriage or that this is permitted and on balance the suffering which indirectly results for others elsewhere is less significant than the suffering we ourselves directly inflict on people we refuse to marry them to a same-sex partner or to bless their relationships.

Minimising negative consequences of doing what is right

If we do reach such a conclusion, we nevertheless need to take responsibility to minimise, as far as possible, the negative consequences for fellow Christians who will suffer as a result of our moral judgments.  Similarly, if we decide to uphold the current position we must continue to seek to minimise the potential negative consequences on bisexual, gay and lesbian people.  Although often not welcomed as doing so (much as we can expect scepticism or hostility from suffering African Christians were we say to we are doing all we can to mitigate the consequences for them of blessing same-sex marriages) this is perhaps partly why, while upholding traditional teaching, bishops have become more vocal about the qualities of gay relationships and supportive of civil partnerships and made clear that lay Christians who enter same-sex marriages should not be refused the sacraments.  Archbishop Justin in his interview also once again spoke repeatedly, clearly and strongly against the sin of homophobia, with his final words being that the experience of the Nigerian mass grave “burns itself into your soul, as does the suffering of gay people in this country”.  Combating hatred and violence that leads to suffering and murder – under whatever guise – must be the primary response to scenarios such as those he described, but that cannot be all that is done. If we foresee our actions could trigger such wrongs, then the situation of potential victims must also be considered.

What options if we proceed with change?

The Archbishop’s horrific example of likely consequences seems to offer the following possible ways forward were the church at some point to change its position.

On the one hand, we could successfully persuade those who will suffer most to see this as another example of their righteous suffering at the hands of evil people because of the church’s faithful pursuit of justice and their solidarity with the marginalised.  On the other hand, if, at least in the short-term, this is unlikely to succeed we must find, with them, a new way of articulating and expressing our ecclesiology and re-defining what it means to be the Anglican Communion.  That will mean enabling them to dissociate themselves from our actions both because they believe the actions are fundamentally wrong in themselves and because they should not be expected to suffer the negative consequences that would follow from their association with us.  As Justin made clear in the interview, that too will not only damage Christian unity but will also have serious negative consequences: “I was in the South Sudan a few weeks ago, and the church leaders there were saying, please don’t change what you’re doing because then we couldn’t accept your help, and we need your help desperately”.

Can we have a conversation about this?

Those pressing for change therefore need seriously to attend to these complex realities and questions even though they are not as obvious and pressing for most English Anglicans in their parishes as they are for bishops whose ministry connects them with the wider church.  Those of us upholding the current teaching and discipline similarly have seriously to address the complex realities and questions we face here and now with the introduction of same-sex marriage and ask those in other parts of the Communion to understand our context as we seek to understand theirs.  If we can honestly and humbly acknowledge and wrestle with these challenges then the forthcoming facilitated conversations could, rather than being a belligerent stand-off, still become fruitful dialogues where we might discern together what it means for us to love God and to love our neighbours, both near and distant.

26 thoughts on “The Archbishop, Gay Marriage and Violence: What are the issues?”

  1. 1. Christian morality should always have regard to pre-conversion commitments. I understand that a continuing obligations to all pre-conversion wives was supported by missionaries to Africa where polygamy had been practised.
    2. Evangelicals have acknowledged the importance of celibacy on the mission field and honour the ministry of some who have single mindedly pursued ministry. Historically we have been to keen to find fault with the Roman Catholics. It would be difficult now for a bishop to speak of this without suggesting that some of his clergy were second class

  2. An analysis of marriage must include, what needs to be in place before the marriage, what happens bring about marriage and what follows from the marriage. Marriage is a public act, an exchange of vows before witnesses. The marriage is made by the exchange of vows and rings. If there is something wrong with the register of the certificate, you put it right, rather than repeat the marriage. The state needs a record of the marriage for many reasons and it is needed to establish the rights in divorce. So I believe in performance rather than registration. Registration follows performance and is required for good order.

    Paul seems to be saying in 1 Corinthians 6 and 7 that sex is sacred, at least for the believer. He applies the becoming one flesh of Gen 2:24 not to married life in general or sex in marriage but even to a single act with a prostitute. He points out the believers body has been made holy by his union with Christ and refers to the resurrection of the body to reject any spiritualisation. He discusses the proper development of the relationship of a man with a virgin. Have we any justification to add at the end “and similarly between two men?”

    • Dave, your subtle first paragraph shows the slipperiness of the concept. “Registration follows performance and is required for good order” explains why many Basque brides (and more Puritan brides than we remember) have been visibly and quite properly great with child on their wedding days. Good order has sometimes been helped by a solemn and consequential ritual of engagement.

      Your second paragraph may be one of the five best of the past two years of That Topic. It summarises about half of what a desacralised understanding of sexuality cannot imagine– embodiment in Christ. Should you post a complementary paragraph on asceticism in Christ, it will be just as essential and to many just as unintelligible. The Resurrection is the heart of both.

      1 Corinthians 6 and 7 have been a touchstone for me through many of these debates. Perhaps the summer’s reading of the Song of Songs will shed some light into a few corners of it.

      “Have we any justification to add at the end ‘and similarly between two men?'” No, “justification” is far too strong a word. For those who come to Christ already in a same-sex relationship there may possibly be some accommodation. The usual argument for that is that, as a refuge from promiscuity, a stable exclusive relationship is less sinful and better context for seeking sanctity. Our ‘conserving’ brethren (as David Runcorn calls them) have not given these arguments their due. But if a homosexual came to Christ outside of such a relationship, would one encourage him to settle in a way-station when the way to the destination is wide open?

      A homosexual in St Paul’s horizon lives on a razor’s edge– one could fall into a carnal way of life that, lacking even the excuse that souls are brought into the world and fathered, is doubly outside of the Kingdom, or one could fall onto a path, one without the digressions and quicksands of marriage and family, that leads more single-mindedly to virtue. If St Paul met your two men, he would have seen their lack of attraction to women, not as the problem of finding another object of desire, but as a providential gift excusing them from procreation for the serene asceticism of the blessed that was every Christian’s ultimate goal.

      Three things about these debates make little sense to me–

      (1) One would think that evangelicals would hold celibate Christians in far higher esteem than we do. That we do not is due in part to the weak grasp we have of the ascetic aspect of Christian life. If one does not fast like a Puritan there is little point in reading like one.

      (2) Almost nothing is said on either side about the difficulty a homosexual can have in discerning the Lord’s leading amid a difficult interior life. This is the shame of much chatter about spirituality. If we are not supporting discernment, what exactly are we doing that is so spiritual? We are strangely authoritarian in just the sort of life crisis that demands some respect for interiority.

      (3) Above all, we forget that the quasi-mysticism of modern romance was just a secularisation of the real thing, and so allow sex to assume the spiritual gravitas that life deeply in Christ should have.

  3. Above, Lorenzo and Dave both cite the Church’s ‘early modern’ view of marriage, and that is a reasonable starting point for thinking this through. But although its context is American, Joseph Bottum’s description of what makes this time different from that one is worth bearing in mind–

    “…The turn against any deep, metaphysical meaning for sex in the West, however: that is strange and fascinatingly new, unique to late modernity. Jean-Paul Sartre once denounced Michel Foucault as one of the “young conservatives” for his refusal to embrace Communism, but in other ways, the radical gay philosopher, the very model of a star French philosophe before his death from AIDS in 1984, was the key explicator of the sexual revolution. And just as he saw a change in moral understanding of the body slowly developing among Christian writers from the fourth-century John Cassian to the eleventh-century Peter Damian, so he saw yet another change emerging in modern times. The comic line that “sex was invented in 1750” is an exaggeration of his thought, but Foucault quite rightly understood that there were bound to be consequences to what Max Weber called the great “disenchantment of the world” in the joining of the “elective affinities” of the Protestant Reformation, the scientific and industrial revolutions, and the triumph of Enlightenment philosophy.

    Those consequences were, in essence, the stripping away of magic—the systematic elimination of metaphysical, spiritual, and mystical meanings. Science, Francis Bacon told us, could not advance in any other way. Real democracy, Diderot explained, would not arrive “until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.” When the Supreme Court [of the United States] gave us the infamous “mystery passage” in the 1992 abortion case Planned Parenthood v. Casey—“At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life”—the justices were merely following out to its logical conclusion the great modern project of disenchantment. And it’s worth noticing that the mystery passage was quoted approvingly and relied upon in the 2003 sodomy-law case Lawrence v. Texas and by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts in 2005 when it ordered the state to register same-sex marriages.”

    That, with some American accent, is the “sexual revolution” that Justin Welby described to the General Synod. So then to Lorenzo and Dave.

    Lorenzo is quite right that the Reformers generally did not believe that marriage is a sacrament, though of course they supported marriage as a divine institution and registration as a civil one. In some counterfactual universe, the Church of England is celebrating the completion of the grandest social project ever attempted by handing registration wholly over to the state, and the open evangelical Archbishop of Canterbury is stirring controversy by saying that the freedom and dignity of women and mothers at the heart of that project is a universal human value, not just an English one, and that Anglicans everywhere should support it in their local civil laws. “If you believe in registration,” he says, “oppose ‘child marriage’ and sex trafficking everywhere. Every society on earth would be stronger if we were wholly rid of them everywhere. And only the Church, taking the gospel to every land, has the presence in every human community to say this.” But the Church’s sex problem is not at bottom about registration.

    Dave asks why it is not enough to consider sex as “sacred as the expression of self giving in a mutual relationship to be contrasted with the self gratification of casual relationships and the open economic transaction of prostitution.” He adds, helpfully I believe, “Whatever else it is about, morality is about how people treat people. You cannot remove sex from this.” Indeed. And my imaginary ABC would take this a step further, saying that in Christ we know that this is not just an English social convention, but a universal that binds the conscience of every man and every woman who has ever been or will ever be. But, in so saying, he can be heard as reducing the sacred, not to the holy, but to the ethical, and since conceptions of that can differ, that reductive hearing makes him sound to some as though he too is invoking the ‘mystery passage’ that Bottum quotes above. In fact, if the ABC were a liberal, that is exactly what he would be doing. The ethical principle that Dave cites is true and urgently needs pressing, but it does not answer the sexual revolution of 1750.

    The problem is often posed this way– ‘Christians who say that sex or registration are is in some sense sacred in themselves have to specify a meaning of the sacred– difficult to do in societies predicated on ‘disenchantment’– and then show that the act or institution fits it.’ Or else one has to give the problem a different formulation and show that it makes better sense. Although I know that this is not the whole solution– it’s a part of it, like Lorenzo’s and Dave’s thoughts above– it seems to me that what we know of scripture, biology, and human development all press us to a different starting point in procreation and family, rather than sex or registration.

    But then what of the romantic love in which most ordinary people believe?, some will ask. This is the idea around which, either in a Christian or a secular expression, people are organising their lives. Is this in no sense sacred? The question is unavoidable, but it is a topic for another day.

  4. No!, Innocent III thundered at the French, Jesus never taught that a husband could give his wife to another man in marriage, just as her father had first given her to him. The pope was sure about this– Roman law is clear that marriages end only in death or divorce– yet north of the Alps all but two of the bishops had agreed otherwise. Jesus had forbidden divorce, they reasoned, but since such a wife would pass from marriage to marriage without ever being unattached she would never have been ‘divorced,’ thus obeying the Lord’s command and avoiding the evils of what Lorenzo above calls ‘Jewish repudiation.’ And why would the laws of the Romans matter to the Franks? That forgotten dispute exemplifies the fluidity of Christian thinking about marriage in the West at the end of the first millennium. The much later 1662 marriage service that Dave mentions was the fruit of a long cultivation in the West.

    Mainly, the medieval transition from the informal recognition of marriages by brides’ fathers to what we might call ‘public registration’ by clerks was driven by three concerns–

    (a) Marriage is for the procreation of legitimate issue.

    (b) Marriage requires sincere commitment from both persons. Because brides’ fathers were not disinterested parties, certification of this requires a neutral, literate, witness able to note the exchange of promises in a trusted public registry.

    (c) Neither the bride nor the groom can be married. The Church’s banns made it more difficult for a man to flee a marriage in one place to begin another elsewhere.

    The public institution of marriage was once an important social innovation, and only the Church could have pulled it off. In Byzantium, after all, the emperors struggled with marriage and then finally dumped the Roman institution, divorce and all, onto the bishops, inaugurating an understanding and practice in the East that is very different from our own. But whether in the East or the West, it was the Church’s authoritative presence in even remote places that made it indispensable. The Christian faith that mattered was not so much Jesus’s teachings about marriage itself, as the duty to have ‘a presence in every community’ with a clerk who knew enough to ask the right questions in the right way and keep the register.

    Modern states have their own clerks and registries, and now– as I understand them– postmodern electorates seek to reify relationships without regard for (a) above. Few dispute that this creates a bit more useful civil order than there was before. And if it leaves the duties of prospective parents in the shadows, it emphasises the common morality of the marriage contract itself.

    But the lightning speed with which same sex marriage has been enacted shows how far from the scriptural ethos of Christian marriage even the definition of marriage now is. The new laws have not made this so; rather because it was already so, people have demanded the new laws. The Christian difficulty in sorting through various responses to them is that we cannot do it well until we have mentally disentangled a way of life from a civil procedure.

  5. The view that sexual licence does not matter because it is only a matter of the body and it is the spirit goes back to the Greeks, but I don’t know which schools

  6. Bowman,
    Your section 1 reminds me of “To live is to change, to be perfect is to have changed often.”
    (John Henry Newman)

    Your section 2. I don’t suppose this gets to an answer but we need to add.

    1a such relationship is stable ( ideally ” for life”) and excludes close relatives.
    1b such relationship is exclusive and limited to two individuals.
    2a or initiated by similar promises made before civil authorities.

    The 1662 marriage service states that marriage is given as the foundation of family life in which children are born an nurtured. This is part of the purpose of marriage. The church of course marries those who are known to be unfruitful but not impotent. The definition of equal marriage does not include a definition of consummation. Does this mean it is not within your point 1 ? Now point , I thought we had moved away from a view attributed to Augustine, that sex was inevitably an expression of lust to be restricted within marriage to a view that sex is sacred as the expression of self giving in a mutual relationship to be contrasted with the self gratification of casual relationships and the open economic transaction of prostitution. Whatever else it is about, morality is about how people treat people. You cannot remove sex from this.

  7. And why, oh why? do we, in our current fever, seem so eager to do away with the universal (Reformed, Lutheran, Anglican, Anabaptist) insight of the Reformation about Matrimony that ‘it has no visible sign or ceremony ordained of God’ in that it lacks a clear institution in Scripture. We revert to texts that were raised against us by the Counter-Reformation, attempting to see such an institution in our Lord’s rejection of the one-sidedness of Jewish repudiation.

  8. A thousand times yes. I can see the integrity (though not the pastoral usefulness) of the old-fashioned Roman doctrine that sex exists only in order to make babies or should only happen at the risk of conceiving, but I cannot see any integrity in accommodating non-procreative sex for one group and decrying it in very shrill terms for another.

    Complementarian arguments look ad hoc and I cannot find any evidence of them in Tradition, nor indeed in the Bible which does not view of women as different yet equal (at least none of the Fathers read it as such) but as clearly subordinate and deficient (a view which most open Evangelicals would utterly reject, rightly so).

    As regards your fifth point, why should sex fall outside discipleship? Almost nothing else does. It is a created reality which will have no place in the World to come. It is a very powerful drive and can cause hugely detrimental attachment to created realities. It should be jettisoned as soon as humanly possible by Christians. That was the ancient view. It’s still mine, but it should apply across the board and we seem to have lost any non-rhetorical valuing of virginity and celibacy.

  9. Thank you, James and David, for pushing back in your different ways against any one-sided view of the predicament described by Justin Welby and analysed by Andrew Goddard.

    Our perspectives seem somewhat different, but for just that reason I have found it helpful to try to see things as each of you has done. The ‘triangulation’ of James’s desire for solidarity with victims of homophobia in Africa (or anywhere else), and David’s attention to the complexity of the local context in Africa (or anywhere else) has stimulated some further reflection and conversation.

    I look forward to your posts on other threads.

    • What you wrote about how truly dimwitted we become when we are highly committed to a polarised cause really struck a chord with me. I feel ill at ease in either camp. As I recently blogged: call me a prophet of doom, but I strongly suspect that the facilitated conversations that our church has decided to enter are destined to fail, at least if their avowed goal is to figure out collectively what Scripture enjoins or forbids. The problem, as I see it, is not that the subject matter is highly contentious and emotionally charged. It blatantly is. The stumbling block is located in both sides’ inability to be proved wrong. How could anyone show either side to be mistaken if both see obedience to the Word of God as ultimately informing Christian morality? How could either party ever come to the conclusion that it is Scripture itself that is immoral on the matter, as it is on slavery, the death penalty, demonic possession or witchcraft, among so many other things that are now deemed to be uncontroversial but for the most lunatic fringes of Christianity?

      If we derive our moral conclusions entirely or even ultimately from the Book, we thereby deprive ourselves of the ability to see if or where the Book is immoral. We cannot correct ourselves or amend our views. Both views of Scripture eventually boil down to soft or hard inerrancy, depending on how dearly one values the use of human reason on the matter. If either side could first spell out how they could possibly know that they are wrong, conversation would stand a chance; if they are unable to do so, we might as well move on immediately to consider whether or not we can live with disagreement.

      • Thank you, Lorenzo, for your thoughtful comment. My schedule today constrains me to leave two half-replies that cannot be integrated in the several minutes as they should be.


        Good psychological research supports your belief that just encountering other points of view does not change polarized minds. Rather, it encourages them to view evidence selectively, impugn the motives and intelligence of those interpreting it differently, etc. Contrary to what we might hope, high cognitive skill makes this resistance to other viewpoints much more likely, not less. For that reason, following the experts can deepen the divisions, and trying to get them to agree is encouraging consensus precisely where it is most unlikely to start. Technocrats are not philosopher-kings.

        We usually see this impasse because some binary opposition is suppressing plausible centres between the partisan poles. In cases like that, what does change minds is depolarization of the spectrum that enables them to engage more reality in the centres being suppressed by binary oppositions. That can happen in the aftermath of a very costly conflict, the path we seem to be on with respect to same sex marriage.

        But it can also happen as whole new problems inspire solutions in the light of which the old polarized viewpoints seem clearly inadequate to most reasonable people. Thus, ironically, the poles around which most people cluster in a polarized debate are often precisely the ones that will be seen someday to have been discredited. They were only popular because better options had been suppressed by the terms of debate. So, to your sensible concern that people will never admit to having been wrong, all they actually need to admit to is not seeing the wider context that they were never shown in the first place, and that should not be so hard.


        It appears from discussions here in the village that thoughts about the veridicality of the Bible are far from being the main problem. Please keep reading.

        Most people take these extra-biblical positions to be self-evidently true: (1) some legal relationship must be defined for all couples having sex without reference to childbearing and family-building, and (2) that relationship has customarily been celebrated as ‘marriage’ in the Church of England.

        Some, as you know, object that same sex couples cannot be married in the Church, citing Six Texts in support of that view. Traditionally and ecumenically, however, the Five relevant texts have been read in ways that imply that (1) is an error and (2) has been a pastoral accommodation. The Five oppose non-procreative sex to the procreative sex of Judaic marriage (or for that matter Roman Catholic or Orthodox marriage or Protestant marriage before the 1950s) commanded in Genesis 1:28 and 2:18; contextually, same sex acts are mentioned only in opposition to that ideal. The Bible as a whole does not know of the existence of persons biologically oriented exclusively to the same sex, nor does it know any form of marriage for lovers who are not in principle parents.

        Which offends very self-consciously Late Modern or Post-modern people, not least those inspired by feminist critique of the Early Modern family or almost any popular love song or romantic comedy since the 1920s..Through the C20, the Church of England, like other Protestant churches, winked (or ‘accommodated’) a growing tendency to think of parenting as optional for the married. This was done by stern con evos, and Anglo-Catholic confessors, no less than by ‘situation ethics’ liberals. Now advocates of ‘marriage equality’ not unreasonably want (3) the consensus ‘accommodation’ to be the new definition in the Church as it now is in the state, and (4) the ‘accommodation’ to include, not just those who will not be parents, but those who biologically cannot be.

        It was to avoid just such digressions far from the Bible’s simple ‘marriage is lovers becoming parents’ ethic that Paul VI sorely tested the faith of yesterday’s St John Paul II by issuing the encyclical Humanae Vitae, which teaches that artificial birth control is outside of the Catholic discipline for marriage. Few Anglicans have any regrets about differing with the popes on that point, but the cost of doing so without putting any discipline in its place is a perception that Anglican clergy acquiesce in a view that (5) sex is desacralized, meaningless, pleasure-seeking outside of the Christian’s life in Christ and the precept of the Church. And if (5) is actually the case, then why does the Church need a pattern of discipline for sex, and why does it believe that such a thing as ‘sexual morality’ exists? Some I know over here have said, it doesn’t and it shouldn’t. Have you heard that over there?

        The challenge for the Church of England is to creatively reject (5) in some way that can become plausible over time for the plurality who have based their lives on (3) and (4) in good, if not altogether well-instructed, faith. And that, Lorenzo, is the topic of the discussion that should be taking place. I do not say that it would be less turbulent at times than debates ostensibly about the Bible that have avoided its ecumenical meaning, but it would at least be keeping the discussion real.

  10. Anglican Journal: So what exactly were you saying?

    Justin Welby: What I was saying is that when we take actions in one part of the church, particularly actions that are controversial, that they are heard and felt not only in that part of the church but around the world…And, this is not mere consequentialism; I’m not saying that because there will be consequences to taking action, that we shouldn’t take action. What I’m saying is that love for our neighbour, love for one another, compels us to consider carefully how that love is expressed, both in our own context and globally. We never speak the essential point that, as a church, we never speak only in our local situation. Our voice carries around the world. Now that will be more true in some places than in others. It depends on your links. We need to learn to live as a global church in a local context and never to imagine that we’re just a local church. There is no such thing.

  11. If the Church of England has more global responsibility than global authority, the Archbishop’s dilemma can be succinctly stated: thinking within the limits of national authority can lead to responsibility for bad consequences elsewhere, yet thinking globally enough to forfend that risk can divide the Church at home and the Communion abroad.

    Why the Gap? It may arise from the fact that Anglicans, unlike the still more decentralised Orthodox, are committed to strong local synods, which have a deep commitment to their own creations. Synods can be myopic, treating human and ecumenical concerns as local politics.

    When Rowan Williams personally appeared at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church to head off a divisive vote on human sexuality, those present were glad to see him, but felt unable to turn back from the commitments that they felt were implicit in the the votes that they had already taken. But of course, sexuality is a human commonality, not a particularly American concern, yet an unhelpful nationalism was built into a decision process in which the participants were deeply invested. Similarly, the last General Convention debated whether baptism should be required for communion, although the sacraments are not different in the northern plains diocese that put this on the agenda from from what they are elsewhere in Christendom. There is no American perspective on the subject.

    This politicised sort of church in which synods attract polarised pressure groups and divide in partisan ways seems entirely natural to those who live for politics. ‘Haters gotta hate, and agitators gotta agitate,’ says a new proverb bouncing about the ‘net. However most churchfolk live in the real world, blissfully unaware of what synods do, until they are sometimes startled by an odd result. Outside of the political processes that frame the perceptions of the participants some decisions seem very unrepresentative. Resolutions of the General Convention include detailed advice to the US State Department that cannot be regarded as the ‘sensus fidelium.’

    Another of those new proverbs is ‘politics makes people stupid.’ It comes, not from those wallowing in civic apathy, but from psychologists concerned about the research on how truly dimwitted we become when we are highly committed to a polarised cause. The most concerning study showed that the intelligent and educated are much more susceptible to systematic biases that blind us to information supporting an alternate viewpoint. Part of being so clever can be too much investment in one’s views to maintain a fair and open mind. Once one grasps the implications of this, it seems urgent to govern churches in a way that does not foster perpetual polarisation. For that reason, among others, some serious rethinking about the relationship of national synods to the Communion may be worthwhile.

    The issues raised by “The Archbishop, Gay Marriage and Violence” include the Gap. So long as it exists, the dilemma will remain.

  12. Is ‘LGBT’ (some now say ‘LGBTQIA’) a useful term in a dialogue with African churchmen?

    It is a model of social alliance to which nothing in nature corresponds. Like every alliance, it has tensions that can be contained by a common goal but may emerge again in other circumstances. Why should we assume that there is a neat package of LGBT concerns that is portable everywhere in the Anglican Communion?

    Many on both of the main sides here have argued as though male homosexuality could stand for the whole assemblage, but that suppresses several reasonable distinctions. Official reports have cautioned churches not to assume that lesbians are like gays in every pastoral context. Some read the Six Texts as applying mainly to ‘bisexual’ men since they have a choice about the gender of their partners. Many cultures have some people who adopt the dress, identity, etc of another biological gender, but only ours seems to have ‘medicalised’ this with gender reassignment surgery. Particularly where cultures take other views of these things, the idea that this is all one big category of transvalued ‘sexual deviance’ may not fly outside of the ‘Western’ context in which it arose.

    And wherever one stands on gay marriage, the concern cuts both ways. One’s stance on Adam and Steve may not predict one’s views on every concern of every LGBT constituency. That being the case, ‘LGBT’ may be an obstacle to discussions we need to have, especially inter-cultural ones within the Church.

    • It may be time to tell the Episcopal Church to drop the practice of same sex blessings and marriages. If the Archbishop says it is causing murders then by all means stop it. There is no other way to address this problem. The Anglican Communion will cause the next mass genocide if they do not get in control of the West.

      • You can ask TEC to use lesbian and gay Christians as Danegeld: the odds of General Convention caving to the blood extortion of a sectarian mob are, thankfully, about equal to the likelihood of Nigeria and Uganda introducing equal marriage.

        The other way to address this “problem” is to oppose homophobia in all its forms, especially when it seeks to mask itself with scripture.

        Murderers and murderers alone are responsible for their crimes. If the Archbishop can’t recognize that agency, he has no business being Archbishop.

      • David, the Archbishop did not say what “happened in America” to inspire the slaughter. It may have involved TEC, as you suspect, but then too, the attackers may not have drawn distinctions and connections that would make sense to us. That is the sort of thing that could be clarified by a broader conversation.

        James, by “sectarian mob” do you mean the Anglican synods in Nigeria and Uganda?

        “The other way to address this “problem” is to oppose homophobia in all its forms, especially when it seeks to mask itself with scripture.” Those from societies like our own who are visibly guided by the scriptures may have the credibility to persuade others who aspire to do the same. If so, they may take up ‘homophobia’ if they find that a useful category for opposing the killing of innocent persons. However, if violence against one category of innocent persons rouses the compassion of the West, but not violence against the rest, then that compassion could appear to be something other than humane.

        “Murderers and murderers alone are responsible for their crimes. If the Archbishop can’t recognize that agency…” Deontologically, yes. Nevertheless, consequentially minded police do negotiate with hostage takers, and rightly so. The Archbishop is thinking in the real world.

  13. Andrew Brown’s related comment is worth noting, if you didn’t catch the link to it in Nick Baines’s blog–

    But I have questions–

    Are we sure that Muslims who slaughtered Christians were not in fact afraid of spreading homosexuality? Loose use of the word ‘blackmail’ casts facile doubt on the empirical reality of the fear. Are we being bewitched by a word for our own feeling about this, or is there actually evidence that, no, Africans in that community have no fears about homosexuality but do pretend to be afraid of it to manipulate others? In the abstract, fears about homosexuality seem unreasonable to us, of course, but what do they think and why?

    Do missionary churches like The Church of England and The Episcopal Church have no responsibilities for those to whom they brought the gospel for which they suffer? Even apart from any ‘model of ecclesiology,’ there seems to be some human responsibility for those we lead into danger.

    Benedict XVI quoted a Byzantine emperor in an academic lecture at Regenburg, and his remarks, taken out of context, caused riots in the streets, threats against the Copts, and the deaths of Catholic nuns. What Welby’s comment (quite rightly) did was to show that in the global village that we have become, there cannot be two (or more) conversations about this compartmentalised by geography.

    The apparent dilemmas arise from the dream that decisions can and should be made in forums isolated from each other. Supporters of the dream opposed the Anglican Communion Covenant to preserve it. But the dream is neither possible in fact, nor morally defensible in theory. Once we abandon the dream, then we can consider the realistic possibilities within a single conversation.

    This is not to suggest that all concern for homosexuals should be dropped. It might be urgent to ask whether, ceteris paribus, global homophobia (eg execution of homosexuals) or gay marriage is the more urgent concern for the Body of Christ as a whole.

  14. I am grateful for Andrew’s thoughtful article. I merely wish to point up some background questions that also need to be faced as we try to take any further the complex ethical dilemma which he addresses.

    What is actually happening in Nigeria and several other countries where Christians are being murdered?

    What is our responsibility as the ‘mother church’ of the Anglican Communion? We are told frequently that others look on what we do with greater seriousness than, say, what is done in the USA and Canada. Have we not therefore a greater responsibility to ensure that the churches in parts of Africa that support the criminalisation of LGBT people hear strongly our reasoning against this and that we find it an offensive stance for any Anglican to take? And further should we not question with them whether their stance in itself may not be furthering the likelihood of violence against their own LGBT members and fellow Christians in general?

    Why exactly does internecine violence and murder happen in various places in Africa (as elsewhere in the world), especially between various factions within the Muslim and Christian communities? Are not the root courses of this far more local than the practice of Christians in other parts of the world? Are not certain more localised social, religious, economic, ethnic, and tribal factors the fundamental reasons?

    Are there occasions when the Church in parts of Africa explains the killings of the members as a result of gay marriage among Christians in other parts of the world as the reason for inter religious massacre rather than that being the reason in the minds of the perpetrators themselves?

    If in fact some extremist Islamist factions at times use the reason that gay marriage takes place in certain Christian contexts elsewhere as a justification for murder (which at least would resonate with some of the views of parts of the church in their setting) is this used as a cover for other more fundamental reasons which they do not wish to give?

    • David, thank you for prudently asking whether the emperor is wearing clothes–

      (1) Was the Archbishop fooled by his African colleagues beside a mass grave? And, (2) when African churchmen say that aid from churches that promote gay marriages endangers them so much that they may not be able to accept it, are they bluffing?

      Probably not. (1) Justin Welby knows plenty about violence in Africa; I doubt that he could be fooled about it. But others could be consulted. (2) A ‘bluff’ like that from people in dire poverty and surrounded by ruthless enemies would really be an extraordinary misplacement of priorities.

      Given the stakes, prudence demands that the questions be asked, of course. And they have their own place in a good understanding of Africa. But they are probably not hard enough to postpone serious thinking about how both sides of this relationship should be understood after the Marriage Act.

  15. Andrew, separating consequentialism and “neighbour-love” is a distinction without a difference, as both use negative consequences as reason not to take an action. (Since “catastrophic” consequences for African Christians were given as a reason for overriding the consciences of individual priests, I disagree with your conclusion that this wasn’t intended: if Welby was simply guided by the Bible, he didn’t need to mention African massacres.)

    Real neighbor-love would be standing in solidarity with LGBT people, both here, and in Africa, by refusing to allow sectarian murderers to influence policy. Why didn’t Welby mention gay Africans, who suffer under the viciously homophobic laws endorsed by Anglican bishops in Nigeria and Uganda? Why didn’t he furiously condemn their homophobia?

    I’m also disturbed to see Welby say the teaching of scripture is “definitive.” No. Many Anglicans disagree, and say the Bible is simply wrong about homosexuality. Welby has no right to impose evangelical beliefs on a broad church. The attempt to do this with gay relationships has caused the current crisis. If evangelicals want to be Anglicans, they’ve got to accept that membership can’t be on their terms.

    • “Real neighbor-love would be standing in solidarity with LGBT people, both here, and in Africa, by refusing to allow sectarian murderers to influence policy. Why didn’t Welby mention gay Africans, who suffer under the viciously homophobic laws endorsed by Anglican bishops in Nigeria and Uganda? Why didn’t he furiously condemn their homophobia?”

      To be effective, James, these good works would require true solidarity with African churches, which are not notably broad and even go so far as to say that the teaching of scripture is “definitive.” From your own perspective, how do you envision a working solidarity with African Christians to do the good in which you believe? This is not a rhetorical question.

      There is a contradiction– uncomfortable to some liberal American bishops who have done what you suggest– in claiming just enough relationship with Africans that they should listen to our dreams, yet not enough relationship to dream new dreams together in a common conversation that is transformative for all participants. World-transformations require world-relationships in which dialogue is reciprocal all around the table. The Anglican Communion Covenant was envisaged as a framework for just such dialogue, yet sadly the prospect of equality with Africans was too upsetting for some to contemplate. That humiliation itself divides the Communion and gives homophobes more power than they would otherwise have. If not in the Covenant or something like it, then in what way do we arrive at a common conversation that enables ‘standing in solidarity,’ either in Africa or elsewhere?

      • The Covenant wasn’t rejected out of fear of “equality with Africans,” but out support of provincial autonomy. The Anglican Communion is autocephalous and should stay that way.

        If churches anywhere can only have an institutional relationship on their own terms, sadly, there should be no institutional relationship. Working solidarity would then have to be on an informal basis.

        • The Covenant affirms both autonomy and autocephaly.

          Eastern Orthodox churches bound together by far stronger canons than the mild consultative procedure in the Covenant are at least as autonomous and autocephalous as Anglican churches.

          Indeed, the Covenant could well be described as an agreement to protect ‘working solidarity on an informal basis’ with a way of keeping peace. Just because it is so informal, GAFCON does not support it, and the TEC negotiators did.

          Though polarised minds cannot see these realities, calm minds do see them. And because they see them, they can find it credible that the main tendency of those voting against the Covenant in England were either venting about something else (what?), or else seeing the Covenant as it truly is, but lacking the motivation to support it (why not?).

          The persistently harsh language used to describe African churchmen by English opponents of the Covenant is evidence that historians will take into account 50 years from now. They will also look for countervailing evidence that this invective against our African brothers and sisters was rejected by those voting against the Covenant as outside of communion with Jesus Christ and unworthy of his Church. Naturally, I hope that they find it.

  16. Nicely laid out, as usual, but despite what Andrew says, I am still trying, without success thus far, to dismiss the thoughts he politely fends off–

    (1) Given a forced choice between disappointment for some and death for others, responsible human beings choose the former.

    (2) Given a forced choice between a tear in the Body of Christ and abandoning marriage to the state, the latter is obligatory for Protestant Christians.

    (3) If ‘religion associated with homosexuality’ can ’cause’ killings, then counterfactually, ‘religion not associated with homosexuality’ may ‘prevent’ killings and that presumptively should continue until the prevention is no longer needed.

    Concretely, (1) mass graves trump weddings, (2) the requirements of a war zone trump those of a zone of peace, and (3) the unity of the Body trumps a state function that churches merely duplicate.

    Call it ‘loyal consequentialism.’ The danger in ‘crude consequentialism’ is that the agent acts as though without any ethical identity of her own (eg blackmail). But these choices arise just because the agent has two identities, one local and one universal, so these choices are not the crude sort of consequentialism. They may have other flaws, of course.

    Ecclesiologically, the universal cannot always trump the local, but it can very clearly do so when an action is not essential to the being of one local church and poses a mortal danger to another local church. For example, everyone sees that it would make no sense for an American church to enthusiastically lobby for a war endangering fellow Christians to achieve some geopolitical or trade advantage for the United States. Partly out of loyalty to fellow Christians elsewhere, American churches seldom support any military action at all. (Elections of bishops are a wholly different matter… ;–)

    But what about the LGBT members of the Church of England (or any other Anglican church)? That, I take it, is the point of Andrew’s article. Up to this point, those campaigning on their behalf have mainly argued the equality meme, claiming things just because ‘straight’ members have them.

    ‘You have it; I want it too.’

    “But that will change the meaning of it, so that then nobody has it.”

    ‘If that’s what equality takes, that’s fine with me. Break eggs, make omelets.’

    There may be deeper issues to consider in a deeper way.

    The most elegant interpretation of the new Marriage Act is that the United Kingdom has decided that ‘marriage’ is now a purely civil function that Christians may use in accord with their moral precepts, but may not define for either the law or the society. Thus the Western Church’s most successful social initiative of the second millennium has ended in England as it already had long before in France and America. If the only argument for enmeshing the Church of England in the moral logic of the state’s new arrangement is ‘because we can, and so we are obligated to try’ then there may not be anything at stake strong enough to warrant the mortal risk posed to others or the disunity of the Church.

    But then again, I must have missed something somewhere.

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