What is at stake for the church and same-sex marriage

york-pride-2015-rainbow-roadEarlier this week I was part of a discussion in our church about the question of same-sex marriage. We all began by sharing our own personal involvement in the issue, before tabling our questions. There were a good number who had no personal stake—but some had very close family members who were gay, and for whom this issue has closed off the church and faith, and left them angry and wounded. It was within that context that we explored some of the questions in the discussion.Other events this week have raised at least two other sets of issues which also impinge on this debate. The Episcopal Church in the USA made the decision to authorise marriage liturgies which remove any reference to the sex (gender) of those being married. In response to this, Justin Welby issued a strong statement about the Anglican Communion:

The Archbishop of Canterbury today expressed deep concern about the stress for the Anglican Communion following the US Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops’ resolution to change the definition of marriage in the canons so that any reference to marriage as between a man and a woman is removed.

Not surprisingly, the conservative evangelical organisations GAFCON and Reform went further in their objections, focussing less on the process of Anglican decision-making, and more on the significance for Anglican doctrine and understanding.

The problems for the rest of the Anglican Communion have already been noted by the Archbishop of Canterbury. But the fundamental reason that it is a mistake – and the reason why it is so destabilizing – is that it is a significant departure from Holy Scripture. This is a departure which Christians are not at liberty to make.

With this action, TEC has officially rejected the Anglican Communion’s standard, Lambeth Resolution 1.10, which expresses the Communion’s received and historic understanding of marriage and sexual relationships. TEC has now taken the pattern of behaviour which Lambeth describes as ‘incompatible with Scripture’ and equated it with Holy Matrimony. (GAFCON)

The unity for which Jesus prays is built on the foundation of the teaching he revealed and entrusted to his apostles, recorded for us in the Scriptures. Jesus is not silent on the definition of marriage. “Haven’t you read,” he said to the religious leaders who sought to redefine marriage in his own day, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’, and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?” (Matthew 19.4-5)

In rejecting this definition of marriage, the bishops of the US Episcopal Church have rejected Jesus’ own teaching. (Reform)

There are several interesting things about these statements. First, they are actually quite moderate in tone, and they are located not just in a biblicist reading of Scripture, but within the context of previous Communion discussions. Secondly, although the Reform statement is ‘authored’ by Susie Leafe, there is no doubt that this would have been agreed by Rod Thomas, who is Chair of the Reform council but also has been appointed at the next Bishop of Maidstone. To that extent, the Reform statement answers my call for an episcopal voice countering the idea that the Church’s doctrine of marriage is a ‘busted flush.’ I still wish that more moderate voices were willing to put their heads above the parapet (to mix my metaphors).

But if you doubted that the status of Scripture is a key issue at stake, there is confirmation from some other, perhaps unexpected, places. John McGinley, Vicar of Holy Trinity, Leicester and a New Wine regional leader, offers this reflection on the regional Shared Conversation in which he took part:

I returned with great concern that the majority of the participants had lost any clear understanding of the Bible as authoritative in their lives. The approaches were shocking to me, and, as a result, my approach was shocking to them. This confirmed that we are already two churches, one which sees the Bible as a helpful collection of writings from which to draw inspiration but which can be used to say whatever we want it to, or simply be ignored. The other seeks to submit to Scripture as we interpret it and apply it to our lives and trust in its goodness as God’s word to us, even when it is painful and challenging. The result of this is that there were many moments of incredulity expressed by people from different positions as they realised others in the room held a belief so far from their own.

So far, so unsurprising. But look at this reflection by Mark Vasey-Saunders on Steve Chalke’s Open Church event:

Simply, for evangelicals (whose identity is centred around being ‘Bible people’) to make a very public shift in their biblical interpretation on a controversial issue necessitates having a serious discussion about how we read the Bible, and at present there is little sign this is happening.

Given its current official position, the challenge for the Church of England is to hold together these two issues as stake—the pain and rejection felt by those disagreeing with it, and the consistent teaching of Scripture which underlies the Church’s position. In a sense, the Shared Conversations are aimed at closing this perceived gap, but all the evidence I have seen is that they have just confirmed the distance between two views, as McGinley highlights above. But the problem is more widespread than that. We appear to be on the edge of a complete failure of communication within both Church and culture. Vasey-Saunders goes on to comment about Open Church:

I should say clearly that I would defend to the utmost the need for gatherings like this, which are safe spaces for LGBTI Christians and their allies, but it concerned me that even the conference organisers seemed unable to recognise the extent to which it was not safe for others.

(And this is why I declined to attend.) And this ‘lack of safety’ has even encroached into the Shared Conversations. John McGinley was taken aback by being taken aside:

I will share one particularly difficult example of this. In a facilitated session one person said that the orthodox position was responsible for their friends’ suicide. While I showed concern for their loss, and acknowledged the hurt caused by prejudice and judgemental attitudes within churches, I rejected the direct link between holding an orthodox understanding of sexual relationships and their friends’ decision to end their life. I then shared how I felt that the celebration of same-sex relationships was deeply damaging to society through the confusion it brings to issues of identity, relationships, gender, sin, etc. and how it undermines the position of heterosexual marriage which is God’s intended pattern for sexual relationships. Following this facilitated discussion the facilitator approached me privately to say that a complaint had been made against me for expressing the above views. The facilitator explained that they had answered the complaint by saying that they didn’t think I had expressed that view and didn’t believe I held it. When I confirmed that I did they were surprised as they didn’t think anyone would hold such views and then suggested that what I had shared was unhelpful. I suggested this was exactly the purpose of these conversations, to share our views feely, and stood by my views.

Increasingly, in public discourse there is no ‘middle voice’ allowed between two ends of the spectrum. For the wider media, polarisation is the stuff of circulation numbers and sales, so pitching the argument as between liberated and liberal gay men and women and homophobic, racist bigots makes for good copy. But the problem is wider than that. In an otherwise intelligent piece on the challenge facing the Church, Cole Morton manages to avoid any reference to principled, intelligent defence of the Church’s current teaching. And this is in a context where Christians in Oregon, USA, were not only fined an eye-watering $135,000 for ’emotional damage’ in refusing to support same-sex marriage, but were then barred from speaking of their views in public. It is a context where our own Secretary of State for Education reaches for same-sex marriage (now on the statute books for just over a year!) as the expression of British values, against which we should test children for signs of religious radicalisation.

All this is going to make it harder to have the discussions we need to. As recent conversations have made clear to me, for most ordinary Christians (i.e. not those in full-time ministry) there is still some way to go to really understanding the issues, let alone coming to some sort of conclusion about them. And the danger here is a loss of confidence in Scripture as a pastoral document which, on sexuality as on other issues, expresses God’s deepest and gracious concern for our lives, for us to be the best that we can be.

This article originally appeared on Ian Paul's blog, Psephizo, and we are grateful for permission to republish it here.

23 thoughts on “What is at stake for the church and same-sex marriage”

  1. I am not a theologian but am a watcher!
    I do have to smile when the church has got so preoccupied with the gay debate when human sexuality does not fit neatly into those little boxes!
    A few years ago there was a programme called the convent where several people went in to spend time in the Convent with the sisters! one of the ladies there caused raised eyebrows when her two men she was living with came to pick her up! An article i saw in the states in a magazine talked about the union of three women in the states! In fact the leader of the Green party said she would vote to legalise unions of more than two people!
    In fact my husband and i talked to a man at a christian camp where he had turned up with tow ladies who were his wives and their children!
    My seven mums was the documentary about the polygamous family in wales who said that their family was biblical! They were faithful, stable, committed and children were involved!
    In call the midwife there was the story of the brother and sister who lived as man and wife and were cared for by the nuns!
    There was a well known soap star who was married to a man and had a girlfriend and they all lived together!
    The church ( and from the teachings of Jesus) are that marriage is between a man and woman! If a church wants to redefine marriage to make people feel welcome then why not for all these groups to! after all they are faithful, stable, committed, loving and have elements in them that reflect something of god!
    In France Incestous consenting adult relationships are not forbidden! In Sweden it is half brothers and sisters that are allowed to marry!
    In africa they have dealt with polygamy for years yet the churches stance is still one man, one woman!
    This debate is about biblical standards! It sets a standard that protects marriage as being gods best and by setting it apart from what the world standards are for relationships!

    This is not a new phenomenon! These relationships have been there in all there forms for thousands of years!
    My mum and dad had a wake up call just after they became christians years ago when they were approached by another christian couple who bascially invited them to a swinging session.:) The christian swingers still exist!

    Why still the gay straight debate?

  2. I am writing as one astonished by Ian’s article that anyone should want or dare to live by the Bible these days. Also as an admirer of Ian’s scholarship and faith.

    I consider myself to be a committed Christian, and my roots and teaching are evangelical, my theological education impeccable, and my inclinations charismatic, in a certain sense of charismatic, and contemplative in a certain sense as well.
    I am accustomed to reading the Bible on a regular basis, day by day, and to engaging with it in my living.
    But I struggle too. The Bible advocates ethnic cleansing, whilst Western liberal society condemns this utterly, as do I.
    So Ian might say something like, that was in the Old Testament and culturally appropriate for the period. Which I grant is correct
    Jesus speaks strongly against divorce, but many faithful Christians are not only divorced, but have married again.
    Maybe this is too personal.
    I was a teenager when we were protesting against the apartheid regime in South Africa. My delight at the ending of this horror still remains.
    But some parts of the church argued in favour of the system, and called it the will of God.
    We are horrified by Islamic extremists, but still have to love with the fact that the church called for the Crusades, and initiated the Spanish Inquisition.

    With so much change in the churches interpretation of Scripture across the centuries since it was written, I am at a loss now how to take the Bible seriously.

    I can use proof texts to encourage and bolster my faith
    On a good day I can even convince myself that the love and faithfulness of God spoken of in Scripture is certain in the long term, but that doesn’t help with the here and now very much, as I walk alongside people who suffer.

    Our Western expression of Christianity sits alongside the burgeoning faith of African and Chinese churches somewhat uneasily as consumerist expressions of Christianity such as New Wine and Spring Harvest flourish alongside dreadful oppression in Nigeria and Southern Sudan

    The more I look at the changing church through the centuries the more I wonder at the patience of God. We have had countless interpretations of the Bible from Medieval Catholicism, and the selling of indulgences – obvious now that that is wrong, but they were convinced then; how can I be sure about my present interpretation of a particular piece of Scripture, or even not just of my own interpretation but that of the church.
    Not so very long ago Richard Baxter would preach here in Bridgnorth, dangling his hearers over the flames of hell. Some evangelicals still can, but not many, they have moved with the times, and their hearers too, and speak of the love of God. The Bible still thunders forth with judgement if I care to read it that way.

    So what am I saying in this ramble? I am trying to say that I love the Bible, and I value the teaching that it offers, but I know that I, and the whole church, use parts of the canon more than others, value some of the sayings above others. And I know that at different times and in different places others will work out their own salvation. All I can manage in the here and now is to know that I am dearly beloved, and hope that others too can walk in that love.

    • Yes, Ian’s work is superb; I look forward to more of it. And I am unlikely to be the only one who has missed your voice here. I could not have written this comment, but I thank you for the fresh air it brings into the room.

    • Sarah Cawdell’s candid post, as I see it, brings us to the heart of it. My response involves repeating things I have already said. So, in brief:
      There are 3 closely linked but distinct questions: who are the Christians? What have the Christians believed in the past and what do they believe now? What are the truths of Christianity? Whether I am a Christian, or you are a Christian, whether any of us is a Christian is an objective fact known for certain to God, who knows who he has regenerated and justified in the blood of Christ (not interacting for the moment with Tom Wright and those who agree with him). Those whom God knows to be Christians can go astray doctrinally as they can go astray morally, for we all remain sinners as I argued in a recent post. How each of us, any of us, can know that we are Christians is a vital matter, which I have never (or rarely) posted on. All (or nearly all) of my posts have been about the third question – what are the truths of Christianity, and disagreeing (or, more rarely, agreeing) with answers to the second question – what do the Christians (if they are Christians) believe.

      As I see it the truths of Christianity are contained in the Bible, God’s true but not exhaustive self-disclosure, true for him and true for us, as our hearts and minds and wills are enlightened by the Holy Spirit to understand and believe and obey what God has revealed and to submit personally in repentance, faith, love, obedience and fear to the Christ thus revealed to us.

      The fact that various churches have at various times disagreed among themselves about important aspects of this revelation should not make us conclude that we cannot be sure what the truth of those aspects are. The way forward is for us all to be confronted with the strongest arguments from all sides, on those aspects like the wrath of God, everlasting punishment, predestination, the salvation of infants, sexuality, the ordination of women, the destruction of the Amalekites (to name a few), and to seek in humble self-critical open-mindedness to assess the weight of these arguments and counter-arguments, in willingness to abandon our most cherished deeply-held convictions if we become persuaded that they must be abandoned. How traumatic that is!

      In the light of these convictions of mine I comment on Sarah’s points as follows:

      I start with her ‘Not so very long ago Richard Baxter would preach here in Bridgnorth, dangling his hearers over the flames of hell. Some evangelicals still can, but not many, they have moved with the times, and their hearers too, and speak of the love of God. The Bible still thunders forth with judgement if I care to read it that way’. But if we confront ourselves with what the whole Bible says, Old Testament, New Testament, the words of Christ, the words of Paul and the other writers of the New Testament, the Day of Judgment is simply unavoidable, as is the dreadful truth that on that Day not all will be saved from the wrath to come. There is simply no other way to read it. And, I trust, as well as setting out the awful truth that we are all faced by nature with the holy wrath and just condemnation of God, Richard Baxter also set out the wonderful, gracious, loving, sincere, genuine invitation, exhortation, beseeching, command from God and Christ to all, whoever we are and whatever we have done, to repent and embrace the freely offered salvation through the death for sin and resurrection to eternal life of Jesus Christ. Both are true and both should be proclaimed if we are being faithful to what Christ and his Apostles said and wrote.

      Sarah’s ‘The Bible advocates ethnic cleansing’. I reply, ‘It doesn’t’. What the Bible does do is record the instances where God destroys all mankind apart from Noah and his family and where he commands his people to completely destroy the people of the promised land. It is clear to me that both of those instances are God’s judgment on the people destroyed because of their sin (‘for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure’) and, in some cases, because of their enmity against his chosen people (‘whoever curses you I will curse’). I see nowhere in the New Testament that these instances are used to sanction what we now call ‘ethnic cleansing’. As I see it Christians are rather called upon to imitate the one who ‘is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful’. This does not contradict everlasting punishment, but means that Christians should imitate God in his compassion and longsuffering, not in his wrath, for, ‘Vengeance is mine’ he said. The Christian calling is to suffer with Christ before a hostile and unbelieving world. (Some who otherwise agree with me would disagree with me on this point).

      This question of the Amalekites etc. brings us to perhaps the most basic and controversial disagreement/misunderstanding of all – the issue of Original Sin. As I see it, if we are convinced (as I am) that we are all (except Jesus Christ) born guilty and condemned because of Original Sin, spiritually dead before God, with a corrupt nature inclined to evil which leads us to commit actual sin and are faced with the wrath and condemnation of God, then this universal ruin does several things. It becomes the most fundamental respect in which we are all the same, no matter what our less fundamental differences are – intelligence or mental disability, fitness or physical disability, race, wealth or poverty, respectability or open depravity. It gives us a fellow feeling for all others, and the greatest motivation, for those who have embraced the great salvation, to do all we can to encourage others to do the same. Because it underlines the fact that sin is so terrible in God’s sight, it makes sense of those occasions where God destroys, or command his people to destroy, sinners. Although it does not lessen the suffering and pain of the tragedies and sorrows which befall us, it can give us a different perspective on them and indeed on the whole of life. As C S Lewis put it, it can make us realise that this life is not a hotel, which often would be intolerable, but a prison, which often is not so bad. It can align our point of view with what I believe is God’s point of view. Matters of this life are important to God and important to us. But I believe that God has his eyes fixed on the endgame the endgame described at the end of the letter to Jude:

      “Now to the one being able to guard you without stumbling and to set you before his glory unblemished with exultation, to the only God our Saviour through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, greatness, might and authority before all the age and now and unto all the ages. Amen”.

      We all have to trust him that he knows the best way to get us to that endgame, however difficult and heart-rending that way is, for he is like a refining fire which we are called upon to endure as God conforms us to the image of his dear Son.

      Endgame? In one sense yes. But in another sense the beginning – that as fully sanctified souls clothed in resurrected and glorified bodies we might glorify God and enjoy him forever.

      Phil Almond

    • Thank you for your article, Ian. I totally agree that it is very disturbing when scripture is ignored, and when attempts are made by some on the “liberal” side to shut down discussion by the denigration of views opposite to their own.
      But I also find disturbing the way the conservative side repeatedly claims that the scriptures are clear and unambiguous on the issue of same-sex relationships.
      Certainly they are consistent with the conservative view, but each of the texts normally quoted has such enormous questions hanging over it …..
      * Genesis 1 and 2 – essentially an argument from silence
      * Leviticus – questions about whether the laws had in mind what we are talking about, namely faithful, committed same-sex relationships, and the impossibility of finding any simple way of deciding which OT laws apply to us and which don’t
      * Romans 1 – Paul explicitly is talking about people who have turned from God the creator, are in a spiritual and moral vacuum, and are acting out of lust, which is not at all the people we are talking about as we discuss this issue
      * 1 Corinthians 6 – similarly here Paul is talking about the pagan world, with its lusts, not those in loving and faithful partnerships
      ……that the conclusion to be drawn is unclear. In contrast something so clearly scriptural as circumcision is overturned by the early Church, and interestingly not on scriptural grounds, but on the grounds of seeing what God is doing and responding to people’s needs – there is something to think about!
      All the time the conservative side claims the scriptural issue is cut-and-dried it will have the inevitable reaction of causing many non-conservatives to shy away from proper treatment of the scriptures, with them e.g. regarding Paul as simply oppressive and out of touch with reality.
      As an evangelical who supports sexually-active same-sex relationships where there is love and commitment (though with mixed feelings about same-sex marriage) I would urge those on the conservative side to admit there are real questions about scriptural interpretation (and thanks, here, to Sarah for your honest expression of the struggle to rightly draw conclusions from scripture), and equally I would urge those on the other side of the argument to carefully examine the scriptures as part of their thinking on this issue.
      If both sides did this, then there might be more chance of useful conversations taking place.

      And PS, welcome back, Celinda – it’s good to hear from you again.

      • Glad to hear your voice again, George.

        This is the main weakness of both sides– no pastoral vision for homosexuals as they walk in the door that we can test comparatively against scripture, reason, experience, and tradition. We feel this when we have to force our imaginations to apply someone’s general position on Romans 1 to the concrete cases we know well, or when activists seriously expect the most bizarre applications from the other side– opponents of SSM propose stoning homosexuals to death; TEC’s new dyadic model of marriage entails polygamy. We could be spared this nonsense if, for examples, more opponents of SSM would describe the single life they propose as a serious alternative to the nuclear family, and if more proponents of it would tell us how they plan to minister to married persons with children who believe their orientations have changed. In God’s providence, the facts on the ground in cases like these are going to show us who is reading the scriptures with the gospel in their hearts.

        The con evo readings are not equally robust against all opposing views, but they are far more probable than the most popular of these. The search for truth might be aided by a livelier interest in less simplistic rivals, and by more engagement with those less preoccupied by authority questions. But reading the news and just talking to people, I understand how emergent circumstances have shaped the priorities and hardened the line.

        I wonder, George, whether you see your position as a pastoral concession to the ‘thrownness in life’ of those LGBTetc persons who come to the Lord without the inner resources to embrace the vocation to celibacy that a renunciation of intercourse entails. Is it, say, analogous to the concession a pacifist church might make to a soldier who gives his life to Jesus, but is not yet able to see through militarism, let alone leave the army for another career?

        The peace church that prays for him, baptises him, gives him communion, etc is not endorsing his involvement in violence; it is trusting God’s grace to strengthen his understanding and will once he comes to a fuller knowledge of the faith than a neophyte can have. “Wear the sword,” the old Quakers said, “until you can’t.” They could make this concession because they were confident in their own collective witness to the peace of Christ, and that God’s illuminating grace in the sword-wearer would someday ratify that witness in his heart. The original Friends were not notably diplomatic, but neither were they afraid that taking sinners in was condoning the sins from which they had still to emerge.

        If that actually is your position, George, than you have probably already smiled at its irony. A church can make some accommodation to homosexuals if and only if it has both a testimony to bear for another way of life– something that liberal churches do not have–and an unusual confidence in God’s invincible grace– something reformed churches naturally do have. As Jonah went to Nineveh, it may be that only con evo churchmen have the right sort of faith to help.

      • Response to George Day post on 13 July 2015:
        ‘But I also find disturbing the way the conservative side repeatedly claims that the scriptures are clear and unambiguous on the issue of same-sex relationships’.
        I reply, ‘But I also find disturbing the way the liberal side repeatedly claims that the scriptures are NOT clear and unambiguous on the issue of same-sex relationships’. That is the disagreement: about the right meaning of the passages which George refers to. I agree with George that both sides should consider the strongest arguments from both sides. But I also think it important that both parties to the disagreement should accept as true the doctrine of Original Sin as set out in Article 9 (whether or not they agree that this doctrine has any bearing on the disagreement about homosexuality – I wonder if this acceptance of Article 9 is generally common ground in the facilitated conversations). When I do consider the strongest arguments from both sides my conviction is that homosexuality is a sin like any other sin.
        ‘In contrast something so clearly scriptural as circumcision is overturned by the early Church, and interestingly not on scriptural grounds, but on the grounds of seeing what God is doing and responding to people’s needs – there is something to think about!’
        I reply: the teaching on circumcision was changed by a direct revelation from God – Peter’s vision. This and its implications are in the Bible, as are Paul’s references to circumcision, so both have scriptural authority. There is no similar scriptural authority to change the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality.
        It seems to me that George Day attaches great weight to cases of Christian same-sex couples who (apart, as I see it, from their active homosexuality) lead exemplary Christian lives. But as I have argued on the thread “Equal marriage”: Is There A New Christian Ethic for Sex and Marriage? this does not affect the question of the doctrine of sexuality which should be decided, as I see it, by careful and candid exegesis. Speaking generally, Christians may be obeying Christ in some areas of their lives and not in others.
        Phil Almond

    • Sarah, thanks for your comment (and your admiration). I think I would like to explore this a little further.

      I was most struck by this early comment: ‘The Bible advocates ethnic cleansing, whilst Western liberal society condemns this utterly, as do I’.

      I think I would offer three comments on this. I don’t really know what sort of hermeneutic could come to the conclusion ‘The Bible advocates ethnic cleansing.’ In what sense does it do this?

      It is certainly true that there are passages in the OT that claim that God, in a particular context, appears to command what we would call ‘ethnic cleansing.’ But this is a very long way from the notion that even this passages advocates this as a general policy, or that all of the Bible supports such a position. There are good studies on this vexed question, such as Peter Craigie’s The Problem of War in the Old Testament, and Peter Jenson’s Grove booklet.

      Apart from contextual historical reading, a Christian understanding of the Old Testament must always be Christological, which means taking seriously Jesus’ pacifist stance—as any Mennonite or Anabaptist would tell you.

      By contrast, although ‘Western liberal values’ might claim to reject genocide, it is this liberal tradition which appears to have created the circumstances for some of the worst genocides of history.

      The vibrant Christianity of other parts of the globe, which you mention, would also have fewer problems with these texts than we appear to.

      So I guess my question again is: why would we call ‘biblical’ something which happens to come in one particular text—unless we think that literalism was the only available hermeneutical strategy? I wonder whether this suggests our atomised way of daily reading is actually very unhelpful.

      • Ian
        Your “It is certainly true that there are passages in the OT that claim that God, in a particular context, appears to command what we would call ‘ethnic cleansing’” and your “Apart from contextual historical reading, a Christian understanding of the Old Testament must always be Christological, which means taking seriously Jesus’ pacifist stance—as any Mennonite or Anabaptist would tell you” and your “So I guess my question again is: why would we call ‘biblical’ something which happens to come in one particular text—unless we think that literalism was the only available hermeneutical strategy?” raise in my mind discussions/disagreements that took place on threads in ‘old’ fulcrum, which you may not want to revisit on this thread. But I think the issues are important.

        As you know the Old Testament claims that God, in many places, said things: commands, warnings, expressions of love and grace, judgments, etc; sometimes addressed to specific individuals, sometimes to groups of people, sometimes to everybody. As I kept saying on ‘old’ fulcrum, we should not get side-tracked onto the question of what form these ‘sayings’ took – audible voice, vision which the recipient correctly verbalized etc. The main point as I see it is that the Old Testament claims that these were what I called ‘communication events’ communications in words from God to the recipient(s) which the recipients normally understood (as the context often makes clear). As I said, these claims that the Old Testament makes seem to me to be among the most momentous and serious of all the things that the Old Testament contains. And the discussion/disagreement was largely about whether these communication events happened, whether the claims that the Old Testament makes are true, whether God did ‘say’ those words.

        It may be that you would characterize my insistence in these disagreements that they did happen, that God did say those words, as a ‘literalistic hermeneutic’. Would you so characterize my insistence in that way? My obvious question to you is: what other hermeneutic do you think is ‘better’, and does that hermeneutic, when applied to all the things that God ‘said’ ever yield the conviction that, in my sense, God did say those things as actual historical ‘communication events’, and why does that hermeneutic not yield that conviction in every case?
        Phil Almond

        • Thanks Phil…but I think you are confusing two things. I don’t have any problem with the idea that God did say such things. In other words, I don’t think the OT is an unreliable account of what happened in that sense.

          But to say ‘God say X at time Y’ and infer from that ‘Doing X is the “biblical” thing to do in all contexts’ is an unwarranted literalism. So I do believe that God commanded things which I would consider ethically problematic—and I am not sure I have a simple solution to that. But what I don’t think we have any warrant to claim (as I think Sarah does above) is that ‘Ethnic cleansing is biblical’. That is no more true than to say ‘Sacrificing your son on a mountain is biblical’

          • Ian
            Thanks for your reply. I am heartened to see that you do agree that God did say what the Bible says he said. With respect, I don’t think I am confusing two things. In my previous post I have made it clear that the Bible does not advocate ethnic cleansing. But I also gave a view on why God did say such things: he is the just and terrible Judge as well as the wonderful Saviour.
            Phil Almond

    • I was just thinking that it had been several months since we last slaughtered the poor Amalekites in Fulcrum. Out on the frontier of evangelicalism, you cannot be too cautious. But here we are driving them from the churchyard and slaughtering them in the commons, keeping our village safe until their next attack.

      In America we have reenactors who fight the horrific battles of our Civil War again and again– Manassas, Antietam, Shiloh, Gettysburg, etc– as if acting out our repetition compulsion with the traumatising war that is never altogether over. They debate the reliability of the evidence for who died, how, and where, but there is no disputing the rows of white stones on green grass.

      The trouble with these reenactments is that they are as full of chance and hazard as actual war. People can hurt themselves even firing blanks. People who have been shot walk on as if they did not know it. Last year, after speakers had spoken and bands had played for the sesquicentennial observance of the final battle at Appomattox, the poor reenactors so successfully staged the fog of war that General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia inadvertantly routed General Grant’s Grand Army of the Republic. The South rose again and at the parties afterward, heated arguments ensued over which Confederate officer had spoiled everything by winning the war.

      And so it is with these Amalekites. If the report is true as we believe– true for us, and true for God, and especially true for the Amalekites– then why do we fight them twice a year in the very churchyard of Christ Church, Fulcrum?

        • Yes, Phil, and dashing about in your helmet of salvation, you were a doughty swordsman of the spirit. For now, the village is safer for it.

          But the Amalekites will be back. I am not sure why they keep coming to fair Fulcrum.

          Nor why so many other people and creatures from the Book never approach us by land, by sea, or by air. I am glad not to have seen the hideous Red Dragon fly over, but I confess that I have always wanted to see Leviathan, or at least Jonah’s whale, in the harbour.

  3. I haven’t taken part in Fulcrum discussions for a long time, because I find the disagreements and assumptions often expressed quite painful and not helpful in building up the body of Christ. I know devout LGBTs (and some who are not so devout) who, like me, consider themselves faithful believers in the Bible as the Word of God, not just a collection of ethical teachings one can dip in and of at will. I disagree that the issue is a test on acceptance the authority of the Bible, or “who God and Christ are and what they are like.” Those who insist that is the case are putting a false construction on the faith of many deeply Christian men and women.

    However, I do think that it’s a mistake not to mention marriage at all as a covenant between a man and a woman and I am sorry that the committee working on the rite and the definition is not more balanced.

  4. Seeing that you have given a good review to Shaw’s Plausibility Problem, I wonder if you would agree that Anglican discussants of SSM are often ducking four unknowns that keep this controversy alive and yet fruitless?

    (a) What is the best scriptural understanding of the existence and the experience– as distinct from the ethical rightness– of persons who, sincerely as far as they know, only have sexual attraction to their own sex? Evangelicals can surely see the importance of such a testimonium internum for a believing homosexual. For the rest of us, this is a matter of understanding the orders of creation.

    (b) What response to homosexuality is at once fully scriptural and sufficiently pastoral? Urging homosexuals to avoid sex and marriage is scriptural, yes, but it is not pastoral, even if they do, as John McGinley says, “submit to Scripture as we interpret it and apply it to our lives and trust in its goodness as God’s word to us, even when it is painful and challenging.” God shapes most of our lives with marriage and children; thinking scripturally, how does God shape lives without marriage, including homosexual ones?

    (c) Given that there is a sound evangelical answer to (b), in what ecclesial settings can compassionate but sceptical people see it supporting flourishing lives in practice? While it is providential that some gay individuals have the constitutions to tough out celibacy alone, we know from scripture that such fortitude is rare, even for those who are not stressed as many gay people tragically are.

    (d) Assuming that the scriptures are indisputably clear that homosexuals should avoid sex and marriage, but that (a) nothing is agreed about a scriptural anthropology of homosexuality, (b) even evangelicals are not in substantive agreement on an agenda for pastoral care, and (c) compassionate but sceptical people have found few or no ecclesial settings for the practice of such an answer anyway, what *scriptural* thing should Anglicans generally– and evangelicals in particular– *do* for faithful homosexuals?

    Though critical of what others are doing in what looks much like (d), evangelicals have not answered these four questions among themselves. But then proponents of SSM have done no better, mostly answering– (a) No idea; (b) Affirm whatever it is that they want to be; (c) There is nothing that the church can do or be differently, and that is why marriage must do the job for us; (d) See (c). Shaw got it right. Should we not answer these among ourselves, build some facts on the ground, and then let others see the city on a hill?

  5. “there were many moments of incredulity expressed by people from different positions as they realised others in the room held a belief so far from their own.”

    Seriously? And these people were Anglicans?

    One of the things I love about the CofE is that you can meet people with widely differing views all under the same roof. As far as I can tell it’s been like that more than a hundred years at least.

    • The reason for incredulity is that when evangelicals sign up to the Declaration of Assent, they often take the (naive?) view that they mean what they say, that others expect them to, and that still others, when making the declaration, also mean what they say.

      It is always something of a surprise to find that this is not the case.

      • I had to refresh my memory of the Declaration of Assent:

        “I, A B, do so affirm, and accordingly declare my belief in the faith which is revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds and to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear witness; and in public prayer and administration of the sacraments, I will use only the forms of service which are authorized or allowed by Canon.”

        So someone who affirms that, is only saying that they believe in the same faith as everyone else who affirms that, i.e. the one revealed in Holy Scripture and set forth in the creeds. They aren’t saying anything about interpretation of various parts of those scriptures and/or creeds, only that their faith is one drawn from those things.

        I do feel that many of the arguers against same sex marriage have presupposed the wrongness of it (and of course the converse is also true). Having done that they interpret scripture to support their view and then cast all others in the light of not supporting scripture. I don’t know enough about you to know whether or not you are in that group, but I think it’s a trap that we can all fall into.

        Whether or not particular people who support same sex marriage would consider themselves evangelical, I do believe there is scope within evangelical orthodoxy, although probably not conservative evangelicalism, to support faithful long term same-sex relationships and same sex marriage.

  6. Over several of years I have disagreed with Ian Paul on a number of important issues, not least the ordination of women, but I strongly agree with this analysis of what is at stake, and I would add (yet again!) that behind the disagreement about the Bible looms an even more important disagreement – who God and Christ are and what they are like etc.

    Phil Almond

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